From Indicator comes the limited edition World Blu-ray premiere of Michael Winner’s 1964 drama, The System.
The first film on which star Oliver Reed and director Michael Winner collaborated (they later made The Jokers, I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘Is Name and Hannibal Brooks ), this is a bitter little essay on class and youth that deserves more recognition.
Reed plays Tinker, a photographer based in the fictional Devon seaside town of Roxham who, each summer, passes on the names of holidaymakers and local lasses to his out-of-towner mates – for a fee, of course. It’s all a bit of harmless fun, but his system turns sour when he tries to woo Nicola (Jane Merrow), the daughter of a wealthy local businessman…
Making great use of the coastal locations (including Brixham Harbour, Paignton Beach and Torquay) and gloriously shot (in black and white) by Nicolas Roeg, The System features a plethora of embryonic British talent, including John Alderton, Derek Nimmo and David Hemmings – who all looking incredibly slim and youthful, while Harry Andrews turns in a powerful character study as a surly photo-shop owner. Reed is perfectly cast here as the ‘Girl-Getters’ leader, and imbues his Tinker with great depth (plus a bit of own notoriously wild personality); while Jane Merrow brings an icy coolness to her fiercely independent heroine that will make you sit up a take notice.
On a trivia note, it was this film that first popularised the word ‘grockle’ – West Country slang for a tourist; and ‘boy!’ do screenwriter Peter Draper and director Michael Winner have great fun taking the mickey out of the stereotypes of the day (who favoured baggy clothing with handkerchiefs on their heads). Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)’s Mike Pratt wrote the catchy theme tune, which is sung by the Merseybeat combo, The Searchers. Winner’s previous film before this was West 11 (read my review here).
• High Definition remaster
• Original mono audio
• Audio commentary with film historians Thirza Wakefield and Melanie Williams
• Getting the Girl (2019, 18 mins): interview with actor Jane Merrow
• Drinking and Dancing (2019, 6 mins): interview with actor John Porter-Davison
• Fun and Games (2019, 4 mins): interview with actor Jeremy Burnham
• Haunted England (1961, 24 mins): Winner’s Eastmancolor travelogue about stately homes and other famous places with ghostly tales to tell, hosted by broadcaster David Jacobs
• Image gallery
• New and improved English subtitles
• Collector’s booklet with essays on the film and Haunted England, contemporary critical responses, and film credits.
Legendary hellraiser Oliver Reed may be better remembered for his drinking antics than his acting credits, but I think a reappraisal of the spirited thespian’s cinematic roles is long overdue – especially after watching this 2010 release from Eureka Entertainment.
Having made his name in Hammer’s Curse of the Werewolf in 1961 after a string of minor roles – including playing a camp chorus boy in The League of Gentlemen – and five years short of achieving stardom as Bill Sikes’ in Oliver!, Reed gives a terrifically OTT turn in 1962’s Paranoiac! – the third of Hammer’s psychological thrillers to be penned by Jimmy Sangster (The Curse of Frankenstein).
Loosely adapted from a 1949 crime novel by Brat Farrar, this Psycho-inspired chiller sees Reed take on the role of the greedy, egotistical Simon Ashby, the spoilt heir to a family fortune. Janette Scott (of Day of the Triffids fame) is his mentally fragile sister Eleanor, while Sheila Burrell plays aunt Harriett, who acts as the siblings’ guardian following the death of their parents. With the family fortune about to be split, Simon psychologically tortures his sister in a bid to have her declared unfit. But his plans come royally unstuck when his supposedly dead brother Tony (Alexander Davion) returns home…
Twists and turns abound in this gripping chiller that fuses an Agatha Christie-type mystery with gothic horror scares – particularly a ‘what the Hell’ moment involving the family chapel, a wheezing organ and a very creepy masked figure – and adding a dash of fratricide, incest and insanity for good measure.
As the deranged Simon, Reed is a stand out and the scenes where he is drinking and lashing out are weirdly prophetic. Making his directorial debut is Oscar-winning cinematographer Freddie Francis, who has a real eye for creating scenes of suspense – helped greatly by the eerie lighting and the stunning Dorset locations.
Eureka Classics‘ 2010 Blu-ray and DVD release features a stunning restored Cinemascope HD transfer, along with a music and effects track and trailer as extras, and this is a must-have for your Hammer collection – and one to include alongside the Final Cut release of Hammer’s follow-up chiller, Nightmare, which I reviewed here.
Burnt Offerings (1976) | Why does Dan Curtis’ American Gothic haunted house chiller still frighten me so?
This is the face of the man who scared the bejesus out of my 12-year-old self… and he’s coming back to haunt me once again with Arrow’s HD release of Dan Curtis’ 1976 horror Burnt Offerings – coming out tomorrow (17 October).
Ben (Oliver Reed) and Marian (Karen Black) can’t believe their luck when they rent a vast country mansion for just $900 for the entire summer. All they have to do is look after the house as if it was there own – and to take a daily tray up to the elderly and reclusive Mrs Allardyce.
But as they settle in with their son Davey (Lee Montgomery) and Ben’s beloved aunt Elizabeth (Bette Davis), the house begins to exerts a dark influence on the inhabitants – especially Marian, who becomes obsessed with the unseen old lady at the top of the stairs.
As more strange occurrences take place, it soon becomes evident to Ben that the house is an evil living presence… Can he convince Marian to leave with the family before its too late?
Burnt Offerings is one of the most underrated chillers of all-time. Co-written, produced and directed by the legendary Dan Curtis (Dark Shadows, Trilogy of Terror), and adapted from the 1973 Robert Marasco novel by Logan’s Run author William F Nolan, its a rare thing indeed: being subtle in its horror, featuring a standout cast, and spinning social commentary in its inventive take on the old haunted house story: one in which the viewer becomes an unwitting voyeur as the family firstly fall under the house’s spell, then slowly being consumed by it.
There are scenes that have haunted me for decades: like the rough house play between father and son in the swimming pool that turns deadly dangerous, the house shedding its old shingles as it rejuvenates itself, and that grinning ghostly chauffeur that haunts Ben’s visions. The fact that the chauffeur was the spitting image of my own dad only added to my own nightmares. And don’t start me on that chimney…
From the cameos by Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart to child actor Lee Montgomery, everyone in the cast is brilliant, especially scary-eyed Karen Black whose transformation into the house’s clean-freak servant (in Victorian gothic garb, of course) is genuinely disturbing. But for me, it’s Bette Davis who really impresses. Watching her carefree, chain-smoking Aunt Elizabeth wither away before our eyes is terribly sad and truly terrifying.
It’s been decades since I first saw Burnt Offerings, and revisiting it, I prayed that I would not be disappointed. Thankfully I wasn’t. If anything, I’ve learned to appreciate it even more as it’s not only an excellent exercise in creeping terror, it also has an insightful underlying theme about the destruction of the American Dream in possessing material things.
THE ARROW SPECIAL FEATURES
• High Definition Blu-ray and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the feature, transferred from original film elements by MGM. (This is the same print as the Kino Lorber release, and looks terrific. It’s so pristine, you can practically feel the sweat and blood pouring off poor Ollie Reed, and the shadowy cinematography really shines).
• Original uncompressed PCM mono audio.
• Optional English subtitles.
• Audio commentary with Dan Curtis, Karen Black and William F Nolan. I’m so going to nominate this for a Rondo. It’s not only informative and insightful, it’s an important historical record as both Dan Curtis and Karen Black are no longer with us.
• Audio commentary with film critic Richard Harland Smith. (After hearing Curtis and co, I haven’t really bothered with this… as yet).
• Acting His Face: Interview with actor Anthony James (aka that scary chauffeur).
• Blood Ties: Interview with actor Lee Montgomery. This is what I sought out first after revisiting the movie, and its great to hear about Lee’s experiences of working with theatrical giants like Bette Davis (who took him under her wing) and Oliver Reed (who got him drunk).
• From the Ashes: Interview with screenwriter William F Nolan (this guy is legend)
• Animated gallery
• Collector’s booklet (first pressing only).
His Plundering Army of Bandit Raiders Sweeps to Glory
Across the Plains of India!
In director John Gilling‘s 1965 adventure The Brigand of Kandahar, it’s 1850 and the British Army are holed up in a fort in remote north-east India (actually Bray studios in Berkshire), valiantly trying to protect the Empire’s interests.
When mixed-race British officer Lieutenant Case (Ronald Lewis) is unjustly discharged, he finds himself being becoming a pawn in a rebel plot to attack the fort. Oliver Reed hams it up wildly as the ‘half-mad’ tribesman leader Eli Khan, while Yvonne Romain lends her exotic beauty to play his treacherous sister Ratina.
Meanwhile, when Glyn Houston’s foreign journalist Marriott sets out to uncover the truth behind the officer’s dismissal, he discovers not everything’s as it seems…
While it wouldn’t win any awards for historical accuracy or political correctness (especially the use of white actors ‘blacked-up’, and the scant regard for Benjali culture or customs), this studio-bound non-horror Hammer is a lively enough romp to enjoy on a lost weekend, with Romain’s busty performance and Reed’s shouty turn being the film’s highlights.
The Brigand of Kandahar is out DVD in the UK from StudioCanal Home Entertainment and also screens on Movies4Men (Sky 325, Freeview 48, Freesat 304) on Sunday 22 May at 3.30pm
Ten Little Indians (1974) | The Agatha Christie who’s next whodunnit gets the Harry Alan Towers treatment
Ten strangers are invited to the luxurious Persian desert hotel owned by the wealthy, but absent, Mr Owen where they learn, from a mysterious voice, that retribution is at hand as each one of them is an unpunished murderer…
1974’s Ten Little Indians (aka And Then There Were None) which screens on ITV3 HD tonight at 1.15am was the third film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s best-selling 1939 novel (whose original title was latter changed for being racially insensitive) by legendary exploitation producer Harry Alan Towers, whose Euro thrillers were all bankrolled on the back of deals made with hoteliers and government tourism ministers around the world, and getting big name stars to sign up for a glorified paid holiday.
For this ‘international movie mess’ which is how Vincent Canby of the New York Times described the film, the fabulous Abbasi Hotel (then known as the Shah Abbas Hotel) in Isfahan, Iran stood in for the desert home of U.N. Owen (voiced by Orson Welles, who played Long John Silver in Towers’ Treasure Island in 1972).
But aside from the opulent hotel and a haunting score from an uncredited Bruno Nicolai, the most entertaining thing about the film (which was directed by Peter Collinson of The Italian Job fame, but who ended up helming genre fare like Fright, Open Season and Straight On Til Morning) is the starry cast, which included two former Bond villains Gert (Goldfinger) Fröbe and Adolfo (Largo) Celi, as well as Oliver Reed, Charles Aznavour, Herbert Lom, Richard Attenborough, Elke Sommer, Stéphane Audran and Maria Rohm (aka Mrs Harry Alan Towers). And as for the award to the best ‘worst’ performance – well, if you can stay awake until the end, then it’s a toss up between Reed and Aznavour (who lip-synchs his trademark song The Old Fashioned Way).
Fans of the classic mystery might like to know that an all-star three-part dramatisation is heading to BBC1 over Christmas.
Love him or loathe him, British director Ken Russell (1927-2011) was a true maverick. His canon of films – the most well-known being 1969’s Women in Love, 1971’s The Devils and The Who’s Tommy in 1975 – polarised audiences and critics alike with their flamboyant and outrageous sexual imagery and not-so subtle attacks on church and state, but they remain testament to one’s man’s unique artistic vision – the likes of which we will never see again.
Passionate about classical music Ken Russell wrote books on famous composers and directed a string of highly individual biopics on the likes of Elgar, Liszt, Delius, Tchaikovsky and Mahler. In his dazzling 1974 film about the life of Gustav Mahler, Russell sets the 19th-century Austrian composer’s music to his own blood-soaked visual interpretations, against a background of flashbacks on a train journey when the composer (Robert Powell) has only a few days to live. One naked girl emerges from a mummy-like chrysalis; another performs a striptease with Nazi soldiers; Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries turns into a Busby Berkeley routine; and there’s a wild horse ride through moonlit woods. It’s all quite surreal and pure Russell excess. But, above all, it makes you want to search out more of Mahler’s music.
Russell followed Mahler with the Oscar-nominated rock opera Tommy, written by The Who’s Pete Townshend, about a deaf, dumb and blind boy (Roger Daltrey) who becomes a Messiah-like figure. With its wild visuals (a sea of baked beans anyone?) and amazing cast – including Ann-Margret (who scored an Oscar nod), Oliver Reed as a chillingly-effective teddy boy, and Tina Turner camping it up as the Acid Queen, it’s no wonder Russell’s feature-length pop video has since become legendary.
Tommy (Blu-ray and DVD) and Mahler (DVD) releases are available from Odeon Entertainment in the UK
Tommy also screens today on BBC2 HD at 12.35am
Following their full-blooded Frankenstein, Dracula and the Mummy box-office hits, Hammer turned to Guy Endore’s novel The Werewolf of Paris for their next creature feature, 1961’s The Curse of the Werewolf.
EVEN THOSE WHO LOVED HIM WERE NOT SAFE!
In 18th century Spain, a mute servant girl (Yvonne Romain) is raped in dungeons of a debauched marquis, escapes and then attempts suicide. Rescued by a kindly professor (Clifford Evans), she dies giving birth on Christmas Day to boy, who turns out to be a werewolf. Unaware of his ‘curse’, little Leon grows up to become a fine young man (Oliver Reed), but when his heart is broken, the monster within breaks out in vengeful fury…
THIS SUMMER’S NEW BIG THRILL!
Producer Anthony Hinds wrote a screenplay (under the pen name of John Elder) filled with romance and tragedy, but also touching on patriarchal perversity, while director Terence Fisher (fresh from The Two Faces of Jekyll) was given full reign to bring the evocative two-part story to the screen.
In his first credited screen appearance, Oliver Reed makes a splendid debut, bringing both sensitivity and terrifying aggression to the role of the confused, tortured Leon, while Roy Ashton’s excellent make-up, involving lots of yak hair, helps to emphasis Reed’s famously brutish, brooding features.
Also making her debut is Yvonne Romain, whose abused mute servant dominates the first half of Hammer’s ‘dangerous cocktail’ of ‘horror and sex’ which ended up having almost five minutes of cuts before the film’s release in May 1961, where it appeared on a double bill with The Shadow of the Cat.
While it remains one of Hammer’s best features, the box-office returns were not sufficient enough to warrant another werewolf project. Interestingly the film’s action is set in Spain only because Hammer had built some sets for an unrealised film about the Spanish Inquisition.
THE FINAL CUT ENTERTAINMENT RELEASE
Presented in Blu-ray, this Final Cut Entertainment release includes the following extras:
• Censoring the Werewolf: A new 13-minute documentary directed by Hammer Films historian Marcus Hearn.
• The Making of Curse of the Werewolf: Which includes interviews with actresses Catherine Feller and Yvonne Romain, and art director Don Mingaye.
• Lycanthropy: The Beast in All of Us: featurette
• Stills Gallery
As part of the BFI: Days of the Fear and Wonder season, David Cronenberg’s body-horror The Brood gets a special screening on Sunday November 16 at 8.45pm. Here’s my take on the 2013 UK Blu-ray release from Second Sight…
Dr Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed) is a respected Toronto psychotherapist whose latest book, The Shape of Rage, outlines his radical therapy in which patients externalise their traumas in the form of develop boils and welts. His greatest success is Nola (Samantha Eggar), whose anger gives birth to ectoplasmic ‘broodlets’ who start killing anyone who upsets her. Caught up in the nightmare is Nola’s estranged husband Frank (Art Hindle), who uncovers the horrifying truth while trying to stop his emotionally damaged wife from taking custody of their daughter Candy (Cindy Hinds).
The Brood continued director David Cronenberg’s fascination with body horror that began with Shivers (1974) and Rapid (1977), but it’s a very different beast as there’s more emphasis on internal drama than action. This was born out of Cronenberg’s own personal troubles (he was going through a divorce at the time), which he uses as a starting point before cranking up the fright factor to unleash another psychogenetic experiment gone wrong.
The unsettling, accomplished result won over the critics, who finally took the underground filmmaker seriously, while the censors dislike of the disturbing climatic scenes only served to whet audience appetites. Cronenberg was now the undisputed dark overlord of body horror and his next film would be his crowning achievement, Scanners.
Giving understated performances are legendary hell raiser Oliver Reed as the mad doctor whose pursuit for knowledge has unleashed an evil force, and Samantha Eggar, who is downright scary here. The make-up effects for the mutant brood – whose lot includes Felix Silla (aka Cousin Itt from TV’s The Addams Family) – was conceived by Jack H Young, who also did the munchkins in 1939’s Wizard of Oz.
THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
Aside a pristine HD presentation of the feature film, the Second Sight Films UK Blu-ray release also includes interviews with director David Cronenberg, actors Art Hindle and Cindy Hind, cinematographer Mark Irwin, producer Pierre David and actor Robert A Silverman.
DID YOU KNOW?
During the school-bludgeoning scene, those are real sounds of kids crying. The poor children were actually frightened by the play acting.
CRONENBERG ON CRONENBERG
‘Horror films are invariably about death. For me, death is not a spiritual or occult sort of thing, its very physical. One of the main facts of human existence and the human condition is the physicality of the human body; so most of my films are very body conscious. They have to do with physical existence and what happens when that physical existence breaks down in some radical way, through aging, disease, violence of whatever. They’re meditations on the fact of death, and what you do with that fact, psychologically.’ Fangoria Issue No3. December 1979
The Damned (1963) | Bikers and boffins head for a radioactive showdown in Joseph Losey’s chilling British sci-fi
From acclaimed director Joseph Losey comes The Damned, a chilling British sci-fi film noir from 1963 set in… Weymouth.
Come At Your Own Risk …If You Come Alone!
Trying to escape a gang of Teddy Boy bikers, a middle-aged American sailor (Macdonald Carey of Days of Our Lives fame) and the sister of a vicious gang leader (played by a youthful Oliver Reed) hide out inside a highly classified military base. Here, they find a group of radioactive children (including a very young Nicholas Clay) who are being groomed to repopulate an Earth following the inevitable atomic apocalypse. Shirley Anne Field lets rip as Reed’s slapper of a sister, while veteran Swedish actress Viceca Lindfors plays a bohemian sculptress whose creepy art pieces were actually the work of celebrated artist Elizabeth Frink.
Adapted from HL Lawrence’s novel Children of the Light, The Damned is a bizarre blend of rebel youth culture, arthouse pretension and fatalistic sci-fi that all comes together thanks to Evan Jones’ intelligent screenplay (it was written just two weeks before filming began because the director chucked out the first treatment) and Losey’s stylish eye. Fascinating and foreboding in equal measures; this ranks as one of Hammer’s most unique releases and a highpoint for post-war British sci-fi. Cut by censors from 96 to 87 minutes in Britain and 77 minutes in America (where it was called These Are The Damned), the film was restored by Columbia in 2007.
The Damned screens at the BFI Southbank on 25 and 28 October as part of the Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder season, and is also available on DVD in the UK from Hammer Films.
The Party’s Over (1963) | Watch Oliver Reed’s mercurial performance in Guy Hamilton’s corrosive tale of Chelsea beatniks
‘Life is a cocktail all ready to mix… Live for the moment and drain every drop. When you’re really living, who knows when to stop‘. So sings Annie Ross over the closing credits of 1963’s The Party’s Over, part of the BFI’s Flipside collection, which is now also available to stream on BFI Player (£3.50/£2.98).
What’s not to like about Bond director Guy Hamilton’s once hard-to-find gem: the hip Chelsea locations, the cool John Barry jazz score, a script littered with juicy one liners about youth, rebellion, politics and revolution; and Oliver Reed doing what he always does best – drink, smoke and act so goddam cool. Oh, those were the days.
The film also famously earned the wrath of the British censor over its supposed corrosive impact on youth and was denied a certificate. Rank ended up selling the film, which was then re-cut (in 1965) as a crude exploitation thriller that the filmmakers disowned as a ‘a nasty, smutty tale with no point or purpose.’ The BFI’s Flipside release, however, is the original theatrical release.
Future Days of Our Lives soap star Louise Sorel plays chic American Melina, who falls in with Oliver Reed’s wild partying beatnik gang (all upper middle class layabouts) to escape her wealthy controlling father (Eddie Albert). When her fiancé Carson (Clifford David) arrives from the US, she refuses to see him.
Undeterred by her cat and mouse antics, Carson moves into the gang’s digs (the famed Pheasantry at 152 King’s Road) to wait it out. But when it looks as though Melina has skipped town, Carson soon finds himself falling for the charms of Nina (one-time Star Trek actress Katherine Woodville).
The sudden suicide of one of the gang and the arrival of Melina’s father sparks a dark turn, but the party really is over when the shocking, awful truth about what happened to Melina is slowly revealed (Its a twist that, even now, is truly disturbing).
For a nostalgic trip into the dark side of Swinging 1960s London, The Party’s Over is a definite must-have, and a forgotten classic that so deserves to be elevated to the status it rightfully deserves.