Me Huginn beak kiss

9. The Masque of the Red Death (1964), dir. Roger Corman

I synchro-watched this with [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 on Friday from a Talking Pictures TV broadcast which we'd both recently recorded. I have seen it before of course. I can't remember how old I was when one of the terrestrial TV channels (probably BBC2) did a late night Poe / Corman / Price season, but that was my first introduction to all three of them, and as I know I was avidly reading Poe by the age of about 14, it must have been before that. Later, I also had the pleasure of attending a Masque of the Red Death-inspired actual Masquerade Ball in 2006, which was quite, quite wonderful in many ways. But all of that was before I started writing regular film reviews here, so I haven't actually said anything about the film.

Price's Prospero is just great, and it's in many ways the definitive role for him. (Though actually, I could readily say that of many of his other roles coming to think of it.) He starts out as a cartoonish villain, proclaiming things like "Burn the village to the ground!" and is at his cattiest best when he tells a nobleman offering his wife as 'payment' to let them come into the castle that "I've already had that doubtful pleasure". But as the film goes on he gradually reveals, mainly to Francesca, something more of his inner jadedness and torment, and indeed an almost philosophical world-view. Juliana, his Lady Macbeth-ish wife, has much simpler motivations, throwing herself eagerly into the worship of Satan because she thinks it will bring her immortality and triumph over her competitors. But Prospero - for all that he is certainly petty and cruel at the same time - does it more because he is disillusioned with the world and the limitations of the Christian faith. It's a complexity which Price unveils and sustains in his unique fashion, as he did repeatedly throughout Corman's Poe adaptations. And, again as so often, we see it comprehensively deconstructed at the end of the film, when the Red Death appears and proclaims that he is simply death - not Satan or Satan's servant come to reward Prospero for his devotion.

But this is not just a great Price film. It's a great film with Price in it. His villainy would fall flat without the courtiers cruelly laughing along as his humiliates their fellows, Hop-Toad gets his fiery revenge on Alfredo (in the gorilla suit) for humiliating his wife, and Francesca's lover Gino and father Ludovico are forced to play poison dagger roulette in front of her. Visually, it's beautiful, from the howling wind and monochrome winter landscape outside the castle to the luxury within. I have a better appreciation now that I've read up a bit on Hammer's studio sets for how expensive and impressive the interior castle sets must have been at the time, with the way you can see across one huge room and through arch-ways into another, expanding away into the distance. And of course we all remember the striking coloured rooms with their details of Moorish window shapes, suitably coloured flowers and tableware. In the final, darkest room, as she approaches the altar for the ritual which she believes will make her Satan's bride, the lighting on Hazel Court is absolutely perfect, making her face and a plume of smoke from the incense stick she is carrying stand out just enough from the darkness. The hallucinogenic sacrifice scene which follows also makes good use of sound, creating an uncanny, out-of-body feel as we see but don't hear her screams, while a similar device is used to convey the impact of the Red Death in the final scenes as the bustle and music of the ball cedes to silence and slow, hypnotic motions as he passes by.

Talking Pictures quite deliberately broadcast this film now because the coronavirus pandemic gives it a new relevance, and I applaud the decision. Watching it with COVID eyes, we engaged in some discussion as the film went on about how the red death eventually gets into the castle, which neither us of could remember clearly. Was Francesca an asymptomatic carrier, so that Prospero was effectively punished for the lust that made him bring her inside? What about Gino and Ludovico, her lover and father, whom Prospero holds and visits in his dungeons? Who was touching or breathing on whom? But this isn't how the logic of the film works at all. Though on the surface the figure of the Red Death declares that he claims peasant and prince, worthy and dishonoured alike, in fact it is very much a morality tale, in which he enters into the castle to punish Prospero and his guests for their selfish cruelty, while allowing the innocent and good-hearted Francesca to escape. This is all too tempting a line to pursue in a drama, where it delivers the reassuring message that if we behave well enough, we too will be safe. But COVID has made us all perhaps more aware than ever that this sort of moral take on disease is no morality at all, since its logical conclusion is that the sick are to blame for their own suffering. That is a very harmful belief to transfer to real life.

Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

Dracula Scars wine

8. The Magic Christian (1969), dir. Joseph McGrath

This is one of four films in which Christopher Lee plays a spoof version of his own performances as Dracula. The others are Tempi Duri per i Vampiri (1959), Dracula père et fils (1976) and One More Time (1970), which I haven't seen.

It's a comedy (obviously), in which the main characters are played by Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr. I must say I'm no fan of Peter Sellers. Dr. Strangelove and Being There are both very good films, but mainly because both are dark political satires. In my experience, the more straightforwardly 'funny' Sellers thinks he's trying to be, the less I want to watch him.

This one is surreal and experimental, in a way that could only really have come out of the late 1960s. It's perhaps all too easy to label it 'proto-Monty Python', given that it literally has both John Cleese and Graham Chapman in it, very shortly before the first series of actual Monty Python aired, but it does feature a lot of their sort of humour. Examples include the helicopter pilot called Pontius, a scene in which the central characters go to the theatre to see Hamlet, and the person in the title role starts doing a strip tease complete with raunchy music and neon signs during the 'To be or not to be' soliloquy scene, and an escalating absurdity gag in which they go out with rifles to shoot game birds, but quickly upgrade to machine guns, rocket launchers and tanks.

It has a central plot, in which Peter Sellers' character, Sir Guy Grand, adopts Ringo Starr's, who begins the film as a homeless person sleeping in the park, but is given the name Youngman Grand by his new adoptive father. Guy Grand is so immensely rich that he can basically do whatever he likes, and his main interest seems to be performing experiments to explore the effect of money on other people. As he puts it, everyone has their price. So he goes round bribing a parking inspector £500 to literally eat his own ticket, offering an art dealer £30,000 for a (possible) Rembrandt before cutting it up in front of his eyes, bribing a team of Oxford dark blues to turn the Boat Race into a fight, and scattering fresh bank-notes into a vat of blood, urine and faeces adorned with a sign saying 'FREE MONEY HERE' and then standing back to watch as a lot of City types with bowler hats and umbrellas wade in to retrieve them.

But these episodes are exactly that - episodic. Where many another film about a person from the top of the social hierarchy adopting someone from the bottom would concentrate closely on those characters, developing them and showing us scenes in which they at first clashed or failed to understand one another, but then eventually reached a common ground and were reconciled, there is nothing of that here. Indeed, you don't even hear the dialogue in the initial scene when Guy goes up and introduces himself to Youngman in the park - just see it from a distance. After that, the adoption is simply a done deal, and Youngman follows Guy around the place as he requires, not doing much other than observing and saying 'Yes, Dad' as a lot of strange things happen to them.

Quite a bit of the humour reflects the era's growing awareness of sexual and ethnic minorities, in ways that generally side against the 'squares' who aren't au fait with such matters, but not necessarily with the minorities in question. At one point, two boxers all squared up for a big macho fight in front of the TV cameras surprise everyone by kissing instead of punching each other (not that we see it directly), whereupon the commentator observes: "The crowd seem to be sickened by the sight of no blood." Later, Yul Brynner as a transvestite cabaret artist delivers a sultry performance of 'Mad About the Boy' which culminates in him lifting off his blonde wig to the horror of a hitherto-entranced patron. And a passenger on the cruise ship from which the film takes its title is heard making reactionary racist remarks shortly before discovering that the evening's entertainment is a pair of Mr Universe body-builders, one Afro-Caribbean and one Causcasian, who strut their stuff to a song about 'Black and White', and are later seen dancing together at the ship's disco.

As for Christopher Lee, he's one of many, many star cameos in the film, some others of which I've already referenced above. He initially appears on the cruise ship dressed in a smart ship's waiter's uniform, delivering a tray of drinks to a female passenger, and I suppose the original audience would have assumed at first that he was no more than that. But the surprise twist is so utterly blown now that it's the very reason I watched this film - in fact, he turns out to be a vampire, who first bares his teeth and bends over the woman to help himself to a drink of his own, before striding down the corridor, cloak billowing, to follow up with a chaser of the captain. The corridor scene in particular is very effectively shot with a backwards-tracking camera in slightly slow motion, and in some ways perhaps captures the essence of his Dracula performances better by dint of being an overblown parody than Hammer could ever quite manage when presenting him seriously. He and Hammer were absolutely at the apogee of them at this point, churning out an average of roughly one a year, and the cameo must have felt like quite the snapshot of the contemporary zeitgeist.

But it's all over in a few seconds, though it is quite crucial to the plot, as it's also the cue for everything in the ship to descend into total chaos and anarchy. Soon afterwards, it turns out never to have left the dock at all, but to have been shut up in a warehouse in central London all along, while its passengers underwent a fake cruising experience. Guy Grand's group barely notices.

There's a sort of charm to the movie as a whole, but probably not the same charm its original viewers were expected to feel. The Beatles' 'Come And Get It' is the centrepiece of the soundtrack, usually played straightforwardly, but sometimes picked up by e.g. a marching band for a bit of variation. For a song which I'm pretty sure was meant to sound full of youthful spirit and joie de vivre, it somehow comes across as sad and wistful in this movie, much as I often find is also the case with Hanoi Rocks songs (none of which I ever heard until well after Razzle had already died in Vince Neil's car). It's all very obviously a relic of a bygone age.

Anyway, for those who might like to see Christopher Lee's scenes, but can't be bothered with the whole movie, if you have a FB account they are all included in this video of the climactic scenes on the cruise ship. Indeed, if you don't even want to sit through 7 minutes and 22 seconds just for about 30 seconds of Christopher Lee (however good those 30 seconds might be), his bits start at 02:52 and 04:48. Enjoy!

Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

Willow pump

Classic Who: The Daemons (1971), The Awakening (1984)

I had initially intended to follow up my little trip out to greet the sunrise on May morning with a ritual viewing of The Wicker Man, but I have seen that film quite a few times now, and the more I thought about it the more I realised that actually I had a copy of the classic Doctor Who story The Daemons recorded on my Sky box (from back when the Horror channel was showing it), which is also set on and around May Day. Furthermore, I had been meaning for ages to track down and revisit The Awakening, which I remember vividly from my childhood for involving one of the Doctor's companions (I'd misremembered Peri, but it is actually Tegan) being about to be sacrificed as a Queen of the May. So a May Day double bill was born.

Collapse )

Collapse )

All in all a good way to mark May Day, and perhaps also a timely reminder to myself that lockdown poses an excellent opportunity to fill in some more of the Classic Who stories which I've either never seen, or not for too long.

Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

Dracula 1958 cloak

7. Dracula (1958), dir. Terence Fisher

I synchro-watched this with [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 yesterday afternoon, as we were in need of some comfort-viewing. I've reviewed it a bunch of times before (previous reviews all linked from here: LJ / DW), so won't say too much about it here. We mainly spent the time squeeing over its many wonderful features - the pineapple, Lee's swishy cloak, the resolution of the Cushing finger and the expansive feel of the sets. And occasionally discussing the continuity questions it raises, like how come it is May when Harker arrives at Dracula's castle, but 1st December when Dracula's hearse goes through the customs post at Ingstadt.

[personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 did raise the interesting question of whether the Bride means it on any level when she talks about what an evil man Dracula is, and how he is keeping her a prisoner in the castle. That is, is it all wholly a ruse to get Jonathan Harker to come close enough to her for her to bite him? Or is it to some degree a true reflection of how she feels about having become a victim of Dracula herself at some time in the past and been condemned to vampirism because of it, which the vampire possession now affecting her can easily mobilise precisely because it is true? I suspect that probably is part of what is meant, in the same way as we later see Lucy calling Tania to play with her and greeting Arthur with a request for a kiss - both things she would have wanted to do in her human life, but now hideously twisted to a demonic purpose.

Also, I'm not sure I'd picked up the full implications of the 'we' in this little exchange between Arthur and Van Helsing before:
ARTHUR: There's so much in Jonathan's diary I don't understand. Can Dracula really be as old as it says here?

VAN HELSING: We believe it's possible.
I do know that he goes on to say "I've carried out research with some of the greatest authorities in Europe and yet we've only just scratched the surface" only a few lines later, but there he distinguishes more carefully between himself acting as an individual ("I") and the combination of that self and the authorities he has worked with ("we"). Meanwhile, the earlier "we believe" doesn't quite work to mean "Jonathan and I believe" by this point either, given that both characters in the scene know that Jonathan is dead, so he'd be more naturally spoken of in the past tense. Obviously I am vastly over-reading dialogue which only ever aspired to be fit for purpose here, but anyway to me it speaks of a team of active vampire hunters, of whom Jonathan Harker and Van Helsing are the two who happen to have been selected to go and deal with Dracula, but whose numbers are greater and who form a separate and distinct group from the greatest authorities in Europe whom VH has also consulted in the course of their work. That's what I like to think, anyway.

Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

Penny Dreadful

6. The Keep (1983), dir. Michael Mann

Alas and alack for me, I watched two terrible films in a row, and this was the second one. At least I didn't subject [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 to this one - I'm not sure our friendship would have survived it... ;-)

I wanted to watch it because the plot summaries said it was about an unknown, terrible and implicitly quasi-vampiric Thing which had been trapped inside a keep in Romania for centuries, and was unleashed upon modernity by occupying Nazi troops during the Second World War, which sounded like a good premise. I also read that the Thing's name was Radu Molasar, and as Radu is the name of the historical Vlad III Dracula's brother, this spoke to my theory that the 'Dracula' played by John Forbes-Robertson whom we see at the beginning of Hammer's Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, who is similarly imprisoned inside a castle, is the Christopher Lee-Dracula's brother, imprisoned by him for some kind of betrayal or misdemeanour centuries earlier. However, none of the vampiric promise of the film was realised.

In fairness, some aspects of the visual design were worthwhile. Somebody had obviously got out some books on Romania and made a fair effort to reflect its appearance in the architecture of the village outside the Keep and the villagers' clothing. Although the film was actually shot in Wales, they had hidden this fact quite well via tight camera angles. They had also built quite an impressive set for the interior of the Keep, and used it to good effect sometimes in shots involving interesting angles, lighting and smoke. But even in the visual department, much of it was shot and soundtracked like an '80s rock video. Apparently, Tangerine Dream did a soundtrack album for it, but as far as I understand it this isn't what's actually on the prints of it now available. Instead, it's just dreary synths wandering in and out of tune. The Thing is initially shown as merely two glowing eyes obscured behind a huge cloud of smoke, which is quite good, but then later on the smoke clears and we see him, and this turns out to have been an error.

Otherwise, there is not much good I can say. The script was considerably worse than that for The Secret of Dorian Gray. I think those involved in the production thought it was atmospheric and profound - certainly, there were a lot of shots designed to convey this. But the greatest actual complexities it achieved involved the Thing declaring that it wished to scourge the Nazis from its land, but then turning out to be just as bad as or maybe worse than the Nazis. Quite the conundrum.

The rest of plot is neither very good nor effectively conveyed. After the scenario with the Nazis and the Keep has been established, we suddenly switch to Piraeus (the port of Athens), where we begin following the journey of a mysterious figure called Glaeken. (I'm not sure whether his name is ever actually used in the film - I got it from the Wikipedia page). Over time, we learn that he has purple eyes and green blood, cannot be seen in a mirror, is not killed by bullets, and carries a mystical staff which he eventually combines with a mcguffin from inside the Keep to create a weapon which defeats the Thing using the very latest '80s laser effects. (These scenes in particular very much reflect the recent popularity of the original Star Wars trilogy.) But it's never made at all clear who he is, how he got the staff, how he knows the Thing has been unleashed from the Keep, or why he wants to defeat it. Also, the film contains exactly one (1) woman, Eva, who is there primarily to be an object of desire or concern for the male characters - especially Glaeken, with whom she unconvincingly falls in love, and her father, a medieval historian roped in by the Nazis to try to understand the Thing. She is the subject of an attempted rape by the Nazi soldiers, and after that her role is for her father to struggle to protect her and for her to express trauma when Glaeken appears to have been killed.

The Wikipedia page relates a troubled production history, including how the director has envisaged a much longer running time allowing for a more dramatic final confrontation followed by a happy ending for Eva, Glaeken and her father and all sorts of extra details. But space could have been made to clarify the plot and develop the characters better within the running time allowed by halving the length of the many lingering atmospheric shots, which the film as it stands does not really earn. And I am here to tell you that nothing I have read about the additional material the director wanted to include would have improved the film - only lengthened it.

Don't go there; don't even think about it. I have watched this film so that you will never need to.

Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

Penny Crayon

5. The Secret of Dorian Gray (1970), dir. Massimo Dallamano

This is a truly terrible film which [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 and I synchro-watched a couple of weeks ago. It has a terrible script, terrible dubbing and terrible acting. But we enjoyed snarking our way through it, and it did include some marvellously 70s outfits.

Obviously, it is based on Oscar Wilde's novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, with the setting updated to 1970s London. Dorian's extravagant lifestyle is conveyed by showing him on yachts, at lavish parties, at art exhibitions, in discotheques and in swimming pools. And the sexual indulgences only hinted at in the novel are seized as an opportunity to tap into contemporary liberation to maximum titillatory effect. Early on, we meet Dorian and friends in a gay bar with a drag stripper. Then later there is both FF and MM eroticism, as well as two very stereotyped camp chappies cavorting outside a bar called The Black Cock. Also M-on-F and F-on-M oral sex and another scene of what may have been implied anal sex, or perhaps just penetration from behind (we weren't sure), but certainly took place in a stable stall right next to a horse, anyway. I mean none of this was wildly explicit - it's not a porno. But it's very definitely what we are set up to understand.

Dorian himself is objectified a LOT, usually from the male-gaze perspective of Basil (Richard Todd) and Henry (Herbert Lom). In fairness, he (Helmut Berger) is very pretty, and wears a succession of extremely well-tailored suits to pleasing effect. Those suits, along with a few halter-neck maxi-dresses on some of the female characters, were the highlights of the film for me. The portrait itself, sadly, does not do Helmut Berger justice, even before it starts getting corrupted. But at least they had the guts to show it, and indeed, to show it getting older / more evil-looking as the film went on, which cannot be said for all adaptations of Dorian Gray. They also increasingly applied a lot of talc / tippex to everyone's hair except Dorian's to represent them getting old, and about half-way through the film we also realised that the fashions were probably now supposed to look futuristic, like a woman in a mirrored dress. Unfortunately, though, they'd gone for such a high-fashion note in the first place that the change wasn't very clear, because all they had done was further exaggerate existing seventies trends - plus of course we knew perfectly well that that was not what had happened during the '80s and '90s at all.

The script uses lots of Wilde quotations, but unfortunately they are crow-barred in amongst otherwise very awkward and banal dialogue, made worse through being delivered by over-dubbed actors who weren't native English speakers. We had to sit through lines such as "My virginity shocked you", which nobody should have to suffer. Also, some plot points simply didn't make sense. Near the end, Dorian blackmails someone who already doesn't like him very much into helping him get rid of Basil's body by... showing him pictures of himself (Dorian) shagging his wife. Which surely would only make him hate Dorian even more, not suddenly want to help him after all.

On the whole, you very definitely should not watch this film, but then again if you have a friend to enjoy snarking at it with, it can be fun. I have just been reading through our chat log and giggling all over again at comments like these:
  • those logs weren't big enough to make that amount of crackle
  • she'll catch a chill
  • he looks like he needs feeding up
  • That's the angriest reaction I've ever seen to a chaise longue!
  • Lom's hairpiece working hard
  • Christ, this dialogue is laboured!
  • dangerous naked flames near such manmade fabrics
  • Eh up, shenanigans in the bushes!
  • surely the point of erotica is that you can see something - but now you can I take that back
  • Yikes, what are these terrible velvet shorts he's wearing!?
  • Looks like we're at an orgy now. Exquisite jacket.
  • oh thank god we're near the end...
  • I wonder what the tippex bill was for the make up dept
That was the true joy of this film.

Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

Lord S not unenlightened

4. Tam-Lin (1970), dir. Roddy McDowall

I learnt of this film's existence because somebody posted about it in one of the Facebook horror groups I'm a member of (probably Folk Horror Revival), but even in such circles it is very rarely mentioned - and that's a huge pity because when I finally got round to watching it, I discovered that it is absolutely wonderful. It's perhaps not quite a horror film, but as it is basically a reworking of The Ballad of Tam Lin it has all the supernatural, fantastical and menacing dimensions of the source material, while the folk element is assured by a lovely musical setting of the original ballad which pervades the sound-track and by the glorious Scottish landscapes amongst which most of the story unfolds. All of this is also spliced with late '60s / early '70s hippy / boho drug culture, which makes an excellent analogy for the unfettered indulgences of a fairy court.

The queen of that court is Michaela 'Micky' Cazaret, played by Ava Gardner, whom we learn is so rich she has no need to do anything but indulge herself in pleasure and enjoyment all day every day, and has gathered around her a court of young people to accompany her on the ride. They have no obligations to her for as long as the arrangement lasts, but when she tires of them and tells them to leave, they had better do so - or her personal assistant, Elroy, will soon ensure that they don't trouble her any longer. The role draws very effectively on Ava Gardner's real-life image as a high-profile film star of the previous generation, plausibly very wealthy and still beautiful, both of which give her power and authority over her court, but becoming increasingly insecure about her age in comparison to the twenty-something Beautiful People with whom she has surrounded herself.

The Tam Lin figure is not exactly hard to spot - he's called Tom Lynn (played by Ian McShane) and begins the film as Micky's favourite lover, but incurs her wrath when he meets and falls in love with the beautiful and virginal Janet Ainsley (Stephanie Beacham). Stephanie, incidentally, isn't the only connection this film has with Hammer's oeuvre: Joanna Lumley, Jenny Hanley and Madeline Smith are also all present as members of Micky's court. Things play out much as you might expect if you know the ballad, including motifs such as Tom getting Janet pregnant, her seeking an abortion, her picking up a double-stemmed rose, and a wild hunt at the end in which Tom drives a white steed (car) and turns into a bear, a serpent and a flaming brand while Janet has to hold him tight until he returns to humanity.

According to Wikipedia, it is the only film Roddy McDowall ever directed, which is perhaps a shame, as he seems to have done a very good job - though in fairness it would only mean he had done less acting if he had done more directing, and I don't think anybody would want that. The whole thing is available on Youtube here, which is how I watched it, and I can attest that it is a good enough print to stand being cast to a large flat-screen TV.

Highly recommended to anyone who likes folk horror and / or films about Beautiful People getting high c. 1970. The two have always been more or less synonymous anyway.

Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

Cyberman from beneath

3. Quatermass and the Pit (1967), dir. Roy Ward Baker

Soon after lockdown began, [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 and I worked out a basic way of doing a virtual film-watch together. We use FB messenger for it, starting off with a video-chat to say hi, catch up and get ready for the film, then switching to text-based chat while the film itself is on, and finishing up by returning to video to discuss what we thought of it and have a bit more social time. This was the first film we watched that way, taking advantage of the fact that Talking Pictures were showing it anyway, so someone else would do the business of pressing 'play' for us.

It's one of my absolute favourite Hammer films, but although I watched and wrote about the TV version a few years ago when the BBC made it available on iPlayer (LJ / DW) I don't think I've ever reviewed the film version here.

It uses a script developed for film treatment by Nigel Kneale, author of the original TV version, so fairly unsurprisingly it follows the same plot pretty closely. The most obvious differences are the removal of a subplot about a journalist covering the discovery, and the fact that the Martian capsule is found during work on the London Underground rather than during construction work in Knightsbridge. That latter change means that the relationship to the discovery of the London Mithraeum which so struck me when I watched the TV version disappears, but I don't really mind as the London Underground setting is excellent and so iconic of 1960s Britain. I think the character of Barbara is a little more prominent in the film version too, which is also very welcome as she is played by Barbara Shelley whom I love beyond measure.

The production values are very high on the scale of what Hammer could do, and indeed it's one of those Hammer films like The Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula or The Mummy where a form of magic seems to have happened, and everyone involved was at their absolute best. In keeping with the TV version, it has a very intelligent script, dealing with profound social issues including racism and groupthink, and setting up well-defined and plausible conflicts between different forms of authority (military, academic, political, ecclesiastical). It does also perpetuate some of the same tropes around women and working-class people being more sensitive to primitive alien influences as as in the TV version, though I should note in fairness that we see our ultimate academic authority-figure, Quatermass, falling into the grip of it too.

It also has absolutely amazing sets, which were purpose-built for the film by Bernard Robinson on the back lot at Elstree, where Hammer were working at the time. You could very easily believe they were real London streets, but they aren't, as this image from Peveril Publishing's book Hammer's Grand Designs (which I highly recommend) shows:

2020-03-27 22.23.20.jpg

There are so many good scenes in it that it's hard to pick a favourite. There are plenty which build the tension up nicely as successive discoveries are made in and around the Martian capsule, including very good use made of horrible disorienting sound effects which drive characters mad, and then some good climatic moments such as when winds rush through the underground station, possessed crowds rampage in the streets and of course Roney heroically swings a crane into the huge Martian apparition at the end.

But I think one particularly effective scene comes about a third of the way in, when Quatermass, Barbara and a policeman investigate a deserted house immediately above the underground station. The policeman is visibly uncomfortable with the childhood memories he recounts there, knowing that he is supposed to be rationalistic, but also clearly experiencing visceral and traumatic flashbacks to what he experienced. It gets right to the heart of the conflict between the rational and the emotive mind which horror likes to probe at. And probably the best scene of all, mainly because the film has really earned it by this point, is the shot which the closing credits roll over, of Barbara Shelley and Andrew Keir outside the underground station just staring around them, traumatised at everything they have witnessed.

A fine example of what Hammer could do, and one I'll always happily re-watch.

Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

Dracula 1958 cloak

4. Bram Stoker (1897), Dracula or The Un-Dead. A play in prologue and five acts

I've known for some time that Bram Stoker secured the stage copyright for Dracula by putting on a reading of it at the Lyceum a week before the book itself was published. The script for this reading was basically constructed out of the dialogue from the novel, cut out from the editorial proofs, pasted onto sheets of paper, and supplemented by stage directions and occasional extra material in Stoker's own handwriting. A few pages from it were displayed as part of the British Library's exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination in 2014, and they also have an article about it here including images of the script.

What I didn't know until only a few months ago was that you can buy an edited version of this script, presented in ordinary print (i.e. not as a facsimile) but using typographic conventions to convey which parts of the text originated as cut-out proofs, which as Stoker's hand-written additions and which (occasionally) as additions by the editor to create a workable text out of something Stoker had obviously rushed in the first place. This was a very exciting discovery, as I had felt frustrated at being unable to read it before. I could tell from what I'd seen at the British Library exhibition that there were a few very minor differences between the text in the proofs and the final published novel, while the hand-written material joining them together was in some places entirely new - and yet from the hand of the same author, and thus potentially providing precious additional insights into Stoker's thinking and the story-world he had created. So I put it on my Christmas list, and as soon as I'd finished my DracSoc holiday homework reading, it was next in the queue on my to-read pile.

It does have to be said that it would clearly have been very bad as an actual play. Stoker wrote it as a novel, and evidently did not have time to convert it properly for stage action. So we end up with long passages where a character sits there on stage, writing in their diary about something they have seen, instead of us actually seeing it happening - as would be done and indeed is done in any proper stage adaptation. For example, when Harker is trapped inside the castle early on in the novel, he sees various things out of the windows, such as Szgany workers whom he tries to communicate with and get to post a letter for him, or the woman whose child Dracula has taken who comes and begs him to give it back. In the novel, it's perfectly natural for him to recount these events in retrospect in his diary - that is the format of the text after all. But in a stage adaptation you expect to see these sorts of things happening in direct action, and it could only have been tedious and painful to have to sit there listening to the character reading out a diary entry about it instead. Supposedly, Henry Irving, on witnessing the reading, opined that it was 'dreadful', and I can't disagree with him.

However, I wasn't reading it for its dramatic potential, but for the insights it could yield into Stoker's creative processes and his own wider conception of the text as we have it in the novel. Collapse )

Then there were things which were always there in the novel, but which Collapse )

In short, this may be a terrible stage play, but if you're a big old Dracula geek it is essential reading, mainly for the additional insights into Stoker's work but also because it allows you to see new things in the existing text by reading it in a new format. I am so glad to have had the opportunity at last.

Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

Clone Army

It's the meme of the moment

Last time I travelled abroad: mid-January, to Denmark to speak at a conference on public space in Roman Britain (LJ / DW).

Last time I slept in a hotel: on the same trip to Denmark. It was the Scandic Aarhus City and it was very nice.

Last time I flew in a plane: same trip again! I flew with Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) from Manchester to Aarhus, via Copenhagen on the way there and direct on the way back. They seemed very good and had nice onboard food.

Last time I took a train: would you believe, to and from Manchester airport for the same trip.

Last time I took public transport: Wednesday 11 March. I walked to work that day, precisely to avoid it for coronavirus-related reasons, but caught the bus home as a) it was at a quieter time of day and b) I wanted to go to the supermarket on the way home, and the bus stops right outside it but my walking route takes me a different way.

Last time I had a house guest: New Year's Eve / Day. My friend [personal profile] kantti and her husband stayed over for dinner, silly games and champagne.

Last time I got my hair cut: er, when I was about 15? Unless you count the occasional very minor trims which I get either my sister or [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 to do for me.

Last time I went to the movies: mid-November, to see the premiere screening of a film-of-an-opera which my colleague had acted as research consultant for (LJ / DW).

Last time I went to the theatre: 8 March, to see Robert Lloyd Parry doing Lost Hearts and A Warning to the Curious. It was the last weekend when doing that sort of thing seemed OK. He had a full house, actually. I have seen him do A Warning to the Curious before, but not Lost Hearts. It's one of my favourite M.R. James stories, and it was so good!

Last time I went to a concert: hmmm... There may be something I've forgotten, but judging from what I've recorded here there are two potential answers, depending on what you count: 1) live music from an Icelandic band called amiina accompanying a screening of Fantômas in April 2019 (LJ / DW) or 2) a performance of Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore when I was in Vienna at a conference with a colleague in September 2014 (LJ / DW).

Last time I went to an art museum: May 2019 during our DracSoc holiday to Germany, when I spent a whole day on the Museum Island in Berlin, split between the Altes Museum, Neues Museum and the Pergamon Museum. Since I never posted any pictures of their holdings here at the time, I will put one up now, though it's hard to choose what since the Altes Museum in particular was so full of amazing stuff. Probably the most exciting, though, was this famous tondo of the emperor Septimius Severus and his family, which is the only such painted ancient imperial portrait to survive:

2019-05-31 16.55.19.jpg

Last time I sat down in a restaurant: 8 March, before the M.R. James performance the same evening, when I met up with [personal profile] hollymath and [ profile] HickeyWriter at Mod Pizza in Leeds city centre beforehand.

Last time I went to a party: 20 July 2019, when I went to my friend [ profile] Bavage's Moon Party to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing.

Last time I played a board game: arguably today, when I played Story Cubes over Skype with Eloise and Christophe. This is a game consisting of nine dice with pictures on each side, which you have to roll and then tell a story based on the nine pictures which come up, and I realised that we could play it remotely if Eloise rolled the dice and I wrote down what she said they showed. It was kind of chaotic, especially when Christophe joined in, but fun and a nice way to get some contact with them. If that game doesn't count because it doesn't strictly have a board, then New Year's Eve when I played Augustus with [personal profile] kantti and her husband.

I thought filling all that in might make me a bit sad, but actually no - it was a nice way of reliving good memories. Here's to the days when we can do all this stuff without a care once again.

Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment