Tag Archives: British film

The Mummy’s Shroud (1967) or livewithfilm revels in Hammer’s bandaged nightmare…

29 Sep

From the studio that dripped blood come the bandages to mop it up. Following the far more Hollywood inflected The Mummy (1959), Hammer’s second foray into Egyptian mythology remains a thrillingly gruesome and enjoyable slasher-romp. Never as diabolically dark as The Devil Rides Out (1968) and relatively restrained in comparison with the head-lopping frenzy of Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), John Gilling’s The Mummy’s Shroud finds its own niche to furrow. With an ensemble cast waiting in the wings for their inevitable bandage fuelled demise, ingenious deaths and splatters of gore remain the order of the day in 1920s Egypt.

Discovering the lost tomb of an Egyptian prince, an archaeological team led by the esteemed Sir Basil Walden (André Morell) return the cadaver to a museum in nearby city Mezzera. Reuniting the bandaged royal with his ever-loyal – yet long dead – servant Prem, the group unwittingly awaken a long forgotten curse. Roused by the calls of a soothsayer, Prem’s bandaged form enacts vengeance upon those who disturbed his master. With moneyed bore Stanley Preston (John Philips) fearing for his life, it falls to quick witted Paul Preston (David Buck) and psychic Claire de Sangre (Maggie Kimberly) to confront the walking fiend.

Transitioning from a relatively measured opening into a corpse-rich second act, The Mummy’s Shroud uses this dichotomy to shock and surprise. Perhaps as a result of its early twentieth century setting, the film’s preliminary archaeological scenes recall a prim and proper vision of adventure: more Five Go Wild in the Desert than the debauchery many have come to expect from Hammer. Yet once Prem the mummy begins to enact his bloody curse, the film kicks into an entirely different gear. Using the vital build up to establish characters and themes, The Mummy’s Shroud contrasts control with brutality, heightening the wanton violence of its second half. Deaths become increasingly creative and drive the film to a wild climax, with individuals being hurled from windows and melted beneath acid.

Slowly culled by this wild streak, the ensemble cast shine. While Philips’ villain remains so hammy that boos and hisses would not be amiss as he tears across the screen, Michael Ripper’s performance as long-suffering butler Longbarrow utterly steals the show. Simpering and withered, Ripper similarly juxtaposes against the film’s powerful feminine influences. With Catherine Lacy contributing her own drool to clairvoyant Haiti and heroine Claire de Sangre holding power over the film’s finale, women are given an unprecedented level of authority in this Hammer production. Truly unsettling and shocking, The Mummy’s Shroud builds on the mummy theme to the great glee of all concerned

Hell is a City (1960) or livewithfilm gets down and dirty in Manchester…

15 Sep

With factory chimneys emerging through an oppressive fog, Hell is a City creates an unashamedly grim vision of existence in the metropolis. Through a post-murder man hunt, Manchester, and by extension 1960s urban life as a whole, is shown to be a corrupting influence that brings misery into the home. With the angry young men of the British New Wave casting the camera onto the kitchen sink in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning in the very same year, Val Guest’s film similarly seeks out the banal and ordinary. Yet combined with a dark streak of expressionist noir, Hell is a City remains an intriguing crime flick.

Expecting that recently escaped robber Don Starling (John Crawford) will return for the unclaimed treasure of a forgotten heist, weary police inspector Harry Matineau (Stanley Baker) dedicates his days to hunting him down in the Manchester streets. Once Starling and a gang of thieves steal money from bookmaker Gus Hawkins (Halloween’sDonald Pleasence, here hunting down cash rather than psychopaths) and kill his assistant, Matineau is hot on his heels.

While noir crime films could never be called glamorous, Hell is a City is a remarkably unsentimental vision of life. Surrounding an intriguing but rarely ground-breaking crime caper, the glimpses of life remain a powerful image of a population at odds with itself and, namely, the police establishment. Martineau’s embittered wife laments the lonely existence she faces while her obsessive husband hunts down murderers; depressed divorcees flirt longingly with married men; workers gaze despairingly into the bottom of their pint glasses; police are despised for their corruption and brutality; and criminals viciously assault the public and, in one moment, a disabled youngster. Even though this doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs, ultimately this context remains Hell is a City’s most compelling element and is neatly diluted with occasional, if clichéd, thrills from the criminal underworld.

Uniting the themes of the film, the final act is undoubtedly the most successful. Earlier sections at times sag under excessive plot exposition or a slightly bizarre, if necessary, moorland gambling set-piece. The closing sequence remains visually striking and fast paced, combining a rooftop gun battle with a soul searching lament. In a superb move that suits the banal beauty of the preceding 90 minutes, this is enacted as a marital argument in a living room and avoids all possible conceit. Hardly a celebration of the ordinary, the film wallows in this gritty normality. Following Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Hell is a City is the hardworking, fast talking Monday afternoon.

The Reverend (2011) or livewithfilm wonders why Rutger Hauer is in pre-release DVD no.2 …

29 Jul

 

Unaware of his significance in a conflict between Heaven and Hell, a reverend (Stuart Brennan) takes up his role in a village parish. Yet after fending off a hungry assailant, the holy man slowly becomes aware of his growing thirst for blood. Using his new found urges to confront evil, the reverend takes it upon himself to rid the sleepy village of the most significant members of the criminal underworld.

While Neil Jones has clearly done his research, the tremendous debt The Reverend owes to its forebears only serves to highlight the ultimate failures of this Dracula-goes-to-Ambridge sub-par horror. This is never more aptly highlighted than when Brennan’s character, fuelled by a burning desire to drink the blood of a local pensioner, laps gore from the worktop of his kitchen. A clear attempt to recreate a near identical scene from Guillermo del Toro’s Cronos (1993), The Reverend repeatedly trades unnerving artistry for home counties tedium. In addition to this, thefilmmanages to condense Timur Bekmambetov’s Night Watch (2004) and Day Watch (2006) into a ten minute epilogue of immediate irrelevance. While the Russian’s films could never be seen as sophisticated, the preliminary act of The Reverend only serves to thieve a number of ‘weighty’ symbols from Bekmambetov’s vision. These are never returned to and thus become startlingly inappropriate.

Even more unsettling, Jones’s film espouses an uncomfortable vision of class. The village is continuously plagued by the problems of a nearby housing estate, which is posed as the source of all the world’s ills. The working class are shown as a thieving and violent bunch. Beyond redemption, The Reverend suggests that murder is the only way that civilised members of society can rid themselves of this ‘menace’. If one is to attempt to maintain the idea’s of the long forgotten introduction, are we to believe that the world’s poor are in fact agents of Hell? Wealth and the possession of a country house are shown to be invitations into paradise, owned only by the brave and kind.

With actors stuttering to deliver awkward phrases, Jones does little to support them with his camera. Often using infuriatingly slapdash or by the numbers direction, The Reverend retains the feel of a weekly soap opera. While Jones occasionally remembers to use a neat voice over that harks back to the film’s comic book roots, The Reverend holds no redeeming features. Times must be tough for Rutger Hauer if he needs to maintain his career with this malicious guff. Recalling his glory days in Blade Runner (1982), my tears were lost in rain.

Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965) or livewithfilm is pursued by a ravenous rhododendron…

31 May


A much maligned sub genre, the portmanteau horror is close to livewithfilm’s heart. A contained series of tales that are linked through some nefarious means, these episodic wonders offer a clutch of (occasionally) chilling short stories with final punch-to-the-gut twists. Often offering a host of bizarre stars in increasingly odd situations (Tom Baker’s presence in The Vault of Horror (1973) is notable for all the wrong reasons), portmanteau films remain wildly inventive. Without the need to sustain a plot for a full film’s length, segments often steer into amusing lunacy before stumbling across a dénouement.

Five strangers enter a train carriage and intrigued by the tarot cards of Dr. Terror (Peter Cushing), begin to discover the horrible fates that await them: Jim Dawson (Neil McCallum) travels to his ancestral home, only to release a werewolf from a concealed crypt; Bill Rogers (Alan Freeman) discovers that a carnivorous plant has sprouted in his front lawn; Biff Bailey (Roy Castle) gets into a mess when he replicates a voodoo chant with his jazz band; Franklyn Marsh (Christopher Lee) is hounded by the severed hand of a vengeful artist; and Dr Bob Carroll (Donald Sutherland) questions the blood sucking potential of his new bride to be.

Yes, as you have probably guessed from the plot synopses above, livewithfilm enjoyed some rather wacky viewing. Dr Terror’s House of Horrors is undeniably worth a watch, if only to witness how far each story plummets down the rabbit hole. Often seeming unsure if it wishes to be screamed with or laughed at, there are notable peaks and lulls. The man eating plant remains exceptionally unthreatening and livewithfilm struggles to think of an image that inspired less dread than this peckish pansy. Lingering elsewhere on the horror spectrum, Christopher Lee’s approaching appendages and Donald Sutherland’s penchant for heart-staking remain the film’s high points. Dr Terror’s House of Horrors is absolutely teeming with ideas, even if not all of them are pulled off. If you haven’t seen the final twist coming, then under livewithfilm rules you must copy: ‘I must watch more horror films’ one hundred times.

The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) or livewithfilm begs you to bear with it…

30 Apr

Grant livewithfilm itself another indulgence whilst it recuperates. Yes this blogger understands that it may be tiring for readers to be constantly bombarded with viewings from the darker side of cinema, but, with undoubtedly selfish pretentions, livewithfilm finds it hard to stop itself from delving deeper into its favoured genre.

This historic film from Piers Haggard, a director whose name suitably conjures up associations with exhaustion and decay, sees a seventeenth-century English village slowly coming under the control of a demon. A coven of children cause chaos in the idyllic countryside, watching gleefully on as the body parts of superstitious villagers transform into fiendish claws and fur. It is left to the town judge to return, spear in hand, and purge the hamlet of its union with Satan.

From a period of earthy stylised horrors that drew on folk and pagan traditions, The Blood on Satan’s Claw is undeniably similar to the more celebrated The Wicker Man (1973), but if anything creates a greater impact with its uncompromising vision of youthful moral collapse. Whilst Christopher Lee waived his fee for his performance in the aforementioned classic, both he and horror stalwart Peter Cushing were considered too expensive for Blood on Satan’s Claw and their presence is missed. The gravitas lent by both actors would not have gone amiss in a film which occasionally loses its horrific momentum. Alongside this, (spoiler alert!) the final beastly revelation in Haggard’s film would have benefitted from greater restraint and suggestion. The intrigue that is built throughout the film is somewhat lost when the downfall of all humanity emerges to be a man in a wobbly bat costume. Seeming out of place, such a final disclosure of beastliness is not dissimilar to the studio imposed creature of Tourneur’s Curse of the Demon (1957). Yet such reservations retract little from this enjoyably nasty and surprisingly shocking British gem. The discovery of a demonic skull by a ploughing farmer, staring eyeball and all, is a superbly grisly opening and the eroticised devil worshippers remain disturbing throughout. Search this one out for some bad-natured fun!