AMICUS: HOUSE OF HORRORS
Attempting to document the famous horror studio
For British horror films of the 1960s and 1970s, Amicus Productions rivalled Hammer films by taking a different approach with considerable success. Amicus brought horror to mostly modern day settings, like the living rooms of The Skull, the film studios of Madhouse, the high-tech werewolf hunt of The Beast Must Die... They also monopolised on the 'portmanteau' horror, a film made up of short sharp shocks, held together by a linking story - Dr Terror's House of Horror's lead to the first EC Comics adaptions of Tales From The Crypt, Vault of Horror and beyond to Tales That Witness Madness and The Monster Club.
Strangely, the company started and ended with child-scary family adventures, from Dr Who and the Daleks to Warlords of Atlantis. Amicus made a lasting impression on several generations of filmgoers and late night TV horror fans.
|Geoffrey Whitehead from And Now The Screaming Starts|
I wish he'd spent a little more time on editing and deciding on a target audience. The running time is unnecessarily inflated by introducing many extremely familiar plots and people. Worse still, by repeating facts and introductions as if we've not been paying attention. His pieces to camera are also very downbeat, as he repeatedly reminds us who's dead, in stark contrast to the many chirpy interviewees who remember the good times they had while they colleagues were alive.
The variable sound levels also make this contrast with the flashy DVD extras that we're used to on special editions.
No-one else has got these interviews or even some of the interviewees that he has here. No one's bothered to go this far down the cast list and persuaded the directors and cameramen to talk about these almost forgotten films.
This could have been slicker, and a bigger budget could have pulled in better interviews and bigger names, Christopher Lee and Stephanie Beacham are absent. But there are no other Amicus documentaries out there anywhere!
The style then settles down with a great remembrance from Milton Subotsky's widow who thankfully has great recall about his heyday. Then we get into the main meat of the programme, split over two discs, an exhaustive film-by-film account of the entire Amicus filmography, related by an impressive roster of surviving cast and crew members.
|Angela Pleasence and father in From Beyond The Grave|
Actors who only appeared in one scene in one Amicus film are also delightful, partly because someone else remembers their characters as vividly as I do. Angela Grant as Ian Hendry's girlfriend in Tales From The Crypt is famous (to me) because I've seen it so often, and the shocking scenes that she's in. It's surprising just how much insightful material can come from someone who worked with Amicus so briefly.
Some are character actors who were more famous for their non-horror roles, like Jeremy Kemp (Dr Terror's House of Horrors) who regularly appeared as German commanders. Kenny Lynch (also Dr Terror) and Geoffrey Davies (Vault of Horror, above) were far better known for light entertainment and will only otherwise be recognised by those who remember 1970s' TV.
Crew members include production designers, cameramen and a couple of directors, like Kevin Connor (From Beyond The Grave, The Land That Time Forgot) and Stephen Weeks (I, Monster). There are of course many other interviewees and even a couple of visits to filming locations.
Director and voiceover Derek Pykett keeps appearing to fill in gaps in the timeline where he has no relevant interviewees, most annoyingly on my favourite, Tales From The Crypt, giving the first of a seemingly endless, dour reminder of how wonderful Peter Cushing was and reminding us that he's dead. I'll forgive him all this because Derek also wrote this invaluable paperback guide, British Horror Film Locations.
I won't forgive that Derek skips over the Amicus monster movies far too quickly, even though he's interviewed their director, Kevin Connor. The Land That Time Forgot, The People That Time Forgot, At The Earth's Core, and Warlords of Atlantis are scarcely covered. They were the few Amicus films that I saw at the cinema and indeed the only ones I was allowed to see at the time. They were also a large part of Amicus' success in the 1970s, and just as much a part of producer Milton Subotsky's love affair with fantastic literature.
So, after the extended run through most of the Amicus filmography, it then circles a little randomly for a while with another downbeat Cushing tribute and some leftover bits of interviews to try and sum up.
For enthusiasts who know these films and recognise these actors from relatively small roles, this is a treat. But it's a rough introduction to the subject, with not enough enticingly presented clips (just trailers) or thorough enough background, to please newcomers.
But there's more good stuff in the DVD extras! Also included are two rare archive interviews with Peter Cushing! The first is from 1990, and both are introduced by the interviewers as they are today.
While many of us are more than aware of how the death of his wife severely affected him, it's rare to see Peter talking about it at any length. And rather than being overly sentimental, he remains composed, self-deprecating and even humorous about what was a disastrous and prolonged grieving process of nearly thirteen years! He admits he tried to kill himself. Too cowardly to throw himself into the sea, he ran back home and tried to bring on a heart attack by running up and down the stairs! Which is quite an admission, that he treats with a smile. To slowly get over Helen's death, he threw himself into work and said yes to any and all offers.
The second is a 1983 interview, with a young inexperienced interviewer who Peter politely but occasionally catches out. This was crucially filmed just at the end of his 13-year exile from the public. Perhaps it's Peter easing himself back into talking about things. This is a slightly more guarded interview, but reveals he actually doesn't like watching horror films! He prefers war, drama, comedy, westerns. Though he makes a point of gratefully acknowledging the horror fans who enjoy his work. He only watches his rushes but not his films.
The DVD set makes a great companion to this similarly covered Little Shoppe of Horrors' magazine recent Amicus special.
See many more of the classic Amicus movie posters here at The Wrong Side of the Art.
40 or 50 years on the Amicus movies are still infinitely better and more watchable than anything thats produced by the British film industry NOW ! ! !. Its like for about 20 years between 1955 and 1975 the British were brilliant at making horror movies and then suddenly all that magic disapeared and has been replaced with literally decades of unimaginative, out-moded, unwatchable garbage. Its really rather odd.ReplyDelete
You're not a movie director by any chance, are you?Delete
Yes, i directed "Battle Beyond The Stars" and "When The Wind Blows", nice of you to remember me.ReplyDelete
Wow. I saw BATTLE in the cinema. Loved the recent 'making of' documentary too. THE SNOWMAN is of course a part of Christmas here in the UK. Your films have already stood the test of time!Delete
A couple of weeks ago I reviewed Freddie Francis' THE PSYCHOPATH on here - an Amicus film that hasn't hit DVD yet.
Thanks, "Battle Beyond The Stars" is my best film, good that "The Snowman" is remembered with such fondness as well, it is perhaps a minor classic. I`ll always watch any Freddy Francis movie from the days when the British used to make 'proper', 'imaginative', 'entertainment oriented' films. By the way Mark, you still didn`t say whether or not you agreed with me about the British film industry going right down the toilet in the last 35 years, it`d be nice to know your opinion on that.ReplyDelete
Yikes! Of course the days of Hammer and Amicus films were the golden age of British horror, and I've been concentrating my focus on those films in an effort to keep them recognised for new audiences.ReplyDelete
At the same time, I've been variously entranced by Japanese, Italian and american horror films, and trying to keep up with the best of other international fantasy films as well.
So much so, that I've not been following all the many horror films made in my own back yard. Though I don't think the industry is quite as bad as you say.
Admittedly there have been several huge barriers to British horror over the last thirty decades. There used to be a special tax break for British filmmakers, coupled with a decree that a set percentage of British cinemas HAD to run British films. This kept a steady stream of homegrown low budget horror films running for years. But that tax break has ended and Hollywood distribution rules our cinemas now.
Paradoxically, hundreds of elaborate big-budget American films are made in studios around London, by an army of British talent, but the money is from America and that's where the credit and the profits go.
British productions are blinkered away from horror, so I can only blame whoever it is who invests in the steady stream of gangster movies, period rehashes and feelgood rom-coms. They're ignoring the international profits to be made from horror and sci-fi.
But while we no longer have a Hammer Studio churning out sequels, Hammer Films have reformed and are making money again, notably led by THE WOMAN IN BLACK.
While independent horrors are less frequent, quality ones are still being made. I'd love to give you a full list, but SHAUN OF THE DEAD, GRABBERS, MOON, KILL LIST and SIGHTSEERS are all worthy of international attention.
Our growing annual Frightfests premiere international films, and also showcase new British horror talents. We're making the films, but no longer under one 'go to' banner, and no longer with such a high profile.
Thanks for taking the time to write what you did Mark, it made for very interesting reading. I dont want to sound as though i`m being unneccessarily awkward or negative here but i really genuinely didn`t think much of any of the six British made films that you mentioned, to say that they are all worthy of international attention is absurd, for me they were just six more laughably bad British made cinematic embarrassments that should have been swept quietly under the rug where they belong, with both "The Woman In Black" and "Shaun Of The Dead" especially being ludicrously over-rated in my opinion. For the last 35 years virtually all British made films have been like elongated episodes of your famous long running soap "Coronation Street" ! ! !, its like in the late 70`s the American film industry was taking giant leaps forwards and the British film industry was taking these idiotic and equally giant steps backwards, thats basically why for the last 35 years American films have been quite magnificent and British films have been a totally unwatchable embarrassment, as it stands at the moment the (so-called) British film industry is an affront to world cinema and an insult to the medium of the moving image. Once again Mark, thanks for the response, it would be nice to hear more from you on this subject.ReplyDelete
I hate to chime in unceremoniously here but I have to agree with my fellow countryman (Mark).ReplyDelete
While there is certainly a case for what Jimmie is saying. British cinema has been on a downward spiral in recent decades, certainly up through the 80's with the invasion of much more innovative and thought-provoking films coming from abroad. This being said in recent years - (as recent as the last 5 years) there have been noticeable improvements, not just in the horror genre but in the industry as a whole.
We're absolutely guilty of being subject to derision thanks to too many two-bit gangster films from wannabe Guy Ritchie's (when Guy Ritchie's own work is often woeful) but there certainly are some diamonds in the rough.
I think the films Mark listed - particularly Sightseers and Kill List hark back to the superb American horrors of the 70's and with Ben Wheatley just about to release possibly the film that gets him the international recognition he deserves with A Field in England - the British horror genre will hopefully bounce back.
In short, I suppose what I'm saying is that with dwindling budgets meaning that quality british cinema is having to push harder to gain awareness thanks to the masses of tripe out there, not to mention battling for distribution against so many american SAW, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and old slasher remakes, I think there is hope for us yet.
Jimmie, I'm a huge fan of your work - The Snowman still brings a tear to my eye. Mark - keep up the good work.
Having read all of the comments above I have a few things to say but let me just preface it with one thing.ReplyDelete
Jimmy, not to sound Sycophantic, but with the Snowman you brought many hours of Joy to myself and my sibling, who adores it, a true classic. I aspire to be remembered for one great thing that brought joy to people, in my life and you've already achieved that, a truly wonderful classic.
Anyway I digress. I have to agree with Mark and Tom in regards to the state of the British Film industry. I think comparing the American Film industry and the British Film industry is a little unfair. Firstly America is in terms of population immensely bigger than Britain, therefore has a greater home grown talent pool to draw upon. Secondly, however we've arrived at this juncture, the fact is all the major studios with weight, money and power are American, not British. So America has both the money and the sheer number or volume of home grown people to call upon, with the money and the infrastructure comes investment. In comparing the British film Industry with that of the US, you seem to have not taken into account how far apart we are in financial terms.
I believe that its a case of we are working with what we have, we know we aren't Hollywood so we are never going to create the kind of turnover that Hollywood produces and as a result the willingness to take a risk in a filmmaker is going to be substantially less so for sheer figures, its impossible to ever hope to match what the US Produces.
In terms of quality, I think you need to look at how much drivel Hollywood produces compared to the quality output. There is to quote a phrase 'a hell of a lot crap out their' most of it starring Eddie Murphy these days (Blowfish aside). A big percentage of what comes out of America is aimed at the mass market, sure often the Vince Vaughn / Ben Stiller vehicles make good money and help stack the coffers of an already bloated movie system but they can hardly be deemed quality.
I agree there are some stunningly good independent movies exported from America, but no more so than from countries like Japan, France and without doubt recently South Korea. My argument would be if you take the big Hollywood studio system out of this because its unfair to throw it into the mix, the movies that Britain produces under the flag of being British have been equally as good as the independent movies of America over the past few years. We have the talent and the films, we just don't have big Studios to wave the flag for us and shout 'hey look at us, were making all this money, so ignore the fact the films that are making the money are derisory at best'. And my argument for these films I class as British, heres the list to name a few:
4)Nil bye Mouth
5)Twenty Four Seven
6) Dead Man's Shoes
7)Flashbacks of a Fool (it had the brevity to show a child being killed by an explosive)
10) Withnail and I
This is just a short list i could have compiled a much greater one. The point I'm attempting to come to and you'll have to excuse my waffling, is that comparatively, outside of the studio system Britain produces just as many good films as the American market.
I respect your opinion and you truly are a great film maker.
Thanks for the compliment Thomas, i really appreciate it. Now unfortunately for the 'not-so-good-stuff' regarding that pathetic abomination laughably known as the British film industry. There have been NO repeat NO 'diamonds-in-the-rough' with regards to British films for such a long time now, even my movie "When The Wind Blows" became a bit of a laughing stock when it was released in North America (i`m the first one to admit that). Guy Ritchies films literally define the word 'pathetic' and they wouldn`t have even passed muster as a BBC 'Play For Today' in 1972 ! ! ! (actually, strickly speaking, they would have also embarrassed The Childrens Film Foundation circa 1968 ! ! !). Also, (and i genuinely dont mean to sound condescending here) i`m not sure whether you and Mark actually understand and comprehend what constitutes and represents a 'good film' in the traditional sense of what that phrase means for the vast majority of cinema-going/movie-watching people in the world, i`m 79 years old and i think i do know what it means, for instance, Robocop from 1987 (as a random example) is better (by itself) in my opinion than literally everything that the British film industry has produced put together over the last 35 years (just to put things into the proper perspective again). By the way, one other specific important point regarding the British film industry that it would nice to hear both your opinions on, the most murderously appalling and unwatchable British made films are the ones that are indeed wholly and completely British made (meaning the ones with literally no input of any kind from anywhere else), these are the British made films that i`m specifically trashing more than any others. I know there have been some reasonably good co-productions produced in Britain over the last 35 years with American and European actors and technicians working alongside their British counterparts, but, like i said, i`m talking about COMPLETELY BRITISH MADE FILMS, as i said in one of my earlier comments it is rather mysterious and strange why those specific British films have become so laughable and murderously unwatchable in the last 35 years, you`re both British so it would be good to hear your perspectives and opinions on this mysterious and bizarre decline in British film making.ReplyDelete
Michael, once again a very nice compliment, to hear "The Snowman" refered to as a "truly wonderful classic" really does this old mans heart a power of good, many thanks. Alas though with regards to the rest of your comment i can only more or less repeat what i said just now, the 10 films that you listed were all unwatchable garbage to me (with the exception of Brazil, but then of course that did have a lot of American involvement in its production, didn`t it ! ! !). Of course America produces vast amounts of unwatchable hogwash but its still 1000 times better than the equally unwatchable hogwash produced everywhere else (especially Britain of course), thats another key point that you seem to be conveniently forgetting here. With regards to the difference in population and wealth, well it was the same back in the 1960`s but back then Britian was still arguably able to make better horror movies than America (back to magic of Hammer and Amicus again) or at least on a par with them. The key point i have to re-state once again is why have British films gone so far down the toilet in the last few decades, when you watch a completely British made film now (one with absolutely no input from anywhere else remember) you really are literally scraping the celluloid faecal material off of the bottom of the world cinematic barrel (so to speak). Its really nice of you to call me a "truly great film-maker" Michael but against that i have to be truthful about a British film industry that has gone from producing some of my own personal all-time favourite horror movies to being a worldwide laughing stock in the space of just a couple of decades. Cushing, Lee, Hammer, and Amicus will ALWAYS represent 'THE BEST' for me, thats why i`m so angry and bitter about what the British film industry has now deteriorated into.ReplyDelete
Jimmie Both myself, Mark and Tom have put forward our opinions and you must remember all of this is conjecture, not fact. We have been balanced and fair, even if you don't agree with what we have to say. However from my perspective it appears that you are wholly biased in your slanderous view of the British film industry in comparison to the saintly, can do no wrong American industry. It appears having a fair debate is not in your mandate. However I will say this. If we are to mourn the decline of the British film industry and heap praise on the American, consider this.ReplyDelete
There are very few independent British Cinemas around with the free will to back British films. Those cinemas that are run by someone with a healthy interest in showing good films, rather than making a quick buck. Most movie screenings are at corporate money driven multiplexes and where did that idea originate? America. And what is the country of origin of the majority of these films that are shown at multiplexes? America. We are in the age of the blockbuster, which stems from, you guessed it America. So while you can denounce our film industry as on its last legs, its the vacuous popcorn peddling, insipid blockbusters from America that are stopping any of our good films from populating the multiplexes. With all due respect, given a choice between 'Sex and the City, The Movie' and 'Nil By Mouth' most people would opt for the Sex and the city Movie, because its familiar, its easy , its got a headline star, does that make it better? Far from it, it just makes it easier to sell to a mass market, which is the case with most American Movies. Thus we don't have a chance of competing, thus no one will take a risk and really properly back the British film industry and as a result only a small proportion of films make it to distribution, a good percentage of which are quite good and some aren't so good. The decline in British film is inexplicably linked to the rise in the American film industry.
Now that is what I deem a balanced argument.
PS. As much as I love Robocop and its sideswipe at 1980's commercialism, there are far better movies to come out of Britain and the US in the past 30 years.
ROBOCOP is an interesting choice to represent American film. With a Dutch director and a heap of story ideas and humour lifted from the British comic 2000AD, specifically the early stories of JUDGE DREDD.ReplyDelete
Mark, Thomas, Michael, i`m really sorry if my opinions offended you, its just that when it comes to a ludicrous and pathetic abomination like the (so-called) British film industry i feel i have to tell "THE TRUTH, THE WHOLE TRUTH, AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH", once again my apologies gentlemen but i miss Cushing, Lee, Hammer and Amicus so much. It ALWAYS makes me feel so angry to see the appalling train-wreck that they`ve been replaced by. By the way Mark, i think you`re clutching at straws again, ROBOCOP is all-American through and through, its strange that you cant just accept that.ReplyDelete
No I can't claim to know quite what you call 'a good film'. I'm just recommending films that I think people might still like.Delete
You'd be better off venting at British film-makers rather than lovers of film who happen to be British.
Current British film-makers make me sick. They`re so pathetic, childish, foul-mouthed and talentless. I`m not including you here Mark, i have a lot of respect for you and this site. Just try not to reveiw anything that was made in Britain after about 1980 from now on OK, i`d appreciate it.ReplyDelete
are you kidding??ReplyDelete
as a MASSIVE fan of hammer/amicus,i, and many more british fans would be insulted by remarks made above regarding ''woman in black'' and ''shaun ot dead'', they were fantastic british films,and w.i.b is the biggest grossing brit horror of recent years,ressurecting hammer to where it should be...sir christopher lee commented it was ''a joy to see hammer back,stronger than ever'' after watching the film,and to say brit cinema is basically dead is misinformation,horror maybe but come on????!!!! potter, skyfall,recent comedys such as hot fuzz.....while u.s keepchurning out sequels,and now disney about to destroy star wars too!!!!!!!!! and movie studios and stages are ever used in uk are called the best lots in the world....ppl from inside should look out of the box for once in a while!!!
also many ''american'' films rely on MAJOR british talet to succeed,potter,bond,even star wars wasn filmed mostly outside us and gere in blighty!!!!!!!! hmm lets think...kings speech?? the queen?? may not be horror but they cleaned up at the oscars!!!!!!!!!ReplyDelete
Anonymous, you really have no idea what you`re talking about. I agree whole-heartedly, completely, and unreservedly with everything that Jimmie T. Murakami said. The entire (so-called) British film industry is a laughable shambles and it ain`t worth bloody tuppence. Just go back and read all of Jimmie's comments carefully again and allow them to educate you about the REAL current state of the (so-called) British film industry, then perhaps you will be able to understand all the absurd errors and mistakes that you made in your idiotic appraisal of the current (so-called) British film industry.ReplyDelete
I got this Amicus dvd last year and it was well worth it!..very long..but holds your interest all the way through..the British had a flair for horror.ReplyDelete
Like the review here I feel that this Amicus documentary could have been done so much better. It is incorrect though to say it is the only one of it's kind. There was a DVD, which has become scarce now, called 'Amicus Vault of Horror' (2015) which runs for 2 hours 26 mins and is narrated by Roy Hudd.ReplyDelete
Is that the documentary in the new blu-ray boxset from America?Delete