Tag Archives: Oliver Reed

CAPSULE: THE BROOD (1979)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Art Hindle, , Samantha Eggar

PLOT: Horrible murders swirl around the family of a woman who is  under the care of a psychiatrist practicing “psychoplasmics,” an experimental therapy which elicits physical manifestations of psychic traumas.

Still from The Brood (1979)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The “deformed children” of The Brood might seem like a bizarre bunch to neophytes, but a glance at Cronenberg’s later works reveals they’re strictly a warm-up act where weirdness is concerned.

COMMENTS: The Brood includes a touch of the body horror that Cronenberg fans tune in for, though you have to wait until the end for the big reveal. Throughout most of the running time, this is more of a “regular” horror effort, with little monsters bashing in heads in bloody assualts (the broodlings favor wooden hammers as their weapon of choice, and although there are only a few attacks, they are very memorable and very traumatic). A psychological background gives the story texture that keeps it from sliding into slasher movie territory. Frank Carveth (the unremarkable Art Hindle) once had a happy family, but his mentally ill wife Nola (a remarkable Samantha Eggar) has been taken under the care of experimental psychiatrist Hal Raglan (the dependable Oliver Reed). On a visit to pick up his five-year old daughter from a visit with her mother at the “Somafree Institute,” Frank watches a public demonstration where Raglin, roleplaying a meek patient’s harsh daddy, bullies the man until he breaks out in sores of shame on his face (“go all the way through it to the end,” the therapist whispers as he eagerly anticipates the festering of the sobbing man’s impending wounds). When he takes the little girl back home, Frank discovers bruises and scratches on her back. Frank insists the girl’s visits be cut off, but an arrogant and uncooperative Raglan is not keen on changing the cloistered Nola’s therapeutic regime at such a crucial time, and insists the current custody arrangement must continue. Frank decides to conduct his own investigation into psychoplasmics.

The backstory that explains the level of intensity on display here, particularly in that final confrontation between Frank and Nola, is that Cronenberg was going through a divorce and custody battle of his own at the time he wrote up the scenario. The Brood is a step forward in Cronenberg’s oeuvre; it’s more polished than his previous efforts Rabid and Shivers, which were clearly ambitious exploitation movies. With its satirical shots at psychiatry coupled with a searing psychology of its own, The Brood takes a turn towards art-horror. It’s helped immensely by Eggar’s wild-eyed, all-in performance; she’s a nutcase, and an unintentional monster, but not an unsympathetic one. The Brood is an experimental therapy by David Cronenberg to elicit a cinematic manifestation of his own traumatic divorce, and its a successful one. It seems like an obvious influence on ‘s even stranger and more bitter breakup memoir, Possession, which it beat to the screen by a mere two years. The torture of divorce, from the husband’s perspective, was a big movie topic at the time—patrons going out to see The Brood might have rubbed shoulders with those lining up to see the Oscar-winning Kramer vs. Kramer.

In 2015 The Brood joined Scanners, Videodrome, Dead Ringers, and Naked Lunch on the Criterion Collection label. Along with the usual extras, the release includes Cronenberg’s second low budget experimental movie, 1970’s Crimes of the Future, as a bonus feature. Crimes is the story of a rogue dermatologist who accidentally wipes out all females on the planet. Crimes is probably far weirder than The Brood, but not nearly as accomplished.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“In true Cronenberg fasion [sic], we are, instead, presented with something much, much weirder.”–Jerry, “Danny Isn’t Here Mrs. Torrance (DVD)

CAPSULE: BURNT OFFERINGS (1976)

DIRECTED BY: Dan Curtis

FEATURING: , Oliver Reed, Lee Montgomery,

PLOT: A family of three, and their elderly aunt, find a deal allowing them to stay in an old country mansion for the summer, providing they keep the place up and leave out a plate of food for the house’s reclusive matron, who never leaves her room.

Still from Burnt Offerings (1976)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s too mild, with some slight ambiguity but no significant weirdness.

COMMENTS: Burnt Offerings was the beginning of a late 1970s/early 1980s haunted house cycle that encompassed three Amityville Horror movies; the mini-movement climaxed commercially with 1982’s Poltergeist and artistically with 1980’s The Shining. In fact, Offerings is most interesting when considered as a precursor to The Shining, which would take its theme of a parent possessed by an evil spirit and catapult it into the horror stratosphere. Offerings, on the other hand, suffers from poor pacing. It’s too leisurely getting started: it’s over a half hour into the film before we see the first incident which might be categorized as “supernatural.” Up until then, the focusing on spooky shots of light bulbs while horror movie music plays just doesn’t cut it. Even when things do finally start to happen—swimming pool roughhousing that gets dangerously out of hand, a recurring nightmare about a smiling chauffeur—events occur in fits and starts, with husband and wife spending the interim discussing how each previous manifestation of evil is affecting their relationship. Offering a few creepy moments along the way, the movie crawls to a non-surprise ending.

The film’s biggest virtue is its cast. Karen Black, by now no longer a sex kitten but not yet a matron, centers the film. Her sensuality is perfectly constrained, and we are not surprised at hints that the couple’s sex life may be well past the honeymoon phase. Son Lee Montgomery is acceptable; he doesn’t sink the film, which is the most you can really hope from a young actor. Bette Davis is unremarkable here, but she is Bette Davis; her very presence adds legitimacy. Of all the actors, Reed may understand the material’s urge vto break through into camp the best; the moments when his face goes spastic as he fights off the evil inside him give it the film some melodramatic tics of life.

Burnt Offerings was based on a 1973 novel by Robert Marasco, although director Dan Curtis (of TVs “Dark Shadows” fame) rewrote it significantly. The movie was not a critical success, but it has a small but devoted fan base (probably enough to categorize it as “fondly remembered,” but below the threshold that would make it a true cult movie). The 2015 Blu-ray contains a number of new interviews with the surviving cast and adds a new commentary track from critic Richard Harland Smith to the old one from Curtis, Black and co-writer William F. Nolan that has been ported over from the DVD release.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Most of the cliches of the Gothic genre are encompassed in the plot about Karen Black, Oliver Reed, Bette Davis, and young Lee H. Montgomery having a weird summer after moving into a home owned by batty Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart… might have been interesting if director Dan Curtis hadn’t relied strictly on formula treatment.”–Variety (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “sunspotbaby.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

LIST CANDIDATE: TOMMY (1975)

Scott Sentinella’s writing has appeared in “The Carson News”, “The Gardena Valley News”, “Animato”, “Videomania Newspaper”, “Cashiers du Cinemart”, Dugpa.com and ALivingDog.com.

DIRECTOR: Ken Russell

FEATURING: , Ann-Margret, Oliver Reed , Eric Clapton, Elton John, Jack Nicholson, Tina Turner, Paul Nicholas, Keith Moon, Pete Townshend, John Entwhistle

PLOT: Captain Walker is missing and presumed dead in World War II, but when he turns up alive, his wife’s new lover kills him. Unfortunately, Walker’s son Tommy witnesses this, and the trauma leaves him deaf, dumb and blind. But Tommy can still play a mean pinball, and he becomes an odd messiah to an army of idol worshipers.

Still from Tommy (1975)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Because, with that story line, it’s a musical—literally a “rock opera”—and because Ken Russell stages every single scene like something out of a bad acid flashback.

COMMENTS: The Who’s original 1969 album, “Tommy” is wonderful to listen to, but its supposed story is impossible to figure out without, so to speak, illustrations. In this film, one of the first recorded in multi-channel sound, director Russell “illustrates”everything in the most garish hues possible—and that’s a good thing. This grotesque, excessive rock musical was clearly a predecessor to MTV, with its non-stop assault of insane imagery; Russell, not exactly the most subtle of filmmakers, is aided and abetted all the way through by an all-star cast. The Who’s lead singer, the great Roger Daltrey, inevitably plays Tommy with a vacant, blue-eyed stare, and belts every song to the back of the theater in the manner that made him famous (on the original “Tommy” album, his singing is much more low-key). Elton John, as the Pinball Wizard, parades around on stilts, while Tina Turner, as the Acid Queen, threatens to rip the screen apart with her intensity (although Paul Nicholas, as Tommy’s physically abusive Cousin Kevin, gives her a run for her money). Meanwhile, Eric Clapton as the Preacher, Keith Moon as the sexually abusive Uncle Ernie, Jack Nicholson (Ann-Margret’s old co-star from 1971’s “Carnal Knowledge”) as the Doctor, and Oliver Reed, as Tommy’s stepfather, are relatively subdued (and, yes, the last two are pretty terrible singers). Topping them all is Ann-Margret, in an unforgettable Oscar-nominated performance, as Tommy’s guilt-ridden mother. Obviously, Ann-Margret’s show tune-trained voice is really not suited to singing Pete Townshend’s music, but that only adds to the film’s strange appeal. Ann-Margret manages to be simultaneously brilliant and over-the-top (as she often is—see her Blanche Dubois in the 1984 version of Streetcar Named Desire), but when the part calls for her to roll around in baked beans and chocolate sauce, she doesn’t hold back. Then you have any number of frenzied images: Sally Simpson’s husband—a dead ringer for the Frankenstein monster, Tina Turner transformed into a giant hypodermic needle, Clapton preaching in a church filled with statues of Marilyn Monroe, Paul Nicholas burning Daltrey with a cigarette—this is a musical, all right, but it’s not exactly Meet Me in St. Louis. This version of Tommy may be bizarre to the point of self-parody, but anyone who’s ever seen the disastrous, but similar, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (produced, like Tommy, by Robert Stigwood), will understand the very special talents of the late Ken Russell.

Unfortunately, the Region 1 DVD (as well as the Blu-Ray) of Tommy has no extras, except for a paper insert describing the film’s “Quintaphonic” soundtrack. Luckily, the movie looks and sounds just fine.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Russell correctly doesn’t give a damn about the material he started with… he just goes ahead and gives us one glorious excess after another… Tommy’s odyssey through life is punctuated by encounters with all sorts of weird folks, of whom the most seductive is Tina Turner as the Acid Queen.”–Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (contemporaneous)

THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961)

This post is part of an ongoing series on Hammer horror director Terence Fisher.

Terence Fisher never considered himself a “horror” filmmaker, and he clearly disliked the term.  While a number of Fisher’s film could be apt examples to drive home his point that he was more than a mere scare merchant, The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) will suffice quite nicely. This is a quite literary film, far better than either of Universal Studio’s versions of The Wolfman (1941 & 2010).

Fisher and writer Anthony Hinds (loosely adapting Guy Endor’s novel) weave a narrative tragedy through folklore, mythology, religious metaphor, and character revelation.  The symbols of class struggle ebb throughout the film, beginning in 18th century Catholic Spain.  A beggar is imprisoned in the dungeon by the powerful and callous Marques (Anthony Dawson).  Naturally, the beggar is forgotten about, cared for only by the jailer and his mute daughter.  Years later, after her father’s death,  the now grown servant girl (Yvonne Romain)  tends the beggar.  While cleaning the aged Marques’ room, Romain rejects her master’s sexual advances and is imprisoned in the very same dungeon occupied by the beggar.  After resisting the brutal, savage passions of the Marques, the  girl is raped by the crazed and dying beggar for whom she has cared these many years.  In retaliation, once released, she stabs and kills the cruel Marques, fleeing into the woods where she is found, face up in the river, by  Don Alfredo Corledo (Clifford Evans), an empathetic patriarchal figure.

Still from Curse of the Werewolf (1961)Corledo’s servant Teresa (Hira Talfrey, who seems more like a wife than a servant) notices that their new guest is with child and dreads the thought of the baby being born on Christmas, which, according to her tradition, is an affront to God.  Dec 25th arrives and the child, Leon,  is tragically born to a dead mother, who is  finally released from the misery of a peasant life.

In a reversal of the Christ child’s dedication at the temple,  the local priest baptizes Leon, soliciting a storm from the heavens.   Even the baptismal water reacts to the sanctifying of this curse of birth. The water bubbles intensely and reflects the face of a gargoyle from above.  The motherly Teresa, the superstitious one, alone recognizes the sign, while the priest and Don Alfredo dismiss it.

Years later, the child Leon ventures out, tasting the sweet blood of a squirrel, killing lambs and goats.  By now Don Alfredo and the priest know that Leon suffers the curse of the werewolf and the priest warns that only love can relieve Leon from his affliction.  Surrogate parents Don Alfredo and Teresa supply that love to the boy, but as a man, Leon will need the true love of a woman, ala Beauty and the Beast, to harness the wolf.

Some reviewers have predictably commented that the first half of Curse is slow, yet it is in the first half that the narrative is uniquely compelling.  The film unfolds like a literary fairy tale.  Once the narrative takes the obligatory horror route, in the last quarter, with a gray-furred, Henry Hull-looking lycanthrope, it feels a bit recycled, complete with the beast, atop a cathedral,  being chased by the torch carrying mob.

Still, Oliver Reed is superb as the adult Leon, registering torment far more convincingly than either  Lon Chaney, Jr. or Benicio Del Toro.  Hira Talfrey  and, especially, Clifford Evans are equally accomplished as Leon’s concerned guardians.  There are genuinely effective moments of tingling suspense, such as Leon’s cornering an unfortunate prisoner in a cell.  Leon’s virtuous fiancee is his potential salvation, but the animal side of Leon emerges once he ventures out from his sanctuary into a hedonistic society; after which there is, literally, hell to pay.

Curse of the Werewolf is a fine example of a director who utilized a genre for his own aesthetic expression, much the same way that Rod Serling utilized science fiction for his own expressionist gain.

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: THE SHUTTERED ROOM (1967)

AKA:  Blood Island

DIRECTED BY: David Green

FEATURINGOliver Reed, Gig Young, Flora Robson,

PLOT: In this H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, a a string of grisly killings is linked to an unnameable creature inhabiting the loft of an abandoned New England mill inherited by newlyweds.

Still from THE SHUTTERED ROOM (1967)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST:   The Shuttered Room showcases a strange story of monsters and madness. The setting is claustrophobic and creepy, the characters are downright bizarre, and so are the situations that the protagonists stumble into. The cinematography is expertly, if not artfully, executed. Thus the viewer expects a conventional storyline, and it is unsettling when shocking events unfold.

COMMENTS:  A newlywed couple, Mike and Susannah Kelton (Young, Lynley) travel to an island off of the Connecticut shoreline to visit an old mill which Sue just inherited.  It was once her childhood home.  From the start, she has reservations, but the couple perseveres at Mike’s urging.  They need to view the property with the goal of renovating the mill into a bed and breakfast.

As soon as they arrive on the island, the locals begin subjecting them to the old “Yew ain’t from around here!” treatment (even though Sue is). Mike meets her uncle who insists that they should leave.  The uncle’s employee shows Mike his mutilated face, missing an eye, and reports that the injury was caused by the devil when he got drunk and spent a night in the abandoned mill.  The couple also meet the local ruffians, a gang of unsavory toughs led by a psychopath named Ethan (Reed), who happens to be Sue’s cousin.  Mike is a dignified magazine editor. Both he and Sue are city-slickers—and it Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: THE SHUTTERED ROOM (1967)