setsuled: (Skull Tree)


The traditional idea of beastly behaviour involves unrestrained lusts without regard for the bonds of human affection or society. 1975's Legend of the Werewolf convincingly presents an opposite view where the uncontrollable animal urges of one man run contrary to a less severe morality in the culture. The film presents a surprisingly positive view of prostitution as an institution and is a nice werewolf movie from director Freddie Francis.



The film might deserve criticism for avoiding some of the more negative aspects of prostitution--the prostitutes in the film are presented as without families and there's no thought given to the fact that many of the women shown would likely have been forced into the occupation for a lack of other options. In this light, the werewolf's attack on their clients could almost be seen as a good thing except that he's motivated by a sense of possessiveness and not any desire to respect the wishes of Christine (Lynn Dalby). It's nice to see that it's this that is shown to be the disease.



David Rintol plays Etoile who became a werewolf after he was raised by wolves, his status as an orphan subtly paralleling Christine's life. After his first years were spent with wolves, he was taken in by a travelling circus as a child and shown as an attraction in a cage, a role he's oddly shown to enjoy eventually. Both Etoile and Christine are forced into occupations at a young age that might be rough, exploitive, and unpleasant to many people but both come to enjoy their lives.



But all is not well in the psyche of Etoile. After he's forced to flee the circus when he transforms and accidentally kills a man, he ends up in Paris where a series of murders begin to occur at the same time. With his guilelessness when he first meets Christine, along with a few of her fellow prostitutes, at the zoo where he gets a job, he doesn't even understand from their innuendos what their profession is. Etoile presents the figure of a country bumpkin exposed to the realities of city life for the first time.



Peter Cushing plays the film's protagonist and narrator, Paul, a police forensic surgeon who decides to investigate these new crimes on his own. Rather than a morally strident Van Helsing, Paul is presented as someone who takes some mischievous pleasure in bending the rules and discomfiting his police supervisors a bit, showing off some pieces of a corpse to a fussy administrator who comes in to chastise him at one point. Paul is quite pleased with himself when the man is forced to leave the room, unable to stand the sight of exposed internal organs. Although Paul is shown to be a man who does not visit brothels--scenes where he interviews the madam and prostitutes of a brothel are played for comedy with his mild embarrassment--he clearly has no moral disapproval for them. He presents a contrast to Etoile in that he is at ease in a world populated by people who are different from him while Etoile is compelled to respond with violence.




It becomes clear that the filmmakers had only one small exterior set to stand in for all of Paris but mostly the film is well put together, Paul's investigation building nicely with the amiable character created by Cushing. The climax shows his ability to empathise pitted against Etoile's psychological disability in his compulsion to respond with violence. There's a sense of how rare and difficult it is for such differences to resolve peacefully.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)


If anyone ever tells you the poor aren't good for anything, remember the story of the 19th century Doctor Robert Knox and remember the corpses of those who died in poverty can always be used for medical experiments. 1960's The Flesh and the Fiends is the second film to be based on the true story of the Burke and Hare murders, the first being the wonderful Boris Karloff and Henry Daniell 1945 film The Body Snatcher, in turn based on a story by Robert Louis Stevenson. The Flesh and the Fiends is a far less compromising film and creates a wonderfully grimy, chaotic atmosphere in 19th century Edinburgh where the wealthy medical men practice and study surrounded by a sea of ragged beggars, prostitutes, and the variously miserable unemployed.



Peter Cushing plays Knox this time, for most of the film with a more prickly demeanour than Henry Daniell before him. One of the reasons this story keeps being adapted is because it presents such a provoking dilemma, a dilemma which reflects the philosophical conflict at the time between pragmatic progress and sensitivity for the exploited underclass. Knox argues that the laws regarding what bodies may be used to advance medical science are too strict, and indeed, with such a shortage of fresh bodies it's difficult to find the necessary models with which he can instruct his students. The other side of the issue is argued by the circumstances that occur--by paying well for fresh bodies, he indirectly encourages the likes of Burke and Hare to acquire corpses that are just a little too fresh.



In this adaptation, instead of plaintively, desperately arguing the justifications for his actions like in The Body Snatcher, Cushing's version of Knox is stiff and firmly convinced of a need to maintain composure at all times. His main tactic of defence is offence and whenever he sees the men on the medical board who might chastise him for acquiring illegal corpses he shows he's well up on every minor infraction of medical ethics perpetrated by his accusers and throws them back in their faces.



George Rose plays Burke and a young Donald Pleasence, unrecognisable with a mop of dark hair, plays Hare, both actors doing a great job of making these men utterly repulsive. They inhabit a world of people at the ends of their ropes, barely surviving and getting dead drunk whenever possible. The two run a lodging house, which is where they ensnare most of their victims.



A subplot involves one of Knox's students (John Cairney) and his love affair with a prostitute, Mary Patterson (Billie Whitelaw). Patterson was one of the real life victims of Burke and Hare. The film's portrayal of the frequently topless women cavorting in dingy taverns is surprisingly unrestrained even for a relatively low budget British horror film from the time.



The relationship between the student and the prostitute helps to bring out the contrast between class attitudes. A chance encounter between the couple and Knox's niece (June Laverick) with her beaux shows the upper and lower classes were so different as to easily convince themselves they were separate species--a handy state of affairs when the better off need to exploit the less fortunate.

My review for 1945's The Body Snatcher can be found here.

My review for Medicinal Purposes, a 2004 Doctor Who audio play based on the Burke and Hare murders, can be found here.
setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)


If there's another film that better showcases Peter Cushing than 1962's Captain Clegg I've yet to see it. He's surrounded by a good cast with Patrick Allen, Oliver Reed, Michael Ripper, and Jack MacGowran, but in addition to the acting talent on display this movie has one of the most satisfying scripts of any Hammer film. Creating a real sense of a world with complex characters who have layers of motivations, Cushing's character in particular shows the perfect confluence of elements that make this a wonderfully engaging mystery.

The film weaves together threads of different genres including mystery, western, and pirate film to make something really fine. Most of my favourite pirate stories, like Treasure Island, have an element of mystery to them. I love the film version with Robert Newton who gets a lot of mileage by seeming perfectly honest and open with Jim even as he's certainly absolutely duplicitous. Cushing's character takes this kind of mystery to another level.



Introduced as the fussy, gentle hearted parson in a small town in the late 18th century, we soon learn he's involved in smuggling liquor, not unlike the smugglers in Fury at Smugglers' Bay. But is that his only secret?



Cushing's character is the sort that holds the viewer's attention because there are so many questions about him, his motives and identity, and Cushing runs with the opportunity in ways many actors wouldn't have the talent for. His routine as the parson has all the assurance of an actor whose played that role many times before, and then you catch a devilish smile on his face and sense there's so much more underneath.



The film has a pretty commonplace romantic subplot about young lovers, played by Oliver Reed and Yvonne Romain. Romain plays a barmaid named Imogene with whom Reed's character, Harry, son of the magistrate, is in love. Of course, Reed's delivery adds a lot of dimension to his fairly average lines about his love and devotion to her. He adds depths with his restrained and relaxed energy that nonetheless burns through his eyes. Romain is decent enough, her breasts maybe drawing more attention than her performance. I'm certainly not complaining. They are really a presence in this film--the other actors keep accidentally bumping them, including Reed with a wide gesticulation in one scene.



Patrick Allen plays a captain in the Royal Navy, former arch enemy of Captain Clegg, and now intent on busting the smugglers with a passion that well outstrips the magistrate's interest in the matter. His character, along with Cushing's, helps add to the sense of moral complication to the film, much greater and more satisfying than most Hammer films. Even Reed's relatively simple lovestruck young squire character is more complicated than average when the extent of his participation with the smugglers is in question. This complication is best manifested, though, in the subtly expressed adversarial relationship between Cushing's and Allen's characters.



And on top of all this, the film opens with mysterious skeletal riders and a living scarecrow that terrorise the marsh. All of these elements might seem like too much in other films but this one ties them altogether beautifully, with Cushing as an intriguing centre of gravity.

Twitter Sonnet #987

The hair that seeps between the split'll drain.
A captured chemical equips the breeze.
A flound'ring corpse amends the shape of sane.
In sockets shaved in rinds she always sees.
In pale constructions carved to swim they go.
The folded birds observe as stars descend.
The egret signs adorn the spreading crow.
A ceiling saw what shaking coins upend.
A chomping C engraves the tomb all night.
Forever canvas blanks opine to eat.
Engagements corked remain in bottle sight.
Along the circuit band she sparked a beat.
The rain of muppet worms enriched the air.
On particles they danced like Fred Astaire.
setsuled: (Skull Tree)


The world may seem like it's controlled by powerful, invisible, malevolent forces. Much of this impression may be mere paranoia, so the best answer is investigation and illumination. This is what Peter Cushing believes in 1965's The Skull, a simple but pleasantly garish horror film directed by Freddie Francis based on a story by Robert Bloch.

It may come as no surprise that eventually Christopher Maitland (Cushing) bites off more than he can chew in the form of a skull, supposedly the skull of the Marquis de Sade. The filmmakers don't seem particularly interested in the particulars of De Sade's life beyond the fact that his name is the origin of the word sadism. So the skull is cursed, possessed by a demon that makes its owners commit murder.



Cushing is a collector of bizarre, demoniac paraphernalia from all over the world, surrounding himself with these items and books about them in his study where he spends most of his time alone with the things. Naturally, he neglects his wife (Jill Bennett) in the process.



When a dealer (Patrick Wymark) from whom Christopher purchases many objects stops by, she pleads with Christopher to give up his obsession. She's worried he's tampering with dangerous forces. He smiles indulgently and patiently explains, "It's because people, all through the ages, have been influenced and terrorised by these things that I carry out research to try and find the reasons why."



We frequently see Christopher at ease in his study, relaxing amidst his nightmare sculptures, completely assured of his control. With the introduction of the skull, this sense of control is undermined in different ways. In a possible hallucination, he's dragged out of his study by two men who claim to be police and taken to a place where he's forced to undergo some simple, sadistic trials.



This movie mostly works on atmosphere and performances. In addition to Cushing, Wymark is great as his shady dealer and Patrick Magee is memorable in two brief appearances as a police surgeon. But next to Cushing, of course, Christopher Lee makes the biggest impression, despite being only credited as "guest star"--he's actually pretty prominent in the film as the former owner of the skull who cautions his friend to stay away from it. It's just great watching these two talk about this while playing billiards. I could listen to them discuss occult artefacts while playing and drink cognac all night.

setsuled: (Skull Tree)


Most people don't see any drawbacks in trying to cure cancer, many don't consider the process might produce a new species of rapidly multiplying slime creature that sucks all bone matter from human bodies with its proboscis. For the edification of the scientific community and sober contemplation of the general public 1966's Island of Terror presents the possible nightmare resulting from what many presume is a perfectly innocent and noble endeavour. This Terence Fisher movie starring Peter Cushing not produced by Hammer actually features a moralising coda warning the viewer against the dangers of science gone to far. You have to love such sincerity. Less charming is the film's misogyny but the film's mainly enjoyable for its odd succession of cosy, chatty scenes and Cushing in a very affable mode.



After establishing a super high tech lab hidden on a small island off Ireland's east coast, the film becomes a mystery unravelled in scenes of people going to visit other people who in turn go to visit yet more people with their own questions. This sort of relay of concern is kicked off when one of the villagers on the island visits the constable (Sam Kydd) complaining that her husband is three hours late getting home and he's not at the pub. The constable investigates and finds the man's body turned into a squishy, rubbery mass.



So he pays a visit to Dr. Landers (Eddie Byrne) who is confounded after doing an autopsy of the boneless body. So Dr. Landers goes to England to pay a visit to Dr. Stanley (Cushing), one of the leading men in his field.



Stanley doesn't know what to make of it so the two of them go and pay a visit to Dr. West (Edward Judd) who's even more of a leading man in this field it seems. He's also a sort of knock-off James Bond, trading corny sex jokes with a beautiful woman named Toni (Carole Gray) who's wearing only a shirt.



This was the only truly insufferable part of the movie. To get to the island on short notice, Toni offers her rich father's helicopter on the condition, imposed with a mischievous smirk, that she be allowed to come along. Throughout the film, she insists on joining the men for every adventure and then panics and cries and fouls up everything every single time. It occurs to me the wrong way to write women might be exactly the right way to write children.



By contrast nearly all the men are uncannily cool throughout the film, which is sort of fun. I liked the cosy, relaxed vibe of Peter Cushing and Edward Judd poring over notes in an inn after finding a massacre of boneless scientists at that lab. It's a little while before they meet the creatures.



It's not the most inspiring special effect--not quite having as much fascinating weirdness as the creatures in movies like Fiend Without a Face to make up for being unconvincing but they are pretty fun. I liked how they seemed to slowly secrete spaghetti whenever one creature divided to become two.



Twitter Sonnet #984

Pineapple juice adorns the leaden brick.
The vault's computer dust's too full to-day.
As runners tread like graves they'll slowly stick.
In thoughts triangles pin a bad delay.
In batt'ry temples acid sips the scalp.
Condemned for plastic hair the men retreat.
Repeating slogans captured Pez for help.
The webs of wardrobe finalise the street.
A bubbling counterfeit collects a car.
Divested hands compose an itch to sleep.
A fading laugh obliged the comic's bar.
In radios the signal carries deep.
Forgiving paws disrupt the leaves outside.
When phones make ghosts our hearts'll coincide.
setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)


The ends and outs of virtuous crime may have gotten more complicated four hundred years after the time of Robin Hood, but the eighteenth century set 1961 Fury at Smuggler's Bay is a pretty satisfying swashbuckler. Featuring two effective rogues, one handsome lad, three comely maidens, and Peter Cushing, the film's surprisingly morally shaded plot is an intriguing enough garnish for a fun landlocked pirate adventure.

In late eighteenth century Cornwall, it seems virtually everyone's livelihood is dependent on smuggling so Squire Trevenyan (Cushing), the local magistrate, has always looked the other way. But then a group of rogues lead by the vicious Black John (Bernard Lee) become "wreckers"--luring ships to wreck so they can steal their cargo.



The Squire's son, Christopher (John Fraser), is in love with Louise (Michele Mercier), the daughter of a Frenchman and smuggler named Francois (George Coulouris). Francois finds he's helpless to combat the threat posed by the wreckers--he can't complain without exposing the fact that the wreckers are a problem because they're impeding his own criminal activity.



There's also a virtuous highwayman called simply The Captain (William Franklyn).

The film takes these basic elements and uses them to find excuses for Christopher to wield a sword, for the Squire to brood in moral conflict, and for Louise and a barmaid (Liz Fraser) to be menaced by Black John, while each is on desperate missions that require them to run alone through the forest. Harry Waxman's cinematography is a gorgeous mix of shadows and lurid colour and the performances are all good. John Fraser looks like a young Jean Marais but a little leaner; Michele Mercier is absolutely luscious, particularly in red.

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