Saturday, March 1, 2014

Crash and Tyburn

THE GHOUL (1975)

LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF on the cover of the last issue of Monster Mag (Vol 2 #4, August 1976).

SON of cinematographer and director Freddie Francis, Kevin Francis founded Tyburn in an attempt to recreate the Hammer Horrors of his childhood. A slaughterhouse employee turned Hammer staffer - he had provided the outline for TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA - the problem was that it was 1973, and horror cinema was becoming immersed in a new realism. Freddie would helm the two pictures here, yet his well documented disdain for the genre - and even greater contempt for its fans - would be mixed with a problematic working relationship with his son. LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF sees wolves adopt a young boy named Etoile, who is discovered by a freak show fronted by Maestro Pamponi (Hugh Griffith). After growing up, Etoile (David Rintoul) makes his way to Paris where his ability to communicate with animals impresses a zookeeper (Ron Moody) who offers him a job. When Etoile becomes infatuated with prostitute Christine (Lynn Dalby), his resentment for her clients makes him transform into a werewolf. Piecing together the mystery, police pathologist Professor Paul (Peter Cushing) becomes convinced that a man-wolf is responsible.

As with CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, the picture is based on Guy Endore's 1933 novel The Werewolf of Paris, and is also written by Anthony Hinds. It was originally announced under the misleading title of PLAGUE OF THE WEREWOLVES, and even though the film may return the story to its Parisian setting, this tepid production portrays its wolf attacks with suitably mundane rapid cuts, red-tinted POV shots and close-ups of bloodied fangs. Thankfully the performances are earnest and entertaining: Cushing is unsurprisingly the star as he gradually unravels the crimes, Dalby gives a sympathetic performance as the archetypal tart with a heart, and Moody passes amicably as the abrasive zookeeper. Of the supporting players Roy Castle is typically irritating as a squeamish and bumbling photographer, while Michael Ripper makes the most of his cameo as "Sewerman."

Don Henderson as THE GHOUL. Prior to becoming an actor, Henderson was a detective sergeant with Essex police; ironically his most celebrated role was as fictional crime stopper George Bulman, who appeared in three TV series: THE XYZ MAN, STRANGERS and BULMAN.

Taking advantage of sets built for THE GREAT GATSBY, THE GHOUL is a much more feverish affair. The film opens with four upper class twits - Geoffrey (Ian McCulloch), Angela (Alexandra Bastedo), Billy (Stewart Bevan) and Daphne (Veronica Carlson) - embarking on a car race to Land's End. But as fog closes in on Daphne and Billy, the blonde is whisked away by unhinged gardener Tom (John Hurt) to the remote mansion of defrocked clergyman Doctor Lawrence (Peter Cushing). Lawrence has returned from India with a family secret and a mystical servant (Gwen Watford), and unbeknown to Lawrence’s visitors, his son (Don Henderson in sandals) resides in the attic and suffers from uncontrollable bouts of stabbing and cannibalism.

Moving between misty marshlands and interior splendour, THE GHOUL exists in a hazy otherworld, with Cushing's commanding performance providing the actor with several art-imitating-life moments as he mentions his departed wife. As with the Vulcan favourite CITY OF THE DEAD, THE GHOUL shares striking similarities with the structure of PSYCHO. We have a strong-willed blonde literally racing cross-country before stopping to rest at a location where she is murdered; even the killing is Hitchcockesque with a knife cutting shower-like curtains (here, it is mosquito netting that surrounds her bed). Daphne's car is also disposed of with a push (here a cliff rather than a bog) and Geoffrey is disbatched Martin Balsam-like falling backwards down stairs. The production also plays like a recycling of Hammer's THE REPTILE, with its English family corrupted by an evil Indian sect.