Bumper Round-up

Quick reviews for recent stuff (Dead Reckoning! Get Carter! The Sandman!) and to misquote a Spielberg movie, I’m gonna need a bigger shelf unless I stop buying 4K discs…

In lieu of writing ‘proper’ posts, here’s a summary of where things are at lately. Hopefully genuine review posts will follow, but time being what it is lately (Einstein reckoned time is relative, and here its pretty short of late), I thought I’d get something out there.

P1110377 (2)First of all, I’ve had a bit of a mad splurge over the last few weeks on some Kino 4K titles on import (joining The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and For A Few Dollars More which I bought months ago). This bunch are mostly noir titles; the three-disc Touch of Evil, Kubrick’s dabbles in noir The Killing and Killer’s Kiss, with the Billy Wilder classic Some Like It Hot. These are all upgrades, double-dips (dear God, the Wilder is a triple dip, I had it on DVD too) of various Blu-rays bought over the past several years, something I’m increasingly wary of these days. But aren’t those slips gorgeous? Currently box-art seems something of a lost art so its especially lovely to see original artwork being used (The Killing actually has a reversible cover in the disc case, as I showed on my recent review). As well as The Killing, I’ve watched Some Like It Hot, and yes it too looks damn fine in 4K- its surprising how good these b&w titles look in the 4K format (as if we needed further proof how gorgeous Marilyn Monroe was). The contrast, grain management, improved gray scale, all impress, and Kino seem to have gone nuts on the bitrates, way over the top (compare that to Disney releasing the near-three hour Heat on 4K using a BD66).

I only saw Killer’s Kiss on Blu-ray a few months back. The film was made prior to The Killing and being less than seventy minutes long, it was included as a special feature on Arrow’s The Killing Blu-ray which I bought back in 2016, but I never actually watched it. I think I was misinformed by Internet opinion that it was lesser-tier Kubrick not worth bothering with, that The Killing was widely considered Kubrick’s first ‘proper’ film and first worthy of note: I suppose Killer’s Kiss being relegated to the special features menu only reinforced this view. Anyway, I finally got around to it; I knew there was a boxing element and was pointed back in the film’s direction after enjoying Robert Wise’s The Set-Up a few months back.  Well, diminished expectations and all that, but I absolutely loved it, probably for all the reasons so many disparaged it. Raw, low-budget, with a brisk (for Kubrick, positively frantic) pace, a bare-bones story shot like a docudrama with amazing footage of a lost New York, foreshadowing stuff like Taxi Driver. The only thing holding me back from a gushing review post here back when I watched that Blu-ray was suddenly learning only days later that Kino was releasing the film on 4K, so I decided to wait and will continue to wait until I’ve seen it again on this 4K disc. I’m really looking forward to it, but just waiting for the perfect time.

Which is a bit of a sour point: the best time to watch these noir (especially in 4K) is late at night when its dark and these long hot summer days are not conducive to that. What’s that line in a film about mood – ah yes, Gurney Halleck in Dune; “Mood? What’s mood to do with it?”, but its true about movie watching (if not fighting); one has to be in the correct mood for a particular kind of film and bright summer days/evenings- well, unless you’re watching something like Lawrence Kasdan’s Body Heat,  which was made for hot summer nights. Besides, by the time its late/dark enough, I’m usually too tired to watch a demanding film, and noir ARE demanding, usually quite complex and nuanced and narratively pretty dense for their usually short running-time. Case in point, I recently tried watching John Reinhardt’s The Guilty a few weeks back and damn near fell asleep near the end – my wife actually did fall asleep, missing its last fifteen minutes and I’ve ribbed her endlessly ever since regards her missing its major twist. “You’ll never guess!” I’ve teased her. There’s a film that deserves a proper rewatch soon as possible.

P1110379 (2)Hmm, yeah, some more purchases. Here’s me claiming to reign it all in regards buying discs, and sure, I’ve (mostly) stopped the blind-buys but of late that’s only transferred my wallet’s woes to the upgrades/double dips: here another Billy Wilder classic upgraded to 4K (this time courtesy of Criterion) and Flicker Alley’s The Guilty/High Tide double-bill (in the latter’s case, I’ve elected to use the original art on the reversible cover). Criterion’s Double Indemnity rather annoyed me- not the disc or the film, but because over here in the UK, presumably due to licensing issues (or the duplication costs?) Criterion only released it on Blu-ray (I have the old Eureka edition).  So in order to get the 4K edition released in the States  that everyone was raving about I had to grudgingly import it, complete with two Blu-ray discs locked to Region One that I can’t watch (so I’m keeping that Eureka set for some of the extras, but that true of Arrow’s The Killing disc and my Blu-ray of Some Like It Hot). Goodness, no wonder my shelves are filling up, I’m buying new upgrades and keeping the old discs too- madness.

Anyway, enough of my foolish financial woes, I’m just partying before the recession and Autumn of Discontent (see what I did there?) puts paid to my collecting. On with some quick reviews.

Dead Reckoning (John Cromwell, 1947) – first film from Indicator’s Columbia Noir #5 set, and allegedly one of the few genuine noir films in the set. Bit alarming, that. I never warmed to Humphrey Bogart, so haven’t seen many of his films. In fact, I can only name a few films of his I actually liked; In A Lonely Place for one, and another that I first saw on television decades ago, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which is a Blu-ray gathering dust on the shelf that I keep meaning to watch, but… Anyway, something about Bogie just rattles me. Maybe this box set’s contents will feature a film that will warm me to his charms more, but Dead Reckoning isn’t it – unless of course this is another example regards mood. Maybe it was just the wrong film on a warm summer night. Shame, its a great title for a noir. I was especially disappointed in Lizabeth Scott, who I’ve seen and been impressed by before. Here she was ill-served by an underwritten character (likely deliberately underwritten to enable/underscore the surprise twist) leaving her with little to work with- I suppose someone like Rita Hayworth (originally conceived of for the role) would have gotten by better from sheer screen charisma and presence, but Scott just doesn’t have that. Also, I just couldn’t see any chemistry between Bogie and Scott, and a film whose success largely depends upon the romantic tryst between two characters is in trouble from the start when the chemistry seems lacking. Is it wrong of me to note that I thought I would have enjoyed it more had it featured Glenn Ford (no stranger to this kind of noir) in the lead role?

Get Carter (Mike Hodges, 1971) – No casting issues with this film. Don’t ask me how/why I never saw this film before, but we all have these oversights/black holes in our moviegoing street-cred. Release by BFI in a simply gorgeous 4K edition that is so tactile you feel you can reach into the screen and touch it, and smell the beer and aftershave, sweat and cigarette smoke- it’s excellent; its another case of a film likely looking better than it did even when it first came out. This is such a film of its time, its like some kind of time machine physically taking us back, and who’d really want to go back to Newcastle circa 1971? What a cast (Ian Hendry brilliant yet again, and what a shocker seeing Michael Caine chucking that bloke from Coronation Street off the carpark roof), and what a  gorgeous jazzy score (that main title sequence is sublime). Here’s a film that I was ready to rewatch as soon as it finished.

The Sandman: Season One (Ten Episodes, 2022) – I don’t know what’s more shocking- that someone actually managed to make a decent live-action adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s comicbook classic or that somehow its on Netflix, but then again, it is the home of Stranger Things…  Its been well over a decade since I last read Gaiman’s opus (I bought the graphic novel paperbacks so long ago it was from a genuine bookstore) and a lot of my memory of it is burry, which was rather curious seeing it onscreen thinking “oh yeah, they actually did that…” or “I don’t remember that at all” so I can’t comment regards how authentic it was.  It wasn’t perfect though, I have to confess I was bit bothered by some of the casting choices- it was a great cast and I’ve no complaints, but John Constantine is now Johanna Constantine, played by Jenna Coleman? And I had a bit of a hard time keeping a straight face watching Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer, of all things. Maybe they’ll prove me wrong in subsequent seasons or the inevitable Johanna Constantine spin-off (call me a cynic, but the writing/casting for that episode had “pilot for a spin-off” written all over it). Those caveats aside,  I did enjoy the series; even the music was good (shades of BR2049 in places and ‘nowt wrong with that). Inevitably the highlight of the show (and if you only watch one episode of it, make it this one, its pretty standalone) was The Sound of Her Wings, the sixth episode and an adaption of likely most readers favourite issue of the comic. Should have been retitled The Sound of An Emmy, because it surely deserves a nomination at least.

Nineteen Eighty-Four (Rudolph Carter, 1954) – this BBC adaptation has always been on my radar if only because it starred Peter Cushing, one of my very favourite actors (my unofficial quest to watch everything he ever did continues slowly apace). I bought this new Blu-ray edition (from the BFI folks) a few months back but watched it just a week or so ago… I intended to write a proper post about it, even tried, but… goodness this was so depressing. Its through no fault of the adaptation (by Nigel Kneale, of Quatermass fame) its limited production values (mostly a live performance thankfully recorded for posterity), or its cast, but more the horrible inescapable fact that George Orwell’s cautionary tale is as timely now than ever- perhaps more so. Real-life events of the past several years, just how the world has slowly changed largely for the worse, makes something like this all the more prescient and important. Its horrible, like a warning from a future that just feels just more plausible than ever.

And while on the subject of warnings of the future, it looks like Roland Emmerich’s Moonfall is coming to Amazon Prime on Friday. I can hardly wait. Its got such a crazy, ridiculous premise, I’ve so wanted to subject myself to its cheesy silly horrors while avoiding spoilerific trailers. There’s a thought: am I the only person alive actually avoiding spoilers for Moonfall? Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow is one of my favourite bad movies, it was all I could do to refrain from buying it on Blu-ray disc when it was released a few months back (maybe if had been on 4K over here in the UK, I would have given in to its despicable allure, but it was limited to DVD/Blu-ray). Anyway, that’s my Friday (or Saturday) night sorted then, and possibly will be my next posting here; yes, be afraid, its Moonfall next, unless I get some time to sit at this laptop again beforehand.

Murders on the Horror Express

murders1Horror Express, 1972, 91 mins, BBC iPlayer

The first casualty of a bad horror film is any shocks, it seems. Well, that and the reputations of all involved. I dare say there are a few revisionists out there who describe this film as some novel precursor to John Carpenter’s The Thing but that’s utter tosh. Okay, the film owes a little to the John W. Campbell, Jr. novella “Who Goes There?” that both the original The Thing From Another World as well as John Carpenter’s version were based on, but its so poorly executed here its practically incidental- possibly it was even accidental (an alien is thawed from millions of years in ice and proceeds to jump from body to body killing travellers on a Trans-Siberian express). No, this is just a really poor, terribly bad horror film hamstrung by a zero budget and only enlivened by the casting of Hammer greats Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, albeit one has to pity them the misfortune of featuring in such a lousy film. Indeed, my overwhelming sensation watching this film was almost of pity, soberly considering that no matter how great we may now think both Cushing and Lee were, the truth is that back in the day they were likely poorly-regarded b-movie horror actors who had to bum around for gigs in awful productions such as this (see also Cushing’s appearance in the not-quite-so-dire The Devil’s Men). Mind, I’m not certain what Telly Savalas’ excuse is for appearing in this as a Cassock captain, who seems to drop in from nowhere on the hunt for the killer like some sabre-rattling Inspector Poirot (and no, its nowhere near as amusing as that likely sounds).

So it was a wholly irritating, sobering experience, this- I’ve been curious to see it for a few years now (thank goodness I was never tempted by those Arrow sales), entirely on the basis of seeing Cushing and Lee in a movie together again. Had this been a mid-sixties Hammer romp, it may have been just as silly but it would, curiously enough, have been a better-made film, even considering the limited budgets Hammer films were notorious for. At least it would have had Hammer’s signature gothic style, gaudy colours and fine period costumes/art direction, and would have been enlivened by seeing the usual Hammer retinue of actors with a dramatic music score. Sadly, there’s none of that here, and as one might expect from a cheap Spanish production there’s also woeful dubbing on any dialogue uttered by someone other than Cushing, Lee or Savalas, which only further detracts from what actually going on.

I suppose one can admire -although with considerable sadness- the professionalism of Cushing and Lee who heartily continue to act their best whatever the rubbish they are in (maybe all those Hammer flicks were ample practice), giving genuine effort here which the film hardly deserves. Truly, the two Hammer veterans deserved much better and its such a pity that they so needed to pay the bills that they had to sign-on to pictures such as this. Its far beneath them, but that’s true of quite a few films in each of their filmographies. Mind, its true most actors likely appear in films they’d rather forget- something that was much easier to get away with in decades before home video came along. What on Earth either Cushing or  Lee would have thought had they know this particular film would still be widely available to viewers all these decades later? They would likely have been horrified. Its not often I ever say of a film featuring Peter Cushing “never again!” but its certainly true of this nonsense.

Recent Additions/ Capsule reviews

P1110251I’ve been weak, and succumbed to a few sale offers over the past several weeks, and there have also been a few disc releases of the films from last Autumn/Winter that I’d been waiting for.

Matrix Resurrections 4K UHD: A film of two halves, really, but my review can be found here.

Whiplash 4K UHD: I watched this on a rental a good while ago, when it absolutely terrified me. I don’t know why I’m putting myself through this again, except that the 4K disc was in a sale and yeah, it seemed like a great film last time around. We’ll see what I think if/when I can muster the courage for another anxiety trip…

Cliffhanger 4K UHD: A guilty favourite, my review can be found here.

Beverly Hills Cop 4K UHD: No, I don’t know what I was thinking. It was in a sale, I used to love the Axel F single back in the day (I have the 12″ in storage somewhere), I’d seen the film on a VHS rental. Once. Actually I quite enjoyed this disc, there must be something of a nostalgic pull from anything 1980s just lately. There’s a scene in a bar where a Prince song I didn’t know was playing on the soundtrack and it bugged the heck out of me until I learned from the credits that it was a Vanity 6 song (so yeah, Prince in all but name) but it only intensified that whole 1980s ‘thing’ running through this film. The hairstyles! The fashions! That Glenn Frey song!

Eddie Murphy was actually bearable back then. There’s a story about Eddie Murphy and Jack Lemmon on the Paramount backlot which I’ve probably mentioned before, so I won’t go on with it here unless someone wants me too…

West Side Story (2021) 4K UHD: I watched this a few nights ago; quite magnificent, I thought, and easily Spielberg’s best film in twenty years. I actually think there is something in Spielberg’s style, like his slow camera crawls into actor’s reaction shots, how staged his set-ups tend to be, how much he leans on John William’s music scores, that is wholly suited to musicals. I hope to give this a proper review post sometime, but yeah, I thought it was brilliant. The staging, the use of the camera, the art direction, the casting… I could imagine it winning all sorts of Oscars in a non-Covid universe in which this film made any money (shame Oscar seems to ignore a dud). It goes without saying that the music is sublime, I’ve always loved Robert Wise’s original film and have seen the show on the stage once (albeit something provincial) so it was a given I’d enjoy it, but I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did.

Spider Man: No Way Home 4K UHD: Dude! Dude! Dude! Oh dear, the writing in this film… what, described somewhere as the best comicbook movie ever made? What? I’ll write a proper post about this film someday, but just an observation: there were a few times in the Lee/Ditko/Romita era comics that Peter Parker was revealed to be Spider-Man but those guys usually managed to write an elegant and imaginative way of Peter outwitting people and fixing things and maintain his secret identity. But the film Peter Parker shown here is some kind of selfish idiot or the films writers lacked the imagination and wit of 1960s comic writers/artists, because this film… maybe its cleverly undermining traditional super-hero tropes and the films actual uber-villain is Tom Holland’s Spidey himself. Or maybe I’m giving them way too much credit…

The Shawshank Redemption 4K UHD: I wasn’t going to do it. Its one of my favourite films (I was one of the few who saw it in the cinema when it came out, so hey, kudos to me) but the Blu-ray was fine. But sales. Bloody sales.

Ratatouille 4K UHD: My favourite Pixar movie, and a lovely feel-good film that I probably need now more than ever. I don’t expect any great leap over the Blu-ray, but it does seem I’m upgrading too many of my favourite films to 4K UHD, especially when the sales make it seem a reasonable decision rather than inherently dumb, which it really probably is.

Backdraft 4K UHD: Sales. Sales. Sales. Actually, I watched it a few nights ago and I quite enjoyed it. I’d actually forgotten Robert De Niro was even in it, its been so long since I’d last watched this (probably on DVD). It takes a few too many liberties with my intelligence with some of its heart-tugging silliness “Look at him… that’s my brother goddammit!” but it does look awfully good in 4K. I seem to recall it was this film that made me dislike Hans Zimmer scores for years, my goodness he never did do subtle.

Death on the Nile 4K UHD: Watched this on Saturday. Its quite inferior to the previous Murder on the Orient Express, from the pretty woefully miscast cast to the strangely uninvolving plot… and I’m not sure the virtual sets nonsense worked at all. I guess it was a deliberate stylistic choice but it left it feeling very… distractingly artificial? I can accept that in a Star Wars prequel with George playing with his toybox but a period murder mystery that could have been shot on location?

Nineteen Eighty-Four Blu-ray/DVD: Ah, the Peter Cushing one, that I’ve never seen but always wanted to. I’m only irritated by the fact that since this arrived in the post, Amazon has been repeatedly reducing the price of this thing. I hate it when that happens, especially when I haven’t seen it yet. See also too many other discs currently unwatched to mention, but still, its the principle of the thing.

The Proposition 4K UHD: Saw this on Sunday. Lengthy fawning post to sometime follow. Quite breathtakingly brilliant. One of those times that I blind-buy a physical disc release of a film I’d previously missed somehow and discover something quite excellent. Does this qualify as a Christmas movie? Was John Hurt ever better?

Brute Force/ Naked City (Blu-ray): I watched Brute Force last night. Brilliant film. They really don’t make ’em like they used to. I shall catch up with Naked City sometime soon. This was another sale buy that had me wondering why I hadn’t succumbed to its charms before. Arrow’s double-bill package is well designed (lovely hardcase box) with a fine book to pour over, bountiful extras; another great example of why I still love buying physical releases of old films. But its gotten me ordering Jules Dassin’s Rififi on Blu-ray, further proof that it gets expensive sometimes as one film leads to another. Damn those trailers…

Devil’s work…

devils men bluI have the distinct, and very strange feeling, that I’m being trolled by a boutique label- the fine folks at Indicator have announced that in February next year they are releasing on Blu-ray disc The Devil’s Men, a film which regular readers here (or anyone clicking the link in the title) may recall I saw last month and deemed it the worst film featuring Peter Cushing that I have ever had the misfortune to see. When I saw this announcement in my inbox I did such a double-take, I couldn’t believe my eyes: its is such a strange world sometimes.

As usual, Indicator is being generous with attention and quality- a 2K remaster from the original negative, two versions of the film (the ‘uncut’ version I watched and the edited-down American cut carrying the alternate Land of the Minotaur title) and plenty of extras including a commentary track and an archival interview/lecture with Peter Cushing at the National Film Theatre in 1973. Now, their release a few months ago of another horror film, Corruption featuring Cushing  compelled me into a blind-buy because it had an audio recording of a Cushing lecture from 1986 at the NFT (shamefully, I haven’t heard it yet- damn all these distracting noir). Certainly compared to The Devil’s MenCorruption is a far better film no matter Cushing’s own distaste for it, so was a worthy blind-buy and a lovely package with rigid slipbox and substantial softcover book with essays etc. but the idea that Indicator deem The Devil’s Men even worthy of any release at all, never mind one of their bells-and-whistles numbers…

As a Cushing fan, these archival audio pieces are tremendously tempting to me for obvious reasons. the actor unfortunately passed away before any enterprising laserdisc or DVD producer could enlist him into commentaries for some of his films, so any material of him discussing his work at length is priceless. But this time, its like Indicator are just daring me. The Devil’s Men is a horrible film, clumsily directed and poorly scripted, bizarrely carrying a Brian Eno score and also starring fellow horror-movie legend Donald Pleasance. I can read Indicator’s announcement imagining them stifling a guffaw as they write “this offbeat horror film… an eccentric, bloody cult shocker” as if the words ‘offbeat’ and ‘eccentric’ are euphemisms for ‘shite’ and ‘diabolical.’ Ha ha, its like they watched a different movie or are just testing me with some ghastly jest: they know, they KNOW that I’ve credit enough at their shop from past purchases to cash it in and get this film for ‘free’ but really, I’ve got more self-respect than that, haven’t I? Extraordinary move, Indicator- you are the Devil’s Men indeed.

Clearly the decent thing to do if ever someone from Indicator reads this is to respond by sending me a copy gratis..

The Devil’s Men (1976)

Could this possibly be the worst film I have ever seen featuring Peter Cushing? Indeed I think it is. While Cushing himself disowned Corruption, which I saw just a few weeks back, I think that film is far better than this terrifyingly horrible effort (Cushing’s view was apparently more to to do with the graphic nature of Corruption, part of a new wave of tougher, nastier horror quite removed from the more gentle horrors he was used to making, than regards the actual quality of film-making). While The Devil’s Men is clearly more akin to Hammer horrors of old it is appallingly executed, doubly disappointing because it features genre greats Peter Cushing and Donald Pleasance onscreen together and for added trivia value, features a score by Brian Eno, no less, and that woman from one of the better Fawlty Towers episodes/gags, Luan Peters. Its a cheap and nasty European effort filmed in Greece with atrocious dubbing, extremely wooden acting (even Cushing and Pleasance being guilty, clearly signing-up for a nice ‘seventies Greek hol rather than actual thespian work), a quite nonsensical script enlivened only by a little gore and surprisingly frequent nudity (possibly just to ensure male viewers stay awake after the women in the audience have all left in despair). About the only thing that enlivens the film is Father Ted starring as the particularly useless male hero. Well, okay its not actually Father Ted, its New York-based Private Eye Milo Kaye (Kostas Karagiorgis) but the likeness is so remarkable its distracting throughout, albeit it just makes things even more funny and bearable.

Its actually a struggle to nail what this film is about, the clue’s in the title but even that’s misleading because the Devil turns out to be a big plastic Minotaur (the American edition of the film sporting the alternate title The Land of the Minotaur which is possibly more apt). Cushing plays Baron Corofax, an exile from Carpathia slumming in Greece having bought a castle near the ruins of an ancient Temple which is a bit of an unlikely tourist hotspot in the remote backwoods area. The Baron and his Menacing Chauffeur, Max are leading a Devil-worshipping cult that have been killing the tourists at the behest of the giant Minotaur statue in the temple. A local priest, Father Roche (Donald Pleasance sporting a particularly odd Irish accent) frustrated at the police being ineffective at working out why the tourists seem to be disappearing contacts his old friend Milo Kaye in New York. Milo seems to spend all his time in bed with a young beauty so is reticent to heed the call, but eventually (after a few more tourists go missing) catches a flight over. Also flying over is Laurie Gordon (Luan Peters), fiancé of recently-missing Tom from the latest tourist group to go AWOL. Roche, Milo and Laurie join up to get to the bottom of the mystery and discover that the entire village seems to be in on the Devil-worship gig (yep, even the police, wouldn’t you know it).

Its a pretty lamentable effort with some quite bizarre moments; unintentionally funny ones like Laurie being pursued by villagers wearing hysterical devil-worship togs and a finale in which Father Roche wields a crucifix and explodes the devil worshippers heads (its not as interesting as it sounds and is typically poorly executed, but one has to wonder if Roche’s God-given powers are so kickass, why did he recruit a particularly inept Milo who muddles his way through the film achieving nothing?).

The only thing that kept me going was the delightfully amusing sight of Father Ted fudging everything he did and wondering where I’d seen that woman before (that’s Luan Peters and the Fawlty Towers connection). Oh, and marvelling at the terribly 1970’s analogue synth-doodlings/cliche horror-movie stings by Eno, a rather poor-man’s Goblin I guess. I’m used to Cushing appearing in bad b-movies, and Pleasance was just a few years away from Halloween and Escape From New York so better genre offerings awaited him, but seeing the two of them in such a bad film made me realise both were at career low points at the time. Its very 1970s, which might add a bit of curio Euro appeal if that rocks your boat, but frankly its such inept late-night cable TV-fodder its really only for Cushing-completists such as me (and even we’d sooner watch once and forget).

Corruption (1968)

corrupt4I came to Corruption rather blind- indeed until a few months ago when Indicator put it’s new Blu-ray edition up for pre-order I didn’t even know it existed (this is its first release on home video in the UK), but as its a horror film starring Peter Cushing, one of my all-time favourite actors, it was an inevitable purchase, particularly when I learned that Peter Cushing pretty much disowned the film, embarrassed by it and refusing to ever talk about it afterwards. Like the same years The Blood Beast Terror, the film was a means to an end- Cushing needed the work to pay his beloved wife Helen’s medical bills, and while, as ever, he gave everything to the film (he lived by the credo that his audience always deserved at the very least that he make every effort in every project, refusing to phone-in a performance (Bruce Willis take note)), its clear Corruption wasn’t a very pleasant experience. The Blood Beast Terror is far inferior film, and far less interesting to watch now, but it was clearly a more positive, fun experience for the actor. 

Both films came about as horror films were changing- the days of the traditional Hammer gothic horror were waning, and horror films were becoming more explicit, with more violence, gore and nudity. Even though Hammer had often troubled the censor with its films, the boundaries were moving and leaving Hammer behind (Hammer would soon react in the 1970s with films like The Vampire Lovers, Twins of Evil and Hands of the Ripper but the studio would always be behind the curve). Corruption reflected those changes, indeed, embraced them, and its really quite shocking to witness dear old Peter Cushing in the starring role in a film as thoroughly nasty and exploitive as this one. 

Corruption is not a very good film, but its is an absolutely fascinating one, and rather disturbing too, if only for the fact of seeing Peter Cushing in it. For my first viewing, I threw caution to the wind and watched the continental version, which was more graphic than the more restrained UK edit (the Indicator disc contains three presentations, the UK, US and continental, which was retitled Laser Killer but retains the original Corruption title here). It proved rather a shock, seeing Peter Cushing wrestling with a topless woman, stabbing her to death and wiping his bloodied hand on her breast before graphically cutting her head off. It doesn’t make the film any better, but it does make it more notorious and unpleasant (the UK version has a different actress playing the victim, and she keeps her top on). 

Peter Cushing plays a gifted surgeon, Sir John Rowan, whose unlikely, younger girlfriend, Lynn (Sue Lloyd) is a successful model who is scarred by an accident partly caused by Rowan when he is caught in a jealous fight with Lynn’s photographer, Mike (Anthony Booth channelling Andy Warhol). Rowan’s guilt over Lynn’s disfigurement drives him to drastic measures to restore her face and beauty. Initially this finds him visiting the morgue and interfering with the corpse of a beautiful woman, cutting out the bodies pituitary gland for its fluids, but the subsequent operation on Lynn, while a success, is only a temporary one. It becomes clear to Rowan that for longer results he needs to use the female pituitary gland of living subjects, and therefore is forced to go on something of a killing spree, his first victim being a prostitute in what is perhaps a grim nod to Jack the Ripper. Rowan’s horror at what he is doing brings him to a halt but Lynn become manic about maintaining her beauty and drives Rowan on.

corrup2Cushing, as ever, is quite brilliant. His repugnance at his own actions, as his initial guilt pushes him into increasingly despicable acts, is palpable; possibly a reflection of the actors own distaste for the project. I’d actually suggest its one of his better performances, but part of that may be the shudder one feels at the  bizarre sight of him in something so… exploitive, at least in the continental version I saw. Sue Lloyd is the real surprise- she’s absolutely superb. I only remember her from her role in the TV soap Crossroads when I was growing up- this film suggests that she was capable of far more, and her character’s madness and evil is quite convincing as she manipulates and ultimately betrays Rowan. The rest of the supporting cast is also very good- Kate O’Mara, Noel Trevarthen, Vanessa Howard and  Wendy Varnals give very good performances (I wasn’t so enamoured by Anthony Booth). The colourful 1960s fashions are delirious madness, although the attempt to depict the swinging sixties flounders terribly – its obvious the middle-aged film-makers didn’t have a clue regards youth culture, in just the same way as Hammer blundered in films like Dracula  AD 1972.

Its hard to qualify Corruption as a good film- frankly, it isn’t, but it is something of a morbid fascination. It is just so bizarre and strange and unpleasant. The film takes a very odd turn towards the end, when Rowan and Lynn are accosted by criminals who are clearly burgling the wrong summer house, and concludes in a frankly astonishing climax of mass murder enacted by a wildly out of control surgical laser, which censors would never allowed just a few years before. Its a crazy finale which is followed by a curious coda that is either a total cop-out or possibly an apologetic reaction to the films previous excess. 

corrIndicator’s Blu-ray is possibly far more than such a film deserves: a genuine special edition, with an 80-page book and replica production skills accompanying the disc inside a handsome slip-box. The book is excellent, with really informative essays that I found thoroughly engrossing after having watched the film. Its a lovely package which feels like total overkill for a film of such dubious quality (although the very fact that a film such as this can get such treatment is an almost endearingly lovely thing, even if Peter Cushing would be aghast, no doubt). The disc itself, alongside the three versions of the film, contains a commentary track, numerous interviews and featurettes and a 72-minute audio interview from 1986 with Peter Cushing himself which I can’t wait to settle down with. Its a typical Indicator triumph. Bravo.

 

The Return of Captain Clegg

inham6Quite how a film like Captain Clegg becomes subject of a double-dip is rather bizarre- its a wonderful little gem of a Hammer film but two copies on Blu-ray seems as financially irresponsible as NHS spending on PPE during the heights (depths?) of a pandemic. But who could have guessed back in 2014 when I bought the disc from Final Cut Entertainment that it would be part of a sixth Hammer boxset in 2021? Crikey, Indicator wasn’t a even a thing back then, and here it is rivalling Criterion in the boutique label arms race (if there was such a thing).

So anyhow, this is the fourth and last film in this sixth Hammer boxset that I’ve watched- last only because its the one that I’d seen before. Have to confess, re-watching the film after several years, I was surprised to realise just how good a film it is: certainly its a ravishing-looking film by Hammer standards, with some fine location photography boasting lovely golden light in some landscape shots that suggests considerable care and attention was made and the sets etc are really good too. Best of all, Peter Cushing is clearly relishing his role here and the result is one of his best performances in any Hammer- and he’s not alone, even Michael Ripper, a frequent Hammer veteran who can irritate sometimes, is possibly never any better than he is in this.

cleggI have often remarked that Peter Cushing would have been the perfect actor to play Robert E Howard’s puritanical anti-hero Solomon Kane, and its never clearer than here, when he was possibly the right age and eminently looks the part with his character’s own puritanical stylings (he plays village priest Reverend Blyss). There are moments that are uncanny; that jawline, those steely eyes… how ironic that Cushing himself probably never even heard of the character during his lifetime, totally ignorant of a role he seems born to have played. A trick of fate and  unfair timing, I guess, and certainly our loss- another one of those movie ‘what-ifs’ to haunt us film fans.

Captain Clegg (‘Night Creatures’ in the US) really is the little Hammer film that surpasses expectations, and clearly deserves the extra attention re: supplements that it gets in this Indicator release (which also ports across the extras from the earlier Final Cut edition). They even fixed the colour-timing issues that plagued the day-for-night shooting that  troubled that earlier release. Its a whole lot of fun and its such a pleasure to witness Peter Cushing in such fine form. I don’t think I’ll be waiting seven years for my next re-watch…

The Blood Beast Terror (1968)

bloodbeastHorror fans might think a film with a title like The Blood Beast Terror simply cannot fail, but even reliable horror favourite Peter Cushing can’t save this lacklustre effort.

Part of the problem is that its not particularly clear what’s going on or what exactly is the threat. Cushing plays Inspector Quenne, investigating a series of murders in which victims are bled dry by some bizarre assailant, leaving the police at a loss. We see odd glimpses of what is evidently some supernatural creature (the Blood Beast of the title), and it soon becomes clear that the mystery involves a scientist, Dr Mallinger (Robert Flemyng) whose daughter Claire (Wanda Ventham) behaves rather suspiciously. Its an odd horror film, a low-budget hybrid of Frankenstein and Vampire movies that unfortunately feels particularly weak-bloodied (sic) – a Tigon British Film, it’s so low-rent it makes Hammer films look luxurious.

Most frustratingly, the film leaves many questions unanswered at the end of the film, suggesting it really wasn’t thought-out: for instance we don’t how or why Mallinger created the monster. During the film I assumed it was a curse or affliction suffered by his daughter for which he was trying to find a cure but I’ve since been led to believe that Clare was his creation (like Frankenstein’s monster) and not his ‘real’ daughter at all.

Cushing of course is as dependable as ever and as usual is the best thing about the film- he’s obviously having some fun but the script is hardly stretching him. While its clearly routine he was never one to simply phone-in a performance no matter how silly the material, which is one of the reasons we fans of his adore him. He deserved much better films than this, but I understand that he was taking pretty much any gig at the time in order to pay for his wife’s medical bills as her health deteriorated.

Curiously, the actress who plays his daughter Meg in this film, Vanessa Howard, turns up in another Peter Cushing film from 1968, Corruption, which I’ve never seen and have on pre-order from Indicator (will be arriving with their Columbia Noir #4 box towards the end of September). There are often so many such curious connections between British films of this period: small world I guess. 

The Phantom of the Opera (1962)

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Its oddly fitting that this is one of the very few Hammer films I didn’t buy when it first came out on Blu-ray several years back. One of the Hammer films I’d not seen, you’d think I would have been curious enough to add it to the collection (I bought Captain Clegg blind, after all, but then again, that does star Peter Cushing). It transpires that my indifference was not unique, and it seems to have suffered a similar response from critics and cinemagoers back when it first came out: possibly the most widely unloved Hammer film of its era.

And yet, finally getting around to it now that its included in Indicator’s sixth Hammer boxset, it transpires that its a pretty good film. Blessed with what is claimed to have been Hammer’s biggest budget for a movie, it looks pretty spectacular with some lovely sets and even better location shooting (the Wimbledon Theatre posing as the ‘London Opera House’, the film cleverly moving the setting from Paris to London). The staging of the opera is really quite impressive and the period costumes and décor is to the usual high standard of Hammer. There is clearly some considerable ambition here. The film is also blessed with a really fine cast which includes the great Herbert Lom as the Phantom, Heather Sears as the Phantoms muse, Christine, and Edward de Souza cuts an impressively engaging hero (there’s also a delicious cameo by Patrick Troughton as a rat-catcher). Its even directed by Terence Fisher, one of the best directors that ever worked at Hammer (The Curse of Frankenstein, the 1958 Dracula, Hammer’s fine The Hound of the Baskervilles and many others). 

Perhaps the problem was that it was a Hammer film, and by 1962 when this came out, that already inferred a certain kind of picture, typically lurid, sensational and gothic, and this version of The Phantom of the Opera is a bit more sophisticated than usual for Hammer, and certainly much more restrained. Herbert Lom gives us a more sympathetic Phantom than the crazed killer one might have expected from Hammer (his stooge dwarf does the dirty work for him) and the real bad guy is the deliciously corrupt Lord Ambrose D’Arcy (Michael Gough, who steals the show with this lecherous and horrible scumbag, complete with casting couch shenanigans no less- its a marvellous performance that is thoroughly enjoyable, the best I’ve ever seen him). Lom is of course as excellent as one would expect- spending most of the film with his face hidden behind a mask, his commanding, lyrical voice is unmistakeable, and a flashback sequence where we see him pre-disfigurement allows him to show added facets of the character and a warmer performance that encourages our empathy. This film’s Phantom is very much painted as a victim, previously the impoverished Professor L. Petrie who was cheated when his opera was stolen by D’Arcy and subsequently horribly disfigured -and believed dead- after a fire, slowly rotting away in the sewers beneath the Opera House to plot some way of undermining D’Arcy’s success from claiming authorship of Petrie’s masterpiece.

I rather suspect that this was not the Phantom that Hammer fans wanted to see back in 1962, that they would have much preferred to have had another kill-crazy Hammer monster, with plenty of thrilling action scenes and gore, and as far as critics were concerned, who wanted to take Hammer seriously at that point when it had settled into its easily-derided (albeit successful) exploitation/gothic horror format?

All these years later gains this film a fresher perspective and it is indeed a better film than I had expected. In hindsight its clear that the film-makers should have trusted to Hammer’s reputation a little, and leaned more towards the usual ‘X’ certificate than the ‘A’, keeping both camps happy and ensuring the film has more of an edge than it does- but its clearly a conscious artistic choice they made, albeit ill-judged and dooming the film to box-office failure, critical indifference and relegation to lower-rank Hammer status, which it doesn’t really deserve at all. Its not perfect but its definitely a film past due a reappraisal, certainly by those such as me who too easily dismissed it in the past. I guess all films have their time, no matter how overdue.

Some connections:

Terence Fisher also directed  The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, The Stranglers of BombayDracula: Prince of Darkness  and many other Hammer greats.

I need a Lotto win

peter cushingSideshow collectibles over in the USA have announced two statues of Hammer stalwarts  Christopher Lee as Dracula and Peter Cushing as his adversary Van Helsing, from the 1958 Dracula. My, the Peter Cushing one is gorgeous, a work of beauty, that – Kudos to the artists at Sideshow, that looks pretty special. Mind, at something like 20″ tall I’d need a bigger shelf, as well as a bigger bank account.