Barbara Shelley

Watching Five Million Years to Earth (aka Quatermass and The Pit) once again. I watched it last night too and while googling up some info on the flick I was saddened to see that Barbara Shelley passed on a month ago. She was just a few weeks shy of her 89th birthday. Though she is best known for her roles in string of Hammer’s quintessential horror films, I love her most as an unflappable scientist in this Hammer science fiction classic, one of my favorite films ever, and probably my very favorite science fiction film. (The original BBC four episode story, with a different cast, is also excellent.) Who knows how many times I’ve seen this movie since it first blew my mind when I was a teen, and it has only gotten better with age. Barbara Shelley was never better—subtle, smart, unflinching and beautiful—than she is here. Rest In Peace.

Stoneground A.D. 1972

Stoneground opening up Dracula A.D. 1972 (the sixth and last of Christopher Lee’s Dracula run for Hammer Films, with Peter Cushing back as Van Helsing’s grandson) with Alligator Man. That’s Sal Valentino (of the Beau Brummels) on lead vocal. It’s an old cajun tune by Jimmy Newman, and their arrangement is groovy shuffling stuff, with solid ensemble playing (and back up vocals) in that San Fransciso style, always more about the band than about any specific player, and Sal’s rock’n’roll vocalizing was pretty unique, as were his dazed LSD expressions. Laugh, Laugh it ain’t. More like Magic Hollow on Exile on Main Street. I always liked this band, and love this song, and it’s a shame Stoneground never really took off, though Bay Area hippies that they were, I don’t know if they worried about it much. They recorded a couple albums, and Family Album, their second, is their best, one of those vast double LPs, like Sons of Champlain’s Loosen Up Naturally or the second Moby Grape album–that came out of San Francisco (or thereabouts) and went  nowhere. Who knows why.

Alas, this opening party scene with Stoneground is much more fun than most of the rest of the flick, late period Hammer not being what it had been. But hell, it’s Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in the 20th century. Hippies and mini-skirts abound. Peter Cushing’s (i.e., Van Helsing’s) way hot granddaughter just told him she is neither dropping acid nor shooting up nor balling anybody. He looks at her, bemused, like why the fuck not? But he says nothing and smiles. I’m an alligator man. Or he was, in another movie. Or was that George Macready?

Halloween flicks

Written late on Halloween night, 2013…

You can tell Halloween approaches…mountains of candy in the stores, grown ups in silly costumes on Facebook, and a perfect wallow of old Universal, Hammer and American International horror flix. The TV becomes heroin for a week, and I find myself fixing on the screen for hours on end. Real life dissolves into insignificance when Bela, Karloff, Vincent Price, the Lon Chaneys, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and a glorious cast of aged movie stars act up a storm no matter how absurd the story. Yesterday’s surprises were Joan Fontaine’s refined performance in The Devil’s Own (aka, in England, The Witches), though I passed out for a few minutes–it was way late–and awoke to a berzerk voodoo orgy with perfectly nice English people rocking out like a Busby Berkley production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Thankfully Joan put an end to it with a knife. The other delight was George Sanders as a wonderfully unctuous Satan masquerading as a butler in Psychomania. It’s late period Hammer and sub par, sort of a blend of A Clockwork Orange and Hells Angels on Wheels, though Americans will find it hard to be frightened by bikers who ride perfectly nice street bikes–no Harleys in Britain, apparently–and whose idea of terrorizing a small town a la The Wild Ones is rudeness interspersed with the occasional homicide. Still, I loved it. Great Hammer ending. They could be very creative with very little money.

Speaking of George Sanders–whose Addison DeWitt in All About Eve I based my Brick’s Picks persona on (seriously, I did)–his older brother Tom Conway was in a string of Val Lewton flicks, often getting his in the end, the cad. He certainly did in the Cat People yesterday afternoon, and in a fuck gone horribly wrong was torn to shreds when the gorgeous Simone Simon turned literally into a wildcat in the sack. Or would have, had they gotten there. One kiss and wow, all hell breaks loose, he screams, the neighbors overhear, the police are called, and poor Tom is there on the floor, crumpled and still. He wasn’t quite man enough…but you know those intellectual types, all talk. He walked with a zombie, too, last weekend. Incidentally, I Walked With a Zombie–which features an incredible soundtrack, vividly percussive–features in a smaller part the great calypso singer Sir Lancelot, who does the Greek chorus thing, singing tunes that give the background and predict the outcome of the unfolding tragedy. Splendid flick, one of my favorites. But if you like your zombies zombier, the classic White Zombie was on yesterday, with Bela at his most evil, and the scenes in his sugar mill dungeon are as scary as anything Universal put on screen in their glory days. Considering the year–1931–it’s a helluva picture.

Sir Lancelot in a zombie pic reminds me….will Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors be shown anywhere this week? You’ve seen it, no doubt.  A campy British classic. Peter Cushing is a weird doctor on the train, and there’s five tales, the most famous has Christopher Lee strangled by a disembodied hand–not his–that he himself disembodied. My favorite of the five is about a trumpeter–it’s always a trumpeter–who cops a tune from a voodoo ceremony and claims it as his own. Apparently voodoo priests don’t understand how jazz works and seek vengeance and the apple is thoroughly scrappled, indeed. The trumpeter is an actor, but the band is Tubby Hayes’s. Tubby Hayes was probably the greatest of the English saxophonists, and if you’ve seen Alfie that might be him ghosting for Sonny Rollins on the exceptional jazz score (Sonny himself does the official soundtrack LP, but union rules apparently required English musicians on the actual score and Tubby was on the session so who knows…jazzbos still argue about this.) Tubby had a bad ticker and didn’t make it out of the early ’70’s–I’ve heard stories of him lying down backstage between sets, exhausted by the effort of blowing his solos and obviously near the end. But it’s not Tubby’s end that is nigh here, it’s the trumpeter learning a lesson about stealing a black man’s tune that Led Zeppelin never learned. But then Led Zeppelin never stole a Haitian tune. Maybe Dr. Terror’s tale is why. Jimmy Page is an occult freak, and they take this stuff seriously. Mojo his lawyers could handle, but voodoo is a bit freaky….

Anyway, if you are a fan of classic sixties jazz and classic Hammeresque horror (actually Amicus horror, but it’s the same thing style wise) then Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors is essential viewing. Not to mention more fun than most jazz documentaries. Oh…it turns out that the band’s session–recorded at Shepperton Studios, no less–has been issued on CD.  I think it’s called Voodoo, and though I’ve never heard the actual disc it does feature that great tune the band plays that resulted in bad juju, and I don’t mean Wayne Shorter. Who probably loves this movie, actually. He’s passionate about old horror flicks. And ya know, one of my few regrets about resigning from the Jazz Critics Guild is that I never got to interview Wayne Shorter. I wouldn’t have asked him about jazz at all, just talked about old horror movies. A whole hour with Wayne Shorter talking about Dracula and Frankenstein and monsters. Spooky, creepy monsters. Trick or treat.

OK, the Children of the Damned are being perfectly rotten now, gotta run.