Monday, October 15, 2007

Evil Heritage

SATAN'S SLAVE (1976)

Based on an unmade AIP project intended for Vincent Price called THE NAKED EYE, for all its blatant exploitativeness, SATAN’S SLAVE remains atmospheric and engaging.
 
SATAN'S SLAVE tells of Catherine Yorke (Candace Glendenning), a young girl who is unexpectedly orphaned when her parents’ car explodes outside the house of her Uncle Alexander (a moustachioed Michael Gough). She is taken in but finds herself troubled by strange visions; gradually, Catherine falls in love with her brooding cousin Stephen (Martin Potter) - much to the chagrin of her Uncle’s secretary Frances (Barbara Kellerman) - but what she doesn’t realise is that her intended role in the household is more sinister than she could possibly expect.

A film aficionado fascinated by the medium since childhood, Norman J. Warren started in pictures by helming two sexploiters, HER LIVING HELL (1967) and LOVING FEELING (1968). Not wanting to be typecast as a skin director, Warren moved onto the horror genre, and his brief period of activity - PREY (1977), TERROR (1978) and INSEMINOID (1980) - provided a body of work which was derivative and makeshift, yet curiously casual and endearing. Along with Pete Walker, Warren’s films are sometimes dubbed New Wave British horror, on account that they upped the ante of explicitness, were mostly set in the modern day, and centring around twenty to thirty-year old protagonists. SATAN’S SLAVE firmly established Warren’s style as one which, for the most part, avoids kitsch and gets the most of what were obviously very limited resources.

Michael Gough, Candace Glendenning and Barbara Kellerman
star in Norman J. Warren’s cult classic.

Les Young’s cinematography is incredibly evocative here - the Gothic-style mansion is lensed in all its autumnal splendour - turning the English countryside into a place of terror with some of the effectiveness of WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968). Warren is also helped by David McGillivray’s script which, like his work for Walker, succeeds in combining classic genre themes with a realistic contemporary setting. Glendenning’s wide-eyed performance as victimised waif mixes a delicate balance of independence, vulnerability and confusion. Gough is the big name in the cast and he doesn’t disappoint as the head of a coven; he’s a caring, considerate and gracious host, but underneath we sense the evil. Gough handles the role with great gusto and lack of pretensions, delivering his ceremonial lines with Satanic-Shakespearian zeal, and Potter gives a superbly creepy performance as the unbalanced Stephen.

Combining nudity and violence in a censor-baiting concoction designed to compete with the gore and cynicism of its contemporary American/European counterparts, SATAN’S SLAVE delivers on a number of effective shock sequences. Catherine’s boyfriend John (Michael Craze)’s demise is particularly bloody – he jumps off a tower block roof and ends up as a heap of twisted meat - and towards the end of the film Catherine stabs Stephen in the eye with a nailfile. In fact, SATAN’S SLAVE behaves like a black cat – dark, calm, and collected, yet you are intermittently aware of its claws.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Reality Bites

THE ZOMBIE DAIRIES (2007)

The budget for THE ZOMBIE DIARIES could never stretch
to as many ghouls on its impressive poster art.
 
PRODUCED, written and directed by Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates, this low budget film is a culmination of six years work, and conceptualised long before the announcement of George A. Romero’s similarly themed and upcoming DIARY OF THE DEAD. THE ZOMBIE DAIRIES comprises of three separate video stories, that later cross and merge around an army-related prologue and ambiguous coda. The first is “Outbreak,” where four documentary makers set out to interview a blighted Hertfordshire farmer; the second, “Scavenger,” follows three people desperately looking for supplies, and in the third , “Survivors,” a beleaguered group start to unravel when one member becomes infected.

Under a simplistic and sparingly used score, the work is a slow-burning and often unnervingly creepy experience, mixing social commentary with crowd-pleasing scenes of gut-munching and zombie sex. The cast acquit themselves with a commendably naturalistic and improvised acting style, but THE ZOMBIE DIARIES ace card is that it asks the question “in a decaying world, could human nature be a greater threat than the zombies?”
 
As a bird flu-like virus hts Britain, its inhabitants are turned into flesh-eating ghouls.

From the titillating showmanship of INGAGI (1930), to the haunted backwoods of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) and the video diary of a serial killer in THE LAST HORROR MOVIE (2002), the vogue for films constructed from faux footage has always benefited from the miraculous fact that the person holding the camera never drops or damages it, or simply throws it and runs. Ruggero Deodato’s quintessential Third World horror CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1979), in particular, shares similarities to Bartlett and Gates’ movie in both structure and its ending narration, “I wonder who the real cannibals are.” Yet THE ZOMBIE DIARIES seems more perfect because it exploits this technique for the noughtees age of media obsession, where we feel the need to document any aspect of human experience for public consumption. The filmmakers can be proud that they have created a fitting apocalypse for our YouTube generation.