Sunday, 30 October 2011


During the PCASUK video interview Milton Subotsky is asked what was his thinking behind the title of I MONSTER and the changing of the central characters names. He gleefully answers 'Because I liked the idea. I also want to make a 3D film of the Lord Mayor of London procession, Alice in Wonderland too!'

Having played with the idea of making a 3D Amicus film for many years, Subotsky decieded I MONSTER was the perfect vehicle. But being an Amicus production, budget always a major consideration it would not be the conventional 3D. Lucky for Subotsky, during the production of his 'JUNIOR SCIENTIST' education films in the 50's he had experimented with a process that didn't require expensive cameras, a process that was pretty much produced on the studio floor. The 'Pulfrich Effect', named after Carl Pulfrich, instead depends on camera movement and layers of action orchestrated to give the 'illusion' of a three dimensional image. The viewer still needed to wear glasses to experience the effect, a variation the conventional red and blue, a pair of transparent specs with only the right lens slightly darkened. The brain processes the image with the darker lens slower than the neutral lens. The brain fuses the two images in a stereo image.

However, when time came to view the daily rushes, mumbles started in the ranks as no one with the exception Subotsky could actually see the effect. The truth was the Pulfrich effect is more of an optical trick then a true stereoscopic image. In later years Subotsky laid the blame on young and inexperienced shoulders of director Stephen Weeks. Another problem was that the sets had not been constructed in accordance with the needs of the camera. For the process to work, characters or objects must move from left-to-right across a static background. The sets made some of the action impossible to film. Watching I MONSTER can be like trying to read a book on a fair ground ride. The camera hardly ever is static. Everything from test tubes, pillars, horses and plant foliage is placed between the subject matter and the camera. No doubt it would have looked great in 3D, as a 'flat' viewing it becomes frustrating.

Much of the footage shot using the Pulfrich effect still exists in the DVD releases of the film today. But without the effect they lookstaged and awkward. Whilst talking to a busty wench, Mr Blake the rowdy pub revellers push and shove them along the bar...from left to right. During many scenes actors and action take on a strange and deliberate pace in order to accommodate the demands of the 3D process.

In scenes where the camera circles action from right-to-left, in day light, the Pulfrich effect works well. Best examples of the is the scene with Mr Blake in a park shot through a huge bird cage and Marlow's lab, a long table stacked high with lab equipment between the actor and the camera. It's worth having a look, if just to see Subotsky's 'vision'.

On the whole, I MONSTER was a missed opportunity. Not even the teaming of Lee and Cushing, who are both excellent throughout, could save it. Director Weeks was a stickler for period detail and paid more attention to set trappings than keeping scenes tight. Pace is lost and the film is slow, very slow. It's claim of being probably the most faithful film adaption of Robert Louis Stevenson classic novel, name changes permitting, may be true, but it also one of the few movies where the camera has more action than the performers. Christopher Lee as Mr Blake dances everyone off the screen, a top drawer performance. Peter Cushing is given little to do, but in his controlled and measured manner, does what there is with authority and style.

As a Halloween movie for today and by todays standards it would have had much to offer. Two great and very capable actors, a monster of the old school and the spectacle of 3D.  I MONSTER, a great idea, but it could have been an outstanding one.

Here's a short interview with Peter Cushing talking about I MONSTER and the PULFRICH EFFECT!


Peter Cushing as Macgregor in Tendre Dracula


Sunday, 16 October 2011


Twins of Evil is perhaps the finest Hammer film of the studio’s early Seventies period, and undoubtedly the most underrated. It is a mixed saddlebag of influences, a consolidation of many elements, and at least on par with the excellent Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell. The two films were made only one year apart with Twins (Pinewood) coming first. Monster from Hell (Elstree) was not released until 1974. Twins seems as vast and open as The Sound of Music compared to the intentionally set-bound Monster from Hell.

The score for Twins is a quasi-hybrid of Dvorak and Louis Bacalov (Django). It’s not quite James Bernard, but then what else can really compare? The shots of the first carriage riding into town always reminded me of the courtyard scenes from Joshua Logan’s Camelot (1967); the bustle of peasant activity tangible, not stagey. Like Le Fanu’s novella, Carmilla (on which it is based like the previous two entries in Hammer’s unconnected Karnstein Trilogy), there are bloodsuckers in it. Hough and Gates bring the Malleus Maleficorum into the mix, and the final dish comes out more like a grim fairy tale telling of Reeve’s Witchfinder General. But instead of Price as a vengeance-fuelled sadist we have Cushing as a redemptive villain (he’s Moff Tarkin, only this time pausing before annihilating the planet Alderaan). The real villains in Twins are far more obvious.

Vampires have always been Hammer’s bread and butter, at least since the late Fifties onward. It’s easy to come across as camp if not done with the precise amount of gravity. On the other hand, too much gravitas and then you’ve got moody pretense (see Interview with the Vampire). Hammer always seemed to get this fusion right (that’s why we’re still talking about them today). There is much camp on display in Twins, especially thanks to a delightfully malevolent and fangy Damien Thomas as the main baddie. Thankfully, Cushing is on hand to exact a little thorough ruthlessness of his own, Puritanical style, with feet firmly planted on the ground. Two villains for the price of one.

It’s a sad truth that countless numbers of women and men were subjected to the lethal brunt of one positively diabolical tome. Many historians now believe that Kramer’s Malleus Maleficorum (written in 1486) was falsely approved into publication as an official document of the church. Its initial attempt was seemingly meant to refute the idea that witchcraft could not exist. What it became was a bible of hate and a means for punishing anyone the so-called righteous saw fit. If a man did not like his neighbor or he harbored an unjust grievance then he could easily accuse him (especially his wife, mother or daughters) of being a witch. This was the most direct result it had, as opposed to the standard belief of a superstitious populace being convinced of possession and otherworldly powers.

Spreading like wildfire it began what is now commonly known as the Inquisition. What we get in Twins is more or less a condensed version of this record married to the vampire myth. It’s an hour into the film before the vampire story even kicks in, and it’s not really lacking. The film works so well because one theme is no more outlandish than the other. In fact, it’s almost easier to side with the freewheeling vampires than it is with the local Inquisitors (here called the “Brotherhood”). At least the vampires knew how to throw a party.

In keeping with the spirit of the Karnstein Trilogy, there is flesh to be found on display in director Hough’s motley little village. While it’s not as bountiful as in The Vampire Lovers (1970), it is still nice to see the amazing Hammer glamour assembled for this yet-to-be universally hailed classic. What’s even more amazing is the way the Collinson Twins play completely in tandem, yet Madeleine (as the evil one) gives a totally singular performance from the innocent Mary. It’s good acting, or good direction, or both. Their voices may have been dubbed but these twins sold me from the first frame to the last. 

The camera zooms and glides with such effortlessness and ease and is quite pleasing to watch. I’ve always been a sucker for riding shots, and while it’s not quite The Charge of the Light Brigade, there is some competent horsemanship. I simply adore the scene when the Brethren ‘ride the girl down’ then proceed to carry out their sinister work. The scene cuts to Weil (Cushing), in full close-up spewing God’s will in his prudent dining room.

I love the transitions in this film. The evil twin Frieda wishing aloud at the window to meet the Count, and then a quick cut to Damien Thomas enjoying a humble night of debauchery and human sacrifice. He yearns for “something different”. Who wouldn’t in his place? The truly gorgeous sets are only topped by the gorgeous compositions of shots and lighting. The spooky, blue-hued atmospheres of the outdoor sets are punctuated by a pounding (if not a bit repetitive) soundtrack. It keeps the tension tightly mounted. The film seems almost entirely shot at night or within darkened chambers and corridors half-past midnight. Karnstein’s newly decked-out vampire lair (complete with inverted glowing cross) is a serious delight.

The scene when the congregated Brotherhood dramatically pauses for Weil to decide their next move for them is almost comical at first. I half expected him to shout: “To the lumberyard!” before leading the charge through the door (Cushing’s asides are wonderful). Weil and Karnstein’s contempt for one another is the fuel that drives the whole thing along.

It’s no secret that good guys always wear black. Cushing is nothing short of tragedian when he abruptly enters the house and bellows: “What kind of plumage is this?” upon seeing his nieces in their flaunty dresses. While we are uncertain at first when the change will take place, we know in our bones that Cushing’s Weil will make good, even if it’s of the ‘bit too late’ variety (which it almost certainly always is). After Thomas’ satanic Count Karnstein chooses the path of the undead, it’s only a matter of time before these two feuding heavies come head to head in the main event. It’s not much of a fight really. Weil finally gets a one-way ticket to his own judgment and Karnstein naturally faces the bellicose music not soon after.

The legacy of this film could be summed up in the moment Weil finally realizes he’s almost murdered the wrong girl. It’s another timeless Cushing moment and proof-positive of this man’s power and grace in front of the camera. He looks totally defeated, as Cushing no doubt felt during filming (his beloved wife Helen had just succumbed to complications from emphysema – an outcome from which he would never recover).  Looking practically into the camera, he utters: “Oh, lord. Lord forgive me.” It’s his character’s moment of choice to light that one candle, rather than curse the dark.

Danter 2011
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