Thursday, 27 March 2014

Notes on Recent Viewings

Death Line (DVD, MGM)
London Under, Peter Ackroyd's wonderful book on the city's secret subterranean world sent me back to Gary Sherman's classic 1972 Horror about a feral man who forages on the London Underground for food - the food being unsuspecting commuters spirited away to the dark serpentines of an abandoned tube station... Pete Walker's 1974 film Frightmare has often been cited as the Britain's own Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but Death Line actually anticipates Hopper's film in some respects, with both films featuring interesting parallels - families reared on human flesh, a not entirely unsympathetic monster, and a heroine trapped inside a charnel house of decomposing flesh and skeletal leftovers. And if The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has at least one great moment of technical prowess (the low angle traveling shot underneath the swing chair), Death Line actually trumps it with a stunning five minute unbroken tracking shot thru the cannibal's lair, which justifiably earned camera operator Colin Corby a place on the front credits. And there's enormous fun to be had from Donald Pleasance playing an obnoxious cockney cooper. Unmissable.

Holocaust 2000 (TV, Horror Channel)
Alberto De Martino's 1977 film is such a slavish imitator of The Omen, one might be tempted to give it a wide berth, but like Ovidio Assonitis' Exorcist lift, Beyond the DoorHolocaust 2000, a British-Italian production is surprisingly enjoyable. In this one Gregory Peck's American ambassador is replaced by Kirk Douglas' ambitious Industrialist whose plans to solve the world's energy crisis are hijacked to facilitate the arrival of the Anti-Christ. This one ticks all the boxes - strange prophecies, inventive deaths (a helicopter blade lobotomy which predated Dawn of the Dead by nearly 2 years), sinister choral music (phoned in by Ennio Morricone), and plenty of enjoyable weirdness all'Italiana. Douglas was 61 when he made this picture but plays it like a man half his age, at one point shamelessly frolicking around with his topless leading lady (a gorgeous Agostina Belli, looking like she just walked out of an Abba video), and he's ably supported by some familiar British character actors including Simon Ward (Peter Cushing's reluctant collaborator in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed) and Anthony Quayle (the incognito German officer in Ice Cold In Alex). Recommended.

The Funhouse (Blu, Arrow)
Tobe Hooper's finest studio picture begins like so many Horror films of 1981 with a bare-breasted ingénue threatened by a masked psychopath wielding a sharp knife. Thankfully, the film immediately switches gears and develops into something far more interesting as two courting couples hold up in a funhouse for some after hours kicks but instead witness some very wicked goings-on by a barker and his hideously deformed son... Whether it was conscious or not on the part of Hooper, there's a certain Argentoness to The Funhouse - at least on a visual level, the film's candy-colored lighting and baroque decorated sets recall Suspiria, and actress Elizabeth Berridge reminds me of Jessica Harper (and strangely enough, Berridge's character's name is Amy Harper). The film also has the same kind of spacial weirdness as Suspiria and Inferno - the funhouse itself with its irrational topography of upper and lower levels, blind alleys, air ducts and infernal engine room, is not so much a house of fun, but a house of the damned... And look out actor Kevin Conway who plays the sinister barker, playing two additional carny barkers seen plying their trade early in the film.


  1. Love these round-ups, Wes. Death Line is a seriously underrated film in my opinion,as are many of Sherman's films. This and Frightmare are great examples of how the UK horror scene could be quite diverse and as nasty as the USA, offering more than just Christopher Lee doing the vamp once again. Frightmare definitely gets plenty of respect, but you seldom see Death Line popping up on lists or being written about in depth.

    I really must keep an eye out for Holocaust 2000 on the horror channel, sounds like a hoot!

    The Funhouse is another underrated one, I believe. I won't go too in depth here, but it does many things that almost make it an 'anti-slasher'. A great film with a great visual style. Looking forward to popping in the Blu Ray, as the last time I saw it was on an old 35mm print that had been through the wars. In ways it quite added to the experience, as the colour went so far off course that the final reel became nearly psychedelic! I also have the older Arrow DVD which looked quite nice, actually.

  2. Yeah, there are some great British Horror films from the early 70's that were putting Hammer to shame. Yeah, I really like Frightmare, it's been a few years since I've seen it but I remember the last time I watched it, being surprised about how dour the film was - I know that kind of kitchen sink miserablism was especially fashionable for British Cinema and Theater in the 70's, but David McGillivray really indulges in it. I was checking release dates for Death Line and Frightmare, and Frightmare was released in the UK - if the imdb can be trusted, one month after Texas Chainsaw Massacre was released in the US so it's unlikely Walker and McGillivray were drawing off Hooper's film, which I've seen claimed to be the case many times. I definitely must see it again.... Gary Sherman is someone who should have made more films, he was a talented director, and like you mentioned re: Funhouse, Dead & Buried is a spectacularly different film to emerge out of the slasher era. And, Dead & Buried has to be the grainiest films in my collection. Sherman's 1982 film Vice Squad is really good too, a nice slice of urban sleaze, it used to show up a lot of TG4 but I don't see it so much anymore... Yeah, be sure to check out the Funhouse Blu, the picture is boosted a shade, but the sound mix is really improved - my old Universal DVD had one of the muddiest mixes I've ever heard, you were constantly turning it up to hear dialogue and turning it down during sound effects and score. The Blu is more more balanced. It's my 2nd favourite Tobe Hooper film. God forbid they ever remake this one, but I'd love too see Tom Waits playing the barker, and he'd be great in it too...