STRAW DOGS. (1971) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.©

straw dogs

STRAW DOGS. 1971. BASED ON THE BOOK ‘THE SIEGE OF TRENCHER’S FARM’ BY GORDON M. WILLIAMS. DIRECTED BY SAM PECKINPAH. STARRING DUSTIN HOFFMAN AND SUSAN GEORGE.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Jesus. I got ’em all.’

‘Rats is life, Mr. Sumner, sir.’

Every man has a breaking point.

‘They were practically licking my body.’

‘This is where I live. This is me. I will not allow violence against this house.’

This is the kind of film that has the power to disturb you long after you’ve watched it. It’s one of my all-time favourites. It was banned from home viewing for a time, it’s that controversial. David Sumner, masterfully played by Dustin Hoffman, is a mild-mannered American mathematician who relocates with his young wife Amy to the remote Cornish farmhouse near the village of Wakely where Amy grew up.

The secretive, close-mouthed and mysterious locals look askance on them from the get-go. Even though Amy was once one of their own, she went away to America to live and has now returned with a husband so alien to them that he might as well waggle his antennae at them and say ‘nanu-nanu.’

They laugh openly at everything he says and does, and they sneer at him behind his back too, while ‘sir-ring’ him to death in a pseudo-servile fashion to his face. You don’t belong here, they’re telling him with ever sneer, every snipe, every sarcastic remark.

Amy is beautiful, sexy, vibrant, the kind of woman whom mild-mannered mathematicians probably don’t end up with all that often. Unless you’re Professor Frink from THE SIMPSONS, lol. Hoyvin glayvin…!

From the moment she appears on screen, sashaying down the main street of the village, braless in a tight white top with her nipples making a guest appearance of their very own, it’s hard not to take your eyes off her. One immediately gets a strong sense that the weedy little David Sumner has his hands full with her.

Everything about Amy screams exaggerated sexuality. Every man in the village wants to have sex with her, even if they already have, back when she lived there before with her father. (Looking at no-one in particular, Charlie Venner…)

Janice Heddon, a teenage girl from the worst family in the village (her father Tom, played by the superb Peter Vaughan, is nothing but a lawless alcoholic thug), tries to ape Amy’s easy, overt sexuality and it later becomes her downfall.

Amy and David’s marriage is clearly a troubled one. She passive-aggressively tries to provoke him every day into being the kind of man she really wants him to be, ie, a brutal he-man like Charlie Venner, who’s not averse to using his fists on women as well as men, but David Sumner, mild-mannered astral mathematician, won’t rise to the bait, which makes her desperately unhappy.

She flirts with and prick-teases the locals to ease her boredom and her feelings of dissatisfaction with David, and then complains when they react by having a good old stare at her unfettered boobies. She has every man in the village in a right old tizzy over her lustrous blonde locks, huge eyes thickly fringed with dark lashes and slim, sexy figure in mini-skirts and boots.

David and Amy have hired a group of these locals to fix their garage roof for them. They are a motley crew of deviants and inbred-seeming undesirables, as indeed half the population of the village appears to be. Big, blond and brawny Charlie Venner seems to have a past sexual history with Amy. He looks at her as if he’d like to devour her whole. They have considerable chemistry together.

Norman Scutt is just plain sleazy. Chris Cawsey, the giggling rat-catcher, is probably the most repulsive of the bunch. (‘Don’t call me Len, you little prick! I’m a bishop!’) While working on the roof, all four men, including one of Tom Heddon’s sons, watch Amy’s comings and goings intently.

She says they make her uncomfortable but if she’s so uncomfortable, her hubby David points out, and as we mentioned ourselves before, why doesn’t she put on a bra…? You can’t go around without one, he says, and expect that kind not to stare. Hmmm. No comment from me here. I’m just the reviewer, I ain’t here to judge.

The air of threat and menace that underlies the whole first half of the film begins to manifest itself materially with the anonymous killing and stringing up of Amy’s cat. Then David is conned into going with Cawsey, Scutt, Venner and their gigantic friend Philip Riddaway on a duck-shooting expedition. While he’s off pumping our poor feathered friends full of lead, Charlie Venner pays Amy a clandestine visit back at the farmhouse.

He loses no time in exercising his physical and sexual mastery of her. He proceeds to slap her around the place and then rape her brutally. Or does he…? I mean, is it still rape when the woman is saying ‘no’ with her mouth but screaming ‘yes, yes, yeees…!’ with her body? Because that’s what Amy is doing. It’s a hard one to figure out. Is Amy being raped or are she and Charlie simply re-igniting old flames hot enough to barbecue steak on…? You’ll have to watch the film for yourself to decide that one.

What happens next is a lot less ambivalent. Charlie looks up from his sexual endeavours to find himself staring down the barrel of Norman Scutt’s shotgun. Scutt, who has doubled back from the shooting party, motions silently for Charlie to move over and let him, Scutt, have a go at Amy, as it were. The fear and disgust in Amy’s face and voice when she looks up and sees that it is Scutt and not Venner who is having sex with her from behind are undoubtedly genuine.

Hubby David doesn’t find out about the rapes but he fires the men, nonetheless, both for yanking his chain over the whole shooting-party thing and also because they’re just thoroughly unpleasant characters to have knocking around the place. No argument from me there.

We’re getting to end-game now. During the annual church social, local sex-offender Henry Niles accidentally kills a young girl, Janice Hedden, daughter of the friendly neighbourhood violent drunk, Tom Hedden. When David and Amy accidentally run over the fleeing Henry Niles in their car, David brings him back to Trencher’s Farm until he can get hold of the doctor.

An angry and liquored-up mob, led by Venner, Scutt and Cawsey, descend on the farmhouse, baying for the blood of Niles. David won’t hand Niles over to the angry mob. They’ll beat him to death, he tells Amy, who’s all in favour of giving Niles up to the self-styled vigilantes. But David has a conscience. This is not how civilised people behave. He refuses to let the other men dictate to him. When he makes his position clear to them, the gloves come off and the game is most definitely on.

What happens next has to be seen to be believed. Maybe if I tell you that the film is based on a book from 1969 called THE SIEGE OF TRENCHER’S FARM by Gordon M. Williams, you’ll get an idea of where things go from there. (Except for the siege, the film is nothing like the book. The film is a million times more exciting. The book never even had a rape in it!)

Suffice it to say that, after the most unimaginable bloodbath that leaves no fewer than six men dead, the lives of the people of Wakely village may never be the same again. It’s so weird, but Amy spends most of the film urging David to react to things like a man, ie, to lash out when people insult or offend him or his wife. When he finally does what she wants, it’s because he wants to, and for no other reason. Let’s hope she’s finally happy, the spoilt little hussy.

This is such a powerful film that no review could ever really do it justice. I just hope that you won’t take my word for it and that you’ll watch it for yourself as soon as you can. Believe me, it’ll be worth it. As for the whole is she, isn’t she…? question, answers on a postcard, please…

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

THE STALLS OF BARCHESTER (1971) and A WARNING TO THE CURIOUS (1972): TWO GHOSTLY TV ADAPTATIONS REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS.©

warning to curious

GHOST STORIES: CLASSIC ADAPTATIONS FROM THE BBC: THE STALLS OF BARCHESTER (1971) AND A WARNING TO THE CURIOUS (1972). BASED ON STORIES BY MONTAGUE RHODES JAMES. PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY LAWRENCE GORDON CLARK.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘No diggin’ ‘ere…!’

British film and television in the late ’60s and early ’70s is the best in the world. You can’t beat it. These two offerings are so exquisitely atmospheric and of their time that I literally feel like I’m walking through a door to the past when I watch them. I’m not always happy about stepping back into the present either, when the credits start rolling…!

A mere review couldn’t hope to capture or encapsulate their ghostly essence in a thousand words, but I can certainly try to transit some of my enthusiasm for these two immaculate adaptations of some of the spookiest stories in literature.

In THE STALLS OF BARCHESTER, the marvellous Clive Swift (the long-suffering Richard Bucket from sitcom KEEPING UP APPEARANCES, about a snobbish, upwardly mobile social climbing housewife) plays a tweed-suited academic called Dr. Black. He has come to Barchester Cathedral in the 1930s to catalogue the library there. He finds it a dreadfully dreary task on the whole, until fate puts in his way a locked box of papers…

The box contains the private papers and diary of the now-deceased Archdeacon Haynes, who was the head cleric at the cathedral in the 1870s. This fellow Haynes, brilliantly played by an almost unrecognisably young Robert Hardy (Siegfried Farnon from ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL), has waited an aggravatingly long time to attain his cherished position of Archdeacon.

The previous incumbent, a Dr. Pulteney, insisted on living pretty much as long as Methuselah, and doubtless would be living still had not a sudden shocking accident catapulted the good doctor into heaven and this chap Haynes into his place.

Haynes, a joyless, austere and rather pompous fellow not untypical of his Victorian contemporaries, takes up residence in the house where his ancient predecessor recently died a violent death.

When his sister Letitia, played by Thelma Barlow (Mavis Wilton from Rita’s newsagents in CORONATION STREET), joins him in the Archdeacon’s residence in the summer months, his stay in the creepy old house that comes with the job is bearable enough. But when Letitia decamps to warmer climes in the winter and Haynes is left alone with the shadows and strange sounds that surround him nightly in the old house, he becomes slowly unhinged…

He hears people around him constantly, voices and comings and goings, especially on the stairs or in the hall outside his study, but when he steels himself to look, there is nothing to be either seen or heard in the darkness without.

He also senses the presence of a large cat, but his manservant assures him that no such animal resides in the house. Who or what is trying to drive the sombre Archdeacon Haynes out of his mind, and, perhaps more interesting a thought, why…? What has he done to deserve it?

The strangely obscene carvings in the magnificent old cathedral have their part to play in this very gothic mystery, as does their creator, John Austin, dubbed ‘The Twice-Born’ by the superstitious natives, and also a stretch of visually beautiful woodland containing the stump of what was once known locally as ‘the hanging tree.’

There’s some rather gorgeous choir-singing in the cathedral, and a few genuinely scary moments in the house that relies on candles for its light, as electricity hasn’t yet been invented. Can Dr. Black get to the bottom of the mystery of Archdeacon Haynes, and will it be fit for publication in the cathedral library’s catalogue, even if he does…?

A WARNING TO THE CURIOUS is, if possible, even more beautiful to look at and atmospheric than THE STALLS OF BARCHESTER. Peter Vaughan (VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, STRAW DOGS, PORRIDGE, THE REMAINS OF THE DAY) plays a disillusioned, middle-aged amateur archaeologist called Paxton, who has recently been made redundant from his job as a clerk. With nothing to lose, he travels in the winter-time to the fictional seaside town of Seaburgh on the coast of Suffolk, to do a little independent sleuthing into a matter that interests him greatly.

Local legend in the place where he has come to has it that, long ago, three Anglo-Saxon crowns were buried in different locations along the East Anglian coast to keep foreign marauders from invading Britain. Only one crown remains unfound, and the natives believe that it is still guarded by the last member of the family that has always guarded the buried treasure, one William Ager.

The fact that William Ager, a ‘solitary’ who died years ago of the consumption appears to be no impediment to his carrying out of his sworn duty … guarding the crown and, thereby, defending the realm, England’s green and pleasant land.

When Paxton finds the third crown after a telling conversation with a beautiful woman in a wild and ramshackle country garden, he feels from the moment he uncovers it that he is ‘never alone, not for a minute.’

Who stalks the unfortunate amateur archaeologist with evil intent, and who accompanies him wherever he goes, though no companion is ever visible to his own eyes or those of others? The feeling of dread is palpable all the way through this marvellously atmospheric piece of television.

Haunting flute solos throughout and the discordant scraping of violins towards the end of the piece contribute greatly to the atmospherics. Ditto the fabulous sweeping shots of a bleak coastline in winter, deserted beaches and silent woods. Clive Swift plays another Dr. Black here, this time a knickerbockered academic who comes to the desolate windswept seaside town to paint and escape his wife.

There’s a stunning scene in the village cemetery in which the local vicar points out to Paxton the resting place of the consumptive William Ager. Steam train aficionados will delight in the sight of the valiant machines used by kind permission of the North Norfolk Railway Company, and the twist in the tale will leave you reeling.

This and THE STALLS OF BARCHESTER both became highly popular Christmas viewing in the early ‘Seventies, sparking off a series of similar ghostly festive pieces. A ghost story for Christmas, what could be more perfect? Take a trip back in time and enjoy these two gems. And thank your spooky stars for the spectral imagination of M.R. James…

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

PORRIDGE. (1974-1977) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Porridge-619612

PORRIDGE. (1974-1977) WRITTEN BY DICK CLEMENT AND IAN LA FRENAIS (WRITERS OF AUF WIEDERSEHEN PET, THE LIKELY LADS, LOVEJOY). STARRING RONNIE BARKER, RICHARD BECKINSALE, BRIAN WILDE AND FULTON MACKAY.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Norman Stanley Fletcher, you have pleaded guilty to the charges brought by this court, and it is now my duty to pass sentence… You are an habitual criminal who accepts arrest as an occupational hazard and presumably accepts imprisonment in the same casual manner. We therefore feel constrained to commit you to the maximum term allowed for these offences. You will go to prison for five years.’

‘Ronnie Barker will be remembered for Fletcher in PORRIDGE long after everything else he was in has faded from memory.’ DAILY EXPRESS.

This comedy series set in an English prison is just so good, I’m genuinely gutted that I can never again watch it for the first time with new, excited eyes. I’ll be re-watching it, however, hopefully many times, and I’ll remember it till my dying day as possibly the best, funniest and also the most warm-hearted and true-to-life sitcom I’ve ever seen. Gorblimey, I’m tearing up here. Whatever would Fletch say…?

Norman Stanley Fletcher, better known as Fletch, is a petty criminal whom the Beak is sick and tired of having up in front of him, charged with yet another offence involving thieving or fraud. This time, Fletch is hit with a good stiff sentence… five years in Her Majesty’s Slade Prison, a fictional nick up North somewhere, Cumberland I think, surrounded by moors and suchlike, so escape won’t exactly be an easy option.

Fletch is a hard-as-nails, tough-as-old-boots old lag from the big smoke. Muswell Hill in London, to be precise. Every sentence ends with ‘intcha?,’ as in, aren’t you? and ‘an’ all,’ as in, as well, too, also.

He’s perpetually chewing gum, he doesn’t react with any surprise to the things he hears and sees in the nick because he’s seen and heard it all before, and he’s got his own rather skewed sense of morality. It’s okay, for example, for Fletch to nick a tin of pineapple chunks from the kitchen, but the lag who in turn steals the tin from Fletch is the lowest of the low, innit?

This time round, Fletch has a new young cellmate called Lenny Godber, played by the dreamily handsome Richard Beckinsale who was tragically dead of heart failure by the age of thirty-one.

Fletch, rather grudgingly at first, takes Lenny under his wing, but the two soon find themselves to be friends for life, partly cemented by the confidences they exchange in the wonderful two-handed episode in Series One called ‘A NIGHT IN.’

As well as being drop-dead gorgeous, Lenny is surprisingly thoughtful, insightful and sensitive for a house-breaker serving his first sentence. He’s got an unusually wide vocabulary for a con and a philosophical turn of mind, and he uses the prison’s training programmes and courses of study to better himself.

When Fletch kindly arranges to steal the History O Level Exam papers for a nervous Lenny, Lenny has no trouble deciding that he wants to pass the exam the honest way. Which is just as well because Fletch’s man Warren, dope that he is, has only gone and nicked the wrong bleedin’ paper, ‘asn’t he? Much good the Biology papers will be in this instance.

Fletch doesn’t understand Lenny’s constant quest for self-improvement. He personally just wants to do his time in peace and quiet, if anyone will ever let him. He particularly just wants to lie on his top bunk with the Page Three Stunna of the day and have himself a nice time, nudge nudge, wink wink. Let’s just hope the visiting party from the Home Office have the manners to knock before they enter his bloomin’ cell, lol.

Mister Mackay, or ‘Scotland the Brave,’ is Fletcher’s nemesis, a screw who’s firm but fair. In his own words, he holds all the lags in equal contempt…! Getting one over on Mr. Mackay, whose exaggerated accent and gestures are almost criminally funny, is probably the thing that brings Fletch the most pleasure in life inside.

You see, the little victories Fletch manages to wring from Mackay in particular and the prison system in general are what makes life behind bars bearable. Look out for Fletch’s hilarious description of how the terminally regimented Mr. Mackay has sex with his wife. Bellows: ‘Stand by your bed…! One, two, three… knickers down… NOW…!’

Mr. Mackay has a foil, of course (for every bad cop there’s a good cop), in the form of the nervous, rather jittery but undoubtedly kind-hearted Mr. Barrowclough. He’s a progressive thinker who believes that the men in his care are there to be rehabilitated and treated as human beings rather than lowlives for whom there’s no hope. Mr. Mackay thinks Barrowclough is for the birds because of such forward-thinking and modern ideas.

Of course, Barrowclough’s lovely good nature means that he can be easily taken advantage by Fletch and the other lags, but it’s nice to see as well that not every screw thinks that the prisoners are irredeemable scum who should all be locked up and the key thrown away for ever.

Poor Mr. Barrowclough has a miserable home life courtesy of his domineering wife Alice, so much so that he often wishes, as he tells Fletch, ‘that I were in here wi’ you lot…!’ Fletch’s skills as a marriage guidance counsellor are in great demand, not just with Mr. Barrowclough but also with the other lags, so much so that everyone’s in shock when it transpires that Fletch’s own wife has left him for another man… or has she…?

Other characters include: Ingrid (Patricia Brake), Fletch’s sexy blonde daughter who comes in on visiting days with ‘unfettered knockers,’ much to the other prisoners’ interest; and Mr. Geoffrey Venables, the posh prison governor whose ivory tower existence away from the crims of Slade Prison renders him ineffectual at dealing with most crises; after all, when Jim McLaren (Tony Osoba), the black angry Scottish bloke, is up on the prison roof after a scrap at the footy match, it’s down to Fletch to talk him down. McLaren, an orphan, was found as a baby ‘up a side-alley wrapped in the Glasgow Herald.’ Just like a bag of chips, the poor lad. No wonder he couldn’t go straight.

Then there’s the ‘genial’ Harry Grout (Peter Vaughan), the most powerful prisoner in Slade prison and the least genial bloke you’re likely to meet. He even gives Fletch the willies. He never goes anywhere without his muscle man for back-up and, if Grouty wants a favour, you’d damn well better do it, or else you might just get your face re-arranged… and all for free an’ all…!

Alun Armstrong (THIS IS PERSONAL: THE HUNT FOR THE YORKSHIRE RIPPER, DAVID COPPERFIELD, BLEAK HOUSE) has a cameo as a Geordie con called Spraggon, a former illiterate who’s now writing his first book. Maybe a tin of snout will release his Muse? Dudley Sutton from LOVEJOY plays Reg Urwin, a prison trustee who wants a helicopter out of Slade and ten grand in used notes. Hang on a minute, Reg, and we’ll see what we can do…!

Christopher Biggins plays the cuddly kitchen trustee Lukewarm, surely the first openly gay character on British television? David Jason (OPEN ALL HOURS, ONLY FOOLS AND HORSES, A TOUCH OF FROST), brilliantly made up as an auld fella, plays crafty old Blanco, Lukewarm’s cellmate, who’s been inside seventeen years for topping his wife.

He swears he’s innocent, however, does old Blanco, and so Fletch and the lads set up a campaign to prove said innocence. Shame they’re wasting their time. He may not have offed the wife, but he’s definitely guilty of summat, all right, the cunning old lag…!

The box-set I own has all three series of the show on it, plus two cracking little Christmas specials and an hour-long documentary, presented by Johnny Vaughan, about how great the show is and why it just might be Britain’s Best Ever Sitcom. I have no problem with any of that, lol.

I’ll leave you with Fletch’s invaluable three-pronged piece of advice for any new inmates to Slade Prison, with which, by the way, Mr. Mackay doesn’t altogether agree: One, bide your time; Two, keep your nose clean and your head down; and Three… (altogether now!)… DON’T LET THE BASTARDS GRIND YOU DOWN…!

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