The Wicker Man (1973)

April 6, 2009

thewickerman_lordsummerisle

Possibly the greatest horror film ever made

As I was flicking through the TV channels I happened upon the opening credits for The Wicker Man.  This is simply an incredible movie, I’ve seen it often enough that I could recite the script along with the players and, for that reason, my notes about it will be pretty brief.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw this, it was long overdue and my very dear friend and Best Man Matt  brought it around with him for me to see.  I was struck then, as I’ve been struck ever since, by the creepy way that no-one on the island seems totally secure in their own skin.  Whether or not this is a happy accident like some of the lighting freaks in Easy Rider really isn’t of great significance to me.  It could just be that the actors are standing and listening intently for off-screen instructions or that they have been creatively and intelligently coached by the Robin Hardy (and isn’t it strange that he didn’t make his only other film thirteen years after this?).  The effect is simply unnerving, for the protagonist Sergeant Howie and for the viewer.

Woodward, who to me will always be The Equalizer, is marvellous here as the investigating policeman.  His grim determination to do his duty in the face of things he finds by turns repellent, compelling and baffling.  And, if you think about it, had he answered ‘the Siren’s call’ (as surely every male viewer would have expected him to) then the ending of the film would be redundant.

As an advert for celibacy, then, the film is a flop.  As a terrifying psychological horror, though, it is pretty much unsurpassable. 10/10

wicker-man-howie

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The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)

January 27, 2009

Aside from my multiple, varied and significant faults I do have a couple of decent characteristics not least of which is my loyalty.  If something brings me pleasure or pride or entertainment of knowledge, then I will support and defend and remain steadfast to it.  And so it is with James Bond- I loved James Bond as a child and the child is the father of the man.  On the downside, I do tend to take Bond seriously and as a result can become hostile and antagonistic to those who don’t.  That includes Roger Moore.

James Bond was forty-five when he began playing Bond- and not an especially youthful looking or acting forty-five at that.  Having neither Connery’s physique, virility nor gravitas, Moore took the films in the direction of comedy- a direction so disastrous that it took three relaunches to recover from.  Being Moore’s second Bond, this isn’t the worst example of that by any means- worse excesses were to follow- but the slapstick comedy, the comical characters of Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James) and the dizzy Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland) and the unfunny quips clearly signpost the direction.

That said, ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’ is a relatively interesting Bond movie, for a Moore Bond, as it shows the progression to full-on campy slapstick as a work in progress.  But it isn’t all bad.  First and foremost amongst the positives, Bond is opposed (via a ludicrously contrived plot) with an formidable villain in Christopher Lee’s Francisco Scaramanga.  Being a ruthless and skilled assassin who can be debonair and attractive, he is set up as Bond’s equal and this works well thanks- in the main- to Lee’s performance.  It was an inspired piece of casting and Lee carries the film admirably from his supporting role.  What is most interesting about his character, however, is that it is he who possesses the gadgets- a golden gun constructed from a pen, cigarette box and lighter and a car which quickly transforms into an aeroplane (Bond wouldn’t have a car to better that until he got the invisible one in ‘Die Another Day’ in 2002).  The nearest thing Bond has to a gadget in the entire film is a stick-on third nipple.  A minor digression, I genuinely have a third nipple and can confirm that neither Bond’s fake nipple nor Scaramanga’s is placed correctly on the ‘milk line’ from armpit to groin.

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So, Bond versus his equal minus gadgets but with comedy.  The storyline is roughly split into two halves, the opening piece is a roughly effective detective story which ends with Bond being captured by Hai Fat and the second is a less effective protracted cat and mouse duel with Scaramanga ending in an actual duel on Scaramanga’s island.  In between the two is a brief interval which features some Kung Fu (Bond films have always exploited what’s current) and then a chase which includes one of the all-time great movie stunts being ruined by the addition of a slide whistle sound effect.  How the movie shifts from Kung Fu to car chase is one of the great gaping plot holes in the series- Bond’s police ally Lieutenant Hip and his two nieces appear from nowhere to fight off twenty? thirty? Kung Fu assailants and rescue Bond and then unaccountably drive away leaving him to run from the recovering assailants.  Hip then disappears from the film.

Another point about this film is the sub-plot regarding Scaramanga’s attempt to monopolise the supply of the world’s solar power from his secret island hideaway (an almost carbon copy of the earlier James Bond spoof ‘Our Man Flint‘) which was introduced because there was a crisis in British energy supply at the time and the three-day-week made the storyline current for the viewing audience.  Personally, I don’t think a multi-million pound solar machine which suddenly grinds to a halt when the sun disappears behind a cloud as this one does is worth the money but these were desperate times!

Bond, in this film, looks increasingly like a ridiculously effete caricature with his Safari suits and a hideously garish plaid sports jacket and slacks combination- another step away from Fleming’s Bond- and acts like one of those men you avoid at parties because they’re nowhere near as funny as they think.  It’s a dull and confused movie saved from total mediocrity by Christopher Lee and warrants 4/10.


Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966)

January 8, 2009

All that I know about Rasputin (the historical figure) has be gleaned from the title of this Hammer movie and the bit I can remember from Boney M’s disco hit “Rah-Rah-Rasputin, Russia’s greatest love machine”.  So I’m in no position to verify the historical accuracy of the movie.  And I don’t care either way.  I don’t look to Hammer for historical facts, I look to them for entertainment.  And this is entertaining.  Entertaining crap.

Christopher Lee has a ball in the title role as a grubby, bearded, lecherous, womanising, brawling drunkard.  Rasputin is everything that Dracula is not and Lee makes the most of the opportunity to cut loose .  Aside from him, there is little to commend the movie- horror veteran Barbara Shelley does makes a great victim and the plot, such as it is, is entertaining enough.  But you know that it’s all guff.

Christopher Lee has a body-double for a dancing scene who is about half his size.  In one scene there is a man in the background in contemporary clothes.  In a pub full of bearded men- even Mr Barraclough from Porridge has a beard- one bloke stands around in a sixties side parting with neat sideburns.  Not to worry, Rasputin chops his rubber hand off.  He gets his in the end though when he is thrown out of the window and falls like the Clousea dummy that Dreyfuss beats up in his psychiatrist’s office.

Anyway, this is a hammy Hammer.  Completely OTT, entertaining throwaway nonsense.  4/10 including a bonus mark for Lee’s obvious relish for his character.

One thing I really giggled over was the fact that Richard Pasco as Boris looked similar to Vladimir Putin.  I wonder if Putin and Rasputin are related…


The Devil Rides Out (1968)

January 4, 2009

This is pure Hammer and, therefore, utterly lovable- if hardly worthy of admiration.  It is an entertaining period horror which is taken very seriously by the actors and less so by the effects staff (see how they shrink back in fear as the magnified backscreen projection of a tarantula or a horse with cardboard wings stalks them!).

By modern standards it’s about as scary as being attacked by a goldfish being neither psychologically disturbing or making you jump, but that isn’t the point.  It is entertainment- more thriller than horror.  Christopher Lee is a deeply sinister hero, Charles Gray a compelling villain and the script races along with surprising depth and a refreshing lack of predictability.

If you can show me another film where Prime Minister Jim Hacker knocks out a bloke from Emmerdale Farm with one punch, I’ll eat my hat.  6/10.