So, I missed out on prolific Hammer director Peter Sasdy talking about his work which included movies such as HANDS OF THE RIPPER, DOOMWATCH, COUNTESS DRACULA and WELCOME TO BLOOD CITY. I also missed a 35mm screening of HANDS OF THE RIPPER, Peter’s personal favourite. THE EXORCIST: DIRECTORS CUT and THE DEAD and a whole bunch of other horrific delights played out and from all accounts delighted the crowd.
Alas I missed them all but started nice and early on the Saturday morning, catching, first up, a 35mm screening of Hammer’s PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, a rarely screened 1965 foray into zombie territory that beat the Zombie king, Romero, to the screen by a couple of years! As with much of the Hammer stuff, it looks a bit laboured by today’s standards but its interesting how much of the, now taken for granted, zombie tropes began gestation with Hammer’s movie. Possibly a lot more influential than its been given credit for.
Before I continue; a little about the festival as a whole. Very much the brainchild of Tony Earnshaw, the festival artistic director and, I think, an archivist at the Bradford media museum. Over the weekend, I came to learn a little more about Tony and discovered that he also wrote the definitive book on the making of NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1957), one of my favourite British horror movies (I Should have guessed by the festival logo!).
The museum has a library of old movies and the festival is able to make use of both archived 35mm prints the Cubby Broccoli and Pictureville screening theatres. There’s even a TV fringe element to the festival where they play some really interesting scifi, fantasy and horror stuff from the extensive TV archives. So, yes, its very much a retro fest with a healthy chunk of 60’s, 70’s and 80’s movies but they also screen a number of new horror movies (This year including THE DEAD and HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN). I’m guessing Tony is a bit of a purist and if possible sources his festival movies on 35mm, which is great for the punters. Sometimes he endeavours to hunt down missing or forgotten prints in order to present genre gems which have often been overlooked by time.
One of my issues with the festival is that there is just too much damned choice, sometimes with three presentations happening at once! On Saturday I also caught Aussie psychological thriller ROADMAN, Hammer’s Karnstein Trilogy (THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, LUST FOR A VAMPIRE and TWINS OF EVIL) and finally HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN.
ROADMAN is a pretty accomplished piece considering it was made on such a low budget. An impressive debut from director Peter Leovic, its a tense, engaging chiller about the double life of a serial killer, Max Greif, reaching out for normality. Ironically what makes it interesting as a psychological drama is what makes it somehow a little unfulfilling as a suspense thriller because we really come to feel something for Max as he leads a double life.
Despite his sometimes, very unsavoury behaviour, we come to identify with Max’s awkward attempts to woo his attractive but isolated neighbour Lorraine and his battle with the memory of his domineering father. And so when Lorraine settles down with him but ultimately discovers the truth about his murderous past we don’t really feel the threat. By the end Lorraine kinda comes to understand his psychological problems and embraces his faults. Its a character shift that I found hard to embrace totally. Maybe if we were given a little more about how Greif suffered at the hands of his father, we’d also understand his complex emotions and actions more. Still, a very interesting concept but for me more a psychological drama than a horror/thriller. I don’t think its available in the UK, which is a pity. It definitely deserves at least DVD release.
Theres something about Hammer movies that hold a fascination for people who grew up either watching them at the cinema or, like me on TV reruns in the late 70’s, early 80s. The Karnstein movies were the ones you were slightly embarrassed to watch with your dad! the ones with, X rated nudity and gore. Now, they’d probably draw little reaction from an audience of ten year olds! But back in the early 70’s they were considered boundary pushing! It’s amazing how things change!
What a cast in VAMPIRE LOVERS! Ingrid Pitt, Peter Cushing, George Cole, Jon Finch (Hitchcock’s FRENZY and Polanski’s MACBETH) and KATE O’MARA. All three films are based loosely on the 19th Century novella by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. Hammer broke new ground and briefly re-invented itself basically by the introduction of sex! Despite the cast, VAMPIRE LOVERS is still rather clunky but it’s a kitch romp. I doubt younger audiences would understand the fascination with the often rather unconvincing aesthetics of the Hammer output and it’s hard to explain what makes them fascinating, even now. It occurs to me though, that some contemporary film makers are making convincing pastiches of, particularly, 70’s movies (Think Ti West with HOUSE OF THE DEVIL for instance) but I defy anyone to make a convincing pastiche of a late 60’s, early seventies Hammer movie, I suspect it’s impossible. they exist in their own weird bubble!
In LUST FOR A VAMPIRE (1970), young beautiful Carmilla, enrols in an exclusive girls finishing school and proceeds to wreak havoc among pupils and teachers alike. Apart from a wonderfully camp performance from Ralph Bates and the sheer beauty (But wooden performance) of Yutte Stensgaard, LUST FOR A VAMPIRE is pretty ropey really. It is, though, high kitch and was maligned by some at the time of release for its nudity and sexual scenes. Was Hammer selling out? How tame these scenes look now! But there's one overriding still image of Yutte, naked and covered in blood, which still prevails and its this one image that keeps the film in our memories more than anything else!
Out of the three movies, the third TWINS OF EVIL holds up the best. better production values, better performances and a more interesting take on the source material. Probably also crowbarred in a healthy dollop of Vincent Price’s WITCHFINDER GENERAL, which was released three years earlier, TWINS has Cushing as a buttoned up puritan witch hunter who faces off against vampire; Count Karnstein but is oblivious to the fact that his two beautiful nieces have come under Karnstein’s evil spell. Its classic Hammer!
Last movie of the day, Jason Eisner’s HOBO WITH A SHOT GUN. You've probably heard of this movie if you are into new horror releases. Legendary Rutger Hauer is a homeless drifter who arrives in Scum town (A kind of eighties style, washed up shit hole ruled over by a freaky Dennis Hopper like gangster and his nasty couple of sons, who look just like Tom Cruise in RISKY BUSINESS!) and finds himself morally challenged by what he witnesses, finally taking the law into his own hands with a shotgun! Its
pure grindhouse untra-violent, trashy cinema. Also recalls early John Carpenter offerings. It’s tongue firmly in cheek, its actually very funny, if you have a black sense of humour! Released 1st August on DVD in the UK. Worth a watch!!
Sundays line up reviewed tomorrow! For the full festival line up, go to: http://www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/nmem/fantastic/2011/diary.asp
For more info on GRIMM UP NORTH FESTIVAL, this October in Manchester: www.grimmfest.com