TOWER OF EVIL
a.k.a. BEYOND THE FOG, HORROR ON SNAPE ISLAND
Don't go in the lighthouse!
A quintessential teen horror movie. An almost perfect case study that links the rules of old Hollywood haunted house films, with the seventies slasher cycle about to happen in the US.
At the time, Tower of Evil did its best to use as much nudity, sex and violence as possible. Setting a template for the influential Friday the 13th and Halloween - the famous ‘have sex and die’ slasher films. Many of the horror movie ‘rules’ spelled out in Scream hold true for Tower of Evil.
The immoral are punished for having sex (or smoking too much pot). The characters think it’s a great idea to leave the women behind (in a room where the murderer was last seen) and explore the island. They also think it’s a great idea to split up when roaming around!
Tower of Evil is fast-paced and entertaining, full of solid performances (with one hulking exception) and shocks. But is also has many cheesy moments that undermine the atmosphere.
I still can’t forget the laughs in the audience when I saw this supporting a double-bill in the seventies. (Be quiet, I’m trying to watch a serious horror film). But the fake head makes the sounds of a fake head as it rolls down some fake stone stairs, capped with a shot of the actress’ head poking through the floor of the set – a stupidly obvious effect that was stupidly still considered a good idea to be used in Alien (which also got laughs when it was first shown in London).
Add to this the variable and awful American accents being attempted by British actors, and you may think that this is a negative review. But it’s not. Just a warning that you have to take the rough with the smooth.
The aforementioned decapitation effect has an opening shot that I can’t quite work out. Before the head rolls down the stairs, there’s a wide shot of the body of a naked girl, found with her head turned backwards. As someone touches the head, it parts from the body, leaving a headless corpse. This is either a superb fake body, or the actress’ head has been painfully bent back and hidden beneath the floor of the set, pre-empting the similarly stunning effect that Tom Savini used on a mortuary slab zombie in Day of the Dead (1985).
The story is fast moving and tries its best to confound the audience until the very last moment. The film delivers up front, opening with two local fishermen arriving on the island to discover the aftermath of a massacre. Already we are hit with several shocks, mutilation, murder and frantic nudity.
A survivor is taken back to a strange white room for a very unorthodox interrogation, involving regressive hypnosis induced by disco-lights and injections of prescription drugs. This is presented as being OK if the police use them, but bad if you use non-prescription drugs and find your own disco-lights.
An expedition sets out to discover the island’s secrets, to find the killer and look for old gold. The team includes two couples involved in a love quadrangle, even more complex than the usual love triangle. They are in for a night of more murder, mayhem and sexual shenanigans. It’s like a dry run for Rocky Horror, but without the songs.
There are red herrings, blood-lettings, occasional bouts of madness, explicit sex scenes, and the extended use of fast-cutting, with subliminal shocks, accompanied by a woman screaming. If you want to put an audience on edge, make them listen to screaming for a whole minute – it’s nerve shredding. The subliminals interestingly flash forward as well as back, looking forwards to the spectacular climax.
The rough with the smooth. The island and lighthouse are admittedly stage-bound, but it’s one of several impressive sets. The boat that brings them to the island shows off back-projection at it’s worst, but as I’ve said, other effects prove to be more successful and mystifying.
The contemporary use of skin-tight flared jeans leave little to the imagination – and that’s just the men. The extended nude scenes show off both topless women as well as fit young men, a rarity in the genre. John Hamill was also in the opening scene of Trog, which also starts off with an unusual half-naked hunk-fest. One nude sex scene is all the more explicit because of the lack of bedclothes. Halloween, this is not.
All in all, a great film for a drunken crowd of friends on a Friday night, or a horror fan whose tastes hover between the old and the new.
Tower of Evil has an unusual cast for a British horror film. Many of the cast have done one or two horrors but none could be considered regulars. Jill Haworth (Haunted House of Horror, It!, The Mutations), and Bryant Haliday had brief stabs as horror icons (The Devil Doll and The Projected Man). Familiar support from Jack Watson as the boatman, who appeared as a vengeful ghost himself in From Beyond the Grave, but usually played stalwart police and army men. Dapper Anthony Valentine usually played villainous smoothies, here plays the interrogator – his other main horror role was in Hammer’s last horror To The Devil a Daughter, though he also proved how vicious he could be in Performance.
Two faces hard to take seriously in this, because they usually played comedy, are Robin Askwith, who later made his name in the bawdy sex comedy series that started with Confessions of a Window cleaner, and Derek Fowlds, already known as the straight man to the TV glove puppet funny fox Basil Brush, and later became Nigel Hawthorne’s sidekick in the long-running parliamentary sitcom Yes, Minister.
Director Jim O’ Connolly certainly makes a great effort to lift this above the cliches. It certainly improves on his earlier horror Berserk! (1967) and a personal low budget favourite of mine The Night Caller. Connolly also wrote the screenplay for Tower of Evil (based on a George Baxt novel). Connolly may be best known to you as the director of cowboy vs dinosaur epic Valley of Gwangi – one of Ray Harryhausen’s classic special effects films.
My region 1 DVD seemed well-restored, taken from colourful sources that didn’t look their age – it’s quite an old DVD and was presented 1.85 widescreen, but non-anamorphic. The letterbox crops off some nudity and feels too severe compared to the 4:3 VHS that I’ve become used to over the years. Even in the cinema, I remember the boat scenes being unconvincing because we could see how far out of the water the boat was, without any waves being seen, so it probably looks more convincing cropped. If you prefer a less restrictive view, perhaps the more recent 4:3 region 2 DVD will do.