January 29, 2014

Filming location: THE WARRIORS (1978) - return to Coney Island

The Warriors lobby card - on the boardwalk

This is all about The Warriors (1979) and probably not too interesting if you haven't seen it. Here's a taster of the images and characters from the film, if you want to seek it out. If you have seen it, you'll know that Coney Island is the Warriors turf, you dig? The safe home base they're trying to get back to.

Shot over 35 years ago, almost totally on location around New York City, The Warriors has dozens of filming locations that you can still visit because they've changed very little. 

Just after returning from New York in November last year, I found this blog, Nick Carr's Scouting NY, with this guide to every known location used in the film. Just my luck to find this article after I get back, and it also throws up information about the cheats used in the film, stations that didn't play themselves in the movie, even Coney cheated... (more later). A reminder that I should really watch films immediately before visiting their locations, but have you any idea how many films have been filmed in New York? I know I don't.

In terms of my own half-assed detective work, I've been to New York twice since seeing the film, and twice I visited Coney Island, in 2000 and 2013, hence my mix of analogue and digital photos. It's also a pleasant place to visit, being a tranquil, seaside break away from busy, busy Manhattan, yet only a subway ride away.

Besides the fun fair, there's the massive boardwalk stretching along the top of the beach, and a pier. The whole area was once ridiculously popular in the summer. Both our visits, the beach was deserted.

The Cyclone rollercoaster, 2000
A short walk from Coney Island station, just before you hit the beach, is the fun fair. Looking towards the sea, the Cyclone rollercoaster is at the far left of the fair. 

We rode this in 2000. It's rather old but still packs a punch - the element of danger amplified by its ancient-looking wooden structure! (Note that the observation lift was still there, and note the Astroland sign.)

I missed riding the Wonder Wheel in 2000, when the fair was called Astroland. Now it's all called Luna Park and, but was shut for the winter. Maybe I'll ride it next time. The fair took damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012 (according to Wikipedia).

Luna Park, 2013
The Wonder Wheel symbolises Coney Island for the Warriors. The opening shot of the film is the Wonder Wheel at night. Super that it's still there. 2000 was a big year for Coney island. Besides our visiting, it was the location for Requiem For A Dream, directed by Darren Aronofsky who grew up in nearby Manhattan Beach.

Above, a screengrab from The Warriors: the road, the Cyclone at the end of the street and Wonder Wheel (far right) are still there now, but the orange-tipped observation tower and the foreground ferris wheel are now gone (my 2013 photo below).

Same angle, but only the Cyclone at the end of the road, and the Wonder Wheel remain.

On the boardwalk, this time around there was a cafe and a couple of gift shops - books of photos of how the fun fair used to look, and even a couple of items with The Warriors written on them (pounce).

Between our two visits, the Parachute Jump - the huge red tower of girders - had been completely dismantled and rebuilt. I remember Aronofsky saying in an interview that it had been torn down, but didn't hear it had gone back up again! 

Further along the boardwalk, there is now a parking lot, a lot overgrown with vegetation and then a sports stadium. Back in 2000, one of those lots was a second, larger, wooden rollercoaster - The Thunderbolt. Apparently it was dismantled later that year, so we only just caught it. I'm thinking it stood where the new stadium is now. 

2013: new stadium on the left, same overgrown grass next to it
I think The Thunderbolt rollercoaster was the setting for the final resting place of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Of course, a friend living in New York has pointed out that while Beast was set in New York, it was all filmed in L.A.! The shots of the rollercoaster would have been visual effect shots (photographs?) and a Ray Harryhausen model. 

Another wrinkle in treading in The Warriors' footsteps is that, as pointed out in the Scouting NY article, the beach scenes don't match the beach at Coney Island! In the film, the beach is backed with sand dunes. But as you can see below, there are no sand dunes, just a flat, gentle slope right up to the Boardwalk. So where's the beach?

The wonderfully long end credits shot, looking along the beach, where they walk into the distance looks very much like the view you get from the present Coney Island pier. Here's me thinking of a happy ending.

The credits show two lines of rocks heading into the sea, along with a row of wooden stakes. My 2013 shot (below) seems to match pretty well - the wood has gone, but there are very similar lines of rocks. 

This was taken from the pier, but zoomed in a long way.

Slow zoom out

Zoomed out all the way - distant rocks barely visible

Coney Island makes me happy, but next time this blog means we can visit many more locations, like the site of the big gang meeting...

Scouting NY guide to The Warriors filming locations, with dozens of 'then and now' photos.

Coney Island on Wikipedia.

All photos by Mark Hodgson and David Tarrington

January 26, 2014

British horror stars at the Westminster Film Convention, November 2013

A festival of horror opposite the Houses of Parliament...

I never used to miss the London Film Memorabilia fairs at the Methodist Central Hall of Westminster, for their variety of stalls from around Britain and even Europe. A day of rifling through posters, publicity photos, memorabilia, rare magazines, new and old... But with the advent of eBay, I haven't been for a few years.

But tipped off (by a friend in New York), the increasing number of guest appearances is now as interesting as the biggest conventions in London, particularly for fans of older British films. In November 2013, there were over two dozen guests, and many I'd never met. 

Actors and directors whose names in credits are reason enough to watch the movies. In person, I'm awestruck. It's been a big deal to try and say anything intelligible. But spurred on by the icons I'd been too afraid to talk to in the past (like David Lynch, doh!), I now barrel in, but politely! 

Buoyed by my high esteem for these life-long heroes of the horrors, it can also be deflating to see an absence of queues forming to see them. Also means it's easy to meet everyone you want, and allows time for a short, precious chat.

At the big conventions, there's rarely time for anything more than grabbing a signature. But this was more like a series of little interviews, plus I took a few photos, so I think it's worth writing up here. Hey. My blog, my rules.

I'd missed the gracious Barbara Shelley at a previous convention and couldn't miss her again. I had a brief chat with her and was thrilled to get a personalised autograph on a photo. Lovely to hear her say Quatermass and the Pit was the favourite of her films, as it's mine as well.

I'm not sure why she appeared in so many horror films in the 1960s, but she was excellent at conveying outlandish scenarios convincingly. While her character as a scientific assistant is already detailed and believable, she had to channel the Martian insect intelligence.

This ability to project being 'possessed' makes her spectacular change of character in Dracula Prince of Darkness another highlight of the genre. 

She also starred as many more heroes and villains, which explained why she was seated next to one of the children from the Village of the Damned...

Martin Stephens was there with two other actors who'd been children in the Village of the Damned. But Martin had several other horror hits, even though his film career was quite short. His last screen role was as a teenager in Hammer's The Witches (1966), which has just been released on blu-ray. 

Martin Stephens and Ingrid Boulting in The Witches (1966)

Martin's face has been on some of the new posters for the The Innocents, revived as part of the extended BFI Gothic season. This 1961 film is also out on blu-ray, and there's a Christopher Frayling book out about it (Sir Frayling was also there that day, hosting Q&A sessions). Coincidentally, we'd recently visited Sheffield Park Gardens where most of the exteriors for the film had been shot.

Our visit to the exterior location of The Innocents.

Looking at the house, I was trying to spot the terrace where so much of the action in The Innocents take place. I assumed it would be at the back, facing the lake, but there wasn't one. I asked Martin to settle this and he confirmed that the 'exterior' terrace was an interior set, the end of which was a painted perspective 'extension' to make it look as long and grand as the house.

I also asked about his working with Deborah Kerr and he not only sang her praises, but added that she was even easier to work with because they'd already made a film together (Count Your Blessings, two years earlier).

His role in Village of the Damned, as the leader of the unearthly children, occasionally sounds like the voice is too loud, as if he's been post-synched. The diction is also very precise, so I wondered if his lines had been replaced, maybe by an actress who specialised in child voices. He denied this completely - it's his voice that was used.

I also mentioned that the UK version is still missing from DVD (it didn't have the 'glowing eye' effects). Martin talked about doing a radio interview with the director Wolf Rilla, shortly before he passed away, and how the glowing eyes were never intended in the original film. 

The 'eyes' effect was later added optically to the US version, and highlighted in the US posters. For continuity, the effect was then continued in the sequel, Children of the Damned.

Screengrab comparisons of the glowing eyes and a further look at the two Damned films.

Martin now works and lives in Portugal, so I'm very glad he'd made the trip for us all to meet him.

Janina Faye and Michael Gwynne 
in Never Take Sweets From A Stranger

I then looked over at where Janina Faye was sitting (there are signs over each table) and for a moment thought that the years had barely aged her... only to discover I was looking at her daughter sat next to her.

Janina was another child star of horror films, about the same time as Martin, but one who had a much longer acting career. In Hammer's Dracula (1958), she has a memorable scene with Peter Cushing who not only rescues her from a vampire, but reassures her and protects her from the cold with his overcoat. What a lovely Van Helsing he was.

In Never Take Sweets From a Stranger (1960), she was chased by a very modern monster, a child molester. Hammer were accused of making a ghastly exploitation film and it disappeared for many years - I've never seen it play on TV. The first official release was in the Icons of Suspense DVD set in 2010. Today, the story still plays out realistically while showing nothing at all distasteful. It's a tough drama and even an apt flipside of the story of the recent Mads Mikkelsen film, The Hunt

Soon after that, she was in danger again, this time from Triffid stings, while Howard Keel dragged her halfway across Europe. I've seen very little research published about the making of The Day of the Triffids (1962), so I was keen to hear her memories. 

The film had a troubled production. Some of the visual effects scenes were regarded as unusable and the lighthouse subplot had to be added to bring it back up to feature-length duration. So I was interested if any of the scenes she'd performed were missing from the finished film. Janina thought not, but added that after her scenes were filmed, there was an eighteen-month delay before the film was released. 

With the later addition of Janette Scott and Kieron Moore to the cast, she was miffed that she'd been knocked further down the cast list! She added that all her scenes were shot around London. Any location shots of her character in France and Spain used a double. She'd also been miffed that she didn't get to go to Spain. 

It's always rewarding when actors are still actively interested in their older films, especially the stigmatised horror genre. Even better that Janina's daughter shared her enthusiasm, watching her mum's films, (when she was old enough, of course). 

I told her that I thought I'd spotted her, an uncredited part, in The Headless Ghost. She's still piecing together a list of all of her early appearances. We also talked a little about what work was missing from DVD - she's particularly keen to see A Dance of Death on DVD, as it stars her opposite Lawrence Olivier! This is pay-per-view on YouTube, but if anyone knows of a DVD release anywhere in the world, please let us know.

More info and plenty of photos on Janina Faye's website.

David Warner as Sark in Tron (1982)

I'd happily have interviewed everyone for hours. David Warner has a ridiculously long and interesting filmography. We talked a little about his role as Evil in Time Bandits (1981) and I asked if he'd actually worked with Ralph Richardson. He confirmed that they'd met, but most of their scenes were shot separately.

Mr. Warner had impressed me in The Omen, along with the whole cast convincing us of the unseen forces working against them. His character's demise is a regular talking point, but I wondered if he tired of the focus on that. The photos laid out in front of him, available to sign, were all supplied by the event. But it seemed rude to get him to sign a photo of a dummy of him being killed. And he mentioned he also felt uncomfortable about signing those.

Inspiration struck as I asked if he'd actually witnessed his spectacular death scene in The Omen. After a pause he replied, possibly a moment of realisation of a resurfaced memory, that he'd missed it! He was down the pub!

In Amicus' From Beyond The Grave, he dominates a segment where he's possessed by a creepy character living in a huge mirror. There was a good photo of him in this, so that's what I got him to sign. I mused that 'the mirror man' might have been the eternal spirit of Jack The Ripper, a pet theory I'd been nurturing, but he strongly denied that!

David Warner's website

Julian Barnes, Jill Haworth and director Michael Armstrong on the set of The Haunted House of Horror

Then had a long chat with Michael Armstrong, mostly about one of the earliest slasher films The Haunted House of Horror. I congratulated him on writing and directing such a bloody slasher as early as 1969. I was interested that, despite a group of young men and women going into the 'haunted house', it was the men who were attacked. 

He replied that at the time he was very much against linking sex and violence, to buck the trend that women should always be the ones being threatened. He also wanted to avoid the sexualisation of the violence, and therefore made the victims men.

It was a great opportunity to hear about working with the late Jill Haworth. It was sad to hear that he thought she was quite troubled and was often fazed on set, with dulled reactions, possibly because of pills, prescribed or otherwise. I complimented him on directing her scene of sheer terror, and was alarmed to hear that the trick he used to motivate her fears wasn't the elegant motivating pep talk that I'd imagined. He simply found out what frightened her (mice) and dangled one in front of her to get a reaction!

Michael Armstrong's website.

My look at Jill Haworth's horror films.

Onto director John Hough. Would have liked to talk about The Legend of Hell House (1973), but I've already seen a few interviews about that. I got him to sign my Japanese programme, and wanted to know a little more about Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry and how he went from British horror films to filming a spectacular high speed car chase movie in the USA. 

He denied that the stunts were done by a second unit (another of my assumptions), he was personally involved in filming it all. There was also no undercranking to cheat the appearance of high speed. They had to close off miles of roads to allow the cars to get up to high speed and maintain it, while keeping the public held up and out of sight. To make it look fast, they simply drove along at a hundred miles an hour!

He told me how he heard that he must watch the end of Death Proof, where he found a huge onscreen dedication from Quentin Tarantino. He later heard that they'd reused his precise original locations from the climax of Dirty Mary

I asked about the shock ending of the film, and John said that the film was such a success that they could have had a sequel with those characters... but he'd changed the scripted ending without the studio knowing! He wanted the message of the film to be "speed kills". 

John Carson, Brian Clemens and Caroline Munro were all there too, linked by Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter. I was delighted that John Carson remembered working on The Night Caller, adding that it led to his working on Plague of the Zombies - both were directed by John Gilling. Zombies was a good role for him, as he was the lead baddie.

You ever noticed that it's John Carson who often gets onto the front cover... of the paperback, the VHS and DVD. Nobody thought to watch the film and find that he wasn't Captain Kronos!

Brian Clemens, director of Captain Kronos (and also the creator of The Avengers TV series!) was one of the many interviewed for a new book about actor Ian Hendry. The author, Gabriel Hershman, was sat on the next table, and signing a copy for me. I've read it already - Hendry had again been in many cult films, including Captain Kronos, Get Carter, and the first series of The Avengers. But his battle with alcoholism was soon at odds with his career. It's a dense and fascinating story about the British film industry in the 60s and 70s.

My review of Gabriel's Ian Hendry biography here.

A huge thank you to all the organisers who made the day possible and arranging such wonderful guests. And especially my other half for taking the photos of me with Barbara Shelley and Janina Faye. 

Click here for details of upcoming London Film Memorabilia Conventions at Central Hall, Westminster, London.

January 19, 2014

Flashback 1978 (part one) - STAR WARS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, SORCERER...

A look through the British movie magazines published in 1978. Again this will be spread over two posts because it's so picture-heavy...

Although this magazine is dated January, it would have been available in the month before. The adverts inside reflect that - Star Wars had actually been released in London on December 27th.

Photoplay, January
The Deep sneaked into London two weeks before Star Wars, the follow-up to Jaws (based on Peter Benchley's next bestseller ) made considerably fewer ripples, while being a great standalone underwater thriller. Besides the same author, The Deep hinted at connections to Jaws with Robert Shaw again starring and the poster design.

More about The Deep here.

Photoplay, January
Opening against Star Wars in London, hoping to be an event movie for Christmas, was a fairly grim thriller about the hunt for an extortionist who blows up rollercoasters. A sort-of disaster movie, all the rollercoaster scenes were amped up with the cinema-shaking Sensurround bass-bins. The fact that this is presented in Sensurround is pretty subtle in this advert, not nearly as prominent as it was in the Earthquake adverts, for instance.

If only Star Wars had been in Sensurround. At least it was in stereo in some cinemas, if their sound systems had been modernised. There weren't many at the time.

Film Review, February
These tight colour photos represent how we first glimpsed Star Wars - relatively spoiler-free character shots. There were even these cheap-looking publicity photos of the characters standing against neutral backgrounds...

Because it had been a huge hit in the US (since July 1977), Star Wars was all over most magazines for a few months. Several new magazines launched in the UK, to meet the complete lack of sci-fi coverage at the time.

Film Review, February
Some very good films that came out around the time of the first Star Wars are almost forgotten because they were eclipsed. The Deep for one, Clint Eastwood's The Gauntlet is another. Better than most of the Dirty Harry sequels, this is a violent action-thriller with a touch of wry humour and self-parody.

More about The Gauntlet here.

Film Review, February
David Cronenberg's second horror film essentially unleashed fast-moving zombie mayhem. Giving Romero's Night of the Living Dead a plot-driven biological origin.

A little more about Rabid here.

Photoplay, April
Abba - The Movie is basically a concert movie, with a threadbare, thin comedy plot linking the numbers as the band tour Australia. Nice poster though.

The visual effects and emotional involvement of Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind was a close match for Star Wars, both films representing a quantum leap in how the impossible could be shown convincingly. 

Film Review, April
This scene from Close Encounters happens at twilight. But it was filmed day-for-night and this publicity shot wasn't. Devil's Tower in the background.

Photoplay, April
Films Illustrated, April
I saw this at the Odeon Leicester Square and the surround sound stereo took us by surprise. The audience were looking around behind them to see where some of the sounds were coming from!

Photoplay, April
Interesting news bites - did Kubrick want Close Encounters' Cary Guffey to star in The Shining?

At the height of disco fever in the charts, Saturday Night Fever went down a storm, despite being a sweary, wrong-side-of-the-tracks romantic drama.

Film Review, April
Film Review, April
Films Illustrated, April

Film Review, April
The muscle cars and stunt-driving of the original Gone In 60 Seconds looked great but the sound 'system' of our local fleapit couldn't cope with the muddy dialogue mix - I didn't understand a word of what was said!

Film Review, April
Audiences weren't quite ready for Derek Jarman's previous feature film, Sebastiane, with its latin dialogue and story of a gay Roman centurion in love with a saint. But tell them there's a punk rock film, and you've got their attention. But again Jubilee is a long way from mainstream. A post-revolutionary Britain where punk attitude had taken over the country. Adam Ant, Jenny Runacre and Ian Charleson (before he starred in Chariots of Fire) add to its continuing allure.

Film Review, April
The 1970s Spiderman films were made up out of American TV episodes that we hadn't seen yet. A man in tights who walks up walls was proof that Spiderman should have continued as cartoon for a few more decades.

Film Review, April
After being buried at the box office in the US, unfortunately opening just after Star Wars, Sorcerer should have been director William Friedkin's biggest hit yet. With an expensive shoot in South America, I'd compare it to Coppola's Apocalypse Now in terms of the epic scale and runaway budget far from Hollywood's meddling. After it flopped in the U.S., the studio either panicked or just didn't care - in Europe Sorcerer reverted to the name of the source material, Wages of Fear (after the novel and classic French film). The studio also removed nearly half an hour of scenes establishing the backgrounds of the central characters and (I think) altered the ending for the European release. Hence this news item...

Photoplay, May
Because of the disastrous, original box-office, Sorcerer had been atrociously treated on home video. A pan-and-scan version limped onto DVD and never made it into widescreen. Until now! In April Sorcerer will be available, as the remastered original cut on blu-ray and maybe even in a few cinemas. Been a long time coming.

Film Review, May
Tangerine Dream's soundtrack album continued to be sold in the U.K. with the original U.S. title.

More about seeing Sorcerer/Wages of Fear then and now - here.

Photoplay, May
Al Pacino? In Born on the Fourth of July? in 1978?

Film Review, May
I fondly remember double-bills of this decade. If one film was rubbish, the other one was often better. But not on this occasion. The Savage Bees was a low-budget The Swarm that started out as a TV movie, but not a good TV movie. I keep expecting The Incredible Melting Man to get better with age (it's now on blu-ray), but it really does deserve its Mystery Science Theatre 3000 drubbing. Rick Baker's icky, slimy special make-up effects are the best things about this, including a startling slow-motion decapitated head going over a waterfall and cracking open on rocks.

Photoplay, March
Besides creating sophisticated gorilla suits (and performing inside them), Rick Baker's horror film work started in low-budget independents like It's Alive and this The Incredible Melting Man. Articles like this demonstrate how his startling work was getting attention long before American Werewolf In London or even Fangoria. He'd also contributed some of his Halloween masks to flesh out the numbers of aliens in the Cantina scene in Star Wars.

More movie magazines from 1978 in part two - Convoy, Hooper, Grease...