Thursday, June 1, 2017

Demise of The Doctor

The Trails of DOCTOR WHO (1977 - 79)

Out with Gallifrey Gothic, in with the robot dog. DOCTOR WHO - THE INVISIBLE ENEMY mixes an alien prawn with weird science and K9.

DESPITE some post-Hinchcliffe horror flourishes, the Fifteenth Season of DOCTOR WHO is diluted by disposable stories and cut-price visual effects, broadcast under the shadow of STAR WARS then bombarding British cinemas. THE INVISIBLE ENEMY attempted to deal with the psychological by infecting The Doctor (Tom Baker) with a space-borne intelligence, but by the end of the serial the Time Lord is given K9 as a "parting gift". Others included in this season were Robert Holmes' THE SUN MAKERS, which bypassed science fantasy altogether for contemporary political parody, and UNDERWORLD features another insane computer ("Simply ... another machine with megalomania!").

For the previous two seasons, the programme had finished on strong, fan-favourite six-parters: the Krynoid menace of THE SEEDS OF DOOM, and the exploits of Magnus Greel in THE TALONS OF WENG-CHIANG. Unfortunately THE INVASION OF TIME failed to carry on this trend. Claiming presidency of the Time Lords, The Doctor's access to the Matrix enables him to banish the Vardans; yet it is revealed that the Sontarans have used these telepathic aliens for their own means to invade Gallifrey. Written as a late replacement by producer Graham Williams and new script editor Anthony Read - and made under a cloud of potential industrial action - THE INVASION OF TIME is overtly humourous (The Doctor even plays hopscotch in the Citadel), and the arrival of the Sontarans seems like a tacked-on act of desperation. At one point the Vardans resemble tinfoil, and the Sontarans are reduced to getting lost in the TARDIS.

The arrival of the Sontarans in DOCTOR WHO - THE INVASION OF TIME seems like an afterthought. It is also surprising that their demise is at the hands of The Doctor shooting them dead with his de-mat gun.

This tonal shift with DOCTOR WHO was in contrast to the complexities of late-70’s Britain. The Silver Jubilee of 1977 had offered a week of celebratory respite from the country’s inflation, strikes and increasingly violent picket lines. But this embodiment of Olde England seemed particularly out of context against the then bitter disputes at the Grunwick processing plant; and two months later, Lewisham saw the biggest street battle between fascists and anti-fascists since Cable Street in 1936. Even the Christmas 1977 episode of THE GOODIES resulted in their ‘Earthanasia’ skit, where world leaders came to the conclusion that the planet should just be blown up. Ending with a white flash and the sound of an explosion, the show then cuts to the revolving BBC1 globe logo, which follows suit.

1978, however, saw two examples of social politics seep into BBC programming. Terry Nation launched BLAKE'S 7, an anti-STAR TREK where the galaxy is governed by The Federation. This quasi-fascist state uses drugs in the water supply to control its population, and the presence of the beautiful but coldly calculating Servalan (Jacqueline Pearce) cast a long shadow over a land heading towards its first female prime minister. The year also saw the Corporation cancel THE BLACK AND WHITE MINSTREL SHOW - on air since 1958 - as Camden Council became one of the first authorities to address discrimination in employment.

Suzanne Danielle as Movellan Agella in DOCTOR WHO - DESTINY OF THE DALEKS. Danielle also played the title role in CARRY ON EMMANNUELLE, and provided a belly dance for Christopher Lee in ARABIAN ADVENTURE.

The Sixteenth Season adapted an unprecedented format in DOCTOR WHO history. Six individual stories are linked by the over-arching 'Search for the Key to Time' plot, which explored the existence of the White and Black Guardians, a perpetual good versus evil battle that holds the cosmos in balance. In THE RIBOS OPERATION, The Doctor is aided by female Time Lord Romana (Mary Tamm), which reintroduced the troublesome dynamics experienced by Caroline John's partnership with Jon Pertwee; THE PIRATE PLANET saw Douglas Adams' trademark galactic outlandishness not only covering scientific concepts (planet propulsion, flying cars et al), but inevitably showed the beginning of the end for Baker, here talking directly to camera; and THE STONES OF BLOOD jettisons an initial witchcraft premise literally into hyperspace.

Adams became Script Editor for the Seventeenth Season, as the show returned to its familiar guise. With a newly-regenerated Romana (Lalla Ward), even the Daleks look in poor condition for DESTINY OF THE DALEKS, which actually used Skaro sound effects from their initial 1963 appearance. Terry Nation is at his most formulaic for a serial where the titular foes are searching for Davros to aid them in a stalemate with the android Movellans (this seems like a metaphor for the programme reaching out for ideas itself). The most controversial aspect however is that the Daleks, on several occasions, are referred to as robots, perhaps referencing Nation - or Adams' - idea of Dalek evolution from organic mutant to pure automaton. At least it seems more logical that the Daleks and Movellans have entered into a strategic draw because they are both robots, but Nation clouds the mystery further by suggesting that the races' battle computers have led to the situation.

Lalla Ward and Tom Baker enjoy Paris in the series' first overseas shoot for DOCTOR WHO - CITY OF DEATH. With ITV off-air, the serial attracted the highest viewing figures for the show at 16.1m.

However, before the season again descends into pantomime, CITY OF DEATH stands out at an almost cinematic level. Set mainly in 1979 Paris, Scaroth (Julian Glover) attempts to finance experiments in time travel in the hope of averting the accident that marooned him on Earth four hundred million years previously, an act which consequently began the existence of life on the planet. Aided by elegant miniature effects and excellent performances, Glover unsurprisingly brings dignity and gravitas as the last of the Jagaroths, despite his infamous oversized spaghetti/cyclops headpiece. Even the comedic turn of John Cleese and Eleanor Bron as art gallery visitors adds rather than detracts from the fun.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Brains and Brawn

FIEND WITHOUT A FACE (1958)
THE FROZEN DEAD (1966)
IT! (1967)

"We're facing a new form of life that nobody understands;" Austrian Herta Padawer - billed as Kim Parker - grapples with a FIEND WITHOUT A FACE.

EVEN though Arthur Crabtree's FIEND WITHOUT A FACE was shot in England by Amalgamated Productions, its Canadian setting, use of US Air Force stock footage, and casting of expatriate American and Canadian actors - even the British players are dubbed - make it seem like your typical Stateside fifties monster movie. At an American experimental station in Winthrop, Manitoba, Operation Dewdrop is being developed to increase awareness of nuclear attacks from Siberia. Major Jeff Cummings (Marshall Thompson) is brought in to investigate a number of unexplained civilian deaths, where victims have punctures at the base of the head and that the brain and spinal cord have been "sucked out like an egg through those two holes." Professor Walgate (Kynaston Reeves) has been draining the base's reactor to create living mental beings, but when the power is boosted, they change from their invisible form to disembodied brains with spinal cord tails and "feelers."

To add to the non-British flavour, the celebrated stop-motion monsters were created (and filmed) by K. L. Ruppel and Florenz von Nordhoff in Munich. The "battle with the brains" climax has since been replicated in everything from ISLAND OF TERROR to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD; the celebrated finale is also an early example of movie gore where - in black-and-white photography - Ruppel's liberal spreading of raspberry jam from a saucepan made an excellent substitute for blood. This siege is repulsively reinforced by Peter Davies and Terence Poulton's sound effects, as the bullet-ridden organs splutter puddles of the red stuff ("at least they're mortal"). Because of this sequence, FIEND WITHOUT A FACE was heavily censored in England, banned completely in the Republic of Ireland, but only slightly cut by the MPAA when MGM released the picture in America.

"To revive a body ... I've done that. But to revive a brain ..." Bathed in eerie blue, the head of Kathleen Breck is the star of THE FROZEN DEAD.

Based on Amelia Reynolds Long's The Thought Monster - a short story published in Weird Tales brokered to the producers by her agent, Forrest J. Ackerman - FIEND WITHOUT A FACE is typical in its Cold War paranoia of science going haywire in an isolated region, but was one of the first science fiction films to address the issue of nuclear energy rather than nuclear weapons. Dubbed "tepidly macabre" by Monthly Film Bulletin and "primitive" by Daily Variety, it is indeed conventionally structured, but despite its naïve final solution, modest budget and obligatory tight-fitting female sweater, when the creatures eventually materialise they seem to enjoy invading in numbers, providing more zest than the human cast.

THE FROZEN DEAD and IT! are two horrors from Gold Star, high on insanity but low on flair. Shot back-to-back at Merton Park Studios, both pictures were written, produced and directed by Herbert J. Leder, a film professor at Jersey City State College whose major claim to fame was providing the screenplay for FIEND WITHOUT A FACE. THE FROZEN DEAD sees renegade Nazi scientist Dr Norberg (Dana Andrews) struggle to resurrect cryogenically suspended SS officers, much to the chagrin of his superiors. When his niece Jean (Anna Palk) and friend Elsa (Kathleen Breck) arrive and Elsa is decapitated, her sentient severed head pleads to be put out of its misery ("bury me, bury me"). Taking its cue from cult classic THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE, Elsa develops telepathy to warn of the sinister plans - as well as control a row of severed arms - and the ramshackle zombies are led by Norberg's brother (a role which provides an early credit for Edward Fox). Playing more like a sixties slab of American exploitation, its one-note sombre atmosphere is only occasionally lightened by outrageous German accents.

Roddy McDowall contemplates the "Mid-European primitive" Golem of IT!, played by Alan Seller. In his 2009 book Trashfiend, Scott Stine describes the monster as "a sculpture of Zippy the Pinhead moulded from half melted candle wax."

Much more playful but also suffering from an unnecessary bloated running time, IT! is the only British horror film to portray the legend of the Golem of Prague. Arthur Pimm (Roddy McDowall), a deranged young museum assistant revives the stone monster and looks after the mummified corpse of his mother by bringing her prized jewels. Annoyed at being passed upon becoming the museum curator, and his one-sided infatuation with Ellen Grove (Jill Haworth) - daughter of the first deceased custodian - Pimm orders the statue to wreak vengeance on his enemies, and makes the Golem "destroy" Hammersmith Bridge in an attempt to impress his love. This destruction, and the nuclear warhead finale, strips IT! back to its meagre budget; McDowall also hams up his supposed tortured role as the monster ultimately shirks into the ocean. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Hiding Behind the Sofa

DOCTOR WHO: THE FRIGHTEN FACTOR (2009)

The 1975 DOCTOR WHO adventure TERROR OF THE ZYGONS not only featured a most effective titular scary monster, but also illustrated themes of body snatching and manipulation of authority figures.

SINCE its return in 2005, DOCTOR WHO has continued to unsettle children with tales of gas-mask zombies and Weeping Angels. These injections of the uncanny into familiar, home-grown surroundings mirror the classic era of Autons on Ealing High Street and Daleks emerging from the Thames. But by possessing an "edited highlights" style and a computer-heavy sheen that distances and detracts, the reboot has lost the gravitas of horrors steeped in the Gothic tradition, which made the Philip Hinchcliffe/Robert Holmes era so memorable. Consequently, the new show struggles for emotional depth, as characters and companions drown under the weight of one thing after another, thus diminishing the "frighten factor" considerably.

Fear is the most effective way to grab our attention. Some of the most successful Public Information Films draw on arresting images to hammer home their points (1973's "I Am the Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water," for example, aims to scare children away from ponds and rivers by masking a set of scenarios with a bank-hugging Grim Reaper). The limbic Amygdala - within the temporal lobe of the brain - hard-wires this fear-conditioning for self-preservation; the Amygdala has a close association to memory, so scare tactics from youth are subsequently used to mould behavioural trends in years to come. Cultivation Theory states that television could influence the mind to march in step with everyday perception, enlarging the assimilation of disturbing images by pure repetition.

A parasitic seaweed is sucked up by an offshore drilling rig in the 1968 DOCTOR WHO tale FURY FROM THE DEEP. Possessed by the entity, Mr Quill (Bill Burridge) launches his gas attack in the show's first genuinely unnerving sequence.

As a special feature on the BBC's DOCTOR WHO - THE DEADLY ASSASSIN DVD release of 2009, the sixteen-minute documentary THE FRIGHTEN FACTOR aimed to answer what exactly the show's fear element is, by interviewing a diverse panel of "experts" from educational psychologist to church minister. The bombastic theme tune can be a frighten factor itself, so apparently can The Doctor, as well as being a parent/uncle surrogate for the viewer. Although the programme's visual use of everyday objects (dolls, dummies et al) and detrimental authority figures play with a child's conforming worldview, the child attempts to play out these images within the comfort of their own homes, so it becomes an enjoyable experience. As the resident educational psychologist explains, it is this consumption of live action visuals that makes it resonate so effectively, as opposed to cartoons which are too abstract to have the same effect.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Downe and Out

SON OF DRACULA (1974)
CRAZE (1974)

"I can't live, if living is without you"; chums Harry Nilsson and Ringo Starr in SON OF DRACULA, cinema's greatest musical travesty. Attempting to cash in on the success of Mel Brooks' YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, the film is also known as YOUNG DRACULA.

WRITTEN by TALES THAT WITNESS MADNESS scribe Jennifer Jayne in the failed hope of casting David Bowie, Freddie Francis' rarely seen SON OF DRACULA - made by Apple Films and produced by Ringo Starr - begins in 1800's Transylvania, where Baron Frankenstein's dwarf assistant (Skip Martin) stakes The Prince of Darkness (Dan Meaden). Merlin the Magician (Starr) discovers that one of The Count's brides is pregnant and will give birth to a son in a hundred years. The offspring Count Downe (Harry Nilsson) is due to be crowned King of the Underworld in 70's London, but in the seventy-two hours beforehand he is vulnerable in deciding his future. Eventually he wants to become human in the name of love - especially that of Amber (Suzanna Leigh) - thanks to the help of the wheelchair-bound Van Helsing (Dennis Price), and despite the plotting of the immortal Baron (a barnstorming Freddie Jones).

Actually completed in 1972, Starr's excruciatingly dull vanity project failed to pick up any distribution. Realising that this comedy actually had no jokes - and hid behind Nilsson's musical numbers and message of love - the ex-Beatle turned to Graham Chapman to re-write and re-dub. However this version allegedly made even less sense, and has never been made public (SON OF DRACULA eventually was shown on a limited run in the States). The film is a pedestrian pantomime at best, with generous amounts of padding (Count Downe foils a completely random attack by a werewolf, for instance). Francis further laces the production with classic interpretations of monsters (Meaden's Dracula actually takes Nosferatu as a blueprint, and there are also appearances by Frankenstein's creature, the Mummy and even a Medusa and a Fu Manchu). In fact the only point of interest are the musicians on show, which includes John Bonham and Keith Moon exchanging drumming duties in Downe's band.

Jack Palance offers Julie Ege to Chuku in the delirious CRAZE.

Coming off this catastrophe, Francis' increasing distain of horror films and its fans made the director/cinematographer admit that his reliance on the zoom lens for CRAZE was due to a "lack of interest." But this Herman Cohen production is far from uninteresting, an exploitation fever-dream ripe with idol-driven mayhem and possibly the greatest array of starlets and seasoned character actors ever to grace a single British horror. Neal Mottram (a potent Jack Palance) is a psychotic antiques dealer who owns Chuku, a googly-eyed African fetish object he keeps in his basement. Mottram believes that by sacrifice to Chuku, the "love God" will reward him with wealth, and his victims include Helena (Julie Ege) who ends up in a furnace, and sex toy-loving Sally (Suzy Kendall in a horrendous curly black wig). As part of his unhinged quest Mottram even hatches an alibi plot, using ex-girlfriend Dolly (Diana Dors) to enable him to murder rich Aunt Nash (Dame Edith Evans); but with the police honing in (and a nod to PEEPING TOM), Neal is impaled on Chuku's trident.

CRAZE has a pathological hatred of women, a stance it shares with source novel Infernal Idol, a brisk 1967 Helmut Henry Hartmann pulp written as Henry Seymour ("she was that slightly seedy suburban housewife type who carried too much weight around the hips and spent too much of the housekeeping money on unsuccessful attempts to look glamorous.") But Francis' movie really goes for the throat, illustrated by Detective Sergeant Wall (Michael Jayston)'s comment on ditzy Dolly ("one would have to be pretty desperate to sail into that port.") Despite Mottram's literal lady-killing, there is a distinct homosexual yearning between the dealer and his younger live-in colleague Ronnie (Martin Potter). Mottram has apparently saved him from "sleeping in Hyde Park hustling old queens," but their domestic arrangement seems characteristically bitchy.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

"They're Only Worthless Whores!"

JACK THE RIPPER (1973)
JACK THE RIPPER (1988)

The Ripper File, published in 1975, was a companion to the 1973 BBC JACK THE RIPPER docu-series.

DR Thomas Stowell's article in the November 1970 Criminologist instigated a resurgence of interest in the Whitechapel Murders. Implicating the grandson of Queen Victoria, it set in motion a snowballing of misconceptions welcomed by Stephen Knight's 1976 bestseller Jack The Ripper: The Final Solution. Stowell drew comparisons between the evisceration of the women and the disembowelment of deer shot by the aristocracy on their estates, and surmises that - although not named directly - Prince Albert Victor went mad after contracting syphilis in the West Indies. Three years later, JACK THE RIPPER was a six-part BBC "documentary investigation" into the killings, which mixed period re-enactments with contemporary sleuthing from fictional Detective Chief Superintendents Barlow (Stratford Johns) and Watt (Frank Windsor), characters popular on Z-CARS and its sequels SOFTLY, SOFTLEY and BARLOW AT LARGE.

This cross-pollination discusses suspects, forensic examinations and conspiracies in stuffy ad infinitum, and after five hours concludes there is insufficient evidence to determine who Jack was. Written by Elwyn Jones and John Lloyd, the programme builds a foundation for masonic influence - after all, Watt has read prominent mason Commissioner Warren's autobiography - with analysis of the wall message "The Juwes are The men That Will not be Blamed for nothing." With no substantiation to the Ripper crimes, let alone Freemasonry, this fixation with the scrawl on Goulston Street is one of many blind alleys the broadcast creates for itself. And just when you think no more information could be squeezed in, the show's surprise witness is held back to the final moments: Joseph 'Hobo' Sickert, illegitimate son of suspect/painter Walter Sickert. Self-scripted and shot on Super-8, Joseph recalls his strange genealogy and conveys Royal Physician Sir William Gull (as did Stowell) and driver John Netley, and also surmises threat of revolution.

"You told me to bring you Jack the Ripper. You sign that piece of paper and I will ... tonight!" Michael Caine - as Inspector Frederick Abberline - is the casting coup of ITV's out-of-control JACK THE RIPPER.

After this bombshell, the East London Advertiser sent Knight to interview Joseph. Fleshed out into his "Final Solution," Knight details an elaborate conspiracy theory involving the British royal family, freemasonry and Walter Sickert. He concluded that the victims were murdered to cover up a secret marriage between the second-in-line to the throne, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, and working class Catholic Annie Elizabeth Crook. Crook and the couple's daughter are consequently spirited away, and a quintet of Whitechapel tarts - privy to the circumstances through the employment of one of their number (Mary Kelly) as the child's Nanny - were disposed of by a team of high profile assassins. However, when Knight's frenzy of misinformation builds to implicating his father more than to Joseph's liking, 'Hobo' withdrew his co-operation and put on record that he had made everything up.

Made to coincide with the Ripper centennial, ITV's bombastic drama JACK THE RIPPER was a ratings winner, casting Michael Caine as Inspector Abberline and Lewis Collins as Sergeant George Godley. Director and co-writer David Wickes - who had helmed two episodes of the BBC series - stated that he had been allowed unprecedented access to Scotland Yard files, and that his production would be revealing the true identity of Jack for the first time. However, after pressure from numerous Ripperologists Wickes withdraw this claim, but the series still begins with a disclaimer on behalf of the production staff: "our story is based on extensive research, including a review of the official files by special permission of the Home Office and interviews with leading criminologists and Scotland Yard officials." Wickes' announcement that he had filmed several alternative endings lends no credence to the unfolding structure, and was more likely another publicity stunt.

Abberline adopts his usual measured methods with coachman John Netley (George Sweeney) in ITV's JACK THE RIPPER.

Comprising of two ninety-minute episodes broadcast on consecutive evenings in October 1988, the series' revelation that Sir William Gull (Ray McAnally) was the killer is laughably old hat, after threads lead the viewer to the likes of American stage actor Richard Mansfield (Armand Assante), socialist George Lusk (Michael Gothard) and Queen Victoria's clairvoyant Robert Lees (Ken Bones). The melodramatic story also takes great liberties in characterisation: Abberline's alcoholism is present solely for dramatic licence, and George Lusk's depiction as an anarchic troublemaker hides the fact that Lusk was actually a nondescript businessman and church warden. Although the crime scenes are the most authentic part - particularly Mary Kelly's Miller's Court slaying - the rest exists in its own self-important, distorted world, which advances nothing on Knight's book or the BBC serial. When Gull eventually breaks ("they're only worthless whores!,") the surgeon's jolting transformation from kind family man to barking mad is as abrupt as Abberline's bawling.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Back in Black

VAMPIRA (1974)

The cover to the MGM Limited Edition R1 DVD of VAMPIRA from 2011. Upon its theatrical release in the States, the production was re-christened OLD DRACULA by AIP, to cash in on Mel Brooks' YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.

THIS Jeremy Lloyd-scripted travesty from World Film Services is not so much unfunny but downright insulting. Starting at Castle Dracula - now open to public tours - an aging Count (David Niven, fighting to keep his dignity) and his manservant Maltravers (Peter Bayliss) welcome a spooky photoshoot ("Most Biteable Playmate") from Playboy's London entourage, headed by Pottinger (Bernard Bresslaw). The Bunnies unwittingly give blood so the vampire can restore life to his beloved consort Vampira, who has been in a coma for fifty years after losing her immortality to an anaemic peasant. Finding the triple-O blood group to resurrect the Countess, the transfusion backfires as one of the models is black, a façade which Vampira adopts (as Teresa Graves). Hoping to reverse this mishap, The Count and Maltravers track down the girls in London, using Playboy feature writer Marc Williams (Nicky Henson) as their hypnotised pawn.

VAMPIRA mixes the British sex comedy with Hammer horror and Blaxploitation, but there is no flesh or blood on display. Now awakened, the titular character develops a bi-sexual lust, enjoying her environment and skin colour; not only does this new-found vigour mean her using phrases like "out of sight" and "jive turkey," she also goes to watch BLACK GUNN, dances lasciviously, and is now too energetic for the Count to handle. Unfortunately, this is undermined by a number of dismal dialogue choices, particularly when Maltravers tries to explain Vampira's change of appearance ("you don't think, Sir, the deep freeze wasn't working properly and she's - well - gorn orf?")

In the prolonged party sequence, Count Dracula and Maltravers attempt to swing well past the height of the Swinging London era.

More positively, the cast includes female luminaries Veronica Carlson and Penny Irving as Playboy Bunnies, Luan Peters as Pottinger's secretary, and MONTY PYTHON regular Carol Cleveland as a damsel in distress who is inexplicably helped by The Count. The standout however is Linda Hayden as Castle Dracula's disgruntled German student Helga. Although her Teutonic accent is as questionable as her Gallic attempts in CONFESSIONS FROM A HOLIDAY CAMP, Hayden excels in an almost cameo role, bitten and transformed into a white gowned, frizzy-haired succubus. Initially aiding the dinner guests, Helga is then ceremonially dispatched in an upright coffin in a macabre parody of THE GOLDEN SHOT. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Mad Science

THE MUTATIONS (1974)

"He'll soon be neither human being nor plant, but with the characteristics and advantages of both: a plant that can move and think, a man who can set down roots." Donald Pleasence and Tom Baker plot and fester.

DIRECTED by Oscar-winning cinematographer Jack Cardiff, THE MUTATIONS uses the template of Tod Browning's FREAKS and poverty row mad scientist pictures to mix with unsubtle 70's British sleaze and an avant-garde score. University Professor Nolter (Donald Pleasence, in a role originally intended for Vincent Price) is experimenting to merge human and plant life. Any unsuccessful subjects are offloaded to Nolter's kidnapping accomplice Lynch (Tom Baker) for a nearby circus "Royal Family of Strange People," which Lynch runs with dwarf Burns (Michael Dunn). The human protagonists - all students from Nolter's class (Tony (Scott Anthony), Lauren (Jill Haworth) and Hedi (Julie Ege)) - and the circus freaks are exploited by the tyrannical Lynch, who hopes that Nolter will cure his own Elephant Man-type deformity. The plan starts to unravel when Tony, after being turned into a human Venus Fly Trap, escapes and ingests a homeless man. With Hedi strapped naked to the operating table, she is saved from Nolter's burning mansion by Dr Brian Redford (Brad Harris), and the freaks take their revenge on Lynch.

Like Browning, real deformed humans are cast for the roles (including Alligator Girl Esther Blackmon and the show-stopping Willie "Popeye" Ingram). Another Browning cue sees THE MUTATIONS lift its party scene directly from FREAKS, and Cardiff must also have been influenced by Universal's 1973 SSSSSSS, which sees herpetologist Dr Carl Stoner (Strother Martin) change young men into King Cobras, whereby botched attempts are exhibited at a circus. Both Nolter and Stoner theorise that humans now need to be in some transformative state, for Nolter to create a "world without hunger," and for Stoner to survive ecological disaster. A deadpan Pleasence mostly recites dialogue from his textbooks and provides an amusing lecture aside referencing genetically recreated dinosaurs, while at home he feeds rabbits to his creations. But Baker is the star: shortly before his Time Lord appointment - and sporting a coat hat and scarf ensemble - Lynch is the Igor to Pleasance's Frankenstein/Dr Moreau. Lynch himself is a freak, but his overpowering self loathing cannot make himself accept his plight; in the film's only touching scene, he visits a prostitute and begs her to say "I love you" for an extra pound.

Scott Anthony - mutated into a Venus Fly Trap - devours his  
monster maker Pleasence in the fiery climax.

The exhibition of real biological oddities can be traced back to the 1630's, when Lazarus Colloredo and his conjoined twin Joannes Baptista toured Europe. "Freaks of nature" as a source of entertainment on film adds another voyeuristic quality, freezing their façade awkwardly in time to watch over and over. FREAKS' original cut of January 1932 was met with disgust - one woman at a test screening threatened to sue stating it caused her miscarriage - and remains the only MGM release to have been pulled from circulation before completing its engagements. The picture was also banned in Britain for thirty years, and effectively brought Browning's career to a premature end. However, FREAKS has enjoyed a positive re-evaluation over the years, unlike Michael Winner's 1977 Universal opus THE SENTINEL, which controversially featured deformed humans as denizens from hell. Amid THE MUTATIONS relentless dour atmosphere, when Lynch is killed by flying switchblades then devoured by Nolter's hounds, the "Strange People" at least have a form of closure.