Going Gray

Island of TerrorAs a child of the ’60s, Carole Gray seemed to me unavoidable. I first saw the South African beauty in Terence Fisher’s Island of Terror (1966), about radioactive monsters spawned of cancer research gone awry who look like tortoise shells with vacuum cleaner hose heads (trust me, they were scary in context) and slither around an island off the coast of Scotland sucking the bones out of their victims, leaving a gelatinous husk. Peter Cushing and Edward Judd take top billing in this with Gray cast as Judd’s trophy girlfriend. They are top scientists, she a millionaire’s daughter… but she has access to a helicopter and demands a piece of the action. The girl has moxie but behaves as a proper girly should, screaming at the right bits and burying her face in the folds of Judd’s benchcoat when things get hairy. As the silicates advance in the final frames, Judd prepares a syringe with which to euthanise the unsuspecting Gray to spare her the sucking of a lifetime but the day is saved in the nick and hero and heroine live another day. After Island of Terror, I was a Gray guy.

Cute as Hell in Devils of Darkness

Truth be told, I saw her photos more often than I saw her moving around on the big (or little) screen. She was always turning up in the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland or in such illustrated genre studies as Barrie Pattison’s The Seal of Dracula. From these books and magazines, I saw she was the leading lady of such tantalizingly-titled shockers as Curse of the Fly (1965) and Devils of Darkness (1965), although it would take me a while to catch up to these films. In many ways, Carole Gray had a face made for horror: hair the color of midnight, a seemingly bone-white complexion, a wide, ravenous mouth and eyes that sparkled with a lethal combination of desire and madness. God, I loved her.

Duel at SundownLittle did I know at the time but I had found Gray towards the end of her short career. The year I was born, she had made her film debut with a plumb role in The Young Ones (1961), opposite recording artist Cliff Richard. The following year she contributed a comely bit to an episode of The Saint with Roger Moore and guest star Barbara Shelley but then there was a bit of a lag after that. When she returned to work it was in a fleeting role as a nurse in the soccer comedy Rattle of a Simple Man (1964), adapted by Charles Dyer from his stage play. Gray had to travel to Yugoslavia for her next gig, bringing a soupcon of sagebrush elegance to Duell vor Sonnenuntergang (US: Duel at Sundown, 1965) with Peter van Eyck and Terence Hill. After that, Gray launched the run of films for which MonsterKids like me love her so dearly, a quartet ending with The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966) with Christopher Lee. Although lower down in the cast list than she would have preferred, the role (of a kidnapped scientist’s daughter made by dint of hypnosis to do nasty things) gave her another chance to walk on the dark side.

Devils of Darkness on DVD!Carole Gray disappeared from films and TV before the end of the decade. Whether it was dissatisfaction with her career or due to her marriage to Douglas Cullinan (of the Cullinan Diamond or “Star of Africa” dynasty) isn’t commonly known. What is known is that her absence was keenly felt. She would have made a great Bond girl and would likely have matured well into character parts as she grew older. Her disappearance was our loss. Happily, two of her films are making their DVD debuts this fall. Devils of Darkness will be included in MGM’s cool “Midnight Movies” series, paired on the same disc with Witchcraft (1964) starring Lon Chaney, Jr. Curse of the Fly will be included in The Fly Collection with The Fly (1959) and The Return of the Fly (1964) starring Vincent Price. Horror film aficianadoes will recall, of course, that Curse begins with the image of Carole Gray scrambling madly across a country estate at night clad only in a white bra and (to contemporary eyes) unflattering apple-catchers. You’ve got to know I’ll be on top of that like a fly on sugar.

2 Responses Going Gray
Posted By Ben Martin : September 27, 2007 3:48 pm

I must admit I've never given her much thought.  I had not seen Island of Terror until a few years ago but I loved it. And I was struck by the effectiveness of the three leads. (no surpise with Cushing – of course – and Judd, who I think is quite good) but I couldnt have even told you Carole Gray's name until I read your blog.  The b&w mage you included of her is stunning.   I saw today that the special 3-disc FLY DVD is now released.  I recently wrote an article discussing the original movie and how it compares to the original short story (to be published in Monster Bash magazine).  so as a fan, i was going to grab the disc set anyway.  After you  reminded me of the opening scene of Curse, I'm that much more anxious.  (That film deserves a bit more attention anyway.  As a kid I was really bugged it wasnt at all like the first or second one – where's the "fly??"  – but it really creeped me out.)

Posted By Ben Martin : September 27, 2007 3:48 pm

I must admit I've never given her much thought.  I had not seen Island of Terror until a few years ago but I loved it. And I was struck by the effectiveness of the three leads. (no surpise with Cushing – of course – and Judd, who I think is quite good) but I couldnt have even told you Carole Gray's name until I read your blog.  The b&w mage you included of her is stunning.   I saw today that the special 3-disc FLY DVD is now released.  I recently wrote an article discussing the original movie and how it compares to the original short story (to be published in Monster Bash magazine).  so as a fan, i was going to grab the disc set anyway.  After you  reminded me of the opening scene of Curse, I'm that much more anxious.  (That film deserves a bit more attention anyway.  As a kid I was really bugged it wasnt at all like the first or second one – where's the "fly??"  – but it really creeped me out.)

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