Sunday, April 21, 2013

Carnage and Carnality

THE FLESH AND BLOOD SHOW (1972)
 
"If it wasn't so tragic and horrible, it would almost make a movie script."

THE bluntly independent horror output of Pete Walker often depicted society itself as the monster, a clinically cold England that tries to cast off the shackles of the past, only to be smothered by a tide of permissiveness after generations of repression. Unlike Hammer or Amicus, Walker's monsters are not based in the supernatural, rather symbolically drawn from a bygone age. Scripted by Alfred Shaughnessy, Walker's first venture into horror, THE FLESH AND BLOOD SHOW, tells of a young acting troupe led by Mike (Ray Brooks) residing in an abandoned seaside theatre. The group - which includes Julia (Jenny Hanley), Carol (Luan Peters), Simon (Robin Askwith) and Sarah (Candace Glendenning) - are engaged by a mysterious agent to produce a musical review. When the aspiring thespians are picked off by a hooded prowler, the killer is revealed to be distinguished actor Sir Arnold Gates (Patrick Barr), who previously entombed his wife and her lover alive during a production of Othello.

THE FLESH AND BLOOD SHOW explores the relationship between life and illusion and the connection between acting and promiscuity in a collectively complex dictum. Gates' outburst - "They're all the same, young actors, filthy and degenerate lechers, all of them. And the females, flaunting their bodies, offering their thighs and their breasts. Scum! Excrement!" - subscribes to a world where performance is being eroded away by the use of the body. Sir Arnold's views reflect those of Walker himself, whose contempt for the acting profession is illustrated by him saying "If I could make films without actors, I would rather do it," a standing that has also been noted by many of his scriptwriters, particularly David McGillivray, who quotes the director as describing actors as "egotistical poofs" and actresses "pompous prostitutes." Not content to having his dramatis personae reduced to ciphers and sex-crazed starlets, Walker obliged the scantily-clad performers to suffer for their art by shooting THE FLESH AND BLOOD SHOW in February. 

Best remembered for presenting MAGPIE, Jenny Hanley was briefly a Bond girl in ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE and survived the SCARS OF DRACULA.

Using the concept of Ten Little IndiansTHE FLESH AND BLOOD SHOW is a rich British giallo similar to the Britsploitation classic TOWER OF EVIL. Both these features include the staples of the slasher film before this much-maligned sub-genre really existed. It is also interesting to note how the film sows the seeds of Walker's stabs on the establishment that would flow freely in his more famous output. The small town where the picture plays out feels creepy enough on its own even without the aid of the maniac on the loose, but THE FLESH AND BLOOD SHOW's major fault is its incredibly murky photography. Also to the production's detriment is its use of an experimental 3-D process - seen only in a flashback to the wartime Othello production - which appears so late in the proceeding to lose any real shock value.