Wednesday, November 1, 2017

National Parklife

XMOOR (2014)

"The Beast is waiting on the dark side of the moor." 
Melia Kreiling makes for an appealing final girl in XMOOR.

WRITTEN and directed by Luke Hyams, XMOOR was described as "the best British horror in years" by the Sunday Sport. American students Georgia (Melia Kreiling) and boyfriend Matt (Nick Blood) travel to North Devon and West Somerset to capture footage of legendary Panther The Exmoor Beast - and a £25,000 prize. Joined by animal tracker and sub-machine gun owning Fox (Mark Bonnar), it transpires that Fox is actually searching for a serial killer, who has methodically dumped dead prostitutes in a section of the terrain. With surveillance set, the trio are hunted by The Beast (James Lecky), who leaves his daughter (Jemma O'Brien) in his land rover while going about his fiendish business. Although the viewer is spared from handheld footage, the final act is unnecessarily convoluted, cheapening the character arc of Georgia who is the film's only asset. Actually filmed in Northern Ireland, XMOOR is a generic movie with a final reveal that copies THE BIGFOOT TAPES, a film that also leads the audience to human depravity rather than what they tuned in for.

The Beast of Exmoor National Park has been sighted since the 1970's, although it became notorious in 1983 when a South Molton farmer claimed to have lost over 100 sheep in the space of three months. In response to increased reports of livestock death and sightings, the Ministry of Agriculture ordered the Royal Marines to send snipers into the hills; when the Marines were recalled, attacks allegedly increased. The Ministry continued to study the reports into the mid 1990's, before concluding that The Beast was either a hoax or that the reports had been mistaken identifications of creatures native to the Exmoor area. In January 2009 a carcass of an animal that has washed up on a beach in North Devon left many locals speculating that it was the body of the infamous Beast, but was later revealed to be a decomposed grey seal.

Graham J. McEwan's Mystery Animals of Britain and Ireland (1986) is a good starting point for big cats, black dogs and freaks of nature.

Sightings of Alien Big Cats (ABC's) in the British landscape often occur in clusters - affectionately referred to as cat flaps - and are certainly nothing new. The 1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act - legislation which possibly lead to the release of privately owned wild cats - is a theory which was developed by the West Country's other favourite ABC, The Beast of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. This is a feline than can be traced to animal trainer Mary Chipperfield allegedly releasing three Pumas into the wild following the closure of her Plymouth Zoo in 1978; and in 1994, an official Government conference was organised by then MP for North Cornwall Paul Tyler, who claims to have seen a Puma within 100 yards of his home at Rilla Mill.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Echoes from Beyond

BBC2 PLAYHOUSE - THE BREAKTHROUGH (1975)
BBC2 PLAYHOUSE - MRS ACLAND'S GHOSTS (1975)
BBC2 PLAYHOUSE THE MIND BEYOND (1976)

Irene Shubik's Play for Today: The Evolution of Television Drama is an account of her career that has become the standard reference work on the subject. Shubik had devised ABC's OUT OF THIS WORLD before moving to the BBC, where her influence on the development of the single play encompassed OUT OF THE UNKNOWN, THE WEDNESDAY PLAY/PLAY FOR TODAY, WESSEX TALES and PLAYHOUSE.

DAPHNE Du Maurier's THE BREAKTHROUGH tells of Saunders (Simon Ward), sent to a remote government lab to help prove a theoretical energy. The experiment involves a subject close to death, as well as in a computer-induced hypnotic trance and telepathic communication. The person is a mentally deficient but psychically gifted child - possibly affected by the death of her twin - who can report the dying sensations posthumously. Lacking any clear resolution and suffering from limiting studio sets and stifled performances, there is too much speculation to enable the drama to breath, even in its Suffolk exteriors. THE BREAKTHROUGH reminds of THE ASPHYX, which also documents spirits and near-death experiences before similarly descending into absurdity, but far more melancholic is William Trevor's MRS ACLAND'S GHOSTS, where tailor Mr Mockler (John Bluthal) receives a letter from stranger Mrs Acland (Sara Kestelman). The woman tells him of how the three ghosts of her childhood siblings have continued to make appearances to her; Mockler discovers that Mrs Acland is now in a mental institution - having been placed there by her husband - and was in fact an only child.

After these try-outs, BBC2 PLAYHOUSE mutated into THE MIND BEYOND. In the first three tales Meriel the Ghost Girl explores the contradictory nature of psychic experiences, opening with George Livingston (Donald Pleasence) witnessing a convincing séance, only for the authenticity to be questioned in a film noir pastiche and re-evaluated by young reporter Robina Oliver (Janet Street-Porter, of all people); Double Echo sees autistic teenager Alison Fisher (Geraldine Cowper) treated by Harley Street Dr Mallam (Jeremy Kemp), only for the pair to develop a telekinetic bond that can see into the future; and in The Love of a Good Woman, after the death of his first wife, Henry Ridout (William Lucas) remarries and builds a new life in a harbour town. But his dead wife' s restless spirit communicates with him through his young daughter.

Penguin released The Mind Beyond to accompany the series, which was edited by Shubik. All the writers provided prose versions of their teleplays, with the exception of Stones, which was adapted by the producer herself.

The second half of the series starts with The Daedalus Equations, where mathematical variables from a dead scientist are channelled into money-grabbing psychic fraud Eileen Gray (Megs Jenkins), yet the equations continue; Stones details the plans of a Stonehenge relocation to Hyde Park to boost tourist revenues, with academic Nicholas Reeve (Richard Pasco) realising that the disappearance of three children is linked to their fathers ownership of the last-known copies of Stonehenge Defended; and The Man with the Power is a second coming of a (black) Christ story, where Boysie (Willie Jonah) embarks on a divine quest, leaving his girlfriend, home and job.

The opening titles of THE MIND BEYOND usher the viewer into a world of haunted faces and electrical impulses, a twilight domain away from rational human senses. The eight PLAYHOUSE's under consideration here typify the giddy pseudoscientific and paranormal so prevalent in 70's BBC drama, but the centre staging of mentally-disturbed characters - and Livington's questionable interest in the naked Meriel the Ghost Girl - clash with the more conventional yarns of mysteries better left alone; and in The Man with the Power, religious allegory seems a leap too far. But the productions are a goldmine for familiar faces: Anna Massey is the brittle wife of Henry Ridout, Linda Hayden's sister Jane admits to being Meriel, and Michael Bryant and Peter Sallis appear in The Daedalus Equations as earnest professor and lurking intelligence man respectively.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Plays for Yesterday

PLAY OF THE MONTH - THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (1976)
PLAY FOR TODAY - A PHOTOGRAPH (1977)
PLAY FOR TODAY - RED SHIFT (1978)

Peter Firth and Judi Bowker toil within the Victorian façade of
PLAY OF THE MONTH - THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY.

THE only novel written by Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray explores the Aesthetic Art movement as drama; that is, art over intellectualism. While observing Basil Hallward (Jeremy Brett) painting a portrait of Dorian Gray (Peter Firth), Lord Henry Wotton (John Gielgud) preaches his world view of beauty being the only aspect of life worth pursuing. This prompts Dorian to wish that his canvas would age instead of himself, and he consequently explores his sensuality, starting with a courtship of actress Sibyl Vane (Judi Bowker). But after a poor performance Dorian rejects Sibyl as the acting profession was her beauty; and on returning home, Gray notices that his painting has started to deteriorate. After receiving news that Sibyl has committed suicide, Dorian begins to exploit his looks for a debauched life. In anger, Dorian blames his fate on Basil, and stabs him to death. Deciding that only full confession will absolve him, Dorian destroys the last vestige of his conscience; stabbing the picture, Gray recoils bloodied on the floor, aging rapidly while the painting regains its original form.

A critical success and labelled the "most Wildean," this feature-length BBC DRAMA OF THE MONTH - written by playwright John Osborne - also includes definitive portrayals of the hedonistic Gray, aristocratic dandy Wotton, and infatuated artist Hallward. Lord Henry seduces Dorian through a poisonous wit that aims to shock; though naïve, Wotton's radical theories send Dorian in a tailspin, Gray's early insecurities making him the perfect clay for the Lord's willing hands. This version also accentuates the gay subtext more than most, especially in the relationship between Dorian and Alan (Nicholas Clay), when the latter is asked to draw on his chemical experience to dispose of Basil's body. Such homoerotica plays a large role structurally: Basil’s painting depends upon his adoration of Dorian; similarly, Lord Henry is overcome with the desire to seduce Gray and mould him in his own image. As a homosexual living in an intolerant society, Wilde asserted this philosophy partially in an attempt to justify his own lifestyle. For although beauty and youth remain of utmost importance at the end, the price one must pay for them is exceedingly high.

John Stride plays a beleaguered husband in the sinisterly subdued
PLAY FOR TODAY - A PHOTOGRAPH.

The BBC's successor to THE WEDNESDAY PLAY, PLAY FOR TODAY would be transmitted between 1970 and 1984 and become the flagship for respected anthology drama, specialising in social realism but also dabbling in everything from biopics to science fiction. John Bowen's A PHOTOGRAPH touches on the dark underbelly of rural intervention, were The Otways - upper crust Radio 3 presenter Michael (John Stride) and working class schoolteacher Gillian (Stephanie Turner) - are a dysfunctional couple living in the city where their festering resentments cover work, Gillian's mental state and an under-performing sex life. When Michael receives a strange photograph in the post depicting two girls in front of a caravan, it is only the beginning of a journey that will see Gillian and her family - including mother Mrs Vigo (Freda Bamford) - control Michael's guilt ("That's country wine, that is.") Very much a companion to Bowen's other rural terror for the strand ROBIN REDBREAST - where Bamford appears as the same matriarchal manipulator - A PHOTOGRAPH pitches Gillian's spiralling depression against Michael's increasing determination to solve the puzzle.

Alan Garner's adaptation of his own semi-mystical 1973 novel for RED SHIFT in essence deals with similar themes to A PHOTOGRAPH - that of the indispensable quality of locations and relationships - but is a fragmented and ambitious exploration on a cosmic scale. At the core of RED SHIFT's narrative is the neuropsychological notion of engrams, or how the brain stores memory. This elemental and subconscious notion is theorised to affect behaviour over time and repetition, and here we see the lives of three men living in the same part of Cheshire – one in the present, one in the seventeenth century, and one during the Roman occupation – with their existences linked by common circumstance and the appearance of a talismanic stone axe head.

PLAY FOR TODAY - RED SHIFT's billing in the Radio Times asks "what links the destinies of three couples separated by time, but living in the same place? Is there a force drawing them together - or is it driving them apart?"

The present day relationship between Tom (Stephen Petcher) and Jan (Lesley Dunlop) is solidly written and played, taking in the difficulties of a long-distance relationship and the generational, blinkered sexual views of Tom's parents (Bernard Gallagher and Stella Tanner); in contrast the historical sequences suffer badly from stilted dialogue and budgetary restraints. While Tom obsesses over astrology he declares that he is too "blue" and needs a "red shift"; since cosmological red shifts result from galaxies moving away from each other, this can be read as a metaphor for his need to re-evaluate his life. But there are also many occurrences of red in the story; after a massacre, Macey (Andrew Byett)'s skin is painted red by the tribal girl using dye from alder bark, marking him a "redman" and an ancient symbol of rebirth.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Demons of the 1970's (Part II of II)

SYMPTOMS (1974)
FULL CIRCLE (1977)

"Changes in the weather always upset me ... I don't know why;" Angela Pleasence battles with her twisted psyche in SYMPTOMS.

UNLIKE his exploitative VAMPYRES, José Larraz’s SYMPTOMS is a slow-burning triumph, a film that was unexpectedly chosen as an official British entry at Cannes. Neurotic waif Helen Ramsey (a mesmerising Angela Pleasence) has invited girlfriend Anne (Lorna Heilbron) to stay at her English woodland estate. Anne is welcoming the retreat to write and evaluate the end of a romance, but Helen's behaviour becomes increasingly erratic as questions are asked of the portrait of Cora - Ramsey's disappeared friend and possible lover - and the brooding presence of handyman Brady (Peter Vaughan). Helen's manifestations of Cora mirror Anne's unease in the house, under the shadow of Cora's body festering in the lake after a passionate embrace with the burly handyman.

Larraz has long favoured mansions in his pictures, and the warring of the sexes; here they are quite literally foundations for exploring the horror motif of characters yearning for lost loves. Taking several inspirations from REPULSION, the director uses a mirror and the ticking of a clock to replicate Roman Polanski's idea of lulling the viewer into a false sense of security, before delivering bludgeoning shock tactics. Vanity Celis points out in her essay which accompanies the BFI Blu-ray that Larraz' contribution to the sexual anxieties of the Gothic tradition is "a safety net found in the auxiliary subtext of lesbian love," and the production - similar to Jorge Grau's THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28 WEEKS LATER and Alfronso Cuaron’s CHILDREN OF MEN - captures the English landscape more effectively than native filmmakers, creating an agitation that resonates more deeply in the outsider's eye.

Mia Farrow brings a tragic vulnerability to her role in FULL CIRCLE, part of a Seventies Anglo-Canadian co-production deal which yielded lesser pictures THE UNCANNY and DEATH SHIP.

An eerie atmosphere of love and loss is also central to Richard Loncraine's FULL CIRCLE, based on Peter Straub's 1975 novel Julia. A decade on from her subjection to Polanski's ROSEMARY'S BABY, Mia Farrow is again entangled with an unearthly child, playing a mother grieving the loss of daughter Katie (Sophie Ward) who chokes to death at breakfast. During her self-imposed isolation at an old house in Kensington, Julia is stalked by another girl ghost, who led a gang in the brutal murder of a German boy in 1938. As a "feeling of hate" infiltrates the dwelling, the murderous infant is identified as Olivia Rudge, and Julia traces Olivia's mother (Cathleen Nesbitt) to a Swansea mental institution, who admits to killing her offspring and accuses her visitor of doing the same.

In a moving final scene Julia welcomes the ghostly Olivia into her arms, the camera then pans around an armchair to reveal that Julia has a fatal neck wound. This not only brings us full circle from Katie's demise, but leaves the viewer wondering if Olivia has claimed another victim from her otherworldly plane, or the tortured mother has committed suicide. The willowy Farrow carries the whole burden of grief superbly, and quite rightly male players are kept to the margins (husband Magnus (Keir Dullea) is purely abandoned, and friend Mark (Tom Conti) suffers an unnecessarily sensationalised death)). The film also benefits from beautiful cinematography and a piano/synthesiser score which manages to underpin and elaborate on the unease.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Demons of the 1970's (Part I of II)

DEMONS OF THE MIND (1972)

One of Britain's last costumed Gothics, DEMONS OF THE MIND was filmed as BLOOD WILL HAVE BLOOD, exploring "dreams of sexual fear supressed through guilt."

AMID the dying embers of the 1970's British film industry, attempts to move into more psychological thrillers resulted in a number of underappreciated efforts. Dumped onto the wrong end of a double bill with TOWER OF EVIL, DEMONS OF THE MIND - directed by Peter Sykes and written by Christopher Wicking - is a Hammer production which focuses on Baron Friedrich Zorn (Robert Hardy), who fears he has passed on the "family madness" to son Emil (Shane Briant) and daughter Elizabeth (Gillian Hills). Held captive to curb their incestuous desires, Emil is at least released at night to murder women, while Elizabeth is "bled" to make her weak (making use of a vintage Scarificator from the British Museum). When discredited psychologist Falkenberg (Patrick Magee) arrives with his associate scholar Carl (Manfred Man singer Paul Jones), an experiment to rid Emil of his lust involving Inge (Virginia Wetherell) ends in another strangulation. The villagers, influenced by a deranged, self-styled Holy Man (Michael Hordern), decide that Zorn is the true demon, and stake him with a burning cross.

A mix of Hammer's Mittel Europe and fledgling psychiatry was one way the company attempted to make its product fresh, another was by infusing proceedings with new young directors and screenwriters. But DEMONS OF THE MIND is more cynical than satisfying, conveying a relentless dourness (quoting Psalm 38 "For my loins are filled with a loathsome disease, and there is no soundness in my flesh") where conventions are either twists or throwbacks: Magnee's unhinged Mesmerist and Van Helsing substitute helps no one ("Better men than I have been booted out of Vienna!"), an alleged Priest is a dangerous zealot, and the villagers revel in their own sadism.

In a role originally intended for Marianne Faithfull, Gillian Hills plays somnambulant Elizabeth Zorn. Faithfull was pulled late on due to insurance issues on her drug use.

A Poe-like story of an incestuous, murderous dynasty crumbling to dust, Zorn is driven by subconscious compulsions of his peasant bride's "virgin blood" and bare flesh (Zorn is a character undermined by Hardy's pantomime performance; to think we might have had Eric Porter, Paul Scofield, Dirk Bogarde or James Mason). Hordern is also overtly loopy, barely able to carry his over-sized wooden cross, and despite the emotional slant, DEMONS OF THE MIND actually serves up a copious amount of exploitative, early 70's gore: although optically fogged, Zorn's wife is seen to slash her wrists and throat in front of her children, but further scenes of Emil killing maiden aunt Helda (Yvonne Mitchell) with a bunch of keys and Zorn's climactic impalement are in no way shrouded.

The original pitch to Hammer by Frank Godwin - the composer-cum-independent producer who penned Strange Love for LUST FOR A VAMPIRE - was actually a werewolf picture. The studio was intrigued by Godwin's knowledge of the legend of Blutlust, and together with Wicking, formulated a treatment based on the Bavarian story of a man-wolf which was actually a psychopathic condition not understood by the medicine of the time. However, the tale was a complete fabrication, and Hammer did not warm to the werewolf elements anyway, leaving only a vague lycanthropic reference in the finished film where Zorn imagines himself stalking as an animal (to further the pseudo-werewolf angle, the muted cinematography is lensed by Arthur Grant, making his last Hammer picture in an association which started with THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF).

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.