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The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) | Billy Wilder’s melancholic celebration of Conan Doyle’s great detective gets a first-time Blu-ray release

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)

From Eureka Entertainment comes Billy Wilder’s underrated 1970 adventure comedy The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, as part of The Masters of Cinemas Series on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK.

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)

Director Billy Wilder’s personal, melancholic celebration of Conan Doyle’s great detective was originally conceived as a three and a half hour extravaganza, and he never forgave the studio for hacking it to bits (with many of the deleted scenes now lost forever).

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)

What remains is rewarding, but it leaves you begging for more, as the bored Baker Street sleuth (Robert Stephens) investigates a mystery that takes him and his faithful companion Doctor Watson (Colin Blakely) from London to Inverness, and involves an enigmatic amnesiac (Geneviève Page), Holmes’ conniving brother Mycroft (Christopher Lee), Queen Victoria and – yes – the Loch Ness Monster.

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)

Stephens plays Holmes with tortured, whimsical perfection, and both Blakely and Lee are perfectly cast in their respective roles, but it’s Irene Handl rather than the alluring Page who steals every scene she’s in. Her Mrs Hudson is a comic stand-out. Other familiar faces include the legendary Stanley Holloway, Clive Revill (The Legend of Hell House), Catherine Lacey (The Sorcerers) and Jenny Hanley (Scars of Dracula).

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)

The film’s rich period detail and authentic locations is also matched by the witty script (one of 11 that Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond wrote together) and the whole affair sparkles like a well-polished (rough) diamond.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 1080p presentation
• Uncompressed PCM soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles
• A new video interview with film scholar Neil Sinyard
• The Missing Cases (50 mins): A presentation of deleted sequences, using script excerpts, production stills and surviving film footage.
• Deleted Epilogue Scene (audio only)
Christopher Lee: Mr. Holmes, Mr. Wilder – an archival interview with Christopher Lee about his experience working with Billy Wilder
• Interview with editor Ernest Walter
• Original theatrical trailer
• Collector’s booklet

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The City of the Dead (1960) | The British horror classic gets a 4k restoration release

The City of the Dead (1960)From Arrow comes the long-awaited 4k restoration release of The City of the Dead, out now on dual format (Blu-ray/DVD).

The City of the Dead (1960)

SCREAM With Guests From The “Other World” When You Ring For DOOM SERVICE!
Professor Driscoll (Christopher Lee), is an authority on the occult who persuades one of his students (Venetia Stevenson) to research his hometown, Whitewood, once the site of witch burnings in the 17th century. Booking herself into the Raven’s Inn, she soon learns that devil worship among the locals hasn’t been consigned to the past…

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Produced by future Amicus founders Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg, and beautifully shot by Desmond Dickinson (whose credits ranged from Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet to Horrors of the Black Museum), The City of the Dead (aka Horror Hotel) is a wonderfully atmospheric and still shocking slice of horror that stands firmly alongside with its Hammer contemporaries.

The City of the Dead (1960)

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• New 4K digital restoration by the Cohen Film Collection and the BFI
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations of two versions of the film: The City of the Dead and the alternative US cut, Horror Hotel
• Uncompressed Mono 1.0 PCM Audio
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• Audio commentary by film critic Jonathan Rigby
• Trailer
• Newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
• First pressing only: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Vic Pratt

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Castle of the Living Dead (1964) | Christopher Lee goes for goth in an atmospheric vintage horror

A hero dwarf, a scythe-wielding henchman, Christopher Lee playing a necrophile aesthete Count and a baroque setting that wouldn’t look out of place in a Tim Burton film makes for a fantastic voyage into vintage horror in 1964’s Castle of the Living Dead.

Set in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, this black-and-white chiller finds mad taxidermist Count Drago (Lee, looking wonderfully funereal with his neat goatee, dark-rimmed eyes and glossy black hair) creating a tableaux of embalmed women in the bowels of a creepy castle that’s festooned with stuffed ravens, owls and pelicans.

When a troupe of travelling performers fail to heed the warnings of a local witch (one of Drago’s failed experiments) and decide to perform for the Count, young dancer Laura (Gaia Germani) finds herself next to be added to Drago’s ghoulish collection. Her only hope of survival lies in the hands of an unlikely hero – a dwarf (Antonio de Martino).

This imaginative Italian production was directed by Luciano Ricci (using the name Herbert Wise) and screenwriter Warren Keifer. Now, if that last name rings a bell then it should because Donald Sutherland – who plays the dual role of a police sergeant and the ugly witch – would later name his son after Keifer.

It’s also the film in which future Witchfinder General director Michael Reeves got his break. The 20-year-old was initially employed to do second-unit work, but ended up doing a whole lot more. Though he never got to shoot any scenes with star Lee, he was responsible for introducing the character of the dwarf. And his sterling work on the horror would result in him directing his first picture, The She Beast, the following year. As a side note, Reeves also appears as one of the frozen officer’s in Drago’s gruesome gallery.

Beautifully shot in icy monochrome by Fellini’s cinematographer, Aldo Tonti, the film’s most memorable moments include a mock hanging (Reeves would later film a similar scene for the opening of Witchfinder General) and the henchman and dwarf dueling in a garden of surreal statues and on the castle ramparts (the real-life Odescalchi Castle and Bomarzo Park in Lazio, Italy).

Packed with nods to Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, Poe’s Roderick Usher, the legend of Bluebeard, and Hitchcock’s Psycho, this is an atmospheric exercise that gets better with age.

The 2012 DVD release available from Screenbound Pictures in the UK has been digitally remastered with restored original mono soundtrack, and includes the original trailer and notes by Michael Reeves’ biographer Benjamin Halligan.

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Jinnah (1998) | Christopher Lee gives the performance of a lifetime as Pakistan’s revered founding father

Jinnah (1998)

Few individuals significantly alter the course of history. Fewer still modify the map of the world. Hardly anyone can be credited with creating a nation-state. Muhammad Ali Jinnah did all three

So wrote Stanley Wolpert in his acclaimed 1984 biography of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the man who was almost single-handedly responsible for splitting Pakistan from India. A source of much controversy throughout its making, this 1998 biopic from Pakistani-French indie film-maker Jamil Dehlavi opened to great acclaim in Pakistan but has never been available in the English-speaking world – until now.

Christopher Lee as Jinnah

Following his death on 11 September 1948, Muhammad Ali Jinnah (Christopher Lee) awaits final judgement in the afterlife and must tell the story of his life, before his celestial minder (Shashi Kapoor). His story covers the intense political strife and bloody events that led to the formation of the Muslim nation, starting in 1947 as Lord Mountbatten (James Fox) uses his diplomatic whiles to persuade Mahatma Gandhi (Sam Dastor) and Jawaharlal Nehru (Robert Ashby) to join in his effort to stop Jinnah’s homeland campaign…

jinnah (1998)

This is a lavishly mounted, intensely moving, piece of cinema. If you’re not offended by an English actor playing a Pakistani, then Lee certainly delivers one of the finest performances of his career. It’s certainly the one that he was most proud of – he even bears much countenance to the revered real-life statesman, not only in appearance, but also in some of the character traits that are explored in his inventive biopic that not only addresses Jinnah the politician, but also the man – especially his regrets in his personal relationships with his two wives and daughter, Dina. My other best acting vote goes to Maria Aitken’s fabulous turn as the manipulative Lady Edwina Mountbatten.

The Eureka Entertainment release features a 1080p HD transfer on the Blu-ray, with a progressive encode on the DVD, optional English subtitles, and original trailer.

 

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Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965) | Amicus’ portmanteau blueprint still impresses on Blu-ray

Dr Terrors House of Horrors (1965)1965’s Dr Terror’s House of Horrors was the first of six horror anthologies to come from Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg’s Amicus Productions and became the blueprint for their successive entries.

Following so-so returns on their two teen musicals, the duo decided to return to the horror genre (their first being 1960’s The City of the Dead) in a bid to give Hammer (who was doing big business) a run for their money. And it was on the back of the success of this film (their first under the Amicus banner) that would turn them into leading exponents of British cult, sci-fi, fantasy and horror over the next two decades.

Armed with some old scripts written (some say appropriated) back in 1948 and inspired by the 1940s British classics Dead of Night and Train of Events, Subotsky conceived the film, and added a linking story in which five train passengers have their destinies told by the Tarot-wielding (mispronouced as Tah-row) – Dr Sandor Schreck (Peter Cushing).

‘I think there is room for one more in here’
Their stories included a Scottish estate haunted by a werewolf (Ursula Howells); am Education Officer (DJ Alan Freeman) and his family coming under attack from a homicidal vine; a jazz trumpter (Roy Castle) who steals some voodoo music; an art critic (Christopher Lee) being pursued by a severed hand of a snubbed artist (Michael Gough); and a doctor (Donald Sutherland) who suspects his wife (Jennifer Jayne) is a vampire…

Dr Terrors House of Horrors (1965)

The Fear of the Year
With the exception of the supposedly comic voodoo episode (generally known as ‘that Roy Castle one’) and the silly vampire story, this House of Horrors still impresses. Freddie Francis directs with style, the Technicolor/Techniscope cinematography from Alan Hume (The Kiss of the Vampire) is suitably atmospheric, Bill Constable’s production design evokes each stories mood, and Subotsky adds a tongue-in-cheek tone throughout.

By far the two best stories are Werewolf (in which Subotsky is suprisingly inventive with the myth) and Disembodied Hand, long regarded as a fan favourite because of Christopher Lee’s memorable turn as a pompous petulant art critic (some say he was playing a parody of himself). While its obviously ripped off from 1946’s The Beast with Five Fingers, it’s gripping (pun itended) to watch Lee being terrified by a mechanical prop (which ended up in a couple of other Amicus films), and you can watch it here (courtesy of Screenbound).

Freddie Francis (who became Amicus’ in-house director) would helm three more omnibuses – Torture Garden (1968), Tales from the Crypt (1972) and the non-Amicus Tales that Witnessed Madness (1973) – and each would feature framing stories with varying degrees of success. Given that Peter Cushing’s merchant of Death is so memorable here, it’s always puzzled me why Amicus didn’t use the character again. Cushing, whose role here is little more than a cameo, would be promoted to lead in Amicus next three features: The Skull and the two big-screen Dr Who adventures.

THE SCREENBOUND RELEASE
Following a 4k remastering at Pinewood, this is the best-looking release of the film to date (despite the limitations due to the film’s use of the cheaper Techniscope widescreen process). The limited edition (4000 copies) Steel Book also benefits from the fantastic new artwork from Graham Humphreys and the following special features…

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Audio commentary from director Freddie Francis
House of Cards: Documentary, directed by Jake West, about the film’s production history, with interviews from likes of Jonathan Rigby and Reece Shearsmith (contains spoilers – but also some neat bits of trivia).
Sir Christopher Lee – British Legends of Stage & Screen (2012, 60min): From spear carrying in Olivier’s Hamlet to Dracula, Lord of the Rings and his Bafta fellowship award, Lee looks back over his career (this is a must see).
• Gallery Images: From the collection of Stephen Jones (Monsters from Hell).
• Original theatrical trailer.

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The Skull (1965) | The eerie Amicus curio weaves its hypnotic power on Blu-ray

The Skull (1965)Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee unite in the doom-laden 1965 British supernatural shocker, The Skull, which gets a first-time HD restoration in the UK.

Director Freddie Francis endows the Amicus-produced frightener, originally penned by Psycho writer Robert Bloch, with a chilly sense of menace and provides an eerily effective dream sequence, seen through the eyes of the skull of the infamous Marquis de Sade that Cushing’s collector of occult objects procures…

‘The unknown is always intriguing’
Peter Cushing gives an excellent study in bewildered terror as the skull slowly exerts it’s malign influence on his obsessive collector, Christopher Maitland, resulting in murder and madness; and gets solid support from ‘guest star’ Christopher Lee as the skull’s previous owner and Patrick Wymark as the sleazy dealer who steals it from him. Other familiar faces popping up are Michael Gough, Patrick Magee and Nigel Green (sporting a dodgy moustache), while poor Jill Bennett, playing Cushing’s socialite wife, gets to do little more than lounge about in lovely evening gowns.

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The film’s almost wordless final 25-minutes, set to a stirring score by acclaimed avant-garde composer Elisabeth Lutyens, is a surreal waking dream that still has the power to unnerve. Sumptuously shot with a baroque and gothic sensibility, though set in 1960s London, this curio is certainly one to covet – especially now that it has been given a gorgeous restoration on Blu-ray.

And it’s the look and the feel of this menacing chiller that wins through, and makes up for the lack of action (and obvious wire effects) which continue to divide audiences (including my own horror friends). The heavily dressed sets, meanwhile, are like an antique collector’s wet dream.

The Skull (1965)DID YOU KNOW?
The Marquis de Sade’s name was taken off all theatrical advertising material following legal action by the family’s estate.

In France, it was changed from Les Forfaits Du Marquis De Sade (The Infamies of Marquis de Sade) to Le Crâne Maléfique (The Evil Skull) at the last minute in order to get a release.

THE EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT RELEASE
The 2015 Dual Format release features a restored 1080p presentation of the film on Blu-ray with a linear PCM 2.0 mono audio and optional English subtitle. Plus, the following extras…
• Interview with film scholar Jonathan Rigby (24:14)
• Interview with film critic and author Kim Newman (27:18)
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and new artwork
• Collector’s booklet, featuring an essay by BFI archivist Vic Pratt
• DVD of the feature

THE VERDICT
This handsome dual format HD release from Eureka! Entertainment finally gives this underrated Amicus horror a chance to shine.

 

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) | Hammer’s Gothic horror adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic mystery is a flawed gem

Hound of the Baskervilles_1

Having already adapted Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley’s Gothic horrors Dracula and Frankenstein to the big screen – in blood-dripping colour and laced with a hint of sex, it seemed an obvious choice for Hammer Films to add Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most terrifying Sherlock Holmes adventure, The Hound of the Baskervilles, to their stable of English Gothic horrors.

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

TERROR STALKS THE MOORS
When Baker Street sleuth Sherlock Holmes (Peter Cushing) hears the legend of a ghostly hound from hell that brings death to each generation of the Baskerville family, he agrees to protect the new heir, Sir Henry Baskerville (Christopher Lee). He instructs Dr Watson (André Morell) to head down to gloomy Baskerville Hall, where a series of strange events indicate that there is a plot to kill Sir Henry…

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

HORROR FILLS THE NIGHT
This handsome, colourful adaptation gave Peter Cushing one of his signature roles, that of the legendary Baker Street detective, which he went to great lengths to provide a truly authentic interpretation. And his Holmes certainly is as ‘new and exciting’ as the trailer proclaimed. But so is Andre Morell’s Dr Watson, who proves himself an intelligent and resourceful wingman to Cushing’s sleuth. Morrell also finally shakes off the ghost of Nigel Bruce’s bumbling fool that cinema audiences knew so well from the classic Universal movies two decades prior.

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

As the hell-spawned Hound’s intended victim, Christopher Lee – who escapes monster duties this time round – is perfectly cast as the stiff upper-lipped aristocrat, Sir Henry. But apart from showing off his smouldering good looks in an array of smart suits and smoking jackets, he gets to do very little. He does, however, get one memorable scene involving a tarantula. But that terrified expression you see on his face as the critter crawls over his shoulder is very real indeed – for Lee had a genuine fear of spiders. This particular scene also shows just how excellent the film looks on Blu-ray – the close-up on Lee’s sweaty face is so sharp, it feels like 3D.

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

When the film came out in the UK in May 1959, Hammer heavily promoted it as one of their English Gothic horrors, paying big emphasis on the hound from hell in its adverts. The look and style of the film is certainly quintessential Hammer, thanks to Terence Fisher’s suspenseful direction, Bernard Robinson’s evocative mist-shrouded sets, the rich colour photography, and James Bernard’s rousing music score (some of it nicked from Dracula).

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

But apart from lots of talk about ‘Evil lurking about’, there’s very little in the way of true horror (well it was an ‘A’ certificate), with the biggest disappointment being the titular hound: which just ends up being a big sloppy great dane (although two were actually used) wearing a mask of rubber and rabbit skin. The Hound of the Baskervilles was certainly not the ‘most-dripping tale ever written’, but it did make a profit at box office. But it wasn’t enough for Hammer to continue making anymore Holmes adventures. As Marcus Hearn says in the accompanying audio commentary, this is a ‘flawed gem’ from the legendary British studio.

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)THE ARROW BLU-RAY RELEASE
This Arrow Video Blu-ray presentation of the Hammer classic looks and sound terrific. The colours are superb, the print sharp and clean. The HD master was produced by MGM and is presented in its original aspect ratio with mono sound.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Audio commentary with Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby. Fans will enjoy this as there’s a host of anecdotes and trivia shared by the two leading Hammer experts. Recorded in April 2015.
Release the Hound! – Making of documentary featuring interviews with Mark Gatiss (very entertaining) and hound mask creator Margaret Robinson, as well as some usual suspects like film historian Kim Newman and writer Denis Meikle. NEW
André Morell: Best of British – a wonderful featurette looking at the late great actor André Morell, with a touching contribution from his son Jason Morell. NEW
The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes –1986 documentary on the many incarnations of Conan Doyle’s sleuth, narrated and presented by Christopher Lee.
Actor’s Notebook: Christopher Lee – Archive interview in which the actor looks back on his role as Sir Henry Baskerville.
The Hounds of the Baskervilles – two excerpts read by Christopher Lee.
• Original US Theatrical Trailer. Black and white and unrestored.
• Image gallery
• Newly commissioned artwork by Paul Shipper.
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by former Hammer archivist Robert JE Simpson.

 

 

 

 

Lost Horizons: Beneath the Hollywood Sign | A darkly comic memoir on some of Tinseltown’s forgotten faces

Lost Horizons: Beneath the Hollywood SignFrom Universal’s classic monster movies of the 1930s to the fleshpot romps of Russ Meyer in the 1960s, and the European arthouse antics of Fellini and Visconti in the 1970s, cult movies have become part of the fabric of contemporary culture, and we all have fond memories of them.

But what of the actors and actresses you recognise, but whose names you can’t quite remember? We’ve all heard of the King of Horror, Boris Karloff, but can you remember any of the players he starred with in The Mummy, like the exotic Zita Johann or the charming David Manners?

Remember when the late veteran actress Gloria Stuart became the oldest person to be nominated for an Academy Award for Titanic back in 1997? Did you know she worked for Universal in the 1930s (in classics like James Whale’s The Old Dark House), a period which also saw actresses like Gale Sondergaard at their peak before being caught up the McCarthy blacklisting fiasco in the 1950s. Remember her? And what about that great scene in 1978’s Damien: Omen II when Elizabeth Shepherd‘s reporter gets her eyes pecked out by crows. Did you know she was one of Britain’s leading stage actresses in the 1960s. Whatever happened to her?

Lost Horizons: Beneath the Hollywood Sign

From writer, historian and one-time agent, David Del Valle comes the darkly comic memoir, Lost Horizons: Beneath the Hollywood Sign, which follows his own personal journey over 25 years, meeting and befriending many of the old-time and obscure players whose dreams of fame and fortune never quite worked out the way they quite intended.

The late, great Vincent Price described Hollywood as one of the most evil cities on the planet, and he had witnessed enough in his lifetime not to kid around – unlike some of his contemporaries, who got burned on their journey through Tinseltown’s stratosphere. Reading Del Valle’s entries, you certainly get the picture – Hollywood is a Hell of a place to make a living.

Some tragic, some suprising, some plain shocking, the stories are many – too many to explore here in detail here. But whether they’re ancient silent movie actors whose only stage in later life are the cocktail parties they host or attend; or big name veteran stars like John Carradine, Christopher Lee and Vincent Price giving their honest take on living in this Hollywood Babylon, survival is the key theme.

Lost Horizons: Beneath the Hollywood Sign

One of the saddest must be the tragic story of Johnny Eck, best known as the Half-Boy in 1932’s Freaks. After retiring from acting, Eck turned his hand to art and photography, but was left traumatized following a brutal home invasion. The incident left him housebound and fearful for the rest of his sad life. Then there’s Les Baxter, the undisputed king of Exotica. Baxter was living a lonely life in music exile when Del Valle met him. Depressed over unsuccessfully suing John Williams for lifting some of his music for his ET score, Baxter died before his style of lounge music became cool again.

There’s also some deliciously gossipy entries, including one in which Del Valle describes actress Hermione Baddeley and singer Martha Raye entertaining the patrons of a leather bar in West Hollywood, only for the German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder wanting to meet these grand dames. What a sight that would have been.

Lost Horizons: Beneath the Hollywood Sign

Del Valle also has some intimate encounters with some truly offbeat heroes. He gets high on gin and joints watching The Loved One with the film’s writer Terry Southern, the cool hipster immortalized on the Sgt Pepper’s album; trips on LSD with Timothy Leary over Charlie Chan movies; and gets a tour of Russ Meyer’s home, filled with memorabilia from his saucy sex films, including a giant bra.

It all makes for some revealing reading. And, despite the odd typo, I couldn’t put it down as each chapter offered a glimpse into the private lives of an actor, actress, writer, director, musician or muse who have given cinephiles everywhere such joy and excitement over the past 70 years. Less salacious than Kenneth Anger’s infamous trash bible Hollywood Babylon, but no less gossipy, Del Valle’s memoir is a truly touching portrait of the people that were very much a part of old Hollywood. Thankfully, Del Valle has given these fading characters their proper dues, making them shine for us film fans once more.

Lost Horizons: Beneath the Hollywood Sign is available from Amazon

The Wicker Tree (2011) | Robin Hardy’s curiously quirky satire is very much its own little beastie

The Wicker Tree (2011)

Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man is the most celebrated British horror of all time – and for many fans, can never be equalled. So, when Hardy decided to film his 2006 novel Cowboys for Christ, which treads very much the same pagan path as the original cult classic, many fans and critics thought it sacrosanct to do so. Retitled The Wicker Tree for its world premiere at Frightfest in London back in 2011, I went in thinking I was going to loathe it, but I came out converted. Neither sequel nor remake, Hardy’s quirky offshoot is very much its own little beastie.

The Wicker Tree (2011)

Gospel singer Beth (Brittania Nichol) and her cowboy boyfriend Steve (Peaky BlindersHenry Garrett) head out of Texas to spread the word of the Lord in ‘godless’ Scotland. But the chaste singer and her fiancé are unaware that their purity makes them the perfect candidates for an ancient rite. The local laird (The Hobbitt‘s Graham McTavish) has hatched a plan to offer them up as a sacrifice to a pagan god in a bid to make the local population fertile again (an accident at a nuclear power plant has left everyone barren). But, as the May Day celebrations get under way, will the couple finally twig that they’re not just singing for their supper, they’re going to be supper as well?

The Wicker Tree (2011)

Blackly comic, with a host of fabulously eccentric characters, The Wicker Tree is a keenly observed satire that belongs to a different time – in many ways it strongly resembles Lindsay Anderson’s underrated Brittania Hospital. This companion piece to Hardy’s pagan original may not be to every fan/critics taste, but it’s so curiously quirky and deftly-written that it definitely deserves another go. Original star Christopher Lee pops up as an old gentleman.

Christopher Lee in The Wicker Tree

The Wicker Tree gets its UK premiere on The Horror Channel tonight (22 November) at 9pm, and is also available to stream on YouTube from Starzmediavod.

Theatre review | The Gentlemen of Horror | Besties Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee take you backstage for a terribly nice chat

Gentlemen of Horror

Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee defined an era of British horror, starring in a series of Hammer films together for 26 years. When they first worked together in 1957’s The Curse of Frankenstein and the following year’s Dracula, Peter Cushing was one of the most famous actors in Britain, while Christopher Lee was a virtual unknown. For the next quarter of a century, these two killed each other again and again on screen and became firm friends off. As Christopher Lee became internationally famous, Peter Cushing gradually retired into a quiet life by the Kent seaside. And yet neither quite lost their taste for gallows humour… The Gentlemen of Horror takes you backstage on Cushing and Lee’s relationship, into the dressing rooms of the films they made together.

Starring Simon Kane and Matthew Woodcock, directed by Kate Webster and written by James Goss, The Gentlemen of Horror plays at the Phoenix Arts Club from 2 to 7 August 2014, as part of the Camden Fringe (book tickets here).

REVIEW
Five trailers from Cushing and Lee’s exhaustive filmography leads us into five pivotel moments in the friendship of the two stars, beginning with 1957’s The Curse of Frankenstein, then Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973), Star Wars (1977) and finally 1983’s House of Long Shadows, the last film in which the two actors would appear together.

Writer James Goss has done a sterling job in condensing Cushing and Lee’s careers into a one-hour two-hander, with much of the dialogue culled from vintage interviews and the two actors biographies. Given that Cushing’s memoirs are much more candid than Lee’s, it’s no surprise that Cushing does most of the talking – and this is where the play is at its strongest. Cushing’s devotion to his beloved Helen is touchingly handled here, while the evening’s best moment comes when Simon Kane’s Cushing recounts how Jimmy Savile managed to get a rose named after Helen. But Kane ends the story with a joke about the predatory sex offender which literally brings the house down.

Kane and Woodcock may not look or sound like either Cushing or Lee, but they do a sterling job at bringing Goss’s witty and articulate script to life, relying on minimal props, set, wardrobe and make-up. This is an energetic, fascinating piece of the theatre and an affectionate love letter to two icons of British cinema.

CREDITS
Writer James Goss is a former producer of the BBC Cult website and has written a number of books in the Torchwood and Being Human series, a series of audio books (including 2010’s award-winning Dead Air, read by David Tennant), and adapted Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency for the stage.

Actors Simon Kane and Matthew Woodcock can be heard together as Sir Maxwell House and Roy Steel in Wireless Theatre’s podcast, The Monster Hunters. Simon has appeared on Radio 4′s John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme and Before They Were Famous, and has written for Mitchell & Webb. Matthew’s recent work includes The Saint Valentine’s Day Murder for Newgate Productions and The Legend of Springheel’d Jack and Sherlock Holmes Strikes Back with Wireless Theatre Company.

Director Kate Webster has produced and directed plays at the Edinburgh and Camden Fringes, and has worked with Midsommer Actors Company, London Bubble and The Pensive Federation.

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