Thursday, October 1, 2015

"Wet with Terror"

SECRETS OF SEX (1969)
HORROR HOSPITAL (1973)

"Imagine you are making love to this girl. Imagine you are making love to this boy ..." Also known as BIZARRE and TALES OF THE BIZARRE, SECRETS OF SEX is an omnibus oddity that has it all.

EXPLOITATION film distributor and director Antony Balch started with the moving image by writing subtitles for European movies and making adverts for Camay soap and Kit-E-Kat ("Your cat will stay younger, live longer.") While briefly living in France he befriended William Burroughs, before returning to run two movie theatres in London: The Jacey Piccadilly Circus, and The Times Baker Street. Balch made surrealist shorts in collaboration with the American beat poet, and Burroughs also provided narration for the distributor's 1966 re-packaging of HAXAN as WITCHCRAFT THROUGH THE AGES. With a proposed adaptation of Naked Lunch starring Dennis Hopper falling through, Balch found a more solid partner in producer Richard Gordon, which created cult favourites SECRETS OF SEX and HORROR HOSPITAL. Unfortunately future projects such as THE SEX LIFE OF ADOLF HITLER never materialised, and Balch succumbed to stomach cancer in 1980 at the age of just 42.

SECRETS OF SEX was Balch's feature debut, a dotty collection of tales fusing comedy, horror, spies and softcore using a framing device of a Mummy voiced by Valentine Dyall. There are six segments in total, each illustrating the age-old battle between the sexes: a female photographer asks her male model to straddle a 'Spanish Horse' torture device; an old man yearns for a son after a previous bereavement, only for his young scientist lover to keep a birth defect from him and deliver a monster; a man catches a burglar only to discover "Christ! It's a bird!"; Lindy Leigh is Mayfair's Special Agent 28, whose main talent is to shed her clothes at every convenience; a man beckons an escort in an attempt to have sex with his reptile; and an old women confesses to kidnapping the souls of past lovers and trapping them in her greenhouse. Amazingly, this inoffensive and often banal picture was censored by John Trevelyan to the tune of nine minutes, but the film was still a hit and shown up to seven times a day at the Jacey, often with an accompanying Bugs Bunny cartoon.

Graham Humphrey's DVD/Blu-ray cover for HORROR HOSPITAL, discs released in August 2015.

HORROR HOSPITAL sees songwriter Jason Jones (a pre-CONFESSIONS Robin Askwith) taking a break from London's cutthroat music business by going to "Hairy Holidays", a country spa provided by gay travel agent Pollock (Dennis Price). On the train journey there Jason meets Judy (Vanessa (actually Phoebe) Shaw), who is also travelling to the alleged health farm Brittlehurst Manor to meet her long lost aunt. Actually, the Manor is run by Dr Christian Storm (Lugosiesque Michael Gough), who uses lobotomy to turn wayward youth into zombie slaves ("fresh air, birds, flowers - and storm your way back to health.") The wheelchair-bound scientist is aided by Judy's Aunt Harris (Ellen Pollock), a former Hamburg brothel madam, comic-relief dwarf Frederick (Skip Martin), and two biker thugs; and if anyone escapes, Storm has a Rolls Royce fitted with a scythe to stop any such insubordination ("make a clean job of it Frederick, the car was washed this morning.")

Utilising Knebworth House exteriors and Battersea Town Hall interiors, HORROR HOSPITAL - released as THE COMPUTER KILLERS in America - is a washed-out but endearing pastiche of the mad doctor genre, complete with requisite fiery climax. Guest star Price shines as the lecherous Pollock, ogling Jones' package and as camp as Christmas on his visit to the Manor ("Mirror, mirror on the wall, don't say a word, I know it all") before his bloody demise. Askwith and Gough turn in solid performances in roles specifically written for them - Gough is overtly stern and almost a Bond villain  - and it is only a somnambulant Shaw that lets down the troupe. The influence of this piece of 70's schlock even extends to hip-hop, when in 2003 Norwich-based Stonasaurus recorded a concept album about the release; internally, actual 1960's psychedelic group Tangerine Peel appear at the beginning as 'Mystic', fronted by a cross-dresser who is actually co-writer Alan Watson.

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