Abominable Anthologies: Trilogy of Terror (1975) Review

And now for something a smidge different. This is the first of series of posts I am going to write about the myriad of horror anthologies that are out there. These bite sized tales of terror, often stand alone fables bookended by a framing narrative structure, have been scaring audiences since far back as 1919 (Eerie Tales, directed by Richard Oswald is often credited with being the first). They enjoyed a brief burst of popularity in the 1960s, with the release of Black Sabbath (1963), Dr Terrors Night of Horrors (1965) and Torture Garden (1967), among others. In 1982 George A Romero and Stephen King bought us the incredibly fun Creepshow, which has become the touchstone of the sub-genre for all modern releases of such films. The first film I am going to look at falls in the middle, having been made in 1975. Let’s dive in then, to the Trilogy of Terror (Spoilers To Follow)

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Trilogy of Terror is an anthology of three unconnected tales of terror all starring the sadly recently departed Karen Black, with the also sadly departed Richard Matheson on screenwriting duty. It is slightly unusual in that is a TV movie, as opposed to a cinematic release. Not many of these achieve any sort of fame or have people even remembering them the week after they were aired, but Trilogy of Terror is different. As decent as the other two stories are, its place in the cinematic world is all thanks to one tiny, but horrifically memorable, little fellow (anyone who has seen the film will have no doubt who I am referring to). But his story comes later. First, there’s a woman I’d like you to meet by the name of Julie.

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The Town That Dreaded Sundown Review

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At first glance 1976’s The Town That Dreaded Sundown neatly fills the ‘mysterious masked killer’ gap in between 1974’s Black Christmas and 1978’s Halloween in the slasher genre. However there is some debate to be had whether The Town That Dreaded Sundown is a slasher film or not. I’ve seen folks refer to it more of crime drama, or a mystery. Maybe these people don’t like the slasher label, and feel it demeans the film in some way? It certainly has many of the hallmarks; the aforementioned masked killer, pretty young victims, bumbling cops, inventive deaths, a tension filled chase through the woods, spiky musical score and so on. It also has the genuinely unsettling fact that it is based on a true crime that was never solved. And not in the sense that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was very loosely based on the crimes of Ed Gein. In 1946 the town of Texarkana was terrified by a series of five murders, of mostly young lovers, who were killed by a hooded man who became known as the Phantom Killer. He was never caught. That isn’t to say that the film changed nothing of the original case, and the fact that at the beginning the film states that ‘only names have been changed’ is clearly untrue (death by trombone is far too ridiculous to have actually happened for a start. Yeah, there’s a death by actual trombone in the film). But the fact that the base story here was reality for the residents of Texarkana, and not really that long ago either, is fairly chilling, with a veneer of exploitation on behalf of the film makers – Although seeing as Texarkana townsfolk appeared in the film as extras, they didn’t see it as malicious intent on behalf on the film makers to exploit their suffering. The cops who investigated the real case however, have more cause to be annoyed by their portrayal in the film. We’ll get to that later, let’s look at the film itself first.

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R.I.P Anthony Hinds (1922-2013)

Anthony Hinds, 'Hammer Films' producer and screenwriter. Circa 1955.

Yesterday the world of horror cinema lost Anthony Hinds, producer of some of Hammer Horrors greatest films, including The Quatermass Xperiment, Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula and Hound of the Baskervilles. Basically in some way we have him to thank for bringing both the pure, unadulterated joy that is Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, (whether together or apart) to the public consciousness, an act of greatness that for which we should be eternally grateful. And yet… When I first saw news of his death on (where else?) Twitter, I popped off to the BBC News website to confirm it. No mention there. Next stop, The Guardian. Nothing. Eventually Twitter confirmed it for me, via the Hammer Horror account. Today, when I checked those same websites again, plus The Telegraph website (The Times is behind a pay wall and there’s no way on earth I’m giving The fucking Daily Mail any clicks) there was still no reference to it (the print editions may have done, but I haven’t seen them). I thought this was sad.

I’m not even entirely sure why. Maybe because I think someone who had a hand in many films I love deserved more notice on his passing. Maybe because the old Hammer Films are now though of as so old and passe they don’t merit much spotlight in the media, let alone the people who were involved in making them. Most likely I’m being weirdly overly sensitive about it (to be honest I don’t even know *that* much about Anthony Hinds, and at 91 years, he had a bloody good innings), but for some reason it struck a chord with me (I had no such feelings when Jimmy Sangster died in 2011, although of course I found it sad news). After I had given myself a metaphorical kick in the head I realised that feeling vaguely upset about something like the lack of media attention was silly and that if I wanted to see a list of Anthony Hind’s achievements I could write about them myself. And even if no one reads this (likely), I will have done my own (unimportant but possibly cathartic in some bizarre way) remembrance for the man.

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Anthony Hinds (who was the son of William Hinds, the founder of Hammer Films) essentially kick started Hammer’s direction into focusing mainly on horror in 1953 when the company bought the rights to The Quartermass Experiment from the BBC, after they had produced a television version. In 1955 The Quartermass Xperiment was released and was a huge success (it also didn’t shy away from the new ‘X’ film certificate that other studios were wary of, beginning the Hammer trend of occasional, but always entertaining, lurid advertising). With the Curse of Frankenstein in 1957, the Hammer trademark of gothic horror was well and truly stamped. Hinds had enough faith in Jimmy Sangster’s script to give it a bigger budget and to stand up to the BBFC when they expressed dismay with it’s “horror and gruesome detail”, refusing to comprise the script’s content. Hinds can also be credited with Hammer’s use of country houses for filming, saving on set building costs. Curse of Frankenstein (directed by Terrence Fisher) was filmed at the famous Bray Studios House, in full colour. The result is a terrific film and the beginning of the aforementioned Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing Duo of Awesomeness. The dream team of Sangster, Hinds, Fisher, Cushing and Lee reunited just a year later for Dracula; which like Curse of Frankenstein before it, was vastly changed from the original source material. Anthony Hinds continued to show his flair for capturing public interest by requesting press that while in costume Christopher Lee should only be photographed from the back, in order to preserve the surprise for cinema goers when he was revealed. “We feel it might spoil the fun for millions of film goers if they see what Dracula looks like before they take their seats in a cinema”, he stated. Such tactics paid off and the film was a huge success, and still considered a classic today, often being shown in independent cinemas at Halloween. Once these films had thrashed out the classic Hammer formula between them, the studio for a while became wildly prolific, putting out films at a rapid rate and redefining the horror genre (there really is nothing like the classic Hammer blood, thick and vivid as poster paint and fully marvellous).

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Under the name John Elder, Anthony Hinds also displayed a talent for screen writing; penning Phantom of the Opera, The Reptile and Taste The Blood Of Dracula among others. Taking on these dual roles of producing and writing gave Hinds a unique insight into the world of film production, for which he had an unfailing passion. While most producers worry about spending as little as possible even if it meant releasing an inferior product, Hinds was all about making the very most of what you’ve got. Having to keep an ever watchful eye on the budget did not mean corners could be cut and that folk could slack off because it was “just a horror film”. Every Hammer film looked polished and loved, and some of this must to due to the care and attention Hinds gave these films, an attitude one imagines he passed to all that he worked with.

Hammer Films have been tentatively dipping it’s toes back into the horror waters, since it rose from the dead in 2007, having made Let Me In in 2010, Wake Wood and The Resident in 2011 and The Women In Black in 2012. The Women In Black, starring Daniel Radcliffe as the world’s least convincing widower, was a massive hit, it also returned Hammer to it’s classic roots; period costumes, isolated locations, pitch fork wielding locals, and a running sense of dread. (Although I admit the stage show was much scarier, having seen it earlier in the year. First time ever in the theatre where people screamed in fear. And I’ve seen the musical Cats five times). One can only hope that the new show runners at Hammer have the passion, insight and joie de vivre that Anthony Hinds had for the company and they will continue his legacy, scaring audiences for many more years to come.

Anthony Hinds. 1922-2013. Thank you for the chills and thrills good sir. R.I.P

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