Oliver Reed at 77: A Conversation

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Tune into TCM on Febuary 20th to catch Oliver Reed in OLIVER! directed by his uncle, Carol Reed.

Feb. 13th marks what would have been Oliver Reed’s 77th birthday if he was still with us. Reed died in 1999 but he has long been one of my favorite actors so to honor his memory I decided to contact filmmaker Kent Adamson who worked with Oliver Reed in the 1980s and is friendly with the actor’s son (Mark). What follows is a lengthy Q&A where Kent generously shares his own recollections and thoughts about the actor’s life and career. I hope you’ll enjoy reading our exchange as much as I enjoyed taking part in it.

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Love the Genre, Avoid the Movies

Whenever someone asks me “What’s your favorite genre,” it seems like an odd question.   It seems odd because my favorite genres often don’t match up with my favorite movies.  The movies I consider personal favorites spread across a wide spectrum of genres.  I often list movies I write about here as personal favorites, and they are, but the movies I bring up here lean more towards the universally praised while the movies I consider my favorites cover the good, bad, and the ugly all at once.  My favorites are classics, and masterpieces, and duds, and awful stinking bombs too, covering every genre in the book.  And yet when someone asks, “What’s your favorite genre,” even though I have no more favorites in it than any other genre, I say, “Science fiction,” without fail.  Then I’ll add, “Horror, too.  Science fiction and horror.”    Why do I keep doing that?

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Mummy Dearest

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Hammer Films produced four Mummy movies between 1959 and 1971 and this coming Saturday (Oct. 25th) TCM is airing one of my favorites, Seth Holt’s BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1971). This unabashedly sexy horror extravaganza was the last Mummy movie produced by the ‘Studio that Dripped Blood’ and thanks to a great cast and some creative directing choices it turned out to be one of their best. But before it reached the screen the production was plagued by some serious setbacks that seemed to resemble the effects of a ‘mummy’s curse’ that’s often associated with doomed adventure seekers and tomb raiders. Was it just circumstance and bad luck or did something supernatural interfere with the making of the film? Read on to find out!

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Oh Dear! What Can the Matter Be?

jsimmons“Oh dear! What can the matter be?
Dear! Dear! What can the matter be?
Oh Dear! What can the matter be?
Johnny’s so long at the fair.

He promised he’d buy me a fairing should please me,
And then for a kiss, Oh! He vow’d he would tease me;
He promised he’d bring me a bunch of blue ribbons,
To tie up my bonny brown hair. ”
– Author unknown, 1793

British director Terence Fisher is best known for his work with Hammer Films but before he started making movies for the studio that dripped blood, Fisher edited and co-directed a number of films for Gainsborough Pictures. One of his most accomplished early directorial efforts is SO LONG AT THE FAIR (1950) starring a very young Jean Simmons and Dirk Bogarde. This absorbing thriller isn’t available on DVD in the US but SO LONG AT THE FAIR will air this coming Sunday (July 28th) on TCM at 7:15 PM PST and 10:15 PM EST. Fans of well-acted period dramas and good gothic mysteries should consider tuning in but the film will be of particular interest to anyone curious about the origins of modern British horror cinema.

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Out, out, brief candle: Jon Finch 1942-2012

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Jon Finch in Roman Polanski’s MACBETH (1971)

“… Out, out, brief candle.
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more …” – Macbeth,
William Shakespeare

Writing obituaries is never easy but when I decided I wanted to memorialize the British actor Jon Finch, who recently passed away at age 70, I found myself seriously struggling to find the right words. His death, which occurred when he was alone over the holidays and apparently suffering from dementia as well as health problems associated with diabetes, seemed particularly cruel. It didn’t get reported to the public until Jan. 11th although his body was found on Dec. 28th but as far as I know there’s been no official date of death released. There’s also been very little news coverage by the numerous entertainment focused outlets and blogs that usually offer up career summations whenever a person of note dies. I don’t like to dwell on the negative when someone I deeply admire leaves this earth because it‘s much more respectful and productive to focus on their accomplishments and Jon Finch left behind an impressive body of work. But while I scanned his filmography in my effort to concisely capture what had made him such a memorable screen presence I was struck again and again by the missed opportunities, which seemed to color his entire career. Over and over again I found myself wondering about what might have been instead of focusing on what was, which seemed pointless. And yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this business of making movies had somehow failed him even though I suspect that Finch himself would wholeheartedly disagree with me.

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The HorrorDads 2012 Halloween Triple Dip Shockapalooza!

Halloween is fast approaching … where did October go? Well, no time for rhetorical questions, it’s time to get our spook on. With that in mind, I have scrambled the HorrorDads and tasked each to provide us with his idea of an ultimate Halloween triple bill. To impose a sense of order on what might have turned into a maelstrom of free association, I further asked that the three features follow these stipulations:

  1. Choose a “matinee” geared toward the kids.
  2. Follow this with something seasonably appropriate, something classic.
  3. End your evening of chills with something pitched at the horror lifers, the true believers. No punches pulled, no quarter given, fangs bared. [...MORE]

The Sinister Charm of Simon Ward

One of the strangest aspects of today’s Internet film culture is being bombarded by death notices week after week. No one’s life is unworthy of celebration and onetime television TV actors with a single role under the belt often compete with Oscar winning movie stars for attention after they’ve shuffled off this mortal coil. In the flood of online wakes that seem to accumulate around every actor’s death it has become nearly impossible to overlook anyone’s passing so you can imagine my surprise when I recently discovered that one of my favorite British actors, the talented Simon Ward, had passed away in July following a long illness and I had managed to overlook it. Even more depressing were some of the obituaries I read that glossed over much of his career and seemed to suggest that Ward hadn’t lived up to his potential while completely ignoring his outstanding contributions to horror cinema. Naturally I felt the urge to rectify this since I had grown up admiring the actor in a bundle of praiseworthy thrillers so October seemed like the perfect month to spotlight Simon Ward’s contribution to a genre that continues to divide critics and audiences.

Simon Ward was born on October 16th, 1941. At age 13 he joined London’s National Youth Theater and continued to study at RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts,). He started acting in British television productions in the mid-1960s and after taking an unaccredited role in Lindsay Anderson’s IF…. (1967), Ward was offered his first major film role in David Greene’s exceptional British thriller, I START COUNTING (1969). Ward’s boyish good looks and edgy screen presence allowed him to effortlessly transform himself into seductive villains as well as romantic heroes but his chameleon-like abilities may have confused producers who couldn’t easily pigeonhole him and didn’t seem to know how to harness his talent. Simon Ward went on to appear in many popular and critically acclaimed films including YOUNG CHURCHILL (1972), THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973), THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (1974) and ZULU DAWN (1979) but throughout his career he returned again and again to the horror genre. Here’s a brief rundown of some of the best horror films and thrillers he appeared in.

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Man’s Best Fiend

One of my neighbors owns a beautiful big black lab and the dog lets out a loud howl every time a siren goes off in the distance. The noise can be a little unsettling and tends to shatter the tranquility of our quiet suburban street. The dog’s gloomy cries sound like the melancholy moans of a dying man or the wailing lament of his grieving loved ones. Some element of the dog’s howl gets under my skin and seeps into my bones reminding me of all the dogs I’ve feared and loved. Since it’s the season of scaring I thought it would be a good time to revisit some dog-centric horror movies where man’s best friend was transformed into man’s best fiend.

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Frankenstein Created Susan Denberg

Susan Denberg (aka Dietlinde Ortrun Zechner) was blond, beautiful and unapologetically curvaceous. A Polish-born Kim Novak with strong sex appeal and an endearing screen presence. Like Novak, Denberg dated Sammy Davis Jr. while some of her other romantic conquests included Stuart Whitman, Sidney Poitier, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown and Roman Polanski. Following a few television appearances and a role in the Oscar nominated film AN AMERICAN DREAM (1966), Denberg posed for Playboy magazine and soon afterward she was offered her first and last starring role in FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN (1967). The 21-year-old actress was positioned to become another Hollywood ‘it girl’ but the stress of sudden stardom, abusive boyfriends and excessive drug use combined with her swinging lifestyle took their toll and sent Denberg spiraling into a self-destructive cycle that prematurely ended her career.

For years rumors circulated that Susan Denberg was dead; a victim of suicide following lengthy stays in psychiatric hospitals but this was only partially true. She was hospitalized in 1967 after suffering a drug overdose followed by a mental breakdown that was eventually linked to the sexual abuse she had endured as a child. Although attempts at suicide may have occurred, Susan Denberg managed to overcome her personal demons and survive her brief brush with the darker aspects of fame and fortune. Today the long-retired and reclusive actress is still alive and celebrating her 68th birthday so I thought I’d use the day to laud her brief career in front of the camera by taking a closer look at Denberg’s memorable performance in FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN where she starred opposite Peter Cushing and earned her rightful place in Hammer film’s pantheon of glamor girls.

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“We exist… only in Hell!”

The new Synapse Films DVD/Blu-ray combo pack of Hammer’s TWINS OF EVIL (1971), third leg of the studio’s “Karnstein Trilogy,” arrived just a wee bit late to make the cut for last week’s Morlocks subject, which means I’m two days post-street date and about the 10,000th geek throwing his musings out into the Interwebs on the subject. But no matter… it’s TWINS OF EVIL! [...MORE]

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