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Three different horror films from three separate distributors recently opened in London on the same day, meaning there are three cinemas one third full. They are:

  • Dracula AD 1972, directed by Alan Gibson; starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Distributed by Columbia-Warner.
  • Dr Phibes Rises Again, starring Vincent Price; directed by Robert Fuest. An AIP release, distributed by Anglo-EMI.
  • Tales From The Crypt, starring Peter Cushing, Sir Ralph Richardson, Barbara Murray et al; directed by Freddie Francis, Released by Cinerama Releasing (UK).

In terms of horror, the most convincing and chilling is Dracula, in which the celebrated Count is brought back to life, amidst a present day Kings Road, Chelsea setting. The Dracula blood sucking scenes are as erotic and eerie as ever, while the Kings Road background enables the film to make some cynical comments on the plastic Chelsea scene.

Tales From The Crypt is composed of several short tales involving the evil thoughts of five very English, bourgeois people trapped with a shaking Sir Ralph (dressed in monk’s habit) in an underground crypt. The evil people are all very obviously money mad, wealthy and establishmentarian, and the film is really an attack on these values. In a way the philosophical ideas are so subtle that they might in fact escape the average cinemagoer, and this is really the reason for the introduction of the horror sequences, which are nearly all irrelevant to the ideas of the story, and grossly over-edited. A good film if you can quietly absorb its leftish ideas which are very subtly transmitted.

Dr Phibes Rises Again is a veritable farago of very camp 1930s pastiche, art-deco sets, trippy colours and eccentric characters, all of whom land up in and around Egyptian mummies, searching for the elixir of life. Sarcastic and very entertaining.

Real horror and reality returns with a jolt in Johnny Got His Gun, starring Jeff Bridges and Donald Sutherland; written and directed by Dalton Trumbo (one of the ten Hollywood writers blacklisted by McCarthy) and distributed by the Rank Organisation. A stern, bleak and very upsetting anti-war film about a young American who while fighting somewhere in the trenches in Europe during the first world war, loses his legs, arms, sight, hearing and the parts of his brain which help him to speak. A maniac doctor decides to keep him alive as a kind of scientific curiosity, and locks him up in a small dark room. But he hasn’t lost his feelings or his memory, and he spends his time thinking back to his life in small town America, which seems as futile as war and the vegetable it has made him. He eventually manages to communicate with one of the nurses by tapping his head on a pillow in morse code. The words “Kill me. kill me.”

A sad poignantly, horrific film. Not to be missed.

Futile Dreams

19720901-10FAT CITY starring Stacy Keach, Jeff Bridges, Nick Colasanto. Screenplay by Leonard Gardner, based on his novel. Music Kris Kristofferson. Produced by Ray Stark and John Huston. DIRECTED BY JOHN HUSTON. A Columbia Pictures and Rastar Productions Presentation released by Columbia-Warner Distributors.

Life is indestructibly futile and how better to show this than through the lives of 2 boxers in a small town in rural America — the “real America”; it’s either boxing or slaving in the fields for 50c an hour; America isn’t all 5th Avenue New York and nor is life. This isn’t really a boxing picture either – boxing is used symbolically through the actual fight scenes to portray the battering of life. The older boxer Billy Tully (Stacy Keach) aged 30 is battered, broken and alcoholic; Ernie Munger the younger one, played by Jeff Bridges is eager and enthusiastic at the beginning of the film and by the end, after 6 fights, he has a cauliflower nose, a wife and a baby just because he’s given way to his sex drive one dark rainy night in the back of a car. Sods Law! Payment for orgasm: one car stuck in the mud; one pregnant girl he’s got to marry.

As with all John Huston movies the pace is slow and the atmosphere electric. Every small town is here in this movie, sad, seedy, depressing, lonely, where a man is irrevocably trapped for life. Job, wife, kids, the same friends every night he hasn’t really any choice. And if you try and raise yourself above it Bam! Bam! and this is the point of the boxing theme. The film was actually made in Stockton a typical small American town, and in its bars, boxing rings and surrounding flat fields. The real populace are used in all location scenes and their reactions unrehearsed; most of the boxers are actually played by boxers.

While Billy is hanging around one of the numerous small gyms in the town he sees young 18-year-old Ernie “fooling” with boxing gloves on. He thinks he has talent and sends him to his old trainer, small, squat, capitalist and fatherly, brilliantly caricatured by Nick Colassanto. This reminds lonely, alcoholic Billy of the comeback he’s always planning to make, and after his girlfriend, too alcoholic and ugly to still be a paid whore, runs out on him, he goes back to the trainer who arranges a pro bout with another ageing heavyweight, who an hour before the fight is peeing blood. They both swim around the ring for a few rounds, before Billy knocks him out, but only to find that after weeks of not drinking and hard training he’s left with only $100. Sometime later he’s wandering around a parking lot blind drunk when he comes across young Ernie getting into his car, rushing back to his wife and baby. He reluctantly agrees to have a cup of coffee with Billy who pleads with him not to leave him alone. They sit in an enormous billiards room with a coffee bar at one end of it. It’s been the same for 50 years and will be for the next 50. The old man who serves the coffee can barely move and one supposes that if he was lifted from behind the counter he’d disintegrate. The camera stands still over Billy’s face and pans over the groups of men methodically playing cards in the same groups as they always have and always will. END OF FILM.

Depressing, disillusioning: life brilliantly mirrored. Don’t miss it.