Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Hocus Pocus

A 1966 Hammer Horror "ripe for rediscovery" AND an even more delirious Eurotrash farrago ...

THE WITCHES. Believe it or not this 1966 Hammer Films farrago is another of those being restored and screened at the London Film Festival. I had not seen it since its 1966 release, but remember my pal Stan and I finding it hilarious. It suddenly cropped up over the weekend on a minor cable channel devoted to horror films. It is of course Joan Fontaine’s last cinema film and I understand she set up the project herself – only to find herself out-acted by her co-star, Kay Walsh (Nancy in Lean’s GREAT EXPECTATIONS among other great roles). 
Joan is Gwen Mayfield, a graciously genteel teacher who has a breakdown while teaching in Africa as she falls foul of a local witchdoctor. Back in England she gets a new position as headmistress of a school in an ideal quaint Olde English village run by local author Stephanie Bax (Walsh) and her sometimes vicar brother Alec McEwan. Walsh takes command of the picture and seems to come on like a predatory lesbian - perhaps she thought the only way to play this preposterous material was to camp it up to the limit? Gwen settles in but begins to notice odd things and the villagers and pupils seem odd too, and there is that black cat … plus the flock of sheep who obliterate telling footprints, knocking over Gwen in the mud. Before long Joan’s raised eyebrow works overtime as she begins to realise there is a coven of witches in the village and they are planning a human sacrifice: the still virginal teenage girl (Ingrid Boulting). Gwen though is hospitalised by doctor Leonard Rossiter, and we have to wait until she escapes for the over the top climax. 
Enter Stephanie, boss witch supreme, in her witch robes and that curious head-dress with antlers and little birthday candles lit on it – how did she manage those doing that long campy dance of hers? The villagers (including Duncan Lamont, Bryan Marshall, and the boy from THE INNOCENTS Martin Stephens - now that was a real chiller, as per label) have a very British orgy as they writhe, cover themselves in slime, and the the virgin is brought out. Quick thinking Gwen realises how to stop the ceremony and turn the evil back on Stephanie (who foolishly had told her what to do earlier..).Need I go on? This is a delirious farrago, a totally enjoyable piece of nonsense, from Hammer Films, written by Nigel Kneale (of QUATERMASS fame) and directed by Cyril Frankel. It really should have been marketed as a comedy rather than a Hammer horror. The Film Festival brochure describes it as a film “that is ripe for rediscovery” – it is certainly ripe!
FANGS OF THE LIVING DEAD. More comic thrills in this 1968 Eurotrash vampire saga, also known as MALENKA. Model Sylvia Morel (Anita Ekberg – several years after her glory period) inherits an old castle somewhere in Central Europe, so of course she goes to see it, arriving at the inn in a fetching orange pantsuit with matching cape. At the mention of the castle and her connection to it the yokels freeze and fall back as a carriage arrives to take her there. So far, so BRIDES OF DRACULA …. Who is the strange nobleman who only appears at night, and that bevy of beauties she suspects are vampires …. 
She changes outfits in her room and emerges with a totally different hairstyle complete with ringlets. This is daft Eurotrash of the highest, or lowest depending on your view, order. Anita seems to be enjoying herself while going through the motions. Malenka of course was the original vampire, killed some centuries ago, who turned all her family into vampires and they now want Sylvia, who looks just like her, to join them … As a reviewer said on IMDB, it plays like “a Mel Brooks parody of a Gothic horror movie”. Directed by Armando de Ossorio.

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