Introducing Pennywise

I’ve always been a Stephen King fan. I grew up reading him. I love his depictions of small town American life, as well as his more epic stories. Though I also read his thrillers, it is the horror books of old that I have a penchant for.

My two favourites are Salem’s Lot, and It. King’s stories don’t always translate well to the big (or the small) screen. In regard to Salem’s Lot, I do like the original television adaptation, starring Hutch himself-David Soul. Though perhaps more faithful to the book, I’m not so enamoured with the remake.

As for It, I last watched this years ago. I don’t recall much about it except that I was disappointed. Well, now a new, two-part movie is being made. The first movie is about the children, The Loser’s Club, who come together to fight the evil presence that resides in Derry. The second film will depict the next confrontation, when the children are now adults.

I’m looking forward to seeing a fresh perspective of King’s great novel. Today, I saw the first glimpse of the new, evil Pennywise. I shared it today on Facebook, tagging in the picture two of my friends ostensibly because they are King fans, but also because they are afraid of clowns.

You’re welcome. I’m that kind of friend.

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Daisy, Daisy, Give Us Your Answer Do

Imagine that you want to be an actress, so you go to a school for performing arts, and on qualifying your first real movie role just happens to be a major blockbuster and the biggest film of the year. When suddenly you can’t even pop into your local superstore to pick up a loaf of bread without being reminded of it.

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This is precisely what happened to Daisy Ridley, an unknown suddenly thrust into the limelight after landing a starring role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

How did she cope with this life-changing event? How would you?

I’m not sure, but I wanted to share this with you guys. It is a three minute clip of an interview that she did on The Tonight Show, and it includes something that I both laughed at and loved: it shows Daisy, lay in bed while staying at a B&B, watching the trailer for the movie.

Witness the emotional reaction of a girl seeing for the very first time the fruit of everyone’s hard work in creating something wondrous, looking on a realised dream as she is on the cusp of becoming a star.

I wonder if she has gotten used to it yet? Daisy, please give us your answer, do.

Where In The Tree Is Vivien?

I recently finished reading a biography about possibly my country’s greatest actress: Vivien Leigh. Triumphant and tragic, always lovely, ever fragile, her most difficult part was that of her own life.

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My post on an old movies site on Facebook provoked a conversation about her being England’s greatest actress. I was asked what it was about her that made me of this opinion, and how she faired in comparison to the likes of Dame Judi Dench and Dame Helen Mirren. (The question was asked in all innocence, purely out of curiosity, as it was posed by a fan of Vivien’s who was curious as to why I hold her in such similar esteem.)

I replied that both Judi Dench and Helen Mirren are fine actresses, (Elizabeth Taylor too), but to me there seems a certain gravitas in both Leigh’s performances and in her attitude towards her craft. Most of her performances were on stage and not before a camera, and she would often say that she was an actress, not a film star. Two Oscars not withstanding.

If only her Lady Macbeth, among other roles, had been recorded!

She brought both beauty and art to her roles, but she thought that her looks obscured her abilities as an actress.

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Responding to the original question in making a decision about where she ranks, we can only go off anecdotes, regard, performances and achievements.

There was a firm courage that underscored Leigh’s sometimes fragile demeanour, which becomes apparent when you learn of her long struggle with both tuberculosis,(which ultimately would claim her), and mental illness. There are accounts of her appearing on stage after undergoing electric shock treatment, burn marks still visible on her temples.

When she was making her final film, Stanley Kubrick said that it was obvious she was ill. About to shoot a scene, she would be shaking on set. Leigh would take herself off to the side, master control of herself, then come back and complete a perfect take, her trembling  returning on finishing.

This final indication of dedication and braveness underlines her greatness. One man’s meat and all that, but when considering the pantheon of our great actors and actresses, for me Vivien Leigh is up there at the very top.

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VIVIEN LEIGH holding her Academy Award for Best Actress for Gone With Wind. 1940.

When The Stars Shone Brighter

Well, the Oscars are almost upon us. You know what? Current controversy aside, I have never watched a single Academy Awards presentation. Not a full show, live, anyhow. I may have caught the highlights the odd year.

Do any of you guys watch it? Maybe it’s because I like old movies, but, to me, the Hollywood of the past seemed much more glamorous.

The stars appeared brighter. More luminous.

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Hammer Chooseday #15: Rasputin The Mad Monk

Rasputin The Mad Monk (1966) 3/5

This film is a fictional account of the real life Grigori Rasputin.

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Christopher Lee is commanding as the peasant-mystic who we first encounter when he uses his healing powers to save an innkeeper’s wife. He then heads for St.Petersburg, where he begins a campaign to gain influence over the Tsarina.

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“You want to introduce us to someone? His name is Rasputin? He is a Mad Monk? Go on then- let’s take tea.”

He uses her lady-in-waiting Sonia (Hammer favourite Barbara Shelley) to both satisfy his sexual appetite and gain access to the royal family, the latter he does by putting her in a trance and instructing her to injure the Tsar’s son and heir so he can then heal him.

Oh go on then, I like your beard.

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It’s a hard life being a Holy Man.

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But someone has to do it.

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You just look at him and think ‘I bet he lives in a cabin in the woods. I bet he has vittles cooking on the hearth. I bet he uses hypnotic powers to ingratiate himself into the royal household.’

Once ingratiated into the royal household (told you) having no more need of Sonia, he instructs her to commit suicide. Like an obedient girl she does.

She likes his beard.

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Ra ra Rasputin, lover of the Russian Queen. Okay, so that song wasn’t in the film, but Lee did display some fancy footwork.

As his influence and power grows, he begins to make enemies, and eventually two of these plan to murder him. After luring him to a meeting, they give him poisoned chocolates and wine. When these aren’t enough to kill him, there is a struggle, and he is pushed through a window to his death.

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Death by chocolate.

This was one film that I never really fancied, despite Lee and Shelley being in it, but it was okay. Probably wouldn’t watch it again though. Unless I should look into those eyes…

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(I must add, that when I was writing this post, my autocorrect kept changing the title to Rasputin The Mad Mink. It amused me no end-filling me with a whirlwind image of fur and saliva and teeth. If Hammer did Natural History programmes…)

Hammer Chooseday #11: The Satanic Rites Of Dracula

The Satanic Rites Of Dracula (1973) 5/5

This was Lee’s eighth and final outing as the vampire Count, and the third pairing with Peter Cushing as Van Helsing (along with Dracula in 1958, and Dracula A.D 72 in, funnily enough, 1972). It was also the very last Hammer film that would feature both of those great friends.

A minute’s silence, please.

My wife: please stop rolling your eyes.

The film’s working title was Dracula is Dead . . . and Well and Living in London. 

Christopher Lee wasn’t amused: “I’m doing it under protest . . . I think it’s fatuous. I can think of twenty adjectives-fatuous, pointless, absurd. It’s not a comedy, but it’s got a comic title. I don’t see the point.”

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Eschewing the usual gothic setting, as was done in the previous Dracula film also, for Twentieth-Century London, this has the feel of a modern (for the time) thriller, complete with appropriate soundtrack. There are snipers on motorcycles, donning leather, fur parkas and 1970’s porn tashes.

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No, I wasn’t in CHIPS.

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I know-women chained up in the cellar. I can say from experience: it’s  a drag.

A research establishment and real estate business serves as a front for a satanic cult, headed by Dracula, which is developing a deadly strain of the plague to unleash upon mankind, at midnight on the feast of the sabbath of the undead. Suppose it sounded better than doing it on Pancake Tuesday.

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Lee as always, is iconic as Dracula, although in this film he doesn’t appear until thirty minutes in. At one point, with a flourish of his hands, he makes candles burst into life like a stage magician.

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And now for my ‘sawing a woman in half’ trick, Hammer style-best fetch a mop and bucket.

As his plans come to light, Van Helsing wonders why Dracula is attempting to destroy his only food source-does he harbour a subconscious desire to end his own torment?

This is a great twist, but unfortunately we don’t learn the truth of this, as, in the finale, Van Helsing’s granddaughter, played by Joanna Lumley, is rescued from the vampire’s clutches, and fire engulfs the only person stricken with the plague.

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Joanna Lumley: I should have stayed on the catwalk.

? playing ? : I should have stayed as a traffic cop.

Michael Coles, playing Inspector Murray: I should have stayed in the traffic division.

Dracula, in his endless pursuit of Van Helsing, becomes entangled and sliced in hawthorn, and is then dispatched by a fence post used as a stake.

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A (vampire) rose (from the dead) among thorns. No? I tried.

For the final time, we see Lee’s Dracula destroyed by Cushing’s Van Helsing. As the vampire wastes away, his destroyer picks up the only thing left: his ring. Perhaps paving the way for a further film that didn’t come? Regrets, I’ve had a few.

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Van Helsing goes into battle armed with a crucifix, silver bullets and a sticking plaster.

I loved this one, an imaginative twist on the Dracula franchise that felt like a thriller, with Dracula coming over as part vampire and part Bond villain. Perhaps it served as the perfect training vehicle for Lee’s future Scaramanga role.

Okay, my good wife, the film is over-here’s the remote. What’s going on in Emmerdale?

Amy And That Damn 27 Club

My wife and I went into Manchester on Sunday to watch Amy at the cinema. It is a powerful film that depicts quite well the tremendous gifts of the young Amy Winehouse, but also documents her descent from that vibrant, ultra-talented woman to a drug taking, intoxicated, waif of a girl, besieged and lost with seemingly nobody to turn to.

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It is heartbreaking to watch, knowing the outcome as we do, but it is all the more tragic and disturbing as hers was a public disintegration, captured by an ever pursuing press pack along with a  camera phone waving public.

Although she, like all of us, must take responsibility for her own actions, there are others who surely share a level of culpability for her demise, including those who milked her for all they could get, the media and paparazzi that hounded her every move, and the comedians and late show hosts who saw her bulimia, mental health and drug problems as material for cheap laughs.

And so she became the latest member of that legendary club of artists who died aged twenty-seven, in the company of, among others:

Johnson;

Jones;

Hendrix;

Joplin;

Morrison;

Cobain.

Twenty-seven is the number that keeps them all forever young, but it is not a romantic or mythical age, but rather an age of regret and waste, an age that keeps all of us left behind saddled with feelings of sadness and questions of what if?, and recordings of extinguished genius to turn to.

R.I.P Amy, I hope you found respite.

Here is the trailer, try and catch the full film while it is still on at the cinema:

Hammer Chooseday #10: Frankenstein Created Woman

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) 5/5

Peter Cushing reprises his role of the Baron, in this film going down the metaphysical road of soul transferral. He puts the soul of a wrongly executed man into the body of the woman that the man loved. Maybe not exactly the fantasy of her beloved, but close enough.

Could have been worse, Peter, you could have got Boris Karloff.

Could have been worse, Peter, you could have got Boris Karloff.

The producer summarised the story: “This time Frankenstein creates a beautiful girl from one who has been ugly. Only something goes wrong. She goes around chopping people’s heads off with an axe.”

There’s always a glitch, but nothing that can’t be ironed out.

Susan Denberg plays Christina, a disfigured girl who is also paralysed down her left side. When a trio of arrogant dandies (I can’t believe I called them dandies) pay a visit to her father’s bar, they mock her, angering Hans, who gets in a fight with them. Later, without witnesses, they kill her father, and Hans is arrested for his murder. Unwilling to provide his alibi, that he was in bed with the currently absent  Christina, (gentleman that he is), he is found guilty and sentenced to death.

The aerial shot. In the days before CCTV.

The aerial shot. In the days before CCTV.

Christina, returning to the town, and unaware of both her father’s death and everything else that has transpired since, spots Hans upon the hill, about to be guillotined. There is a dramatic scene as she tries to reach him, and there is a desperation as he spots her approach, but this is Hammer-they don’t do happy endings. He is executed before she gets there. Seeing the one man, besides her father, who saw past her deformities and loved her, killed, she is overcome with grief and throws herself into a river, drowning. That’s ‘don’t do happy endings’ x2.

Cue Frankenstein and his ill-advised experiments. He never learns, does he? Not with scriptwriters like he’s got.

A beautiful woman with the soul of the Devil. Have you met my wife?

A beautiful woman with the soul of the Devil.
Have you met my wife?

Once she is brought back to life, she is not the usual, patched-up lumbering monster, but is Susan Denberg, more easy on the eye than Christopher Lee. This would be Denberg’s last film, her career curtailed by a drug-induced breakdown.

Now resurrected, Christina is just a girl with no memory of who she is.

Was.

And-good news for us, her blemishes and deformities have gone, too. You don’t get that on the NHS.

Hang on, is this Frankenstein or The Mummy?

Hang on, is this Frankenstein or The Mummy? Or some freaky kind of Kinder Egg?

Several times she asks the scientist to tell her of her identity, but which he declines to do. Here’s a few snapshots that might help:

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Maybe not.

So, now that she is blessed with beauty, no longer paralysed and having to hide her face beneath her hair, do you remember what I said about Hammer and happy endings?

Yep.

Now the vengeful spirit of Hans begins to take her over, driving her on to take revenge, in turn, against the three men who were really responsible for the crime that cost him his life.

“Kill him. Kill him. Kill him, Christina.”

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After murdering the last of these, (and taking Hans’ head along for the deed, sentimental girl that she is), she flees the pursuing Frankenstein, and, having nothing left to live for, throws herself again into the river, ignoring her creator’s pleas not to do so.

The perfect combination for a stroll in the countryside: some food, a loved one, an ex's severed head.

The perfect recipe for a lovely day in the countryside: a partner, some food; a little wine; an ex-lover’s severed head. Bliss.

Farewell Christina. Farewell Susan Denberg.

I watched this while my wife had her earphones in, listening to music. When it finished, I said “It was quite good that.”  She replied “It looked boring as Hell!”

I enjoyed this different take on the Frankenstein story. We are now ten posts in on the Hammer Chooseday series, and I am yet to make a fan of her. I’ve not given up yet, but I think it best I avoid the lesbian vampires.

R.I.P Sir Christopher Lee

You guys know that I’m an old Hammer fan, and so  probably won’t need me to tell you how gutted I was to hear the news of his death today. It took me right back to how I felt when I heard about the passing of that other Hammer stalwart, and Lee’s good friend, Peter Cushing.

Lee had spoken in the past of their good friendship, the kind that he said only comes along once in a lifetime. I remember reading somewhere, (I’m not sure whose biography I was actually reading at the time), about how devastated Cushing was when his wife Helen died. He wanted to be with her, and had an unshakeable faith that one day he would be.

One day Lee was talking to that other (non-Hammer) horror actor Vincent Price. I may not recall the conversation word for word, but you will get the gist. Price enquired about Cushing, asking if he still expected to be with his wife when he, too, died.

“Oh very much so. In fact he is looking forward to it.”

Price paused, then said, “And what happens if he goes over and she’s not in?”

Lee recounted this conversation to Cushing later. Cushing was quiet for a moment, then howled laughing. “Only Vincent would say that, and only you would tell me.”

I think that helps illustrate their friendship, and now Lee has joined his friends, the final chapter closing.

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Lee was a true great, and, I think, vastly underrated as an actor. I believe in the months and years to come we will realise just what a loss he is to British cinema. He played the bad guy in many films, including James Bond, and both The Lord Of The Rings and Star Wars series of films. He sang opera, and even charted in his eighties with a collection of heavy metal numbers!

But I will always love both he and Cushing, (to me they were both synonymous with each other), for the many Hammer roles that this blood thirsty kid lapped up way back when.

Though he may have tired of the role, he will always be the definitive Dracula. Tonight, I will watch the film where the two iconic roles began for both actors: Van Helsing for Cushing, and the undead Count for Lee- the 1958 film Dracula. 

I think you can take next Tuesday’s Hammer Chooseday post as a given.

Thanks for the memories. And the sleepless nights.

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Hammer Chooseday #8: The Nanny

The Nanny (1965) 3/5

After his little sister drowns in a bathtub, young Joey (William Dix) is blamed for her death and sent away to a special school to be treated by psychologists. His mother, Virginia (Wendy Craig), suffers a breakdown, and, dismissed by her distant husband, becomes more dependent than ever on their nanny, played by the great Bette Davis.

The film begins with Joey due to return to the family home, (after the medical expert privately admits to failing him), and straight away he exhibits hostility towards the nanny.

The first glimpse we have of Joey is when he is playing a trick on one of the staff by pretending that he has hung himself. Oh you little rascal.

The first glimpse we have of Joey is when he is playing a trick on one of the staff by pretending that he has hung himself. Oh Joey, you little rascal.

Joey settles in his new, cosy room, playing records like all kids do, finding somewhere to put his noose.

Joey settles into his new, cosy room, unpacking, playing records, finding somewhere to put his noose, like all kids do.

Soon his mother is taken ill after being poisoned, with both sides blaming each other.

As the poster asks, who would you trust?

As the poster asks, who would you trust? I know, because I’ve seen it.

Belligerent and unlikeable, Dix’s portrayal helps to instil in us a prejudice towards his character, but in a series of flashbacks we learn that it is in fact Davis’ character who is the unstable one, and it was she who unwittingly caused the death of the young girl and blamed it on Joey.

Go on, Joey, crack a smile.

Go on, Joey, crack a smile. A psycho-nanny can’t be all bad.

Joey’s aunt, staying in Virginia’s absence (the father is away on business), suffers from a medical condition, and collapses after confronting the nanny, dying when the nanny withholds her medication.

“This was not in your job description.”

There follows a creepy scene where Davis enters the boy’s bedroom, clutching a pillow, intent on smothering the lad. In his attempt to escape he is knocked unconscious, and in a horrifying moment she puts him face down in a filled bathtub to drown him. However, her murderous state of mind is broken when she sees his dead sister in his place, and, filled with remorse, sweeps him back up again.

The film ends with a doctor telling Virginia that the nanny is a sick woman who needs help, and Joey is suddenly transformed into a little angel promising the earth to his mother.

Personally, I have my doubts.

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Spare a thought for poor producer Jimmy Sangster: not only did he have to bow to pressure from 20th Century Fox to tag a happy ending onto the film after principal photography was finished, he also had to fight off the ageing Bette Davis’ attempts to seduce him. More scary than any Hammer film.

I think I read somewhere that, when Davis returned to do another Hammer movie, The Anniversary, Sangster’s wife packed her things and went on a holiday abroad, vowing not to return until his work with Davis was at an end.

He has my sympathies-the same thing happened with me and Jennifer Aniston.