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nearly a winner
How can I resist the challenge nay temptation of a film directed by Anwar Kawadri (Nutcracker, Sex with the Stars) with "additional scenes produced, directed, written and edited by Michael Winner".
I'm unsure of the exact history of the production, and who did precisely what, but for my money Claudia feels very much an abortive Winner film with additional material by Kawadri, rather than the other way round. Covering similar territory as Gerry O'Hara's The Brute (1977), Claudia depicts the rapidly deteriorating relationship and marriage of its titular heroine Claudia (Deborah Raffin) and businessman Howard (Nicholas Ball). Initially the epitome of everything a woman wanted from a man in the materialistic 1980s, charmer Howard whisks Claudia away from her job working at her mother's deli and into a world of wealth, art galleries, lavish restaurants and dinner parties attended by Howard's well to do social circle (this is the kind of film where people tend to begin or end every sentence with 'darling'). Upon their third wedding anniversary however huge cracks begin to appear in their relationship, Claudia's Italian mother wants the couple to have a bambino and suspicions arise that Howard is firing blanks. To complicate matters Howard is also having an affair with aspiring female author Sally (Belinda Mayne, something of a moth to the flame when it came to appearing in trashy 80s movies- see also: Don't Open Till Christmas, Alien 2: On Earth and White Fire) and he reacts to accusations of his impotence by calling Claudia a bitch and slapping her around. Following their breakup, Howard struggles to accept the separation, taking it especially bad when Claudia hooks up with her neighbour Gavin, a male hairdresser with ties to the music industry. After putting the frighteners on Gavin fails to have the desired effect, Howard takes things to greater extremes, having Gavin beaten up then murdered by his criminal associates. The shock of which causes a now pregnant Claudia to lose the baby she was due to have with Gavin, and vows to get revenge on her murderous ex.
In typical Winner fashion, polite, upper middle class settings and characters here mingle with rude and frequently hilariously course dialogue ("we make love, what's your problem, you should see a psychiatrist or a gynaecologist", "why don't you explore a bit, y'know, have it off with the plumber or something"). Even the casting suggests Winner as the greater directorial presence, with leading lady Deborah Raffin appearing in Death Wish 3 the same year, and a supporting cast of 1960s showbiz knockabouts (Mark Eden, John Moulder-Brown, Ed Devereaux, Jess Conrad). Then there are the Balloons. For reasons he appears to have gone to his grave without explaining, nuns and characters holding balloons are a reoccurring harbinger of doom in Winner's films. Basically the moment a nun or someone carrying balloons walks into frame in one of Winner's films it is usually a sign that some very bad stuff is about to go down. Sure enough in Claudia when a minor character shows up at a party at Claudia and Howard's house with balloons, it signals the moment in the film when Howard undergoes a dramatic personality change from a 'can do no wrong' Mr Perfect to an alcoholic, wife beating, impotent rapist and control freak. The equal amount of emphasis on Howard and Claudia's cooking, and vicious put downs of it by other characters film could even be seen to anticipate Winner's later career change from film maker to restaurant critic "I do hope you've improved your cooking Howard, the last time I ate with you, I had diarrhoea for three weeks" complains one character during one of the film's endless parade of upper middle class dinner scenes. Make no mistake Claudia is truly a foodie's film.
Winner was soon to be on an exploitation film roll, with the cranked up to eleven ludicrous excesses of Death Wish 3 and Scream for Help just around the corner, but Claudia feels like a muted variation on the latter, only with a wife, rather than a stepdaughter pitted against a vile piece of work of a man and struggling to convince those around her that he is a wolf in sheep's clothing. Perhaps due to the production problems and creative differences hinted at by the two director credits, Claudia never seems sure of what genre it wants to commit to. Everything about the opening twenty minutes indicates a rather lightweight romantic film, all shot in the glossy manner of a 1980s TV commercial aimed at yuppies. Thereafter Claudia really starts to frustratingly come off the rails, pursuing plot tangents that never lead anywhere, like Gavin going all Paul McCartney and temporarily installing Claudia as the keyboard player in his band, or Claudia's mother finding love in later life and planning to move to Australia. Throughout the film I couldn't help but feel sorry for anyone who had the job of trying to market it to the public (it was made in 1985, but released direct to video in the UK in 1987), just how do you sell an inconsistent film with its fingers in so many disparate genres like Claudia. The further the film progresses, the deeper Claudia aimlessly drifts in the direction of being a thriller, a drama, a soap opera, a rape-revenge film and what back then might have patronisingly been referred to as a 'a woman's film'. The inclusion of Death Wishy exploitation elements (Howard's criminal associates beating Gavin to a pulp, Claudia enduring beatings and a rape by Howard) may liven things up but only further adds to the sense of Claudia being a cinematic jack of all trades, and master of none. Definitely lesser 1980s Winner, Claudia never really catches fire like Death Wish 3 and Scream for Help, instead having to make do with feeling like a more violent, potty mouthed version of one of the era's 'Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense' TV movies.
I tend to revisit this one every half-dozen or so years, and in the words of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band its always "guaranteed to raise a smile". I think the first time I saw it was on TV when I was very young, and with my parents. Although we only caught the last half hour of it, so the nude walkabouts and the middle section where they are roughing up the woman at the asylum had already passed us by (I don't think my parents would have allowed me to keep watching it if they hadn't), and so my parents were spared any awkward child to parent questions like "whats an extreme masochist" and "what did that man mean when he called himself as a natural voyeur".
Watching it again, I did pick up on there being an overlap in terms of content between it and Return of the Living Dead, what with both films featuring fast moving zombies and sharing a scene where a skeletal female corpse returns to life on an operating table. Obviously the direct link there is Dan O'Bannon having been the screenwriter of both movies, and Hooper having been pencilled in to direct Return of the Living Dead at one point. So I guess a couple of ideas they came up with for Return of the Living Dead also found their way into the Lifeforce script as well, especially in light of the fact that there is no zombie apocalypse in the 'Space Vampires' source novel. Ironically Lifeforce puts you in mind of so many films that came before it (Alien, Night of the Living Dead, Hammer's Quatermass films and variants like X- The Unknown) and yet one of the few significant horror films it isn't reminiscent of is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Not for a second does Lifeforce feel like a film from the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, whereas you do get a TCM vibe from Hooper's Death Trap and to a lesser extent Salem's Lot. I find it interesting that the film's trailer and original advertising hypes it as being "from the director of Poltergeist" rather than TCM, and do suspect that had Lifeforce equalled the success of Poltergeist it would have led to a second stage in Tobe Hooper's career as a bankable director of big budget, special effects driven blockbusters, as would later happen with Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson. Whereas the box-office failure of the film and Hooper's retreat back to low-budget horror soon after, means that Lifeforce and especially Poltergeist now feel like career abnormalities, as Hooper is still strongly defined by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in a way that Raimi and Jackson no longer are by The Evil Dead or Bad Taste. I think time is being kind of Hooper's career though, there seems to be allot more people fighting the corner for Lifeforce and TCM2 these days than back when those films first came out. It was once quite fashionable to knock Hooper, I remember there was an especially damning career overview published in 'Deep Red' magazine in the late 1980s that portrayed him as being a talent that had gone astray and sold out to Hollywood. There is a tendency to look more generously on his films these days though, if only because so many of his contemporaries have similarly suffered from career declines and fallen from grace with their fan-bases. Latter day Hooper films like Spontaneous Combustion and Crocodile might never measure up to his earlier work, but then again they're no worse than what Romero and Argento come up with these days.
I was watching it recently mindful of there being growing rumours that a Lifeforce remake is in the works, and whether or not remaking the film is really justified. So I was a little surprised as to how much the special effects in the film hold up. Admittedly, the fake Patrick Stewart head and the burning model village doubling for London do cause you to wince, but the early scenes on-board the spaceship and Halley's Comet –which are the scenes I'd expected to date badly- wouldn't look out of place on the big screen these days. For a Cannon film there is also a real absence of period trappings, which you certainly can't say about the The Exterminator 2 or Ninja 3: The Domination with their aerobics and break dancing scenes. I do know that the original Space Vampires novel is set in the future, and while the film drops that angle, I suspect the fact that it is based on a futuristic source novel lends it a timeless feel. Of course the film does also manage to dodge the fashions of its day by virtue of the fact that the first twenty minutes or so features the majority of the cast in spacesuits and one cast member wearing nothing at all. I don't have a big downer on remakes though, and am curious as to what they'll come up with should this Lifeforce remake come to fruition, but to me there is nothing in the original that really cries out to be remade in order to bring it in line with the tastes of modern audiences. Whereas with say, An American Werewolf In London, you can imagine some Hollywood exec looking at that film nowadays and insisting it is in need of an update on account that there are aspects to it that aren't really relevant to the world of today, no one for instance goes to a cinema to watch porn anymore and the gag about there only being three television channels in Britain is meaningless today. I can't see a great deal in Lifeforce though that overly ties it to the 1980s, although it would have been hilarious if Golan-Globus has insisted that the zombies had to do a bit of break dancing at one point.
Wrong Way (1972)
tigon's dirty pick-up
"Do I have a very bad video copy here or does one of the actors in this film appear to have a green ass" is the infrequently asked question you may find yourself puzzling over during Ray Williams' 1972 American exploiter Wrong Way, worryingly the answer is actually the latter. I'm far from the first person to note similarities between Williams' film and The Last House on the Left, which extends to beyond the casual. Not only do the two films centre around two teenage girls failing into the hands of a gang of sex criminals, but both serve up comic relief filler in the form of two knuckleheaded cops, both score graphic sexual assault scenes to downer folk music, and both cut between one of the girls' parents expressing growing concern about her safety and the grim abuse being dished out to their offspring. It all feels more than just mere coincidence, but exactly who saw each other's film first remains a question mark, keeping in mind both films were made in 1972. Wrong Way does however increase your respect for the upsetting power of Last House on the Left, when you see the basically same material that in Wes Craven's hands made for a thought provoking film with considerable shock value, here serve as fodder for a sweaty, droning softcore quickie.
Sleazy Rider–another film that is in a similar mode to this-had a notably anti-establishment, cop hating rhetoric to it, but Wrong Way's mindset is in comparison muddled and reactionary. Plenty of good old boy humour is in evidence, jokes about getting crabs n' drinking beer are calculated to get the fellas cracking up at the local drive-ins. Hippie put downs are present and correct with longhairs portrayed as itinerant rapists and drug dealers, even a lame Manson-esque figure turns up towards the end of the film. "The good news is our men had to shoot one of the hippie rats he got it right in the balls" enthuses the
cops. Sentiments suggesting a greater allegiance to the forces of law and order here,and a film that spits a giant ball of mucus in the direction of hippies. Despite that Wrong Way gawps long, if not exactly hard, at the hippies foul sexual deeds. Gang rape scenes go on and on in this, but badly mimed rape scenes and limp tally-whackers from all concerned constantly give the game away that no real humping was going on here. Just to get back to the topic of he of the green ass for a moment, it does occur to me that as the main gang rape scene takes place on and up against a green van, its possible that performing outdoor, simulated rape under the Californian sun might have caused some of the van's paintwork to come off on our man's ass. A likely reason for this unfortunate on screen ailment, the mark of Wrong Way, betya he had a hard time explaining that to his old lady when he got home.
Wrong Way never shies away from the fact that the verbal and physical abuse of women is meant as a constant source of amusement and arousal here. The occasionally inspired ugliness of the screenplay is best illustrated in a subplot that sees two white slave traders shooting up a woman with heroin and taking advantage of the merchandise before they sell her to a brothel. "You mean you'd destroy a human being for a few lousy dollars" she protests, to which her captor cackles back "absolutely not, we're nice guys, we're gonna trade you for H", and his equally mangy partner in crime contributes to the conversation "you're a nympho, and you know it". The subsequent threesome between these three lovebirds finds the woman –the person people had paid to see go nude- obscured under all the hairy, potbellied, male goose-flesh of her two co-stars, a reoccurring problem in Wrong Way's gross sex scenes.
Although it has all the hallmarks of the kind of third rate, obscurity that never saw the light of day till video came along, Wrong Way did surprisingly have a British theatrical release as part of a porno triple bill package put together by Tigon in 1981. Eric Godwin, a kindly, well liked elderly gentleman had the job of buying the majority of Tigon's American acquisitions at the time. Godwin was prone to voicing despair over the growing explicitness of the American product he was being offered during film buying trips to Los Angeles, not on account of any prudishness, but because of the inevitable problems it would give him with the British censor. Unlike many of Tigon's porno acquisitions of the early 1980s, Wrong Way hadn't started life as hardcore, but still proved Godwin's worst fears correct when it came to the British censor who cut around 20 minutes out of it for the British theatrical release. Sure the later, uncut video release is the way any exploitation aficionado would therefore want to see this thing, but even with heavy cuts the sleaze impact of Wrong Way on the big screen must have made for a tremendous culture shock. Imagine Wrong Way blown up to the size of a bungalow, encountered in the intimidating atmosphere of a porno cinema, and at a time before video had yet to fully expose British audiences to the sub-amateur side of American exploitation cinema.
Video, bootleg DVDr, maybe laptops, are of course the only way we'll get to see films like Wrong Way these days, but like the down and dirtiest examples of American sexploitation- Sleazy Rider, Sinner's Blood, The Bad, Bad Gang, Golden Gate Pay-Off, et al- the deeply un-erotic nature of the sex, the overwhelming hatred of women and the equally overwhelming sense that those behind the camera barely knew what they were doing, all succeed in holding the attention, overriding any impulse to turn away from the abyss.
Febbre a 40! (1980)
bloody awful birthday
Italian sex comedy and according to the majority of online sources Terry-Thomas' last film. Only obscurity (I can find no record of a UK release or even an English dubbed version existing) appears to have prevented this from acquiring the type of notoriety afforded to inglorious last films, or ones that find formerly dignified stars in close proximity to T&A material.
The titular Harry (John Richardson) is a David Sullivan-esque Men's magazine publisher whose wealth and bestselling mags means that he is regularly mobbed by gangs of wannabe starlets on the streets of London. His upcoming 40th birthday brings him into close contact with such groupies, as well as ex-lovers, his magazine's staff and a crazy doctor (Terry-Thomas). Evidence of brief UK filming manifests itself in the form of lots of shots of Big Ben, footage of Richardson walking along Westminster Bridge, around Piccadilly Circus and Soho (showing nothing of historical interest), before its back to interior scenes shot in Rome.
Terry-Thomas looks in even poorer shape than he did in Side by Side and Hound of the Baskervilles, but is in good company. Richardson, once handsome star of One Million Years BC, here resembles Jack from On The Buses, former peplum star Gordon Mitchell regularly takes his shirt off to show some tired flesh, Marisa Mell fares a tiny bit better but shows signs of relying on heavy make-up, maybe even plastic surgery, to hold on to her youthful looks. The aged cast, bad comedy and unappealing nudity all conspire to make this the Italian equivalent of Carry On Emmannuelle, you have been warned.
Man on the Cliff (1955)
early Robert Hartford-Davis
very early effort from Robert Hartford-Davis (Corruption, Incense for the Damned, The Fiend, etc), a man wakes up on a cliff, discovers he is suffering from amnesia and then finds a dead body nearby. Unable to work out whether he is the dead man's killer or the dead man's intended victim who fought back, he takes to walking about a nearby town where chatter and newspaper headlines about a missing nuclear scientist offers a clue to his identity.
The cliff setting and central murder scene that takes place there do point the way towards CORRUPTION, but overall the personality of its producer/writer EJ Fancey registers more here than that of Hartford-Davis (credited simply as 'R. Davis'). All of the usual Fancey hallmarks are present and correct, lots of inexpensive to film scenes of people talking on the phone and wandering about (giving the film some inadvertently strong time capsule qualities), plus a supporting role for offspring Adrienne Fancey (using her stage name Adrienne Scott) and a brief running time –its only 25 minutes long- so that EJ could stick it on the bottom of a double-bill and get his mitts on some Eady money.
Los violadores (1981)
Mad Foxes is a film I first caught via its pre-cert UK VHS release, which was still a blast despite being a heavily cut version, and lead me to seek out an uncut DVD release a few years ago which contained all the ultra-violence that got trimmed by the nervous British distributor.
If you've never seen it before, Mad Foxes depicts the tit for tat conflict between flash playboy Hal and a shambolic biker gang, the bikers take umbrage at Hal's expensive corvette and spit on his face, he retaliates by running one of them off the road, they retaliate by beating him up and raping his girlfriend, he then calls on his friends at a karate school who beat up the bikers, castrate their leader and stick his dick into his mouth (needless to say that bit got cut from the UK video), the bikers then wipe out the members of the karate school with machine guns and grenades .and so it goes on, and on, and on. Trashy and badly dubbed dialogue ("you squeal like an old bitch", "don't you have a little knife with you? I'd like to slice your prick", "you'll like my family, though my mother is an invalid, she fell from a horse and became paralytic"), only adds to the fun. It's also distinguished by a wildly over the top performance by an actor called Eric Falk, who judging from the trailers on the DVD, appears to have had quite a career in eurosleaze of the Erwin C. Dietrich stable. There is an air of Gypsy Dave Cooper about Falk's turn in Mad Foxes, and he is a similar mixture of heavy, exhibitionist, and comic relief imbecile "I can't stand it, we're not going to see him anymore" he boo hoos at the funeral of a slain biker buddy. Incredibly the film seems to have been conceived as an unofficial sequel to the 1978 American film 'Stingray' starring Christopher Mitchum , but I seriously doubt the two films have anything in common other than their heroes both owning Corvette Stingrays. In a scene towards the end of the film where Hal shoots up a film studio, you can even see this film's original title 'Stingray 2' written on a clapperboard prop, but it'll always be "Mad Foxes" to me. For all I know director Paul Grey could be a lifelong teetotaller and have grandchildren now, but the unusual amount of male full frontal nudity in the film, not to mention the excessive amount of drinking that goes on (Hal and his dad being rarely without a glass in their hands) does paint a mental picture of its maker as a serious alcoholic and closet case. The film optimistically writes its own epitaph when one of the bikers proclaims "the whole world will admire us".
3-2-1: Detectives (1978)
"I can read you Pat Combs' hat again"
On the basis of this detective themed episode it is easy for even amateur sleuths to detect signs of 321's growing popularity, evidence of a cash injection into the budget can be found in the star prizes and the set- now decorated with a few plants and a larger variation on one of those mysterious 'O' shaped symbols that have been menacingly lurking behind the audience- plus the public's fascination with Ted's 321 hand gesture is once again proudly acknowledged in his opening banter.
We can also deduct that the pudding bowl haircut was all the range when this originally aired, returning contestant Jenny sports one, as does rival contestant Pauline, and a few further examples can be sighted in the audience. Of the contestants, only Lynne is not following the pudding bowl trend, but gets the big laugh of the night, when upon being asked to name breeds of wild cats comes up with the answer 'Zebra'. Was it nerves, her husbands' attempt to mime her an answer, or an audience member having a coughing fit, that caused her to come up with that howler of a game show answer? Either way that answer combined with her equally funny backstory about entering a beauty contest-only to fall through the stage- does threaten to steal all the comedy highpoints to this episode from its resident trio of professional comedians.
This trio, collectively known as 'the disrepertory company' originally consisted of Duggie Brown, Chris Emmett and Debbie Arnold. Emmett and Arnold appear to be sticking around but the show is having problems keeping hold of a third member of this team. Brown left after six episodes, seduced away by a part in the short lived sitcom 'Take My Wife', his replacement ostrichman Bernie Clifton was poached away by Crackerjack, and his replacement, the comparably non-entity Dave Ismay has now been succeeded by Mike Newman, introduced by Ted in episode 11 as "a very funny Irishman". Newman's persona, given its most memorable airing so far in this episode's Sherlock Holmes sketch, is of an out of control loon, clumsily stampeding his way through sketches, bellowing uncontrollably, shooting mad stares, tearing pieces out of a carpet, and inspiring worried looks and confusion from his co-stars, as if he has completely strayed from the script. He is not unlike Tommy Cooper in that respect (making it rather ironic that it is Chris Emmett who is given the job of directly impersonating Cooper in this episode) and as with Cooper, Newman's is a routine that plays a guessing game with the audience as to whether his outward appearance as a punch-drunk wildman is all secretly controlled and pre-rehearsed, or the real deal.
You suspect that a fair amount of early 321 isn't going to hold up to scrutiny by today's politically correct standards –Newman's self-deprecating 'Irishman' jokes being a prime example- but the use of Debbie Arnold in these shows is a reminder that the pre-alternative comedy world wasn't entirely the domain of men, and in fairness the show does present her as an equal to the male comedians, rather than just their sidekick or foil. The two episodes repeated on Challenge TV over the weekend also see her offering competition to the 321 hostesses in terms of sexy 321 moments, doing a Marilyn Monroe impersonation in the Saturday episode, blown up skirt bit included, while this episode sees her dressed up as wonder woman, a 'one for the dads' TV moment if ever there was one, and no doubt inspiring much Kenneth Connor-esque 'phwoaring' and back of the neck slapping when this originally went out.
Probably the biggest curse laid upon old gameshows when viewed today is that the passing of time robs the star prizes of the glamorous appeal and seductive power they once must have had over Dawn of the Dead era consumerists. Yesterday's high coveted treasures now cannot help looking like today's car boot sale junk. More fascinating from the perspective of cultural archaeological is 321's eye for mod-cons that never seem to have really caught on with the public, and would otherwise be long lost to time. Check out this episode's folded up caravan prize, whose cream and dark orange-bordering on brown colour scheme not only represents the most 'of the period' trapping of the entire episode but also colour co-ordinates with Ted's own checkered blazer and bold orange shirt ensemble for this episode. Another curio, wheeled out as a prize in this episode, is one of a trio of different TV sets, the one in question being uniquely shaped like a theatre spotlight and complete with rotatable monitor again, those never really caught on, did they? Of the other two tellys, the big money one perfectly illustrates the "yesterday's treasure is today's boot sale dust gatherer" theory, the real audience attention grabber here is the pocket sized mini-TV, initially appealing in a sci-fi movie gadget way, but –lets face it- the impracticality of watching TV on a screen the size of a large stamp quickly became apparent.
Given the audience's show of awe and wonder over that pocket sized TV though, you have to wonder how they'd react to the knowledge that 36 years into the future people would one day be able to preserve these episodes on shiny, silver discs?
Mes amis!, I suspect anyone encountering 3-2-1 for the first time via this episode may well be confused by Ted's reference to a chauffeur called George who couldn't make the show due to appearing in a national beauty contest that week. George's absence, and the episode's Paris theme, does mean though that Madame Allonville gets more screen time than usual, no bad thing as that accent of hers does bring sexiness to the most mundane thing- such as summaries of the lives and occupations of 3-2-1 contestants- and the comedy faux-pas keep on coming, check out her order to "stand up when you toast the lady", which due to her accent sounds more like "stand up when you toss the lady".
With regard to the hostesses, it does occur to me that early 3-2-1 is not unlike Val Guest's Au Pair Girls, its the world as seen through the eyes of a middle-aged crumpet chaser, one that can only view women in one way, but does at least place women of different nationalities and skin colour on an equal level of attractiveness and desirability (and in a further nod to multi-cultural Britain this episode also includes the revelation that Dusty Bin has a black Uncle). Elsewhere audience members- seemingly cloned from Mary Whitehouse- constantly stare upwards and contestants with umbrellas on their heads toss toy frogs into pans, to misquote a famous Kinks song "its a mixed up muddled up shook up world except for Tula".
A Touch of the Other (1970)
aka House of Hookers
A latter day effort from Primitive London director Arnold Louis Miller, A Touch of the Other (aka House of Hookers) stars Kenneth Cope as Delger, a cheeky chappie who goes around Soho advertising himself as "the man who gets things done". It not clear what this means, but judging by the Bogart picture in his office Delger appears to fancy himself as a private eye. His cryptic message however only results in the interest of Soho heavies who threaten to beat him up. It slowly, and rather confusingly is revealed that Delger has acquired his Soho office from its last occupant, a friend of his who he got out of dept to gangsters, and has now decided to investigate the bad guys further. When he is not following up on the case though Delger is bed hopping in-between his two neighbours, both of whom are prostitutes but offer him 'freebies'. Elaine (Shirley Anne Field) "gives French lessons without knowing a word of French" while Wendy (Helene Françoise) is a black masseuse who Delger refers to as "my coloured supplement". A vaguely coherent plot line finally emerges when Elaine and Wendy's pimp, an old queen nicknamed Lady Max, offers Delger the job of slipping a bribe to an ex-prostitute called Sheila (played by Cope's real life wife Renny Lister). Things don't exactly go to plan though, and the kinky finale involves -in this order- a mass catfight, women being tied up and a threesome.
A Touch of the Other, is well, a bit of an odd one, curiously entertaining despite (or perhaps because of) being terrible in most departments, and with a personality that is truly all over the place. Cope seems to be playing the film for comedy and having fun with his randy private eye wannabe character, but the 'underworld' elements of the film are played straight, and things get quite nasty at times, Delger is viciously beaten up in his office by a Milton Reid type while Lady Max is bloodily shot to death in bed (causing the poor actor to lose his wig in the process). Its not especially sexually explicit by 1970s standards, save for some minor nudity by secondary actors that got the film a write up in Cinema X, yet the atmosphere remains decidedly sleazy with the low, low budget no doubt necessitating the film be shot on authentic locations including a dingy Soho office (given so much screen time you wonder if it could possibly be Miller's own?) and a strip club, complete with girl and snake striptease act and a dwarf barman. The whole film feels curiously out of time, with swinging sixties type library music bursting onto the soundtrack at regular intervals, while Cope wears bright frilly shirts that look like they too belong in the Primitive London era ("Kenneth Cope's costumes supplied by Lord John, Carnaby Street, London" boast the credits) and Field and Françoise walk around in lingerie as if they were in a 1960s 8mm glamour film.
Miller's direction is as usual shockingly bad, on the level of very early Pete Walker, I'm thinking here of Walker's I Like Birds/School for Sex period. Walker can at least lay claim to being inexperienced when he made those films, Miller's direction here seems even more amateur than Secrets of a Windmill Girl made several years before. The only vaguely stylish bit is a freaky dream sequence where Delger imagines the film's main characters- and a man in drag- running towards him in slow-motion. (Miller would go on to direct the ultra-obscure Sex Farm, which was rejected by the BBFC in 1973, and produce the notorious "Growing Up", a sex education film for schools.) In a rare lead role Cope gamely tries his best (he also sings the comedy theme tune) but most of his dialogue seems nonsensical rather than funny "take your clothes off I want to talk to you put them on again I can't hear you" he tells a confused Shirley Anne Field, and often Delger is irritating on an almost Alan Lake/David Galaxy level. For all of Cope's best comedic efforts though, the film's comedy highlight for my money belongs to an absolutely hopeless actor playing an elderly northern football fan who repeatedly stares at the camera and flubs his lines. Where on earth they got this actor from I don't know, but his character is written into the film as one of Shirley Anne Field's customers, who when asked why he is paying her entirely in spare change tells her its because his mates at the pub had a "whip round" for him to go to a prostitute. To add insult to injury, he refuses her offer of sex and asks if she could sew a button onto his coat instead!!!
Bottle Boys: I Got a Horse (1985)
The Bottle Boys Diaries Part 5 ('I Gotta Horse')
I GOTTA HORSE A "runaround" episode where Jock develops a "sixth sense" for betting on horses, but when the rubbish TV set Dave has bought to watch the race on breaks down its a mad rush around town as the gang try and find out the results of the race, only to instead find a succession of TVs that don't work, public phones that people are using, etc, etc. Its an episode more admirable for the physical demands it puts on the cast, than the comedy, with them required to jog around sets, scream, screech, break into opera, and generally act at a hysterical pitch. Ol' Vince Powell sure got his money's worth out of them that week. Speaking of the cast, at this point curiosity about them leads me to the IMDb, which revealed that sadly Phil McCall who plays Jock committed suicide (hanging) a few years back, making the earlier reference to his character being "constantly hung over" seem a bit unfortunate, while it turns out that David Auker was something of a Confessions veteran, having played Kipper band member "Zombie" in Pop Performer and "Alberto Smarmi" in Holiday Camp, never realized they were one in the same.
The Bottle Boys Diaries Part 6 ('Out of the Frying Pan')
OUT OF THE FRYING PAN An episode that (correctly) works on the assumption that you can always get a cheap laugh out of seeing grown men dressed in silly costumes, not to mention grown men dressed as women, and grown men running around in their underwear, with Askwith gamely playing the fool on all three counts. Dave thinks he's onto a good thing when he gets an extra job promoting an egg marketing campaign, particularly as he gets to team up with Jennifer 'a posh bird'. Unfortunately his attempts to impress her are hindered by the fact that he has to dress up as a chicken and run around a shopping centre making chicken noises. Inspiring lots of "I'll give you a good cluck, darling" and "I'm really clucked off with this job" lines. To make matters worse, Dave finds himself locked out of the dairy and has to drive Jennifer around London while still dressed as a chicken, sight of which causes a vicar to do a double take then fall off his bike and into a lake (a quite good stunt actually). Things take a turn into "Confessions" territory when Dave is nearly caught changing in Jennifer's apartment by her wrestler husband, causing Dave to flee into her wardrobe in his underwear. The suspicious husband however gets a far bigger shock than finding a half naked man in his wife's bedroom, when minutes later, out from the wardrobe emerges "Linda", a.k.a. Dave in drag, complete with wig and fake tits. Its an image you won't forget in a hurry, Askwith makes for one scary looking woman. The episode ends with Dave and Joe getting a new job this time promoting a milk marketing firm "so I don't have to get dressed up as a chicken this time" says Dave, cue worried looks from Dave and Joe, and a final shot of them dressed as a pantomime cow!!!
Bottle Boys: High Noon (1985)
The Bottle Boys Diaries Part 7 ('High Noon')
HIGH NOON The dairy's future is threatened by a rogue thug milkman (Don Henderson) who muscles in on their territory and challenges Dave to a fight at noon. Fairly standard sitcom fare, with the weakling pitted against the seemingly unmovable bully, and spending the episode trying to toughen up (cue Dave attempting to learn Kung-Fu and failing miserably to break planks of wood with his hands). Powell had himself used this plot in an episode of Mind Your Language that saw Barry Evans challenged to a boxing match against a rival teacher. The casting doesn't quite work as well here, mainly because Askwith was quite beefed up at the time, though Henderson makes for a convincing baddie. The payoff is entertaining enough however, with a confrontation shot like a western but with milkmen standing in for cowboys and "do not forsake me oh my darling" wafting on the soundtrack. All of course napped from Benny Hill's Ernie the Fastest Milkman in the West from a decade earlier, but its funny enough for them to get away with second time round.
Bottle Boys: I Love Paris (1985)
The Bottle Boys Diaries Part 8 ('I Love Paris')
I LOVE Paris Dave and Billy win a trip to France, sadly the program makers clearly didn't get so lucky, so this episode takes place in an ITV budgeted Paris which consists of travelogue footage, British actors with OTT French accents and some location work at a grotty park which couldn't look less Parisian. Still there are some good laughs here due to the pair's pigeon French (particularly Billy's mispronunciation of Merci as "Murky") and since this is France, there's time for some French farce as well, when Dave accidentally ends up in the wrong hotel room and is then joined in bed by the female part of a honeymooning couple (played by Ann "Virgin Witch" Michelle) whose husband then walks in on them. There's also a rather bizarre period-dress "fantasy scene" which comes out of nowhere, and finds Dave about to be guillotined. All of which seems to exist purely to nick a gag from Carry on Don't Lose Your Head, as a messenger boy is told by Dave "put the letter in the basket, I'll read it later". Things come to a close at the Eiffel Tower, where Dave and Billy get locked in, with seemingly only the honeymooning couple being on hand to save them. What will happen next
. well nothing as the episode abruptly ends there, was the punch line too rude to go out? or did the episode go over budget? Your guess is as good as mine.
The Bottle Boys Diaries Part 9 ('The Milk Cup Runneth Over')
THE MILK CUP RUNNETH OVER The less than memorable final episode of Bottle Boys sees football mad Dave attempting to get hold of a ticket to see his beloved Chelsea side, a task he is not helped in by the rest of the dairy, as they're all Arsenal supporters. With the elusive ticket being passed from character to character, Dave spends the episode pursuing it, a task that leads him to the Kings Arms (good god, they sure got allot of use out of that set). Another running gag in the episode has Dave accidentally bumping into and/or spilling the drink of a big, tough Arsenal supporter who takes one look at Dave's Chelsea scarf and grabs him by the collar. Thwarted at every turn, Dave eventually gets the ticket only to then be foolishly ripped off by a ticket tout and the series ends with both Dave and his Arsenal supporting rival being carted off by the police.
So is Bottle Boys a lost classic or deservedly despised?, probably neither actually, my scorecard for nine of the episodes, has four that are actually very funny and five that fall into being passable to pitiful, so maybe we should call it a draw. Powell obviously thought Bottle Boys could do for milkmen what On the Buses did for bus drivers and clippies. But while Reg Varney and Co may have got away with basing an episode around the horror at the idea of working with a woman in the early Seventies, the Eighties were a different kettle of fish, and in the age of alterative comedy and the Comic Strip its hard to deny that much of the material and attitudes here all seem very out of time. Dialogue that locks horns with the then current climate ("they'll be calling Manchester, Personchester next" moans Dave), just comes across as sour grapes, and only emphasizes how out of fashion, and under attack, this type of old school sitcom was. Bottle Boys isn't totally without charm though, Askwith is his usual entertaining carnal klutz self, and several of the supporting characters also become endearing over the episodes, David Aukers's Billy, a sort of mixture of George Formby and a darts player, makes for a good sidekick, and Eve Ferret's secretary is also value for money with her bad spelling and multiple boyfriends continually getting up the nose of the uptight Stan. Of course, surely the "worst ever sitcom" would be one that fails to have any impact whatsoever, and ignored by public and critics alike would never be given a second glance from either people wishing to sneer at the past, or those who genuinely delight in digging up all manner of British tat. Bottle Boys, can at least lay claim to dodging the completely forgettable category, and lives on in all its disputable infamy. If Miss Ferret's hairdo wasn't hard enough to forget there is also THAT theme tune, which has a habit of replaying in your head, Telefon style, every time the title, or literally anything to do with milkmen is mentioned. While certainly no classic, at the end of the day, surely its better to be remembered with an affectionate cringe, than not at all.
Bottle Boys: Here Comes the Groom (1984)
The Bottle Boys Diaries part 1 ('Here Comes the Groom')
Over the years Bottle Boys has, lets face it, developed a reputation as being fit for neither man nor beast. Mark Lewisohn, recently writing in the Radio Times Guide to Comedy, referred to it as the "worst ever" British sitcom, and its a surefire candidate for whenever similar worst TV lists get compiled. This despite the fact that this milkman sitcom pairing of Robin Askwith and the politically incorrect pen of Vince Powell, only lasted two seasons (1984-1985) and has remained pretty much unseen since its first broadcast. Causing if nothing else a certain amount of curiosity for people too young to have caught the original showing. Could this program be so bad that critics could vividly recall it with gritted teeth, as if it was inflicted on them yesterday, rather than more than twenty years ago? Off-air recordings of the program are also notoriously hard to come by, with few believing anyone would have kept them all these years. So it was with a mixture of intrigue and trepidation when off-air recordings of 9 of the 13 episodes recently reappeared and made their way to me recently, warts and all.
Although not originally conceived as an Askwith vehicle, the part of amorous milkman Dave Deacon certainly fits him like a glove. For anyone unfamiliar with Askwith's previous "Confessions" form however, Bottle Boys' animated title sequence, with a cartoon Ask delivering milk to ladies' doorsteps and the Chas and Dave like theme song leering "anything you're short of darling, leave us a note", gives a fairly good idea of what to expect.
HERE COMES THE GROOM As the copies I have are in no special order, I've written these up in the order that I've watched them. Despite this actually being the last episode of the first series, it does conveniently open with some banter that provides a fair introduction to the rest of the characters, the other Bottle Boys being hapless idiot Billy Watson (David Auker), West Indian ladies man Joe Philips (Oscar James), the drunk, constantly hung over Scotsman Jock (Phil McCall) and Welsh boss Stan Evans (Richard Davies, playing virtually the same put upon role as in Please Sir).
Dave turns up at the dairy to announce that he has fallen hopelessly in love with the firm's resident dizzy secretary Sharon (Eve Ferret), and much to the others disgust the pair plan to marry and refer to each other as "my sweetness" and "my boo, boo" .. Actually upon your first dip into Bottle Boys its hard to really concentrate on the plot or the jokes, for the sight of Eve Ferrret's hairdo. Simply put its incredible, a big, monstrous mop of hair that wobbles about the top of her head, reminiscent of Gloria Brittain's hair in The Perils of Mandy, but -unbelievably- its even more huge. If that's too much of an obscure film reference, its as if a big Cheshire cat had died on her head and the rest of the cast were too polite to mention it.
Anyway back to the plot .Dave and his friends go through the expected stag do routine, ending with Dave passing out drunk in a car, which is then stolen and driven to "the North". Leaving the final part of the episode a thinly disguised remake of the "mad dash to get to the wedding" last 15 minutes of Confessions of a Window Cleaner. Dave tries his hand at hitchhiking, then resorts to stealing a bike, and then hanging onto the back of a lorry while still on the bike. All of this proves in vain though, since when he finally arrives at the wedding Sharon beats him off . with her handbag, and calls off the wedding. There's a happy ending of sorts however, as Dave pulls her bridesmaid (Candy Davis) at his wedding party. Aside from Miss Ferret's hair, another distracting quality to Bottle Boys, first time in, is the underlining 1980s feel to everything, with the hairstyles, the clothes, the cars, the references to Charles and Di all screaming out the decade. Giving Bottle Boys the feel of the Ashes to Ashes equivalent of the firmly routed in the 70s Confessions films.
As the credits roll, an ITV voice-over man tells us "that was the last in the present series of Bottle Boys" but for anyone fearing Askwith withdraw syndrome there is the good news that "Robin Askwith is currently appearing in Run For Your Wife, at the Criterion Theatre in London".
The Bottle Boys Diaries part two (Danger Women at Work)
When the oldest of the milkmen is pensioned off, Stan replaces him with -shock, horror- a woman, which all the lads object to. Naturally the woman in question is a ferocious butch feminist in the Carry on Girls tradition, played by Pam St. Clement a.k.a. Pat Butcher, in a role she'd probably like to forget. "I wouldn't say she's ugly, and I wouldn't say she's pretty" says Dave "I'd say she's pretty ugly". They then hatch a complex scheme to get rid of her, which rather drastically involves Dave coming onto her and proposing marriage. Anyway to cut a long story short, she eventually leaves the job anyway, gets wise to Dave's scheme and the episode ends with Askwith getting a pint over his head. One tiny observation; despite the cartoon opening, the story lines don't often actually seem to have much to do with them being milkmen, or ahem "milk" the comic possibilities of the job that much. Instead most of the episodes, like a good many British soap operas, centre around the characters drinking at the local pub The Kings Arms, rather than doing any work, almost giving a comic double meaning to the "bottle boys" of the title.
Bottle Boys: All in a Day's Work (1984)
The Bottle Boys Diaries Part 3 ('All in a Days Work')
ALL IN A DAYS WORK Another fairly laugh free episode in which Jock is ill and cant get out of bed. Dave pops round, only to be accidentally mistaken for the sick man by a female doctor (Mind Your Language's Zara Nutley). When it turns out Jock is merely hung over, his battleaxe wife goes crazy and Dave, Joe and Billy make for the lift, which then breaks down. Thus this becomes the obligatory "characters spend the episode trapped in a confined space" with no shortage of cringe worthy moments, as Joe suggests they will have to eat Billy to stay alive, Billy tries not to wet himself, and Dave tries to open the lift doors. "I can see a chink here" says Dave peeking through the door, "well ask him to phone the police" wails Billy. Of course Askwith has an extra incentive for getting out of that lift, as the ITV voice-over man reminds us for the umpteenth time over the credits, he has a London production of Run For Your Wife to get to.
Bottle Boys: One Good Turn (1984)
The Bottle Boys Diaries Part 4 ('One Good Turn')
ONE GOOD TURN After a few dud episodes this turns out to be a genuinely funny outing, featuring "guest artiste Bernie Winters", who (in the context of the show at least) is portrayed as an A-list, nay God-like, figure. Stan (a.k.a. the Welsh bloke from Please Sir) is under pressure to organize a concert at an old people's home, and Dave suggests getting Bernie Winters- whom he knows from his rounds -to compare the show. News that Dave knows someone as world famous as Bernie Winters, and can persuade him to turn up, is greeted with awe and amazement by his co-workers. Unfortunately Dave gets his wires crossed and instead accidentally calls up another of his customers, used car salesman Benny Winters, to do the show. With the show missing a star, its left to Dave to dress up as Bernie Winters, complete with buck teeth and giant stuffed Schnorbitz toy dog, and well he is not very convincing, as one character remarks he looks "more like Esther Rantzen".
At the same time however the real Bernie Winters, no doubt fresh from appearing in Mary Millington's World Striptease Extravaganza, just happens to turn up at the Kings' Arms, to a huge round of applause from the shows audience. He's less familiar, however, to the barman who mistakes him for Ken Dodd, and adding insult to injury he just happens to be the customer Dave decides to try out his bad Bernie Winters impression on. A very funny scene, mainly due to the fact that Winters (understandably) cant keep a straight face upon meeting this mutation of Askwith, himself and Esther Rantzen. Sensing the audience's amusement, a mischievous Askwith pokes and prods Winters with the giant Schnorbitz toy dog, every time Winters tries to deliver a line. After refusing Dave's offer to impersonate Bernie Winters for three quid, Winters storms off doing an impression of Ken Dodd.
With no Bernie, Dave mournfully takes to the stage to tell a packed audience the bad news. But as "Bernie didn't want to let the old folks down", he and Schnorbitz turn up at the last minute to save the day. Such is Bernie's popularity that Charles and Diana also show up, but much to Dave's horror get turned away at the door (and no wonder, the actors playing them are rubbish look-alikes)
aka the smashing bird i used to know
A fairly forgotten film from Corruption and Incense for the Damned man Robert Hartford-Davis, The Smashing Bird I Used to Know certainly sees the director trying to cover all the exploitation bases here. Its part horror film, part portrait of a cracked piece of jailbait, part women in prison film, with unlikely origins in a piece of Hollywood Babylon type gossip. While the script is officially credited to Hammer writer John Peacock (Straight on Till Morning, To the Devil A Daughter) it would appear Derek Ford also had an uncredited hand in writing this. In Ford and Hartford-Davis 'torn from today's headlines' manner the storyline is a play on the Stompanato murder case from the late Fifties, in which Lana Turner's daughter stabbed her mothers gangster boyfriend Johnny Stompanato to death, claiming self-defense. The story given a Sixties make-over and anglicized features Patrick Mower in the Stompanato role, here "Harry Spenton", a gigolo with hordes of elderly female admirers who welcome him with open cheque book. His latest mark, Anne Johnson (Renee Asherson, made up to look like Turner), is being romanced into buying him a launderette, which he thinks will make him his millions (ok, its an unusual scheme). While at the same time Harry has an amorous eye towards her school age daughter, played by Madeline Hinde from Incense for the Damned. Presumably Del Boy Ford and Hartford-Davis were thinking of a reprise of their jailbait theme from The Yellow Teddybears, but the very un-school age looking Hinde isn't very convincing in her school uniform, and when a character remarks she is "late for school", its temping to quip "yeah, by about six years". Poor Hinde is also plagued by psychedelic flashbacks to her fathers death (a freak accident on a fairground ride) and to use money/terminology of the time isn't a full shilling. As Mower (who to be honest isn't very good here) finds out when he tries it on with her and get stabbed for his troubles. As a result Hinde is sent to the sort of women's dentition centre where prisoners are allowed to dance to pop music in mini-skirts and inmates include a black hooker, a pregnant teenage girl, and a young Maureen Lipman as a tough lesbian. Actually Lipman's not bad, and perhaps sensing she was one of the better actresses they had, the script deserves credit for making her character a bit more three dimensional than just your standard bullying prison lesbian stereotype, how often do you hear that said about WIP films?
The Smashing Bird I Used to Know seems to equally represent what is captivating/infuriating about Hartford-Davis as a filmmaker. Like Incense for the Damned, much of it is filmed in a journeyman ITC episode fashion, but now and again comes up with sequences that explode like a firecracker. A punch up between Hinde's boyfriend and his sleazy, would be rapist friend for instance, and the climax which maybe a huge cop-out in narrative terms but is still a spectacular set piece. It does tend to be the sleazier incidents that animate Hartford-Davis the most however, an almighty catfight between the women is played for all its worth, with topless extras drafted in for good measure, as the "treatment" dished out to one of the girls who is stripped, dragged into a shower and beaten with brooms. The central stabbing of Mower, which happens early on in the film but gets flashbacked to several times, comes across almost like a gender reverse of the infamous European version murder scene in Corruption. With Mower and scantily-clad Hinde throwing each other around a room, a quick flash of a knife later and suddenly we have "The Blood Splattered Mower". As with the murders in his horror films, Hartford-Davis uses lots of manic hand held camera work for the scene to suggest hysteria, like a more professional take on Andy Milligan's "swirl camera" effect. It honestly looks like Hartford-Davis directed it while having a seizure (he was by all accounts actually prone to having on-set panic attacks). The supporting cast who generally provoke a response of "isn't that a young " include Dennis Waterman, Derek Fowlds, Leslie-Ann Down, plus Corruption's Valerie Van Ost (who gets to keep her head this time) and David Lodge as the dead dad, well, you know Hartford-Davis had to put Dave Lodge in there somewhere. In a self-congratulatory moment, Hartford Davis even has Mower meeting one of his girlfriends outside a cinema showing Corruption. The original British title seems a bit misleading though, suggesting a swinging Sixties romp a la Smashing Time, or perhaps to the really naïve/literal minded audience member a film about ornithology. The American title was "School for Unclaimed Girls" which at least nails one aspect of the film, as well clueing audiences up to its exploitation content, with the film's fixations with the younger set, lesbianism and cat fights this is certainly a case of 'hornythology' than ornithology (sorry, that was a dreadful pun!) . Pity that Hartford-Davis' most colourful and lurid works like this and Corruption appear to be in distribution limbo, leaving him to be represented on DVD by Gonks Go Beat, and compromised releases of The Fiend and Incense for the Damned. The poor man must be rolling in his grave.
"trouble is his business, sex is his pleasure, violence is his way of life"
Like Robert Hartford-Davis, the late Lindsay Shonteff's career seems to contain equal amounts of great and terrible films, which coupled with the fact that he worked in a variety of genres, tends to make you think of him more as a director for hire or a journeyman, rather than on the same level as DVD box-set worthy figures like Pete Walker or Norm Warren. With Clegg (a.k.a. Harry and the Hookers) though he was definitely having a good day. Shonteff's M.O. for Clegg would appear to be updating the American film noir to a gritty late Sixties London setting. Something the aforementioned Mr. Pete was doing at the same time, but with less success, with films like Man of Violence and Strip Poker.
After a flash forward to the films highlights in the opening credits (a usual Shonteff touch), we meet Harry Clegg (Gilbert Wynne), private eye and "loser since the day I was born" who is about to be executed by a disgruntled swinger client. A flame thrower cunningly disguised as a lighter produced by Clegg during a "one last cigarette" request saves the day, why do bad guys always fall for that trick? don't they watch any movies?. The subsequent plot follows Clegg going from A to B, meeting clients, sleeping around, driving around London (in fact the film must hold some kind of record for 'shot from a car window' images of London) and being beaten up, but generally just being beaten up. "I figured Lips Louie and Charlie the Chin were basically nice people" narrates Clegg as the two goons in question beat him senseless "they'd obviously been influenced by the violence in today's films", a scene given an extra layer of irony by appearing to have been heavily cut by the British censor.
Eventually the plot becomes more err focused as Clegg is drawn into the world of 'Suzy the Slag' a former blue movie actress turned hit woman, who often relies on her past profession to perform 'seduce and destroy' hits on salivating old geezers. Gilbert Wynne who Shonteff also used in Permissive and Night After Night After Night really fits the part of Clegg like a glove. Not unlike Mike Pratt he has a disheveled cool quality about him, and the kind of face that suggests its owner hasn't slept for a week. The image of Clegg in his cheap suit shooting to death two gangsters in an approaching car, actually makes you think of Reservoir Dogs, though I'm sure its just coincidence. Still this is a hyper-violent film for 1969, with the kind of amoral anti-hero who doesn't mind shooting people in the back with a machine gun or kicking a terrified man out of his car for him to be shot to death. Clegg is also something of a ladies man, in fact he goes through girlfriends in a manner that makes James Bond look celibate by comparison. Its an aspect of the film that to be honest doesn't really seem that credible, especially given Clegg's otherwise loser/loner persona. You tend to suspect these sex/nudity elements were added just to ensure a sale, if so it worked and not surprising the film was quickly snapped up by Tigon, who subsequently used it as the support film to Haunted House of Horror. Clegg is testament to Shonteff's ability to make fast paced, action filled films on a low budget, with a couple of truly bizarre elements (a henchman who growls like a dog, a mansion full of women suggestively licking lollipops) thrown in for good measure. And at the end of Clegg's journey who should we meet but Gary Hope, something of a familiar face in Shonteff films. Hope is perhaps most notable for sounding allot like Nicholas Parsons, and his intense turns in Shonteff's films- most notably Big Zapper- offer the surreal answer to what Parsons' career would have been like had he pursued unhinged psychopath roles rather than hosting Sale of the Century (nice to learn, via their IMDb pages, that Hope and Wynne are still working, by the way). Also look out for a brief, but quite unforgettable appearance by Sue Bond (billed here as "Suzy Bond"). Future Benny Hill girl and later star of Shonteff's The Yes Girls, as an extra seen walking out of a shop wearing only a huge pair of knickers. Absolutely no reason is given why she is walking out of a shop wearing just knickers (she's credited as "panties girl") nor is this followed up in the film, and anyone watching this on video/DVD will probably hit rewind just to double check what they've seen, while anyone watching this on its original cinema release must have thought they'd just hallucinated. Though given Sue's current 'revisionist' take on her career, she would no doubt like people to believe they had hallucinated her appearance in this and many other films, ho hum.
The Big Switch (1968)
Early Pete Walker
Opening with a "bird" taking her clothes off then being gunned down for her troubles, Strip Poker (a.k.a. The Big Switch) concerns hard man playboy John Carter. Seemingly the most unluckiest chap in the West End, within the space of a few scenes Carter manages to lose his job, discovers his girlfriend dead and is beaten up by three thugs (one of whom is a very young Derek "Eastenders" Martin). Turns out its all an evil plan by gangster Mendez (super suave Derek Aylward) to blackmail Carter into journeying to Brighton, to do a job. What this job entails remains a mystery till the last reel, though a clue can be found in the a.k.a. title, in the meantime Carter and Virginia Wetherell are held hostage by Mendez's goons, and forced to participate in sadistic photo shoots supervised by a drooling pervert photographer and two "crazy acidhead" dolly birds. Made at a time when Walker was shooting basic sex and violence exploiters with scripts written in the space of one night (as was the case here), I suppose the polite thing to say is that Mr. Pete was still learning his craft here and doesn't appear to have been touched by greatness at this stage in his career. A good proportion of the film seems to consist of well-to-do actors awkwardly delivering dialogue that sounds like a parody of the Sweeney written a good few years before the fact "one of your stupid birds blew the gaff" etc, etc. Supposedly around 13 minutes of additional depravity were added for the 'overseas' version, and even in the standard British version, which clocks in at just over an hour, some amusement can be had over how Walker manages to crow bar titillation into the most mundane scenarios (such as when Carter goes to chat to Mendez only to find him in the middle of tutoring topless female wrestlers!). The climatic chase on a snowy Brighton Pier that includes a shootout in a penny arcade and a ride on a ghost train, is quite atmospheric, but looks to have been a nightmare for the actors who struggle to keep their balance on the icy pier. Leading to a memorable moment when an actor playing one of the gangsters slips and falls flat on his arse, and they left that shot in!!! Overall Strip Poker resembles one of those "Butchers films" that ITV used to show in the middle of the night, only a lot more amateur and with one eye towards the skin market. Nice as it is to see an early example of Mr. Pete's work, and boasting some choice views of Brighton at the fag end of the Sixties ("where the filthy rich go for dirty weekends") its probably best for Walker's reputation that his bone fide horror classics now have their own DVD box set while the really early stuff like this and School for Sex are now out of circulation (ditto Lady Hemp allegedly suppressing Tiffany Jones). Still there is something oh-so-British about a film that ends with a detective asking the leads to come down to the station and answer a few questions over a cup of tea.
The Eye of Satan (1992)
Return of the Mancunian.
Possibly the only film in which a Disciple of Satan drives around in a vehicle with "Sale Van Hire" written on the side- Sale being a town in the Trafford district of Manchester - The Eye of Satan is another outing from GBH Director David Kent Watson and his writer/leading man Cliff Twemlow. Taking their tried and tested north west actioner formula and adding in a dash of British horror film, The Eye of Satan somehow also manages to rope a South African voodoo cult, a mysterious mercenary, an Arab arms dealer, a black panther and a pair of Mancunian duck hunters into the same plot.
No stranger to bloodshed, Twemlow's life story as recounted in his autobiography 'The Tuxedo Warrior' is a brutal one, telling of his background as a nightclub doorman in Southport, Scotland and his naïve Manchester. Its full of tales of seedy bed sits, landladies who either wanted to mother him or jump into bed with him, and where the threat of extreme physical violence from punters, not to mention fellow doormen, was never far away. A life less ordinary, albeit one few would choose to live. Much more than just a heavy, Twemlow also wrote poetry, horror paperbacks and 'over two thousand musical compositions'. His songs like Man of the World and Lets Think of Other People seem to reflect both someone who had been seen human behavior at its most ruthless and violent yet remained decent and optimistic at heart. A Twemlow penned piece of philosophy that sticks in the memory from The Eye of Satan is "yesterday was never, today is forever, tomorrow is but a promise".
So much goes on in The Eye of Satan that its hard to keep up with it, the film almost anticipating Pulp Fiction in having several seemingly unconnected story lines that eventually cross paths. The earlier part of the film evolves around Christine, the promiscuous daughter of a gangster who has been having an affair with his arch enemy, Arab arms dealer Camille Mohamed played by John Saint Ryan (best known at the time for playing Bet Lynch's truck driver boyfriend in Coronation Street, Ryan looks more like Sean Connery than anyone's idea of an Arab arms dealer, but puts it a decent, sinister performance despite the against type casting). However this romance understandably goes sour when Camille holds her hostage and promises to kill her unless the gangster makes good on an earlier arms deal. Meanwhile two policemen ('Brett Sinclair' and Maxton G Beesley) investigate the seemingly random murders of a man involved with a South African voodoo cult and a pair of Manchester duck hunters. 'The killer was obviously a lover of animals' explains a pathologist to Beesley 'and the two corpses didn't share his views or principles'. After Christine escapes daddy hires Kane (Twemlow) a grumpy mercenary to protect her. A mysterious loner, Kane's only friend is his pet black panther which accompanies him on jobs, "must cost a fortune in Whiskers" someone remarks. There is more to Kane than meets the eye though, and heralding in the film's horror elements, he turns out to be a Disciple of Satan who when not stirring up trouble with the local mob by shooting a gang members' coffin to pieces, also performs occult rituals. With glowing green eyes and dialogue like 'I come from a world too incomprehensible for mere morals too understand, a land that lies beneath a cloak of unending darkness' Kane comes across like a mixture of Mike Raven and The Terminator, yet in the amoral, double dealing world of The Eye of Satan is the closest thing the film has to a hero. Lots of neck snapping and scenes of Cliff flexing his pecks result when Camille and the gangster's treacherous step brother team up to try to kill Kane and the girl, all of which goes hand in hand with Amityville horrors like blood emerging from a tea pot and shaking walls. Twemlow being an atheist (something that comes across quite strongly in Tuxedo Warrior), means traditional horror films savours like spiritualists and priests also receive a good kicking along the way. While Twemlow plays Kane in a straight faced, self consciously serious manner, as with GBH there is a streak of very North West humour running through the proceedings with the miss-matched paring of Kane and Christine acting as a substitute for the self-mocking Twemlow/Brett Sinclair banter in GBH. She's a spoilt gangster's daughter cum Eighties socialite he's a brooding robe wearing satanic muscleman with supernatural powers, so its fair to say they don't have much in common. They do however have such classic exchanges as
CHRISTINE: "Do you ****, are you gay, maybe you're just weird you do have balls I take it"
KANE: "No, the cat got them" (cue, shot of the panther licking its lips)
Highly entertaining even after multiple viewings, The Eye of Satan played on the long defunct cable sleaze channel HVC in the 1990s. Though gavcrimson first saw the film and the GBH sequel, Lethal Impact, thanks to actor/Twemlow regular Steve Powell who falls victim to the panther in The Eye of Satan and has his head severed by a lift shaft in GBH2. Steve also runs a website about the films he and Cliff made together and does a fine job preserving the Twemlow legacy on-line.
Urge to Kill (1960)
Murder at Auntie B's place
Not to be confused with the still unreleased Derek Ford/Dick Randall swansong of the same name, this Urge to Kill is a Vernon Sewell directed effort from 1960. It begins with the sort of murder scene where the killer's identity is kept off screen but in order to suggest he is known to the victim, she goes to her death saying something like "oh what are you doing here, why are you putting your hands on my throat, arrrgggghh". As the film, based on a play, is mostly set in the guest house of Auntie B, likely suspects include Auntie B herself (Ruth Dunning), smarmy young lodger Charles Ramskill (Howard Pays) who Auntie B is trying to marry her daughter off to, Auntie B's backwards nephew Hughie (Terence Knapp), and impeccably dressed city businessman Mr. Forsythe (Wilfrid Brambell), who is never without a good biblical quote. Having nailed Tod Slaughter in Murder at the Grange, Superintendent Patrick Barr investigates.
This being the unenlightened, insensitive early sixties, the victim's private life is up for comment "perhaps she was a jezebel?", and suspicion falls on child like simpleton Hughie, with even Barr's second in command remarking "you never know with these mental cases". (A few spoilers coming up) Of course any viewer with a bit of Sherlock Holmes about them will soon guess that Hughie is way too much of a red herring to really be the murderer, that and the fact that the film is gearing up to provide a message about the dangers of finger pointing and the lynch mob mentality as locals gather in the pub, threatening to turn vigilante and do away with Hughie. Nor does the killer turn out to be Wilfrid Brambell ..shame as it would have tied this in nicely with Cover Girl Killer.
Urge to Kill is less a whodunit though, rather a "will they figure out whodunit" as the killer's identity is revelled early on leaving him to try and frame Hughie by stealing his coat and placing it near victim number two .the rotter. While not quite in the same league as Sewell's The Man in the Back Seat, the jewel in the busy director's crown made the same year, Urge to Kill is a serviceable enough second feature that doesn't overstay its welcome (it runs just under an hour). The sort of film ITV used to show in the early hours, till they discovered inane phone in quiz shows rake in more money than creaky British B movies made in nineteen frozen-to-death. Its slightly let down by Terence Knapp's caricaturish turn as Hughie, his performance as someone with learning difficulties often resembling George Formby playacting being drunk, and after all the clever scheming the way the killer gives the game away is a laugh. Frustrated the police haven't found Hughie's coat, he tells Barr something to the effect of "I haven't seen Hughie's coat, but why not try looking " then says the exact place where its hidden, D'oh! Also look out for a very brief appearance by Rita Webb in one of her earliest film roles, and a scene that entails a character suddenly having to leave the pub in which the actor obviously thought he could sneak in one last swig of his pint only to end up spilling most of it down his shirt. That'll teach him to drink on the job.
The Discreet Charm of the Boarding House
Along with the similarly Z-grade 'Black Devil Doll from Hell', Boarding House is one of the earliest and most infamous American horror films to be shot on videotape. Legend has it that it even played in a few US cinemas, so has an odd shot on video but transferred to 35mm film look to it, that was hyped by the producers as 'filmed in horror vision', which probably sounds better on the poster than filmed in washed out home movie vision.
Jim (played by "Hawk Adly" a.k.a. director John Wintergate) inherits a house with a sinister past depicted by some pre-credits gore and a computer print out basically telling us everybody who has lived in the house has died about 48 hours after moving in. In spite of this Jim decides to reopen the house and rent out the rooms. Being a bachelor he's only interested in a certain type of tenant though. In reality no one would surely anyone answer an Ad that reads "Girls, if you're between eighteen and twenty five, unattached and beautiful, then I want you to share my ten bedroom house with me". This being film world however, soon the house is full of such female tenants, headed by an actress billed only as "Kalassu", who spend most of the film running around in bikinis, having cat fights and generally providing senseless T&A.
There is more to Jim than meets the eye though, he also has psychic powers which he has learnt by many hours of meditating in his underwear and listening to 'teach yourself psychic powers' audio tapes. After Jim amazes Kalassu by making a bar of soap move, she too tries to develop psychic abilities. At first the pair harmlessly show off their powers, cue a psychic custard pie fight, but soon Amityville Horror type accidents start befalling the girls, a levitating knife stabs a girl in the hand, a hairdryer falls in the bath frying another character. As well as someone's more unusual idea of horror movie incidents, like the nightmare scene in which one of the girls imagines her head has turned into that of a pigs'. Is the house to blame ?, or is someone using psychic powers to bump off the girls ? Extremely gory, a character bashes her head on a rock and in the next shot is covered head to toe in blood(!), for all this Boarding House feels less like a horror film and more a duo vanity vehicle for Hawk and Kalassu. Hawk has the look of Malcolm McDowell in a Billy Idol biopic, if you can picture that, and as director gives himself lots of scenes that consist of him walking around in leopard skin Y-fronts, being fawned over by the girls and being admired for his psychic greatness. Kalassu similarly hogs the limelight, however you suspect she fancied herself more as a singer, since her rawk songs ("You say you want a rock romance, you've been begging just to get in my pants") dominate the soundtrack, and she gets to play live in the film's finale. A "whatever happened to?" computer print out at the end of the film informs us that after the incidents in the film Hawk's character went on to work for NASA while Kalassu's character is currently in the middle of a sold out world tour .as if.
There really isn't any middle ground with this one. If you've got a low tolerance for low-fi film-making, run don't walk from this, then double bolt the door, you'll find it unbearable. If you don't, then maybe, just maybe, you'll be one of the select few who can pride themselves on discovering a certain charm and unintentional hilarity to the film where others can only see awfulness, either way like the aforementioned Black Devil Doll from Hell its certainly the sort of bad movie you won't forget in a hurry. Despite the LA setting, I think its the closest we'll ever see to a 'straight' version of Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, in the sense of its instantly dated 1980s vibe, the bad special effects and the misguided egotism which is clearly driving the project. The actor who plays the black cop, and who wildly overplays the scene where psychic power forces him to shoot himself, even looks a bit like Dean Lerner/Richard Ayoade.
This review was based on a viewing of a ye olde ex-rental tape, such is the film's appeal that the previous owner appears to have attempted to record over the film not once, but three times. Obviously it must have been Hawk's powers that prevented his one and only film from being wiped "focus white light, focus white light" etc, etc.
Like Father, Like Son (1974)
Massacre Mafia Style- Better than The Godfather -even today
A DVD release of this has been promised for a longtime, though old video releases can still be found (usually under the a.k.a. title The Executioner) for those who want to see what all the fuss is about. More than living up to both its name and reputation, Massacre Mafia Style opens with two tough guys played by Vic Caesar and the film's director Duke Mitchell electrocuting a wheelchair bound mob boss in a urinal. Just for the hell of it they also shoot everyone who happens to be in the same building at the time, and I do mean everyone, office workers, secretaries, even the cleaners, all of which is scored to a Dean Martin-like song about being in love.
It transpires that Mitchell's character, nicknamed 'Mimi', is the son of a mob boss who wants revenge on the American Mafia for exiling his old man 16 years earlier. Teaming up with buddy Vic to form "a small army of guts, balls and trust", in order to raise cash they kidnap a mobster and demand a ransom, sending his thumb through the post to show they mean business ("That's Chucky's thumb all right, I've seen it on him a million times"). The pair also make money by shooting porno films on a boat, a subplot that seems to be a sly reference to a certain Italian family's involvement in porno smash hit Deep Throat. To say that Vic n' Duke's exploits are action filled is putting it mildly, they go on to impale a gangster on a meat hook (which comes out of his eye!), crucify a black pimp on Easter Sunday, as well as numerous reprises of the 'Vic and Duke shoot everyone and their barber' opening. A particularly hilarious moment occurs when during a montage of people being gunned down we cut to someone minding their own business reading a newspaper (headline "13 LA Bookmakers and Procurers slain!") who is then also shot, presumably making it 14 LA Bookmakers and Procurers slain.
To give a bit of background on Director/Lead man Mitchell, he had began his career as a singer, Americanizing his real name Dominic Miceli to Duke Mitchell, then teamed up with comedian Sammy Petrillo to form an act that was errr not dissimilar to Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis'. The duo were immortalized on screen in the career end Lugosi vehicle "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla", though by the time he made Massacre Mafia Style, Mitchell looked less like Dean Martin and instead bears a curious resemblance to the notorious Porn/Broadway actor Zebedy Colt. Mitchell wasn't a bad actor actually, and equally shifty and violent on screen one of the films main strengths is his no nonsense persona. At one point threatening to not only strangle one character's entire family but everyone in the phonebook with the same name. Suffice to say, after seeing the film, you probably wouldn't want to spill Duke Mitchell's drink.
Making up for its lack of professionalism (as well as a sneaky sense of family members/buddies being passed off as cast members), with admirable low budget energy. There are even moments that take Massacre Mafia Style from simply being a blood and guts B-Movie into something more personal. A far more complex character than the 'rise and fall' narrative suggests, Mitchell's Mimi ruthlessly murders his way to the top but seems haunted by disillusionment every step of the way. By the end the pride and respect for the old ways he was brought up to believe in have been eradicated by a sense that contemporary society is sufficiently depraved to render the Mafia antiquated. Especially powerful is Mimi's speech about his mother "What did we give her, We gave her violence. We gave her death. We gave her dishonor!" and the back story about his father's impoverished beginnings in America in which he even lends his own Miceli/Mitchell names to the character. A true labour of love, as they say. Mitchell also made a follow up called Gone with the Pope, which has never been released though a trailer for it has surfaced on the internet. Do try and watch it, given the premise (Duke kidnaps the Pope), a scene where Duke gets it on with massively obese woman, and THAT opening line of the trailer its looks as if may even outdo Massacre Mafia Style for outrageousness.