Sunday, 27 January 2013

Timecapsule... The Squeeze (1977)

When I bunked off school to go watch The Squeeze in the Liverpool Odeon, it seemed like there were very few decent films being made in the UK.

There was plenty on television but the Brits seemed to have given up on cinema apart from a steady stream of sex comedies, farces and the odd James Bond. Indeed, 1977 saw the release of such classics as Come Play With Me, Confessions from a Holiday Camp and erm, Wombling Free.

Stephen Boyd and David Hemmings
But the year also saw a handful of more serious dramas of which The Squeeze was one of the more entertaining. I still don’t know quite where this film came from: sandwiched between Get Carter and The Long Good Friday it’s not at their level but it has style and substance that the slew of noughties flat-pack crime-capers mostly lack.

Directed by Michael Apted, who later in his distinguished career went on to mix Bond with Narnia, it features Stacy Keach as Jim Naboth, an alcoholic former policeman who, life in a mess, gets sucked into the kidnapping of his ex-wife Jill (Carol White).

Carol White
Keach’s performance is particularly committed and actually uncomfortable to watch in parts. You keep on anticipating the moment when the drunk sobers up and resolves to recover but – perhaps realistically – the character is not that cut and dried (out).

At the film’s start he is drunk and incapable, falling head first down a long wooden tube escalator. He ends up in hospital where they try to dry him out and to use aversion therapy to help keep him off the sauce: the NHS eh?

He returns home to find his two boys being looked after by the social services… better sober up surely?

Edward Fox and Stacy Keach
His ex’s new husband Forman (Edward Fox) crashes into his house and reveals that Jill has been taken along with their daughter. Forman runs a security firm and the kidnappers, are intent on blackmailing him to help them in stealing from his own firm. Nowhere left to turn – he can’t go to the Police – Jim’s the only person left who he can trust. The longest of long shots.

David Hemmings – just over a decade on from Blow Up – plays Keith, the gang’s amoral and mercurial leader: easy-going familiarity hiding a ruthless commitment.  His backer is the more overtly aggressive Vic played with menace by Stephen Boyd.

Stacy Keach and Hilary Gasson
As in so many similar tales of lawmen on the edge, Jim is irresistible to women and pursues a relationship with the lovely nurse who helped him recover (Hilary Gasson). They are constantly being interrupted by Jim’s mate Teddy (a decent turn from comedian Freddie Starr) who wants to look after him after the former cop helped keep him on the straight and narrow...the odd bit of shoplifting excluded.

Hilary Gasson
Whilst these are all so easily clichéd characters, Apted keeps The Squeeze rough, ready and unpredictable. The kidnappers kill the Forman’s dog and for anxious seconds he thinks that it’s their daughter. It’s clear that there will be blood… but we don’t know who or how much until the very end.

There are tense moments as Jim and Teddy search an abandoned factory for the daughter whilst Jill is forced into an humiliating strip for the gang. White is typically brave here and this sequence is hard to watch – she’s a great improvisational actor here forced into a desperate act of self-preservation.

Whilst Jill is in hell, the suspense is ramped up by Jim’s seeming inability to straighten himself out. He bounces around from inspiration to frustration and invariably ends up with a drink in his hand.

Stephen Boyd
Caught breaking into Vic’s house he spins a quick line about working with the tax office before being made to drink a bottle of scotch and being kicked out with no clothes or dignity.  Keach doesn’t hold back even if his diction is occasionally challenging.

Keith blackmails Forman into killing Jim but he can’t go through with it. Jim works out a plan and tells Forman to spin the lie that he followed through. This allows Jim to go undercover… he’s got a plan or is he just going to get drunk yet again?

The Squeeze is fast-paced and realistically restrained – it doesn’t step over the mark of believability with its characters acting in flawed and believable ways throughout.

The Ford Zodiac 
It also offers some lovely, grimy views of unkempt late 70s London especially as Teddy’s gently rusted, grey Ford Zodiac prowls the streets. There’s a short section in the Notting Hill Carnival and some precious glimpses of posters advertising gigs for the Ohio Players and Uriah Heep. Then there’s the pubs… when did our public houses stop looking so shabbily welcoming?!

Freddie Starr and Stacy Keach in a proper pub
The hard-edged synthesised soundtrack from Genesis’ producer, David Henschel, impressed us all as schoolboys and impresses now… a precursor to Francis Monkman’s superb score for The Long Good Friday. It’s also supplemented by some period colour from the likes of the Doobie Brothers and – bizarrely – Jon Anderson, who’s Olias of Sunhillow plays on in the background of a massage parlour… not quite what the singer had in mind for his space-faring solo album.

Dusty verdict: well worth watching on DVD and if you want to remember just a bit about what the 1970s actually looked and felt like.

Commer van meets Morris Minor: 70s car porn
Some of these bands are still touring...
70s skyline

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Clowning around… Requiem for a Vampire (1971)

Mireille Dargen and Marie-Pierre Castel
This is one of those films I hesitate to write about… there are a couple of sections of unpleasant sexual violence that are beyond a joke. But there’s also a good deal of craft in the film which I would say rescues it from the sleaze-fest dump-bin.

The first half hour of the film passes with virtually no dialogue as we follow a couple of girls dressed as clowns, on the run from unknown assailants. They fire bullets from a car driven by a male accomplice, at their nameless pursuers and, when their driver is fatally wounded, they manage to evade their enemies and drive into a forest. They say farewell to their friend then torch both him and the car before starting a relentless run through the woods.

The women are Michelle (Mireille Dargent) and her un-named blonde friend (Marie-Pierre Castel) who it later transpires have run away from school – whether this is a reform school is not specified although the two certainly know how to handle guns.

Marie tricks an off-road vendor into following her for “favours” so that Michelle can steal them some food. Then they take a motorbike and head off further into the country. Ditching the bike they head into a cemetery for rest. Here, bizarrely, Michelle almost gets buried by two grave diggers… you wonder why she doesn’t resist or even get noticed?

This is all part of Director Jean Rollin’s intent to disorientate, and he certainly succeeds in creating a strange atmosphere that persists as the two find their way to a ruined chateau. They explore the walls of this mysterious edifice and eventually lie down on a conveniently well-made bed to demonstrate that they are more than just friends.

Disturbed by a noise elsewhere in the castle they go off to investigate, finding a group of skeletons amongst which a gaunt woman (Fiona) is playing the organ… she turns around to reveal a pair of long and unconvincing canine extensions…

It is at this point that the film descends into straight-ahead “horrotica” and euro-trashy exploitation.
The first section is mysterious with the clown costumes, the ceaseless movement and with nothing really revealed...

Now the girls are assailed not only by the lady vampire but a couple of uncouth, sex-starved acolytes who paw at them repeatedly. The girls managed to escape but only get as far as the cemetery where their way is barred by a tall greying man who, barely smiling, reveals another set of vampiric chompers.

They are taken into the crypt where the big fella bites them and renders them both in a trance whilst the men ravage two young women chained to the walls… it’s an unpleasant scene and one that goes on far too long to have any real purpose other than to titillate the lazy minded cine-perve. Any-way… turns out that this is all part of the process of degradation and transformation of the innocent into vampires.

Yet, confusingly, the old Vampire later claims that as his powers are on their final waning; only Fiona can make the ultimate transition. Never-the-less, he tries to initiate the girls and sends them off to be instructed. They are to tempt two young men into the crypt as food for the vampires and set off to entrap the young men. Michelle succeeds but Marie decides on rebellion, the vampire requires virgins for his mojo to work and so she deliberately relieves herself of this status with the help of a handsome passer-by called Frederic.

Insert "hanging around" joke here...
Now it gets confusing as Michelle’s “interview” with the vampire goes to plan but he soon realises that Marie has betrayed him. He orders Michelle to torture her into telling them where the young man is… there follows a gratuitous scene of girl-on-girl whipping which culminates in Michelle fending off Fiona and helping Marie to escape…

Frederic is captured in the crypt, the girls get their guns and set off to finish things, they gun down the animalistic men – who seem to be multiplying - but no matter, the guns have many rounds! Finally, the old vampire has had enough and orders his last remaining acolytes to let them go… the game is up and there has been too much blood-shed.

Scarier in shadow
He takes Fiona with him into the crypt and will there remain until they have both perished, at which point his legacy and enduring power over his followers will be ended… Hmm, maybe he needed some better henchmen who were given to more constructive pursuits than  puerile degradation? Just a thought…

Requiem for a Vampire is worth watching for Rollin’s stylish first half hour but it never really gets going and the story feels convoluted and very thin. The running girls are good and the atmosphere well maintained but the motivations of the vampire are hard to credit…

Dusty verdict: if it’s on late night TV give it a go… or video and FFWD through the OTT bits like I did.