Category Archives: British Film
A Dark Song (2016) | This terrifying occult head trip should come with a ‘Don’t Try This At Home’ warning
Grief-stricken over the murder of her son, Sophia (Catherine Walker) is desperate for closure (and revenge) and seeks out ceremonial magician Joseph Solomon (Steve Oram), in a bid to communicate with her dead child.
But the arcane ritual she must undertake requires arduous preparation, which risks both hers and Solomon’s mental and physical well-being as they prepare open the gates to the other side…
Winner of the New Visions award at the 2016 Sitges Festival, A Dark Song is an astonishing first effort from director Liam Gavin, chronicling the performance of the Abramelin operation, an intensive 17th-century magic rite that ends in knowledge of and conversation with one’s Holy Guardian Angel. It is well-known amongst occult scholars, including Aleister Crowley, who created his own ritual as part of his Thelema religion.
Gavin sets his supernatural drama in a derelict house in a bleak Welsh countryside where two strangers lock themselves up to perform the elaborate six-month rite, which includes much preparation, including daily pray, chastity and abstinence.
Being a two-hander in a single setting, you’d expect it run out of steam after a while, but Gavin uses the very realistic practicalities of the ritual to weave a compelling dark narrative that allows the two leads to explore hidden depths in order to bring their damaged characters to nervy obsessed life before the real horrors begin.
With the soiled dress sense of Rab C Nesbitt or Andy Pipkin from Little Britain (but minus the laughs), Oram convinces as the dour outsider who is more in tune with the spirit world then the real one; while Walker genuinely disturbs as the grieving mother walking in a tightrope across a black abyss.
Now, most films dealing with the occult tend to focus on the attainment of power, but A Dark Song is all about Sophia’s quest for inner peace (and the ability to forgive) through gnosis. What we get is a harrowing and intense experience in which you can practically feel the power of the ritual emanating through the images and Ray Harman’s sparse score. It’s a bold and inventive piece of indie cinema – just don’t try it at home – you might regret it!
Cockneys vs Zombies (2012) | ‘Bloody Trafalgar!’ this zom-com is just as bloody brilliant as Shaun of the Dead
While geezer brothers Andy and Terry (Harry Treadaway and Rasmus Hardiker) rob a bank with their cousin (Michelle Ryan), an ancient plague is unleashed on London’s East End turning the locals into zombies. Next stop – the Bow Bells Care Home, where their granddad Ray (Alan Ford) and his fellow residents are trying to fend off the undead horde. Can the trio save the oldies and escape before it’s too late?
This 2012 zom-com combines the witty banter and comic hi-jinks of Carry On films of old with the flashy fast cut edits of a Guy Ritchie-styled mockney crime heist to produce one of the best British comedies in ages. In fact, having seen in countless times now, it’s as bloody brilliant as Shaun of the Dead.
Veteran stars Honor Blackman, Richard Briers and Dudley Sutton get the biggest laughs – especially Briers (who died six months after the film’s release) trying to outwalk the zombies on his zimmer frame. And the Ska-fuelled end credits song Head to Head with the Undead is just so darn catchy, you might find yourself wanting the soundtrack as well (yep, there is one).
Cockneys vs Zombies screens on The Horror Channel on Saturday 19th August at 9.00pm
X Moor (2014) | Some nasty surprises await in the British indie horror – welcome to the lair of the Beast!
With her sights set on fame and fortune, American student journalist Georgia (Melia Kreiling) and her cameraman boyfriend Matt (Nick Blood) head to Exmoor in North Devon to capture footage of a legendary panther that is said to roam the moor.
With the help of an experienced animal tracker Fox (Matt Bonar), the couple set up camp in Slew Wood and begin fixing up 42 cameras to the trees and rocks. But when they uncover the rotting corpses of dozens of young women in the undergrowth, Georgia and Matt realise that Fox has intentionally led them into a serial killer’s dumping ground in a bid to hunt him down… So will they stay or will they go?
From writer/director Luke Hyams comes X Moor, an atmospheric survivalist horror. It’s a handsome looking film, with cool score and credits, and evocative photography of the wet and windy terrain (with Ballymoney, Northern Ireland standing in for Exmoor). The characters are well drawn and the cast is excellent.
Melia Kreiling’s Georgia’s got balls and a conscience and given what she goes through in the course of one night, she’s destined to join the ranks of horror’s other fierce Final Girls. Typically, Nick Blood’s Matt is a bit of a dick, although his relationship with Georgia comes off as playful and genuine. And when he sprains his leg and risks getting hypothermia, you can’t help but feel sorry for him.
Mark Bonnar’s Fox, meanwhile, is the film’s most intriguing character – part menacing, part sympathetic. He provides real gravitas to the proceedings and also one the film’s big shock moments. The other big jump-in-your-seat moment is when one of the six corpses the trio uncover is found to be still alive! That one really got me – as did the idea that the killer (the Beast) drugs his victims and buries them so that he can hunt them down later. That’s just sick!
The film however is ultimately let down by some serious randomness, especially the introduction of Charlene (Jemma O’Brien), the unseen killer’s one-eyed daughter, who is found by Georgia waiting for her father to return from grouse shooting. That was just too leftfield.
Then there’s the messy climax, in which everyone (killer included) make really stupid decisions until its just Georgia left to face her hunter armed with the jaw bone of a deer. What happens next is suppose to be the film’s big shock twist. But it just left me scratching my head and, in the end, there’s no closure for either Georgia or the audience. There’s also a suggestion that there’s more than one killer involved. I really wanted that one explained. The panther, by the way, does make an appearance on one of the CCTV cameras at the very end of the film. Growl!!!
‘Smells like a giant kitty litter’
XMoor gets its UK TV premier on The Horror Channel today (Friday 18 August) at 9pm.
David Niven’s super smooth Count Dracula is strapped for cash and renting his Transylvania castle out as an upscale B&B and corporate event facility. But when he uses the blood from four finalists doing a Playboy photo-shoot to resurrect his beloved wife, Vampira (Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In’s Teresa Graves), he gets the shock of his life when Vampira turns black.
Packing his coffin, old Drac, his jocular manservant Maltravers (Peter Bayliss) and Vampira leave the Carpathians behind for swinging London and a haunted Hampstead mansion to track down the right ‘donor’ to restore Vampira…
Known as Old Dracula in the US (to cash in on Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein), this 1974 vampire comedy was written by Jeremy Lloyd (of Are You Being Served? and ’Allo ’Allo fame) as a vehicle for David Niven, who brings a real touch of class to director Clive Donner’s Carry On meets Confessions of a Biteable Playmate farce.
One-liner vampire jokes are the order of the day, with the best of them deservedly going to Bayliss, although Niven does get some nifty ones like: ‘That look of horror when they realise that it’s me is so exciting’. Drac’s castle dinner show, complete with creepy organ-playing and flying bats, effectively spoofs Hammer’s horrors, while his gimmicky haunted London pad with its screaming, laughing ghosts, satanic imagery and rat-infested well is a nod to William Castle and AIP’s 1970s shockers.
Lloyd and Donner also pay homage to blaxpoitation and spy flicks by turning Vampira into jive-talking disco queen after watching Black Gunn, and giving Niven some nifty weapons, including a cane with a deadly blade, which he uses to rescue a damsel in distress; while Anthony Newley’s jaunty theme tune sung by UK soul band, The Majestics is played over Bond-esque silhouetted credits. Mind you, Niven blacking up for the film’s final shot may have been misguided.
Psychomania‘s Nicky Henson plays horror writer Marc, who comes under the Count’s hypnotic control in order to put the bite on the likes of Jennie Linden and Veronica Carlson; while sex kitten Linda Hayden makes an early exit when her just-turned waitress Helga gets staked with a crossbow. Comedy actors Bernard Bresslaw and Frank Thornton make their hilarious cameos count, while the other ‘stars’ are the gritty Soho locations and David Whitaker’s funky music that has an air of Geoff Love’s fake 1970’s exotica group Mandingo about it. Fangs for the laughs, folks!
Convinced by her unborn baby (who speaks to her from her womb) that her partner’s death in a climbing accident was the result of a group decision to cut his rope, Ruth tracks them down and kills them with a large kitchen knife. But when her waters break as she finally confronts the group’s leader, Tom, (Kayvan Novak), Ruth finds herself on a cliff edge (both literally and metaphorically) swaying between redemption and destruction…
Shot in just 11 days during Lowe’s own real-life pregnancy, Prevenge is an assured directorial debut from the writer/actress, who is best known for her turns in Ben Wheatley’s Kill List and Sightseers. Now I came into the film expecting it to be played strictly for laughs, but there’s an emotional core that quietly drags you in.
And that’s down to Lowe’s compelling performance as Ruth who, throughout her murder spree, which includes slashing the throat of Kate (Game of Thrones) Dickie’s bitchy boss and the gory castration of Tom Davis’ sleazy DJ, the viewer is left wondering if she’s clinically mad or just having a really bad day?
Thankfully, Ruth’s got Jo Hartley’s caring midwife to help ground her back to reality. But Ruth is a deeply sad and lonely woman – and you can’t help but sympathise with her because she has no family or support as she awaits the birth of her baby.
Ruth’s bland apartment – which looks like temporary council accommodation – only heightens her loneliness and sense of alienation. So do the other-worldly neon-lit Cardiff city locations – which were chosen on purpose according to Lowe in the extras.
Speaking of which, do check out the Post Natal Confessions extra, it’s really informative in shedding light on the making of this surprisingly emotional black comedy that deserves multiple viewings. It also reveals the genesis behind my favourite scene in which Ruth meets ‘Death’ in the form of a Halloween party-goer.
Prevenge is out on DVD, Blu-Ray and VOD from includes an audio commentary with Alice Lowe, cinematographer Ryan Eddleston, editor Matteo Bini and producer Vaughan Sivell.
The Prevenge soundtrack by ToyDrum is also available digitally through Invada Records at www.invada.co.uk
Heading up the survivors are tough army sergeant Mac (Jim Sweeney) and cowardly Major Gibson (Joe Rainbow), who are transporting the alleged architect of the virus, Dr Sykes (Eric Colvin), to the city of Imperion; the golf-mad Beaumont (Danny Brown) and his teenage daughter, Becca (Rachel Nottingham); office worker Gandhi (Simon Burbage); Essex slag Harden (Jade Colucci); and a pint-sized, heavily-pregnant, religious nutter (Shamiso Mushambi).
Once inside, however, the survivors discover they are not alone – a messiah-like zombie (Rupert Phelps) with the power to heal the infected is wandering the corridors. Believing him to be the cure, Sykes convinces his captors to try and capture the unholy undead dude. But their task isn’t made easy when the virus starts spreading amongst the survivors…
‘Die down the negative energy, it’s not the end of the world!’
This low budget zombie comedy horror from Hampshire-based film outfit Charmed Apocalypse Pictures (aka Andy Phelps and Jake Hawkin) is way better than it ought to be. If you can forgive the copious amounts of swearing and questionable acting ability, this homemade horror is a riot.
It’s got a cracking script, whose black humour owes a big debt to Monty Python, Blackadder and Shaun of the Dead; gory special effects that really do deliver (decapitation by golf club, anyone?); some nicely twisted takes on the horror genre’s stock-in-trade characters; cool comic book style graphics; and a catchy darkwave electronic theme tune (that sounds not unlike Laibach).
Much fun is made about death and religion and some of it is very dark, like when the Bible-spouting Esther tries to crucify herself. It’s also incredibly inventive – who knew wearing a coat of rotting human skin will make you invisible to zombies? Then there’s the fatalistic central theme of being eaten, resurrected and eaten again: now that’s really scary. If there’s one downside, it’s that the comedy ends up taking the back seat as the grisly theme plays out. But then, we wouldn’t have the film’s Romero-esque final shot…
The Naked Civil Servant (1975) | John Hurt’s Bafta-winning turn as gay icon Quentin Crisp restored in HD
Originally broadcast on UK TV in December 1975, this Bafta-winning adaptation of Quentin Crisp’s best-selling autobiography, The Naked Civil Servant, boasts a career-best performance by the late John Hurt as Crisp – a flamboyant south London engineer’s tracer turned artist’s model living an openly gay lifestyle during the intolerant pre-war years, where he proudly challenges the authorities that seek to suppress him and his kind.
Blackly comic, poignant and yet also life-affirming, this courageous story about a very unconventional British eccentric is masterfully directed by Jack Gold (The Medusa Touch, Escape from Sobibor), from a screenplay by Philip Mackie (TV’s Raffles), and executive produced by Doctor Who’s Verity Lambert.
It also boasts some colourful turns from the likes of Shane Briant as a cross dressing male prostitute called Norma and Patricia Hodge as an Isadora Duncan-styled ballet teacher. But kudos go to Stanley Lebor as the tragic Mr Pole (his descent into madness will have you reaching for some tissues).
One of the most significant LGBT British-made TV dramas of all time, the Thames Television production gave Hurt his first Best Actor Bafta and turned Crisp into an instant international celebrity and a gay icon.
The self-proclaimed ‘Stately Homo’ was hailed as a modern-day Oscar Wilde due to his aphoristic witticisms which led him into creating a successful one-man show and publishing further works including 1996’s Resident Alien (which inspired 2009’s An Englishman in New York, also with John Hurt). Crisp died, aged 91, in 1999.
Check out his archives here: http://www.crisperanto.org/index1.html
Voted fourth in BFI’s Top 100 TV programmes of 20th Century, The Naked Civil Servant has been restored in high-definition from the original film elements.
With 2017 marking the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, it’s the perfect time time revisit the film, which also gets a special cinema screening on 28 May at a number of selected venues nationwide part of Picturehouse Cinemas’ Criminal Acts season. For more information go to: https://www.picturehouses.com/film/the-naked-civil-servant
THE NETWORK RELEASE
• HD feature version (HD Blu-ray exclusive), restored from the original film elements and presented in its original 1:33:1 picture ratio with the ad-breaks removed
• Commentary with John Hurt, director Jack Gold and executive producer Verity Lambert
• Seven Men: Quentin Crisp – a Granada profile from 1971
• Mavis Catches Up with Quentin Crisp: an interview from 1989
• Image gallery
• Philip Mackie’s original script (PDF)
ALSO… CHECK OUT THIS UNRESTORED VIDEO OF QUENTIN CRISP’S ONE-MAN SHOW
Melody (1971) | This enchanting tale of first love and youthful rebellion is no longer a forgotten gem
‘A forgotten, inspiring gem’ Wes Anderson
Set against the backdrop of a 1970s south London comprehensive school, Melody was director Alan Parker’s debut screenplay and his first film collaboration with producer David Puttnam, and it reunited Mark Lester and Jack Wild, who starred in the 1968 musical film adaptation of Oliver!, alongside 11-year-old Tracy Hyde making her acting debut.
Quiet, well-behaved Daniel (Lester) and cheeky troublemaker Ornshaw (Wild) could not be more different but they become the best of friends. That is, until Daniel spots Melody (Tracy Hyde) at the school disco.
The boys’ friendship becomes jeopardised, as Ornshaw grows jealous when his Daniel seems more interested in a hanging out with a girl. Initially embarrassed by the attention, Melody comes to return Daniel’s feelings, and the couple announce to their parents, teachers and friends that they want to get married and now.
The adults attempt to dissuade them, but Daniel and Melody’s determination leads Ornshaw to have a change of heart. He and their classmates gather together at one of the children’s hideouts to ‘marry’ the couple, with their discovery leading to a final riotous, no-holds-barred showdown where the children stick it to the grown-ups…
The film was the brainchild of Puttnam, who had secured the rights to five Bee Gees songs and wanted to craft a movie around it. Drawing on the lyrics of those songs, as well as the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young hit ‘Teach Your Children’, Parker’s script captured what it was like to be a kid on the brink of adolescence in 1970s Britain, drawing inspiration from his and Puttnam’s own school experiences, and these are brought to vivid life by Warris Hussein (Doctor Who) and cinematographer Peter Suschitzky (A History of Violence), who make excellent use of the Lambeth and Soho locations.
While it scored huge success in Japan and South America when it was released in 1971, Melody – which would not have been made if not for some unlikely support in the guise of Joan Collins – got a lukewarm reception both at home and in the US (mostly on account of its poor promotion and being given the awkward title of S.W.A.L.K. (aka Sealed With A Loving Kiss).
But it has since grown into something of a cult, with director Wes Anderson using it as the inspiration for his film, Moonrise Kingdom, while Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron cites the film as the inspiration for him going into film-making.
Having finally watched in myself, I can guarantee that your heart will swell and you’ll have tears in your eyes as you see the world again through the eyes of these youngsters. It might paint a rosy view of inner city London life in the 1970s, but it will nevertheless bring much joy and contemplation about a much more innocent time. And the songs are so catchy, I went out and hunted down the original soundtrack.
Melody is available now on DVD, Blu-ray and EST as part of Studiocanal’s Vintage Classics Collection, and includes as special features, interviews with Lord David Puttnam, Sir Alan Parker, Waris Hussein and Mark Lester; plus a stills gallery.
The Magic Christian (1969) | Peter Sellers, Ringo Starr and a shipload of famous faces make this comic misfire worth a revisit
This wildly undisciplined 1969 British comedy sees a homeless man called Youngman (Ringo Starr) being adopted by the world’s richest man, Sir Guy Grand (Peter Sellers), who sets out to prove that money can make people do anything through a series of practical jokes and bizarre stunts…
Shot with an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink mentality by one of the seven directors of the dire Casino Royal (The Goon Show’s Joseph McGrath), The Magic Christian is an absurd satire on capitalism, greed, and human vanities based on a novel by Terry Southern, whose warped imaginings also turned out screenplays for some of my favourite ‘out-there’ movies, Candy, Barbarella, The Loved One and Dr Strangelove.
Southern co-wrote the film with McGrath, but much was altered when the film’s star Peter Sellers – who loved Southern’s book so much he bought 100 copies to give to friends – got Spike Milligan, John Cleese and Graham Chapman to rewrite some scenes, some of which didn’t end up in the final cut. The biggest change was Ringo’s character, which was created especially for the movie.
Not that Starr brings much to the film, apart from hanging on Sellers’ every word (which the comedy legend utters in a vast array of vocal mimicry), as he carries out his ‘Grand’ schemes. These include getting Laurence Harvey’s Shakespearean actor to do a striptease during a performance of Hamlet, blowing the shit out of a squire’s sedate country shoot, fixing the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race, and inviting a bunch of city types to bob for pound notes in a vat of animal blood, piss and manure.
Along for the wacky ride are Spike Milligan as a traffic warden who eats a parking ticket for £500, Hattie Jacques as a vain train passenger with a penchant for Nazi torture porn, Yul Brynner (voiced by The Rag Trade’s Miriam Karlin) as a transvestite singing Mad About the Boy to Roman Polanski, John Cleese as a surly Sothebys auctioneer, and Raquel Welch as a whip-wielding galley slave mistress, while Christopher Lee has fun sending up his Dracula persona. Shamefully, however, Leonard Frey (of Boys in the Band fame) is called Faggot.
The hit and miss satire ends in a shambolic riot aboard the eponymous Magic Christian, a luxury liner berthed in the Thames where London’s elite gather for the social event of the year (as reported by Michael Aspel and Alan Wicker).
While it certainly fails as an incisive satire (probably on account of it being lost in translation), The Magic Christian does have those fun cameos to tickle your funny bones, and the central London locations (with a Thames bursting its banks) are a real nostalgia trip. Watch out for the grotesque dining scene which could very well be the template for Monty Python’s Mr Creosote sketch in 1983’s The Meaning of Life (well Messrs Chapman and Cleese probably wrote that as well).
As for the Beatles-sounding theme tune ‘Come and Get It’, well that was written and produced by Paul McCartney for the Welsh rock band Badfinger, who released it as a single in December 1969 on the Beatles’ Apple label.
Fabulous Films presents the film on DVD in an unrestored version (some slight flecks appear here and there), with no extras.
Plagued with production problems, director Roman Polanski’s 1966 black comedy Cul-de-sac should never have worked – but it did and remains a critical high-point of his early career. Having won plaudits and good box-office receipts for his first British-backed film, the psychological horror Repulsion (starring France’s new star Catherine Deneuve), Polanski was given free reign for his follow-up which is now available in a restored HD transfer edition as part of The Criterion Collection.
Set on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne on the Northumberland coastline, Polanski fashioned a morbidly absurdist bourgeois-baiting tale with his long-time collaborator Gérard Brach.
Happening upon an castle on the coastline, wounded American gangster Richard (Lionel Stander) and his gravely ill accomplice Albert (Jack MacGowran) decide it an ideal hide and so take hostage its owners – retired businessman George (Donald Pleasence) and his restless French wife Teresa (Françoise Dorleac).
But the claustrophobic setting and long wait for help to arrive sets in motion increasingly disturbing games involving sexual and emotional humiliation between captor and couple that escalates into terrible violence…
When Cul-de-sac was released in the UK in 1966 (check out the premiere clip below), audiences really didn’t take to the film (probably on account it was too bleak and not the psychological horror that they had hoped). But when it then won the Golden Bear at the 16th Berlin International Film Festival, it quickly gained a new appreciation – and so it should.
From its outset, Polanski had faith in bringing his bleak comedy of manners to the big-screen and against the odds and by going rogue he achieved it.
A typically British summer (rain, snow and storms) and the wrong tides held up shooting, while method actors Stander and Pleasence caused ructions on set, and Polanski was accused of driving his cast and crew to exhaustion, hypothermia (MacGowran) and near death (Dorleac almost drowned) in order to finish the film to his exacting standards. Even the locals began to resent Polanski and co’s presence (especially in the local pubs).
Meanwhile, the film’s fed-up backers (Compton Films’ Tony Tenser and Michael Klinger) eventually shut down production after it overrun its budget– but not before Polanski had the film’s powerful 8-minute one-shot climax involving a Tiger Moth plane in the can.
Donald Pleasence is in his element as the dotty fed-up George, and his performance ranks as one of his best (alongside his alcoholic doctor in 1971’s Wake in Fright). Françoise Dorleac is also perfectly cast (also at the last minute) as the hippy-like Teresa – and her character is the total anti-thesis of her sister Catherine Deneuve’s sexually repressive character in Repulsion. Then there’s the gravel-voiced Lionel Stander (who’d go onto play Max in TV’s Hart to Hart), who is outstandingly repellent as the chief thug. Tragically, Dorleac died in a car accident a year after appearing in the film.
The other star of the film is Holy Island and the surrounding landscape, made luminous by Gilbert Taylor’s stark black-and-white photography – and the inclement weather (those skies are divine, especially when shot day for night).
And alongside the rich visuals is Krzysztof Komeda’s jaunty score that lends the film a sense of carnival and menace, two elements that are that the heart of this caustic satire (which would look terrific if it were adapted for the stage like Polanski’s follow-up film, Dance of the Vampires). Watch for Jacqueline (billed as Jackie) Bisset, briefly on screen in one of her earliest roles.
THE CRITERION COLLECTION RELEASE
• Restored high-definition digital transfer, approved by director Roman Polanski, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
• Two Gangsters and an Island: the 23-minute 2003 Blue Underground documentary (23min) about the making of the film, featuring interviews with Polanski, producers Gene Gutowski and Tony Tenser, and cinematographer Gilbert Taylor. Also participating are production designer Voyek, continuity Dee Vaughn and actor William Franklyn
• Archive TV interview with Polanski from 1967 (this is a fascinating insight into the young director’s cinematic vision about alienation, sex and his genuine dislike for the bourgeoisie)
• Theatrical trailers
• Plus, booklet featuring an essay by film critic David Thompson