Friday, November 23, 2012

Christopher Gullo: The Films of Donald Pleasence (Review)

One often gets the impression that little is left to uncover when it comes to book projects pertaining to classic horror and fantastic cinema. It frequently feels that publishers are clutching at straws when they greenlight books about the memories of the guy who cut the lawn for Dwight Frye's second cousin's next-door neighbour. Yet every once in a while something comes along that makes you turn back and ask if it really can be true that no-one has ever covered that topic before and, by the way, why didn't I come up with that idea!

Christopher Gullo's The Films of Donald Pleasence is an example for one of those books.

17 years after his death (has it really been that long?) and despite having a large and loyal fanbase and having participated in more than a hundred movies (and a similar number of TV productions), many of which have become cult classics, this is the very first book ever written about “The Man With the Hypnotic Eye”.

Having been a prisoner-of-war in WW2, an experience that was going to haunt him until the end of his life and that influenced his performance in The Great Escape, Pleasence quickly restarted his early acting career after the war in London stage productions and from there gradually moved to film and TV roles. Though today he is most easily recognised as psychiatrist Sam Loomis from  John Carpenter's Halloween series – speaking about waiting your whole life for a career defining moment -, reading this book it becomes apparent that the most important role of his acting career was likely that of Harold Pinter's The Caretaker, a part that he made very much his own in both the stage and the movie versions.

He defined the Bond villain persona so much that it was his Blofeld that was parodied in the Austin Powers movies and on top of appearing in numerous jungle war flicks late in his career for the paycheck alone he also found the time to pen a children's book Scouse the Mouse and record a song that at this time of year just beckons to be unearthed again: Snow up your nose for Christmas (with lyrics by Ringo Starr).

Oh, and he also played in one Hammer movie: Hell is a City.

The format of the book follows the standard of the old Citadel publications:

A large introductory biography compiled with the help of interviews with some of Pleasence's family, friends and colleagues (including his wife Linda, daughter Angela, John Carpenter, Kevin Connor and Ulli Lommel) is followed by a film-by-film critique consisting of a cast overview, a synopsis and a review of the film in general and Pleasence's performance in particular.

The emphasis is very much on his movie work with some of his TV roles briefly mentioned but not much accentuated upon. If there is one thing I would have preferred it is to see a stronger additional emphasis on that part of his career in exchange for less of the synopsis, an area that I routinely just skip over whenever I come across them in movie books.

Still, this is a very good introductory work on this hitherto ignored actor that will hopefully encourage additional research that may ultimately expand to a full blown biography.

In the meantime, however, we still have a long way to go with Pleasence before we reach the point of oversaturation.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Christopher Gullo: The Films of Donald Pleasence

Christopher Gullo is a good buddy of mine and somewhere up there in the world's Top 10 of Peter Cushing Fans. Ever since the late 1990s we've been communicating about the Gentle Man of Horrors. in 2004 he published In All Sincerity, Peter Cushing, a wonderful overview of the actor's life and career as told to Chris by many of Cushing's co-stars, friends and colleagues. (Incidentally I only just noticed now that there is also a cheap Kindle version of that book available that at $3.39 is quite a steal.)

He has now finished his next oeuvre dedicated to the wonderful Donald Pleasence, an actor who for some reason totally beyond me has so far never received the biographical treatment he so well deserved.

Chris is now closing that gap and in conjunction with Bear Manor Media will soon release The Films of Donald Pleasence.

Please find below some additional info about the release:

Mention the words "horror star" and certain names immediately spring to mind-- Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Vincent Price. But another, lesser-known name was also heavily involved in numerous horror and science-fiction films-- Donald Pleasence. Featuring a distinctive look, memorable voice, and a serious approach to his roles, Pleasence shined brightly in many genre favorites. Whether as a maniacal body snatcher in The Flesh and the Fiends, a surgical assassin in Fantastic Voyage, the arch-villain of 007 in You Only Live Twice, a sarcastic inspector in Raw Meat, or his career-defining role as the heroic Dr. Loomis in Halloween, Donald Pleasence proved himself to be a top performer in the fantastical genres of horror and science-fiction. The Films of Donald Pleasence includes a full biography, tributes from Pleasence’s friends and coworkers, reviews of all his films, and a rare photo gallery in the first-ever book devoted to the man who became a genre favorite to countless fans.
To learn about this or other BearManor Media titles, please visit our website at
ISBN: 1-59393-212-X
Format: Softcover; 6” x 9”; 316 pages
Price: $21.95
Available also through Ingram and
About the Author: Christopher Gullo is a history teacher and a life-long fan of genre films who resides in Long Island, NY with his wife Beth and son Anthony. His first book was In All Sincerity...Peter Cushing and he still runs the Peter Cushing Association on Facebook. In addition, Christopher has contributed to various books, magazines, and DVDs.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

John Hamilton: X-Cert

Let's see...

We have books on Hammer. Lots of them.

We have an excellent overview over Amicus courtesy of Little Shoppe of Horrors #20 and a controversial Dark Side publication Amicus: The Studio That Dripped Blood. The original author did an Allan Smithee and removed his name but say what you like about the contents this is still beautifully illustrated.

In recent years we also got Beasts in the Cellar: The Exploitation Film Career of Tony Tenser to focus on Tigon Productions. (I haven't read this yet but according to all the people whose opinions I value, this has my name on it.)

So what is left in terms of a more specialised approach to Classic British Horror?

Ah yes, an overview over the independent UK Horror movies of the time.

John Hamilton, author of Beasts in the Cellar, has now taken on the task of filling that gap on the book shelf.

X-Cert - The British Independent Horror Film: 1951 – 1970 does exactly what it says on the tin.

Published by Hemlock this volume will be instantly familiar to those who have previously read Bruce Hallenbeck's recent Hammer books. It features the same size and style of artwork and is richly illustrated, mainly in black & white but also with a separate 8-page coloured spread.

Given the complexities of film financing and international co-production deals at the time Hamilton mentions in his introduction the difficulties in coming up with a definitive list of what constitutes a) a British, b) an Independent and c) a Horror film and freely admits that his list is probably subject to debate. As such I am not even going to bother arguing which films should or should not have been included and am just enjoying his chronological overview of all the films from Mother Riley Meets the Vampire to The Corpse/Crucible of Horror.

Each of his entries is rich in historical detail and intelligent critique and low on synopsis just as it should be.

As this book primarily focuses on x-certified “adults only” movies of the time we get a good overview over the changing mores, involvements with the censor and political legislation with regards to film productions during those two decades.

Hamilton also manages to place the various cinematic talents in their respective career paths:

For one we have the usual genre stalwarts, often on a break from Hammer, such as Terence Fisher, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff, Anton Diffring or Michael Gough.

Even more interesting, however, are those that are on either end of their career spans: a young Sidney J Furie directing Dr Blood's Coffin or helping to supervise the making of Devil Doll; a mature Joan Crawford going Berserk! for Trog.

For some like Michael Powell producing a film like Peeping Tom would put an end to an illustrious career. For others like Bryant Halliday (Devil Doll, Curse of the Voodoo, The Projected Man) these films were practically the sole reason that they still feature somewhere in the footnotes of cinematic history.

The book is full with details about short-term production companies such as Planet, Gala or Eros Film Distributors some of which were only ever set up for one film to avail of a government deal, then were disbanded or re-formed under a different name to ensure that they would again be eligible for the very same State sponsorship.

If there is one single name that comes up time and again providing something of a narrative throughout the two decades' worth of indie film history it is that of  Richard Gordon. He was single handedly responsible for the largest bulk of the movies in this book. Having established a friendship with him over the years, the author then rounds up this tome with a very personal and heartfelt remembrance of this multi-talented business- and showman who – outside of the Great Three Studios – did most to provide the British public with their share of chills and thrills.

If there is anything major that this book could be criticised for it is mainly by sins of omission. I personally would have loved to see the topic extended to the 1970s, a decade that probably proved to be the most fascinating for British Independent Horror films with the likes of Pete Walker, Norman J Warren or Mike Raven around.

A little birdy has, however, told me that a possible follow-up volume may be on the horizon at some point in the future which will no doubt make a great companion piece to this edition.

X-Cert is available both through sellers at Amazon US and UK as well as through Hemlock's own website.

Hammer hosts YouTube Channel

For the last month Hammer Films have started hosting their own YouTube channel. It's well worth checking out as on top of clips, trailers and previews it also features the following full-length Hammer movies each of which also has a separate introduction by Hammer historians Robert Simpson and Marcus Hearn.

Hammer also appears to have Man Bait/The Last Page made available though apparently not for Ireland where I live as all access is blocked.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Wayne Kinsey/Gordon Thomson: Hammer Locations

If anyone ever needs a definition of what constitutes a niche market book, point them to Wayne Kinsey's and Gordon Thomson's new publication about the Hammer Locations.

This is definitely not anything for the casual Hammer or Horror Fan but for the die-hard fanatics who live and breathe Hammer and need to know every last detail about the productions.

And then go to visit their locations.

For anyone within that target niche Hammer Locations is an excellent, richly illustrated travel guide with in-depth descriptions of the areas the Hammer Horrors were filmed in and detailled maps and instructions on how to get there.

Being one of a small number of Hammer-focused authors, Wayne Kinsey hardly needs an introduction to readers of this blog. His partner-in-crime for this tome is Gordon Thomson, a runner, assistant editor and sound recordist for a wide of range of shows with vast contacts in the industry to help him identify even some of the more obscure locations.

Initially the book was meant to be just one chapter in Kinsey's previous book about Hammer Films – The Unsung Heroes but when that chapter started growing within an already massive manuscript, the publisher Tomahawk Press opted for a separate volume. Alas, the recession and declining specialised book sales ultimately prevented Tomahawk from adding it to their own portfolio, leaving Wayne no choice but to set up his own publishing house, Peveril Publishing, where this book is now exclusively available from. So don't even bother checking the likes of Amazon & Co.

It is clearly a sign of the progress made in the self publishing industry that an individual can now produce a volume that at no point ever indicates that it doesn't have the weight of a professional publisher behind it. This book is meticulously researched, fantastically bound and printed and sumptiously illustrated in both colour and black & white. This is clearly NOT a “vanity publication” but a thoroughly professional one that just happens to be produced privately as its topic is otherwise too obscure for any of the regular players in the field.

The initial chapters introduce us to the most commonly associated Hammer locations, Black Park and Bray. We get a general overview over those including a suggested walkthrough for anyone visiting those for the first time and with limited time on their hands.

Following that we are treated to in-depth discussions of all the locations for the main UK based Hammer  Horror, Fantasy and Sci Fi films. Contemporary photos and screen grabs of the movies are compared side-by-side with current pictures of the locations as they look now. Some of the places have barely changed at all, others have irrevocably been altered.

The amount of information available on those locations is simply staggering. I think that it is safe to say that if the authors haven't managed to identify a place, hardly anyone after them ever will.

As thorough as the text is, space-wise it is far outweighed by the photographic material on hand which is actually a good thing if like me you aren't living anywhere near those places. Even couch travellers will be able to get great enjoyment out of comparing the sites then and now.

Though Hammer Locations primarily focuses on the UK shooting sites for the company's genre movies, we also get shorter entries about their comedies and foreign locations with a separate chapter for Irish-based Ardmore Studios and Powerscourt which I would have loved to have had along with me when I visited the area a decade or so ago.

I know that the first couple of readers have already successfully used the book for their own excursions into Hammer. And rumour has it that next year there may just be an organised guided tour event. (Yes, please.)

So what is stopping you from purchasing this?

Ah yes, one thing that may bring your planned purchase to a screeching halt is the price.

The base cover price is £25 (£5 more if you purchase an additional 2 DVDs with the photos taken for the book) but depending on where in the world you live up to £22.25 needs to be added for postage and packaging which means that either way you look at it this book won't come cheap.

The p&p, however, is what it is and anyone who has ever looked into the printing costs for such a beautiful volume will know that this doesn't come cheap. Hammer Locations regardless of its total price tag is not going to be a major money maker and Wayne will count himself lucky if he ends up  breaking even.

So foresake a night on the town, save a £1 a day, drop hints with your loved ones about future birthday or Christmas gifts but treat yourself to something special if that book sounds like it may appeal to you.

And then start saving early for the next books that Peveril Publishing is aiming to release over the next year or two.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Peveril Publishing.... a new home for Hammer books

I know, I know, I do believe that books about Hammer have probably reached saturation level.

Whereas I was previously excited about *any* new publication that came along it is safe to say now that with all the (mainly: worthwhile) publications that have flooded the market in the last 10 or 15 years, I won't be rushing out anymore to buy yet another history of Hammer or yet another coffee table photo book.

Sometimes enough is enough and less is more. And there are very few Hammer related topics that I still need to see covered in book form.

But there still *are* some books I am getting excited about.

Case in point: Wayne Kinsey's new Hammer Films On Location book as I love travelling probably as much if not more as I love movies and I enjoy nothing more than combining those two main passions in life.

So when I first heard about his latest project I was giddy with excitement just to see my hopes shattered when it became apparent that his previous publisher saw little opportunity in getting this work published in the current climate.

For a while it looked as if we may never be able to read the fruit of Wayne's in-depth research but he has now set up his own publishing venture, Peveril Publishing, that will make this book available for order.

And apparently this will be the *only* place where you can order this. Don't expect this on Amazon or any other online market place anytime soon.

Imagine my surprise, however, when I just discovered that his will not be the only publication planned in the near future and that he indeed has a number of Peter Cushing art books planned: Peter Cushing’s Book of Bird Drawings, The Peter Cushing Scrapbook and Boys will be Bois.

Consider me agog with excitement.

Now off to order the Locations book....

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Wanted for dissertation: Hammer Fans of a certain age

I just got contacted by Joshua Searle who is a student at Portsmouth University and currently writing a dissertation concerning the Hammer Horror films of the 1950s and 1960s. He is very much interested in learning more about the initial audience reception when the movies were first released and is interested in interviewing anyone who may have watched those in the cinema during that time.

Please find below some more infos by Joshua about his requirements. Needless to say this is a very worthwhile cause and I hope that he can find some possible interview partners through this blog post:
"At the moment I am working on a research project concerning the Hammer Horror films that were released between 1950-1970. Movies like Dracula (1958) and The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) were very popular in their day and my project's main aim is to find out why this was. Nowadays it is very important that this type of research contains audience reception and so I need to interview people who went to see these films at the cinema. The study is also, broadly speaking, looking at the experience of going to cinema and how it changed after The Second World War.

In 100 years time people will look back on memories that are orally recorded with the same fascination that we would if we had the chance to examine the testimony of people from 1912. So if you went to see these films, or know someone who might have, and would be interested in sharing your memories about both them and your cinema-going experience please contact me by on 07518401791, or by email at

Thank you for reading, Josh."

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Great Plague

A guilty confession: not counting Woman In Black, the only Hammer film I've seen on the big screen until yesterday was Dracula, and that was back in the late nineties at the Barbican.
So I confess to having been immoderately excited when my local cinema announced it was showing Plague of the Zombies as part of a Tuesday night season of British classics (and Quatermass and the Pit still to come!)

I expected to thoroughly enjoy myself; what I did not expect, however, was to have my opinion of the film substantially altered in any way, simply by virtue of seeing it as nature (or at least James Carreras) intended. 
I'm too young to know any real connection between my love of cinemas, where I went to see James Bond films and the like, and classic horror movies, which I saw only on television. 
TV still feels like Hammer and Universal horror's natural home for me. I've never been overly convinced by the standard assurances that seeing a film well-known from TV screenings in a cinema is invariably a transformative event; certainly I've rarely felt that way myself. (And experience has additionally forced me to be wary of attending rep screenings of classic horror films, because of the forced oafish laughter that is for some reason felt to be the correct response by large sections of the audience.)

Nonetheless, Plague of the Zombies really did come alive in a whole new way for me, to the extent that I'm now inclined to label it a late-flowered primary masterpiece (alongside Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy and - sue me - Phantom of the Opera) rather than, as I'd always had it pegged until now, an example of solid, mid-period competence.
It's not merely the intended experience of being engulfed by an imaginative world I am more accustomed to seeing self-contained and safely boxed in an otherwise rational living room. And neither is it the resultant luxury of seeing deeper into the frame than ever before, though I confess it was fun to be able to actually read the letter Andre Morell receives at the beginning, and to notice for the first time that when John Carson banishes his associates from the room after he scuppers their attempted gang rape of Diane Clare, one of them simply goes to the landing at the top of the stairs and waits there.
It really did seem a better, more compelling and, yes, scarier film yesterday than ever before, and that's no small achievement given that I knew what was around every corner. Even the ironic contingent were largely silent, unleashing their guffaws only for the admittedly amusing way in which the two drops of blood Carson manages to squeeze from Clare's finger seemed to increase in quantity each time it was transferred from one vessel to another. 
But everything else - the jumps and jolts, the suspense, the effects, and the performances (especially Morell's and Jacqueline Pearce's) worked exactly as intended in 1966.

The best scare remains the first sighting of the zombie, that inexplicably but so effectively screams as it flings Pearce's body to the ground, a moment doubly striking to me because I realised for the first time that this was Ben Aris, an actor I knew well for his appearances as suave, well-bred types in TV sitcoms. 

Of course the most famous scene remains the nightmare, in which the dead rise en masse from their graves and threaten Brook Williams, though rather less muddily and messily than I remembered, and notably bereft of the planned shots of a shuffling, decapitated Pearce holding her smiling head. (The BBFC put paid to that idea, though it may have been a case of Hammer out-imagining their special effects resources anyway.)
I've often been struck by just how untypical of the Bray boys this sequence is: I can't off-hand think of any other pre-seventies Hammer film containing anything comparable. (And it's shot in such a stylised, European kind of a way, all saturated colour and Expressionist angles. Hammer traditionally deal in prose, not poetry; the strictly empiricist approach was a large part of their distinctiveness.)
It was only watching the scene this time that I realised the reason for it's being there at all - it's to get a few zombies into the movie, thus justifying the title. Apart from Ben Aris's shock cameo there's nary a zombie in sight until the finale: only The Mummy's Shroud is less keen to fulfil the promise of its title and show us the damned monster. But it is a measure of the excellence of Plague that we don't feel the lack in anything like the same way: the suspense never flags, and the detail is consistently diverting.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Simon Helder returns!

This was waiting for me in my in-box this morning:

Dear Matthew,
We thought you might be interested in the feature film we are about to shoot, called 'Sherlock Holmes vs Frankenstein'. The cast includes Hammer veteran Shane Briant, as well as real-life baron Clement von Franckenstein.
1898. Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson travel to Germany to investigate a strange case in the village of Darmstadt.
Who is the mysterious scientist who digs up corpses and steals their limbs? Could these events be related to the nearby presence of Castle Frankenstein, whose name is closely associated to Mary Shelley's horror novel? Everyone is a suspect...
Best wishes,
Marteau Films Production

And yes, it would seem that Briant really is reprising his old Monster From Hell role!
Follow the link here to find out more.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Stop Me Before I Kill!/The Full Treatment (1960)

So what's to like about Hammer's 1960 thriller Stop Me Before I Kill! aka The Full Treatment? 

This was Ronald Lewis' first starring role in a Hammer movie. He would later also feature in Taste of Fear and The Brigand of Kandahar. None of those parts would ultimately set the world on fire but in Stop Me Before I Kill! he has the notable honour of arguably playing the rudest and most obnoxious leading man ever filmed in a Hammer production.

Following a car accident during his honeymoon his race car driving character is left not only physically but also mentally scarred and living in fear of wanting to murder his wife. He is compulsive, insulting, constantly flies off the handle and looks a lot like Errol Flynn.

During a party scene we have a black female character playing a French Baronesse and society lady. Absolutely nothing is made of her skin colour and she fits neatly into the dinner table round. While this may no longer raise an eyebrow it is remarkable for a film of its time.

Of course, it would have been even more remarkable had this character actually been played by a black actress but researching this blog post it appears that Barbara Chilcott, the actress playing that role, was Canadian and white.

Unless I am very much mistaken Stop Me Before I Kill! features Hammer's first nude scene. Diane Cilento, today better known as the woman who once was Mrs Connery, graces us with a nude swim and a blink and you'll miss it so press the darn pause button quickly topless scene, the first of many more to come for Hammer.

Eight years prior Cilento had one of her first roles in Hammer's Wings of Danger though genre fans will always remember her as schoolteacher Miss Rose in The Wicker Man. She was Oscar nominated for her supporting role in Tom Jones.

Here she plays the long suffering wife – and potential victim - of race car driver Alan Colby. Given her character's name (Denise) and the location this movie is partially set in I guess she is meant to be French, however, in some early scenes she speaks fluent Italian and for the most part sports a very convincing Italian accent. In actual fact she is so good in it that it is hard to imagine that she is not one of Hammer's Continental discoveries but indeed Australian born.

Wow indeed. No wonder someone spies on her.

And that someone playing Peeping Tom is Claude Dauphin as a psychiatrist who suspects that smoking may cause cancer (so much for this being a new discovery) but still smokes and spends more time brusquely interrupting his patients and being argumentative rather than listening to their concerns. He is obsessed with murderous instincts (even when seeing a spider) and goes as far as treating his patients with CO2.... even if it nearly kills them.

And, hey, and did you know that you don't need an iPod or even a Walkman to listen to music on the go? All it requires is to hang a portable radio smoothly around your neck while admiring your collection of surgical instruments.

All in all Stop Me Before I Kill! is an enjoyable enough early piece of non-horrror entertainment from Hammer Films. Director Val Guest generally keeps this from getting too dull but the production does dabble far too much into then-fashionable psycho babble. One of the bigger issues is that for the most part until the end there is no real threat yet this production still has enough in its favour to make it worth a watch.

The UK version of the film (and the one currently available on DVD) clocks in at a little under two hours which for a classic Hammer movie is practically monumental but for the material available is far too long. The cinematic version in the US was apparently a good bit shorter and quite likely better paced.

All the actors play remarkably well even when their characters are often meant to be quite non-chalant about dealing with a guy with murderous urges. It is also surprising to hear quite open discussions about sexuality in a film of its vintage.

Don't be surprised if you don't see any reference to Hammer in the credits. Falcon, the production company, was one of Hammer's subsidiaries and for financial reasons the powers that be decided to erase any reference to its far more famous parent company.

Stop Me Before I Kill! is available as part of the ICONS OF SUSPENSE COLLECTION that was released in 2010.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Caroline Munro's musical career

This article was first previously published on my now defunct Hammer Glamour website. For this blog post I have only made slight modifications. At the time it was the only overview online about her musical career but since it got posted Karl Sherlock's Numa Records - The Formative Years has added a great section on Caroline Munro with info and record scans that far FAR surpasses mine though I was able to also help him out with the scans and tracks for Caroline's Convention Demo Tape. Definitely do check them out for a more complete overview of this part of Caroline's career. In actual fact just by reviewing their pages for today's updates was I even made aware of Munro's husband/wife collaborations with Judd Hamilton in the 1970s!

At the time of writing the first version of this article YouTube wasn't even around. Nowadays, however, exploring her musical career has never been easier and I dropped most of the scans I had posted (and long lost again in Cyberspace) for YouTube clips.

This article is probably a bit past its sell-by date but blogging about Caroline Munro's music videos made me recall it and bring it out of the cupboard.

Throughout her career, Caroline Munro repeatedly tried to break into the music business. In actual fact, prior to ever getting into modelling or acting and while still at school at the age of 16, she recorded a cover version of Tar and Cement together with Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce of Cream and Steve Howes of Yes as backing musicians. For a good while that single has been something of a Holy Grail for Munro Collectors as it was quite difficult to trace and also proved expensive enough due to her now famous fellow musicians involved in it at the start of their own careers but nothing stays obscure for too long these days and it has since found its way to YouTube and elsewhere. It’s a cheerful ditty tune that will keep you humming throughout the day and quite possibly the best song she has ever recorded.

In the subsequent years she became quite successful as a model and poster girl for Lamb’s Navy Rum and also started a promising acting career. She also appeared as the cover girl on some albums. In 1972 e.g. she appeared as an archer in Robin Hood gear on the front and back cover of Hot Hits 11. She also appeared on the cover of a Top of the Pops sleeve. Some more cover appearances have since been posted on Karl Sherlock's tribute (even though I don't think the Europa Hitparade is Munro).

In 1971 Caroline Munro did not just appear as a cover girl but in actual fact was also the subject of a song herself! For his first solo album "One Year" Colin Blunstone, lead singer of The Zombies, wrote a song called Caroline Goodbye about the breakup of their relationship.

Caroline’s most famous recording was Gary Numan’s production Pump Me Up. The single was released in 1984 and also featured Numan on keyboards and backing vocals. It’s recorded in typical Numan style, i.e. her voice is completely drowned in some monotonous synthesiser sounds and it's hard to understand what she's singing.

The B-Side, The Picture, is actually much better. In that song she sounds very much Blondie’ish.

Caroline was so serious about trying to get a break as a pop star that she even accepted a singing cameo in Don’t Open ‘Til Christmas in 1984 and co-wrote the song Warrior of Love. Little did she know that her one-day shot was turned into a "starring" role for her on the film’s posters thanks to the producers’ savvy marketing tactics.

Over the next couple of years, Caroline made only a handful of films and concentrated more on her family and raising her young kids. In the second half of the 1990s she rekindled her career by starting to run her own fan club. Again very keen on making it as a singer, she produced a private tape with excerpts of Warrior of Love, the very Country & Westernish Everything I Need and Numan’s Pump Me Up. On that tape she also spoke and introduced the songs and excerpts. The tape was distributed around "The Monster Model Fest ‘96" in Framingham, Massachusetts.

Shortly later she teamed up with fellow musician Gary Wilson and – under the name of Wilson Munro – recorded a CD with cover versions of Let It Be Me, Everlasting Love and Cruisin’, a tune written by Wilson's cousin Clive Wilson and Brian Hodgson, two long standing session musicians. Clive played the guitars on that CD as well and was also involved in Christopher Lee's recordings of It's Now Or Never and Wanderin' Star. The tunes on the Wilson Munro CD are easy enough to listen to, but unfortunately Wilson’s voice is stronger than Caroline’s and she often comes across as little more than a prominent backing musician. The CD was sold via her Official Fan Club.

Her most successful recording was actually not a musical tune, but rather an audio CD for Big Finish’s Dr Who Adventure Omega, released in 2003! Though at times hard to follow for someone not too familiar with the good Doctor, this CD is nonetheless a Must for Caroline Munro Fans as this is by far the best acting she ever did. It’s hard to believe that this is the lady who was dubbed in most of her important roles. Caroline really takes very well to the audio medium and I would sure love to hear more from her in that kind of production. Her voice is amazing: soothing, sexy, ironic, stern, whatever it needs to be. And to think that she was worried about the production because of her dyslexia is unbelievable. Her performance is nothing short but a revelation. The CD is still available from Amazon UK.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Caroline Munro in new music video

An article in the Clacton Gazette informed me that Clacton's very own country singer Gary Curtis has just recorded a new charity single, Life is for the Living, featuring Caroline Munro in its accompanying video.

Gary Curtis is also known as Gary Wilson and a while back as "Wilson Munro" the two of them together had already recorded a 3-song CD. In actual fact the photo of them at about the 01:30 mark shows a promotional picture of them in younger years from that very CD release.

Can't say that this will ever be in the Top 100 of my favourite songs ever but it's good to see Caroline again in a music video.

Of course this is not the first time that we see her in a music video. The 1982 video for Adam Ant's debut single as a solo musician, Goody Two Shoes, featured Caroline Munro as a stern and stuck up member of the press corps who literally lets her hair down for the musician.

Also look out for veteran comedian Graham Stark as the butler.

Less famous than Goody Two Shoes is Meat Loaf's If You Really Want To, probably the only one of his classic songs that didn't become hugely succesful. But what a video and what a chance for Caroline to shine for the first and only time ever as a....

Ah well, don't want to ruin the surprise for those of you who may never have watched that video before.

Though she has over the years recorded a number of songs - Mental reminder that I need to transfer my old Discography article over from my now-defunct Hammer Glamour site – Caroline has never really recorded a proper music video for any of her songs. The closest she came to it is this clip of her cameo appearance from Don't Open Till Christmas singing Warrior of Love.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Dave Worrall/Lee Pfeiffer: Cinema Sex Sirens

Dave Worrall and Lee Pfeiffer, the authors of Cinema Sex Sirens, are the brains behind CINEMA RETRO. Dedicated to the films of the 1960s and 70s this is the only professional magazine these days I still subscribe to. And so should you if you haven't: The magazine consistently publishes very well researched, in-depth and beautifully illustrated articles often with the involvement of the men and women behind those flicks. Their look into The Men from U.N.C.L.E. movies e.g. lasted so many issues that a compilation of these articles would easily make up a proper book in its own rights.

In actual fact that publication is so good you may not just want to purchase their magazines once but even twice just so you have a spare copy to auction off once the mags are all sold out. Their Where Eagles Dare Special Edition from just about three or so years ago now easily commands prices in the $100 range.

Just goes to prove that Worrall and Pfeiffer clearly know their stuff.

So when they promise a coffee table book dedicated to the 1960s/70s sex sirens you bet that I'm all over it.

Those two decades with their more free spirited approach to sexuality and nudity rolled out new kinds of athletic female sex symbols that were all stunning, luscious and wonderfully uninhibited with not a Size 0 anywhere in sight. These beauties were often the focal point in horror, spy and (s)exploitation films (and their accompanying posters). Not a lot of modern female stars are still oozing this kind of glamorous jet setting mystique. As the promotional campaign for this book emphasised: They sure don't make'em like they used to.

The concept is very similar to Marcus Hearn's Hammer Glamour from a while back. All actresses get anything between 2-6 pages. A short biographical overview of generally one, sometimes two pages will not, ahem, reveal anything majorly new if you are already familiar with the ladies in question though serves as a good spring board to the primary raison d'etre behind the tome: the photos.

The book is richly illustrated with good quality reproductions of promotional photos and cult film posters. This being the Internet age it's hard to really describe a lot of those pics as “rare” but as usual it's nice to have them all available in one single publication.

The book is divided into three main sections dealing with Hollywood Sex Symbols from Raquel Welch to Natalie Wood (and also including Russ Meyer gals and Blaxploitation favourites), the Continentals (e.g. Ursula Andress, Senta Berger, Sylva Koscina and a number of giallo references) and Brit Glamour. The last section contains chapters on some of the more prominent Hammer Glamour ladies (such as Ingrid Pitt, Caroline Munro, Madeline Smith).

One potent reminder about the quality of the images in this publication is when I discovered to my initial dismay that one of the pages had been ripped out prior to shipment by either a Sharon Tate or Mamie Van Doren Fan working for The Book Depository. The issue was quickly resolved and I was promised a pristine new copy so my inital annoyance quickly made way to an ironic acknowledgement that even in the year 2012 these ladies still literally have pin-up appeal.

All those list-style books by their nature have omissions and for me it is unfathomable that Jacqueline Bisset doesn't even appear to warrant a single name check in one of the overview chapters. Still even with that omission this book is just as glamorous and gorgeous as the ladies it portrays though maybe not quite as in-depth and essential as the magazine it spawned from.

A Foreword is provided by Roger Moore.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Taking the New Hammer plunge

Calling yourself ‘Hammer Films’ can work for you and it can work against you.
On the one hand it gets you and your films more attention from the first than any other fledgling independent film company could dream of – would you have even heard of Beyond The Rave otherwise? – while on the other it automatically creates a weight of expectation that is almost impossible to honour.
Some will want you to succeed whatever, just because of the name. Others, probably more, will want you to fail whatever, for the same reason.

Then there are those who’ll say, simply, what’s the point?
You can call yourself what you like, but it won’t result in any kind of instant metamorphosis. It’s interesting that there is an Ealing Films currently trading too, but oddly subjected to neither the same scrutiny nor the same challenging response to its product. There is a protective passion for Hammer out there that is almost impossible to please. Stray too far from the classic template and they’ll call you senselessly revisionist, pastiche it too accurately and they’ll call you hopelessly dated.

I suppose if I belonged in any of the categories above it was the ‘what’s the point?’ one, though as a certain devotee of Hammer House of Horror I had no inflexible objection to the name’s revival, and on the whole I liked the idea. But I wasn’t all that excited about the films themselves. I managed about two minutes of Beyond the Rave (I gather that’s a world record) and a heroic fifteen or so of Wake Wood (which it turns out isn’t really a Hammer film at all).
But The Resident I enjoyed, because it worked efficiently within its remit, and obviously because it brought Christopher Lee back. The New York setting was a touch provocative (though it shouldn’t be forgotten that the original Hammer psycho-thrillers it referenced were by no means predominantly English-set), and however much a casting coup Hilary Swank may have been, they should have known that you really need a dolly bird for woman-in-jeopardy roles.

Still, I liked it overall, but much more importantly, I found when that red Hammer logo flashed across the screen that I did care after all, and I do like seeing the name up there again.
So that’s why I went to see The Woman In Black last night in a well- rather than ill-disposed mood.
Better yet, I came out the same way.
It’s a film that has done the seemingly impossible: justified the use of the Hammer name, honoured the traditions of the studio’s past, evoked much of its style, and at the same time managed to appeal to a broad, modern audience that have no interest in, or perhaps even awareness of, the original films. As a film it’s good, as a juggling act it’s amazing.

There have been some tellingly dogmatic objections, of the sort to which even as hopelessly romantic a reactionary as I can raise only a weary ‘so what?’ in response: the original Hammer never made a supernatural ghost story; they cut the film to get a 12 certificate; Daniel Radcliffe is too young; George Woodbridge isn’t in it. (Okay, I made the last one up, but you get the idea.)
These are a priori obstacles, the kind of thing no amount of competence in the actual product can circumnavigate.
I can’t think of any defining reason why they wouldn’t have made a ghost story back at Bray; and they certainly had a long and fascinating history of cutting their films to match a certificate (including an A certificate once in a while). Curse of Frankenstein is a 12 these days too, and all I can say is that if I had seen Woman in Black at twelve years of age I’d still be talking about its seminal influence on me now (the way I do about The Ghoul). You won’t go short on scares, believe me. You will go short on people being lashed to chairs in basements and tortured with garden tools, but then that’s not what you came for, is it?

There are the expected anachronisms of course, of the sort which no modern film set in the past could now be expected to avoid, annoying though they are all the same: designer stubble, men walking about in the rain without hats, characters suggesting they “get the hell out” of places, and ugly modern metaphor-speak (Radcliffe’s boss urges greater commitment from his employee on the grounds that they “don’t carry passengers”).

And Wizard Boy is too young; there’s no point pretending he isn’t. But neither would it be right not to add that, given that initial handicap, he delivers a truly excellent performance that does everything possible to make you forget, or at least excuse, his fundamental unsuitability for the role. His commitment and intensity cannot be faulted – his facial acting alone has to carry a good fifty percent of the film – and if he never quite convinces us he’s a widowed lawyer with a four year old son, well… Julie Ege wasn’t my mind’s idea of an Edwardian feminist adventuress. Can’t say that worried me unduly either.
These are precisely the kind of eccentricities that Hammer must be allowed.
The rest of the film? Well, it’s not especially original and it’s not especially ambitious, so hyperbole would sit ill on its frail shoulders. But in terms of the limits it sets for itself, it’s really hard to find anything wrong with it at all. Almost everything works a treat.

Even rendered in tacky digital format, the art direction is astounding, the photography is rich, the locations are beautifully atmospheric. Did you not dream of seeing a Hammer character making his way up and down a baroque staircase left of frame again? Dream no more!
At least two of the big scare moments work better than anything comparable in any of the similar films to which this has been compared, and the lingering sense of dread that strings them together is better yet. There’s even a slightly sappy ending that, a meaningless close on the Woman in Black’s face notwithstanding, honours the original Hammer’s commitment to ultimately restored order, even to restored order within a framework of Christian dogmatics.

I liked the casting, too, which seemed to me chosen by the classic Hammer method: an attention-catcher in front, sturdy support from traditional talent (Ciaran Hinds is splendid) and a fine third-row of well-chosen rhubarbers (David Burke, probably tv’s best ever Dr Watson, gets a line or two as the village bobby; Victor McGuire gets one as an anguished father).
It’s good to see them, and they have the feel of a new Hammer repertory. If any of them showed up again in the next one it would be wonderful. (As my compadre Mark notes in his review of the film here, it would be good if they used Radcliffe again too, perhaps in a more villainous capacity, playing his easy good looks against expectation in the Shane Briant manner.)
It is in such matters as these that the true Hammer flavour can most usefully be recalled. What the studio really needs is an overarching identity that links its new films to each other, rather than something that links any of them to the past.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

What am I bid for Hazel Court's nude scene?

When I first saw the original Karloff Frankenstein, on British television in 1983, it was still missing the famous sequence in which the Monster innocently throws the little girl into the lake, expecting her to float.
The notorious cut from his moving towards her to her father carrying her sodden body through the streets, vastly more unpleasant in its implications, was still unaltered, and there was little realistic expectation of the lost footage ever being restored.
When it did turn up not long after I can still remember the excitement, but now that it’s the official version and no longer surprising, I feel perversely privileged to think that I was around to see the film when it was still missing.

These sort of thoughts are foremost in my mind because of the recent announcement that Hammer is mounting a search for missing footage, and has highlighted the quest with a Top 6 hit list of dream snips.
There is a difference, though. While the Frankenstein footage was a major chunk of the movie, the absence of which disrupted the narrative and left the film genuinely incomplete, what Hammer are looking for are for the most part merely trims, a second here and there of gore which crossed the censorial line in the fifties and sixties, and wouldn’t any more.
But it’s the very fact that such moments as the head-in-acid-bath scene from Curse of Frankenstein, identified as the number one dream restoration, are no longer shocking enough to be excluded that makes their restoration an academic exercise at best. The film is not robbed by its not being there, and surely, after the first few frissons of unfamiliarity for those of us who have already seen the film a billion times, it won’t be enhanced by its being back either.
There’s something a bit defensive about the exercise, as if the studio is saying to young, modern audiences: if you think Hammer has a reputation for tameness, that’s not our fault, and just wait until we start splicing all the juicy stuff back in…
But an eyeball here and a cut throat there won’t make any difference to the story construction – which is what really dates the films – nor will it make the films any more shocking or thrilling or scary. For the first few watches the film will seem overbalanced by the new shots, in that they will command a share of the attention paid to the film overall that they were never intended to do when shot, then eventually we’ll get used to them and they’ll fade back into the woodwork again. It’s an interesting exercise for people like me and probably you, but that, surely, is about as far as it goes.

That said, the studio’s six most wanted list does make interesting reading.
There are a few surprises. No mention of Dracula’s full death scene from the ’58 original, complete with blistering face and extended shots of his crumbling hands, nor that odd shot that crops up in stills of Harker’s corrupted body after his staking. (Of course, this may have been omitted because it makes no sense: Valerie Gaunt’s body becomes that of an old hag because that’s how old she’d really be: there’s no more reason for Harker to deteriorate in this way than Lucy.)

In the absence of the above, the continued fascination with the acid bath shots from Curse of Frankenstein is intriguing, especially since they have been at least partially restored now: the version currently available on DVD has shots that were still missing when I first saw the film in 1984, notably of the lowering of the head into the tank (covered at the time by a meaningless cutaway to Robert Urquhart looking stern, spliced in from earlier in the scene.)
On the other hand, what is this “eyeball” shot they’re looking for? Surely not the close-up of the eyeball through a magnifying glass? Yes, it’s excised in the Warners TV print that still serves as primary source for reissues, but it was present and correct in the version I saw on television in Christmas ‘84. Not missing at all, just absent sometimes.

The only other inclusion in the list that I predicted would be there is the tongue scene from The Mummy. Ever since I was a boy, long before I’d seen the movie, I had been fascinated by the ‘before, during and after’ shots in Alan Frank’s book Horror Movies, and especially by the look of genuine revulsion on the face of the slave looking at the flaccid tongue in the third image. It was weirdly shocking to catch up with the film and discover these shots were not there. (The same goes for another on the list: the broken bottle stabbing from Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell, reproduced over two full pages in Frank’s later book Horror Films.)

But the other Mummy trim, what the studio charmingly calls the “underdressed maidens”, is of an altogether different order.
I had always thought that this was not a cut, so much as an alternative take prepared for more liberal foreign markets, and so the question is raised: just what is the definitive, authentic version of a Hammer film? I would have said it was the version prepared for the home territories, perhaps with a bit of censor-fiddling undone if you really feel the need. The idea of adding extra sensationalism, however, via the insertion of footage that was never intended to be seen in Britain, might be thought to cross the line between legitimate restoration and artistic interference, like adding new CGI effects, especially since including the underdressed maidens would entail not merely adding footage to the film but removing some as well to make room for it.
I suspect that for many behind this project, the definitive version of any Hammer movie is going to be the one with as much tits and blood as possible, regardless of how, when or why such footage was shot. (And if the underdressed maidens do make the list, despite this reservation, surely it should have included the holy grail of Hammer alt-edits: Hazel Court’s nude scene from The Man Who Could Cheat Death?)

Intriguing too to see the studio’s admission that they did not keep the trims in their film library. No reason why they should, but it reminds us that they have a film library, and raises the much more interesting question of what they do have there.
I’ve often been struck, despite the massive cult interest in Hammer films, by how little has ever been seen by way of rare or behind the scenes footage. Call me an old fogey if you will, but I’m personally much more interested in the talk here of how “the original UK title sequence has been reinstated on Plague of The Zombies” – the first I’ve heard of such a thing – than in the prospect of seeing a few extra drops of blood on Christopher Lee’s cape.
If I were asked to compile my own personal dream list of missing Hammer footage, it would be things like test shots, outtakes, and whole scenes cut for time rather than taste.
So what else is still loitering in the archives?
Did they really junk the Peter Cushing sequences from Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb? Are there no pre-dub soundtracks with Ingrid Pitt and Susan Denberg and Mike Raven using their real voices? Interesting though it may be to compare the existing and an “extended, more explicit version” of The Viking Queen, I’d rather go looking for one of the original edits of To The Devil a Daughter, before they ruined the ending: it might even be enough to turn it into a classic.
As for my number one choice of all, it just has to be that legendary, perhaps even apocryphal, test sequence for The Hound of the Baskervilles, with an ordinary-sized dog on a scaled-down set, grappling with children dressed as Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson...

POSTSCRIPT: As this page makes clear, as the BBC news report does not, the films on the list are those selected to undergo the first wave of restoration, with more to follow, so the top six missing moments refer to these films only, not the entirety of Hammer's output.

POST-POSTSCRIPT: As Holger notes in the comments, the reason why the search for the Dracula finale is not top priority is because they actually found it last year.
Just testing, just testing...

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Rediscovering Mike Raven (part three)

Part One
Part Two

“It wasn’t a great film or a great performance, and personally I would have liked someone like Stephen Weeks (director of I, Monster) to direct Mike, as he could easily have too much of his own way! We both liked Tom (Parkinson, the director) very much. He had an art school background and was very similar to Mike’s radio audience, so it was quite easy to go to the next step and do another film.”
- Mandy Fairman, Mike Raven's wife, on Crucible of Terror (1971)

That other film was Disciple of Death (1972), Raven’s second starring vehicle and a very different animal from Crucible.
While the first was essentially a conventional British horror film, albeit with a few very unusual moments, Disciple is intensely personal, and really quite unlike any other movie.
That’s a much overused observation, but it really does apply here. Indeed, viewed today, it is hard to imagine how Raven could not have seen that he was serving up something that was just too bizarre, too esoteric and too personal to suit the tastes of his time.
But at the time his confidence was such that he finally and decisively cut his ties with BBC Radio, where he had been comfortably ensconced as a respected blues DJ for many years.

“Mike gave up the BBC during the post production of Disciple,” remembers Mandy. “He was the first DJ to leave Radio 1 of his own accord and they really didn’t want him to go. I still have the farewell letter from Doreen Davis saying that he could go back at any time. Several people did the show afterwards but I don’t feel it had the same impact. The official line by the BBC was that he was taking a break.”

What he couldn’t have foreseen was that Disciple would prove to be his last film appearance of any kind, his horror career undone before it had really started by a combination of bad luck, bad management and bad reviews.

While Crucible just about scraped by as a low budget mainstream release, Disciple is more obviously amateur (in the best – and literal - sense of the term) and individualistic. The budget is obviously much lower, and the fact that it is a period piece only enhances the home movie ambiance.
As the parson who takes on Raven, Van Helsing-style, Ronald Lacey makes a welcome return from the Crucible cast, as does Betty Alberge, and other recognisable faces (notably Virginia Wetherell, Louise Jameson and George Belbin, the old Baron in Jimmy Sangster’s Horror of Frankenstein), pop up as well. But the general feeling is of a rep company of – again, no pejorative meaning intended – amateur players.
“I think they all had fun shooting it, and we all had parts as extras,” recalls Raven’s son Dominic. (If you want to spot them, Mandy and some of the children are “very cheap extras” in the funeral scene, and Raven’s eldest daughter is one of the zombie girls.)

Rereading the above paragraphs, I am aware of what is going to be a persistent problem when writing about this movie: trying to describe what makes it so unusual and distinctive, without making it sound like it isn’t any good.
Let’s be clear at the outset: if you don’t like having to use your imagination, or enjoy the work of film-makers similarly obliged, if you’d rather have it all thrown at you so as to achieve that perfect state of CGI brain-death, then certainly this is not the movie for you.
But if you are a fan of those supreme individualists that exploitation cinema occasionally throw up; amazing, creative, sincere madmen like Ed Wood or Ray Dennis Steckler, then there is plenty here to reward your attention. It’s a film you have to get into a particular mindset to fully appreciate, and – crucially – it is not a Hammer/Amicus/Tigon mindset.
This is a film for people who enjoy seeing an individual vision transplanted to the screen with as little filtering through consensus, committee and studio sensibilities as possible. A low budget can only enhance such qualities: it prohibits short-cutting and reliance on cliché; it forces unusual solutions to logistic and creative problems.
It’s the kind of environment in which one-of-a-kind imaginations like Raven’s can thrive.

Though Tom Parkinson is again in the director’s chair, Raven is much more the driving force this time, with “a lot of Dad’s interest in religion and the occult… reflected in the plot” according to Dominic.
In fact, while most sources credit Raven as screenwriter, under his real name of Austin Fairman, Parkinson as director and the pair as co-producers, the print I watched has one joint credit that simply reads ‘a film by Austin Fairman and Tom Parkinson’ and no separate credits at all, indicative of the closely collaborative nature of the production.
As Mandy remembers: “It was very much Mike and Tom’s own work. They shared this ‘jokey but unjokey’ sense of humour, a bit undergrad, but with a serious layer hidden underneath.”

Though in many ways a more complicated and intricate production than Crucible, with the added financial burden of a period setting, Raven managed to scrape together only half the budget of the first film.
According to several sources, the script had originally been offered to Hammer, who had shown some interest and even announced it as forthcoming. But when Michael Carreras returned to the company at the end of 1971 it was one of many slated productions to be swept away by his new broom. Accordingly, Raven was forced to look for private financing, stumping up some of the budget himself with a bank loan.
Mandy is surprised that Hammer had ever been consulted, given their mutual history, and has no memory of their involvement: “I wouldn’t have thought that anyone connected with Disciple would have gone near Hammer: two different mind-sets. I wouldn’t have ruled out Tom approaching Amicus, but not to my knowledge, or rather memory.”
The budget, needless to say, was tight: “Both films were shot on a shoestring, but this was an even smaller shoestring, and with no distribution deal arranged beforehand. The money men were out of their depth. Tom actually sold this film in America for $250,000, and two days later the head of studio he had shaken hands with got fired! It definitely had the kiss of death on it. It has now become a bit of a cult movie and it was a shame that it was denied the audience it was meant for but somehow they have over the years found their way to it in America.”

“As I remember Dad lost quite a bit of money trying to get Disciple of Death a distribution deal and it ended up with a court case,” adds Dominic. “I don’t know where the DVD copies have come from, actually: after the court case it was never meant to see the light of day.”

Billed simply as ‘the Stranger’, Raven plays a Satanic emissary, raised from the depths when blood is accidentally spilled on his grave, compelled to supply the Devil with an endless succession of virgin sacrifices, surrounded and served by his white-faced former victims. Only when one of his victims comes willingly to his altar and agrees to die and be his companion in eternity will he be freed from his onerous duties…
At least, I’m reasonably certain that is the extent of the idea, but the narrative is developed so obliquely, with so much left for us to assume, or giving up its meaning long after we have experienced it, that you can never feel entirely sure what is going on or why.
The Stranger, for example, gets visibly older and younger from scene to scene like Stoker’s Dracula, but there’s never any clear indication whether this is dependent on how recently he has undertaken a blood sacrifice. (We see him drinking from a chalice of blood in one sequence, but he doesn’t then get younger, and he’s at his most sleek and dyed-black-haired at the beginning, before he’s killed anyone.)
Both plot and setting are uncommon in a film of its type; I suppose Blood on Satan’s Claw is its closest cousin, but the two films are quite unlike each other in style and presentation. As befitting a film written by a man of Raven’s interests, the plot is steeped in mysticism, magic, ritual and symbolism. It goes further into such realms than just about any other British horror film, bucking the general trend towards rationalism, established and rarely violated since Hammer’s original Dracula had haughtily dismissed the notion of vampires turning into bats as “a common fallacy”.
Not for Raven such empiricist cynicism: his film is a rich stew of bizarre esoteric touches, and one which – to say the least – is not afraid to rely on purely magical plot developments, not least in its climax.
While many reviewers have balked at the sudden leap into the supernatural at the end of Crucible, here by contrast is a film that starts in that frame of mind and gets progressively stranger as it moves on.

There are some strikingly beautiful images. The early funeral sequence, in which several members of the Raven clan appear walking the coffin along the lowering Cornish skyline, the weeping of the mourners and the howling of the wind mingling to form a single uncanny noise, is one such, and indicative of the unshowiness of the film’s best effects.
“I thought Tom shot that really well,” agrees Mandy. “He wanted to have a funeral exactly as it would have been during that period.” The point of influence may well be the eerily wordless pre-credit sequence of Witchfinder General, Raven’s favourite horror film, but if so it comes close to eclipsing its source.
Like Ken Russell’s television films, there is a pictorial simplicity that is far more effective than the kind of elaborate set-ups that draw attention to themselves but distract from the general mood. The film makes good use of skylines especially – Raven and Parkinson were not the first period film-makers to notice that the sky is the one part of any location that is guaranteed not to have changed over time - and a later sequence in which the avengers gallop on horseback past a gibbet, complete with gently swinging corpse, is simply superb.
Lovely use throughout is made of natural light – note the scene where the heroine encounters the gypsy woman and asks her to tell her fortune, with the two silhouetted against the waning sun.
There are many other great touches, some ideas which impress in their very simplicity and willingness to risk naivety. Look at the moment when the hero is led to the Stranger’s lair by the ghoulish face of his dead sister appearing at his window and summoning him outside: generically basic stuff, but presented with a striking kind of straightforwardness that could only be diluted by any additional effects or tricks of presentation.
The same goes for the abrupt cuts to split second shots of Raven’s eyes (really his this time, not Christopher Lee’s) accompanied by the sound of a crow, or the scene where his shadowy form appears in the heroine’s bedroom, set to the first line of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, looped to notably odd effect.
The film is intensely scored throughout to classical organ pieces, often assumed to be library recordings, but in fact specially arranged and recorded for the film, and very effective they are too. (According to Mandy, the additional responsibility of overseeing the film’s score was a decisive factor in Raven’s decision to leave Radio 1: “He was responsible for all the music, which was played on the organ in St Clement Danes, and he felt he didn’t have enough time. I can’t remember the name of the young organist, but he was brilliant.” It was Robert Cornford, the multi-talented musician and composer, who died tragically young in 1983.)

The two sequences that tend to attract most derision are both in the film’s second half.
The first sees the young hero and the parson visiting a Jewish cabbalist for help in defeating the Stranger. As well as lurching much further into the realms of magical fantasy than the more darkly folkloric narrative had hitherto hinted, the really odd thing about this sequence is that it is played for laughs, and very broadly, in a film that has displayed not one trace of tongue in cheek at any time prior (and we’re fifty minutes in).
Not only is he given a great deal of comic Jewish dialogue, there is an outrageous moment when, immediately after leaving his house, the Parson returns for more information to find him inexplicably transformed into a cobwebby skeleton. Instead of expressing horror, he looks away and embarrassedly mumbles, “it can wait”, as if he had just walked in and caught him in the nude.
Then, while all this is going on, we see The Stranger conjuring up a vampire dwarf to assist him: the dwarf (played by former Oompa-Loompa and future Jawa Rusty Goffe) them attempts to waylay the heroes in a variety of supernatural ways, and every time he is thwarted he stamps his feet and waves his fist. Again, the intention can only have been for the effect of this to be comic, which is strange enough in itself at this late stage in the movie, but when the dwarf then goes on to kill the Parson by overpowering him and ripping out his throat with his teeth the juxtaposition is frankly bizarre.
"The jump from horror to jokiness was meant to be sort of Saturday morning pictures," explains Mandy. "It was intentional, but perhaps a step too far for most people. Typical Mike."
It is at these moments – when the film’s detractors become most vociferous – that I was first struck by the links between this film and those of Ray Dennis Steckler, notorious for his abrupt narrative gear-changes, seen to most magisterial effect in his certain masterpiece Rat Pfink a Boo Boo. You may find yourself recalling the talking wig blocks from Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Gruesome Twosome also, and the exhilarating way in which both of those film-makers refuse you the reassurance of knowing how their movies will progress from one scene to the next.
And provided you do not find such things an unconscionable violation of the rules of verisimilitude you demand of your movies, you’ll like the weird stylistic mix here too. It’s certainly odd to see The Stranger, at first so sinister, taciturn, stealthy and black-clad, suddenly revealed by the Cabbalist’s remote-viewing skills as an eccentric, red-gowned magician, with the latter commenting on his skills as he goes about his hocus-pocus. (“A neat trick, that! Unquenchable fire!”)
And actually, there’s something authentic-seeming even about this degree of weirdness if we think of the film, as Raven surely did, as a piece of Cornish folklore. Anyone with even the smallest acquaintance with the rich store of bizarre and sinister legends in which the county is steeped will have no trouble with its seeming eccentricities, which are not really all that outlandish in comparison.

Raven’s performance lacks entirely the odd hints of uncertainty detectable in the previous film and is twice as full-blooded: just listen to his joyous delivery of his exit speech, as he prepares to torture the young lovers on a vertical rack:
“For seven days and seven nights you will be racked in torment. But long before your sinews crack and you are torn apart you will have prayed for death a thousand times. Oh, well, I must be on my way. No doubt we all shall meet again… in Hell!”

The first lines are said slowly, half-whispered, with subdued sadistic anticipation, building to a crescendo on “a thousand times.” Then, the “oh well, I must be on my way” is delivered with definite bathos, as a deliberate comic punchline; but cut short as he snaps back to devilishness, until “in Hell!” is yelled with a triumphant glee that Tod Slaughter might have envied.
It’s hard not to feel that Raven was just getting started in this film, but it was not to be.

The original critics weren’t entirely unanimous in their derision, according to Mandy: “At the press showing there was an ‘establishment’ critic, I believe from the Mirror. Not at all the sort of person we thought would ‘get’ the film. However, to Mike’s delight he got it spot on, and gave it a very good short review.”
But one good review does not a hit movie make, and the sad truth about Disciple of Death is that it didn’t really have the chance even to fail. Swamped in distribution problems it played for a week in London before disappearing in a morass of legal complications. It has rarely been seen since, and unlike Crucible - a perennial treat for curious insomniacs - it has never played on British television.

With it, alas, went Mike Raven’s hopes of being a British horror film star, though his family remember little by way of disappointment or gloomy introspection.
The Raven way was to plunge into some new diversion, and after settling into his Cornish farm that proved to be sculpture, the form of artistic expression that satisfied him for the rest of his life.

Austin Fairman, aka Mike Raven, passed away in Cornwall in 1997, at the age of seventy-two.
He was buried on his farm, in a scene strangely reminiscent of the sequence in Disciple of Death in which his family had participated, twenty-five years earlier.
As Mandy recalls: “On the 1st May, 1997, that scene more or less took place, on this farm when he was buried. All our neighbours carried the coffin quite a way across the fields to the grave. It only struck me later that this had all happened before, in the film.”

(with thanks to Mandy and Dominic Fairman)