Tag Archive for Freddie Francis

Happy Birthday, Dame Joan Collins!

Joan Collins at the 2019 Met Gala

The Bitch on the

Edge of Forever

Joan Henrietta Collins was born on this day in 1933 in Paddington, west London. She made her debut on stage at 9 years old and subsequently attended London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. After appearing in a handful of British films, she headed straight for Hollywood and a number of big budget productions, including Howard Hawks’ Land of the Pharaohs (1955).

Collins made several iconic appearances on genre television in the 1960s and 70s, notably The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (“The Galatea Affair,” in a dual role as an agent of Thrush and the nude night club equestrienne recruited to impersonate her) and Star Trek (as Edith Keeler in Harlan Ellison’s wonderful “The City on the Edge of Forever”).

Tales from the Crypt (1972)

Movie Poster for Tales from the Crypt (1972)

Movie Poster for Tales from the Crypt (1972)

Though it is certainly the most well known, Tales from the Crypt was not the first of the Amicus anthology horror films. Previous installments were written by a single screenwriter or adapted from short stories in Weird Tales or Unknown. Tales from the Crypt adapts five stories from three different EC Comics titles.

“…And All Through the House” kicks off the film after the wraparound introduction. The tale of yuletide homicide first appeared in The Vault of Horror #35.
(If you haven’t already, check out our previous look at this spectacular film.)

Joan plays Joanne Clayton, a woman who coldly and calculatedly murders her heavily-insured husband on Christmas Eve while her young daughter presumably dreams of sugar-plums upstairs. Meanwhile, the usual holiday-themed radio programming is interrupted by a warning that there is a lunatic on the loose. Joanne is too distracted to take note of this obviously important development. She is soon forced to split her time between careful clean up, tending to her restless daughter, gloating over her triumph, and, eventually, dodging a murderous maniac in a Santa suit.

The whole affair moves at a frantic pace, effectively building tension. Joanne clearly can’t call for help until her own crime is effectively covered up, and the audience is certainly expected to be conflicted about rooting for her. Oliver MacGreevy is suitably grimy as the not-so-jolly madman.

Tales from the Crypt Lobby Card

Joan Collins and Oliver MacGreevy in Tales from the Crypt (1972)

Tales That Witness Madness (1973)

While also directed by Freddie Francis Tales That Witness Madness was NOT an Amicus production, though it easily fits in with the others of its ilk and era. Instead of adapting stories from EC Comics, the four segments and the wraparound framework were all written by veteran genre actress Jennifer Jayne (Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors). Jayne definitely understood the nature of these morbid morality tales and delivers a solid set that are very distinct from one another, serving up a diverse selection of thrills. Sadly, Jennifer Jayne would have only one other screenwriting credit with the delightfully daffy Son of Dracula (1974), under the pseudonym Jay Fairbank.

Movie Poster for Tales That Witness Madness (1973)

Movie Poster for Tales That Witness Madness (1973)

“Does anybody in here love me?” asks Brian Thompson (Michael Jayston). This is the loaded question that launches “Mel,” the third segment in Madness. Brian was out for a morning jog when he literally stumbled upon the love of his life, a strangely buxom hunk of fallen tree. He drags the thing home, much to the chagrin of his coquettish wife, Bella (Joan Collins).

The viewer likely has a better understanding of Bella than her own husband as he deflects her contempt for the newest addition to their stately home. “Your artistic sympathies will leap to the fore, and you’ll grow mad about it.” Mad, indeed. He does manage to bribe her with cigarettes and chocolate, however, so he’s not completely oblivious.

Writer Jennifer Jayne layers more than a little subtext in these opening scenes, and one can’t help but wonder if it isn’t drawn from personal experience. Brian has designs on bringing “Mel” (so named from the name or initials carved into “her” trunk) into his home, cleaning her up, and making her beautiful. Based on the transactional nature of their interactions, one can imagine this is not too far removed from how Brian once viewed Bella.

Interestingly enough, while Bella is none-too-fond of Mel, it is the tree that shows the first tinges of jealousy, seemingly weeping at displays of what passes for affection between the married couple. Their rivalry steadily escalates, from leaves shed in defiance, to spiky thorns that draw first blood, to an angry splash of what appears to be cognac. Eventually, Bella is left to leverage the only advantage she believes she has, her sexual wiles. “Brian, somebody up here loves you,” she teases.

Later that night, Bella is tormented by nightmares of Mel and other flora assaulting her. This scene seems contrived purely so Director Freddie Francis can apply some comic book cinematography in lurid reds and greens, since it otherwise adds nothing to the plot. As the fiendish foliage thrashes Bella out of her baby doll dress, the influence on a young Sam Raimi (and others) seems pretty likely.

The final showdown between Bella and Mel ranks right up there with Alexis Colby and Krystle Carrington, though I don’t recall Alexis ever bringing a machete into the proceedings. The resolution of “Mel” is predictable, but macabre fun in a darkly cynical fashion that’s appropriate to the genre. It’s certainly a chilling indictment of trophy wives as likely only a woman in the film industry could deliver.

Tales That Witness Madness Publicity Still

Joan Collins and rival “Mel” from Tales That Witness Madness (1973)

Joan would go on to become a household name in America as Alexis Carrington Colby on the wildly popular primetime soap opera Dynasty. She also starred in a pair of adaptations of sister Jackie’s trashy, nigh-exploitation melodramas starting with The Stud (1978), followed by its sequel The Bitch (1979). Collins was made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II in 2015 for her numerous charitable endeavors. She has remained active in film and television, including a recurring role on season 8 of American Horror Story.

On stage or screen big and small, Joan Collins has played characters who seduced, schemed, and inspired for more than 70 years. While she has never forsaken her poise, she is not too pretentious to be a horror icon or a schlocky grand dame. Today, WeirdFlix toasts the lovely lady and extend her plenty of “champagne wishes and caviar dreams”.

The Evil That Men Do

Sandor Eles and Peter Cushing in "The Evil of Frankenstein" (1964)

“The evil that men do lives after them.” — William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

This is especially true for Baron Victor Frankenstein, who has a bad habit of bringing bad men back from the great beyond. Everyone needs a hobby, I suppose.

Welcome to Day Five of the
Peter Cushing Centennial Blogathon. Today, we’re going to take a look at what many consider to be the first reboot of Hammer Films’ Frankenstein franchise, The Evil of Frankenstein (1964). While there’s a definite change in direction, I’m not entirely sure continuity is cleanly severed, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Along with the supposed break in continuity came a break in creative personnel as Evil would be the first Hammer Frankenstein film not written by Jimmy Sangster. Instead, Anthony Hinds, son of Hammer Films founder William Hinds, would pen the script under the pseudonym John Elder. Hinds had cut his teeth, so to speak, collaborating with Sangster on the script for The Brides of Dracula (1960) with Cushing reprising his Van Helsing role sans Lee’s title vampire. With Captain Clegg (1962) (U.S. title Night Creatures) in between, Evil would be the third time Hinds wrote for Cushing.

The second switch was unplanned, as Terence Fisher was set to direct this third installment in the franchise until a car accident left him unable to do so. Freddie Francis, already an Academy Award-winning cinematographer and longtime Hammer contributor, was brought in to helm the project. Given his background, it isn’t surprising that Francis brings some of James Whale’s influence into his compositions, in contrast to Fisher’s sparse, stagey arrangements.

Because of a distribution deal with Universal, Hammer Films were able to freely reference their series, and it is clear by creature design, laboratory sets, and promotional materials that this film was intended to take advantage of that and perhaps bridge the gap between the two Frankenstein film franchises. Hinds’ script also reinforces these connections with secluded mountain sets and mobs of angry villagers, both absent from the previous films largely because of budgetary constraints.

The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)

Movie Poster for "The Evil of Frankenstein" (1964)

Movie Poster for The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)

Our film opens with a body snatching that doesn’t quite work out as planned. The ubiquitous meddling priest succeeds in driving Victor Frankenstein and his assistant Hans (played by Cushing and Sandor Elès, respectively) from his village, destroying much of their laboratory in the process. While Victor’s human assistants traditionally let him down (from Paul in Curse to Karl and Margaret in Revenge), they have also saved him from the icy grip of death (Kleve in Revenge). This dependence on others will become a clear problem in Evil.

With their work demolished, Victor takes Hans back to his home village of Karlstaad, hoping to sell off some of his inheritance to fund further work. They find the chateau in ruins and looted clean. Disappointed and defeated, Victor relates the story of his exile.

This presents the biggest obstacle to including Evil in the continuity begun with Curse and Revenge. The title text of Curse clearly places the setting in Switzerland, a fact subtly reinforced during Victor’s exchange with Kleve in Revenge. Shelley’s Frankenstein is born in Geneva, Switzerland and educated at Germany’s University of Ingolstadt in Bavaria. Karlstadt [sic] is in the appropriately named Unterfranken region of Bavaria, Germany.

There are some interesting details in this flashback sequence. Firstly, Victor sets the events 10 years ago. In Revenge, Kleve indicates that it’s been a little more than 3 years since the death of Professor Bernstein.

While Sandor Elès is nearly 10 years younger than Francis Matthews, I do not take it as gospel that his Hans is not intended to be loyal assistant Hans Kleve. Hans was not present for the events of Curse, and in Revenge, he only helped with a pair of groundbreaking brain transplants, not the creation of life. There is also the suggestion that Kleve knew of Frankenstein’s work by reputation despite the Baron’s insistence on not publishing in Curse. Is it possible that the events relayed in flashback occurred sometime between the opening of Revenge and the later events in Carlsbrück? There’s certainly no other explanation given in Evil as to why Hans does Victor’s bidding.

Except Victor’s story fits neither the events of Curse nor the possibility proposed above. The monster, in flashback, attacks and consumes only livestock, and Victor is merely charged with assaulting police and heresy, sentenced to a brief imprisonment, a fine, and ultimately exile. Consider the source, however. Victor is hardly a reliable narrator and lying would be the least of his sins. There are even some who have looked at Shelley’s original novel as the ravings of the quintessential unreliable narrator, calling into question whether the monster exists at all.

Movie Poster for "The Evil of Frankenstein" (1964)

Movie Poster for The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)

Hiding behind masks during a village festival, Victor and Hans scope out the scene in Karlstaad. Victor sees one of his signet rings adorning the hand of the local Burgomaster, and it looks like he’ll be doing more revenging here than in The Revenge of Frankenstein. Victor cannot control his outrage, so he and Hans are forced to flee, a reaction a bit more exaggerated than brief imprisonment, fine, and exile would suggest.

They hide amongst the festivities, eventually evading authorities in a hypnotist’s exhibit. The hypnotist, Professor Zoltán (not to be confused with the Hound of Dracula), is as easy to rile as the Baron, and Zoltán ends up being taken into custody in their stead. Peter Woodthorpe is delightful as the puffed up carny and makes an effective foil for Cushing’s Baron. Woodthorpe followed up his role as Professor Zoltán by playing a nudie photographer in the Jimmy Sangster/Freddie Francis thriller Hysteria (1965) with Kiwi Kingston and as an ill-fated landlord in The Skull (1965) for Amicus, directed by Francis and starring Cushing, proving that he was quite adept at handling slimy, sleazy characters.

A second attempt to reclaim his valuables by Victor only serves to show that the constable who shot his creation in the flashback sequence has subsequently been promoted to Chief of Police (veteran actor Duncan Lamont, who returns to the series with a brief but important role in Frankenstein Created Woman). Victor and Hans are forced to continue their flight into the mountains. Here, they find the creature, frozen in ice.

Professional wrestler Ernie “Kiwi” Kingston plays the creature, made up to resemble the Karloff version more than a little. Kingston was an all-around accomplished sportsman, a successful amateur boxer, rugby player, and equestrian. In Germany, he would ride a horse to the ring and dismount onto the ring apron. While it might’ve been cool to see him ride down villagers as the monster, we’ll have to settle for a spearing, but you’ll have to wait for that.

“The evil of a man who created a monster by crude surgery
and harnessed the tempestuous forces of nature to give it life!”

As if there was any doubt, this square-headed monstrosity cannot be the same creature played by Christopher Lee in Curse, since that one was dissolved in a vat of acid. Still, Victor is eager to get the frozen freak back to his ruined chateau laboratory and bring it back to consciousness. Once accomplished, the immobile thing will not obey his verbal commands.
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Victor believes Zoltán to be the solution to his problem. Found to be practicing without a license, the hypnotist has been sentenced to that most popular of Karlstaad punishments, exile. Professor Zoltán has his own plans, however, and what follows might as well be called The Revenge of Zoltán or The Evil of Zoltán. When Victor objects, a power struggle predictably ensues, with Zoltán ordering creation to kill creator.

Frankenstein keeps his monster at bay with an oil lamp, but Zoltán blocks the only path of escape. This is where the spearing comes in. The monster goes on a rampage, destroying the lab equipment and starting a raging inferno. Judicious application of chloroform just serves to make matters worse. Hans and a deaf-mute girl (as easily omitted from the film as from this synopsis) look on as the chateau explodes in a ball of fire, presumably consuming Baron Frankenstein and his monster. Hans pronounces the final verdict, “They beat you after all.”

Except we’ve got two more days and three more films, so it’s far from conclusive.

Despite my musings and suggestions, it is admittedly difficult to fit The Evil of Frankenstein into the Hammer Films Frankenstein chronology. The more interesting intellectual exercise, I think, is to examine the progression of Peter Cushing’s portrayal of the Baron, from murderous man-child to charitable curmudgeon to vengeful outcast. We’ll continue on this path tomorrow, when we discuss that time when Frankenstein Created Woman (1967). You wouldn’t want to miss that, would you?

A Dozen Diabolical Dogs – #8: Shane

"Shane" in "Tales from the Crypt" (1972)

Major William Rogers is the new director at the Elmridge Home for the Blind. With over twenty years of military experience, he is determined to run the facility as efficiently and economically as possible, even if it means shutting off the heat at 20:00 hours (8:00 p.m. to you civilians) and cutting back on food rations.

As the officer in charge, Major Rogers (Nigel Patrick) is certainly not going to sacrifice his own comfort. Paintings adorn the walls of his office. His lunches consist of steak and wine. And when he cannot finish his steak, he feeds the scraps to his Belgian Malinois, Shane.

Shane is a good dog. Shane protects his master from the ungrateful residents. As spokesman George Carter (Patrick Magee) tries to explain, blindness makes their other senses more acute such that the subpar food is intolerable, scurrying insects can be heard all around, and the cold bites like a wolf. Major Rogers is unmoved. Shane is there to make sure such complaints do not become threats. Like Shane, the residents of Elmridge should learn not to bite the hand that feeds them.

“Blind Alleys” is the fifth and final story in the horror anthology film Tales from the Crypt (1972), based on the notorious EC Comics series of the same name that thrilled children and horrified parents, teachers, shrinks, politicians, and clergy. Freddie Francis directed the film for Amicus Productions, one of several portmanteau films the studio produced, and the third for Francis. He would go on to direct a fourth, Tales That Witness Madness, for World Film Services, often mistaken for one of the Amicus series. Despite directing mostly horror flicks, Francis worked as director of photography on a wide variety of critically-acclaimed films including The Innocents, The Elephant Man, and Glory.

After one of their number dies from the director’s callous neglect, the residents begin plotting their revenge. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it, but Shane figures prominently into the cleverly devised scheme. Major Rogers doesn’t “see it coming”, and most likely, neither will you.

A portion of "Blind Alleys" as it appeared in Tales from the Crypt # 46

A portion of “Blind Alleys” as it appeared in Tales from the Crypt # 46

Sir Ralph Richardson (Doctor Zhivago) appears as the hooded, mysterious Crypt Keeper, issuing a dire warning to begin each of the film’s segments. His portrayal is stiff and lifeless, unlike the wisecracking punster that appeared in the comic book and subsequent HBO television series. It does fit the tone of the overall film, however, and deftly avoids the pitfall of camp.

Here is the film’s climax in all its vengeful glory, running a little over 10 minutes. Enjoy at your leisure.

Slightly NSFW due to blood and viciousness.

The story was later adapted for the television series episode “Revenge is the Nuts” with Anthony Zerbe (The Omega Man, The Dead Zone) playing facility director Arnie Grunwald (closer to the Gunner Grunwald character of the comic story). The sleazy sexual angle that is almost requisite in the comic series is restored here for HBO with the quirky but cute Teri Polo (Meet the Parents) playing the target of Grunwald’s unwelcome and unsubtle advances. Bruno the dog is also closer to Brutus as depicted in the panels above, but all in all, the TV adaptation doesn’t have the same pathos as the Freddie Francis film. It never conjures sympathy for Teri Polo and Isaac Hayes the way that Patrick Magee and company do with their grim determination.

Please join us for the rest of these infamous “Dog Days of Summer” as we count down
“A Dozen Diabolical Dogs”.