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.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Curse of Kah-to-Bey

THE MUMMY'S SHROUD (1967)

South African non-actress Maggie Kimberly escapes the clutches of Eddie Powell in Hammer's third Mummy picture. 

MEZZERA, Egypt, 1920: a British archaeological expedition financed by businessman Stanley Preston (John Phillips) - comprising of Sir Basil Walden (Andre Morrell), Preston's son Paul (a stilted David Buck), photographer Harry Newton (Tim Barrett) and psychic linguist Claire de Sangre (Maggie Kimberly) - discover the tomb of Kah-to-Bey, a child prince. Members of the find are soon being murdered by the Mummy of Prem (played by Hammer's regular stuntman and Christopher Lee double Eddie Powell), Kah-to-Bey's devoted servant, who can be revived by reading the words off the Prince's burial shroud.

Following Terence Fisher's magisterial THE MUMMY of 1959 and Michael Carreras' disposable 1964 THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY'S TOMB, THE MUMMY'S SHROUD ("Beware the Beat of the Cloth-wrapped feet!") is a formulaic affair, and the last movie shot at Bray. Written and directed by John Gilling, and scripted by Anthony Hinds, the film starts with a painfully dull and micro-budgeted ancient Egyptian prologue - which includes Dickie Owen, the titular fiend from THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY'S TOMB, as the living Prem - and viewers will also be disappointed by the lack of cleavage, especially as so much is on offer from Kimberly's promotional poses. Unusually for Hammer, the glamour girl role is a character with a narrative function (the somnambulist Claire has the ability to read the "words of death"), but unfortunately Kimberly - who had just appeared in Gilling's secret agent spoof WHERE THE BULLETS FLY - is the worst actress in the Classic Hammer canon.

Studio Canal's Blu-ray/DVD was released in October 2012, containing two standout documentaries: an informative making-of and a touching tribute by Madeline Smith for husband David Buck.

As Jonathan Rigby points out in English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema, a telling sign of the relegated stature of Hammer's Mummy sequels is that stunt men were cast as the monster, following Christopher Lee's barnstorming performance in Fisher's original. The real monster of THE MUMMY'S SHROUD is Preston, expertly portrayed by Phillips as an arrogant coward: quick to enjoy the spoils, even quicker to escape when the curse starts to take hold. Elizabeth Sellars, as his wife Barbara, makes an excellent foil, and it is good to see Michael Ripper in a prolonged role as Preston's long-suffering valet, the myopic Longbarrow. Completing the cast are Catherine Lacey and Roger Delgado's scene-stealing turns as the mother-and-son team whose family have barred the entrance to Kah-to-Bey's tomb for centuries. In fact Lacey's role as fortune-teller Haiti, together with Barbara and Claire, form a trio of female characters with second sight, while the male protagonists are lambs to the slaughter. 

The Mummy itself has always been the slightest of movie monsters. Covered in bandages that barely conceal the decay beneath, and often reduced to stalk-and-slash with a mystical backdrop, the Mummy started life on film as a device for camera trickery; in both Melies' 1899 CLEOPATRA and Walter Booth's 1901 HAUNTED CURIOSITY SHOP, the creature was an object to illustrate the joys of celluloid illusion. Unlike the heralded literary origins of Dracula and Frankenstein, the springboard for the Mummy as a potential movie monster was enhanced by real life: the myths surrounding Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon's 1924 expedition to uncover the tomb of Tutankhamen. In Hammer's fourth and final excursion into this sub-genre - 1971's BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB - the studio side-stepped including the bandaged menace altogether. Yet unlike Universal's arthritic Mummy movies, at least Hammer's ancient terrors were brutal threats.