Cities condor in flight

5. Sonya Taaffe (2018), Forget the Sleepless Shores

This is a collection of short stories whose author is known in this parish as [personal profile] sovay. I hope she won't mind if I proceed to just call her S for the rest of this review, a) to save myself having to keep typing out the code for [personal profile] sovay, and b) to signal that I'm writing about her in a different way here anyway, which bridges both [personal profile] sovay, the DW friend, and Sonya Taaffe, the author.

We've been DW friends for a few years now (probably about four-ish?), and I have been following S's writing career all that time. It is obviously a big passion and a serious commitment for her - she regularly posts to say that she has had an individual short story or poem published, attends readings and cons to present / talk about her work (in pre-COVID times anyway), and of course reported the publication of this book a couple of years ago. I've been a little slow to get round to acquiring and reading it, but not because I had any doubt that it would be good. I'd already read a couple of the individual stories in it anyway which S had shared, and been extremely impressed. I'm just slow, is all.

I've never met S in real life, as she lives in Boston, but she tells her DW readers a lot about herself, and has clearly put a lot of the same self into her stories too. So I had very much the same experience reading this book as I did when reading my friend Andrew Hickey's novel Head of State (LJ / DW) of recognising the person I know through DW in the stories. S's passion for the sea, knowledge of Classical myth and literature, Jewish heritage, and queer identity are all here, combined with a fine-detail observation of urban landscapes and a sense of colour and the best words for conveying it vividly which really struck me in the first of her stories that I read.

I'm not going to write about every single story, because there are twenty-two in the book altogether, but Collapse )

In short, a very impressive and enjoyable collection which I highly recommend. S has a real gift for taking established literature, myth and history, combining it with close observation and transforming it into something completely new and unexpected. Here's to her further success as a writer.

Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

Vampira

15. The Addiction (1994), dir. Abel Ferrara

This is a vampire film which treats vampirism as a very direct metaphor for drug addiction, to such a degree that it quite often reminded me of Requiem for a Dream (2000). It sets itself up as challenging and intellectually-driven early on, opening with footage of American atrocities committed in Vietnam combined with a voice-over musing over questions of individual vs. collective guilt, which resolves into the lecturer of a graduate class in Philosophy attended by the main character, Kathleen (Lili Taylor). The war footage is of course in black and white, but this is also retained as we switch to the class watching it, and throughout the film. The main plot sees Kathleen attacked by a female vampire while walking home at night, before succumbing to the symptoms of vampirism and an addiction to blood herself, all interspersed with what becomes a rather rocky road through her PhD studies and related debates about the nature of guilt, sin, and the inescapably evil essence of humanity. Though Kathleen completes her PhD, Philosophy is ultimately revealed as able only to diagnose, not solve, these problems, and the story ends with Kathleen instead finding a kind of salvation and rebirth after she has been hospitalised and sought redemption from a visiting Catholic chaplain.

I liked what it was trying to do, and thought it did vampirism-as-drug-addiction about as well as anybody ever could. The philosophising was perhaps a little heavy-handed at times, though, and I had assumed before starting to watch that the addictive character of academic research and academic culture would also be illuminated through the medium of vampirism, but was disappointed in that regard. I would definitely have preferred that to a story ending with a religious redemption, anyway. Christopher Walken is in it, but he came across as quite jarring initially, since this isn't the type of film he usually appears in at all, and nor was it very apparent that he realised this himself for a couple of scenes. He did get there eventually, though, delivering a great portrayal of the hypocritical addict who goes on about how they have conquered their addiction through all sorts of woo, only to gorge himself on Kathleen's blood without the slightest acknowledgement of the disconnect.

I think that's about all I have to say about this one, though there are some good reviews out there which delve deeper than I can into its themes and motifs: e.g. here and here. I watched it on Google Play, though I've just spotted that the whole thing is also available on YouTube.

Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

Dracula Risen hearse smile

15. Dracula Has Risen From The Grave (1968), dir. Freddie Francis

I watched this as a nice treat on the evening of my birthday, because it is one of my favourite of the Hammer Dracula films, and I hadn't seen it for six years. I have reviewed it in these pages twice before: in 2013 (LJ / DW), when I talked about the contrast between the cheerful inn scenes and the dark Gothic threat drawing in on them, Dracula's delicious lurking manipulativeness, and the central conflict between faith and atheism; and in 2014 (LJ / DW) when I discussed the direction and the character of the priest. But I still have more to say about it!

To begin with, it is very nicely structured with a lot of attention to small details. In the opening scenes, when the priest finds Dracula's latest victim suspended inside his church bell, my eye is always drawn to the dusty bottles dotted around the inside of the bell tower, on the ledge behind the victim and on the windowsill.

vlcsnap-00109.png

This would be a nice bit of set-dressing in any film, giving a feeling of lived-in realism, but here it specifically prefigures the priest's alcoholism which will be such a major driver of the plot. We can imagine him sitting up here many a time, well before the action of the film begins, secretly indulging. Indeed, it's not even just about the priest. Paul too has his brushes with the dark side of alcohol in this film, first getting beer spilt all over him in a bar-room game, and then downing enough schnapps to end up legless and vulnerable after he has inadvertently insulted Maria's stern uncle.

There are other clever visual comments and echoes which I haven't mentioned before in previous reviews too. Like the streams of blood which we see running, first from the bell to the bell-rope and then from the priest's head-wound to Dracula's mouth; or indeed the similarity between the priest's head-wound (which awakens Dracula) and the one he himself later inflicts on the Monsignor at Dracula's command. There is also a well-selected poster showing the silhouette of a man in a cloak and top hat on a red background next to the door into the Café Johann. Presumably it's a period drinks advertisement, but the silhouetted man resembles Dracula enough to remind us of his looming menace, and it's noticeable that it is given particular screen prominence when Zena is heading out of the door, about to encounter him in the woods.

I have some really great books about Hammer's set design and locations by Peveril Publishing, but frustratingly this particular film doesn't get much coverage from them, despite its careful attention to visual detail. There are some production stills of the roof-top sets in the set design book and (to be fair) a good section on the use of Black Park in the locations book. But what about the church, the village exteriors, the town exteriors, the cafe interiors etc.? I know nothing about how they were designed and built, whether they were re-used from other films (or later re-used themselves), and so much more detail which seems readily available now for most Hammer films. It's an omission.

Meanwhile, even now watching this film for the Nth time, I am somehow still figuring out little details about it. For example, the morning after Dracula bites Zena in the woods, the priest comes into the cafe, and she makes eye contact with him and nods as he comes in. I'd always assumed this simply represented two servants of Dracula recognising each other as such, but I've realised now that it may be conveying a bit more than that. I suspect it's also supposed to reflect some unscreened action during the night, involving Zena helping the priest to install Dracula and his coffin in the bakery cellar after he has bitten her. Certainly, that would help to explain not only how Dracula got there, but also why she is still there in the bakery basement when Paul arrives the next morning and why the priest already knows her and nods to her when he arrives as a customer seeking a room. That is, Zena is not merely a convenient source of blood but also a route into the bakery and thus a safe and convenient hiding-place in the middle of Keinenburg - much as Mina likewise helped smuggle Dracula into the Holmwood's cellar (again off-screen) in the first film. Nonetheless, even Zena doesn't seem to know exactly where Dracula is. When the priest nods to her in the bar to indicate that she has been summoned, she knows to go down into the basement, but he has to gesture to show her exactly where.

I also wondered on this watch whether the priest doesn't actually die at the end. I'd always read him as simply slumping forward with exhaustion before, after the monumental effort of recovering his faith and reciting the Lord's prayer to ensure a final victory over Dracula. But on this watch it seemed to me like a very terminal-looking slump. So I think now that the cost of defeating Dracula for him is his life.

Finally, despite the careful attention to visual details which I've described above, I also picked up a weird mis-match over the question of who knows the Monsignor on this watch. When the priest first arrives at the Café Johann, he says he is in Keinenburg on church business, and asks Paul whether he knows the Monsignor. Paul replies that he knows his niece (Maria) better, which should in turn mean that Paul knows the priest doesn't know the Monsignor personally, and indeed needs help trying to find him. But later, when Paul wants to get a message to Maria, he presses it into the priest's hand asking him to take it to the house of the Monsignor and saying "You must know him". I mean, maybe Paul just has a really strong faith in the priest's ability to have got to know the Monsignor in the intervening couple of days - or maybe Anthony Hinds (the script-writer) had forgotten that if the priest did know the Monsignor, it would be a very new acquaintance and one which Paul himself might have facilitated.

Ah well, it's a small slip in a film I will always love and want to revisit.

Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

Vampira

14. Vampyres (1974), dir. José Ramón Larraz

This is basically the logical end-point of the explosion of lesbian vampire films in the early 1970s. It begins with two women lying naked on a bed and snogging. Suddenly, an intruder whose face we never see bursts in and shoots them both dead. We only learn at the end of the film that this was a kind of flash-back, as an estate agent showing an American couple around a large, dilapidated Gothic mansion explains that it is "supposed to be haunted" by two women who died in this way. Between those two book-ends, we follow them as vampyres? ghosts? (whatever) as they lure lecherous male drivers from the nearby road by thumbing down lifts, taking them back to the house, drugging them and then slicing their veins open to drink their blood.

Collapse )

It is very seventies in many ways, featuring flowing cloaks and maxi-dresses on the women, flared trousers on the men, and a couple on a caravanning holiday. It also features Oakley Court, as seen regularly in many a Hammer film and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. However, I couldn't honestly recommend it as being much good. Both the dialogue and its delivery were extremely wooden, I think largely because the vampyre women at least, and probably everybody, were dubbed. It also defaulted on the potential lesbitious story line I thought it was going to go down. There were a few scenes of the two vampyre women approaching the woman from the caravan couple seductively while she was out in the woods painting, and I thought / hoped they were going to lure her into their lesbian vampyre coven. However, in the end they seem to have just killed her, just like any of the men, which was boring and unempowering.

Still, I've seen it now, so I can stop wondering if it's any good. It's not, but it is OK.

Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

Figure on the sea shore

13. The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959), dir. Terence Fisher

This was both a Christopher Lee and a Hammer film which I hadn't seen before, which is always going to be a pleasure. I've been meaning to watch it for a while, and then Talking Pictures helped by screening it, so I synchro-watched it with [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 and we had a grand old time. It's appropriate that it should have been the thirteenth film I watched this year, too, as it rather goes to town in that sort of direction. The eponymous Man of the title (Dr. Georges Bonnet, played by a slightly hammy Anton Diffring) is a doctor and sculptor living at no. 13, Rue Noire in a smoggy Paris, where we first encounter him giving a party for a crowd of swanky Parisian art-lovers.

The story is a pretty transparent effort to repeat the success of The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), with Diffring engaged in dubious experiments in his attempts to cheat death, and having much the same kind of arguments with his (ostensibly) older mentor about their morality. There's quite a touch of Jekyll and Hyde to it too, which Hammer hadn't yet released an adaptation of, but given that they did in 1960 it must have been already in the works. Certainly, Dr. Bonnet turns very nasty, and indeed green, when he doesn't get his special potion.

This was the first of two Hammer films in which Lee played a character called Dr. Pierre Gerrard (the other being Taste of Fear), which must have made life easy for him. The character and his performance bear a lot of resemblance to his Paul Allen in The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, too - which is to say rather wooden and affrontedly bourgeois. [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 will attest that I did not approve of his moustache - I rarely approve of facial hair on Lee, but this one was particularly bad, and as she noted, not even symmetrically stuck on. He appears to be fully on board with Diffring's immoral experiments, but in a twist reveal it turns out that he did not actually perform the operation he wanted. As he puts it, "I made the incision but did not perform the operation." This is probably for the best, because both of them seem to have a distinctly sketchy grasp of the thyroid gland's location.

Many other familiar faces were on board, including Roger Lloyd Pack, Hazel Court and Francis de Wolff. In the visual department, Jack Asher was hard at work on the cinematography, and everyone had exquisite period costumes. We also recognised the same doors with panels made of glass roundels as we had seen recently in The Snorkel and were used also in Revenge of Frankenstein, a blue chafing dish which gets around rather a lot in Hammer films of this era, Bonnet's fireplace, and the stairs down into his cellar, which had been reworked from both Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula. Presumably he was also using a lot of Frankenstein's science equipment and Dracula's books, too.

By the standards of Hammer's other classics in this era, it's a bit disappointing, being hide-bound in particular by an almost total absence of any exterior location footage. But everything ended with Diffring getting his comeuppance and the horrible legacy of his experiments being consumed in a flaming inferno, which is always satisfying.

Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

Howie disapproving

12. The Snorkel (1958), dir. Guy Green

This is another Hammer film, this time a straightforward murder mystery. I wanted to watch it primarily because Bernard Robinson's set designs for Dracula's castle in the 1958 film, as made available in Peveril Publishing's book Hammer's Grand Designs, show that one of the windows in the main hall set (also reconfigured as the library) was taken from The Snorkel. This is the set design in question (in full and then closer up to show the label), as well as the window itself, as shown after being reconfigured into the library set complete with stained glass designs of people in chains and bones.

2020-07-04 16.12.12.jpg

2020-07-04 16.13.00.jpg

vlcsnap-00327.png

Even purely on a Dracula set design geekery level, the watch very much paid off. I did it as a synchro-watch with [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313, who is as much of a Hammer geek as me, and between us we quickly realised that far more than the window had been reused. The film includes substantial scenes set inside an Italian villa, where the murder around which the main plot revolves takes place, and almost everything within this villa had either already appeared in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and / or was about to do so in Dracula (1958). We recognised not only the window but all of the doors, the fireplace and much of the furniture.

But The Snorkel had much more to offer beyond set design details. I am not going to try to claim it is revolutionary or a work of high cinematic art, but it is a really nicely plotted and paced murder mystery which achieves plenty of tension and atmosphere including one scene which genuinely made us both jump. It was also shot on a pretty high budget for Hammer in this era (£100,000), using it to deliver on-location Italian settings for all of the exterior footage, lovely late 1950s dresses, and excellent lighting and cinematography by Jack Asher which brought everything off to good effect. Even its day-for-night footage was easily forgivable in the black and white medium, while there was some lovely atmospheric use of creepy statuary looming in a darkened villa garden.

Probably the film's biggest flaw is Mandy Miller, then fourteen years old, playing the role of Candy (short for Candace) Brown. Candy is central to the plot, since we see her step-father murdering her mother in a manner designed to look like suicide in the opening scenes, but she is the only one who suspects foul play. We also learn over the course of the film that this is largely because she already saw him drowning her father some years earlier, while he meanwhile goes on to kill Candy's dog and attempt to kill her. This means she has a lot of trauma, frustration and fear to convey in the film, both in response to these terrible events and in response to none of the adults around her believing her when she tries to tell them what is going on. Unfortunately, her acting skills weren't really up to this, so that she either under- or over-reacted to almost everything, rather undermining the story. We agreed early on that she needed a metaphorical slap, and also noted that Hammer being Hammer, she might well literally get one. Indeed, much later, she did.

This was all rather a pity, as the character of Candy and her narrative arc throughout the film was actually very powerfully thought out. She is not only disbelieved but actively gaslit and pathologised by the adults around her throughout, including her step-father Paul who is busy trying to divert suspicion, but also her governess / companion, the police and the local consul. They all tell her she is being over-dramatic and imaginative, implicitly threatening her with being committed to a 'mental institution' if she doesn't stop saying Paul has murdered her father, mother and dog and is trying to murder her. Ultimately, of course, Paul decides she needs to be silenced altogether, so arranges to murder her in the same manner as her mother - drugging her, sealing her and himself into a locked room, fitting himself with a snorkel connected to tubes allowing him to breathe external air, turning on all the gas and then hiding under the floorboards.

Luckily for her, the police chief and her governess prevent the murder this time by breaking into the room looking for her, but they still believe she was trying to take her own life, and only agree to search the room for Paul in order to 'prove' to her that he isn't there. In the process, they move a heavy cupboard over the trapdoor he has used to get under the floorboards, and then leave it there when they all go, with Candy having admitted that Paul is nowhere to be found. We then see Paul discovering he is trapped, followed by Candy insisting on going back to the room just one more time to double-check Paul isn't there. This time she hears him calling out for help, but in response merely knits her brows and declares, "It's just my imagination".

What's really nice about how this is set up is that as a viewer we can't be sure whether she has finally accepted the message which every adult in the film has been giving her throughout, and really believes this (so that Paul is about to die as a direct result of his contribution to gaslighting and pathologising her), or knows full well that it really is Paul and that he's trapped, and is saying it as a way of mocking him and letting him know that she is damn well going to leave him there to die. Either way, it is a grim and bleak place for the plot to have taken us to, and I would quite have liked the film to end there for that reason. Maybe that wasn't considered acceptable for 1958 audiences, though, as we next see Candy asking her governess and the consul to stop the car as they drive away through the local Italian town, so that she can go into the police station and tell them to go and look under the floorboards in the villa, where they will see that she was right. The police chief reacts by getting up and putting on his hat, so I guess Paul will be rescued after all, but it's still a pretty good ending as Candy's emphasis on the police finding out she was right tells us one more thing about her character - that what she really wanted all along was to be believed, rather than to salve her conscience about Paul.

An honourable mention in all this should go to Toto, Candy's dog, who was played by a very well trained canine actor. Toto is onto Paul from the start, pulling at the carpet above the trap-door where he is hiding when his wife's body is discovered, and then later picking the snorkel mask which he used out of Paul's wardrobe and dropping it at Candy's feet. Sadly, she doesn't catch on, but Paul does, leading to Toto's untimely demise and presumably a listing for this film somewhere on the Does The Dog Die? website. But we enjoyed him while he lasted.

Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

Metropolis False Maria

11. The Damned (1963), dir. Joseph Losey

I'm planning to synchro-watch another Hammer film with the lovely [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 this evening, so had better get the last couple written up first!

This one is a black and white Hammer mystery / SF film which I recorded off TPTV ages ago (and which they coincidentally broadcast again recently anyway). What I knew about it when I started was that it starred Oliver Reed as the ringleader of a Teddy Boy gang, and that it had been strongly recommended to me by a member of the Dracula Society several years ago as being very 'ahead of its time'. But that was all, and that was probably the best way to watch it. It does indeed start off with Oliver and his chums in a Brighton Rock style narrative, but they turn out to be only part of the context for a gradually-revealed SF story - which I guess is what my DracSoc chum meant about it being ahead of its time. It certainly kept surprising me as the story unfolded, which was fun.

Oliver and his gang are good value in their own right. Their patch is Weymouth rather than Brighton, but they have the motorbikes, the black leather, the post-war teen attitude and the mindless violence. Ollie carries a curved-handled umbrella in a way that reminded me of Alex's bowler hat and cane in A Clockwork Orange - but actually even the book of that wasn't written until after this film had finished production (in 1961), so I guess the use of that sort of characterising device for gang members originates somewhere earlier. His sister, Joan, helps to target the gang's marks by pretending to respond to their perving and luring them down quiet side-streets - and of course Oliver Reed's character is obsessively, jealously protective of her, which acts as a plot driver when she decides she likes one of the marks more than she likes him. She is played by Shirley Anne Field, who also played the titular character in Beat Girl (1960: LJ / DW), which made it easy to slip straight into the correct early '60s rebellious teen culture mode while watching her - presumably part of the point of the original casting.

The characters involved in the SF side of the plot are gradually introduced in parallel with Ollie, Joan and the gang at first, but then the two strands of the story come together as Joan escapes Ollie with the help of an American tourist whom she had previously targeted on behalf of the gang. They find themselves in a hidden bunker in a cliff below a military base, inhabited by nine children who are strangely cold to the touch - and baffled by Joan and the tourist's own warm skin. We've already seen these children receiving lessons over a television screen (very COVID-esque!) from the leader of a team of scientists observing them, and after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing it gradually emerges they that were born of mothers affected by nuclear explosions, and are radioactive themselves. They desperately want to escape their bunker and see the real world they have been taught about in their lessons, but their radioactivity makes them dangerous, which is why they are kept inside the secret bunker. The scientists are bringing them up in the hope that they alone of humanity will be able to survive a nuclear holocaust - naturally considered inevitable, given the time when the film was made.

The set-up was clearly designed to create a tension between the scientists' desire to do something to save humanity from protection and the lengths they're prepared to go to for this 'greater good'. This includes not only keeping the children locked up in the bunker but ultimately destroying everyone who finds out about it or protests against it, including Ollie, Joan, the American tourist and a female artist who is the lover of the lead scientist and has been making sculptures at the top of the cliff where the children are hidden all this time. The film closes with the scientist gunning her down in order to protect his project, which I quite liked as an unambiguously bleak ending. But overall, I wouldn't say it entirely lived up to the enthusiastic recommendation which my DracSoc friend gave it.

Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

Lee as M.R. James

Casting the Runes location pictures: Kirkstall

I did something I've been meaning to do for weeks today. I got Casting the Runes (1979) for Christmas. It's an ITV adaptation of the M.R. James story of the same name, directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark, but unlike most of its BBC equivalents it is brought up to date and set in the present day. Dunning is a broadcast journalist, rather than a researcher, who incurs Karswell's wrath by portraying him as a crank in a documentary on occultism, and she is also female. As I understand it, this was done largely to save money on period costumes, sets and locations, and indeed the same principle is clear even in the selection of present-day settings. It was filmed out of ITV Yorkshire's studios, which are literally used as Dunning's work-place, and because they are in Leeds, that is also where she and the other characters live and work.

Before lockdown, I watched it with [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313, who turned out to be a wonder at accurately recognising the locations I hadn't been able to pin down myself. There are some scenes set in and around a farm near a canal which we didn't recognise immediately, but I managed to locate those soon afterwards too, with a little help from someone on Twitter who pointed me to a collection of pictures of canals in this part of the world. So we'd reached the point where the only locations we hadn't managed to identify were the airport interiors used at the end - and I'm sure there will be plane geeks out there somewhere who can help us with those. Unfortunately, a planned day out to the farm and canal locations never materialised, because coronavirus hit just as we were starting to make concrete plans to do it. But I've been waiting for a good opportunity to use some of the locations within Leeds as goals for walks, thus cleverly combining exercise with an actual trip out to somewhere I genuinely wanted to go. Today, I finally did the first of those - to the ITV Yorkshire studios themselves.

It's actually completely the wrong time of year to attempt like-for-like photos on this production, because it is set in snowy winter weather. The best I could do is wait for an overcast day, but even then the sun began to come out soon after I arrived at the right location and obviously all the trees were in full leaf. I also quickly realised that I couldn't match the original camera angles precisely. My camera just has a different field of vision from the film cameras (I think?) that were used for these exterior shots, while in some cases they were clearly also raised up on tripods / rigs which I didn't have. But still, the purpose was leisure and exercise, not a precise reproduction. Collapse )

By the time I'd finished, the sun had come fully out, but that made for the perfect conditions to sit at the bottom of a grassy bank near the houses, drinking a bottle of water I'd brought. After a while, some children who clearly lived in the houses came along to roll down the bank, laughing and smiling at me each time they got to the bottom. Given that I spend most of my time now sitting in my house with only myself for company, that sort of thing counts for quite a lot these days. I had also clocked up 8000 steps on my phone by the time I got home, as well as clearly stretching some muscles which haven't had much use recently and making bits of my feet slightly sore because I'm not really used to wearing shoes.

Two other locations from Casting the Runes are within walking distance of my house, maybe three if I push it a bit. So now I've done this one as a proof of concept, I might follow up with some of the others over the next few weeks. Frustratingly, under normal circumstances I would have free access to one of the most distinctive interiors as well - the Brotherton Library, which plays the same role in this adaptation as the British Library's old Round Reading Room in the original story. But that one will have to wait until after lockdown.

Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

Dracula Risen hearse smile

10. Dracula: AD 1972, dir. Alan Gibson

I synchro-watched this film with [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 this afternoon. It is one of my absolute favourites in the Hammer Dracula cycle - so much so that I apparently watched it once every two years at the beginning of the last decade: 2012 (LJ / DW), 2014 (LJ / DW), 2016 (LJ / DW). A four-year gap since my last viewing is therefore a long time for me!

It is so good, though, and rediscovering it today in all its vivid immediacy was just brilliant. The more I see it, the more I realise how much my personal fashion concept was shaped by it, and Stephanie Beacham's outfits in particular. Quite apart from the flares, the smock tops and the floppy hats, she is wearing purple in almost every scene. I listen to the soundtrack CD regularly in the car too, but there is a quite a lot of what must have been library music in the film itself which isn't on that CD, and which I've never successfully been able to identify via Shazam or similar - flute music as Bob and Jessica are driving around, the record Johnny puts on for Gaynor telling her the band were all stoned when they recorded it, and the music playing as Johnny stalks Marjorie Baines in the laundrette. I would love to find out more about all of those some time, but meanwhile will have to satisfy myself with exploring more of the music of Stoneground instead. I can see there is quite a lot of it on YouTube.

I don't want to repeat things I've written about this film in previous reviews, but I see that although I mentioned that it has "extremely competent cinematography" in my 2014 review, I didn't give any specific examples. Some of the sorts of shots I mean include Johnny seen through a bus window from across the road as he approaches the Cavern the day after the big ritual, his car approaching his flat seen through the square entrance-way, or Van Helsing viewed in a discarded shaving-mirror after his big battle with Johnny. But those are only a few examples. Throughout, the street scenes, the Gothic church set, and the many smaller interiors are really brought out to their best effect through interesting angles, focus pulls, panning etc. The man responsible deserves credit - and to have been given a better name by his parents than Dick Bush.

I also see that despite working it all out in my head about six years ago, I have never written out here my Very Fannish Theory for how this film actually fits perfectly effectively into the overall Hammer chronology. The apparent problem is that in this film we see Dracula being killed in 1872 and only resurrected in 1972, yet Dracula (1958) takes place in 1885, with Prince (1966), Risen (1968) and Taste (1970) all following on from it in a direct sequence. How, we might ask after seeing AD 1972, can he have been alive for all those stories in the intervening period? My explanation for this rests on the premise that in 1872, Dracula was not alone in London. Rather, Valerie Gaunt's character was there with him. She turns into a woman with the appearance of being in her 70s or 80s when Jonathan stakes her in 1885 (in Dracula 1958), so he probably bit her and turned her into his bride about 40 or 50 years before that - i.e. c. 1840. Perhaps he came to London around about then, and they were living there together perfectly successfully until they managed to come to Lawrence Van Helsing's attention in 1872?

Once you have her in the picture, you can flesh out the story of what happened on that fatal night in 1872. After Van Helsing kills Dracula, we see on screen Johnny Alucard's ancestor coming to collect and ritually bury some of his dust. But he certainly doesn't collect all of it. There is plenty left behind for, for example, Valerie Gaunt to come along after Johnny, and conduct a resurrection ceremony immediately. Naturally, after a traumatic event like that, Dracula and Valerie would choose to leave London for the safety of Dracula's native Transylvania - which is where we meet them both, thirteen years later, in Dracula (1958). By 1972, Valerie is long gone and Dracula has undergone many adventures, including a trip to India in the 1930s, but he has returned to London, not least because he knows he left instructions to his disciples to carry out a resurrection ritual in that year. But it isn't actually a resurrection ritual as such. Johnny thinks he is resurrecting Dracula, but we don't see any actual regeneration scene, as we do in some of the other films - just a load of smoke and then Dracula walking out of it. In fact, he was already alive and watching the ritual unseen as it unfolded, and stepped forward at the end to reclaim a small amount of his own lost strength, left behind with his dust a century earlier (the smoke) and his lost ring. Job done.

This still doesn't explain how Dracula can have gone to China in 1804 in the body of a monk and been killed there by Van Helsing in 1904 in The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires. I have to resort to "It must be another member of the Dracula family who is also a vampire and was imprisoned in that castle by the Christopher Lee Dracula" to deal with that. But it's all doable if you think creatively enough.

Dreamwidth version | comment count unavailablecomments | Leave a comment

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