February 26, 2012

JAWS filming locations, part 3 - North and East: Brody's house, State Beach

Concluding this three-part photo-tour of Martha's Vineyard, an informal look for the filming locations for Jaws (1975).


At the end of Part 2, we were at the far west point of the island at Gay Head Cliffs, an area also called Aquinnah. We drove back across the island heading north to Vineyard Haven, a small town on the west side of a large natural harbour.

This was a far smaller town than it sounded in the guide book, but it's one of the busiest places on the island, with two docks for the huge car ferries from the mainland. Therefore, this is the most likely location for the 'tourists on the menu' montage in Jaws.


East Chop lighthouse
Driving to the other side of the harbour, in search of the Brody house on East Chop Drive, we had a look at East Chop lighthouse, one of five on the island.

Next door to the Brody house
This house isn't in the film, but it's between the lighthouse and the house used as the Brody family house in Jaws. I'm guessing that the location scout first suggested these houses because they were close to the picturesque lighthouse. 

The Brody house
Just down the hill from the lighthouse, the 'Brody house' has now been reclad, and the garage has been converted into a separate dwelling. 

Rear veranda just visible (which has a view of their jetty)
But the veranda at the back and their own little dock are still visible from the street. This end of the veranda was where Ellen Brody (Lorraine Gary) freaks out while looking at a book of shark attacks...

Other end of the veranda, and their private jetty (the far one)
It's a private residence, the owner didn't even want it used again for filming Jaws 2. So we didn't spend too long lurking outside, and certainly didn't trespass on any private land to get a better angle.

The jetty closest to the house is in a state of disrepair -
this should be where Michael Brody's birthday present was moored 


Taking the coast road south from East Chop to Edgartown takes you along a long sandbar which needs two bridges to complete it as a roadway. The larger of the two bridges (the more southern of the two) was made famous in the film, where the shark enters 'the pond' while a false alarm distracts the police patrols.

This beach and the bay are the reason Jaws was filmed here on Martha's Vineyard, as the water is very shallow for a long way out. Meaning that the huge tracking mechanism for the shark could be easily laid in shallow water, for both the beach and 'at sea' scenes. The huge wide bay was relatively sheltered from crosswinds and currents, but the horizon could still be clear of land, to maintain the illusion that they were filming far out at sea.

State Beach, looking north -
land curves round the horizon, sheltering the bay
This beach was used in two major scenes. The shark attack witnessed by Chief Brody while he's relaxing with his wife, and the crowded beach  scenes set on July 4th. The bandstand and the brightly colour-striped cabanas were all built for the film, but all there is to see now is sand and sea. Who knows exactly where Spielberg filmed his electrifying reverse-zoom close-up of Roy Scheider. 

Guessing where Scheider had his back rub
Reverse angle - this sea saw a lot of action
Behind most of the length of the beach is a long stretch of water called Sengekontacket Pond. The action in 'the pond' is easier to pinpoint, where Brody's son meets the shark while sailing with two friends, and the policeman's desperate run to try and help him after being distracted by the stampede. Brody runs along the bridge and jumps over the side onto a much smaller beach by the entrance to the pond.

The rocky breakwaters, the bridge and the channel into the pond have recently been remodelled though. I was disappointed that the distinctive wooden supports for the bridge are now concrete pillars.

The bridge leading to the pond -
the beach with the woman artist is at top left, "Sh... sh... shark!"

The bridge supports are no longer wooden -
dense trees surround the pond at the rear

Brody runs down along here to get to the pond -
I've no idea why I'm leaning like that
Looking south across the channel
at the 'artist's beach' and beyond

The artist's beach - the bridge is at right -
note how the bay stretches round the horizon

On the bridge, looking south - pond is on the right
On the bridge, looking at State Beach,
guessing where the bandstand stood
The beach seems much deeper than it was in the film

View from the artist's beach, looking across the channel
On the artist's beach, the pond can be seen at top
I wanted a shot of me standing here, blocking one of the most chilling angles in the film, when the shark submerges in this channel to go under the bridge and into the pond. To learn how they shot that, you'll need to read Memories from Martha's Vineyard.

Chief Brody can't have read this

The pond side of the bridge, recently remodelled
Reverse view, a small beach looking over the pond -
I thought this might be where the girl bathers see the boys in trouble


On our final morning, we left the island on a small ferry from Oak Bluffs. I don't think this town was seen in the film, but it's the largest town on Martha's Vineyard, with the prettiest buildings on the island, making it the most usual tourist destination for daytrippers. 

Oak Bluffs car ferry dock

As you can see above, this dock at Oak Bluffs can't be the one seen in the car ferry montage in Jaws. Every time I saw these ships, I could hear John Williams music.

Best Jaws souvenir shop on the island! (Closed on Mondays)
Just down from the harbour, on Spring Street, this shop makes a point of selling the best Jaws souvenirs. Of course, it was shut the day we were there. I suppose that gives us an excuse to go back!

Compared to some other of our 'location tours', we often had to use our imaginations. I spent a few moments at each spot, staring out to sea aimlessly wondering if that patch of water had seen any action. How desperate! For all I knew, we could have been in the wrong place at various parts of this tour. But I think we saw most of the locations that are still identifiable.

My main regret is that we couldn't find out where the closing shot (frame grab above) was filmed.  A stretch of deserted beach with a lighthouse in the distance. From what I'd read, I'd assumed it was the lighthouse at the top of Chappaquiddick, but we didn't have time to see that. I'm now thinking it looks more like the beach at Aquinnah with the Gay Head lighthouse top right. We also couldn't find any building that resembled the gutting shed where Brody and Hooper search the shark's stomach.

But this trip has further cemented my love for Jaws, appreciating how much was made out of so little. Some films use spectacular locations for impressive imagery. Making a spectacular film full of unforgettable images in a quiet seaside town takes special talent.

Again, it was weird to visit a place for the first time that was already so familiar. Thankfully, no teenage impressions have been smashed - the visit didn't reveal any outrageous 'cheating' or disappointments. Just a wider view of a place I first saw through a letterbox.

Jaws tour - part 1: Edgartown - the heart of Amity Island

Jaws tour - part 2: bonfire beach, Katama Bay, Quint's dock

The making of Jaws - a look at the books and documentaries

My notes on the film
( All photographs in this post are copyright of Mark Hodgson and David Tarrington © 2011 )

February 23, 2012

NIGHT OF THE EAGLE / BURN WITCH, BURN (1962) - harsh lessons


(1962, UK)

A psychology professor (Peter Wyngarde) is sceptical that superstition has any place in a scientific world. He's unaware that his wife (Janet Blair) has been impressed by the power of voodoo witch doctors on a recent vacation. When in-fighting at the university gets nasty, she suspects that black magic is being used to foil her husband's chance of attaining a prestigious place in the senior faculty.

This is a taut, suspenseful, modern gothic whodunit, with the professor clinging onto logic despite an onslaught of coincidence. The testing of his disbelief in the occult parallels Dana Andrews' plight in Night of the Demon, for which this is an excellent companion, both British black-and-white productions.

This is probably less well known because it's caught between too many aliases. In the UK it's called Night of the Eagle, in the US Burn Witch, Burn! Both movie titles are appropriate, though one undersells it and the other oversells it. The short story on which it's based, 'Conjure Wife', was previously filmed as Weird Woman. Same story, four different names.

Like the best black magic horror movies, the story treads the edge of believability. There are those who certainly believe, and it nags that they might actually be able to nudge events for their own ends. The atmosphere of working and socialising with the same crowd means that after hours get-togethers are already unhealthy, prone to work-related back-biting and manoeuvring.

The supernatural elements are effectively sold by the careful cinematography and deadly serious performances. It's a shame that Peter Wyngarde didn't star in more films. His brusque angular features reminded me of James Bond's early appearance in newspaper comic strips. It's also a change from his usual villainous casting (as a ghost in The Innocents and the whiphand sadist in the infamous episode of The Avengers, 'The Hellfire Club'). He's better known for being an early Austin Powers fop on TV, Jason King, and wider still as the voice (and presumably the man behind the mask) of Klytus in Flash Gordon (1980).

His wife is played by Janet Blair, another terrific performance, though I'd only ever seen her in the 'Tourist Attraction' episode of The Outer Limits. Fans of Black Narcissus may spot Kathleen Byron amongst the faculty, but only in a small role. Margaret Johnston is another reason to watch. Again I'm mystified why her best work was on stage after seeing her work here.

Director Sidney Hayers previously made the delirious Circus of Horrors (1960), but the heavyweight horror credentials are the screenwriters Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont. Matheson was already the main reason for seeing a film whether he'd written the source story or the script. He later adapted The Devil Rides Out for Hammer, convincing us again that black magic was at work. Beaumont was one of the leading story writers behind The Twilight Zone.

The author of 'Conjure Wife' was Fritz Leiber, whose fantasy and horror work is under-exploited onscreen. I've always wanted to see his sword and sorcery duo of viking and thief, Fahfrd and Grey Mouser visualised (as they have been in many comic adaptions). Theirs are my favourite stories of the genre, so evocatively written.

He even acted in a couple of movies taking the lead of his father, also called Fritz Leiber, who appeared in many Hollywood historical epics, like The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) and The Phantom of the Opera (1941). This is a little confusing as his father is billed as Fritz Leiber, so the author's movie credits are as Fritz Leiber Jr.

Another possible double-bill with Night of the Eagle could be Weird Woman (1944) from the Inner Sanctum Mystery series. This earlier adaption of 'Conjure Wife' stars Lon Chaney Jr in a more melodramatic, stagebound adaption. Another big plus in the cast is Elizabeth Russell, the fatal woman from so many Val Lewton thrillers. With a very different approach, it still packs some surprises, including cursed telephone calls that prefigure Ring (1999). This is available in the Inner Sanctum Mysteries DVD boxset in the US.

Night of the Eagle has been remastered so that it looks sharp and clean of dirt and scratches for this UK DVD from Optimum, but cropped to 16:9 widescreen anamorphic proves to me that the composition looks too cramped like this, and was originally intended for 1.66 presentation.

It's also available in the US as Burn, Witch, Burn on an MGM Limited Edition Collection made-on-demand DVD-R.

February 16, 2012

ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1932) - must-see pre-code horror

(USA, 1932)

This classic has been missing from DVD for too long, considering it was amongst the first wave of Hollywood fantasy films hellbent on scaring the audience. It was also one of the very first horror movies to be set in the modern world, rather than a mythical European country like Frankenstein (1931) was, or in the distant past, like the settings for The Golem (1920) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925).

It's perhaps creepier than its 'golden age' contemporaries because more elements of this story overlap into reality more aggressively than the supernatural horrors. While Frankenstein's success at creating life from stitching together body parts and electrocuting them is about as scientific as a ghoulish nightmare, Dr Moreau alone on his island operating on live subjects is far closer to what rogue scientists actually get up to.

While experimental surgery on human subjects definitely happened in the concentration camps ten years after this film, unanesthetised experiments were already happening to animals, and that is partly what inspired HG Wells to write The Island of Dr Moreau in 1896. Vivisection was a hot moral topic at the time, and this is a spectacular way of getting the reader's sympathy for the animals, by allowing them to speak and protest for themselves.

I'm not sure Wells was intentionally prophesying that this could eventually happen, turning animals into humans, as much as imagining a way for the animals to state their case. I'm not sure he could have anticipated the use of animal organ transplants into humans either, but who knows?

While there were many 'apes with the intelligence of men' movies, often variations on Frankenstein (brain swaps) or Murders in the Rue Morgue, this isn't a B-movie. The star, Charles Laughton, was definitely 'A' list, having just appeared as Nero in Cecil B DeMille's epic The Sign of the Cross and James Whale's follow-up to Frankenstein, The Old Dark House. The jungle sets are large and convincing, the photography lavishly adding shadowy menace. 

Laughton is too good an actor to give us a typically hysterical mad doctor. His evil is two-faced and confidently relaxed. A polite and charming host, manipulating his prey into mind-boggling situations in the name of science. While there isn't too much onscreen to offend the censors, the doctor talks about some controversial experimentation very openly, only possible because this is a pre-code production (before very strict censorship was laid down). It still cause enough of a stir to be banned completely in some countries. I was surprised to hear Moreau compare himself to God, when Dr Frankenstein had had his lines cut for the same claim only the year before. Possibly, this line can only be heard because we're allowed to see the uncut version.

While he hasn't much screen time, Bela Lugosi is high on the cast list due to his success in Dracula the year before. But his performance stands out as broad and theatrical (he shouts his lines) compared to the entire rest of the cast (manimals included), and is now the most dated aspect of the film. 

Lugosi's make-up is spectacular, as are all the other animal people, even if their intricate 'masks' are only briefly glimpsed. It's the publicity photographs that demonstrate the artistry, imagination and detail that went into these creations, looking almost organic. (The DVD extras have a great gallery of photos). The ghastly magnitude of Moreau's experiments keeps growing as we meet more and more beast-men.

This is easily the best adaption of the story to date. Two more official adaptions followed - both using the book's title The Island of Dr Moreau. In 1977, Burt Lancaster hounded Michael York, though I felt that the animal fights looked too violent to be humane. It adds some twists to the story but sorely lacks atmosphere.

The 1996 version had a famously troubled production, and despite Stan Winston's elaborate make-ups, they were let down by some poor computer animation. The film is further sabotaged by increasingly eccentric performances from Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer. The most memorable aspect for me was the title sequence (by the same team who had just done the titles for Se7en) that introduced the genetic update to the tale. Also unforgettable was the casting of the world's shortest actor, the two foot four inches tall 
Nelson de la Rosa who played Moreau's mascot, thus inspiring the sidekick to South Park's Dr Mephisto (who wears Hawaiian shirts like Brando's character). It's maybe worth a look as a runaway movie without any reins.

In the US, Island of Lost Souls has been remastered and released on DVD and Blu-ray by Criterion. There's a detailed 14-page booklet with it (from which I learnt of the vivisection connection). There's a commentary track from horror historian Gregory Mank and very interesting interviews with John Landis, Rick Baker, Richard Stanley (original director of the 1996 adaption), my favourite horror analyser David Skal, and two members of the band Devo!

This restoration is also available on a dual-format (Blu-ray and DVD) set in the UK on May 28th, as part of Eureka's Masters of Cinema collection. With the surviving film elements being quite grainy, the Blu-ray ekes out as much detail as is possible. The extras are more limited than the US set, a trailer and interviews with Simon Callow (actor and Laughton biographer) and Jonathan Rigby who carefully places the story in the context of sci-fi literature and contemporary horror films. There's a different but lovely 32-page booklet with it too, with rare stills and a long essay by Kim Newman.

(Updated May 28th, 2012 with details of UK release.)