Monday, August 1, 2011

Two from Tigon

ZETA ONE (1970)
THE BEAST IN THE CELLAR (1970)

ZETA ONE even manages to make strip poker with Yutte Stensgaard boring. The Danish au pair/model had a versatile association with British pop culture: she auditioned for the part of DOCTOR WHO companion Jo Grant, appeared as the hostess on THE GOLDEN SHOT, and is most famous for her role as Mircalla / Carmilla Karnstein in Hammer's LUST FOR A VAMPIRE.

FOUNDED by Tony Tenser in 1966, Tigon released a wide range of films - from sexploitation to an acclaimed adaptation of August Strindberg's MISS JULIE (1971) starring Helen Mirren - but were most famous for making WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968) and BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW (1971). These two films, however, represent Tigon at its worst. ZETA ONE sees secretary Ann Olsen (Yutte Stensgaard) learning that Special Agent James Word (Robin Hawdon) is investigating Public Enemy Number 1, Major Bourdon (James Robertson Justice). Attractive young women are being abducted from Earth and brainwashed into serving space queen Zeta (Dawn Addams) from Angvia (typically, an anagram of vagina). Word is given the task of protecting Edwina (Wendy Lingham), a stripper who is to be the next kidnap victim, though she is actually working for Bourdon. With the assistance of the inept Swyne (Charles Hawtrey, in a role intended for Frankie Howerd), Bourdon is planning to be the new ruler of this race of scantily clad super women. However, Olsen is another Angvian trying to stop Word from thwarting their unexplained plans.

Described by Films & Filming as "A piece of science fiction pornography," ZETA ONE is a kitsch, one-dimensional romp through the fifth dimension. Based on the swinging sixties London-published Zeta - a magazine which contained captioned photo-stories of naked girls in the name of sci-fi - ZETA ONE opens with a numbingly long strip poker sequence, where after Word and Olson jump into bed and the not so Special Agent narrates the story of his investigation. By the time director Michael Cort had run out of his meagre £60,000 budget, he barely had sixty minutes of footage, and this scene was one of many tweaks to a film that Tenser tried to salvage. The production was an unhappy one, filming in an uncompleted Camden complex where dressing rooms and offices would remain only partially operational. Robertson Justice and Hawtrey seem tired and embarrassed as they await their pay cheques, and the climax - where the aliens, lead by Atropos (Valerie Leon), annihilate a group of hunters by a zap sound effect from their fingertips - brings new meaning to artistic license.

A delightfully misrepresentative German DVD cover for the drab THE BEAST IN THE CELLAR. The appearance of the military at the top of the design - who are key to the plot - seems like an afterthought.

Written and directed by James Kelly, THE BEAST IN THE CELLAR at once reveals its punchline rather than use its more intriguing, original title ARE YOU DYING, YOUNG MAN?. Joyce (Flora Robson) and Ellie (Beryl Reid) are two elderly sisters living in an isolated, rural family house. Murders of soldiers at a nearby base are initially blamed on an animal ("a leopard in Lancashire?"), but the culprit turns out to be the spinsters' brother Stephen (Dafydd Havard), who was walled-up in the cellar before WWII to prevent his enlisting and ending up shell-shocked and disfigured like their WWI father. After continually escaping from his confinement, Stephen appears in his taloned-Neanderthal form to haunt his siblings in a thunderstorm-set climax.

THE BEAST IN THE CELLAR was the first Tigon picture to be shot at Pinewood, yet there is no scope in this static, talkative production; even a 'sex in the barn' scene delivers nothing of interest. The anti-war allegory undoubtedly still resonates, but is ultimately lost amidst the endless regurgitation of dialogue - celery is a particular talking point - which are infrequently interrupted by jarring, quickly edited murder scenes with minor flashes of blood. Publicity was unsurprisingly milked to try to gather some interest (UK trade ads even tried to associate the film to the Edgar Allan Poe quote "and much of madness, and more of sin, and of horror the soul of the plot"), but to no avail. Robson and Reid give stoic performances more associated to the stage, and Robson apparently only took the part after a chance train meeting with Laurence Olivier, who persuaded her to take the offer of work.