Saturday, 28 January 2017

Pier pressure… The Flesh and Blood Show (1972)

There is something of the plot structure of early period Scooby Doo in Peter Walker’s pier-bound whodunit save for the talking dog, the Mystery Machine and copious amounts of blood and naked flesh: it does what it says on the tin in this respect. Walker’s stock in trade was oppressive horror featuring pretty young things in peril as in The House of Whipcord and Frightmare and here he takes a decent cast and makes a stab at a more considered tale.

In spite of some slow pacing and a perp so obvious even Scrappy Doo would have spotted him (although there is a twist…) The Flesh and Blood Show is redeemed by good performances and superb atmospherics. Any film with Ray Brooks, Luan Peters, Jenny Hanley and Patrick Barr can’t be all bad and they have plenty to get their teeth into.

The film opens with a comic foretaste of what is to come, as the boorish John (David Howey) knocks on the door of two female friends and pretends to have been knifed. It’s an ostensibly gory start and one that also provides an opportunity to marvel at the quite exceptional physical attributes of Luan Peters as she dashes naked from bed to help her idiot pal. You know where you are with this film but not necessarily right away…

Only joking! David Howey makes sure Judy Matheson and Luan Peters get the point.
Walker plays with expectations not just with the first scene but when are travelling band arrives at a seaside pier theatre – Cromer’s Pavilion Theatre - to find what looks like two dead bodies: a man head thrown back and a nude woman seemingly despatched where they sat in the stalls. But it’s only Robin Asquith taking a nap along with his inexplicably nude partner, Angela (Penny Meredith).

Asquith’s Simon and Angela are among the early arrivals at this mysterious gig which has pulled together an eclectic bunch of actors and a director, Mike (Ray Brooks) in order to work up a production before transfer to London. The Agents involved are mysterious and, as in an Agatha Christie novel, the ten little actors (not a miss-count…) gradually realise how little they know.

Seven characters in search of an author...
Yet it takes a while for things to get dark. The troop get to know each other quickly enough – very quickly in the case of dashing Australian Tony (Tristan Rogers) who gets to share a changing room with curvaceous Carol (Luan Peters) much to John’s disgust although things look up as he spies Carol’s pal Jane (Judy Matheson) being seduced by Angela (clearly fully rested after her nap with Simon…).

Ah, free love and those innocent times… but this was 1972 and the tide was definitely turning on carefree expression. In the middle of the night a scream rings out and no one can find Angela. Mike sets off torch in hand – it’s all a bad dream surely she’s just gone off to find a proper bed? But, passing a row of wax heads he is shocked to find that one of them is blonde and covered in blood; she’s been decapitated in the surprisingly-functional guillotine back stage.

Ray Brooks gets a shock
The police are called in but there’s no sign… and a note explaining that she’s gone back to London… odd timing but the gang mostly accept it especially as they are soon joined by a glamorous stranger, Julia (played by Magpie’s very own sex siren Jenny Hanley). We’ve previously seen Julia at a playback of a period film – which also features the ubiquitous Jess Conrad. She’s a future star and has been sent to gain stage experience.

Jenny Hanley
The others are impressed, especially Tony who casts appreciative glances as Julia undresses in the changing room much to Carol’s disgust – out-blonded (although it is a matter of taste…). This instant triangle distracts the audience once again from any seeming inevitability in the horror narrative and we’re soon lost in the day-to-day as the actors start working on their routine.

Another actress joins them, and our cup over-floweth as the raven-haired loveliness of Candace Glendenning arrives as local thesp Sarah.

Candace Glendenning, Judy Matheson and Tristan Rogers
Now quorate again, the real story can kick on but… strangely, it doesn’t. Yes there is a mysterious gloved figure watching the rehearsals from the gods but we still have some way to go before normal horrific service can be resumed.

The actors head into town for a laugh at a café where they meet friendly old Major Bell (Patrick Barr) and his dog. They meet him again when staying over at Sarah’s aunt’s for a shower and tea (Elizabeth Bradley) and it’s here that they learn of an enduring mystery connected to the wartime disappearance of three actors from the theatre.

Julia heads off to the library to investigate and finds old newspaper reports of the last performance of Sir Arnold Gates whose Othello disappeared along with his wife, Lady Pamela’s Desdemona and their Iago.

All will be revealed in time but in 1972 more actors start going missing and soon the body count has included Sarah and even the lovely Carol (on “principle” I almost stopped watching at this point: let Luan live!!). Is it the creepy John or something else entirely?

The tension mounts but then we get a black and white flashback – one of the 3D sequences in the original screenings – that explains (almost) all as the loony tune toys in the attic are revealed… It’s not quite a tale of the unexpected but there’s more in store as a further twist is added at the death…

In the spotlight
Dusty verdict: The Flesh and Blood Show doesn’t disappoint on its title until a patchy ending but it is an enjoyable romp with top notch cinematography from Peter Jessop and a good build up of tension from Peter Walker.

There are good performances and Ray Brooks is excellent as always – such a fine actor from The Knack to Walford. There’s also a completely beguiling line up of seventies beauty from lovely Luan to the frankly flawless Miss Hanley not to mention Hammer regular Judy Matheson and Candace Glendenning: this is premier league pulchritude and Walker doesn’t hold back in maximising the presentation of their secondary sexual characteristics…

If that appeals and you like creepy stories set in run-down piers then this film is for you even if you may fast forward near the end.

The Flesh and Blood Show is now available in Blu-ray – as if to underline the enduring allure of period sexuality – but it’s also a proper film the appreciation of which should not be undermined too much by its sensationalism.


Monday, 16 January 2017

Carol, come home… Daddy's Gone A-Hunting (1969)

In which the Battersea Bardot finds her way to Hollywood and encounters an obsessive-possessive-psychotic Terry Stamp could have floored with one thump… It’s odd to see Carol White move from the improvised naturalism of Ken Loach to the more poised dynamics of this moderately-nasty thriller.

Hard to think of the situation in reverse say with John Cassavetes in an early Joanna Lumley film like The Breaking of Bumbo. JC and CW would have made for a good match, possibly in black and white but here it’s strange to see this actress so renowned for edgy improvisations in such a formulaic film and drenched in sunshine in a richly-coloured California.

Cathy begins to have doubts...
Then again, maybe that was always the director Mark Robson’s intention for his first film after Valley of the Dolls (1967): he wanted this mix of grot and glamour and Carol certainly could provide both and more convincingly than her co-star Scott Hylands – for me, at least, he never rings entirely true in spite of some good moments and the film’s suspense is lessened as a result. It’s no Play Misty for Me

Carol plays Cathy Palmer (see what they did?) a British commercial artist who has relocated to America and indeed the film opens with her arrival, all smiles until she has a lump of unexpected snow thrown at her from a sparky young man walking past the airport taxi rank. The two share an instant attraction and he, Kenneth Daly (Scott Hylands) seems a well-balanced and connected professional. He lines Cathy up with an interview with an ad agency and she starts work but soon he is shown to be shiftless and bored – a very part-time photographer.

Happier times
Cathy comes home (see what I did...?) to find Ken tormenting their pet budgie by building a stairway of books for their cat to climb… he really should get out more but is getting shadier by the minute. But things get especially intense when Cathy finds herself pregnant and with the work going well and her relationship unconvincing she decides to abort without telling Ken.

Scott Hylands is particularly unsettling when his character is informed of the abortion and something, literally, appears to snap inside: a believable breakdown for a persona on the edge who cannot differentiate between rights and wrongs. Here was something undeniably good that, for him, was ripped away but, upset though he may be, his response will be anything but proportionate.

Scott Hylands
The relationship over, Cathy meets and marries Jack Byrnes (Paul Burke) a likeable businessman with political ambitions who has the easy-going zest that Ken distinctly lacked. We wiz through courtship and house-buying and enter another pregnancy, one that Cathy intends to go full term.

Strange things start happening, Cathy can sense Ken around and glimpses him working as a Santa Claus at a department store and then following her to a garage. She leaves without getting her car fixed and comes to regret it weeks later when her labour starts… she leaves the car only to find Ken waiting, she tries to run but he follows… she faints.

Danger in the waiting room
Waking up in hospital Cathy has no idea that Ken has brought her there. Nor can she see him talking with Jack in the men’s’ waiting room. It’s starting to get very creepy and worse is to come when Ken turns up at home intent on photographing the baby. Cathy doesn’t feel able to tell her husband who Ken really is and… his disturbing involvement in their world continues.

All harmless weirdness up to this point but when Ken kills the doctor who performed Cathy’s abortion and leaves him with his feet in his own stirrups – a very creepy flourish – we know he’s more than just a nuisance.

Toys in the attic and out of the pram...
Things escalate with mysterious signs at Cathy and Jack’s home and when they return to find the living room full of photographs of their baby and the – no-longer extant – cat occupying the tot’s place it’s time for the FBI to get involved.

Ken is out to balance the books and wants Cathy to kill her baby to even things up with regard to the first one she had aborted (I don’t know; its psycho logic, why should it make any sense?!). He’s applying such pressure and even with the amount of protection Jack’s political position affords, can Cathy ignore the threats she knows are very real.

It’s a breathless dash to find the baby before Ken finally cracks (even more) …

Carol White
Dusty verdict: Daddy's Gone A-Hunting takes a long time to get where it’s going and doesn’t always hit home.  Carol White is very watchable and even out of her natural context she performs well even though we could do with some south London grit in place of the civilized sheen of San Francisco.

The music’s from a chap called John Williams who I believe went on to find some success later in the decade with a film about a space war and some fella who can fly.

The film is available on DVD from Amazon and elsewhere. Not essential but for fans of Carol a very decent watch.