July 31, 2013

R.I.P. Diane Clare - farewell to a 'final girl' from the 1960s

Last month, I saw Amicus Productions' Witchcraft for the first time, notable for a decent performance from Lon Chaney Jr. near the end of his career. I was especially pleased to see Diane Clare in it, playing his daughter! Reminding myself of her other films, I looked at her Wikipedia page and discovered that she'd passed away the day before, aged 74.

While she appeared in very British favourites such as Ice Cold In Alex (1958) and Whistle Down The Wind (1961), these were relatively small roles, and her passing only warranted a couple of mentions in newspapers. Nothing lengthy, and not much else online.

Diane Clare (right) and Sylvia Syms in Ice Cold In Alex
But it was always a pleasure to see her name in the credits. I've a fondness for any actor who repeatedly appears in horror films. I'm sure it wasn't always her first choice of roles, tackling fantastic subjects that must have been hard to commit to giving convincing performances, in outlandish situations. She always brightens up her films, and I'd like to commemorate here her few roles when she was, briefly, a scream queen, often the last woman standing among the victims...

The Plague of the Zombies (1966) is her biggest role in an acclaimed horror film. The leading lady in a Hammer horror, recently restored and released on blu-ray, this is the one she's best known for. Threatened by rampant huntsmen, a murderous sorcerer and the living dead...

No stranger to sacrificial altars, she'd previously been on the wrong side of black magic in Amicus horror Witchcraft (1964) and was later staked out (again) in the desert in The Hand of Night (1966).

With Jack Hedley in Witchcraft
Another leading role was in an unconvincing monster movie - her last horror film - The Vulture (1967), where a series of killings appear to be committed by a huge bird.

The Vulture
When she appeared in more famous films, she inevitably had smaller roles. But there she is, with a Boston accent in Robert Wise's classic ghost story The Haunting (1963) - which probably led to all her British horror roles. She can also be glimpsed in the black comedy The Wrong Box - another film for director Bryan Forbes (after Whistle Down The Wind).

As the Sunday school teacher in Whistle Down The Wind
Of her television appearances, I must mention that she can briefly be seen in the Diana Rigg era of The Avengers, in the episode 'Death At Bargain Prices' (1965).

As Chantel in The Hand of Night
The Hand of Night has been cited as her last film, but this is a quirk of IMDB relying on its own information, where movies have been dated by their cinema release dates. While it first appeared in the US in 1968 (as The Beast of Morocco), it was made in 1966. As Chantel she has a forceful role, trying to save Paul Carver (William Sylvester) from suicidal thoughts as he veers into personal darkness after the death of his young family. In the story she symbolises light and life, but succeeds at playing a realistic and rounded character, which she remembered as one of her best.

She then gave up acting to raise a family, marrying writer Barry England. Some of his work was adapted for movies - a novel as Figures on a Landscape (1970) and a play became Conduct Unbecoming (1975).

The best article about Diane is by Mark A. Miller in issue 10 of Monsters From The Vault, published in 2000. At 13 pages long, it's a fitting biography of her busy decade of film work and a document of her memories of that time.

Of course, I'm very sorry that she's left us so soon.

More about The Hand of Night (1966), still not on DVD, here.

July 29, 2013

Flashback 1967 - BLOW UP, GRAND PRIX, THE TRIP...

A selection of pages from defunct movie magazines from 1967...

On the front cover, David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave in a scene from Antonioni's Blow Up. The sixties were in full swing, but the big budget movies being cranked out include a raft of musicals like Doctor Doolittle, featured inside. 

Also from Films and Filming, March - full page advert
John Frankenheimer's Grand Prix debuts in the ultra-wide format of Cinerama. Many movies shot this way had been historical epics rather than set present day. This incorporated specially shot footage from the previous year's actual Grand Prix races. So much footage was shot that Frankenheimer had enough to devise impressive, multiple, split-screen montages. Note the ticket prices in the advert at bottom left - the best seat in the stalls costs 20 shillings (1 pound).

Photoplay Film Monthly, April - half page advert
Only three years after playing the Queen of the Nile in Cleopatra, Elizabeth Taylor drastically changed her image for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? As a middle-aged, overweight, drunken wife of a college professor (Richard Burton), she terrifies two students (George Segal and Sandy Dennis) by airing her relationship problems at an increasingly dramatic, intimate dinner party.

Films and Filming, September - first page of photo-feature
Roger Corman directed this Jack Nicholson script. The Trip starred Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern and Dennis Hopper. The publicity photos taken on set had a tough job in emulating the cinematographic techniques that in turn attempted to visualise the psychedelic experiences of L.S.D. (impossible on this low-budget). The publicity gained from this three-page photo-feature was in vain - The Trip was banned from cinemas and home video in the UK until 2003!

Photoplay Film Monthly, December - full page splash
Daughter of revered actor John Mills, Hayley had previously been a child actor in beloved British classics (like Whistle Down The Wind) and Disney films (like The Parent Trap). But once she'd hit twenty, she sought more adult roles starting with the kitchen sink drama The Family Way. A year later, this startling image from Pretty Polly confirmed that her career had grown up!

More magazine Flashbacks:
Lawrence of Arabia and more in 1963.

July 25, 2013

FRANKENWEENIE (1984) - Tim Burton's original short

While I enjoyed the new, re-animated Frankenweenie in many ways, the original live-action short film remains one of Tim Burton's very best.

Just under half an hour long is all it takes for a compact retelling of Universal's classic Frankenstein (1931), staged in a slightly surreal corner of suburban California. Victor loves his pet dog Sparky, but after it's accidentally killed, the only thing that can lift the young boy out of his depression, is the possibility that he can bring his dog back from the dead...

At the time, Tim Burton had made something a little too weird for Disney to handle. It was certainly out of step with the studio's image at the time - they didn't even have a 'spooky Halloween' attitude to horror yet. So it snuck out as a support feature and disappeared from sight only until Tim Burton had left Disney and then had hits with Batman and Edward Scissorhands. Only then did Frankenweenie emerge from Disney's vaults to appear on home video (see the VHS cover above). I've heard this was slightly censored, but I've not yet done a comparison viewing.

Frankenweenie then appeared more proudly as an extra feature on laserdisc, DVD and blu-ray releases of A Nightmare Before Christmas, when Disney finally 'got' Burton and embraced a slightly darker side. I'm glad it's always been available, but without being displayed as part of the cover art, it's never really gained it's own identity. So much so, that the 2012 feature-length animated version looks like a new idea, rather than an expanded remake.

Even if you've seen the new film, the original short is certainly worth a visit. The ending is very different and live-action has far more emotional impact. The humour is more adult, with in-jokes about Hitchcock, and a super subversion of a famous scene from In Cold Blood. The characters are almost all changed. It's the same core story, but set in an alternate, Edward Scissorhands universe.

Considering this Frankenweenie was made before any of Burton's feature films, it's already consistent with the design and themes of his next several films. There's a shot of Sparky running off down the street that prefigures Edward Scissorhands, a wooden tower that echoes Batman's belfry climax, electric Christmas decoration reindeer anticipate A Nightmare Before Christmas, and there's a familiar-looking giant Felix cathead before they appeared as a motif in Batman Returns...

A young Barret Oliver milks far more tears for the death of his dog, and of course it's more icky to see a real youngster run off to the pet cemetery to dig him up again. Frankenweenie was released the same year as Oliver's most famous film The NeverEnding Story.

His mum and dad are played by Shelley Duvall and Daniel Stern. Duvall had just had a great run with The Shining, Robert Altman's Popeye and a cameo in Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits. Stern had recently done Diner and Blue Thunder, but was still years away from major recognition for Home Alone. The pair play the comedy suitably straight, setting the tone of normality before their son's mad science disrupts the neighbourhood.

Delightfully, it's Paul Bartel who plays the pivotal role as the science teacher, introducing Victor to the rejuvenating powers of electricity. At the time, he was making a string of cameos in other people's productions, but usually non-mainstream movies (Piranha, White Dog, Chopping Mall). Perhaps his films as a director are better known - Bartel was between Eating Raoul and Lust In The Dust. Though Death Race 2000 will always be his greatest film.

Bizarrely, the spoilt, Barbie-obsessed girl next door, a kid-who-doesn't-understand-weirder-kids, is played by young Sofia Coppola! Credited under her stage name 'Domino', she was only thirteen at the time.

The only thing I will say against the Frankenweenie short, is that the music is lacking. If only he'd found Danny Elfman a little earlier, this desperately needs him!

I think the new version overdoes the references to Universal's Frankenstein, with characters looking like Dwight Frye and Boris Karloff. But it's wonderful to see model animation, in gorgeous black-and-white, and tons more b-movie monster homages.

July 22, 2013

Flashback 1963 - LAWRENCE OF ARABIA...

The first in a new series...

I've been sharing bits and pieces from defunct movie magazines of the 1960s and 1970s over on the 'Black Hole' Twitter feed, but it makes sense for them to be more accessible. Original adverts for movie debuts are particularly valuable for reference, establishing the exact date and the London cinemas where they first played. On this blog, I've been trying to stay consistent in dating each film with the widely agreed, correct year. I've relied on IMDB for this, but it often fails to provide any UK release dates for either American or British films. Any films that premiered before the US could therefore be dated incorrectly. I'm now going to double-check release dates of older films with the BFI database. But these magazines could also provide reliable arbitration!

While I've always cherished my horror movie magazines (
here's more about the ones from the 1970s), the less specialised movie mags were stuck in a cupboard. I'd get Film Review at the cinema and Photoplay Film Monthly. While the articles are mostly celebrity gossip, publicity fluff and endless plot descriptions, they provide insight into how the films were initially sold, as well as candid behind-the-scenes photos, and .

Of course, I'm concerned about copyright and am certainly not going to post any entire articles. Instead, I'll give details of where any interesting articles can be found - most of these old magazines are still easily available on eBay. Besides information, some of the full-page poster ads, and of course the covers, are worthy of framing! I'm also restricting myself to magazines that are no longer in print and, to hamper any reproduction for profit, these are all handheld photos rather than scans. The kind of photos you'd get on eBay, only intended for reference and fun!


Films and Filming - January, 1963

This is my oldest issue of Films and Filming, and it was already on its hundredth issue. The magazine first caught my eye in the 1970s for its risque and gay-biased covers and coverage. It was more mainstream in the 1960s, but still far less analytical of theme and content (like the intimidatingly wordy Sight and Sound) and more interested in film-makers than critical response. They'd also have spreads of two (or more) pages of publicity photos from upcoming films, printed on glossy paper (but only in black-and-white).
This issue includes a rather paltry four pages on 'the making of'' Lawrence of Arabia, with some small, unremarkable, publicity photos. Not nearly as impressive as the cover. This full page advert mentions the cinemas where it first played in London, and even the ticket prices!

Hatari eventually became a staple of 'Saturday Night At The Movies' on BBC1, and is still notable for Henry Mancini's music (especially the catchy 'Elephant Walk' which has outlived the movie). But also for the exciting hunting scenes where wild animals are lassoed (alive - for zoos and research) -the footage studied and emulated in Spielberg's The Lost World - Jurassic Park for similar scenes of dinosaurs being captured. Note the dates bottom right - the usual tactic of screening new films in London for several weeks before the rest of the country had the chance.

This Sporting Life - Lindsay Anderson's first feature film. This full-page ad was eye-catchingly printed sideways, a typically non-conformist visual statement.

July 10, 2013

INVASION (1965) - the prototype for Spearhead From Space


(1965, UK)

A Doctor Who story - without Doctor Who!

If you liked The Earth Dies Screaming or Night of the Big Heat, with their minimal alien invasions and earnest British reactions, this is for you. A far less well known entry into the genre, not seen on home video since VHS (above). The story parallels and predates the first Jon Pertwee Doctor Who adventure...

A series of minor electrical malfunctions are shrugged off around the edge of town in south-east England. But an Army tracking station thinks an unidentified rocket has crash-landed in the woods. Then a couple driving home from a party hit someone walking in the middle of the road, and wearing a strange, silver, rubber suit...

Even the lowest-budget British sci-fi from the 1960s is graced with solid acting and tight monochrome cinematography. The night time exteriors of Invasion have extra punch for not being faked with day-for-night filming.
The Frank Chickens started out as a garage band... 
The limited special effects are functional, mostly propped up by stock footage and only used where absolutely necessary. To compensate, the cast all play this 'first contact' scenario for real, though they snap into the extraordinary concept rather quickly!

Like an underwritten episode of the original Outer Limits, the situation quickly grips and draws you into the story. Every actor is on form and every character counts. Even the radar operator who tracks the UFO. Usually a thankless one-line role, but here someone with messy habits, a trashy taste in pulp fiction and a lax attitude to his commanding officer. He even thinks the blip on his screen might be an off-schedule car ferry!

Barrie Ingham and Glyn Houston puzzle over a strange rocket 

Meanwhile, the (gasp) unmarried couple run over a stranger with their car. The argument over whether they should leave him to die is chillingly real. This isn't a children's film, and there are several more plot-driven shock moments.
This is one of leading man Edward Judd's run of sci-fi adventures. He previously looked hot and sweaty in The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961, reviewed here). He also fought aliens in Island of Terror (1966), and the awesome Ray Harryhausen version of H.G. Wells' First Men in The Moon (1964). His moments of tenderness aren't nearly as convincing as his take charge, 'I know what I'm doing - I'll sort this out right now' attitude.

Valerie Gearon plays a blood specialist at the same hospital, where the wounded stranger is taken. In her first scene, she's allowed the time to show that her character really doesn't want to stir from a place by the fire to rush to an emergency at work. 

Also nice to see Barrie Ingham without his silver Thal wig, as seen in Doctor Who and the Daleks (1965). Here he's an Army man caught up in a potentially dangerous threat from outer space.

The aliens are played by South East Asian actors, like Yoko Tani (above). I wonder why?

This was the first feature film directed by Alan Bridges, who later made The Shooting Party (1985) and an aborted 1987 version of Stephen King's Apt Pupil, that would have starred with Ricky Shroder.

According to 'Doctor Who - The Seventies' (published in 1994), writer Robert Holmes recycled the core elements of his script for Invasion when he wrote the Doctor Who story 'Spearhead From Space' (1970). Specifically an injured alien (The Doctor) being analysed by medical doctors at a remote hospital. Gosh.

But while most Anglo Amalgamated movies of this period have made it to DVD, I last saw Invasion on late night TV. It was on VHS in the UK, but has never on DVD. I wonder if Network DVD have this in their vaults...

The BFI website has a few clips and more production stills from Invasion.

Invasion is one of the films made at the long defunct suburban Merton Park Studios, where Horrors of the Black Museum and Konga were filmed. More of the low budget Merton Park horrific mayhem is listed here.


July 08, 2013

My local cinemas of the 1970s - Wimbledon

Here's my last of three looks at the local cinemas that I frequented in the 1970s. Wimbledon was quite easy for me to get to, but the opposite direction from where I went to school. I'd only visit these cinemas when they showed very different programmes, or held over a film that I'd missed in Kingston.

The weird thing about Wimbledon back then was that the rival cinemas were almost directly opposite each other on Wimbledon's Broadway. Also, the old Odeon is quite a long way from where the current Odeon Wimbledon sits.

Wimbledon's ABC (left) vs the Odeon (right), about 1970
The same view now, note the pub at right. (Google StreetView).

ABC Wimbledon 

I primarily remember the ABC Wimbledon as where I saw the 1976 King Kong over the Christmas holiday. An early event movie, this huge cinema was packed and the big screen an impressive showcase. The support feature was the short, unexpectedly bawdy animated account of the life of Kingdom Isambard Brunel, Great! directed by the late Bob Godfrey.

The ABC remained a single-screen cinema to the end. It shut in 1983 and was demolished in 1985. There are some sad photos of the demoliton on Dusashenka's Flickr site.

More about the ABC at Cinema Treasures.

Odeon Wimbledon

As a single-screen cinema in the 1960s
When I remember going in the 70s, the old Odeon was already a triple-screen cinema. In the 1990s two more screens were added, including a fairly disastrous flat-floored auditorium, if I remember correctly. This cinema remained long after the ABC disappeared over the road.

This cinema, which was situated at 151 The Broadway, shut in 2002 when a new state of the art Odeon multiplex opened much closer to Wimbledon Station. It was then demolished and is now a green glass office block (picture at top). The pub next door is still a useful marker to where it once stood. The new Wimbledon Odeon is now my regular local cinema.

More information on the old Odeon Wimbledon here at Cinema Treasures, an American website dedicated to movie theatres around the world!

All the above photographs are courtesy of Dusashenka's huge Flickr site of old cinemas from all over Britain, and are used here with permission.

Here's more about my local cinemas of the 1970s... Ewell and Esher and Kingston-on-Thames, as well as a general then-and-now comparison of 1970s moviegoing.

July 03, 2013

CARRIE gets new poster art for Summer Screen 2013

'Carrie' by Peter Strain
'Tis the time of year for outdoor cinema and next month the annual season at Somerset House will offer something extra. This spectacular print is artist Peter Strain's representation of Brian De Palma's 1976 Carrie. It's always interesting to see the different posters that were used by different countries, but after a while you get to see all the best ones. Recently, I've noticed more one-off screenings are having new posters produced, especially from repertory cinemas.

But this is something else again, celebrating the movie as art rather than a poster. Images that no longer need a title over them. As well as promoting the film, it also represents the crux of the story by blending two key scenes. Go here for more movie-oriented work from artist Peter Strain.
16 different artists have been specially commissioned to produce art for 16 different films from this year's Film4 Summer Screen at Somerset HouseAmong the open air screenings this year are Terence Malick's Badlands, the first Predator, the second Gremlins and the grotesque Whatever Happened To Baby Jane. Here's the website for all the screenings, taking place August 8-14.
'Throne of Blood' by Joe Wilson

At the same time, the commissioned art, including Joe Wilson's superb take on Throne of Blood (above), will be on display in the West Wing Galleries in Somerset House August 1-21, and a limited edition (200 of each) of prints will be available for sale at £40 each. The exhibition is curated by Print Club London, which is how I came to hear about it all. More details about all the participating artists here...
I'm looking forward to seeing them all at this preview evening on July 31st, also a chance to grab the prints before they're released for sale online. If you want to go along, just RSVP as described in the flyer below.

The prints then all go on sale on August 1st, both at the West Wing Gallery and also online here through the Print Club website.