Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on November 14, 2013
In the early 1980s British home video stores found themselves in the center of a storm when moral panic swept through the U.K. Religious leaders, parents and politically motivated individuals created what’s now known as the “video nasty” scare after discovering that stores were renting graphic horror films usually reserved for American grindhouses and indiscriminate drive-ins. Most of the objectionable movies were made in the U.S. or Italy where excessive violence and nudity had few problems getting past censors if it was properly rated but in Britain film censorship tended to be much more restrictive. Movies with explicit content and titles that often intended to shock such as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980), THE DRILLER KILLER (1979) and I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978) caused widespread outrage throughout the U.K. that led to them being removed from video stores, criminally prosecuted or cut for British audiences. The only British film that was apparently singled out during the video nasty scare was James Kenelm Clarke’s THE HOUSE ON STRAW HILL (aka Exposé; 1976). For decades this notorious erotic thriller has had the reputation of being one of the sleaziest films ever produced in Britain during the 1970s, which made it difficult to see. Badly cut or edited video copies circulated among the curious but the quality was always questionable. Thanks to the efforts of Severin Films I recently had the opportunity to catch up with this infamous film on DVD but it didn’t exactly live up to its seedy status. Is it an unsung cult classic waiting rediscovery? Or is it one of the most depraved movies ever made? In truth it’s neither of these things but I’m glad that Severin has saved the film from obscurity and given it a new life on DVD.
Posted by David Kalat on October 26, 2013
I was gonna call this week’s post “2 Girls, 1 Swimming Pool” but decided against it. But inspired by TCM’s upcoming screening of one of my all-time favorite thrillers, Henri Georges Clouzot’s Diabolique (AKA Les Diaboliques), I’m taking the opportunity to celebrate the twisted artistry of this gloriously macabre picture–and taking stock of one of its many knock-offs.
Clouzot’s is a dark and cynical cinema, devoid of hope and happy endings. Which is unsurprising, since that is an equally apt description of Clouzot himself. “All his work has been surrounded by an air of scandal and affront,” writes Roy Armes, “and the shooting of all his films is conducted in an atmosphere of bitterness and recrimination. His own urge to dominate is perhaps reflected in his urge to dominate is perhaps reflected in his characters who seek outlets for their lust, hatred, and violence.”
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on July 25, 2013
He promised he’d buy me a fairing should please me,
British director Terence Fisher is best known for his work with Hammer Films but before he started making movies for the studio that dripped blood, Fisher edited and co-directed a number of films for Gainsborough Pictures. One of his most accomplished early directorial efforts is SO LONG AT THE FAIR (1950) starring a very young Jean Simmons and Dirk Bogarde. This absorbing thriller isn’t available on DVD in the US but SO LONG AT THE FAIR will air this coming Sunday (July 28th) on TCM at 7:15 PM PST and 10:15 PM EST. Fans of well-acted period dramas and good gothic mysteries should consider tuning in but the film will be of particular interest to anyone curious about the origins of modern British horror cinema.
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on June 6, 2013
I planned on writing about a completely different film this week but something unexpected happened that caught me by surprise. I watched David Lean’s magnificent MADELEINE (1950) yesterday for the first time and I was so moved by this vastly underrated and utterly brilliant true crime drama that I just had to share a few of my thoughts about it with you. Proceed with caution because I indulge in spoilers that may lessen the film’s impact if you haven’t had the opportunity to see it for yourself.
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on February 7, 2013
I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, horror is my favorite film genre. But that doesn’t stop me from occasionally getting aggravated by some of the female stereotypes that populate it. From madwomen in the attic to resilient final girls and overprotective mothers, horror is a genre that rarely deviates from the tired and true tropes that have captivated audiences for decades. Enter Florence Cathcart (played by actress Rebecca Hall) in a new British horror film called THE AWAKENING (2012). Florence is a spunky science minded young writer who spends her days debunking séance-holding charlatans who prey on a grief stricken nation with promises that they can communicate with the dead. The year is 1921 and England is recovering from a world war that killed over a million British soldiers, including a young man who Florence once loved. Con artists masquerading as spiritualists thrived during the country’s postwar recovery and routinely targeted vulnerable individuals who wanted to reunite with lost loved ones. Florence, a proud atheist who’s just as comfortable in a pair of man’s trousers as she is a long skirt, is driven to expose these frauds and has just published a popular book about her exploits. Her professional occupation is buoyed by her unspoken desire to reconnect with phantoms from her own past and put them to rest. In simple terms, she is a ghost hunter on a personal mission. She also happens to be one of the most interesting and well-constructed horror film heroines I’ve encountered recently.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on December 18, 2012
For as long as there are aging matinee idols looking for a quick paycheck, there will be commando movies there to pay them. While the painfully self-conscious Expendables movies brought this prestigious genre back into box office glory, it’s a format that has been cranking along for decades. Before Stallone, the most successful old man revitalizer was Andrew V. McLaglen (son of actor Victor), who cranked out fogey action flicks from the 60s through the 80s, after a long career in TV Westerns. Cult home video outfit Severin has just released The Wild Geese (1978) on Blu-Ray, which stars the leathery trio of Richard Burton, Richard Harris and Roger Moore. McLaglen’s favorite among his films, it is a bloody imperialist fantasy in which a group of ex-Special Ops Brits parachute into Africa to rescue a deposed leader from a tyrannical despot. Fitfully released in the United States as its distributor was going through bankruptcy, it exudes more testosterone per film frame than Stallone’s pec-flexing opus.
Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on December 2, 2012
Last night Alex Cox and I sat down for a private screening of O Lucky Man! (Lindsay Anderson, 1973). Alex had met both Anderson and Malcolm McDowell back in the seventies, and had even presented Anderson with a script for a film that never got made (Scousers). At one point Alex, who had not seen O Lucky Man! in a very long time, couldn’t help but blurt out that “it’s even better than I remember!” Alex was also surprised by how certain sequences in the film had clearly influenced his own Highway Patrolman (1991), and we both marveled at how, despite being almost 40 years old, the film retained all its original power and packed a prescient edge. O Lucky Man! is even more relevant now to the U.S. because at the time of its release it was chronicling the nervous collapse of English society from an engineering country to a service country. It’s the same spasm that now grips the U.S. psyche. [...MORE]
Posted by David Kalat on November 3, 2012
For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been looking at secret Hitchcock remakes—movies that may or may not have taken direct inspiration from Hitchcock’s classics, but at least pretended they didn’t. Those films attempt to stand on their own merits, independent of any comparisons to Hitchcock that their content might invite.
But we haven’t yet addressed the thorny mess of overt Hitchcock remakes—the ones that openly identify themselves as updates of movies made by the Master of Suspense. Somehow that makes a significant difference—and the direct comparisons are never flattering.
So when we come to something like Hammer’s 1979 version of The Lady Vanishes, not only do we have the worrisome aspect of a direct Hitchcock remake, we also have the exceedingly problematic audience expectations generated by the phrase “Hammer does Hitchcock.”
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on March 29, 2012
The term ‘auteur’ is rarely associated with Jack Clayton. When critics and film scholars refer to the British director by name they usually describe him as being a “talented craftsman” or “skilled technician.” Credit for the extraordinary look and feel of Clayton’s best work is too often attributed to the skilled cinematographers (Freddie Francis, Oswald Morris, Douglas Slocombe, etc.) or screenwriters (Truman Copote, Harold Pinter, Francis Ford Coppola, etc.) that he teamed-up with but the director’s own vision is paramount. Andrew Sarris famously said that, “The only Clayton constant is impersonality.” But with only a handful of films in Clayton’s oeuvre I find it easy to link them together through their literary ambitions, parallel themes and stylistic directing choices. And of course there’s the remarkable performances he was able to extract from his actors. Clayton was particularly adept at directing women. Under his watchful eye renowned talents like Simone Signoret, Deborah Kerr, Anne Bancroft, Mia Farrow and Maggie Smith gifted us with some of their most memorable roles.
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on November 17, 2011
Albert Finney as Arthur Seaton in SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING (1961)
On Saturday, Nov. 19th (and Jan. 17th) TCM will be airing Karel Reisz’ SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING (1961). This bleak but beautifully shot kitchen-sink drama features Albert Finney in his screen debut as one of Britain’s original angry young men. The film is based on a novel by the British author Alan Sillitoe who also wrote the screenplay. Alan Sillitoe died last year at age 82 but I recently had the opportunity to discuss his screenwriting career and contributions to British cinema with Neil Fulwood and David Sillitoe (Alan’s son). Both men are part of the recently formed Alan Sillitoe Committee, which is trying to raise awareness of the author’s work and commission a statue in his honor.
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