Sunday, 30 March 2014

THE AMICUS FILMS OF PETER CUSHING: PART ONE


The Amicus Films of Peter Cushing : Part One of a serial feature written by Troy Howarth with images and design by Marcus Brooks


When Max J. Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky partnered up to produce films, they initially had their eye aimed squarely at the youth market.  They scored early hits with rock and roll films like Rock, Rock, Rock! (1956) and the early Richard Lester film It’s Trad, Dad! (1962), but it was their moody black and white chiller City of the Dead (1960, aka Horror Hotel) which would point to their later fortunes.  City of the Dead had been produced under the name of Vulcan Productions, but by the time they revisited the genre in the middle of the decade, the credits would read “An Amicus Production.”  Amicus, incidentally, was the Latin word for “friend,” indicating that the company was established with the best of intentions.


Truth be told, the distribution of work at Amicus was pretty much split thusly: Rosenberg set up the deals and Subotsky focused on the creative end of the partnership.  It was Subotsky who had enthusiasm for horror, sci-fi and fantasy; Rosenberg would have been quite content producing anything that turned a profit.  As such, their working relationship would prove to be harmonious—for the most part.  Dissent and hard feelings would settle in over time, but in the beginning it was a match made in heaven, with the two New Yorkers feeding into each other’s strengths.


When they decided to turn their energy to making horror pictures, they were well aware of the success that Hammer Films were enjoying in the UK.  Subotsky, in fact, had approached Hammer's Anthony Hinds with the idea of doing a remake of James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931) in the mid-50s. When Hammer went off and did a very different take on Mary Shelley’s original novel, Subotsky felt cheated and would often vocalize a critical attitude towards Hammer’s output in interviews. 

Subotsky preferred his horror with a bit of subtlety; to his thinking, Hammer’s shockers were too garish, too gory, too needlessly sexy.  Thus, it came as no surprise that the horror films he oversaw were comparatively “old fashioned” in their approach. Still, Subotsky and Rosenberg knew that they needed star power to help sell their films and they wasted no time in courting Hammer’s two biggest names, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.


Lee would top-line City of the Dead and would be brought back to star in Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), the first of the Amicus anthology films.  To play the fortune-telling Dr. Schreck, they would enlist the services of Peter Cushing.  The combination of Cushing and Lee was good for box office and with Hammer veteran Freddie Francis also in tow to direct, some viewers may well have thought that they were seeing a new Hammer film!



Dr. Terror would establish a very different approach, however, one which would distinguish the Amicus product from that of Hammer.  Hammer’s films were typically period pieces.  They reveled in lurid scenes of gore and sensual sexuality.  And above all else, they were always single narrative pieces.  Amicus’ films, on the other hand, would be contemporary.  They would avoid explicit gore and seldom so much as touched on the subject of sex or sexuality.  And they would often embrace the anthology format which had so impressed the young Subotsky when he saw Ealing Studios’ seminal Dead of Night (1945).



The formula would prove to be successful.  Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors was a box office hit and it even snagged some favorable notices from the critics, many of whom were put off by the excesses found in Hammer’s films.  If Subotsky and Rosenberg were taking “the high road” in some respects, it was due entirely to Subotsky’s own feelings on the matter; if Rosenberg had produced such a film on his own, there’s little doubt that he would have hewed closer to Hammer’s example.  No matter how one views it, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors made an impact and it remains one of their most purely enjoyable confections. Freddie Francis directs with style and energy, Alan Hume’s widescreen color photography is properly colorful and atmospheric, Elisabeth Lutyens contributes a spare, but chilling, soundtrack.



If it has a failing it’s in the script, written by Subotsky himself.  The stories are a pretty routine lot and at least one of them (the Voodoo segment with Roy Castle) is basically an uncredited rip-off of Cornel Woolrich’s story Papa Benjamin, which had been adapted as an episode of the popular Boris Karloff-hosted TV series, Thriller, in 1961. Even so, the stylish execution and generally excellent performances help to elevate it and result in a generally enjoyable film.  Like most anthologies, it’s uneven—one good story here, one so-so one there—but when it works, it works very well indeed. They would continue to refine the formula in later films.



The experience of making Dr. Terror would prove satisfying for Peter Cushing. He enjoyed getting to play a real character role, with makeup and an accent to boot, and he responded to Subotsky’s almost childlike enthusiasm. Indeed, the two men would find in each other kindred spirits. Much has been written about Cushing down through the years, but little of it touches on the complexity of the man. He had his faults, like anybody else, but one of his great strengths was an unerring sense of loyalty to his friends. In Subotsky, he found a producer whose love for creating mirrored his own.



If Cushing had issues with his writing, as he had with that of Hammer’s Jimmy Sangster, for example, he kept his concerns to himself—or at the very least broached the topic in gentle terms that didn’t ruffle any feathers on Subotsky’s part. Much like the “marriage” of Subotsky and Rosenberg, the union of Amicus and Cushing would prove to be a productive and happy one; it would also enjoy a happier resolution in the long run.



For their next collaboration, The Skull, Cushing would return to play the lead, with Lee along for the ride in the capacity of “guest star.” Freddie Francis was again brought on board to direct and he would deliver what was for all intents and purposes his masterpiece as a director.



The slight screenplay, adapted by Subotsky from Robert Bloch’s story “The Skull of the Marquis de Sade”, served as an ideal framework for the director to indulge in his love of mobile camerawork and artfully composed compositions. It may well be a case of style over substance, but so what?



As a mood piece, The Skull is remarkable well done. It’s even a little eerie in spots, as Cushing’s character, an obsessive collector of occult memorabilia, succumbs to the malefic influence of de Sade’s skull. Subotsky managed to assemble a top notch cast for the film: in addition to Cushing and Lee, it featured the likes of Patrick Wymark, Nigel Green, Patrick Magee, Jill Bennett, George Coulouris and Michael Gough.



This reflects a key strength of Subotsky as a producer—his unerring ability to entice top drawer talent to appear in genre films by offering them roles that could be filmed quickly, thus enabling them to earn a little extra money in between more “important” film and theatrical commitments.



Cushing was given an opportunity to carry the film, appearing in almost every scene and helping to ground it in reality.  He’s splendid in the role, which is in some respects one of his most under-appreciated performances.  He is relaxed and commanding when needed, but gradually conveys panic and fear as the character’s life begins to spiral out of control.


It’s a marvelous, low-key, naturalistic performance from an actor who could sometimes fall back on mannerisms when he didn’t have something more substantial to work from.  It, too, would prove to be a hit for the company and Subotsky would waste no time in continuing the association. Their next venture(s), however, would prove to be controversial among fans and sci-fi buffs in general, with many viewing the end result as something of a low point for both the studio—and the actor …

Written By Troy Howarth
Images and Design: Marcus Brooks

KATE O'MARA 1939 - 2014


Very sad to hear of the passing of actress Kate O'Mara today. Probably best known for playing Alexis Colby's scheming sister Cassandra 'Caress' Morrell in the US soap Dynasty during the mid 1980s, along with appearances in Dr Who, Triangle and Howard's Way. But, for us she stands out in two films where she worked with Peter Cushing. In 1971 she played Mme Perrodot, The Governess in Hammer films 'The Vampire Lovers' and Val Nolan in the Robert Hartford-Davis film, 'Corruption' (1968).

Friday, 21 March 2014

PETER WILTON CUSHING O.B.E.


Peter Wilton Cushing. O.B.E. We're coming up to our third year as a facebook fan page, fourth year as a website and as a society... we've been around since 1956. Help us spread the word. Help us celebrate the life and career of the gentlest man of British cinema.. Peter Cushing!

VINTAGE RADIO TIMES: MADELINE SMITH : 'UP POMPEII, TWO RONNIES, DRACULA AND FRANKENSTEIN'


Another snippet from the UK listing magazine Radio Times... on Maddie Smith who starred with Peter Cushing in 'Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell'. Madeline also appeared regularly in a variety of UK tv comedy shows..one show and actor connects her to a Hammer Dracula film actor..who is that actor and can you name the show?

BEHIND THE SCENES: SYDNEY BROMLEY OLD TOM KETCH : NIGHT CREATURES CAPATIN CLEGG (1962)



Peter Cushing as Captain Clegg / Dr Blyss in Night Creatures / Captain Clegg (1962)...and two behind the scenes shots featuring actor Sydney Bromley, who you may remember playing terrified Old Tom Ketch in the film. Bromley had to fall backwards into a frog filled pond behind him, and land on a sunken mattress. Well, poor old Bromley missed the mattress, and hurt his back. The image on the right shows director Peter Graham Scott, giving him a helping hand out of the bog!

WHEN FRASER TENNANT MET PETER CUSHING. A CHANCE MEETING IN THE CAVENDISH BOOK STORE IN WHITSTABLE.


When Fraser Met Peter Cushing: Thanks to Fraser Tennant who sent in this pic of his meeting with PC in Whitstable back in 1986. If you have pic of a meeting with Peter Cushing that you'd like to share, we'd love to share it! 

Here's Fraser story behind this meeting: 'This picture was taken on 27 July 1986 in Whitstable, Kent, but outside a bookshop (the name of which I can no longer recall). My family and I had gone to Whitstable on holiday with the vague notion of perhaps meeting Cushing , I cannot recall why we thought this, but it was around the time of the publication of his first autobiography. We visited the afore-mentioned bookshop where we were told that he was away. As we were leaving Whitstable we stopped at the Tudor Tea Rooms where we encountered the man himself.

Being slightly intimidated at that time, my father approached him first and then I went over to speak to him face-to-face. I remember he was reading a Sherlock Holmes story. Next he kissed my mother’s hand and we all discussed a few things including that week’s Royal Wedding (Andrew and Sarah) and the House of the Long Shadows film. He then went outside and got on his bike and we went back to meet him at the bookshop where the picture was taken and he signed a number of items for me including the book and some photographs. I’m really so glad that we got a picture as memory does tend to fade after a while....'

RADIO TIMES : FRANK BELLAMY HAMMER FILMS ILLUSTRATION : PETER CUSHING AND CHRISTOPHER LEE


I've posted this clipping, from the UK tv listing magazine, RADIO TIMES because I know there are quite a few of you out there who collect Radio Times pages with a Cushing / Hammer reference, also because this snip also includes a very interesting illustration by Frank Bellamy whose work is also quite collectable.This illustration featuring Cushing and Lee is one of many examples of Bellamy's work that regularly featured in the Radio Times. Many will also know his work from the Eagle comic and his comic strips of Thunderbirds, Dan Dare, Dr Who and Garth in the Daily Mirror news paper.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

RONDO HATTON AWARDS: PLEASE VOTE FOR THIS BLOG!


Very surprised and honored to see that this blog has been nominated in the RONDO HATTON CLASSIC HORROR AWARDS this year in the BEST BLOG OF 2013 My very humble thanks to everyone who nominated us.....and by us I do need to mention Dan Dorman, Troy Howarth and Donald Fearney, who contribute in many ways here and will also be thrilled to hear about this too! Here's a link to the ballot to vote. You don't need to be a member. Again thank you, for supporting PCASUK. Thank you - Marcus Brooks. Please Vote For Us!

Saturday, 15 March 2014

WATCH NOW: THE LEGEND OF HAMMER VAMPIRES: HAMMER FILMS DOCUMENTARY


Exclusively for YOU this weekend. Watch Donald Fearney's 'The Legend of Hammer Vampires' documentary... interviews, behind the scenes footage, rare photographs and much more. Look out for the banner here and pull up a seat for the whole 90 minute history behind those Hammer Vampire classics!


Thursday, 6 March 2014

ICON ENTERTAINMENT: FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL : UK BLU RAY RELEASE APRIL 2014


PETER CUSHING NEWS: Icon Entertainment PRESS RELEASE : 'FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL' UK BLU RAY RELEASE FOR APRIL:  Icon Home Entertainment has announced its 28th April 2014 release of the Hammer horror classic Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell. With a host of extras, a 3-disc dual format package and an HD transfer, this looks set to be one of the definitive releases of this British horror movie.

PRESS RELEASE:
Starring the inimitable Peter Cushing, the last of Hammer's acclaimed series of Frankenstein films, Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell is the final feature film directed by the legendary Terence Fisher.

Convicted of bodysnatching and using the body parts of his ill-gotten cadavers for research, Dr. Simon Helder is sentenced to five years in an insane asylum. On arrival, he recognises the penitentiary's resident surgeon as none other than the infamous Baron Victor Frankenstein, who has been hiding out there and continuing his research into the reanimation of corpses under the pseudonym of Dr. Carl Victor. Recognising Helder's surgical skills, Frankenstein enlists the young doctor as his assistant under the pretext of their tending to the medical needs of their fellow inmates. But the reality of the situation is far more sinister. Frankenstein is already well on his way to creating a new living creature assembled from the vital organs of murdered criminals and madmen.

A perfect, unusually gory and beautifully gothic swan song for Hammer's incarnation of Mary Shelley's two accursed creations, Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell features yet another (his sixth) standout performance by the brilliant Peter Cushing as the mad baron and is also notable for the pre-Star Wars pairing of the actors who would four years later reunite to play two of the most iconic villains in the cinematic galaxy – Darth Vader (David Prowse) and Grand Moff Tarkin (Cushing).

 Extra features include:

Taking Over The Asylum: The Making Of Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell.
Charming Evil: Terence Fisher at Hammer.
 
Audio commentary by Shane Briant and Madeline Smith, moderated by Marcus Hearn.
Animated stills gallery.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

WATCH THE LEGEND OF HAMMER: MUMMIES HERE!


Donald Fearney's 'The Legend of Hammer: Mummies': For those of you who may missed this exclusive upload when it was shared on our UK Peter Cushing Appreciation Society Facebook Fan Page last weekend, here is another chance to catch it, this time on our pcasuk VIMEO account in HD. Enjoy!

 JUST CLICK ON THIS LINK:The Legend of Hammer: Mummies

Sunday, 2 March 2014

DR TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS: CUSHING CLASSIC WITH A FULL DECK


The horror anthology can be traced back as far as German expressionist cinema, with early classics like Richard Oswald’s Eerie Tales (1919) and Paul Leni’s Waxworks (1924), but for many viewers it begins with the Ealing Studios’ production of Dead of Night (1945).


This portmanteau of macabre tales made a profound impression on many people, including a young Milton Subotsky.  Born in New York in 1921, Subotsky was a film buff from an early age and began producing in the 1950s.  He had a particular passion for horror, fantasy and sci-fi and would partner with fellow New Yorker Max J. Rosenberg to form Amicus Productions.  Amicus would initially focus on rock and roll pictures, but in 1964 they decided to switch gears and offer up some health competition to England’s reigning “horror factory,” Hammer Film Productions.  Subotsky explicitly referenced Dead of Night when he set about to write the studio’s first “official” horror film (bearing in mind, they had produced the well-regarded City of the Dead under the banner of Vulcan Productions), ultimately released as Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors.


The film would follow a basic formula which Subotsky would repeat again and again: a group of characters are united in a claustrophobic setting, where they have their fortunes told to them by a mysterious character.  In this instance, the mysterious “seer” is Dr. Schreck, played by Peter Cushing.  Hidden behind bushy eyebrows and a stubbly beard, Cushing is seedier than usual and he plays the role with a nicely understated sense of menace and foreboding.  Cushing would become the company’s mascot of sorts and his loyalty to Subotsky would lead him to accept appearances in some films that he might otherwise have done well to have taken a pass on.


The first of the characters to have their fortunes told is Scottish architect Neil McCallum.  In McCallum’s story, he goes to his ancestral home, which is now owned by grand dame Usrula Howells.  There’s a family curse afoot involving a werewolf and the “surprise” reveal of the creature’s identity shouldn’t come as a surprise to a five year old.  The story may be slim and predictable, but director Freddie Francis and cinematographer Alan Hume give it style and atmosphere to burn.  Of all the segments, it’s the only one that really captures an atmosphere of dread and as such, it’s a good intro that sets the tone for what is to follow.


The second segment deals with family man Alan Freeman (a popular DJ in his day, making a rare acting appearance) who returns from vacation to discover that a strange vine is slowly enveloping his house. Enlisting the aid of scientists Bernard Lee and Jeremy Kemp, Freeman attempts to destroy the pesky plant, but it would appear to have ideas of its own…  Freeman does a credible job and Lee and Kemp do their best to keep a straight face delivering some ridiculous dialogue, but the bargain basement special effects don’t do it any favors.
 

The next segment involves musician Roy Castle, who steals a tune used in a voodoo ceremony and may or may not live to regret it… This is easily the weakest of the film’s stories and is shamelessly ripped off from an episode of the Boris Karloff TV series Thriller, which featured John Ireland in a not-dissimilar role as a musician who runs afoul of a vengeful voodoo god after incorporating a similar tune into one of his night club routines.  Even without the air of plagiarism, the segment is a mess: Castle’s incessant mugging is a constant irritant and the attempts at humor are feeble at best.  On the plus side, the segment has some terrific jazz music by the great Tubby Hayes. Indeed, director Francis had hoped to have Hayes score the entire film, but the musician’s problems with cocaine dependency made him unreliable, so Francis asked for the services of the distinguished Elisabeth Lutyens instead.


Up next, Christopher Lee plays a pompous art critic who drives artist Michael Gough to suicide.  Gough’s hand (which had been severed in an accident engineered by Lee) returns to exact vengeance.  The special effects work is awkward, admittedly, but this segment succeeds due to the heartfelt performances of Lee and Gough.  Lee is at his imperious best as the ultra-bitchy critic whose acerbic words destroy the lives of others, while Gough is genuinely touching and restrained as the sympathetic victim.



The final segment involves newly married doctor Donald Sutherland, who discovers that his wife (Jennifer Jayne, looking lovely but sporting a dicey French accent) is actually a vampire.  The segment has some nice touches, but it’s slowly paced and the payoff is much too predictable.  Sutherland impresses in one of his earliest screen roles, while Max Adrian quietly steals his scenes with one of his less florid and theatrical performances, as Sutherland’s medic colleague.


The film draws to a close as the train carting the characters pulls into the station.  Dr. Schreck disappears into thin air and the characters decide to laugh off what they’ve been shown … but it will be Dr. Schreck who has the last laugh.


Amicus would go on to produce some better anthologies than this one, notably The House That Dripped Blood and From Beyond the Grave, but Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors remains one of their seminal works.  It’s a fun film on its own terms and it shows Freddie Francis working at the top of his game as a director.  Francis’ frustration with being typecast as a horror director (he was no fan of the genre and was very open about this) would later result in some truly hackneyed work, but at this stage in the game he was still doing his best to shore up weak screenplays with plenty of visual fireworks.  Subotsky’s screenplay is derivative and unimaginative, but the anthology format proves to be beneficial in that once one weak story is out of the way, there’s always the chance for something better in the next segment.


In the case of Dr. Terror, the good fortunately outweighs the bad.  The Werewolf and Crawling Hand segments remain highlights in the Amicus canon and the Vampire story is by no means disposable, either.  The fine performances, eerie music score by Lutyens, stylish direction by Francis and expert widescreen color photography from Hume all add up to make this a film worth seeing again and again.
 
Review: Troy Howarth
Gallery: Marcus Brooks


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