When the BBC1 TV series Doomwatch began hitting the headlines in the early 1970s and shows like On the Buses started heading into cinemas, Tigon’s Tony Tenser rushed out this big-screen spin off in the hope it would become the new Quatermass. But this ‘Chilling Story from Today’s headline’ was not the success that Tigon had hoped for, and ended up sitting on the shelf following its disappointing run in UK cinemas.
An ecological nightmare gone berserk!
A year after an oil tanker sinks off the west coast of England, Doomwatch scientist Dr Del Shaw (Ian Bannen) heads to the isolated island of Balfe to investigate the effects on marine life and discovers the local population have also been affected, creating physical abnormalities and turning the men-folk aggressive. Seeking out the aid of local teacher (Judy Geeson), Shaw then finds he has a battle on his hands trying to convince the locals he wants to help the, while also trying to get the Ministry of Defence and a chemical corporation to accept responsibility for the accident.
Director Peter Sasdy (Countess Dracula), cinematographer Ken Talbot (Hands of the Ripper) and production designer Colin Grimes (Nothing But the Night) do what they can with a script by Clive Exton (10 Rillington Place), that was part thriller, part horror, part ecological drama, and was shot on location around Polkerris and Falmouth in Cornwall and at Pinewood in October 1971.
But there isn’t enough depth, action or sense of menace to make it work, which also lessens the impact of Tom Smith’s effective makeup. Even the classic Doctor Who serial The Green Death, which used the mutations vs multinationals premise, is way more effective; and we all know how brilliant The Wicker Man turned out, a film which also followed an official’s investigation of a closed island community.
It was disappointing for fans of the TV show to see regulars John Paul and Simon Oates taking a back seat in the film, and their replacements are not that much cop either. Ian Bannen comes off as overly shouty and unempathic, while Judy Geeson seems like a fish out of water as the mainland school teacher who has no connection with the locals. At least she doesn’t eat their fish!
Future Bond star Geoffrey Keen and veteran actor George Sanders put in safe, but dull cameos, but its Shelagh Fraser who brings some unlikely comic relief as the nosey local who possesses the only phone on the island. And keen-eyed viewers will catch future EastEnders‘ star Pam St Clement playing one of the villagers.
Doomwatch has been digitally restored for a Blu-ray and DVD region free release by Screenbound Pictures, available from 20 June 2016
• Read all about the original Doomwatch TV series UK DVD release HERE
The House of the Seven Gables (1940) | When Universal adpated Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic Gothic novel
AN ANCIENT HOUSE! A MURDER SECRET! A HIDDEN TREASURE!
For 160 years the New England Pyncheons have lived under a curse after an ancestor had a man called Matthew Maule condemned to hang so that he could steal his land and build his dream house in Salem. When patriarch Gerald (Gilbert Emery) dies during a heated argument with his aspiring songwriter son Clifford (Vincent Price), his other son, Boston lawyer Jaffrey (George Sanders) seizes on the opportunity to claim the house for himself and have his brother sent down for murder.
But when Clifford’s intended bride Hepzibah (Margaret Lindsay) inherits the family estate, she kicks Jaffrey out and locks herself up in the house and from the outside world. Two decades later, Hepzibah has turned into a bitter sinister, but the arrival of orphaned niece Phoebe (Nan Grey) and the machinations of a mysterious lodger Holgrave (Dick Foran) could prove to change her fortune, and reunite her with her beloved Clifford.
‘What a pity man must inherit their ancestors ignorance, instead of their wisdom’
This 1940 Universal melodrama, directed by Joe May, is a handsome adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1851 novel, but fuses its Gothic themes of guilt, retribution and atonement with a contemporary take on Cain and Abel and a bittersweet romance over three acts.
Appearing in one of his earliest screen roles, Vincent Price’s native midwestern accent comes through, especially in the first act, where he brings an educated, theatrical quality to his happy-go-lucky bohemian Clifford who despises his family’s dark history. And this is used to great effect in his trial scene (a travesty of justice that infers the Salem witch trials of 1692), in which he evokes Maule’s curse (‘God has given him blood to drink’) on his brother Jaffrey, who has used the most degenerate means to keep the house on the belief a fortune in land deeds and gold lies hidden within its walls. And following Clifford’s incarceration, Price’s voice takes on a melancholy timbre to denote his weariness at his captivity. He would go on to use this sombre tone to great effect in his more famous roles, in which he played cads and villains, but here he shows his mettle as a romantic leading man.
Keen eyed viewers might recognise a scene in which Vincent Price’s Clifford points out the unsavoury professions of his ancestors whose portraits decorate the walls of the family home, for it was later used by Roger Corman in his first Poe picture, The House of Usher, and then spoofed by Price in 1966’s Dr Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine.
Vincent’s voice also comes in fine form in singing the theme tune, The Color of Your Eyes, by Frank Skinner and Ralph Reed. But it’s not the only time that Price would display his wonderful baritone on screen. He filmed a musical sequence for 1944’s Laura, but it was removed in the final cut, while for many years his singing at the end of Dr Phibes Rises Again (Somewhere Over the Rainbow) and Madhouse (When Day Is Done) went missing in action during the VHS era.
While Vincent Price and George Sanders (at his slimy best) are the star names here, they were virtually unknowns at the time, while 1930s star Margaret Lindsay is a revelation, and watching her Hepzibah change from light and gay sweetheart to bitter crone (whose rasping voice sounds very much like Eva Green’s Vanessa Ives in Penny Dreadful) is pathos personified.
As Matthew Maule, a direct descendant of the man who cursed the Pyncheons and a committed abolitionist who helps Clifford get his revenge, Dick Foran makes for a engaging hero, but his character also gave the film’s screenwriter Lester Cole the chance to inject some personal political views with lines like: ‘How is it possible to arrest a man for speaking freely of freedom in a country whose constitution guarantees freedom – and justice?’. These left-wing views would later earn the film some notoriety when it was shown on TV in the 1950s during the McCarthy communist witch-hunt era.
But the film’s politics are overshadowed by the film’s two romantic storylines which see Hepzibah and Clifford finally reuniting after so long apart, and Matthew (masquerading as Holgrave) courting and catching Phoebe, while providence and fate work against the vile Jaffrey.
The direction might be a touch too sentimental for modern audiences, but the solid lead performances, Frank Skinner’s Oscar-nominated musical score, the atmospheric photography and the authentic recreation of the original 16th-century Turner-Ingersoll mansion in Salem that inspired the Hawthorne novel, makes this Universal melodrama a classic worth repeating.
The only extra is a 10-minute interview with star Vincent Price on Aspel and Company (1984) in which he looks back at some highs and lows of his screen career, and reveals to the British chat show host Michael Aspel what frightens him most.
From the late Eurotika director Jess Franco comes The Girl from Rio, a cocktail swilling 1960s espionage actioner starring Bond girl Shirley Eaton as a bisexual super villain hell-bent on conquering the world with an army of beautiful women. But standing in her way is George Sanders’ slimy British mobster and Richard Wyler’s square-jawed secret agent…
BEHIND THE VENEER
Inspired by the comic strip capers of 1966′s Modesty Blaise and 1968′s Barbarella, Franco and producer Harry Alan Towers first gave Sax Rohmer’s female Fu Manchu, Sumuru, a kinky makeover in 1967’s The Million Eyes of Sumuru. This colourful campy 1969 sequel isn’t in their league, but it does make great use of Rio’s Sugarloaf mountain (and gave Sanders and co an exotic paid holiday), while the cool production design and sexy sci-fi clobber are very much of the era. There’s also quite a bit of flesh on show and a large chunk of running time devoted to Rio’s carnival. Eaton retired from acting after making this film, while Sanders, who was already in poor health, would take his own life just three years later, in 1972.
Mediumrare Entertainment offers a fine print on this UK DVD release, with some interesting extras including a 2004 documentary featuring director Franco, who sums up his films as: ‘It’s not art, but it makes you happy.’
A might see. This is strictly for Jesus Franco completists.