Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Dracula's back garden

It was my birthday this weekend, and I've at last had my Purple Rose of Cairo moment...

Part of my present was a trip to Black Park in Buckinghamshire, and that strange, wonderful, dream-like sensation of walking into a movie.

If by any chance you need a reminder of the cinematic significance of Black Park, let me jog your memory...
It is, of course, where just about every woodland exterior of every Hammer horror film ever made was shot. And it's all still here, exactly as you imagined it, exactly as it was the last time you saw it, exactly as if they'd just finished shooting Dracula Has Risen From The Grave yesterday, exactly as if they weren't movies at all, but real...
The eerie, sun-dappled yet strangely chilly paths through the forest...

The lake, from which so many bodies were pulled...
The tree-lined roads along which horse-drawn carriages rumbled and raced...
... and nervous travellers stopped at roadside shrines on lonely crossroads...
The fern-carpeted thickets, where the sinister dwarf from Vampire Circus led an entire family to their doom, Christopher Lee observed a black mass in The Devil Rides Out and Susan Denberg killed her last victim in Frankenstein Created Woman...

And the deep, dark forests, with who knows what hiding behind every tree... Christopher Lee, perhaps...
... or, if you're lucky, a passing vampiress, possessed by the spirit of Valerie Leon...
In all: a thoroughly recommended visit.
But, as always with locations imbued with supernatural evil, do please take care.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Knight of the Living Dead

Went for a walk this morning, walked past a newsagent's and saw the headline "Arise, Sir Dracula!" next to a picture of Christopher Lee with red eyes and blood-dripping fangs.
The knighthood, long overdue, has been campaigned for relentlessly by his fans via internet petitions. Now at last it is his, but imagine his bittersweet pleasure at seeing that headline!
The last of the great horror icons, Lee is a versatile and distinguished actor of an older, more theatrical tradition, and also wonderfully, heroically grumpy.
He has never quite come to terms with – or fully accounted for – the fact that his career took him into some extremely seedy and low budget corners of the film industry, when, say, Kenneth More’s or Donald Sinden’s or Richard Attenborough’s did not. This was the kind of civilised Pinewood company he had gone into the film business expecting to encounter; instead he was as often as not to be found in Spain or Italy or Germany, making films with the likes of Jesus Franco and Harry Alan Towers and titles like The Torture Chamber of Dr Sadism, Eugenie: The Story of Her Journey Into Perversion and Howling 2: Your Sister Is a Werewolf.
ffffffffffff..............ffffffffffffff Lee being scary
Hammer fans often get impatient with his insistence that he is not a horror star, that he has played in far more films of other genres, and that the Dracula movies were undertaken reluctantly and under pressure from Sir James Carreras.
But delightful as the Dracula series is, it is obvious that he is right, and that the films could have been a lot better if more care had gone into them.
Perhaps the biggest treat in Wayne Kinsey’s two endlessly readable volumes of nerdy Hammer trivia is the quotes from the letters Lee wrote to the president of his fan club when he began embarking on a new Dracula movie. Every time he repeats the same objections and assures us that this will be the last.

He is also, I sense, not thrilled by the obsessive nature of many horror fans: I well recall an occasion when, after lecturing at the NFT, he was cornered by a Devil Rides Out fanatic whose life seemingly depended on conveying the fact that his favourite scene in the film was “the bit where you say ‘don’t look at his eyes’”; it remains the only time I have ever seen him look frightened.

The ethics and worldview of the exploitation industry simply baffle him. He is hilarious discoursing on, for example, Milton Subotsky’s decision to cast him as Jekyll and Hyde - retaining the original plot and all subsidiary characters, correctly named - only to insist on his roles being renamed Dr Marlowe and Mr Blake and the film itself rebranded I, Monster. The reason is probably simple: the very fact that the film was a faithful adaptation meant that Subotsky felt obliged to pretend it was something new, and if by any chance there was anyone who hadn’t heard of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, I, Monster was far more likely to get them into the cinemas.
But to Lee, the whole affair is a dark, impenetrable mystery.
ffffffffff................ffffffffff Lee trying not to be scary
His best performances are often in unworthy projects. Halliwell's dismissal of Rasputin, the Mad Monk as a “dreary excuse for Christopher Lee to go berserk” is funny but hardly fair: Lee is fully mesmeric in the role. (As well as playing Rasputin he had been introduced to his assassins as a child, and to his daughter as an adult. He is also the only actor to have played Sherlock Holmes, Mycroft Holmes and Sir Henry Baskerville, and to have beheaded both Charles I and Louis XVI on screen.)
I love his cameo in Death Line, his barnstorming turn in the old boys' reunion House of the Long Shadows and his scariest villain: Lord Summerisle, a fine performance in what I fear may be a somewhat overrated film, The Wicker Man.
And his Dracula, too, is unquestionably magnificent, especially in the Franco version for which he had such high, dashed hopes. Lee’s Count is convincingly aristocratic, frighteningly powerful when suddenly roused to violent activity, and imbued, like his Mummy and Frankenstein’s monster, with a delicate pathos, conveyed via his considerable gift for mime. The voice is rich and compelling, but as an actor it is not his principle instrument. Lee acts primarily with his body, turning to advantage the six feet and five inches that initially kept him out of lead roles for over a decade.
Watch the behind the scenes footage of him filming the prologue to Dracula AD 1972, as director Alan Gibson tries to show him how to act being impaled on a cartwheel. Lee listens graciously, then looks away and raises his eyebrows to the heavens. The gesture tells you almost all you need to know about the man’s integrity, his devotion to his craft, and his commitment to giving audiences the very best of which he is capable.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Irene Ware: Dr Vollin's girl

Sometimes, there's simply no reason at all why some people become stars and others do not.
And of all the rungs on the Hollywood ladder to find oneself stalled on, it seems to me that 'almost made it' just has to be the loneliest.
The nobodies are anonymous.
Nobody bothers them, nobody points them out in restaurants or asks what ever happened to them, nobody is watching them, or waiting for them to fall.
An actor who's never going to get leads can remodel himself as a character actor. No problem. He may even get a longer career out of it than the stars he envies.
But if you're a beautiful starlet, it's obvious you're not in the game from a desire to play small parts.
And you are going to get noticed; you'll get that first level of stardom handed to you; that tantalising, tormenting first rung... they'll know your name, they'll see your picture in all the magazines.
But when it comes to wanting to see movies with you in the lead...
It is these nearly-made-it starlets that have the least armour.
Clearly, they live only to be the name above the title. And if they never make it, the wind must blow hard and cold around those swimsuits.
I have many favourites among these also-rans, and in almost every case, there's really no good reason in the world why they didn't make that final leap into the vindication of unambiguous stardom.
Talent has very little to do with it: many a star made it without it, many a failure failed in spite of it.
What, I mean what that really mattered, did Marie Macdonald lack?
Just luck. Just the breaks.
And then there's this, from my Wonder Album of Filmland, a pictorial guide to the stars of 1932:
It is, maybe, a little early to include a picture of JUNE VLASEK in such a gallery as this. Her film career has only just begun and the world has yet to see her real capabilities. But she deserves to appear in any film-land picture display because she really is admitted on all sides to be "the most beautiful girl in Hollywood." You do not need to look very hard to see why.
And yet... not enough, June; not enough.
You see her here and there. She's in Chandu the Magician (1932), and Bonnie Scotland (1935) with Laurel and Hardy... she kept at it until 1947, did a bit of tv... died in 2005.
And yes, in those early thirties appearances, she really could be the most beautiful woman in Hollywood. But for June, for some reason... not enough.
Also appearing in Chandu is the actress who is, for me, the undisputed queen of the very-nearlys.
Irene Ware is most things a Hollywood goddess should be, so far as I am fit to judge.
She has that certain grace, and ease, and slightly aristocratic poise that unites women as different in every other way as Crawford and Colbert and Fay Wray and Kay Francis.
As an actress? Hard to say how good she is: from the little she is given the chance to show, she seems fine.
As a beauty: almost unrivalled.
Why, then, was Irene Ware not a major Hollywood star of the thirties?
Because the whole thing's a lottery, that's why. Because the whole thing's a joke.
The IMDB would have me believe that she was crowned Miss United States of 1926, at the age of sixteen. Quite the honour, but not apparently so: I am grateful to Allure, one of my favourite blogs, for this more accurate account:
Irene Ahlberg was born November 6, 1910 in Pelham, NY. Several references state she was crowned Miss America of 1926. Not so, she was named Miss Greater NY in 1929, and then Miss United States for the Miss Universe competition.
However, this is not the Miss Universe you have come to know and love/hate. This "Miss Universe" was the Galveston, Tex., International Beauty Contest.
Virtually ignored by the U. S. press, the Galveston tournament was big news elsewhere in the world. In Paris, Madrid, Vienna, Rio de Janeiro, editors reported on just what Miss France, Miss Spain, Miss Austria, Miss Brazil were doing, wearing, saying at each instant of the final ceremony. For the record, Austria won and Irene took second, and it was reported as "Irene Ahlberg, a Manhattan stenographer, 18 and blond, won $1,000 and second honors".
I'm guessing she took that $1000 to help the move to show business. From late 1929 through early 1932 Irene appeared in several of Earl Carroll's Vanities broadway productions. Hollywood and a name change to Irene Ware came in 1932 when she signed a contract with Fox.
The Fox contract brought her one juicy lead, at least, in Chandu, the delightful adaptation of the hit radio serial with Edmund Lowe somewhat stolid and draggy as the mysterious Chandu and Bela Lugosi on full battery as the villain Roxor.
Irene, as the Princess Nadji, is everything anyone could have reasonably expected the Princess Nadji to be: likeable, attractive in states of peril, spectrally beautiful at all times.
It led to very little, alas. The old story: she couldn't get out of support roles; always on trial, never given the big shot.
She's sixth-billed but the definite standout in Six Hours To Live (1932), second fiddle to Boots Mallory in Humanity (1933), looking for chances in the shadow of Carole Lombard in Brief Moment (1933) for Columbia.
Back at Fox she was sliding further and further down the cast roll: fourth-ranked female in the pre-Code musical My Weakness (1933), an uncredited showgirl in Moulin Rouge (1935), blink and you'll miss her in The Affairs of Cellini (1934), a film that also conspires to squander Fay Wray.
Presumably, from this rather pointless evidence, someone somewhere, sat behind a desk with gravy stains on his tie, decreed that Irene Ware didn't have what it takes to make it.
She went to other studios, doing the usual juggling act: leads for the fly-by-nights and in-and-outs for the majors. (Look sharp and you'll see her in Gold Diggers of 1937.)
The best news around this time came from Universal, who picked her up for a couple of good spots in Let's Talk It Over (1934) and Rendezvous at Midnight (1935) and gave her her best ever leading chance in The Raven (1935).
The Raven (above) is the one that breaks your heart. The female lead, reunited with Lugosi, doing screaming in cellars and sophisticated banter with one of my favourite male nearlys - Lester Matthews, the nearly-Melvyn Douglas - she is stunning and she is delightful. If anyone has what it takes, she has what it takes!
Now, I'm not going to pretend that I have not seen this performance criticised, even condemned. The Midnight Marquee book Bitches, Bimbos and Virgins: Women in the Horror Film slams her; calls her "a doll in a silly wig, not a living, breathing person."
Well, there's room for all views, I have no doubt.
All I can say is I'm glad I've not seen that version of The Raven. I'll stick with the one I stayed up later than I'd ever stayed up before in my life - 1:35 am! - to see in the summer of 1983... the one where we first see her curled up on Lugosi's sofa in a shimmering satin dress, he sat at the organ playing Bach's Tocata and Fugue, the desert island disc of all movie mad scientists, she purring "You're almost not a man..."
The one where she dances 'The Spirit of Poe'.
The one where she is absolutely magnificent.
Could Irene Ware dance? Or is one of the reasons why she wears a mask in this gorgeous scene from The Raven so as to disguise the presence of a dancing stand-in? None is credited...
Obviously, it helps not only that she is in so stylised a production - this is top of the range Universal horror - but also in so intense a drama.
The plot has Lugosi as Richard Vollin, a great surgeon and Poe-obsessed sadist, who saves her life after a car crash and then becomes sexually obsessed with her. When she spurns his advances, he merrily invites her, her boyfriend and her father to his house for a weekend party so as to spend the night torturing them to death in his basement. Here he has built a variety of torture devices inspired by Poe's stories, including his razor-edged pendulum and "room where the walls come together"
It's ghoulish stuff - Britain put a ban on imported horror films on account of it - and Irene, who could easily have been hopelessly inadequate as the object of murderous erotic obsession, breezes through the role with both a star's beauty and that star's confidence that counts for so much more.
The rest is mainly Poverty Row.
Many of these thirties films are available on budget DVD: the romantic comedy False Pretenses (1935) and the thrillers Murder at Glen Athol and The Dark Hour (both 1936), in particular, are eminently worth your time and your small change. You can watch them, and almost pretend they were, say, big studio B's. Pretend she's the star she should have been.
Most fascinating of all is King Kelly of the USA (1934), a truly insane Monogram musical. Poverty Row is always compelling when it gets big ideas, and this piece, an absurdist Ruritarian farce with Edgar Kennedy, Franklin Pangborn and a bunch of songs, is strange and funny and consistently delightful, reminiscent of Duck Soup and Million Dollar Legs and suchlike oddities that proliferated around the same time.
Irene is Tania, princess of a fantasy kingdom dependent for its economy on the export of mops, now in dire straits following the invention of the vacuum cleaner. She has an animated love song performed in her honour. She slides down a banister. She is utterly adorable.
Irene Ware ended her career trying to make a go of things in Britain. No dice. Her last film was Outside the Three-Mile Limit (1940), with Jack Holt doing likewise.
She didn't branch out into television in the fifties.
She died in March, 1993.
Could she have been a big star? Yes, she could have been a big star.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Tod Slaughter, the villain they loved

In 1956, at the very dawn of Hammer horror, a British actor passed away more or less without notice at the age of seventy.
One of the most unlikely of thirties film stars, with his round, teddy bear face and tubby physique, at a first glance he seemed most suited to kindly, paternal roles, and had indeed often played such characters in his earlier theatrical days.
But in a long career on stage and screen, Tod Slaughter had established himself as the nation's foremost villain and fiend, revelling in his status as the star audiences loved to hate: for him hisses and boos were like laughter to a comic. Without him, there may have been no Hammer horror at all.
He had been born Norman Carter Slaughter – yes, Slaughter was his real name – in 1885. He made his acting debut at the age of twenty, becoming an actor-manager in the grand tradition. In the twenties he ran his own theatres in Chatham and Elephant and Castle, where his revival of many of the old melodramas of the Victorian music halls cemented his reputation as (to quote the publicity tag appended to one of his later films) “the villain they love”.
One of those imperishable one-offs who seem simultaneously to debase and enrich the culture that begets them, he is an acting law unto himself; he stalks across the screen, leaps, cackles, leers, looms, rolls his eyes and rubs his hands together.
Sometimes he addresses his lines directly to the audience rather than characters; in one film, after some especially dastardly bit of evil plotting, he looks at us and slowly nods his head. And no actor before or since has matched the glee and panache with which he delivers lines like: “Be loyal to your trust and it will repay you handsomely, betray me and I’ll feed your entrails to the pigs!”
His films invariably follow a strict theatrical pattern. He’s usually a wicked squire or some other trusted authority figure engaged in a secret life as a master criminal (often with names like ‘The Tiger’ or ‘The Spine-Breaker’). He always kills for profit or gain, yet takes clear sadistic pleasure in the act of murder, cackling and gloating beforehand. He is also lecherous, and obsessed with the conquest of beautiful virgins.
Typically, his lust for some innocent girl leads him to frame the man she loves for one of his own crimes. His villainy is usually revealed to the audience from the outset, and he shares it with them from then on, Christmas pantomime-style, even as he attempts to deceive the other characters. About half way through the hero and heroine get the true measure of him but are not believed; he is arrested, she is put in mortal or maidenly peril, and only some last minute intervention saves the day.
Then, when confronted with the often pretty flimsy evidence of his criminality, Slaughter instantly switches from swaggering arrogance to ranting, gurgling madness and screams for mercy. (Mercy which is needless to say not extended: the audience would have rioted if it were.) .

The subjects of his melodramas were the same that preoccupied the authors of penny dreadfuls and sensational ballads; that residue of grim English folklore stretching back to the highwaymen and grave-robbers, and on to Dr Crippen and Jack the Ripper.
His debut, Maria Marten, or: The Murder in the Red Barn (1935, note the bill-board theatricality of the title) was based on a notorious murder that took place in the Suffolk village of Polstead in 1827. (Maria was a mole-catcher’s daughter made pregnant out of wedlock by a wicked local squire named William Corder. On the pretext of eloping, he arranged to meet her at a red-tiled barn on his property, where he murdered and buried her. The body was eventually discovered and Corder, who had fled to London, was hanged in public in front of Bury St Edmunds jail. Visitors to the local museum can still see a selection of gruesome relics associated with the crime, including Corder’s scalp and an account of the crime bound in his skin.)
In Britain this sort of thing was considered frightfully tasteless, pandering to the worst instincts of the lowest common denominator. Indeed, the scene in Maria Marten in which he lures poor Maria to the barn and murders her is not explicit in any modern sense, but the inordinate amount of time separating his telling her she is about to be killed and his actually doing it, accompanied by her screams and pleas, give the film a prurient quality that almost anticipates the serial killer movies of the nineties.
As well as Maria Marten, many other of his films give a melodramatic gloss to real life crimes and mysteries, including the story of Edinburgh ‘ressurectionists’ Burke and Hare (The Greed of William Hart), mysterious Victorian villain Spring Heeled Jack (The Curse of the Wraydons) and, by far his most famous role, Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1936).
.Slaughter played this role countless times on stage, and was still recreating it in novelty spots on tv in the fifties. The film version catches him at his very best, telling his customers how they have “a beautiful throat for the razor”, and concluding with relish “I’ll enjoy polishing you off!” before sending them plummeting through the trap door that takes them to the basement of Mrs Lovett’s pie shop…
But unlike on stage - where Tod delighted the crowds with a prop razor that spurted gore - the British censor has here insisted that the horrors be toned down to a point where it would be difficult for audiences unfamiliar with the story to be sure what is going on. The trap door under the barber's chair is operated before Todd cuts the incumbent's throat, and the ultimate destination of the corpses is never stated outright. The closest we get is an innuendo, as a sailor chomping on a hot pie wonders aloud what the killer does with the bodies.
Just as Maria Marten had begun, rather like Olivier’s Henry V, as a modern stage production which gradually becomes a film; so the narrative of Sweeney Todd is recounted in flashback by a modern day barber, whose horrified customer ends by fleeing, still lathered, into the street and bumping into a hot pie vendor. The Crimes of Stephen Hawke (1936), meanwhile, is staged as an episode of the radio show In Town Tonight, beginning with a comic song from the musical comedy duo Flotsam and Jetsam and other irrelevant items before Slaughter is brought on, his interview segueing into the narrative. (Asked about his favourite methods of murder, he replies: "I keep a perfectly open mind on the matter.")
Of course, the chief purpose of all these odd-seeming additions is to distract the censors. After all, Hawke proper begins with a scene in which Slaughter lures a small boy into the bushes and callously breaks his back - were the film to begin that way it would never have been passed.
Perhaps the cleverest of all these tricks can be seen in It's Never Too Late To Mend (1937), which opens with a rolling-caption disclaimer claiming that the book upon which it was based was directly responsible for prison reform, and was read and approved by the Dear Old Queen. As additional insurance, the film is presented in association with something called the Dawn Trust ("under the direction of the Reverend Brian Hession"), at whose instigation, one must presume, the film has been landed with a heroic priest character, who confronts Slaughter at the end Dracula-style, with only an outstretched crucifix for protection.
With this cover safely in place, Slaughter runs riot as Squire Meadows, a sadistic magistrate who gets his jollies visiting prisons and taunting and flogging the prisoners, who he calls "my children".
His film work goes through two distinct phases. At first he is Slaughter the novelty, in films that deliberately emulate the look and atmosphere of the stage plays on which they are based.
Then, from about 1937 onwards, he is Slaughter the bona fide film star, in (comparatively) cinematic vehicles crafted around his new movie fame.
He was even picking up support work in other movies around this time: a clear reflection of his new legitimacy as a film actor. He turned up as guest villain in a Sexton Blake movie, Sexton Blake and the Hooded Terror, in 1938, and as a sex-pest gypsy in Song of the Road (1937), a lugubrious drama about a middle-aged freelance farm labourer and his beloved horse struggling to find work after the invention of the tractor. (And they wondered why British films lacked international appeal.)
If Sweeney Todd is the defining film of his first phase, the best-remembered title among the second crop is surely The Face at the Window (1939, subtitled “a melodrama of the old school, dear to the hearts of all who unashamedly enjoy either a shudder or a laugh at the heights of villainy”), remembered chiefly for receiving a glowing review from Graham Greene in his days as a film critic. (He even went so far as to compare Slaughter approvingly with Charles Laughton.)
The film casts Slaughter as ‘The Wolf’, a killer in nineteenth century Paris, who stabs his victims while their attention is distracted by the horrifying face of his hulking halfwit brother pressed against their window pane. When he's not out staring through windows, Slaughter keeps him locked in a cage. .

Less famous, but even better in many ways, is the last and most impudent product of his golden era: Crimes at the Dark House (1940).
By Slaughter's standards it's a prestige production, as befits its unprecedentedly highbrow source. The film is in fact an adaptation of Wilkie Collins's classic Victorian novel The Woman in White, but don't worry: it begins with Slaughter hammering a tent-peg into a sleeping man's ear, and follows it up with him impregnating and then murdering a helpless servant girl. ("So you wanted to be a bride, my dear Jessica did you? So you shall be : a bride of death! He, he, he! Heh, heh, heh!")
The big cliffhanger: will he or won't he rape the heroine? ("Back in Australia I used to break in fractious horses - now I'm going to break in a fractious mare!") In a scene that would surely have been impossible in a Hollywood film under the Hays Code, we begin by seeing him downstairs, preparing to deflower the young bride waiting unwillingly in his bed. We cut to her, crying pitifully. He goes to join her, and a series of disembodied close-ups emphasise his intentions: his feet slowly climbing the stairs, his hands gripping the banisters, then her face again, suddenly lit as the bedroom door opens... Slaughter's joyless laugh fills the soundtrack, and the scene fades. Heh, heh, heh...
The majority of the pre-war vehicles were produced and directed by George King (1900-66), maverick producer of quota quickies and second-features, and one of those enterprising and energetic chaps in which the early British cinema abounds.
The war, however, gave him a chance to raise his game: British Aviation hired him to produce propaganda films like The First of the Few and Tomorrow We Live (both 1942). But while King scampered upmarket, his former star, in a corresponding reversal of fortune, was prohibited from producing such unwholesome films during the war years, though he was allowed to tour army camps with his Sweeney Todd stage show.
He returned to the screen for two last barnstormers when the war was over but he was sixty now, visibly older, even rounder, and time had moved on. Neither The Curse of the Wraydons (1946) nor The Greed of William Hart (1948) really compare with the pre-war films except in fleeting moments, such as the beautifully scary close-up of his leering face in Wraydons, filling the screen as he advances on the woman he is about to strangle in a leafy, sun-dappled forest.
William Hart, meanwhile, is most notable for its ingenious response to Slaughter's last ever set-to with the censors.
The British censors declared that no film could be made about the Burke and Hare murders that used the killers' actual names. The only trouble was that by the time the producers realised this, the film was already in the can. Obviously it would have been impossible to go back and reshoot every scene in which the names 'Burke', 'Hare' and 'Knox' are mentioned, but the solution they hit upon seems scarcely less difficult: to laboriously post-dub every individual use of each name.
This was plainly a labour of Hercules: hardly a scene goes by that doesn't mention at least one of them, and the sudden substitution of the new names (Moore, Hart and Cox), with tell-tale errors in intonation (rather like those piecemeal voice messages you get on railway stations and telephone answering machines), is often distractingly comic in its obviousness.
(Further evidence of this policy can be seen in the British release print of Val Lewton's The Body Snatcher, where every reference to Burke and Hare - though not to Knox - has been crudely excised, from the single word 'Burked' in Karloff's line "This is how they Burked 'em!", to the entirety of his song ["Nor did they handle axe or knife, To take away their victim's life / No sooner done than in the chest, They crammed their lately welcomed guest"]. The version of the film released on video in Britain in the late eighties by VCI is of this British cut, and I had watched it for years in ignorance of what was missing and why, until the revelation of the recent Lewton DVD box set. Note also how, though not filmed until 1985, the film of Dylan Thomas's forties screenplay The Doctor and the Devils retains substitute character names: Fallon and Broom, and Dr Rock.)
After William Hart, Slaughter returned to the boards, supplementing touring versions of Sweeney Todd and his other great roles with occasional bit-work in supporting films and tv.
He died of coronary thrombosis in 1956, after a good meal and one last performance as the wicked Squire Corder in Maria Marten, a role he had been technically too old to play in 1935, and had never stopped playing since.

Slaughter was, without doubt, the founding father of the British horror film. In the later examples his spirit is everywhere: you can imagine slipping him into, say, Baker and Berman's madly stylised Jack the Ripper (1958) and it hardly missing a beat. Can't you seem him as Dr Callistratus in Blood of the Vampire (1958)? Or the head of the Grisbane clan in House of the Long Shadows (1983)? Or any of the ranting deviants essayed by Michael Gough in the films of Herman Cohen?
Wasn't he born to play Edward Lionheart in Theatre of Blood (1973)?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Vincent Price's crocodile

As all Vincent Price fans know, he was no mean cook.
Still, you have to wonder what he was thinking of when he came up with this. It's taken from his book Cooking Price Wise, and comes courtesy of Zelda Manners.
So here it is...
You will need:
1 cucumber
4 strips green pepper
olives/cherries/currants etc (for the eyes)
few blanched almonds
+ cocktail sticks
Split broad end of cucumber lengthwise for 2-3 inches to form the mouth and prop open with small cocktail sticks.
Press in a few pieces of blanched almonds for the teeth.
Arrange the eyes.
Shape strips of green pepper into legs and secure in place with cocktail sticks.
Quite what he envisages you doing with it after that I really wouldn't like to say. But it should look like this...
... and surely that's good enough all by itself.
Strange to imagine this great, great actor in his kitchen, alone perhaps, maybe chuckling to himself... as the idea first hits him to turn a cucumber into a crocodile.
For this, and for your performances in Laura, House of Wax, His Kind of Woman and Theatre of Blood, we salute thee, Vincent, where'er thy soul resides.