Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970, Peter Sasdy)

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An occasional series where I watch and review works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: We begin in that Hammer favourite: an nebulous area of central Europe in the late nineteenth century. But then we cut to a little while later in London and the story plays out in leafy suburbs, the squalid East End and the fancy Café Royale on Regent Street.

Faithful to the novel? This is the fourth sequel to Hammer Films’ 1958 adaptation of Dracula, and follows on from Dracula Has Risen From the Grave. It begins with a man called Weller (an always fun Roy Kinnear) accidentally witnessing the demise of Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) – the vampire has been staked with a crucifix. After the body crumbles away, Weller collects some of the remains and leaves… Cut to England, some time later. Three stuffy, middle-aged businessmen – William Hargood (Geoffrey Keen), Samuel Paxton (Peter Sallis) and Jonathon Secker (John Carson) – are telling their families that they’re off to do some charity work in the East End, whereas in fact they’re visiting a hedonistic, anything-goes brothel. While there, they meet a shady, arrogant aristocrat called Lord Courtley (Ralph Bates), who takes them to a shop run by Weller to acquire some of Dracula’s blood. (They’ve heard of the Count and know of vampires.) Wanting the thrill of interacting with the undead, the trio and Courtley perform a Satanic ritual but Courtley is killed when he drinks some of the blood. Terrified, Hargood, Paxton and Secker flee. Then the corpse transforms into a resurrected Dracula, who vows revenge on the three men for the death of his servant Courtley. The vamp starts by targeting the trio’s grown-up children – he hypnotises Alice Hargood (Linda Hayden) into killing her father, then turns Lucy Paxton (Isla Blair) into a vampire…

Best performance: Geoffrey Keen was later a regular in the James Bond films, appearing as the Minister of Defence in all six movies between 1977 and 1987. Here, he plays the grumpy, troubled William Hargood, who’s the ring leader of the three businessmen. His character’s trauma after the black-magic ritual is very convincing – he develops paranoia, drinks heavily, abuses his daughter…

Best bit: There’s some handsome location filming at Highgate Cemetery in London, most notably in the beautiful, Gothic, curved row of tombs known as the Circle of Lebanon in the West Cemetery. (Among many others, buried at Highgate are actors Corin Redgrave, Jean Simmons, Ralph Richardson, Roger Lloyd-Pack, Diane Cilento, Sheila Gish and Bob Hoskins, writers Douglas Adams, Anthony Shaffer, George Eliot and Carl Mayer, comedian Max Wall, punk pioneer Malcolm McLaren, singer George Michael, poet Christina Rossetti, scientist Jacob Bronowski, painter Lucian Freud, Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko, and most famously Karl Marx.)

Review: This film was originally going to be Dracula-free because Christopher Lee was tiring of the role. Ralph Bates’s character would have taken over as the series’s new vampire threat, but distributors objected so Lee was coerced into another sequel. And it’s one of the best in the Hammer cycle: engaging, seedy, scary, complicated, and with a psychological depth that’s almost always missing from these movies. These characters suffer emotionally as well as physically.

Eight snakes out of 10

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970, Ted Post)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Where, when and what: We begin with a recap of the first film’s final few minutes, so Taylor (Charlton Heston) has just found the half-buried Statue of Liberty. Soon, another spaceship from Earth’s past crash-lands (off-screen for budgetary reasons). This one contains the Taylor-like Brent played by the Heston-like James Franciscus. He claims the year is 3955 – contradicting the first film, which had Taylor landing in 3979.

Humans: At the start of the story, Taylor and his native friend Nova (Linda Harrison) ride off into an area of desert called the Forbidden Zone and Taylor vanishes. (Charlton Heston was reluctant to return for a sequel and agreed only if his contribution was little more than a cameo.) So the lead character this time round is Brent, an astronaut sent to find out what happened to Taylor when he didn’t return to Earth. This is a plot hole: Taylor’s mission was to travel so far and so fast that he knew thousands of years would have passed before his return. After some ape-related escapades, Brent eventually stumbles across the buried remains of New York City’s Queenboro Plaza subway station. Living there is a cult of psychic weirdos. They’re descendants of the human survivors of a nuclear war and they idolise a 20th-century atomic bomb. They sing hymns about it and everything. Initially they look normal, but then remove their fake skin to reveal radiation-scared bodies. Brent also finds someone else in the underground world: after an hour of absent screen time, Taylor returns. Handily he knows Brent from before their respective missions. Together they team up to resist the cult, while the now-militaristic apes attack the city. A dying Taylor sets off the bomb, which destroys the entire planet.

Apes: Dr Zira and Cornelius return from Planet of the Apes. They’re now married, though sadly they don’t feature in the story much. Kim Hunter is back to play Zira, but Roddy McDowall was busy on another project so Cornelius has been recast with David Watson. (Of course, McDowall still plays the character in the clips reused from the first film!) Meanwhile, other apes are debating what to do with the savage humans who live nearby – and whether to conquer the Forbidden Zone, which they know holds host to another culture. The plans for military action are countered by some hippy-type protests, placards and all.

Review: For its first half, Beneath the Planet of the Apes is a rehash of the original movie. But because of viewer familiarity, the story beats – the deaths of the astronauts’ crewmates, an encounter with native humans, the realisation that apes are in charge – are rattled off more swiftly. It’s enjoyable and engaging stuff, if shallower than the first film. Then, after 40 minutes, the plot heads into new territory. Sadly, the long sequence in the subway station sees the pace sag significantly and the film becomes a sub-Star Trek morality play. An anti-nuclear message is really hammered home, but the bomb subplot has little to do with either the apes or Brent. The latter stumbles across it and does little to affect the story. The second half of the film limps to a climax.

Six bloody nightmares out of 10

Scars of Dracula (1970, Roy Ward Baker)

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An occasional series where I watch and review works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: Another vaguely turn-of-the-20th-century time period, again in Transylvania. It’s about a year since the events of 1970’s Taste The Blood of Dracula.

Faithful to the novel? This is number six in Hammer’s series of Dracula movies, so we’re quite far removed from the source material now. The count (Christopher Lee) is resurrected by the dripping blood of a bat, but some locals burn down his castle, so he takes revenge by killing their loved ones. We then cut to Simon (a poor Dennis Waterman) and Sarah (a sexy Jenny Hanley), who are having their wedding reception at the Café Mozart. Perhaps it’s the same one from Carry On Spying. The film actually has a Carry On feel next, as we then meet Simon’s brother, Paul (Christopher Matthews), in a sequence that involves bed-hopping, comedy nudity and a father finding his daughter in bed with a man. When Paul is chased out of the town, he ends up at the fire-damaged Castle Dracula and becomes the count’s prisoner (not unlike Jonathan Harker in the book). Simon and Sarah’s search for him takes them to the castle too.

Best performance: Patrick Troughton, less than a year after quitting Doctor Who, is all ruffled hair, stubble and shabby clothes as Dracula’s dogsbody, Klove. The character was played by a different actor in previous film Dracula: Prince of Darkness.

Best bit: A dryly comedic scene with two slovenly policemen who question a barkeeper and his daughter.

Review: On the whole, the cast aren’t very good, but nevertheless this film has a bit more energy to it than most Hammer stories. The leads feel more like everyday people with reasonably modern sensibilities: for example, sex is no longer deep subtext; characters want it. It’s enjoyable-enough hokum with a disturbing way of killing off Dracula: he burns alive (or undead, I suppose).

Six steins of beer out of 10

Carry On Again Christmas (TV special, ITV, 24 December 1970)

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Long John Silver, Jim Hawkins and others head for Treasure Island…

What’s it spoofing? Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883).

Funniest moment: Nipper the Flipper (Charles Hawtrey) wants to be the cabin boy. However, Silver says to him, “We’ve already got a cabin boy. You’ll have to be something else. How do you fancy the cook?” And Nipper replies, “Well, I’ll have to look at him first.”

The cast:

* Sid James: Long John Silver

* Kenneth Connor: Dr Livershake

* Charles Hawtrey: Old Blind Pew, Nightwatchman and Nipper the Flipper

* Terry Scott: Squire Treyhornay

* Bernard Bresslaw: Rollicky Bill

* Barbara Windsor: Jim Hawkins

* Wendy Richard: Kate

* Bob Todd: Ben Gunn and shipmate

Top totty: Barbara Windsor.

Review: Urgh. This tatty, bawdy TV special was a chore to sit through. It was made in black-and-white. Some sources claim this was to keep the budget down, but the recording date matches up with an ITV cameramen strike that also affected the first few episodes of Upstairs Downstairs. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t help. Neither does the decision to abandon the previous year’s sketch-show format and present one continuous – and very boring – story. The cast are trying to get mountainous laughs from molehill gags. They don’t succeed.

Two peg legs out of 10

Carry On Loving (1970)

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The Wedded Bliss marriage agency brings together singletons, but not always successfully…

What’s it spoofing? Romance, dating agencies and the ‘free love’ attitudes of the era. At times the film feels like a precursor of sex comedies such as Confessions of a Window Cleaner (1974) and its sequels, though it’s not as vulgar or explicit.

Funniest moment: The Wedded Bliss office has a huge bank of computers – spinning discs of tape, panels of buttons and all that – which is used to determine a client’s ideal date. When owner Sidney Bliss punches in the requirements, however, we see the reverse side of the machine… where his wife, Sophie, selects a card and simply shoves it through a slot. (The computer prop was first used in Gerry Anderson’s TV show UFO.)

The Big 10:

* Hattie Jacques (10) plays agency manageress Sophie Plummett, who initially claims to be married to Sidney (all the better for seeming respectable).

* Sid James (13) is Sidney Bliss, who runs the company with his ‘wife’, Sophie. He spends a lot of time chasing client Esme.

* Joan Sims (15) plays Esme Crowfoot, a seamstress who was once on the agency books. She’s bored by Sidney’s advances.

* Kenneth Williams (18) plays Percival Snooper, a counsellor who works in marriage guidance at the Citizens Advice Bureau. He’s a bachelor so doesn’t have anything useful to say, so his boss tells him to get a wife; after he consults Wedded Bless, Sophie takes a shine to him.

* Peter Butterworth (9) has another one-scene cameo, this time as a sinister client.

* Charles Hawtrey (19) plays private detective James Bedsop, who dons a fake beard to follow Sidney into some train-station toilets and gets arrested.

* Bernard Bresslaw (8) shows up late on as Gripper Burke, Esme’s ex-boyfriend: a wrestler who’s jealous of any man she goes near.

Notable others:

* Terry Scott plays a client called Terence Philpot. He has a funny scene where he and his amorous date keep getting interrupted.

* Richard O’Callaghan joins the Carry On team: he’s essentially the latest attempt to replace Jim Dale. Bertram Muffet wants a wife so goes to Wedded Bliss. (O’Callaghan’s mum, Patricia Hayes, was in Carry On Again Doctor.)

* Kenny Lynch has a cameo as a bus conductor.

* Alexandra Dane’s in a one-gag scene about a busty woman and her short husband.

* Patricia Franklin and Bill Maynard play a rowing couple who Snooper fails to help.

* Joan Hickson shows up as the stuffy, fussy mother of Terence’s date. Ann Way from the Gourmet Night episode of Fawlty Towers is in the same sequence but doesn’t have any dialogue.

* Imogen Hassall plays Jenny, the initially dowdy but later sexed-up woman who Terence is paired off with.

* Jacki Piper from Carry On Up The Jungle plays Sally Martin, an actress who mistakes Bertram for a fashion photographer so strips down to her undies soon after meeting him.

* Bill Pertwee has a small role as a barman.

* Fred Griffiths – my mate Johnny’s great uncle – again plays a cab driver in a Carry On film.

* Julian Holloway plays a fashion photographer.

* Patsy Rowlands is very funny as Miss Dempsey, Snooper’s housekeeper who is not-so-secretly in love with him. When it looks like Snooper’s head is being turned by Sophie, Miss Dempsey ‘glams up’ to show him what he’s missing.

* James Beck from Dad’s Army was originally in the film, but his scene was cut out and is now sadly lost.

Top totty: Alexandra Dane, who also won this category for Up The Khyber. A pair of wins, so to speak.

Kenneth Williams says: “The script has arrived of Carry On Loving. I am offered the part of Snooper (which looks interchangeable with Charlie Hawtrey) which is certainly a small part – well no – a support I suppose, but really thankless. The end is a big party shambles where everyone throws custard pies and seems to be the bottom of the barrel, but for [writer] Talbot Rothwell bottoms are capable of infinite variety.” – Saturday 7 March 1970 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, pp370-371)

Review: It’s another sketch-show format – however, the threads are weaved together with more complexity than in, say, Carry On Regardless. (Coincidentally, the same street in Windsor was used as the agency HQ in both films.) The story ends with a lame food fight, but until then it’s generally good fun.

Seven Rogerham Mansions out of 10

Carry On Up the Jungle (1970)

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A party of Edwardian explorers delve deep into the African interior, where they encounter savage natives, a tribe of sexy women, and man who’s lived in the jungle ever since being abandoned there as a baby…

What’s it spoofing? Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan, who first appeared in the 1912 novel Tarzan of the Apes (then numerous sequels). A pair of recent Hammer films – One Million Years B.C. (1966) and Slave Girls (aka Prehistoric Women, 1967) – are also being spoofed. The movie was filmed as Carry On Jungle Boy.

Funniest moment: When under threat of attack by some savages, our characters decide to dig a big pit and lure them into it. They dig for hours, creating a massive hole in the ground. However, as Professor Tinkle then points out when they’ve dug about 10 feet down: “How do *we* get out of this?”

The Big 10:

* Joan Sims (14) plays Lady Evelyn Bagley, an aristocratic woman whose baby went missing years earlier in Africa. In an early scene, two male characters perv on her while she’s having a shower – it’s clearly not Joan Sims in the nudie long shots.

* Charles Hawtrey (18) plays Lady E’s husband, who’s been missing for years – when he’s found 67 minutes into the film, we learn he’s rebranded himself as King Tonka, leader of a local tribe of women.

* Kenneth Connor (9) is back after eight films away from the series. (He’d been busy in the West End.) Here, he plays fruity ornithologist Claude Chumley.

* Sid James (12) plays Bill Boosey, the leader of the expedition who likes a tipple and fancies Lady Evelyn.

* Bernard Bresslaw (7) – it pains me to relate – is blacked up and doing an accent as African guide Upsidasi. Late in the film, in an admittedly effective gag, the character ‘whites up’ so he can sneak into a camp to rescue the others.

Notable others:

* Frankie Howerd headlines the film, playing Professor Inigo Tinkle, an ornithologist. The film is needlessly topped and tailed by scenes of him giving a lecture about his expedition.

* Jacki Piper debuts in the series. June, Evelyn’s maid, meets the Tarzan-like character and soon becomes his Jane. It’s the kind of part Angela Douglas was playing a few films ago.

* Terry Scott is horrendously miscast as Cecil Bagley, aka the Jungle Boy. He only got the part after Jim Dale turned it down, thinking it was a boring role. Scott sucks his stomach in and spends most of the film in a loincloth. He has little dialogue, and the character has some kind of Oedipal fixation on tits. Scott was 42 when this film was made. His parents are played by Joan Sims (39) and Charles Hawtrey (55).

* Valerie Leon plays the leader of the local ‘Amazonians’, the Lubby-Dubby tribe from the Lost World of Aphrodisia. “White men!” she says, practically moistening her knickers, when she first sees the regulars.

Top totty: Valerie Leon, for the third time.

Kenneth Williams says: “In the evening I stayed in to watch Carry On Up The Jungle which was a Carry On which I didn’t appear in. It was quite funny and at one point I was laughing along. I was staggered to see what they got away with!! A snake going up the skirt of Joan Sims! & her look of horror turning to delight!! Kenny Connor was quite marvelous, and Terry Scott was excellent as Tarzan. Sid James doing all the same old tired automaton recitations… nothing at all to do with acting… one asked oneself: ‘How of earth did he get away with it?’ but of course he did, & the incredible thing about his ‘career’ is that it spans everything from South African Boxing [note: this ‘fact’ seems to have been made up by Sid James], the American musical, Revue (Touch & Go) and conventional English theatre, and radio, and TV, and v successful film career. All built on a ‘persona’ but nothing to do with talent.” – Saturday 3 April 1976 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p513)

Review: Even by Carry On standards, the comedy is getting puerile now. The film has a low-ambition studio-bound feel about it, and is tired and pretty charmless. And racist. So, so racist. The worst one so far.

Four Oozlum birds out of 10

Let It Be (1970)

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Title: It’s named for Paul’s song about his mother coming to him in a stress dream and calming him down. The LP is essentially a soundtrack album for the documentary film Let It Be.

Cover: Each Beatle photographed separately – a deliberate nod to the fact the group had split up, maybe?

Best song: I’ve Got A Feeling, the last collaborative Lennon/McCartney. They combined two song ideas – positive from Paul, reflective from John – into a united whole, which works really well when both halves are sung at the same time. The performance is terrific too, especially when you consider they were playing live on a London rooftop in a cold January wind.

Honourable mentions:

* Paul’s Two Of Us is a jaunty acoustic tune, well sung by him and John. (It sounds a bit Crosby, Stills & Nash to me. This is a good thing.)

* John’s Across The Universe had been recorded a year earlier than the rest of the album and released on a various-artists charity LP with some awful backing vocals from two Beatles fans. Its lyrics might be naff, but they suit the metre of the music nicely. Because the film Let It Be included the band busking the song, the raw take was dug out for use on this album. Sadly, producer Phil Spector ignored the stark tenderness of the original, slowed it down and swamped it with an orchestra.

* Paul’s title track is a classically beautiful piano ballad, which has a gospel feel – my only niggle with it is the tiresomely repetitive lyrics. Give him his due, Spector’s work here actually enhances what is already a tremendous song.

Worst song: Aside from the inclusion of 50 seconds of improvised jam Dig It? Or 40 seconds of traditional folk shanty Maggie Mae? (These two bits of detritus are either side of the title song in the album’s running order, a move assumed to be a slight against Paul.) Of the rest, John’s Dig A Pony is the most, um, pony.

Notable outside contributions: Keyboardist Billy Preston was brought in by Harrison to help record the album ‘as live’ with no overdubs. He plays on seven of the 12 tracks and is essentially a fifth member of the band.

Alternate version: The original plan was to rehearse some new material while being filmed for a fly-on-the-wall TV special – then record it live in front of an audience. The band gathered for rehearsals at Twickenham Film Studios in January 1969, but little serious work was achieved and tensions were high. The film crew captured Paul and George having a tiff, but missed a blazing row between George and John that resulted in George quitting the band. He agreed to return only if they abandoned Twickenham and moved into the studio. So the group continued to record (and be filmed) in their own facility at 3 Savile Row. Losing enthusiasm for a concert, they decided simply to go up to the building’s roof and play until the police ordered them to stop. For the next few months, various versions of the album were compiled from the mass of available material, but no one was ever happy. Finally, in March 1970 – behind his colleagues’ backs – Lennon brought in famed producer Phil Spector. He ignored the project’s ‘no overdubs’ principle, added orchestras and choirs, and the album was finally released in May. By this point, the TV special had morphed into a theatrical movie, the Beatles had recorded and released an entire other album (see previous review), and Paul had tersely announced the band’s break-up. Famously unhappy with the final product, McCartney got his chance to re-edit the album in 2003. Let It Be… Naked strips away Phil Spector’s overdubs, jettisons the silly pieces of filler, adds contemporary B-side Don’t Let Me Down, and rearranges the running order. It’s a *much* more entertaining listen. (It has a bonus disc: a 22-minute sound collage of song snippets and banter from the January 1969 rehearsals.)

Review: The weakest full-length Beatles album. There are a few good songs, but the slipshod way they were recorded results in a pretty tatty end product. The film, by the way, is hard to track down but worth seeing if you get the chance. Despite punches being pulled, there are some fantastic insights, both positive and negative, into the Beatles of January 1969. The climax is the entertaining rooftop gig, which is intercut with footage of crowds – disgruntled men in suits, young woman in miniskirts, bemused policemen – gathering on the street below as the sound of the Beatles wafts across Mayfair…

Five words of wisdom out of 10.