THE CORPSE VANISHES. (1942) A BELA LUGOSI HORROR FILM REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS.©

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THE CORPSE VANISHES. (1942) DIRECTED BY WALLACE COX. STARRING BELA LUGOSI, TRISTRAM COFFIN, ELIZABETH RUSSELL, MINERVA URECAL, ANGELO ROSSI, FRANK MORAN, VINCE BARNETT, KENNETH HARLAN AND LUANA WALTERS.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Oh, Professor, do you also make a habit of collecting coffins?’

Patricia Hunter.

‘Why, yes, in a manner of speaking, I find a coffin much more comfortable than a bed.’

Dr. Lorenz.

I love these old low-budget Bela Lugosi horror movies. He made a fair few of ’em, God bless him, after his success in Universal’s DRACULA (1931), the unexpected smash hit (I don’t know why it was so unexpected; it was Bram Stoker’s masterpiece, after all!) that single-handedly launched the horror cinema genre into the stratosphere and made Universal Studios its home.

In many of these films, the tall, handsome Hungarian actor often plays a criminal mastermind, a mad scientist or some deranged professor engaged in a crazy experiment that will surely endanger the world if it’s successful. THE CORPSE VANISHES is, of course, no exception. It’s actually got quite an ingenious plot.

The American public is utterly bewildered by a spate of bride abductions, that is to say, pretty young blushing brides all over the place are swooning at the altar, being pronounced dead by puzzled medics and strapped into mortuary vans which are then waylaid en route to the morgue by a gang of unknown villains. Clever, eh? The police are left scratching their noodles in puzzlement.

The only thing these society brides have in common, apart from the fact that they are spoiled little rich girls marrying into even more money and a nice cushy lifestyle, is that they’ve all worn orchids on their persons that were mysteriously delivered to them just before the marriage ceremony. Could there be a connection between the orchids and the sudden ‘deaths’ of the brides…?

Miss Patricia Hunter, Girl Reporter Extraordinaire, certainly seems to thinks so. Tired of reporting bland nonsense for the Society pages- who wore what where; who was seen talking to whom when everyone knows his wife’s left him and she’s seeking a divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour, that type of thing- she’s thrilled when her grumpy male boss (is there any other kind…?) says she can investigate the possible orchid connection if she wants. She’s out of that office and investigating her tight little caboose off before you can say ‘glass ceiling,’ lol.

She heads straight up-state for the home of the mysterious recluse scientist, Dr. Lorenz (Bela Lugosi), who just so happens to be an expert on the particular type of orchid delivered to the unfortunate society brides on their wedding day and purporting to be from their husbands-to-be. I told you earlier that the plot was ingenious, didn’t I? Who wouldn’t wear an orchid on their wedding dress that had supposedly been sent to them by their loving fiancés? Depending on what’s up with these orchids, it’s kind of like the perfect ruse, isn’t it?

He’s a charming and cordial man, this Dr. Lorenz, and, although he refuses to help her on the orchids question, citing lack of time as an excuse, he invites Patricia to stay the night at his huge palatial home in the hills while a terrible storm is raging outside. Patricia reluctantly agrees, deciding she has no choice. You’d think that, as a journalist, she’d be glad of a chance to snoop around the place, wouldn’t you?

Dr. Lorenz’s wife, an older woman known as the Countess, is mighty displeased to have such a pretty young woman on the premises for however short a time, but her husband Dr. Lorenz tells her, with a giant grin splitting his face, that she could be very useful to the Countess, whereupon the Countess, taking her husband’s meaning, relents graciously.

Also staying the night Chez Lorenz due to the inclement weather is a Dr. Foster, a colleague of Dr. Lorenz’s but definitely not his partner-in-crime. (Dr. Foster is played by a Tristram Coffin; how cool a name is that for a horror actor? Seems to be his real name as well.) There’s an instant attraction between the rather wooden, stilted Dr. Foster and the feisty, much livelier Patricia Hunter. The pair could end up enjoying nuptial bliss themselves when the Mystery of the Missing Brides is solved.

Patricia could end up having the honour of bringing Dr. Foster his pipe and slippers at the end of the working day (his, not hers; she’ll have to give up her career, naturally, to have all the babies) and stoically taking the odd punch in the kisser when Hubby’s in one of his moods.

Oh, what a wonderful thing it was, to be a blushing bride in ‘Forties America, lol. Those women with careers who pretended to eschew marriage were really just waiting on tenterhooks for some guy to ride in on his white charger, scoop them up and take them away from nasty work for ever. Everyone knows that. Those women who seemed genuinely to enjoy their careers were definitely looked upon a bit suspiciously. They couldn’t really prefer forging a name for themselves in their chosen field to washing shitty diapers and chopping the vegetables for tonight’s casserole, could they…?

Anyway, Patricia has a nightmarish experience in the massive basement of Dr. Lorenz’s rambling mansion on the night she stays over, an experience Dr. Lorenz tries to dismiss as merely a bad dream but Patricia knows better. It’s connected to the Mystery of the Missing Brides and Patricia could swear to it, no matter how much the charming Dr. Lorenz tries to convince her that it was all just a dream and she should put it out of her mind like a good little girl.

Dopey Dr. Foster is of no help to her whatsoever in the matter of Patricia’s so-called ‘bad dream,’ but never mind. Once she’s married to him, she’ll no longer be required to use her fluttery little bird-brain for anything more complicated than deciding what spices to keep on her rack. But for now, she still has a mind of her own and she comes up with a brilliant idea for catching the ‘killer’ and abductor of all these unsuspecting society brides. Phoney wedding, anyone?

The scene in the ‘mausoleum’ at night is genuinely creepy. The man called Angel, the idiot son of Dr. Lorenz’s creepy old maid Fagah, comes across as the sort of gibbering sex-pest who might enjoy a nice bit of rape if it came his way. Patricia would do well not to run into him in the cellars at night. The music in the mausoleum scene is excellent and très atmospheric. I like the cheeky dwarf butler Toby, too, he’s cute.

THE CORPSE VANISHES is a good little black-and-white horror mystery, and Bela is on top form in it. His whipping arm is still in good nick anyway. He’s always whipping the poor unfortunate inbreds who end up working for him, isn’t he, lol?

He’s still able to pick up women bodily too and carry ’em off, and even horror legend Christopher Lee needed a little bit of help with that from stunt double Eddie Powell at the end. Good old Chris and Bela, the kings of Hammer and Universal horror respectively. Wonder if they’re neighbours now…?

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

GOODIES FROM LONDON FILM AND COMIC CON 2019!!! SANDRA HARRIS.

A family member returning from this weekend’s London Film and Comic Con has gifted me with these fabulous old horror movie magazines, and some jaw-breaking genuine English candies and confectionery as well, lol. All for Silas, heh-heh-heh…!  PS, for some reason I can’t fathom out, they’re all sideways, wah…!  

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AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

WUTHERING HEIGHTS. (1978) THE BBC DRAMATISATION REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS.

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WUTHERING HEIGHTS. (1978) THE BBC ADAPTATION BASED ON THE NOVEL BY EMILY BRONTE. DIRECTED BY DICK COLES. STARRING KEN HUTCHISON, KAY ADSHEAD, PAT HEYWOOD, JOHN DUTTINE, CATHRYN HARRISON, ANDREW BURLEIGH, DAVID ROBB, DAVID WILKINSON, BARBARA KEOGH, BRIAN WILDE AND CAROLINE LANGRISHE.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods. Time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath- a source of little delight, but necessary.’ Catherine Earnshaw.

Oh wow. I’ve seen a fair few film-and-TV versions of Emily Bronte’s classic novel in my time, but this one has by far the most rain, the most wind, the most mist, the most water-logged, treacherous moors, the most whipping, and the most destructive, messed-up inter-personal relationships you’ll ever see. I bloody well love it, lol, for all these reasons and more.

It’s the bleakest, grittiest, most depressing and most violent (emotionally and physically) version there is, I do believe, but this is a positive thing and not a bad one. It’s how this book was meant to be filmed, my dears. No Jane Austen light comedy-of-manners, this. This is a book about pain, obsessive love, revenge and endless suffering, and any screen version would do well to remember this as this version does.

In this version, the sins of the father (and mother) are not only visited on the children, but they (the sins!) have brought a mountain of bloody luggage with ’em an’ all, and announced their intention of occupying the back bedroom for the foreseeable future so forget what plans you’ve made for ‘t’ back bedroom, the sins are here to stay and there’s nowt you can get do about it, so you’d best put up and shut up, lol, and get ‘t’ bloody kettle on sharpish.

Wuthering Heights is the rain-washed farmhouse on the Yorkshire moors that houses the Earnshaw family, the family into which the young foundling Heathcliff is first brought by Daddy Earnshaw as an interloper, an outsider, the cuckoo in the nest. Hindley, the real son of the family, loathes Heathcliff with all his being, but the same can’t be said for Hindley’s sister, Catherine…

Catherine grows up mostly without a mother. She’s a tomboy, an expert rider and tree-climber, a free spirit with a wild, tempestuous nature as wild and tempestuous as the moors where she grows up. This wildness and longing for freedom in Cathy’s soul, this contempt for the conventions, finds an answering call in the boorish and brooding Heathcliff’s tormented being. Thus begins the love affair that flies in the face of God and transcends the years and even, eventually, Death itself…

Cathy and Heathcliff are perfect for each other, but that’s not to say that they’re perfect. Their relationship is a passionate, spiteful destructive one, in which two similarly selfish, self-willed, self-centred people butt heads and vie for mastery of each other. Cathy is particularly spoiled and wayward. Heathcliff, one supposes, is merely the product of his painful upbringing, in which Catherine Earnshaw was the only person to show him anything approximating love.

Cathy rejoices in making Heathcliff jealous, in watching him twist himself up in knots for love of her. It hurts him greatly when she discovers the Linton family of Thrushcross Grange across the moors, and makes a favourite of posh Edgar Linton, the rather sissified toff with the stiff upper lip and aristocratic bearing who nonetheless cannot hold a candle to Heathcliff’s enduring passion.

Cathy and Heathcliff bring pain and suffering to those around them. They should really be quarantined and kept apart from other people, the better to not taint them with their particularly vicious brand of twisted love. 

But they seem to almost enjoy bringing hurt to others (Heathcliff in particular), and so their fates and fortunes become inextricably linked with those of the Lintons, Edgar of Thrushcross Grange and his younger sister Isabella, and the Lintons will be the worse off by far for it.

They’ll drag their children into it too, and make them good and miserable as well. There’ll be nothing but misery, in fact, for all who are tainted by this destructive affair or amour fou, a crazy, messed-up kind of love. (There’s so much inbreeding going on here, as well, that it makes mental illness in some of the protagonists a very real prospect.) 

Throughout it all, Ellen (Nelly) Dean, Cathy’s nurse, stands true and faithful to her darling Catherine, Catherine’s lover Heathcliff and any of the various offspring who are placed in her care and clasped to her motherly bosom.

I daresay she’s frequently an enabler, too, for the most toxic and poisonous man-woman relationship that ever soiled the face of the earth, but at least no-one can question her fidelity to her mistress (Cathy) and master (Heathcliff).

This screen version of the book has the most capricious and temperamental Catherine, the most steadfast Nelly, the most tortured and tormented Heathcliff and the wettest, windiest moors. I remember enjoying my solitary bike rides as a child to a ruined castle on the outskirts of town, where I clambered over the uneven surfaces of the castle floor and looked out the glassless windows across the fields, imagining them to be moors and myself the much-loved and fought-over Cathy.

I couldn’t, at that age, conceive of anything more divinely romantic than a man who loved his girlfriend so much that he would dig up her rotted corpse some twenty years after her death and make love to it, at least with his lips. I guess a career in horror writing was already beckoning, lol.

Graveyards already held a special charm for me and, when I discovered a single unattended grave in the grounds of my ruined castle, well, of course, it just had to be Cathy’s, lying quietly awaiting the arrival of a Heathcliff with a good strong shovel. It might wait there still, for all I know. (Or, most probably, some poxy businessmen might have bought and ‘developed’ the land and turned it into ‘luxury’ apartments, boooooo!)

Kate Bush, my favourite singer of all time, male or female, had obviously felt a similar attraction to this gothic story of doomed love, because she wrote that timeless hit song that had more wildness and passion about it than most of the screen versions of same. This is the kind of story that appeals to people with a gothic, maybe even slightly flawed turn of mind, lol.

If you like the frilly, flouncy, fluffy kind of love that has a happy ending and ties up neatly with a big chocolate-boxy bow, you’d best stick to Jane Austen. But if you want your romance stories to end mainly tragically with only a little teensy-weensy bit of hope left for the future, then Emily’s your man.

Her own sister Charlotte nearly managed to out-romance her in the fabulous classic JANE EYRE, but Emily still pips her to the post. A book with a male character in it who wants, who begs, to be haunted by his dead lover’s ghost on the stormiest of stormy nights on the wiliest and windiest of wiley, windy moors would pretty much pip anyone else’s book to any mouldy old post.

‘Cath-eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee…!’

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

 

THE WICKER MAN… BUT NOT THE GOOD ONE! THE 2006 RE-MAKE REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

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THE WICKER MAN. (2006) BASED ON A SCREENPLAY WRITTEN BY ANTHONY SHAFFER AND THE 1967 NOVEL ‘RITUAL’ BY DAVID PINNER. DIRECTED BY NEIL LABUTE.

STARRING NICOLAS CAGE, ELLEN BURSTYN, KATE BEAHAN, FRANCES CONROY, MOLLY PARKER, LEELEE SOBIESKI AND DIANE DELANO.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘I can tell what she sees in you. A kind of rough potential…’

‘Step away from the bike…!’

‘Not the bees…!’

Nicolas Cage on the re-make: “There is a mischievous mind at work on The Wicker Man, you know? You know what I mean? And I finally kind of said, ‘I might have known that the movie was meant to be absurd.’ But saying that now after the fact is OK, but to say it before the fact is not, because you have to let the movie have its own life.”

Christopher Lee on the re-make: “I don’t believe in remakes. You can make a follow-up to a film, but to remake a movie with such history and success just doesn’t make sense to me.”

The 1973 WICKER MAN, on which this film is based, is one of the best British horror films ever made. Starring Christopher Lee as the eccentric and charismatic Lord Summerisle and Edward Woodward as Sergeant Neil Howie, it tells the story of a prim and proper Christian copper- Howie- visiting a pagan island off the coast of Scotland to search for a missing child.

Once on the island of Summerisle, with its close-mouthed and strange inhabitants leading him a merry dance for most of the film, he discovers the real reason behind his mysterious summons to the out-of-the-way place. Therein lies the horror, the kind of real lasting horror that outlives the mere boogeyman-under-the-bed story.

Nicolas Cage’s re-make of this superb film has not only been deemed unnecessary (I mean, you don’t re-paint the Mona Lisa, do you, or get some hack to re-write Shakespeare’s plays?) but also, erm, if I may say so, diabolical. Diabolically bad, lol.

Personally, I feel rather sorry for poor Nicolas Cage as Edward Malus, as he bumbles around the female-dominated island of Summersisle in his hot heavy city suit (he’s clearly suffering from excessive heat the whole way through the film), making himself look more and more ridiculous in the eyes of the snotty, superior natives. They are really, really mean to him, the bastards. Or should I say bitches…

Edward Malus is a big, burly California cop who, one day right out of the blue, is gobsmacked to receive a letter from his ex-fiancée, Willow Woodward, who dumped him and ran off under mysterious circumstances many moons ago. She lives on Summersisle now, a privately-owned island off Puget Sound in Washington, and it is from here that her daughter Rowan has gone missing. She’s appealing to him because she trusts him and also because he’s a cop, see?

Malus can’t get himself to Summersisle fast enough, so obviously he still has feelings for the anorexically skinny Willow with the moon-face and the bee-stung lips. And they might actually be bee-stung, because the island’s main export is their honey, for which they keep, like, a million bees, to which poor Malus is unfortunately allergic and must keep a shot of adrenaline to hand, just in case.

It’s not the only thing he’s allergic to. He’s also very much allergic to the smart-ass, lying backtalk he gets from the members of the weird, isolated community that resides on the island of Summerisle. From the moment he lands, he is led on the same kind of soul-destroying wild-goose chase we remember from the 1973 original movie.

Who’s Rowan? Rowan is alive, Rowan is dead. I’ve never seen this child before in my life, but lo and behold, here’s her name in the school register. Rowan was burnt to death, Rowan is being held somewhere. Something terrible is going to happen to Rowan and, last but definitely not least, Rowan is your daughter, Edward Malus, and this stirs Edward to action like nothing else could have done.

Round and round he goes in circles, re-tracing- or trying to!- the steps taken by Edward Woodward in the original movie. The tavern is run by the sarcastic and gigantic Sister Beech, who might just possibly maim the gnome-like, poisonous little Alder McGregor for life if she were to accidentally sit on him.

The school is the province of the snooty, smirky Miss Rose, who propagates the same kind of phallocentric ‘filth’ in her class of ‘little liars’ as does Diane Cilento in the original, but this Miss Rose doesn’t run rings around the bamboozled copper with the same panache with which Diane Cilento does it. Diane Cilento was the kind of mature sexpot who would eat Edward Malus- and Nic Cage!- for breakfast, lol.

Then, of course, there’s the obligatory trip across the island to meet the boss of the whole kit and kaboodle, the smilingly enigmatic Sister Summersisle whom poor Malus just can’t fathom out at all, with all her ‘Goddess of the Island’ gibberish that Malus can’t quite believe he’s hearing spouted in the twenty-first century. (She’s played by Ellen Burstyn, Regan’s mom in THE EXORCIST, by the way, so there’s no questioning her horror pedigree.)

She even takes him on the obligatory tour of the grounds on which she gives him a potted history of her ancestors and their wacko beliefs and how they came to be keeping bees on Summersisle. It doesn’t measure up to Christopher Lee’s immaculately sardonic and memorable sound-bites in the slighest: ‘A heathen, conceivably, but not, I trust, an unenlightened one…’

There’s the visit to the offices of the doctor-cum-photographer, who takes the pictures of the harvest festivals every year (I liked Frances Conroy as Dr. Moss; she was possibly my favourite character in a film in which you’re not exactly spoiled for choice), and the house-to-house search of the island that reveals nothing near as elegant as the gorgeous Ingrid Pitt, resplendently nude in her hip-bath. Nic Cage’s normally fairly wooden acting (sorry, Nic!) is ridiculously over-the-top in places, which kind of gives the film a comedic value the film-makers probably didn’t intend it to have.

There’s a bit more violence against Malus’s person in the climactic scenes than in the original, as the twisted islanders make full use of his allergy to bees, and they decide to break his legs as well into the bargain to incapacitate him (My God, weren’t the bees enough???), but the climax- the procession, the chase, the walk to the Wicker Man- lacks the fantastic atmosphere and high drama of the original film, even if it does try to replicate the ending.

But the ending of the 1973 WICKER MAN could, quite simply, never be replicated. When the burning head topples majestically while the sun sinking over the ocean is itself a huge ball of fire, and then the words British Lion come up and the credits as well, I get shivers down my spine every time that don’t stop until the screen has gone blank. That ending is legendary. You can try to emulate it, if you wish, but you’ll never repeat what cannot be repeated.

Of course, the marvellous music is also a substantial part of what makes the 1973 film what it is, and this 2006 version obviously doesn’t have that advantage. On the other hand, the 1973 film doesn’t have Nic Cage dressed as a rather shabby-looking bear, for some reason, or Nic Cage punching three women in the face and karate-kicking one of them, or Nic Cage in what I believe to be the funniest scene in the whole movie, the one where he’s pointing a gun at a schoolmarm on a bicycle and shouting in typical heavy-handed California-cop fashion: ‘Step away from the bike…!’ It also doesn’t have the Evil Twins from THE SHINING in it, horribly aged to resemble hideous old crones, lol. So there you are, it’s all swings and roundabouts with these things, isn’t it?

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

BLEAK HOUSE. (2005) THE BBC DRAMA SERIAL REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

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BLEAK HOUSE. (2005) THE BBC TV DRAMATISATION BASED ON THE BOOK BY CHARLES DICKENS. DIRECTED BY JUSTIN CHADWICK AND SUSANNA WHITE.

STARRING GILLIAN ANDERSON, TIMOTHY WEST, CHARLES DANCE, ALUN ARMSTRONG, ANNA MAXWELL MARTIN, DENIS LAWSON, ALISTAIR MCGOWAN, LIZA TARBUCK, PHIL DAVIS, CAREY MULLIGAN, JOHNNY VEGAS, WARREN CLARKE, SEAN MCGINLEY, JOHN LYNCH, BURN GORMAN, SHEILA HANCOCK, CHARLIE BROOKS, IAN RICHARDSON, HUGO SPEER, PAULINE COLLINS, CATHERINE TATE, RICHARD GRIFFITHS, NATHANIEL PARKER AND MATTHEW KELLY.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Shake me up, Judy…!’

This fifteen-part mini-series is a magnificent piece of work; a televisual feast, if you will, with a cast so impressive it’ll knock your socks off. It’s Victorian London, of course, with frequent forays into the English countryside to visit rich people’s country homes when the plot calls for it.

The titular Bleak House is the home of wealthy, middle-aged bachelor John Jarndyce. He’s kind and generous and open-hearted, which is why he gave a home, years ago, to the orphaned Esther Summerson, who is now his housekeeper.

Esther has no idea who her parents were. All she knows for sure is that she was ‘her mother’s ruin and disgrace.’ It can’t be comfortable, growing up with that kind of stigma pressing down on you like a layer of bricks, and with a genuine mystery shrouding the issue of where you’ve come from.

Esther is extraordinarily well-adjusted, compassionate and sensible, though, and she is generally loved by everyone with whom she comes into contact. Indeed, she has three suitors make love to her (in the Victorian way, that is, all earnest declarations and no sexual contact!) during the course of this seven-and-a-half hour televisual masterpiece, and all three of ’em still desire to connect their fates to hers even after she contracts the smallpox through playing Florence Nightingale to a young urchin, and becomes scarred. Now that’s what I call true love.

Also staying at Bleak House are Ada Clare and Richard Carstone, a pair of young lovers who are known as ‘the wards in Jarndyce.’ Let me explain. Jarndyce and Jarndyce is a court case that’s been going on in the English Court of Chancery for donkey’s years. Ian Richardson plays the officiating judge in the case. If ever an actor was born to wear a judge’s wig and talk dead posh in a court of law, it is surely he.

Ada and Richard are the two latest claimants to have a vested interest in the case, in which an old codger years ago left some conflicting wills when he popped his clogs. The only people currently benefiting from the case being dragged slowly and painfully through the courts are the lawyers. Isn’t it always the way? Absolutely no change there then, haha.

Ada and Richard are advised not to get their hopes up too much as regards inheriting this old geezer’s fortune. This case could go on for years, they’re told. It may never be resolved, they’re warned, and not without good reason, either.

Ada, being a typical female with a loving heart, cares only about the dashing young curly-haired Richard, but Richard makes the mistake of throwing his whole heart and soul into the case, which has broken bigger and better men than he. Will it cost him more than he’s prepared to pay…? (You know it will, lol.)

Charles Dance is superb as the terrifying Mr. Tulkinghorn, Attorney-At-Law, who is lawyer to the rich and privileged. He is not accustomed to having underlings talk back to him or tread on his toes and, by Jove, if they do, they’ll not do it a second time.

He’s unscrupulous and immoral and he’s not at all above a spot of blackmail if it lines his own pockets. He is feared, hated and despised by those who run afoul of him, and when someone finally does take a pop at him, there’s a line of suspects a mile long. It’s like the ‘Who Shot Mr. Burns?’ episode of THE SIMPSONS, lol.

His richest clients are Sir Leicester and Lady Honoria Dedlock, played by Timothy West and Gillian Anderson, who goes on to play Miss Havisham in the 2011 BBC TV dramatisation of GREAT EXPECTATIONS.

Sir Leicester lives in the sort of cloud-cuckoo-land inhabited by many rich aristocrats of the time. He doesn’t have a clue what kind of conditions the poor people of England are forced to live in, and it really gets his goat that his housekeeper’s son, a Mr. Rouncewell, has risen up from lowly beginnings to become a rich factory-owner. It doesn’t affect him adversely in any way whatsoever; it just gets up his nose to see a povvo rising through the ranks to become a man of substance.

Sir Leicester, to give him his dues, does really love his beautiful, much younger ice-queen of a wife, his Lady Dedlock, but she is one desperately unhappy woman. Lonely, by her own admission ‘bored to death with the weather, bored to death with her life and bored to death with herself,’ and she has a sad, shocking secret into the bargain that some of the more unscrupulous characters in this dramatisation seem determined to bring out into the open, purely for their own financial game.

Characters like the vile, evil Mr. Tulkinghorn and his long-suffering clerk, Clamb; Johnny Vegas as the aptly-named landlord, alcoholic and hoarder, Mr. Krook; Mr. Guppy of Kenge and Carboys, an ambitious young clerk who woos- or tries to woo!- Esther Summerson and who intends to rise in his profession, despite his Cockney accent and slightly odd facial features. Remember, young Guppy, you insolent puppy, love is not love which alters when it alteration finds!; and, last but definitely not least, Mr. Smallweed the moneylender, possibly the most repulsive and self-serving of all of Dickens’s villains. He makes Bill Sikes and Fagin the miser look like graduates (with honours) from charm school, he’s so disgustingly awful and foul-tempered and rude. ‘Shake me up, Judy…!’

Gillian Anderson is utterly sublime as the cold, distant Lady Dedlock, the woman with the boarded-up heart. Every inch the proud, haughty, arrogant aristocrat when the situation calls for it, she is nevertheless a broken, deeply wounded woman who once loved deeply and now keeps her heart under lock and key where no-one can touch it. Except that all kinds of vulgar riff-raff are now rattling at the lock and it’s only a matter of time before one of them penetrates to the inner sanctum. Must Honoria Dedlock pay for the sins of poor unhappy Honoria Barbary…?

Gillian Anderson’s face is just so fabulously photogenic; her eyes, her mouth, the planes of her face all combine to form a gloriously nuanced whole that reflect perfectly every emotion she’s required to express, from aristocratic disdain to heartbroken despair. It’s no coincidence that there are more close-ups of her boat-race than of anyone else’s in this TV dramatisation. She has a face to die for, the kind that could easily launch a thousand ships. THE X FILES‘s loss was surely Dickens’s gain…

There are plenty of other familiar faces here too. Alun Armstrong (he plays Daniel Peggotty in the TV dramatisation of DAVID COPPERFIELD) portrays Inspector Bucket (Are you sure it’s not pronounced ‘Bouquet,’ Inspector?), the copper who’s called in to solve the murder of a very high-profile- but deeply despised- man. Pauline Collins (SHIRLEY VALENTINE, the original UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS) plays the appropriately-named Miss Flite, the crazy old bird-lady.

Hugo Speer (THE FULL MONTY; remember ‘The lunchbox has landed,’ and ‘Oh, hiya, Gerald, I di’n’t see you there!’) plays a decent man pushed to his limits by the dreadful Mr. Tulkinghorn and the possibly even worse Mr. Smallweed, who’d sell his own mother for a few quid and throw in his sister as well for a few shillings more, if he had a mother and sister, that is.

Harold Skimpole (Nathaniel Parker) is, in his own refined way, even more detestable than Tulkinghorn and Smallweed put together. ‘A perfect child in such matters’ he may be, but a dangerous, spoiled child, who does as much damage in his own way as the more obvious and less genteel of Dickens’s villains. Did you hear what he says about his wife and children? The callous bastard! He needs a wake-up call, does Harold Skimpole.

Charlie Brooks, aka Janine from EASTENDERS, plays a povvo with an abusive husband, and Di Botcher the mother of another of Esther Summerson’s valiant suitors, a Welsh medic called Allan Woodcourt. As is usually the case with these big budget TV dramatisations, the viewer can have great fun playing spot-the-minor-celeb in the various roles.

Gillian Anderson and Charles Dance steal every scene they’re in and, when they’re acting together, it’s a toss-up as to who gets the better of whom, each of their characters being as cold and hard as the other and each as determined as the other not to let their guard down.

But the tragic Lady Dedlock has at least loved once, that we know of, has written billets-doux to a lover and lost that lover in painful circumstances. It makes her more human to us. Has the odious Mr. Tulkinghorn ever said ‘I love you’ to anyone but his own reflection in the shaving mirror? I wouldn’t bet on it…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. (1977) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

nick cover

NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. (1977) BASED ON THE BOOK BY CHARLES DICKENS. DIRECTED BY CHRISTOPHER BARRY.

STARRING NIGEL HAVERS, PETER BOURKE, DEREK GODFREY, ROBERT JAMES, KATE NICHOLLS, HILARY MASON, DEREK FRANCIS, PATRICIA ROUTLEDGE, PATRICIA BRAKE, DAVID GRIFFIN, PATSY SMART AND LIZ SMITH.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Charles Dickens does good misery. GREAT EXPECTATIONS is rife with it. OLIVER TWIST positively overflows with it. DAVID COPPERFIELD has a goodly amount also. NICHOLAS NICKLEBY is no exception to the rule. The misery oozes out the sides if you are unwise enough to squeeze it.

The titular Nicholas Nickleby is barely out of his teens when his papa has the bad taste to pop his clogs without leaving his small family provided for. In Victorian society, this almost amounts to a death sentence.

Certainly, it is a sentence of shame, penury and humiliation in the eyes of your betters as you are forced to seek a situation almost certain to be beneath you socially, or worse, seek the charity of others or the state. (‘Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?’)

Nicholas, his pretty younger sister Kate and their silly flutterbudget of a mother are obliged to throw themselves on the mercy of their late father’s/husband’s brother Ralph Nickleby, a wealthy but heartless businessman in whose person the milk of human kindness appears to have dried up somewhat.

Think Ebenezer Scrooge, but without the benefit of that gentleman’s three ghostly visitations. Ralph dislikes Nicholas on sight, thinking him uppity and too opinionated, but our Nicky just says straight out what he thinks. He calls it like he sees it, and has a strong sense of justice and fair play which is to be commended.

Uncle Ralph is instrumental in Kate’s getting a situation as an apprentice milliner and dressmaker at Madame Mantalini’s, of which more later, and in Nicholas’s acquiring a position as assistant schoolmaster at Dotheboys (pronounced, my dear readers, pho-net-ic-ally!) Hall. This is a school in rural England (Yorkshire, in fact) so horrible it makes Old Creakles’ Salem House in DAVID COPPERFIELD look like a luxury spa by comparison.

The revolting gammy-eyed and snaggle-toothed Mr. Wackford Squeers, a rum cove indeed, charges twenty guineas a year to board boys unwanted by their families at his dreadful so-called ‘school,’ in which food is scarce, holidays scarcer and physical abuse plentiful.

Mr. Squeers has a fat objectionable son, a game-eyed objectionable daughter and a thin objectionable wife. Altogether they are a most objectionable family, and allowing them to run a school is a bit like putting a cat in charge of a small platoon of mice.

Still, anyone who wanted to run a school was allowed to run a school back then, no questions asked. Fred and Rose West and Jimmy Savile could have gone into the boarding school business together and no-one would have said ‘boo!’ to ’em. I’n’t that a shockin’ thought?

The fiercely principled young Nicholas falls afoul of the dastardly Squeers when he rescues a pathetic young orphaned slave called Smike, who has worked and lived in the school since he was a lad, from Squeers’ clutches. Nicholas gives Squeers a goodly dose of his own medicine while he’s at it, and Squeers is not one iota thankful for it.

Smike gladly returns to London with young Nickleby, but the pair must flee again when dear kindly old Uncle Ralph threatens to cut off his financial assistance to Kate and Mrs. Nickleby if Nicholas lives with them. The two lads go as far as Portsmouth, where they stay for a brief spell as part of Mr. Crummles’ theatre company. But then a mysterious note arrives for Nicholas, telling him that his sister Kate is in grave danger…

Nicholas arrives in London just in time to save his much-desired sister Kate from deflowerment and dishonour at the hands of two boorish swells, namely Sir Mulberry Hawk, by far the more offensive of the two and a proper Bentley Drummle to boot, and the aptly named Lord Verisopht, snigger, who represents about as much danger to the Nicklebys as a two-day-old trifle. Hawk, now, he’s one to watch, all right…

The timely entry into Nicholas’s life of the two identical twin brothers, the aptly-named Charles and Edwin Cheeryble, provides Nicholas with both a well-paid situation and also a cottage for himself, his mum and his sister Kate to live in. Now that Nicholas is earning a good wage, there is no need for Kate to work any longer for the Mantalini’s, who in any case have gone bankrupt, thanks to the poor spending habits of Mr. Mantalini.

The Mantalinis are a funny couple. Mr. Mantalini is a dandy, a gigolo, a popinjay, a fop with an eye for the ladies, whom I bet talks with a pure Cockney accent under his posh flowery foreign affectations. He’s a bit like Mr. Micawber in DAVID COPPERFIELD, always in pecuniary difficulties, always threatening suicide in scenes of high drama when he gets in too deep but never going through with it. Mainly because he’s, like, one hundred percent putting it on. Like Wilkins Micawber, he too has a devoted spouse of whom he’s not worthy.

The long-suffering and much older Mrs. Mantalini is played by Patricia Routledge (Hyacinth from KEEPING UP APPEARANCES). She keeps her dressmaking and millinery business going with the help of Mrs. Knag (Gretchen Franklin, or Ethel from EastEnders), while her husband eyes up her female workforce and runs up so many bills that she actually has to go to Ralph Nickleby’s place of business to ask him to put her spendthrift hubby on a fixed allowance. Much to Mr. Mantalini’s horror, I might add. He’s determined to put an end to it all, but if Wifey will only reconsider about the fixed allowance thing, well, he might just consider putting off suicide for a day or two. Just for a day or two, mind! He’s still going to do it, my life, my sweet, my love, just you watch him and see!

Anyway, Nicholas is happy and settled working for the two lovely Cheeryble brothers, but who’s that coming down the chimney at the cottage, of all places? Had Santa Claus been invented by that stage? You know, I don’t actually know. But what I can tell ya is, it ain’t him…!

And why is Nicholas so determined to prevent the marriage of the hideous old codger-slash-miser Arthur Gride to the beautiful, good-natured young Miss Madeline Bray? Could he have a vested interest, perhaps? A romantic vested interest, maybe?

(Gride’s frowsy old gin-sodden maid has the marvellous name of Peg Sliderskew; Dickens is great for making up hilarious names. Don’t tell me he didn’t have a giggle when he connected Kate to the household of a Mrs. Wititterly, or when he decided to call his wimpiest fop Lord Verisopht…!)

And to whom is Emmett from KEEPING UP APPEARANCES (‘She’ll sing at me, Liz, she will!) hoping to pay court, the old romantic? Just wait till Hyacinth finds out about this, there’ll be noses out of joint all over the shop. Yoo-hoo, coffee in ten minutes, Elizabeth…!

Newman Noggs, assistant to Ralph Nickleby, is a great character. He’s a true friend to Nicholas, as is Mr. Jagger’s clerk Wemmick to Pip in GREAT EXPECTATIONS, and is very helpful to the young Nickleby in the matter of the poor, miserable runaway Smike.

Can the deplorably ill-treated Smike, perpetually sickly and simple-minded, by the way, be kept out of the clutches of the abominable Wackford Squeers, and what is the mystery surrounding Smike’s birth? Where or what is that little attic room with the trapdoor in it he seems to remember? And what does the disreputable blackmailer Brooker have to do with it all?

(I’m afraid I don’t like Smike at all, even though he’s been ill-used and Charles Dickens is clearly presenting him as the victim here. I don’t like his soft, whispery way of talking and the way his mouth goes all over to one side when he speaks. To think he has the audacity to admire Miss Kate, and he a drooling simpleton! He must be out of his mind to even give the thought house room. Humph. Miss Kate, indeed! She may as well marry a chimney sweep who’s come down with the chilblains…!)

Also, can the animosity between the fair-minded Nicholas and his Scrooge-like Uncle Ralph ever be resolved? (Ralph Nickleby has a secret but he doesn’t even know it; can Nicholas ferret it out sometime soon, before it’s too late?) And if never the twain shall meet, how will it all come out? You’ll have to watch this six-part serial to find out, dear readers. Or you could read the book, whatever. It’s all good…!

(I believe that this story is still available in, erm, whatchamaycallem, books, in book form, anyone with eyes can, erm, whatsit called now, erm, gottit, readit…!)

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

DIARY OF A MADMAN. (1963) A VINCENT PRICE HORROR FILM REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

vincent diary odette

DIARY OF A MADMAN. (1963) DIRECTED BY REGINALD LE BORG. BASED ON STORIES BY GUY DE MAUPASSANT. STARRING VINCENT PRICE, NANCY KOVACK AND IAN WOLFE.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This isn’t one of the Roger Corman-Edgar Allan Poe adaptations that horror legend Vincent Price made for American International Pictures, but it’s every bit as mysterious, atmospheric and luxurious as those gorgeous films, even if it doesn’t have a crumbling old mist-wreathed castle by the sea for a setting.

Vincent Price stars as Simon Cordier, a rich, well-respected French magistrate living in Paris. He has all the trappings of wealth, but the pain of the death twelve years ago of his wife and baby is his constant bedfellow. Which just goes to show us that money can’t always bring you happiness, even if it can bring you all the snazzy new material stuff you could ever wish for. (Which, of course, is nice…!)

Simon visits a condemned prisoner called Louis Girot in prison on the eve of his execution. Girot, who has requested the meeting, has apparently murdered several people without motive, for which he’s going to get an all-expenses paid trip to Madame La Guillotine. He’s hoping to convince the magistrate of his innocence, by explaining how he wasn’t at all in his right mind when he carried out the killings. He wasn’t really even himself, if you get me.

He tells a sceptical Simon that he was possessed by an evil spirit when he did the murders, a spirit that can order him to kill at any time. When Simon leaves the man’s cell, this murderous curse no longer inhabits Girot’s doomed carcass, but Simon’s vibrant living one…

To soothe his troubled mind, which by the way has started imagining things and hearing voices, Simon takes up sculpting, a subject in which he has always had an interest. He meets a stunning young(ish) artist’s model called Odette Mallotte who, unknown to Simon, is married to a struggling artist called Paul Duclasse and is desperate to claw her way out of the poverty trap in which she is currently enmeshed.

The unscrupulous, materialistic Odette sees Simon as her meal ticket out of the slums. While he is sculpting her perfect head and shoulders, he falls in love with her sunny demeanour and her ability to laugh at life and all its follies. Which was precisely what she was hoping would happen and what she was trying to manipulate into happening…

To Odette’s delight, Simon, who is blissfully unaware of her marital status, proposes marriage. She’s not going to let a little thing like her living husband, Paul Duclasse, stand in the way of her advancement. Surely he can be easily brushed aside?

In the meantime, poor Simon is convinced that he is possessed by the evil spirit that transferred itself to him from the convicted prisoner Louis Girot. The spirit is an invisible entity called the Horla, who speaks to Simon when he is alone.

It has telekinetic powers and can move furniture about and throw things and smash things just like a poltergeist can. Poor Simon can’t decide whether he’s going mad or whether there really is a race of evil spirits known as the Horla, who can inhabit the bodies of men while manipulating their minds into committing the most heinous murders. When the Horla orders him to carry out a killing so dreadful it makes his blood run cold to think of it, he finds out first-hand what’s real and what’s not…

The titular diary is the journal kept by Simon Cordier from the moment he suspects he is going insane. He leaves it ‘to be opened in the event of my death’ and, in it, he hopes to convince the reader- and, by extension, the world- of the existence of the heretofore unknown Horla, and of the very real menace they represent to mankind.

You’ll know if you’ve been possessed by the Horla because a greenish glowing rectangle will appear across both your eyes and you’ll get a sudden uncontrollable urge to go all Norman Bates on someone with a fair-sized carving knife. There’s a definite PSYCHO moment in DIARY OF A MADMAN, complete with metaphorical shower curtains breaking free of their loopy things one by one as a desperate victim clutches at them for support. Very enjoyable stuff, lol.

Ian Wolfe you might recognise. Here, he plays Pierre, Simon Cordier’s devoted old retainer. He’s appeared in a few of the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes movies of the ‘Forties, in at least one case playing- you guessed it!- a faithful old retainer, this time to the cold fish of a toff whose wife was found in the deserted church ringing feebly on the bell to attract attention. To the fact that she’d had her throat torn out by the same fiend who’d torn out the throats of various poor sheep in the area… Anyway, it’s lovely to see Ian Wolfe here in this gorgeous, sumptuously-coloured gothic horror movie. Any friend of Holmes’s is a friend of ours, right?

DIARY OF A MADMAN is as good a horror film as any of Vincent Price’s other works. Nancy Kovack is deliciously seductive as she takes the pins out of her hat and settles herself down on the model’s stool to loosen her long dark hair and pull down the front of her dress to bare her shoulders for Simon’s sculpting chisel to get to work on.

Remember her as Medea, the sexy, dark-haired priestess of the temple at Colchis whom Jason fishes out of the sea in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS? Covered in gold paint and nearly nude, the foxy wench does her frenzied dance with pure abandon in the temple, much to the delight of the watching males. She’s a real hottie, but dames like that ain’t nuthin’ but trouble. Just ask Simon Cordier…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

THE HAUNTED PALACE. (1963) A VINCENT PRICE/ROGER CORMAN FILM REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Vincent-Price-Blu-ray-Collection

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THE HAUNTED PALACE. (1963) BASED ON THE POEM BY EDGAR ALLAN POE AND ON THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD BY H.P. LOVECRAFT.

DIRECTED AND PRODUCED BY ROGER CORMAN.

STARRING VINCENT PRICE, DEBRA PAGET, LON CHANEY JR., FRANK MAXWELL, LEO GORDON AND CATHIE MERCHANT.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘And travellers now within that valley,

Through the red-litten windows, see

Vast forms that move fantastically

To a discordant melody;

While, like a rapid ghastly river,

Through the pale door,

A hideous throng rush out forever,

And laugh- but smile no more.’

This is such a lush luxurious film, sort of the cinematic equivalent of a really fancy box of chocolates. The same can be said of all of the films in American International Pictures/Roger Corman’s Poe cycle: THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, TALES OF TERROR, THE PREMATURE BURIAL, THE TOMB OF LIGEIA, THE RAVEN and THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH. All of these star Vincent Price in the lead role, except for THE PREMATURE BURIAL, in which Ray Milland is on leading man duty.

This film is book-ended by part of a Poe poem, which allows it to be included in the Poe cycle of films, but it’s mainly based on the Lovecraft story, THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD.

I much prefer Poe to Lovecraft; the tentacles thing espoused by the latter isn’t really for me. I love a nice psychological horror story or haunted house tale, and my preferred ‘monsters’ are the Universal ones, lol. Still, there’s much to praise in this visually sumptuous first major filming of a Lovecraft work, even if you can’t help noticing the odd plot-hole.

Vincent Price plays the titular Charles Dexter Ward who, together with his lovely wife Ann, arrives at the spooky New England harbour village of Arkham in order to take possession of the family residence, the titular Haunted Palace, abandoned for a century or more.

The villagers are all horrified because Ward is the spitting image of his evil ancestor, Joseph Curwen, who was burned at the stake exactly one hundred and ten years earlier for being the male equivalent of a witch.

Curwen was a much more interesting individual than his insipid descendant Ward. In the  mid-1700s, he lured the virginal young women of Arkham to his house and tried to mate them with ancient deities spawned in his vast underground dungeon. Kick-ass, huh…? His ultimate goal was the resurgence of a master race of Old Gods, ‘such as Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth.’

Unfortunately, these dubious ‘matings’ gave rise to several generations of hideous mutant or mutated eyeless monstrosities, some of whom are still alive and kicking and hidden in the locked rooms of the villagers of Arkham by the villagers themselves, whose progeny they are.

Some of the less dangerous, but no less physically shocking, mutants are brought out in force to scare the Wards away from Arkham, but Charles Dexter Ward has a destiny to fulfil, even if he doesn’t quite know it yet, and he opts to stay in his newly-acquired residence. There’s no law against a man living on his own property, is there? Of course there isn’t, more’s the pity for the poor doomed villagers…

To the horror of his loving wife Ann, Ward becomes possessed with the evil spirit of Joseph Curwen, through a magnificent portrait of the latter which hangs in the palace. Determined to carry out Curwen’s unfinished work of creating the master race of ancient gods through the mating of local young beauties with his basement ‘experiments,’ Ward/Curwen gathers around him his undead assistants of old, Simon Orne (Lon Chaney Jr., aka the Wolfman) and Jabez Hutchinson. Now he can pick up where he left off…

He seems to waste a lot of his newly-recovered time in trying to revive his long-dead mistress Hester Tillinghast, and also in revenging himself against the villagers who are direct descendants of the ones who burned Joseph Curwen to death over a century ago.

His two helpers beg him not to waste his time in petty vengeance, but Curwen feels that, after being dead for a hundred and ten years, he’s entitled to a little fun. Well, okay, fine, Master, but will there still be time to create a master race by forcibly mating your terrified wife Ann to the ungodly thing you’ve got hidden in your basement prison? If there is, there is, lol. We’ll have to see…

The movie, as well as being the first of Lovecraft’s works to be filmed, marks the first screen appearance of Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, a sort of mythical Book of the Dead which contains spells for conjuring up those ancient deities we mentioned earlier.

It’s the sort of really cool book which, if it really existed, you’d need permission from the Vatican to consult it, and you could only consult it by accompanying a grim-faced, disapproving elderly clerk in rusty black togs through several locked doors, the keys to which he keeps about his person.

In a huge, book-lined room, he’d take the book out of a locked safe, blow the dust off it and place it reverently on a table, and then he’d watch you like a hawk while you leafed nervously through its yellowed pages, looking for the bits you want to read. Oh, and you’re only allowed to consult the specific pages you’ve requested to see and no more. Can’t you just picture it…?

Vincent Price is perfectly at home in his two roles. Joseph has fancier, frillier togs and a sneerier, more menacing tone of voice than his nineteenth century counterpart, but Vincent Price is well able to chop and change between the two characters.

The sets are gorgeous, the costumes exquisite and the fog rolling in from the sea good and plentiful. The mutants are disturbing, the silhouette of the palace awe-inspiring and Lon Chaney Jr. as cuddly and loveable as ever he was in his Universal Wolfman films of the 1940s.

(I’m sure he thought he was being terribly frightening in that role, lol, but I’ve only ever thought of him as cuddly and loveable, with his cute little furry face and matching clodhoppers…!) 

I heartily recommend this Poe-Lovecraft mash-up. The critics had a lot to say about it- and not all good, either- but that doesn’t mean that it’s not both enjoyable and entertaining. Never mind the critics. What do they know? We’ll make up our own minds. Can I get an answering harrumph…?

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

KEEPING UP APPEARANCES. (1990-1995) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

hyacinth richard

KEEPING UP APPEARANCES. (1990-1995) WRITTEN BY ROY CLARKE. PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY HAROLD SNOAD. STARRING PATRICIA ROUTLEDGE, CLIVE SWIFT, JOSEPHINE TEWSON, JUDY CORNWELL, GEOFFREY HUGHES, MARY MILLAR, SHIRLEY STELFOX, JEREMY GITTINS, MARION BARRON AND DAVID GRIFFIN.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘It’s my sister Violet, the one with the Mercedes, sauna and room for a pony…!’

‘The Bouquet residence, the lady of the house speaking!’

‘She’ll sing at me, I know she will…!’

‘Coffee in ten minutes, Elizabeth…!’

‘Mind the pedestrian, Richard!’

‘Oh, nice…!

This is one of the best British sitcoms ever made. It’s right up there with FAWLTY TOWERS and ONLY FOOLS AND HORSES for sheer brilliance and terrific writing. I was thrilled to find the complete box-set containing a whopping forty episodes (FAWLTY TOWERS only ever made twelve, lol) and three fifty-minute Christmas specials. My kids and I have been watching these at the weekend since the summer started, and it’s brought us together like you wouldn’t believe.

Hyacinth Bucket- pronounced ‘Bouquet,’ if you please, under pain of death- is Britain’s most snobbish and house-proud middle-aged housewife. She’s the world’s most enthusiastic social climber, desperate to prove her social superiority to herself and others.

Her house could be featured in HOMES AND GARDENS, it’s so clean and sparkling and stylish. Her candlelight suppers are the talk of the town, and as for her waterside suppers which include riparian entertainment, well, even the characters in THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS couldn’t manage it quite so nicely.

Her Royal Doulton china with the hand-painted periwinkles is the envy of all England, and if you phone this lady up looking for a No. 41 with rice and beansprouts, you’d better be aware that you’re calling her on her slim-line pearl-white telephone with last number redial facility and ‘within the precincts of a vicar,’ so you’d just better watch out, that’s all…!

Her long-suffering husband Richard Bouquet- Dickie Bucket as was, before he met the wife- has terrible trouble filling his days now that he’s rather reluctantly taken early retirement. Every activity in which he engages has to be devised or at the very least supervised by his wife, who would almost certainly tidy him away in a cupboard when she’s not using him, if she could get away with it.

He can do the garden, but he has to look like he’s enjoying it, which would imply to anyone watching that they could easily afford a gardener, only Richard enjoys gardening so much he prefers to do it himself, see? Hyacinth is most dreadfully worried that the neighbours will see Richard gardening with a miserable face and think he’s being forced to do it because they’re too poor to… Well, you get it, don’t you…?

Richard has marched to Hyacinth’s tune since they were married. He’s completely under the thumb of his high maintenance wife, who regularly requires driving to stately homes to hob-nob with the big nobs, to travel agents to pick up brochures for the most expensive holidays they have on offer (they don’t have to GO on the holiday; all that matters is that people think they can AFFORD to go!) and into the countryside to look for a holiday home. Poor Richard lives in fear of Hyacinth’s spending too much, which she nearly always does, as he’s utterly unable to put his foot down on any subject under the sun.

Elizabeth from next door is a bag of nerves in Hyacinth’s pristine showhouse. She’s so terrified of spilling her coffee on the lovely perfect furniture that it becomes a running gag that she does exactly this in every episode.

Her brother Emmett, who is living with Elizabeth now he’s divorced, tells his sister to refuse to go next door when the call comes from Hyacinth. Elizabeth snorts in justifiable derision. You try saying no to her, she tells her brother. She never listens!

Emmett finds this out the hard way. You really don’t say no to Hyacinth, who would climb over you in her highly polished court shoes to get to a local celebrity or councillor or a minor aristocrat.

When Hyacinth wants a part in Emmett’s ‘Twenties musical THE BOYFRIEND, which calls for slim young women to play flappers in sheath dresses, feathers and heels, he’ll find out just how determined she can be. ‘Sisters, sisters, there were never such devoted sisters…!’

Hyacinth is immensely  proud of her seldom-seen sister Violet, who was fortunate enough to marry Bruce, a rich turf accountant, and now she has the Mercedes, sauna and room for a pony. Never mind that Bruce is at the very least a transvestite and quite possibly bisexual or even homosexual into the bargain. Violet must keep her marriage vows, if only for the sake of the Mercedes…!

Hyacinth loves all her family, but maybe she’d quite like to tidy away the Daisy-and-Onslow branch, purely for cosmetic reasons, you understand? Her sister Daisy- not the one with the Mercedes, sauna and room for a pony!- is married to Onslow, a self-confessed bone-idle slob in a vest who spends his days in an armchair swilling beer and watching telly.

Daisy, a hopeless romantic who spends her time devouring Mills & Boons, still finds Onslow attractive (which he definitely is; he exudes a distinct air of sweaty, hairy masculinity), but he seems terrified at the idea of entering into any intimacies with his wife. He’ll even get out of bed before noon to do the garden just to get out of a romantic interlude with a disappointed Daisy.

He’s a bit of an enigma, is Onslow. You might be forgiven for judging him on appearances and thinking him as thick as a short plank, but he occasionally lets slip the fact that he’s actually a deep philosophical thinker with a penchant for the Open University and big thick books about Quantum Physics. No wonder Daisy can’t get enough of him after all these years.

Rose, the attractive unmarried sister with the heart of pure gold, lives with Onslow and Daisy and has had her share of husbands. Always someone else’s, unfortunately. She’s been hurt in love many times but she never gives up. If a Mr. Blenkinsop fails to give satisfaction, well, there’s always a Mr. Halliwell waiting round the next corner.

Played in the first series only by Shirley Stelfox (Edna from Emmerdale) and from then on by the sadly now deceased Mary Millar, the highly strung and over-emotional Rose often feels in need of spiritual guidance, in which case the obvious person to go to is the dishy local Vicar, Michael.

He’s almost as afraid of the man-mad, short-skirted Rose as he is of ‘the Bucket woman,’ as he and his sensible, no-nonsense lady wife call her. His wife is aware of her husband’s good looks and charm and would prefer to keep him out of the clutches of all and any neighbourhood floozies, if you don’t mind.

Daddy, the ancient paterfamilias of Hyacinth, Rose, Daisy and Violet’s branch of the family, lives with Onslow and Daisy. Hyacinth would be happy to have him at her house, of course, except for the fact that he leaves such hard-to-remove stains.

She pops round frequently, though, to make sure that her sisters haven’t lost him or left him to wander off to Africa on his own. He’s usually easy enough to find, though. When he’s not renting out his bed- and issuing a receipt too, by Jove!- to a Mr. Mawsby and then going walkabout, that is.

Daddy, who has a keen eye for the ladies and is not above chasing them while naked on a bicycle, fought in World War Two and he sometimes continues to fight in it fifty years later, in his gas-mask and with his bayonet to hand. Don’t bother trying to get in the house when Daddy’s on duty. He has orders to defend it to the last man…!

Hyacinth is inordinately proud of her never-seen son, Sheridan, who’s off at University majoring in needlework and rooming with his ‘friend,’ Tarquin. He only phones his Mummy to get her to ask Daddy for money, but Hyacinth is always thrilled to hear from him anyway.

A conspiracy of sympathy for Richard, the browbeaten husband, exists amongst Emmett, Elizabeth, Daisy, Onslow, Rose and the Vicar, a sympathy which Richard is only too eager to encourage. He stands up to Hyacinth just once, in the episode in which she demands that Richard forcefully evict a man from a telephone box just because ‘our Hyacinth’ wants to make a call. She nearly has a fit, it’s so very out of character for him.

‘Our Hyacinth’ can be quite formidable when she wants to be. Just ask the nervy postman (‘Where’s my invitation to the Lord Mayor’s garden party?’), who never used to be nervy before he met Hyacinth, or any tradesman calling to the door who’s asked to remove his shoes before entering the house because she’s just had her herringbone re-lacquered, if you please.

And God help you if you have the temerity to brush up against her walls! She can be a bit of an old battleaxe at times, but her heart’s in the right place. In a genuine antique Waterford crystal glass tumbler on top of the display case with the polished walnut doors. God bless her and all who sail in her.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

DAVID COPPERFIELD. (1999) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

david copperfield

DAVID COPPERFIELD. (1999) A BBC PRODUCTION: BASED ON THE BOOK BY CHARLES DICKENS. DIRECTED BY SIMON CURTIS. TOM WILKINSON AS THE NARRATOR.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Like many fond parents, I have in my heart a favourite child. And his name is David Copperfield.’ Charles Dickens.

‘Barkis is willin.”

‘Janet, donkeys! Donkeys!’

David Copperfield the book is a mammoth achievement on the part of its writer Charles Dickens. Nearly a thousand pages long, it details the life of the titular David Copperfield from his baby days to much, much later on in his life, and in such detail it would truly take your breath away. I’ve been reading the book myself this year and was delighted to find this film version of it, which was first broadcast on the BBC in 1999, on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Everyone loves a bit of Dickens at Christmas, whether it’s his perennial festive favourite A Christmas Carol, or Great Expectations, Bleak House, Nicholas Nickleby or any of his other works.

His books are immensely popular when it comes to screen adaptations, the way Shakespeare’s works lend themselves so readily to staging in the theatre. It’s fantastic the way we’re still familiar with Dickens and his oeuvres nearly a century and a half after his death.

In this version, a pre-Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe in his first screen role plays David as a child. His childhood at the Blunderstone Rookery in Suffolk is idyllic, spent with his adoring mother Clara Copperfield and even more adoring nurse Clara Peggotty, played by Birds Of A Feather star Pauline Quirke, who’s perfect in the role.

David’s childhood is all tender cuddles and endearments and picture books and gentle tuckings-in at bedtime. His father has pre-deceased him, so David’s childhood is a thoroughly feminine affair.

His blissful existence changes when David returns from a visit to Yarmouth, where he has been staying at the shore with Peggotty’s kindly seafaring brother Daniel (Alun Armstrong: This Is Personal: The Hunt For The Yorkshire Ripper), Daniel’s nephew Ham, Daniel’s niece Little Em’ly (who is not Ham’s sister) and a weeping widow by the name of Mrs. Gummidge, played by Patsy Byrne, the actress who portrayed Miranda Richardson’s dotty old Nursie in comedy series Blackadder.

David returns to Blunderstone Rookery, from the happiest holiday of his whole life, to find that his lovely sweet mother has married her horrible suitor, the grim, black-clothed, stern-faced and joyless Mr. Murdstone, played by an unrecognisable Trevor Eve (Shoestring, the Frank Langella Dracula.)

Mr. Murdstone brings his equally horrible sister Jane, played by Zoe Wanamaker, to live with them, and between them they pretty well terrorise both mother and son. Their only ally is now the wonderful Clara Peggotty, who would die for either of her precious charges in a heartbeat.

After an altercation in which David is savagely whipped by Mr. Murdstone, his nasty step-father sends him away to boarding school against his mother’s wishes. But it was very much what happened to the sons of well-to-do men in the Victorian era. The boys and their mothers had little or no choice in the matter.

At school, the boys were whipped by their teachers and by older boys (for whom they were forced to ‘fag’ or skivvy), made to learn a load of dry, dusty old Latin, algebra, theorems and trigonometry while deprived of most material comforts, and then they left school damaged, broken, determined to take their revenge on the world and with the most intense sexual hang-ups about being flogged that would never leave them. Okay, so I’m making a generalisation here but you get the idea.

David’s head-teacher, the sadistic old Creakle, played by Ian McKellen, is practically addicted to whipping the boys in his rather dubious ‘care.’ David’s only friend and protector is, rather luckily, the arrogant young toff Steerforth, without whose patronage David would undoubtedly have suffered much more in his schooldays.

When David’s bullied and broken young mother dies, not long after giving birth to Mr. Murdstone’s child, Murdstone removes a heartbroken David from school (heartbroken about his mum, not about leaving school!), begrudging the money that would be required to pay for the boy’s education.

He then forces him to work in a London blacking factory of which he is part-owner. It’s no more than slave labour and David is bullied there by the older boys. I’m not sure what a blacking factory is but it seems to involve a great many icky barrels of boiling hot tar. Not exactly the place for a vulnerable child.

David is happy to lodge with Mr. Wilkins Micawber (genially played by Bob Hoskins), however, one of Dickens’s most enduring characters. Married (his wife is played by Imelda Staunton) with several children, Mr. Micawber is constantly in debt, constantly hiding from his many creditors, constantly having to pawn everything in the house in order to have money for food and constantly living in the optimistic expectation that something positive will ‘turn up’ to save his family from starvation and his family name from a perpetual blackening.

The main thing you need to remember about Mr. Micawber is that you should, under no circumstances whatsoever, ever lend him money. It will undoubtedly be the last you see of it. He’s free with his IOUs all right, but unfortunately you can’t eat those. 

While lodging with Mr. Micawber, David has the experience of visiting his friend in Debtor’s Prison and of becoming intimately acquainted with the local pawnbroker, played by comedian Paul Whitehouse. When the Micawbers move away, on the promise of something’s unexpectedly having ‘turned up,’ David decides he’s had enough of the factory.

He runs away to Dover, to the one relative he has left in the world, his wildly eccentric Aunt Betsey Trotwood, played by Maggie Smith. David is as happy as Larry living with his Aunt Betsey and her no less eccentric but kindly and well-meaning lodger, Mr. Dick, played by Ian McNeice.

Aunt Betsey goes to bat for him against the odious Murdstones and, even when she does send him to school, it’s to a nice decent school in Canterbury. While there, he lodges with Aunt Betsey’s cordial lawyer Mr. Wickfield and his beautiful daughter Agnes, who treats David like a brother and becomes a lifelong friend. David has fallen on his feet here, lol.

The star of the whole show is Nicholas Only Fools And Horses Lyndhurst as the startlingly red-haired and sinister clerk of Mr. Wickfield’s, Uriah Heep. Being ‘umble’ is Uriah’s thing. Falsely ‘umble, that is, pretending he’s content to stay a lowly clerk when his ambition secretly knows no bounds. He’s the kind of poisonous wretch, however, who prefers to get ahead by bringing others down and trampling on their broken bodies on his way up the ladder to take their place.

He has his evil eye on Mr. Wickfield’s business and, even more disturbingly, on Mr. Wickfield’s lovely daughter Agnes, and he loathes David from the start, seeing him as a competitor for both ‘commodities.’ He tries to hide his hatred for David under a simmering veil of ‘umbleness,’ but I think both men know the real score. Can David prevent Uriah from doing the ultimate damage to his dearest friends…?

There’s so much more to the story. He meets the love of his life, Dora, and he entertains ambitions himself of becoming a writer, even though his grounding is in the law. My favourite storyline in the whole book/film is what happens to Little Em’ly and the poor devastated Peggotty family when David unwittingly releases a viper into their collective bosom.

And, as the cast list reads like a Harry Potter ‘pre-union,’ may I suggest that, as brilliant as Trevor Eve is in the role of Mr. Murdstone, a black-haired and hatchet-faced Alan Severus Snape Rickman might have been even better?

Michael Boone Elphick plays Peggoty’s suitor Barkis, and Cherie Lunghi is cast in the role of Steerforth’s autocratic mother. Thelma Barlow, who for years played the fluttery Mavis Wilton, Rita Fairclough’s sidekick, in Coronation Street, here portrays Uriah Heep’s mother (‘Be ‘umble, Uriah, be ‘umble!’). Comedienne Dawn French is the tipsy Mrs. Crupp, David’s landlady when he first lives independently. As adaptations go, this is an excellent one, and with an all-star cast to boot. It’s well worth three hours of your time. I say go for it…!

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor