Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Night of the Demon (1957)

Night of the Demon is a wonderfully wry supernatural story, with the chills coming from the ambiguity and atmosphere, and the tension and drama coming from the battle of wits between the human lead characters.

Psychologist Dr. John Holden (Dana Andrews) comes to England from the US for a science convention at which he plans to expose renowned occultist Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis) as a charlatan and a cult leader. On arrival he finds that not only has his research partner, Professor Harrington, has died in a mysterious accident, but Harrington was growing increasingly afraid of the powers he thought Karswell possessed. Holden is having none of this however, even when Karswell tells him he is going to die in three days time. But as increasingly strange incidents keep occurring, Holden is forced to question whether the supernatural does exist - and whether or not his days are numbered.

Andrews does not totally convince as a scientist, but one thing he does bring to the role is a forcefulness and an unshakeable faith in rationalism that makes him a believable opponent to Karswell, an equally strong character supposedly based on the so-called “wickedest man in the world”, real life occult guru Aleister Crowley.

The tension between the two is palpable as the cat-and-mouse games escalate, but it also found an off screen parallel in tensions between this film's producer and director. Hal E Chester originally wanted to make a straightforward monster movie rather than ambiguity and atmosphere, and shot the scenes involving the demon without the director's knowledge. With little money in the budget, the end result is a little bit silly. The appearance at the beginning of the film sets completely the wrong tone for what is to follow, and the appearance at the end almost undoes the hard work that the director and actors have done up to then - almost,but not quite.

Director Jacques Tourneur had built a career on spooky and atmospheric horror classics such as Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie. He takes a similar approach here, with the end results feeling wonderfully spooky, rather than actually terrifying, with a ghoulish sense of humour thrown in, and much as the incidents affecting become ever more baffling they never truly spill over into the supernatural.

In addition, in all three of the demon's appearances, there are no external witnesses so it could still be argued that there is some ambiguity as to whether it makes it into the real world or whether it is simply a demon of the mind.

Night of the Demon (1957) by MargaliMorwentari

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Carry On Behind (1975)

Carry On Behind (1975)

Despite still turning in a profit, the Carry On Films were facing something of a crisis by the mid-70s. Several of the regular stars had walked away from the series, along with the regular script writer, and many of the box office rivals such as the Confessions series were hoping the smut ante as well as including actual sex and nudity. While Carry on Behind is in some respects a reworking of the earlier Carry on Camping, the new cast members help stop it feeling like a straightforward re-tread.

There is little in the way of plot, and instead we get a series of situations and sketches involving the assorted characters at the Riverside Caravan Park. Firstly, there is uptight archaeology professor Roland Crump (Kenneth Williams), whose joy at the discovery of Roman artefacts during the digging of a cesspit at the park is ruined by having to expert share a caravan with fellow expert Professor Anna Vrooshka (Elke Sommer) while they investigate further. Then there is randy butcher Fred Ramsden (Windsor Davies) and his dopey and clumsy electrician mate Ernie Bragg (Jack Douglas), both hoping to wow the ladies while away from their wives Sylvia (Liz Fraser) and Vera (Patricia Franklin) at Riverside. Elsewhere there is Arthur Upmore (Bernard Bresslaw) and his wife Linda (Patsy Rowlands), whose dream of a nice break away together is scuppered by the presence of Linda’s mother Daphne (Joan Sims), the lecherous campsite owner, Major Leaper (Kenneth Connor), and the camp site odd job man, Henry Barnes (Peter Butterworth), who bears a striking resemblance to Daphne’s estranged husband, Henry Barnes (Peter Butterworth).

Long-time Carry On screenwriter Talbot Rothwell had been forced to retire through ill health, so was replaced for this film by Dave Freeman, who had a long career in TV and film comedy, including the film version of hit TV sitcom Bless This House, starring Sid James. Not that you would notice the difference, with the usual blend of vignettes rather than story, groan inducing puns and innuendo, saucy seaside postcard humour and broad caricatures rather than characters.

This blend of the new and the familiar is perhaps the key to the film’s success. Kenneth Williams, Bernard Bresslaw, Peter Butterworth and Joan Sims were Carry On veterans, well versed in how to make the cheesiest of lines get a laugh. Of the newbies, Windsor Davies deserves praise for stepping into the character of the randy womaniser, the role usually filled by Sid James, and making it very much his own. The same can also be said for Jack Douglas, who brings his distinctive physical and verbal comedy style to the sidekick role usually filled by Bresslaw or Butterworth.

The real and very welcome surprise is Elke Sommer. She had made comedy films before, such as the Inspector Clouseau classic A Shot in the Dark, but the ribald and very English Carry On films are something else entirely. Nevertheless, she jumps in to the proceedings with aplomb and energy, the forceful and uninhibited Vrooshka acting as the perfect foil to Crump.