September 27, 2013

Filming Location: THE INNOCENTS (1961) - not far from HELL HOUSE!

Yesterday, we went to look at the main location used for The Legend of Hell House. As it's only a few miles away from another famous horror film location, we did two locations in one trip. Again, Derek Pykett's guidebook, British Horror Film Locations, points to where the exteriors for Jack Clayton's The Innocents were filmed, over fifty years ago. Deborah Kerr starred in this classic, layered ghost story, enormously enhanced by cinematographer Freddie Francis. It's deservedly been restored and released on blu-ray by the BFI.

But once again, there are no more details in the guidebook. We'd no clues how to find specific scenes and camera angles. Like many movie location guides, an address is only the beginning of some amateur, nerdy detective work. 

As usual, I'd prepared badly and not seen the film recently. Instead I'd found some key screengrabs online of scenes that looked like they might still be recognisable (visible parts of buildings or landscape that might still exist) and in particular the haunting shot of the shadowy figure in the reeds - a shot that really frightened me and I've always wanted to see for real. Easier said than done...

The exteriors of The Innocents were shot at Sheffield Park and Garden, a huge National Trust site nowhere near Sheffield! It's actually in East Sussex just off the A23, a few miles outside of Brighton, and only a few miles east of 'Hell House'. 

Sheffield Park Hall

Like the Hell House location, this mansion is now a private residence, but there's a great view of the front from inside Sheffield Park Garden. Near the entrance to the garden (there's an admission fee of £8.50 unless you're a National Trust or Royal Horticultural Society member) is the best view that the public can get of this huge house. 

But looking at online photos of the house, the terrace - where key scenes of the story take place - appears to be a studio set (or a different location?). From other photos online, and the aerial views, there doesn't appear to be a paved terrace on either side of the mansion. Not any more, anyway.

Looking closer, I was keen to find this turret, where the shadow of Quint appears. But compared to this screengrab, the stonework matches but I couldn't find a close match - again this could have been faked (perhaps the corner has been faked with a matte painting?).

I took these two close-ups to try and find a match for that turret, but there's apparently no corner like it. 

Sheffield Park Garden

We had more luck as we walked round the gardens, and the staff also gave us some useful pointers as to where to look. Sheffield Park is huge, but the carefully landscaped garden is a manageable stroll.
The house can be seen, on this aerial view from Google Maps, at top left (with the circular drive above it). The garden entrance is just below the main house. The ornamental gardens enclose four huge artificially-made ponds, each constructed at a different water level, a cascade feature leading from one pond to another, each cascade with an ornamental bridge. 

The first bridge is where you get this grand view of the mansion looking across 'Ten Foot Pond'.

Here's a photo of the high side of the first bridge, also called Top Bridge. Note that it's made entirely of stonework...

The missing gazebo!  

The gazebo (at right) was probably only put there for the film but, incredibly, there are still palm trees (behind Deborah Kerr, far left) at a similar spot in the gardens.

On the lower side of the stone 'Top Bridge' is Pelham Falls, usually a grand water feature, but not operational on this day. But here too are two palm trees, on the right. We took another shot (below) from the clearing seen (above) on the left.

At the base of Pelham Falls - this angle is taken from the grass clearing to the left of the stone bridge. The grass slopes down steeply towards the water, matching the high camera angle in the gazebo shot. I believe this clearing is where they shot that gazebo scene, with those palm trees in the background.

Spooky bridge

A distant figure, dressed in black, standing amongst the reeds. This was the scene I really wanted to find. But water, reeds and trees can change totally over fifty years. The only real clue was that bridge... 

This was the toughest, but most satisfying find of the day, but only when I got home and looked at all our photos again! I'd used this screengrab (above), viewed on an iPhone, to guide me to find this specific angle of a bridge. But in Sheffield Garden there are three bridges to investigate, each could have been filmed from either side...

Assuming that that bridge hadn't been completely rebuilt since 1961, which is a fairly big assumption, Top Bridge was first eliminated because it was made of stone and didn't have iron work railings.

This second bridge, referred to as Middle Bridge, has iron railings. It joins Middle Lake to the huge, split 'Woman's Way' pond at the east of the garden. 

I shot the Middle Bridge from both sides, note the drop in water level on this 'backside' view (above). This was a possible match because of the size of the bridge and the background of trees. But the railing work didn't match, and the stone base of the bridge is quite flat. In the screengrab the base is arched more. It had possibly been rebuilt, but otherwise still not a definite match.

The third bridge, 'Cascade Bridge' joins Upper and Lower Woman's Way Pond (see the map). I'd decided that the shape of the bridge looked the most likely and had been shot somewhere from this side, from the west shore of Upper Woman's Way Pond, somewhere behind a small covered bench called the 'Summer House'. This theory was despite the fact that the bridge railings were vertical, whereas the screengrab shows a crossgate pattern.

I took this zoomed-in shot to try and approximate how the scene might have been framed, imagining reeds in the foreground. But, once we got home, I found that I'd got it wrong.

Here's me on Cascade Bridge, blissfully unaware that on one side there are vertical railings, but on the other side there's a cross gate pattern! I'd also not looked at the screengrab close enough. The figure in black is stood up above the water level (rather eerily), her head is level with the base of the bridge. This indicates that she was filmed from the lower pond. I think there's also a glimpse of the stone cascade to the left of the reed bed. I'd taken dozens of photos of the wrong side of the bridge!

Luckily, we'd also photographed the Lower side of Cascade Bridge. It's from the wrong angle (left, not right) but the other bank isn't accessible, and it also looks like they might have filmed it from the centre of the lake!

Therefore, I'd nominate Cascade Bridge as being in that spooky scene from The Innocents, filmed from Lower Woman's Way Pond. If you can shoot a better match, please share it with us! 

Lastly, Cascade Bridge is actually supposed to be haunted. Before the bridge was built, a headless woman was said to walk across the cascade (presumably giving the ponds the name 'Woman's Way')...

Another mystery ticked off the list, but we still haven't visited The Texas Chain Saw Massacre steak house...

Visitors' information for The National Trust site for Sheffield Park House and Garden.

Location report: The Legend of Hell House - Wykehurst Place isn't far away...

Once again, thanks to my husband, David, for the additional photography and for driving me into horror movie territory. Again. Thankfully cream teas were available and there weren't any coach parties in town.

September 26, 2013

Filming Location: THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973) - deepest, darkest Sussex

Didn't we have a loverly time, the day we went to Hell House...

Always, always, always wanted to see Hell House, the actual building used as the exterior location for John Hough's The Legend of Hell House (1973). Well, today was that day. 

Zero research went into tracking this location down - it's all written up in Derek Pykett's 2008 guidebook, British Horror Film Locations. It's not far from the A23, a few miles outside Brighton. But how much of the house can you actually still see?

Hell House was shot there forty years ago, primarily for the scene when the team of psychic researchers arrive to investigate 'the Mount Everest of haunted houses'. Throughout the film, there are various scary angles of the outside to denote passage of time (the interiors were all shot in a film studio). 

It's called Wykehurst Place and is now a private residence. While I'd love them to be running a location tour and a Halloween haunted house 'maze' attraction, in reality, the front gate is as close as you can get. There's no point in trespassing, please don't even consider it - that'll just freak out the owners into closing it all off completely from the public, then no-one will be able to see it. 

We just stood at the front gates, which were open, and took these photos. The stone gate pillars are still topped with the iconic eagle statues - though the trees now surround one and obscure the other.

We could still get a great view of the whole building, thankfully of the north side, which was used in the film. From the drawing in the guidebook, the south-facing side is quite spectacular - looking like it actually could house 105 rooms - but that side is less creepy-looking, besides being hidden from view.

In the film, I think the team approach from the other end of the drive - from the east (picture left). We couldn't quite see the bell tower from this viewpoint.

The east approach is gated off from cars and walkers, but we could still get this glimpse of the house from the road (above), as well as a view of some of the private grounds of Wykehurst Park which extend for miles - a large area of grass and woodland.

My preview of The Legend of Hell House (no spoilers, if you've not seen it yet) is here...

Later that day we drove a few miles to another horror movie location, from The Innocents. Photos here...

A huge thank you to my husband, for putting up with these insane daytrips and also for taking some of the photos, otherwise you'd never know we'd been there...

September 23, 2013

SHANKS (1974) - William Castle in the 1970s

In 1975, issue 117 of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine introduced me to William Castle's newest releases, with interesting photos from Bug, which he produced, and Shanks, the last film he directed. I was too young to see either of them in the cinema, but they both arrived on TV a few years later.

(1975, USA)

I caught Bug a couple of times on TV, having read the original book (The Hephaestus Plague by Thomas Page). Bug is fairly faithful to the novel, but a scientist attempting to communicate with insects isn't great cinema (certainly not as good as Saul Bass' Phase IV) despite their unique knack of firestarting.

An underground cave is ruptured by an earthquake, releasing these huge, armoured cockroaches. Like other animal sci-fi stories of the time (Willard, Day of the Dolphin), a telepathic link enables communication and maybe the advantageous power of control...

The story fits in neatly with two of that decades' obsessions - animal-attacks and disaster movies. But that context which worked far better then has noe been lost, and much of the story takes too many illogical shortcuts, confusing more than it intrigues. Despite the earnestness of the performance by Bradford Dillman (star of the original Piranha).

What's left are the (then) unusual fire stunts and Ken Middleham's insect micro-photography, which also graced Phase IV. Bug is interesting in many ways, but I don't think it 'works' as a whole any more. 

(1974, USA)

I've only just seen Shanks, but already look forward to watching again. Here, a puppeteer meets a mad scientist who demonstrates a device that can reanimate the dead. The invention would perfectly benefit from his skills as a master of marionettes...

I only ever glimpsed a little of Shanks on a rare TV showing (early 1980s?) and always perceived it as more fairy tale than horror, especially as it stars the king of mime, Marcel Marceau.

The film then disappeared, remaining absent from home video until this year's blu-ray from Olive Films, in the USA. It's much more macabre than I expected, though still retaining an uneasy facade of a children's story.

Edward Scissorhands is a useful comparison in terms of tone, because the elements of the story appear simple, childish and comical. But too many moments are too dark for children, despite a prominent young character inviting identification.

The puppeteer is our guide to this story. A mute showman who performs puppet plays at children's parties. The scientist, a mysterious old man, invites the puppeteer to his huge remote house, at once reminding us of the corridors of a cutprice version of Cocteau's La Belle et la Bete and the hedges of Edward Scissorhands.

After the puppeteer is introduced to the weird reanimation device, he uses it on larger and larger subjects. A series of bizarre accidents giving him corpses to control. The story becomes more surreal and more violent as, out of nowhere, a biker gang arrives and, as in most stories, that means trouble. It's a very small-scale anticipation of the climax Dawn of the Dead!

The greatest distraction is the initial 'old man' make-up when the scientist is introduced. It looks like that generic 'Uncle Creepy' Halloween mask. This is presumably a production subterfuge, to have a body double in make-up that matches what Marcel wears later, when he performs as the zombified old man. The less successful of these two make-ups is unfortunately the one we see first (above left) - but it looks far better on Marcel (below).

I couldn't spot any splitscreen work, so I presume a body double was used whenever the old man and the puppeteer are seen together. But Marceau is brilliant as a reanimated, manipulated corpse and wonderful to watch - at once horrifying and comical. The core of the film are the zombies - both how they are used in the story, and how entertaining their movements actually are. An odd basis for a film, but quite fascinating. 

At his most popular, Marceau would appear on TV variety shows, his artistry giving mime a good name, all the time incorporating the best aspects of silent movie acting. It was harder to use his skills in 'talking pictures' though. Famously, he spoke the only dialogue in Mel Brooks' Silent Movie (1976), where he also performs his trademark 'walking against the wind' routine. 

Marceau had previously appeared in Barbarella as eccentric Professor Ping, a rare speaking part. But this is sadly dubbed by another actor in the widely-available US version. I'm hoping that the French version of the audio still exists and uses his actual voice. Though it appears that he and the other European actors, like Claude Dauphin, all appear to be speaking in English.

In Shanks, his character is mute, but his magnificent skills as a mime mean he's easily able to carry the story. His acting, his every movement, even as an ordinary, living character, is quite beautiful to watch. So precise.

Shanks is hard to categorise but very watchable if you're in the mood for the unusual. If this was Polish art house, it'd be praised as a classic. As a William Castle horror movie, it's practically unknown. Having now seen most of Castle's earlier chillers, Shanks seems to echo some of his best shocks - for instance, the white-eyed corpse reminded me of The Night Walker.

I'm very grateful that Olive Films has released it, thanks for Shanks! Though I must say that the cover art, based on the original poster, is very off-putting and not very descriptive.

More Shanks screengrabs at My Kind of Story...

September 13, 2013


Looking back along my shelf of 1970s' movie mags, here's some choice images and adverts...

"The New Bond Movie, Diamonds Are Forever" was Sean Connery's last 'official' excursion as 007, though the first time Connery had filmed in America as James Bond. His 'U.S.' scenes in Goldfinger had all been filmed in England. Much more about Diamonds Are Forever here.

Photoplay Film Magazine, February
Tom Baker was playing eccentrics and downright baddies like Rasputin (and the monster mutant man in The Mutants) before he played The Doctor. Here he is in Nicholas and Alexandra, which led to his being cast as Doctor Who. The BBC producers were unsure of his acting range and, luckily, this film was playing in London at the time. They went to see it and cast him as a result. An expensive showreel!

Films and Filming, February
Director John Boorman made a huge, positive impression with his metaphorical eco-thriller Deliverance. Pitting four city-boys (Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox) against the forests, and the forest men...

Films and Filming, February
Hammer Films scored the biggest British box office hit of 1971. Not with Dracula, not Frankenstein, not lesbian vampires... but a TV adaption of On The Buses. This full page advert, on the inside front cover, is a taditional way of rubbing it in...

Films and Filming, February
Films and Filming gave A Clockwork Orange a huge photo-article leading into their review. The back cover ran the full-page advert for the initial London release.

Films and Filming, February

A Clockwork Orange then goes on general release, though Film Review softens the violent image of the film with this portrait of Malcolm McDowell on the cover. Here's the splash page inside, that makes Kubrick look as manic as Manson...

Film Review, May

Film Review, May
This publicity photo staged for Film Review brings together three actors who'd all played Sherlock Holmes earlier in their careers. Easy enough to organise, because Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing were filming The Creeping Flesh on the next soundstage to Robert Stephens (right), who was making The Asphyx at the same time.

Film Review, May

The second incarnation of Richard Matheson's novel 'I Am Legend', The Omega Man, finally arrives in Britain, with a pretty poor support feature.

Films and Filming, June
Meanwhile, down by the Thames, Hitchcock is back in England and filming the opening scene of his most explicit thriller yet, Frenzy. If you watch the trailer, you'll understand about his little friend.

Photoplay Film Magazine, August
Michael Winner directed Marlon Brando, Stephanie Beacham and Thora Hird in this sadistic prequel to 'Turn of the Screw'.
Photoplay Film Magazine, August

The second of three original John Shaft movies isn't as great a story as Shaft, but is closer to realising the character as a black James Bond. Shaft's Big Score has one of my favourite extended chase scenes ever, practically the last half hour of the movie. All for the sake of an orphanage! And, damn, Richard Roundtree looks good in action leather...

Photoplay Film Magazine, August
Publicity photo of Caroline Munro and Horst Janson during the shooting of Hammer Films' Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter, I don't think they smiled this much in the movie! Writer/director Brian Clemens injected fresh blood into the vampire genre, obviously intending the character to have a series. Kronos did have a few future adventures in comic strips, on the pages of House of Hammer a few years later.

Photoplay Film Magazine, August
Jerry Lewis famously filmed this tale of 'a clown in Auschwitz' and then refused to show it to anyone. Supposedly, the last print of The Day The Clown Cried resides in his safe. A contemporary interview and a little footage from the rushes caused a wave of interest when it appeared on YouTube last month.

The Godfather opens at four cinemas in central London, which was unusual, unless they were expecting a rush of demand to see it early. I love the above portrait of Brando in character in Dick Smith's subtle, brilliant 'aged' make-up.

Film Review, September

Films and Filming, October
These photos indicate some of the carnage unleashed on Los Angeles as the story of trained killer rats expands city-wide in this sequel to the claustrophobic Willard. More about Ben here, though it still isn't on DVD. And here's a look at the original Willard.

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