Category Archives: Retro Reviews (RetViews)

RetView #64 – Death Line (1972)

Title: Death Line

Year of Release: 1972

Director: Gary Sherman

Length: 87 mins

Starring: Donald Pleasence, Norman Rossington, David Ladd, Sharon Gurney, Hugh Armstrong, Christopher Lee, Clive Swift

As this series of deep dives into the land of movies past has progressed, I’ve actually discovered a lot about myself. One thing I’ve found, as you might have gathered from previous entries like Severance, Witchfinder General, Dr Terror’s House of Horrors, The Descent, and 28 Days Later, is that I have developed a deep appreciation for British horror. I guess it’s not that remarkable. Being a Brit myself, it just feels more relevant and relatable. And the accents are funny. Death Line, lauded by Time Out as “One of the great British horror films,” and a classic example of what Hellraiser director Clive Barker calls ’embracing the monstrous’ is an undisputed classic of the genre. The stiff upper lip, ‘keep calm and carry on’ ethos is exemplified in an early scene where Inspector Calhoun (Pleasence) yells, “We’d better do something. Quick. And the first fing we’re going to do is get some tea!”

It might sound stereotypical, cliched, cheesy or even borderline offensive to some (in the current climate, virtually everything is offensive to some), but the thing is, that’s probably exactly what the majority of British coppers say at the beginning of murder investigations. Or at least they did in the early seventies. These days they probably prefer a glass of sparkling spring water.

Released in the US under the alternative title Raw Meat in a slightly edited form (in order to avoid a potentially-damaging X rating) Death Line was actually a joint US/British enterprise. It was directed by American Gary Sherman (Dead & Buried, Poltergeist III and the TV series Poltergeist: The Legacy) but as it has a predominantly British cast and is set in London, we are claiming it.

Much of the action takes place in and around Russell Square tube station in Camden, a Grade II listed building, but most of the underground sequences were actually filmed at Aldwych which was closed in 1994. There’s something iconic about the London Underground, like the Paris Catacombs or the ampitheatre in Athens. It’s broody, dark, and somehow menacing, something which has been put to good use in several movies, most notably in the black comedy Three and Out (2008) and that famous sequence in American Werewolf in London (1981). It also comes complete with a rather bloody and chequered history, something which is more than hinted at here, making it the perfect setting for a horror film.

The plot follows a couple of journalism students, Patricia (Gurney) and Alex (Ladd) who almost literally stumble across a man lying in a stairwell. Dismissing him as a drunk, they do the proper thing and report their finding to the police. Cue the aforementioned Inspector Calhoun, who discovers the drunk, revealed as a wealthy Conservative minister (no change there, then), has since disappeared. A colleague then tells Calhoun about an urban legend telling of a group of descendants from an 1892 cave-in who still live below-ground surviving on the flesh of commuters.

Cor blimey!

Unperturbed, the amiable Patricia and Alex continue to frequent the Underground and become separated one night, which leads to Patricia getting up close and personal with the chief cannibal (Armstrong) who is now on a murderous rampage having just seen his pregnant lover die. A brutal climactic showdown sees said chief cannibal, credited simply as ‘The Man’ incapacitated and left for dead, but we all know how that usually plays out. As movie villains go, The Man is a complex character who elicits both compassion and repulsion. When he abducts Patricia he is torn between eating her and caring for her, and despite his grisly antics the viewer can’t help feel a twinge of sympathy. Not least because he’s been lumbered with perhaps the weakest and least-threatening catch phrase in horror movie history. He does inject some impressive vigour into it, though.

Death Line was well received by both audiences and critics, with Robin Wood of The Village Voice writing that it, “Vies with Night of the Living Dead (1968) for the most horrible horror film ever. It is, I think, decidedly the better film: more powerfully structured, more complex, and more humanly involved. Its horrors are not gratuitous; it is an essential part of its achievement to create, in the underground world, the most terrible conditions in which human life can continue to exist and remain recognizably human. [It] is strong without being schematic; one can’t talk of allegory in the strict sense, but the action consistently carries resonances beyond its literal meaning.”

Interestingly, a 2017 article in Little White Lies claims that Death Line offers an, “Oddly prescient message about social inequality in London. From the very first scene, a member of the establishment (James Manfred, the wealthy conservative minister) is framed as corrupt, with Manfred’s perversion and hunt for flesh effective exposition to the cannibal horror that follows.” True, the only people the Man slaughters probably had it coming, which would make him a hero in most movies. The article goes on to use the film as a metaphor for the then-recent Grenfell fire, noting that, “The film’s soundtrack consistently features the haunting sounds of screams and digging; echoes of an industrial revolution that has benefitted one side of society more than the other.”

Quite.

Trivia Corner

The part of the cannibal was originally offered to Marlon Brando, but he had to pull out when his son Christian contracted pneumonia.


RetView #63 – Re-Animator (1985)

Title: Re-Animator

Year of Release: 1985

Director: Stuart Gordon

Length: 86 mins

Starring: Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale, Robert Sampson, Jeffrey Combs

It’s been at least a couple of months now, so I think it’s about time we had another 80’s cheese fest. Re-Animator, aka H.P. Lovecraft’s Re-animator on account of being loosely based on Lovecraft’s 1922 work ‘Herbert West – Reanimator’ fits the bill perfectly. Directed by Stuart Abbott, who also directed From Beyond (1986), Dolls (1987) and wrote Honey I Shrunk the Kids (1989) and The Dentist (1995), it was originally intended to be a stage play, before given The Treatment, and that sense of intimacy has largely been preserved. With it’s a small cast, tightly-woven plot, and snappy dialogue, it’s easy to see why Re-Animator is now considered a bona fide cult classic. Shot in only 18 days, it is the first film in the Re-Animator series, and was followed by Bride of Re-Animator (1990) and Beyond Re-Animator (2003), neither of which hit the heights of the original.

After leaving his last place of education under something of a cloud, medical student called Herbert West (Combs) enrols at Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts (a fictional educational establishment in a fictional town in a real state), moves in with fellow student Dan Cain (Abbott), and then proceeds to turn the apartment into a laboratory. His experiments include killing and then re-animating Dan’s cat Rufus several times, much to the horror of Dan’s girlfriend, Megan (Crampton). Don’t worry, cat lovers, Rufus gets his own back. Dan tries to tell the Dean of the university (who happens to be Megan’s father) about West’s experiments but he is ridiculed, and the pair kicked out. They then hatch a plan to sneak into the morgue to use the reagent they have developed on a human subject to prove it works. It does, except the dead guy returns as a zombie-like crazed person. That’s when the Dean stumbles upon the scene, and shit gets really wild.

Producer Brian Yuzna (who played one of the hospital corpses, largely for his own amusement) described the film as having the “sort of shock sensibility of an Evil Dead with the production values of The Howling.” There are more than a few scenes to keep the gore hounds among you happy. My absolute favourite shows Dr Hill (Gale) in a role that the great Christopher Lee allegedly refused, removing skin from a corpse’s head on the way to extracting their brain, which he does with the words, “It’s very much like peeling a large orange.” According to IMDB, the special effects department went through 24-gallons of fake blood during the shoot, special-effects guru John Naulin said that Re-Animator was the bloodiest film he had ever worked on. In the past he had never used more than two gallons, which has to be some kind of compliment. Upon release, Re-Animator received an X (adults only) rating, and was later edited to obtain an R rating for video rental stores because some stores’ policies prohibited them from renting ‘unrated’ films with an MPAA rating of X. In the R-rated version, much of the gore was edited out and replaced with various scenes which had been deleted for pacing purposes, including a subplot involving Dr. Hill hypnotizing several characters to make them more suggestible to his will. A short scene was also added showing Herbert West injecting himself with small amounts of the reagent to stay awake and energized, which may have affected his thinking over the course of the film. On the other side of the pond, British Film Censors weren’t impressed with the scene where the severed head Dr. Hill attempts to rape Megan and refused to pass the film for release in the United Kingdom until the sequence had been cut. In Japan, the film is titled “ZOMBIO” though the title is dropped for the sequel because it translates as “Drifting Spirits” and makes no sense in the context of the film.

Re-Animator was received well, winning over many of the more arty critics. In her review for The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, “Re-Animator has a fast pace and a good deal of grisly vitality. It even has a sense of humor, albeit one that would be lost on 99.9 percent of any ordinary movie-going crowd.” In his review for the Los Angeles Times, Kevin Thomas said, “The big noise is Combs, a small, compact man of terrific intensity and concentration,” and David Edelstein, writing for Village Voice, an influential New York tabloid that closed in 2017, placed the film in his year-end Top Ten Movies list. In their book Lurker in the Lobby: A Guide to the Cinema of H. P. Lovecraft, Andrew Migliore and John Strysik write, “Re-Animator took First Prize at the Paris Festival of Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror, a Special Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and even spawned a short-lived series of comic books. Even though it was a hit with audiences, the film generated a huge amount of controversy among Lovecraft readers. Fans thought the film a desecration of Lovecraft; their literary hero would never write such obvious exploitation!”

Trivia Corner

In December 1986, the year after Re-Animator was released, Barbara Crampton did a nude pictorial in Playboy magazine under the title, “Simply Beastly. Behind every successful monster, there’s a woman.” In an October 2020 interview with Entertainment Weekly, the then 61-year revealed that she was only given a second round of auditions for the role of Meg because the girl who won the part the first time around turned it down after her mother read the script and said “Oh, no. You’re not doing this.”


RetView #62 – Little Devils: The Birth (1993)

Title: Little Devils: The Birth

Year of Release: 1993

Director: George Pavlou

Length: 100 mins

Starring: Russ Tamblyn, Marc Price, Nancy Valen, Wayne McNamara, Stella Stevens

Little Devils: The Birth is one of those films that got lost in the shuffle. Marketed as a comedy horror in the Gremlins or Ghoulies vein, it’s not really funny enough to be a comedy and not horrific enough to be a horror. It didn’t even have a hard rock soundtrack for Christ’s sake, and lacking big industry backing and a massive distribution deal, when it was released it fell between the cracks of the two genres and quickly became forgotten. In horror circles, just being aware of it granted you entry into some kind of exclusive club governed by knowing winks and secret handshakes. It doesn’t get more ‘cult movie’ than that.

It was reportedly conceived as a TV pilot for a new anthology series along the lines of The Hitchhiker and Tales from the Crypt, but when that plan fell through the makers decided to press on and turn it into a feature film instead. It received a timely boost when released by Shivers Entertainment on limited edition remastered DVD for the first time in 2017, but even then flew under the radar, the only media coverage being canned copy recycled from the press release churned out by bored journos with pages to fill. It’s almost as if there’s a conspiracy afoot to ensure the movie stays underground where it can build upon its growing reputation year on year until it eventually grows horns and takes over the world. I for one think it deserves a wider audience, so here we are.

Like all the best films, it begins when an unpopular, debt-ridden mad scientist. This one, Dr. Lionel (McNamara), literally goes to hell and back, and returns with a souvenir in the form of some runny mud that looks a lot like melted chocolate. Possessed and compelled to work, he sets about creating an army of tiny, impish figures who come to life, break out, and start terrorizing the apartment block in which he lives. First stop is the apartment downstairs which is home to Ed (Marc Price, of Trick or Treat fame – in which his character name was also Ed, weirdly enough) a frustrated writer reduced to producing smutty stories for a sleazy magazine to make ends meet whilst being pursued by strange, lust-filled landlord, Clara Madison (Stevens). Clara treats Dr. Lionel with complete disdain, yet has the hots for Ed. Ed isn’t interested, though. Especially after he meets exotic dancer Lynn (Valen) while researching a book at the local homeless shelter and the two begin a tumultuous relationship. Ed and his motley crew of friends, lovers and acquaintances then have to battle the rampaging horde of ‘little devils’ before things get (any more) out of hand.

Though very much a product of its time, given the pedigree of some of the people involved, it was something of a surprise that Little Devils: The Birth didn’t make a bigger splash. It was the brainchild of British director George Pavlou, who’d made his name on the Clive Barker vehicles Underworld (1985) and Rawhead Rex (1986), and writer Elliot Stein, fresh from the similarly-themed TV movie Gray Clay Dolls (1991). The biggest coup in front of the camera came in the form of the legendary Stella Stevens who had successfully made the transition from Playboy to the big (and small) screen, appearing in scores of movies and TV shows in a career spanning half a century including The Poseidon Adventure (1972), The Manitou (1978) and Monster in the Closet (1986). Despite the lowbrow, tongue-in-cheek subject material, her star quality shines through in every scene she’s in and its a bitter disappointment when *spoiler alert* the little devils get her half way through. In fact, all the actors do a decent job and the script, though played mostly for laughs, is also surprisingly good (sample dialogue: “You write porno. That doesn’t necessarily make you a pervert, even though you are one”).

Yes, the plot is silly, the effects are cheesy, and at times the whole thing feels a bit like one of those early Ratt videos MTV would play after midnight back when they still played music, but all things considered this forgotten gem is well worthy of its cult status. The title suggests that at least one sequel was planned, but that never transpired. Not yet, anyway. We can but hope.

Trivia Corner

Before becoming an actress, Stella Stevens was a member of the five-voice vocal ensemble The skip-Jacks who performed the theme song from The Flintstones, among other things. She went on to forge a long-term relationship with famed producer and one-time Kiss guitarist Bob Kulick, which lasted until his death in 2020.


RetView #61 – Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

Title: Creature from the Black Lagoon

Year of Release: 1954

Director: Jack Arnold

Length: 79 mins

Starring: Richard Carlson, Julie Adams, Richard Denning

There aren’t many movies that start with the big bang. Where can you go after that? In the first two minutes or so of Creature from the Black Lagoon we are treated not only to a massive explosion, but also a potted history of 15 million years of life on earth. And if that wasn’t enough, we end up tracking a team of explorers somewhere in the Amazon when they find a gigantic petrified claw which apparently belonged to some kind of amphibious creature they dub ‘Gill man’. In the wake of this discovery, the expedition shifts its focus to seeking out a live specimen, and then trying to escape when they realize the live specimen doesn’t much fancy a life in captivity and strikes back, a pivotal moment coming when the hunted becomes the hunter. It’s enough to make you dizzy. And that’s not even taking into account the fact that when this movie first hit cinemas, it did so in 3D. 1950’s technology was a far cry to what we have going on at the Cineplex these days, but let’s give them credit for trying. Upon release, the movie also broke several records for the amount of underwater filming it features, all of which is stunningly shot using a variety of (then) innovative techniques.

The story goes that producer William Alland was attending a dinner party during the filming of Orson Welles’ 1941 classic Citizen Kane (in which he played a reporter) when Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa told him about the myth of a race of half-fish, half-human creatures living in the Amazon River. Alland wrote some story notes using the imaginative working title The Sea Monster, which eventually morphed into Creature from the Black Lagoon years later. Just as he did on the Incredible Shrinking Man, director Jack Arnold does a masterful job. There’s a lot going on beneath the surface (sorry). First we have the simmering sexual tension between Kay (Adams) and her two male leads, who are both competing for her affections in vastly different ways. There’s David (Carlson) who dotes on her, in an old-fashioned, wrap-you-up-in-cotton-wool, slightly controlling way, while love rival and pantomime villain Mark (Denning), seems to take a more preening, misogynistic approach, parading around in his tight shorts whenever possible and being vocally resentful of Kay’s mere presence, which seems a bit counterproductive. Let’s not forget that this was an era when it wasn’t unusual to see leading men in movies wallop their woman about the chops if she dared step out of line. To be brutally honest, this pair of numb nuts make Gill-man seem like a real catch (sorry again). He’s also a bit creepy, by the way. Not only does he have scales, big bulbous eyes and massive clawed hands, but he likes to swim underneath Kay mirroring her movements whilst she unwittingly frolics about in the water. Tellingly, though, at the end when he finally kidnaps her, the creature doesn’t literally puts Kay on a pedestal.

In some quarters, the creature has become a metaphor for repressed sexual tension, which must have been rife in 1950’s America, what with the twin threats of communism and nuclear armageddon hanging over everyone. He is forever lurking insidiously behind the scenes, always threatening to break through to the surface and create havoc but never quite managing. The cultural impact of Creature from the Black lagoon has long been debated, the discourse summarized here.

The subtext is clear, but that doesn’t make it any less fascinating. It’s those pesky humans messing about with nature again. The poor amphibious creature and his relatives and cohorts had been quietly pottering about minding their own business in remote parts of the world for millennia. And quite possibly would’ve stayed there, too, had a bunch of selfish assholes not turned up and ruined everything. Shades of King Kong here, and even The Thing. The plot could even be a thinly-veiled attack on colonialism, or marauding white people in general. Watching it now, you can’t help rooting for the monster. In a contemporary article on Tor.com, Ryan Britt writes, “You never wanted them to kill that poor sea monster. In fact, you kind of wanted to see him take every single person on that boat out.” Adams herself later said, “There always is that feeling of compassion. I think maybe it touches something in ourselves, maybe the darker parts of ourselves, that long to be loved and think they really can’t ever be loved.”

Despite it’s modest beginnings, Creature from the Black Lagoon was a monster smash (That’s the last one, I promise) leading to two sequels, Revenge of the Creature (1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956), and making an indelible mark on the movie-going public. Stephen King has said it was the first film he remembers watching. There has long been talk of a remake, mentioned in connection with such luminaries as John Landis, John Carpenter and Guillermo Del Toro, who credited the original for influencing his 2017 masterpiece The Shape of the Water, but it hasn’t surfaced yet (Okay, I lied).

Trivia Corner

After Universal had finished making the third and final film, a studio worker threw the creature’s costume in a dumpster, from where it was retrieved by a young man who repurposed it as a Halloween costume before selling it to Forrest J. Ackerman, a writer for Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine.


RetView #60 – Death Ship (1980)

Title: Death Ship

Year of Release: 1980

Director: Alvin Rakoff

Length: 85 mins

Starring: Richard Crenna, George Kennedy, Nick Mancuso, Sally Ann Howes, Kate Reid, Saul Rubinek

I’d never even heard of this Bloodstar Films production until I read about it in an issue of the venerated Fortean Times magazine (FT396, if you’re interested). I’ve always had a thing for Nazi zombies, as referenced before in previous RetViews Shock Waves and Outpost. I also recently discovered that I have a thing for horror set on ships. I have no idea why that is. It could be something about the bleak, all-encompassing emptiness of being at sea, but it’s probably more to do with the fact that if some supernatural shit befalls you in a house, or even a cabin buried in the woods, you can always just count your losses and run. You can’t do that on a ship. You have to stay and face whatever evil shit is about to befall you. Anyway, the potential for Nazi zombies and an evil sea-faring vessel combo suckered me right into Death Ship. Throw in Richard Crenna from the Rambo films, Saul Rubinek from True Romance (and Frasier) and George Kennedy from, er, Cool Hand Luke and Earthquake, I was already sold. And if all that wasn’t enough, just look at this poster!

So what’s it all about?

Well, stuffy Captain Ashland (Kennedy) is on his final cruise before handing over the reigns to Trevor Marshall (Crenna) who has brought his wife (Howes, in her final film appearance) and kids along on the trip. At a glitzy on-ship party there’s a band playing, some drunk people, and lots of terrible dad dancing. Everyone is having a great time. Except Captain Ashland, who you doubt could have a great time anywhere. But all the decadence and debauchery comes to a sudden halt when the cruise liner smashes into something and sinks, leaving just a handful of survivors unfortunately including Marshall’s annoying kids, a lecherous young officer, and a near-hysterical passenger, floating around on a makeshift raft. The next morning they find the grumpy captain in the water, which is a stroke of luck, or maybe not, then they come across a massive, ominous-looking black ship anchored in the middle of the ocean with a ladder down ready to receive them, which seems like another mad stroke of luck but turns out to be quite the opposite. Thinking they’ve found salvation, the survivors board the strange ship to find it deserted. Still, it’s better than being on the raft, or so they think. The first sign that something isn’t right comes when ship’s entertainer Jackie (Rubinek) is suddenly scooped up by a possessed winch and dumped screaming head first into the sea. Bye, Jackie. It was fun while it lasted. Things degenerate from there. The remaining survivors, whilst trying to navigate this mysterious vessel full of disembodied voices, creepy shadows and inanimate objects that take on lives of their own, get picked off one-by-one, until only the good-natured Trevor Marshall, his wife, and those annoying kids are left and ultimately find themselves back where they started on another flimsy-looking rafty-thing in the water. There’s probably a message there.

Life and soul of the party Captain Ashland and the underlying friction between him and his would-be replacement Marshall is instrumental in all this.

“You don’t know how to handle a crew or passengers!”
“Maybe so, Marshall. But I know how to handle ships.”

At one point, Ashland even dons a discarded German navy uniform and appears to channel the ship’s long-dead and rather sadistic head honcho whilst embarking on a murderous rampage. It all leads up to the highly anticipated revelation, which ties things up nicely and makes for a nice, satisfying conclusion. Especially after the evil Captain Ashland comes to a suitably sticky end and, of course, good triumphs over evil.

It’s easy to see why Death Ship got lost in the shuffle. It doesn’t have the immediacy of other popular horror flicks of the day like Cannibal Holocaust, Friday the 13th or Prom Night. It could, however, be a distant cousin of The Fog. It has a much more brooding atmosphere and, dare I say, slightly more substance reinforced by some remarkable cinematography, an impressive plot, and a killer (sorry) cast. It’s picked up a few retrospective reviews like this one on Warped Perspective, which is a real indicator as to whether a movie is truly attaining cult status, and review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes gives it an overall score of 4.2 out of 10 based on 5 reviews, which isn’t as bad as it sounds. One review states, “Death Ship is a terrific, low-budget cheesy supernatural tale that should definitely appeal to midnight movie horror fans. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, and I feel that this is one of the most underrated films in the genre.”

It’s hard to argue with that, and those sentiments are echoed by Jeremy Blitz of DVD Talk, who said, “It isn’t a perfect film, but it is an enjoyable one, especially for fans of the somewhat lower tier horror efforts of the late seventies and early eighties.” Its flaws, however, are plain to see. Many called it unimaginative or derivative, with a shower scene in particular said to mirror the famous one in Psycho a little too closely. Incidentally, the shower scene in Death Ship was shot in one take, as it was deemed too expensive and troublesome to clean up the blood and shoot it again. It wasn’t all plain sailing (boom!). Damningly, TV Guide called the movie “ludicrous” and gave it a one-star rating. It’s probably safe to say that despite its considerable merits, this won’t be something that many of it’s stellar cast will look back on with much pride. For one delightful moment whilst researching this piece, I thought I’d stumbled across a modern(ish) remake. But that turned out to be nothing more than the result of some artwork someone mocked up in Deviant Art. Good effort, though.

Trivia Corner

As the ghost ship collided with the cruise liner, brief scenes of an explosion, a grand piano falling between decks, and the engine room flooding were cut in from another movie entirely. The movie in question was The Last Voyage (1960).


RetView #59 – 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

Title: 10 Cloverfield Lane

Year of Release: 2016

Director: Dan Trachtenberg

Length: 87 mins

Starring: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallacher Jr.

10 cloverfield

Apart from Quarantine 2 – Terminal I haven’t covered any sequels in this series thus far. There are reasons for that, but it might change in the not too-distant future. For now, you’ll have to make do with this, that rarest of things; a sequel on a par with the original. In fact, 10 Cloverfield Lane isn’t a bona fide sequel at all. In the words of uber-geek producer JJ Abrams, it’s more of a ‘blood relative’ of Cloverfield. The original script was called The Cellar, and had nothing whatsoever to do with the original movie. It was written by Josh Campbell and Matt Steucken back in 2012 before being acquired by Abram’s production company, Bad Robot, and adapted to suit.

When the first Cloverfield movie, a found-footage monster flick, was released in 2008, it became an unexpected smash hit, prompting Abrams to turn it into a loosely-connected franchise which, to date, consists of three films all taking place in the same universe, known as the, ahem, Cloververse, with a fourth in production. Each movie deals with creatures from different dimensions attacking earth as a repercussion of experiments carried out aboard the Cloverfield Station in outer space.

If it’s monsters you’re after, though, you may be disappointed with this particular instalment as it would be more accurately defined as a very effective psychological thriller. It follows twenty-something Michelle (Winstead, who previously starred in Final destination 3 and the 2011 prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing, also called The Thing, confusingly enough ) who, after splitting up with her boyfriend, is involved in a car accident. She wakes up in an underground bunker with a broken leg and is told by the bunker’s owner Howard (Goodman) that he took her there for her own protection because the air outside has been poisoned as a result of earth coming under some kind of attack. Suspecting Howard deliberately ran her off the road and abducted her, Michelle is immediately suspicious but has little choice but to play along. The mystery thickens when she is introduced to the bunker’s third occupant, Emmett (Gallacher Jr), who tells her he had been employed by Howard to help him build and stock it. He saw an explosion in the sky and, fearing for his safety, forced his way inside, injuring his arm in the process.

Still dubious, Michelle makes up her mind to steal the keys to Howard’s truck and make good her escape. But before she can open the hatch leading to the outside world, she sees a woman outside covered in skin legions and begins to think Howard may be telling the truth. Bunker life isn’t THAT bad. They have plenty of food and water, and enough books, DVD’s and board games to keep them occupied. However, as the unlikely trio settle down to ride out the metaphorical storm, certain troubling details begin to emerge about Howard. What happened to his missing daughter? What kind of ‘waste’ is he disposing of in that vat of acid in the bunker? What made him flip out playing charades? And why does he dislike Emmett so intensely? All this, added to the tension, growing cabin fever, and general air of paranoia, makes for a powerful movie with a nerve-shredding climax. I’m not going to give away the ending here, but suffice to say it’s one of the most unexpected and breathtaking in recent memory.

Perhaps surprisingly, the movie was met with generally favourable reviews, levelling out at an impressive 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. The Guardian said it was “More Hitchcock than Xbox” and Jeannette Catsoulis of the New York Times praised the cast and cinematography, saying, “Sneakily tweaking our fears of terrorism, ‘10 Cloverfield Lane,’ though no more than a kissing cousin to its namesake, is smartly chilling and finally spectacular.” Its critical success was replicated at the Box Office, where it grossed over $110 million from a $15 million budget. Not quite as impressive as the first instalment, but close enough.

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Trivia Corner

In one scene, Howard is watching the 80’s classic Pretty in Pink. In this movie, Molly Ringwald’s character has a hobby of making dresses. This is a subtle reference to Michelle, who had earlier confided to Howard that she dreams of being a fashion designer.


RetView #58 – Doomwatch (1972)

Title: Doomwatch

Year of Release: 1972

Director: Peter Sasdy

Length: 92 mins

Starring: Ian Bannen, Judy Geeson, John Paul, Simon Oates, Jean Trend

Given what we’ve done to our world, you could argue that we’re already living in an age of ecological terror. Movies like Doomwatch may exaggerate certain elements for dramatic effect, but in essence they serve to ram home the point. This is what happens when man interferes with the delicate balance of nature. The movie was based on the BBC TV series of the same name which ran from 1970-72 and focused on a government department charged with combatting technological and environmental dangers, making it a kind of eco-friendly X Files. Ironically, as was standard practice back in the day, after airing the master tapes were wiped by the BBC and recorded over as a cost-cutting measure, meaning that many of the episodes have been lost forever. Luckily, we still have the movie spin-off produced by Tigon British Film Productions, who had previously made Witchfinder General (1968) which was released in March 1972. In the the United States, it was released by Embassy Pictures with the alternative title Island of the Ghouls.

So… what’s this all about? Well, we have Doctor Del Shaw (Bannen), an investigator from the British ecological watchdog group nicknamed Doomwatch, who is dispatched to an insular fishing village on the island of Balfe off the Cornish coast to file a report on the effects of a recent oil tanker spill. There, he finds a child’s body hidden in the woods and becomes fascinated with the mysterious behavioural disorders of the locals who display rudeness and random aggression and generally act like a bunch of arses as they rebuff his attempts to solve the mystery. One woman loses her shit when Shaw tries to take her picture, yelling, “We don’t like that! Taking people’s likeness! We don’t like that kind of carry on at all, in fact!”

Shaw teams up with another outsider, a schoolteacher called Victoria (Gleeson), and notes certain physical abnormalities, such as a strange genetic prevalence of thick lips and sloping brows, in many of the local populace. His investigation reveals that the villagers have been suffering over a prolonged period from hormonal disorders, which are likely being caused by leeking drums of growth stimulants that have been dumped offshore by callous business types. The islanders have been infected by eating fish and as a result are developing acromegaly, (usually the result of interbreeding, wink-wink) which produces aggression and eventually madness.

Though the movie was well-received by the public, writing for Radio Times, Tom Hutchinson only awarded the film two stars out of five, stating, “This mystery thriller crash-landed unhappily in the swamp of horror instead of on the firmer ground of science fact or fiction. It’s risibly alarmist, certainly, but the environmental dangers it pinpoints are only too topical.”

True, the movie comes with a great premise and both starts and finishes well, but it sags slightly in the middle and is weighed down with far too much long-winded, redundant dialogue which seems to exist purely for clever people to show everyone just how clever they are. Sometimes, less is more. There is also some confusion as to how the locals are portrayed. You get the feeling director Peter Sasdy would like you to sympathise with them, which is hard, because frankly, most of them have been dicks throughout and have very few redeeming qualities. I like to think that this conflict is intentional, though it that doesn’t make it any less jarring. A contemporary review for cultmovieforums.com notes, “It has to be said that while Doomwatch ultimately remains something of a missed opportunity by any standard of judgment, Peter Sasdy’s film is still in all fairness, probably a slightly better film than what its poor reputation might suggest.”

Generally, the all-too believable storyline of corporate greed combined with the overriding sense of isolation make good use of Sasdy’s talents, a man who made his name directing Blood of Dracula (1969) and Hands of the Ripper (1971) for Hammer before turning his attention to the TV production of Sue Townsend’s classic The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 133/4. Curiously, references to a certain Castle Rock will no doubt strike a chord with some of Stephen King’s constant readers and could offer clues as to where the Master acquired the name. In 1999, Channel 5 in the UK bought the rights to Doomwatch from the BBC and in December that year screened a 100-minute TV movie, which was a continuation of the story rather than a remake. Though the movie was well-received it didn’t lead to the anticipated series, perhaps due to the amount of money it would require. Still, it’s a great concept, and could be a huge success in the right hands.

Go HERE for more entries in the RetView series.

Trivia Corner:

Both the film and the original series was created by Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler, who had previously collaborated on scripts for Doctor Who. Their interest in the problems of science changing and endangering human life apparently led them to create the popular cyborg villains the Cybermen.


RetView #57 – What a Carve Up! (1961)

Title: What a Carve Up!

Year of Release: 1961

Director: Pat Jackson

Length: 87 mins

Starring: Sid James, Kenneth Connor, Shirley Eaton, Dennis Price, Donald Pleasence, Michael Gough

Okay, this isn’t strictly a horror film. It’s more of a comedy in the Carry On Screaming vein. By coincidence, it even features some of the ‘Carry On’ lot. Though leaning more toward comedy, it was effectively marketed as a comedy horror, and is therefore worthy of a place in this series, the purpose of which is not only to celebrate the classics, but also the derided, forgotten and overlooked. If anything, I lean more toward the derided, forgotten and overlooked in an effort to make them slightly less so. What A Carve Up! is intentionally crammed full of old-school horror tropes and cliches from misty moors and an old haunted mansion, to secret passages and clandestine murders, and is all done with that distinctively quaint English charm. The film was loosely based on the novel The Ghoul by Frank King, which had been adapted for the screen in 1933.

When affable yet unremarkable Ernie Broughton (Connor), who spends far too much time with his head buried in horror novels, recieves word that a distant uncle of his has died, he travels to a secluded country mansion for a reading of the will with flatmate Syd Butler (James). There, the duo meet an eccentric selection of distant relatives, a butler (Michael Gough in the same kind of role that later defined him in the Batman films), and a mad piano player. Soon after they arrive, one of their number is found murdered, forcing the others to spend the night in the company of the killer, who doesn’t stop at one. The night quickly descends into a riotously funny battle for survival, and a hunt to unmask the crazed killer. One of the funniest moments comes when someone calls the police and an Inspector accuses Ernie of not being as much of a fool as he makes out. “But I am!” he protests. All this leads to a predictably preposterous ending and final unveiling, but by then you won’t even care who the killer is because arriving at that point is such good fun.

The title itself works as a pun on carving up (dividing) the deceased family estate, and ‘carve up’ as in cutting meat, a reference to knife murder, one of the ways one of the victims are dispatched. In America, the title was changed to, “No place like a homicide!” which is obviously a play on the phrase “No place like home” which also works as its set in an ancestral family home. The phrase had been buried in the American psyche since popularized by the character Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz (1939). I do love a good pun. Perhaps surprisingly, the movie didn’t fare so well in America, and wasn’t helped by a spate of indifferent reviews, like the one to be found in the New York Times on 13th September 1962, which stated, “The fact that a film of this degree of vulgarity and ineptitude should have managed a week’s booking at neighbourhood theatres throughout Manhattan demonstrates just how acute the motion picture product shortage really is.”

Even so, over the years What a Carve Up! has deservedly won cult status in the genre labelled ‘dark house’ by some. In truth, it’s a parody, and a very effective one, which is hardly surprising given that it was co-written by the king of the double entendre, Ray Cooney. Incidentally, the director Pat Jackson went on to lend his skills to The Prisoner and the Professionals, among other things, and it was a huge influence on the 1994 novel of the same name by Jonathan Coe which won the John Llewellyn Rhys prize, one of the oldest literary awards in the UK. Its current overall score on Rotten Tomatoes stands at a respectable 66% while it has been ‘liked’ by 91% of Google users. It’s also notable for a late, uncredited cameo from teen idol Adam Faith. You can watch What a Carve Up on YouTube.

Trivia Corner:

The butler Fisk is pictured reading a copy of DH Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover.” In 1961, this was a subtle, yet timely gag as its publishers Penguin Books had been prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act in a widely-publicized trial at the Old Bailey the previous year.


RetView #56 – Fright Night (1985)

Title: Fright Night

Year of Release: 1985

Director: Tom Holland

Length: 106 mins

Starring: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Roddy McDowall, Stephen Geoffreys

Something occurred to me recently. So far, I haven’t covered many vampire movies in the RetView series. In fact, the only ones I’ve featured have been Lost Boys and Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Personally, I just find the whole vampire thing a bit naff and predictable. If you’ll excuse the pun, it’s been done to death. Hurrah! That’s why, to my mind, the vampire legend is best done with a splash of humour, like both the aforementioned did with great success. Another vampire comedy horror classic is Fright Night from 1985, the year of Brothers in Arms, Live Aid and Miami Vice. It became the second highest grossing horror movie of the year behind A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge, and is notable for being the directorial debut of Tim Holland, who went on to direct Child’s Play (1988) and Thinner (1996) as well as episodes of Amazing Stories and Tales from the Crypt. The movie also benefited from a Big Eighties Soundtrack featuring the likes of the J Geils Band, who performed the title track, Autograph, April Wine and Ian Hunter, the irony being that most of these artists were already streaking into irrelevance having peaked long before. Much like the vampire itself. If the producers had been a bit more adventurous and signed someone a bit more contemporary (like the Elm Street franchise did a couple of years later when they hired Dokken to record the seminal Dream Warriors, or when the makers of Shocker persuaded Megadeth to get involved) it could’ve made all the difference. Still, Fright Night didn’t really need the Big Eighties Soundtrack, it was a massive hit anyway, winning three Saturn awards and grossing over $24 million, despite Columbia having very low expectations of it.

17-year-old Charley Brewster (Ragsdale) is a fan of horror films and a late-night TV series entitled Fright Night hosted by former ‘vampire hunter’ Peter Vincent (McDowall). One evening, Charley discovers that his new next door neighbour, Jerry Dandrige (Sarandon) is the blood-thirsty sucker responsible for several mysterious disappearances. In desperation, he alerts the authorities but, unable to find any evidence, they brush off Brewster’s claims and leave him at the mercy of an angry and vengeful Dandridge. Fearful for the safety of himself and his girlfriend Amy (Bearse) and with no other choice, Brewster goes to best friend Evil Ed (Geoffreys) and his idol, Vincent, for help. Together the motley crew battle the forces of evil. Or try to. But far from being a fearless vampire hunter, Vincent turns out to be a bit of a scaredy cat, as well as a fraud, Brewster’s best friend is a bit of a dick, and his girlfriend appears to have the horn for his nemesis.

The writing in Fright Night is top-notch, as are some of the performances. Stephen Geoffreys (who, ironically, went on to star in 976-EVIL a couple of years later) is brilliant as Evil Ed, but it’s Roddy McDowall who steals the show. One of those saturn awards went to him for ‘Best Supporting Actor.’ His character was named after horror icons Peter Cushing and Vincent price, for whom Holland had specifically written the part. However, at this point in his career, Price had been so badly typecast that he had stopped accepting roles in horror movies. Hollywood badboy Charlie sheen auditioned for the part of Brewster, and I can’t help feeling he would have been amazing as the bumbling teen, but Holland thought Sheen was a ‘hero’ while Ragsdale was, quite literally, “the guy next door.” For her final transformation as a busty vampire, Amanda Bearse wore a prosthetic breast plate to enhance her cleavage. Legend has it that in 2012 she took it to a horror convention and encouraged fans to ‘feel her boobs’ while she signed autographs. Brilliant.

Fright Night as a franchise has grown to include a sequel, imaginatively entitled Fright Night Part 2 (1988) and a remake in 2011. When later asked his thoughts about it, Tom Holland said, “Kudos to them on every level for their professionalism, but they forgot the humor and the heart. They should have called it something other than Fright Night, because it had no more than a passing resemblance to the original.”

Ouch.

The remake was itself followed by a sequel Fright Night 2: New Blood (2013), as well as numerous comics, graphic novels and a video game. Interestingly, the movie even made the crossover to Bollywood in 1989 with a version called Kalpana House (1989), and was adapted for the stage in 2018. Proof positive that, just like the vampires of myth and legend, Fright Night lives on. And on.

Trivia Corner

The makeup for Evil Ed’s wolf transformation took 18 hours to complete. While he had the wolf head on, the crew began pouring what they thought was Methylcellulose into his mouth to create the illusion of saliva, but when Geoffreys began to complain about the taste, the crew realized they’d been using prosthetic adhesive, which was gluing his mouth shut. Doh.


RetView #55 – The Giant Claw (1957)

Title: The Giant Claw

Year of Release: 1957

Director: Fred F Sears

Length: 75 mins

Starring: Jeff Morrow, Mara Corday, Morris Ankrum, Lou Merrill, Edgar Barrier

1947 was a pivotal year in the development of the human race in many ways. Two separate incidents occurred that had a profound effect on popular culture (in particular writers and filmmakers) and, if you believe some of the conspiracy theorists, science and technology. First, in June, there was the Roswell incident. Then, the following month, Kenneth Arnold made his famous UFO sighting and inadvertently coined the phrase ‘flying saucers’. These two seismic events, coming so soon after World War II was effectively brought to a sudden halt by America’s two-pronged nuclear assault on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, had a wide-ranging influence on America’s psyche, and by extension, the rest of the world. It was a period of great change and infinite possibilities. Over the next decade countless movies tried to tap into this rich vein of fear, paranoia and uncertainty running through the public consciousness, and The Giant Claw (sometimes referred to as the Mark of the Claw) is a fine example.

Whilst engaged in a radar test flight, civil engineer Mitch MacAfee (Morrow, who also starred in the Twilight Zone episode Elegy) spots what he thinks is a UFO. Three jet fighter aircraft are scrambled to pursue and identify the object, but one goes missing. Officials are initially angry at MacAfee over the loss of a pilot and jet over what they believe to be a hoax. When MacAfee and mathematician Sally Caldwell (Corday) fly back to New York, their aircraft also comes under attack and crash lands in the mountains. A farmer (Merrill) comes to their rescue and tells them about a local legend speaking of huge birds. Again, MacAfee’s report is met with skepticism, but the authorities are forced to take his story seriously when several more aircraft disappear. They discover that instead of some alien craft, a gigantic bird “as big as a battleship” purported to come from an anti-matter galaxy, is responsible. MacAfee, Caldwell, Dr. Karol Noymann (Barrier), and General Considine (Ankrum) set to work finding a way to defeat the seemingly invincible creature before it wreaks havoc on America. They are partially successful, and eventually invent a weapon capable of killing the creature, but not before it strikes at the very heart of capitalism by attacking New York. This is when it becomes obvious that the giant bird is a damn commie (on a subliminal level, the monstrous entity also probably represents the looming, destructive fear of the unknown, which is arguably the same thing) because it wastes no time venting its fury on the United Nations building during a cheesy, yet fun-filled and strangely intoxicating climax.

The movie was distributed by Columbia Pictures as a double feature with The Night The World Exploded (1957) and was directed by Fred Sears, a legend of the B movie genre most famous for Earth vs The Flying Saucers (1956) and Rock Around the Clock (1956). Tragically, shortly after The Giant Claw was released he was found dead by a security guard in the washroom of his office at Sunset Studios of Columbia Pictures at the age of 45. By then, he had directed over fifty films and acted in many more, usually in uncredited roles. According to Richard Harland Smith of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), the inspiration for the story may have been taken from media reports about scientific discoveries in the field of particle physics, dealing with matter and antimatter. Other influences included the Japanese film Rodan (1956) and the Samuel Hopkins Adams story “Grandfather and a Winter’s Tale,” about a mythical bird-like creature prominent in French-Canadian folklore called la Carcagne, which appeared in the January 1951 issue of The New Yorker.

Critical reception was extremely negative, with the special effects in particular roundly mocked. Film writer and historian Bill Warren commented, “This would have been an ordinarily bad movie of its type, with a good performance by Jeff Morrow, if the special effects had been industry standard for the time. That, however, is not what happened. The Claw is not just badly rendered, it is hilariously rendered, resembling nothing so much as Warner Bros. Cartoon-character Beaky Buzzard. Once seen, you will never forget this awesomely silly creation.”

Wowzer.

Trivia Corner

Jeff Morrow later confessed in an interview that no one in the film knew what the monster looked like until the film’s premiere, since it was added later. Morrow himself first saw the film in his hometown, and hearing the audience laugh every time the monster appeared on screen, left the theatre early, went home and started drinking.


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