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Posts Tagged ‘Julie Ege’

Today’s topic for discussion: historical accuracy – worth bothering with or not? Cripes, that’s a big question for a fairly trivial blog mostly concerning itself with fairly trivial movies. It probably depends on the history involved – is it recent or not, and is the movie involved actually about the history or just using it as a convenient backdrop? I seem to recall being quite trenchant about films like Bombshell, which proposed to make a serious comment about real-world events while cheerily mixing historical figures with entirely made-up characters. She Said, which caused me to emit such a wail of nihilistic angst recently, largely gets away with it, but then again its real people are playing themselves in some cases.

At the other end of the scale is a film like Don Chaffey’s Creatures the World Forgot, which is… how can I put it…? …inherently and irredeemably trivial. It does occur to me that talking about historical accuracy in connection with a film like this is to start heading up a gum tree, for it’s not as if this is a historical movie; it’s a prehistorical one, the last (and, many would have you believe) least of the Hammer cycle of prehistoric pictures. The previous entries were One Million Years BC (which is the one with Raquel Welch), Prehistoric Women (with Martine Beswick), and When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (with Victoria Vetri). This, in case you were wondering, is the one with Julie Ege; the fact these films are most easily differentiated in terms of their female lead may be significant.

What’s the plot like, you may be wondering. Well, it’s a Hammer caveman movie, what do you think the plot is like? The cave folk in this one even seem to be a more degenerate bunch, compared to the ones in the other movies – not only have they not invented language yet, they don’t seem to have even invented names – while some places will tell you the characters in this film have got names like Rool and Noo and Mak, the credits at the end of the film just go with descriptions like ‘The Fair One’ and ‘The Mute Girl’ and so on.

Basically, the cave people – this is actually a bit of a misnomer as they don’t spend much time in caves – wander about in the desert grunting at each other a lot, dying in hunting-related incidents, and so on. At one point there is a fairly substantial volcanic eruption, although to my eye this looks suspiciously like re-used footage from one or other of the previous films (different film stock and more voluminous furs on display). They wander about a bit more, going across a desert, where there is a fight to the death over an egg-shell full of water. An encounter with another tribe results in a sort of prehistoric wedding, the most memorable feature of which – the most memorable feature of the film, perhaps – is a bit where some young women get flogged across the breasts (kinky stuff, this). Twin sons turn up, one with very dark hair who is a rum character, and one with absurd peroxide blonde hair who is obviously a bit more heroic. There is strife between the brothers, mainly concerning who gets access rights to Julie Ege’s character (we are geological ages before #MeToo at this point, so nobody thinks of asking Ege what her thoughts on the topic are – though given what we see in the rest of the movie, her answer would probably be ‘Grungh’.) There is a spot of fraternal death-struggling and a hint of ancient magic, and then the film stops (probably occasioning a sigh of relief from all but the least-demanding of viewers).

Your kind of amateur-level reviewer of this sort of tosh would have you believe that this is the Hammer caveman movie distinguished by the fact that they made it on the cheap and didn’t bother to put any animated dinosaurs or other prehistoric creatures in it. Well, there aren’t any dinosaurs in Prehistoric Women, either, if we’re going to be precise about this, but then the whole point of that film is that it’s a bargain-basement cash-in. Certainly it looks like a reasonable amount of cash has been spent at various points in the making of Creatures the World Forgot, so perhaps the absence of dinosaurs (etc) is a bit more noticeable. The nickname the film has acquired – Creatures the Producers Forgot to Have Animated – is a fun and appropriate one.

As a result the film feels a bit like that apocryphal Korean edit of The Sound of Music in which, to keep the thing to a more manageable length, they dispensed with all the songs, or possibly a pornographic film reedited for a PG rating and entire bereft of naughtiness as a result. The bits without dinosaurs in a Hammer caveman movie are mainly there to fill time and extend the film out to a respectable length (if anything about this genre is particularly respectable). There’s a case to be made that a Hammer prehistoric movie without any prehistoric monsters is, quite literally and precisely, pointless.

In the absence of the monsters, the film is obliged to rely much more heavily on the other big attraction of this kind of film, which is women in scanty chamois-leather outfits. By 1971 moral standards in society had collapsed to the point where unashamed T&A had become much more a part of the Hammer repertoire, and there are indeed a great many prehistoric knockers on display throughout the film, flogged and unflogged. But it almost seems like Chaffey is trying not to be too salacious, as he doesn’t really dwell on this fact – Val Guest somehow managed to ensure that Victoria Vetri’s nude scenes in When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth packed a significant erotic wallop (or so it seemed to my febrile teenaged self), but here? Not so much. It’s a bit like one of those documentaries about nudism or semi-nudism – a lot less fun and exciting than it sounds.

On the other hand, the scenery and cinematography on the film is really quite good – locations were filmed in Namibia and South Africa, and are the best thing in the movie. The whole thing only really functions on a visual level anyway, and so this is more of a bonus than it might be in a conventional movie. But even so, the story is dull, lurching from one mildly exploitative moment to another, never managing to transcend its own absurdity, or the painful absence of dinosaurs, ahistorical or otherwise. I doubt anyone could make a genuinely good caveman movie – the closest you could probably find is the opening movement of 2001, and that’s a very different beast – and while this one has a sort of vague visual appeal, in every other respect it is completely forgettable, and probably not worth watching in the first place.

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Jack Cardiff’s The Mutations (released in 1974) is not a film which appears to be overly concerned by the attention span of its audience, which in our age of hyperactive, attention-grabbing gimmickry l actually find rather refreshing. It opens with a series of very long, slow, static takes of plants sprouting and developing (courtesy of the magic of time-lapse photography), over which the credits play. Grab-you-by-the-throat stuff this is not. Even when the credits conclude and we are off into the story proper, it doesn’t exactly burst into life, for we are at a scientific lecture delivered by university boffin Professor Nolter (Donald Pleasence, who indicates that Nolter is a mad scientist by doing an ever-so-slightly Germanic accent). His talk is on the development of life, and in particular the key role played by mutants. He also seems very keen on talking about carnivorous plants (that old staple of the dodgy low-budget horror movie), and proceeds to do so in some detail.

Watching all this are a bunch of they’re-a-bit-too-old-to-be-students, amongst their number Scott Antony, Olga Anthony, Jill Haworth, and Julie Ege (who had already done at least one Hammer movie by this point and had another one either lined up or just finished). They all watch fairly attentively as Nolter lays in the plot and themes of the movie, culminating in his belief that induced mutation could be used to bring about the next step in human evolution – specifically, a plant-human hybrid – an idea he seems to have nicked off Michael Gough in Konga. (Yes, so we’re already cutting the movie some slack, for it absolutely beggars belief that any credible university would keep someone on the payroll who is so clearly as mad as a mongoose – not that British horror movies don’t have form in this department, of course.)

The students depart the lecture and head off into mid-70s London, where the movie is set. However, something alarming befalls Olga Anthony, as she finds herself pursued across a park by – what’s the term we’re supposed to use these days? Dwarves? Midgets? Persons of restricted growth? Anyway, there are a few of them in The Mutations. Anthony manages to outrun them, as you might expect, but is grabbed by a looming figure anyway. This is Lynch, the hideously deformed man the short people are employed by; when not kidnapping young starlets he runs a freak show. The most notable thing about Lynch is probably that he is played by Tom Baker in one of his last pre-Dr Who roles; possibly this was the film that led Baker to temporarily pack in acting and work on a building site until destiny came calling – you could certainly understand why.

Anyway, it turns out that Lynch has done a deal with Nolter – he kidnaps young starlets and drags them off to Nolter’s lab, where Nolter performs his fiendish experiments and transforms them into hybrid mutants. Once Nolter has perfected the science he will fix Lynch’s face for him, and possibly help out the other members of the freak show too. In the meantime he transforms Anthony into a half-alligator hybrid mutant (don’t get excited, we barely see this particular monster).

It takes a while for the other mature students to notice their friend has gone missing, but perhaps they are distracted by the arrival of visiting American scientist Brian Redford (Brad Harris) – in the finest traditions of this kind of movie, the imported foreign star is enormously wooden and playing the least interesting character in the film anyway. Quite by chance, while showing him the sights of London, they end up taking him to Lynch’s freak show (maybe Trafalgar Square was full or something). They’re not allowed in to see the alligator girl, but they do get the regular freak show – which features people with genuine anatomical and genetic anomalies, and as a result is distinctly uncomfortable to watch.

The odd thing about The Mutations is that while there’s always something going on, it doesn’t really feel like a movie with an actual plot – it just seems to go from one lurid and provocative set-piece to another, strung together by some rather pedestrian connective tissue. Nolter goes on with his experiments, Lynch torments and is tormented by the side-show performers (when not out kidnapping), and Julie Ege wonders why her friends keep dropping out of sight. You know where it’s going; the pleasure (if that’s the right word for it) comes from the incidental horrors of the movie.

Or, to put it slightly differently: Donald Pleasence plays a mad scientist who hires a deformed freak-show owner to kidnap young people and transform them into monsters for largely spurious pseudo-scientific reasons. It’s not the most outlandish premise for a horror movie, I suppose, but it’s getting there.

Or, to be even more reductive – it’s The Island of Doctor Moreau meets Freaks, set in mid-1970s London. You know, when you put it like that it actually sounds like this might be an interesting and even fun movie. But I have to report that the finished product, though possessed of a sort of grim capacity to fascinate, is actually quite hard work.

Mind you, the same could obviously be said of the original Freaks, which I have already written about. The link between the two films is obvious, and openly acknowledged – there’s a scene reprising the famous ‘we accept you – one of us’ sequence from the Todd Browning film, although Tom Baker is less than delighted to be accepted into the side-show fraternity. The curiosity of seeing one of these early Baker performances is possibly one reason for watching The Mutations, though I must insert a strong caveat here – not only does the heavy make-up he’s under render the great man almost unrecognisable, it also severely impairs his performance (he can barely open his mouth). Nevertheless, power and presence shine through, and he easily holds his own against Pleasence.

At the time Pleasence was in the process of carving out the horror niche that would eventually lead to his being cast in Halloween – he did this movie, Deathline, and Tales That Witness Madness in the space of a few years. This is actually a lot like Deathline, to be honest – it has the same nondescript group of youths in peril, takes place in a down-at-heel, seedy version of modern London, and seems to be trying harder to be disturbing rather than genuinely scary. This is the sillier film by some way – by the time Nolter’s half-man half-Venus fly trap creation starts rising from the Thames and bothering tramps, it’s quite quite clear that this is just exploitative schlock.

It’s an ignoble end to Jack Cardiff’s directorial career, and while it does exert a strange hold, this is mainly because it’s so determinedly grotesque and repulsive. To a modern viewer it looks unpleasant and exploitative on a dozen different levels, to say nothing of cheap and tacky. And yet in the 1970s you commonly found actors of note appearing in this sort of thing. The Mutations is not alone in this – but few low-budget horrors even of the 70s have such a sense of tawdriness about them.

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When the respected British film director Roy Ward Baker died late last year, his career received the usual reappraisal: many kind things were said, usually focussing on his classic take on the Titanic disaster, A Night to Remember. I was pleased to see a few of the more perceptive commentators making reference to his work on the brilliant horror-SF movie Quatermass and the Pit. However, no-one at all made the slightest reference to his work on the unique 1974 movie The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires. The fact that the DVD packaging accurately describes this film as ‘…fist meets fang in Dracula’s kung fu showdown!’ may have something to do with this.

Well, it was 1974, and Hammer were yet again looking around for a new direction. This time around they hooked up with Hong Kong-based film-makers the Shaw Brothers to make a movie in which the stuff they did really well – Gothic vampire horror with lashings of fake blood – collided head-on with the Shaws’ areas of special interest: lengthy kung fu action sequences.

Alas, this was a wacky new angle too far for Christopher Lee, who point-blank refused to be involved. (Legend has it he was basically blackmailed into doing his last few Dracula movies anyway, on the grounds it would be churlish of him to put the rest of the actors and crew out of work by not participating.) And so this is the only Hammer Dracula where someone else plays the part: John Forbes-Robertson, who’s clearly been cast for his resemblance to Lee, but who rather blows it by overdoing his lipstick.

Anyway, in a striking prologue, a Chinese monk makes the strenuous journey to Transylvania. He’s there representing the vampire lords of Szechuan Province (yep, where the chickens come from). The Chinese vampires are having a tough time of it and would quite like the help of the Prince of Darkness. Initially scornful, Dracula rapidly realises his castle is actually a bit of a dump and takes up the offer of helping out this foreign enterprise (a bit like Kevin Spacey becoming creative director at the National Theatre), but not before he possesses the monk (presumably this is to cut down the amount of time that this non-Lee Dracula is on screen).

Some time later, who should pitch up at Chungking University but Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), intent on investigating Chinese vampire legends. Van Helsing runs into Hsi Ching (David Chiang), whose large family of kung fu experts hails from a village in Szechuan which has been terrorised by the seven golden vampires of the title since time immemorial.  A deal is soon struck where together they will deal with the vampire problem, as long as Cushing is excused kung fu duties, Chiang doesn’t have to say Transylvania too often, and they can find an appropriately striking blonde to provide the obligatory Hammer glamour (Julie Ege steps up as a wealthy Danish widow who finances their expedition).

I’m making the plot sound rather more complex than it actually is – most of the foregoing is back-story, handled very directly. What happens on screen is actually extraordinarily straightforward: the vampire hunters set off on their expedition (Cushing wears a pith helmet). Some gangsters try to stop them and there’s a lengthy kung fu battle. Then, they stop for the night in a cave, where the vampires attack them. There’s a lengthy kung fu battle. Finally, they arrive at the cursed village where the vampires attack them again. There’s a – oh, you guessed. The plot is totally linear (though not wholly without surprises – not everyone you may be expecting to survive to the closing credits actually does so).

The ‘village plagued by bad guys calls in expert fighters’ scenario inevitably recalls Seven Samurai and its legion of pasticheurs, but things seem to have got a bit mangled: in this movie the ‘seven’ of the title are the bad guys. Nevertheless, Cushing is backed up by seven of his own guys, though any thoughts you may be having that this is a fair fight are mistaken, as the vampires are supported by a legion of charmingly duff-looking zombies (to be fair, all the makeup in this movie is fairly lousy).

On paper this movie looks like one of the greatest pieces of junk ever committed to celluloid, an aberration committed solely in the name of market-chasing. Neither the script or the production values are up to Hammer’s usual standard, and the film doesn’t even make sense on its own terms. The graphics department don’t seem to have read the script, as a caption establishes Dracula heads for China in 1804, a century before the rest of the story happens. This in itself is enough to put the film in its own continuity, separate from the ‘classic’ Hammer Draculas (1958-1970) and the ‘contemporary’ films featuring the character (1972-3). However, the script makes it quite clear that Dracula and Van Helsing have met before, which is impossible given what we’re shown on-screen. Does it really matter, given that this is, after all, a Hammer horror-kung fu movie fusion? Probably not. Is it, nevertheless, annoying as hell? You bet.

Legend remains stubbornly watchable, mainly due to another incredible Peter Cushing performance – the man’s dedication and commitment to his craft remain truly astounding, to say nothing of his sheer ability to sell dodgy scripts to an audience – and Baker’s contribution as director. He’s not the most naturally gifted director of martial arts sequences, but then the fights in this movie are a little atypical anyway, generally featuring at least half a dozen performers on each side. Where he does deliver is in terms of atmosphere: the wordless build-up to the final conflict, as each side steels itself for battle, is genuinely rather thrilling. He’s helped by James Bernard’s strident if slightly repetitive score, even if it does recycle bits of his classic Horror of Dracula score in a rather uninspired fashion.

The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is what you get when a fairly silly idea gets written up as a so-so script (Don Houghton was once again responsible), which then has rather too much talent and energy and not enough money thrown at it. You can’t really imagine Christopher Lee actually doing a movie as weird as this one, because it is weird – bordering on the actually demented. But if nothing else, that gives it definite novelty value. This is ultimately quite a bad film. But it manages to be bad in a uniquely interesting and enjoyable way.

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