Category Archives: ARTICLES

Articles in this section reflect a personal view of the author only.

SMALL SCREEN HORROR’S.

 

logotvI am thankful for being around in the 1970’s as a teenager, WHY? I hear you say…..Well because I just loved wearing big flares, teardrop collar Brutus shirts and splashing on copious amounts of Brut and dancing to Tiger Feet by Mud….No not realy although the shirts were pretty cool. No, the reason being it was the time when the TV movie came into its own, we even had a mystery movie on Saturday evenings after the usual things like a game show or a variety programme (TV was certainly different then-not a reality show or Simon Cowell in sight). I can remember sitting watching some of these very good quality pieces of mini cinema on the small screen (sometimes in black and white) on cold and dark Saturday nights, some were on late because of the horror content and I also remember falling asleep during the evening in front of the telly box and waking up to scenes of vampires, axe murderers, monsters, ghosts and witches burning. Great stuff. But it was the quality of these movies that stayed with me even the scores were by top notch composers of the day or at least composers that were well known.

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One programme which sticks with me is the 1977 adaptation of DRACULA which was filmed by the BBC, although theoretically not a TV movie, as if I remember rightly it was shown in episodic form, it was still a rather chilling re-telling of the Stoker classic Gothic Horror, I thought it was a brave thing for the BBC to do, especially at the time Hammer was still regarded as the unquestioned Masters of Horror, even though the studios formula and style were beginning to wain with audiences.

 

The role of the infamous Count was played by Louis Jordan, who brought an air of sophistication to the role, add to this credible and powerful performances from Frank Finlay as Van Helsing, Bosco Hogan as Johnathan Harker, Susan Penhaligon as Lucy and Judi Bowaker as Mina and a bevy of Brides of Dracula one of which was actress Sue Vanner.

 

 

Directed by Philip Saville this was an atmospheric and highly unsettling version of the story, which was adapted from the novel by writer Gerald Savory, but essentially kept to the original storyline and is said to be the most faithful adaptation of the story of Dracula. Filmed in Whitby, Northumberland and Hampstead, the production values were high, with the impressive images, classy acting, stylish direction and dialogue also benefitting from an impressive musical score by Welsh composer Kenyon Emrys Roberts, who was quite a prolific composer of television scores, these included POLDARK (1975-1977), TO SERVE THEM ALL MY DAYS ( 1981), MILL ON THE FLOSS (1978-1979) and THE LIFE AND TIMES OF DAVID Lloyd GEORGE (1981), plus many others including, ARMCHAIR THEATRE, BRASS and THE HAUNTING OF CASSIE PALMER. Roberts was born in 1923 and began his musical career in TV scoring during the mid-1970’s.

 

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Although not a high-profile composer Roberts wrote the music for an array of shows and at some point, or another one must have heard his music if you watched TV during the 1970’s and 1980’s. He passed away in 1998, his last scoring assignments being ANIMATING ART a TV documentary in 1988 and the TV movie TERRA NOVA in 1984.So as I have said DRACULA all ‘a the BBC was not essentially a TV movie in fact more of a drama that they did so well back in the day, but I felt because of its standard and outstanding quality I had to begin with it, I fear some of the titles I highlight in the coming pages may not be quite to the standard of this production, but they still made a contribution and are part of the TV history of the 1970’s.

 


One production that was not failing or indeed below par in any department was the 1979 TV movie SALEMS LOT, originally broadcast as a two-part miniseries, this is probably one of the best horror movies produced for TV from the 1970.s. Directed by Tobe Hooper and starring David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin, Lew Ayres and Bonnie Bedelia, this was certainly one of the most chilling and scary things I saw on the television. Based upon the book by Stephen King, the film tells the story of a writer who returns to his home town to do some research for a book he is planning to write on an old house which stands in Salem. But as he begins his research he discovers that all is not quite right. Before I talk about the movie, what about the musical score. which was composed by Harry Sukman, the composer worked extensively in television and had written the music for several motion pictures.

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Sukman is probably one of the many composers that was working in television during this period that went relatively un-noticed for their sterling work. SALEMS LOT contained a score that not only underlined the action and enhanced the various scenarios within the movie, but it also had a life of its own away from the images and although the music is not what we call a melodic sounding work it is still entertaining and somewhat alluring and haunting. Sukman, fashioned a mesmerising and what I think is a spidery and somewhat jagged score, which the director had wanted being a fan of Bernard Herrman, the soundtrack contained a number of surprises along the way, at times it would have the capacity to lure the listener or watching audience into a false sense of security and even radiate a calming atmosphere before a moment of shock or horror, thus the composer by utilising a downbeat approach or a style that was quieter would give more weight to any moment of violence or any heart stopping sequence, of which there were many.

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Sukman was born in Chicago Illinois, in 1912, he began a career in music during the 1920’s as a young boy. He started to become interested in writing music for films and during a sixty year career he wrote film scores and music for TV series, he began to score movies in 1954 and continued to concentrate on motion pictures until 1962, when he started to focus more upon music for the small screen although he did occasionally step back into motion picture scoring on the odd occasion, he won the Oscar for best song score in 1960 for SONG WITHOUT END and also received nominations for his work on FANNY and THE SINGING NUN. He provided the musical scores for popular TV series such as THE VIRGINIAN, THE HIGH CHAPPARAL, BONANZA, DR. KILDARE and POLICE STORY among them. He passed away on December 2nd, 1984 he was 72.

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The film opens in a church where we see a man and a boy filling bottles from the Church font, the water they are collecting is Holy water and as they fill one of the bottles begins to omit a strange blue glow. The man is Ben Mears (David Soul) and the boy who is with him is Mark Petrie (Lance Kerwin), the boy turns to the man and says, “They have found us again”. The pair knowing that there is an evil approaching them decide to stand their ground and fight it off. The film then goes back in time two years, when we see Ben Mears returning to his home town of Salem, he is a successful author and has returned to gather information for his next novel. He focuses upon an old mansion The Marsten house as it is known, the house is a fearsome looking place perched on top of a hill rather like the house in Psycho. It already has an infamous standing within the community as being haunted and the author attempts to rent it, but it soon becomes apparent that the property is not for rent as it has been purchased by Richard Straker who is an antiques specialist played by James Mason.

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Mears hears that the new comer is planning to open a shop in the town and when he visits the premises Straker mentions he has a business partner, but this partner is never available. This makes Mears a little suspicious, he decides to check into a local boarding house and maybe do his research from there, whilst in Salem Mears meets Susan Norton (Bonnie Bedelia) and the couple become romantically involved. Mears becomes friends with Susan’s Father a Doctor (Ed Flanders) and finds his old school teacher Jason Burke (Lew Ayres). Mears is convinced that the Marsten house has an evil and frightening history and tells Burke about an experience he had as a child whilst exploring the building.

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Straker: (James Mason). You’ll enjoy Mr. Barlow. And he’ll enjoy you.

After a crate is delivered to the house during the night, several inhabitants of the town start to disappear some dying in very suspect circumstances, as the story unfolds it becomes more apparent that these disappearances and deaths are all linked to the house and who ever resides there. The film is certainly unrelenting in the horror and the scares and there are some impressive moments throughout, the mysterious business partner of Straker being an ancient Master Vampire played by Reggie Nalder, who is fearsome looking in the wonderful make up that was created for the film by, Jack Young. Although the films script deviated away from King’s original novel and many of the graphic violent content was not included so that the film could be shown on TV, it remains a class act and a film that has stood the test of time, if shown now it would I think still be as unsettling and entertaining.

 

The films ending is too a cliff-hanger, and we see Mears and Mark returning to their hotel in Guatemala preparing to do battle with surviving bloodsuckers from Salem who have tracked them down to kill them. On their return to the hotel Mears finds Susan in bed but she is now a vampire and tries to bite him, Mears drives a stake through her heart and he and Mark collect their belongings and start to run, Mears is beside himself with grief having killed his lover, but they must move and move fast before they are caught, knowing that they will be hunted until they are in fact caught and killed. David Soul gave a very convincing performance and I think it was because of his performance in SALEMS LOT that attained the actor/singer a better standing within the acting/filmmaking community.

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James Mason needs no introduction realy, he was a marvellous actor and was already well established with audiences old and young. The actor was a big box office draw in England and did become the top actor at the box office in 1944 to 1945, after his success in England with movies such as ODD MAN OUT, SEVENTH VEIL and THE WICKED LADY. Mason, began to make movies in Hollywood and from the 1950’s through to the 1980’s was in demand and starred or made appearances in films such as THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, THE DESERT FOX, JULIUS CAESAR, A STAR IS BORN, CHARADE, THE BLUE MAX, GEGHIS KHAN and LOLITA to name but a few. He died on July 27th, 1984 in Switzerland aged 75.

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Four years before SALEMS LOT, THE LEGEND OF LIZZIE BORDEN was released, the film caused something of a stir in many circles and came in for both criticism and applause from both critics and TV audiences.

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Accused of the shocking murder of her parents, she must prove her innocence…or be hanged!

 

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The film was based on true events that took place in Massachusetts in 1893. It told the story of Lizzie Borden who took an axe to both her Stepmother and Father. The movie starred Elizabeth Montgomery in the title role giving a very different performance from the many she gave as Samantha the amiable witch in the popular TV series BEWITCHED. The story tells of how she planned the murders and her cold-blooded calculating going as far to thinking of taking all her clothes off before carrying out the murders to avoid blood staining her garments. Montgomery gave an excellent performance and the directorial duties were undertaken by Paul Wendkos who was already an established film maker when he came to work on this. The director making contributions to many popular TV series such as THE INVADERS, PLAYHOUSE 90, DR. KILDARE, BEN CASEY, THE F.B.I., WILD WILD WEST, THE BIG VALLEY, I SPY, and A MAN CALLED SHENANDOAH plus others.

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Wendkos, was also responsible for the tension filled TV movie THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BELL (1970) and made a few interesting motion pictures one being THE MEPHISTO WALTZ in 1971 which contained an edgy and highly original score by Jerry Goldsmith who also scored THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BELL. The music for THE LEGEND OF LIZZIE BORDEN was by composer Billy Goldenberg who had been responsible for so many memorable TV themes and provided the scores for several popular television series from the 1960’s through to the 1980’s. Goldenberg was born on February 10th, 1936 in Brooklyn. Goldenberg was what many call a work horse of a composer being involved with more than two hundred assignments, two of his most memorable being his collaborations with Stephen Spielberg early in the director’s career, when he scored NIGHT GALLERY in 1969 and the directors breakout TV movie DUEL in 1971. Goldenberg was responsible for the scores to TV series such as COLUMBO, KOJAK, RHODA, BANACEK, CIRCLE OF FEAR, ALIAS SMITH AND JONES, and OUR HOUSE. As well as a composer Goldenberg was also a conductor, arranger, songwriter and accomplished pianist. He attended the Columbia College where he wrote the music and arranged songs etc for the varsity shows.

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He undertook private tuition from Hal Overton and in 1961 became a member of ASCAP, as well as writing music for shows, films and TV Goldenberg wrote for the concert hall and has a brass quintet, string quartet and a woodwind quintet to his credit. He often would pen the scores for series which had themes written by other composers, such as KOJAK. The composers most recent work was for THE HOUSE OF SECRETS AND LIES which was a TV movie from 1992, but more recently his music has been utilised in films such as ABC’s 50TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATIONS in 2003 and SURPRISE, SURPRISE, MR CONOVY in 2011.

 

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Can you see them, Sally … hiding in the shadows? They’re alive, Sally. They want you to be one of them when the lights go out.

That was just one of the tag lines for a TV movie that was released in 1973, DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, was the movie of the week on ABC TV in the States and was screened for the first time on October 10th of that year. The film starred Kim Darby who had come the attention of cinema audiences previously in TRUE GRIT. She plays Sally who with her husband Alex played by Jim Hutton move into her family house which is a run down rather uninviting Victorian mansion. When she begins to start re-decorating, she comes across a room which is locked, after having a disagreement with the handy man who tells her to leave it locked, she finally manages to get hold of a key for the door. It transpires that the room was her Fathers study and after she opens the room and removes the bricks from the fireplace, creepy things start to happen. After a while Sally begins to see small creatures in the house at first thinking she is seeing things but after a few sightings she confides in her husband who straight away thinks that maybe she is becoming neurotic, Sally also tells her friends, but they also assume that she could be losing her sanity. Events turn somewhat more sinister when the decorator trips at the top of the staircase and is killed in the fall, an accident? Sally finds a rope across the top of the staircase and bends down to pick it up, but it is snatched from her by a disagreeable little creature like the ones that she has seen before, Sally questions her own sanity but is convinced that maybe she has unleashed demons in the house.

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Directed by John Newland, this was certainly a chilling and one felt uncomfortable watching it. Newman was a well-seasoned director and actor, and helmed many well-known series that were on TV during the 1960’s and 1970’s with his career extending into the 1980’s. These included episodes of STAR TREK, DANIEL BOONE, DR KILDARE (a series in which he also appeared), PEYTON PLACE,
THE MAN FROM UNCLE, POLICE WOMAN and WONDER WOMAN. Newman’s career began in 1947 when he had an uncredited part as a reporter in NORA PRENTISS and made his last contribution as a director in 1983 in a TV series entitled WHIZZ KIDS. Music for DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK was by Billy Goldenberg, again the composer created an atmospheric and suitably jumpy soundtrack which greatly aided the dark and shadowy appearance and atmosphere of the movie.

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Staying in 1973 for a TV movie I felt was excellent, THE NORLISS TAPES was directed by Dan Curtis who had previously brought to the screen THE HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS (1970), THE NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS (1971), and COUNT DRACULA, THE NIGHT STRANGLER also in 1973.

 

 

THE NORLISS TAPES is in my opinion was very slick and classy and gave us a new take on the tale of the vampire. The film starred Roy Thinnes (BLACK NOON, THE INVADERS) and Angie Dickinson (POLICE WOMAN), who were both already popular actors at the time of the films release. The story revolves around the first tape in a collection of we don’t know how many that have been left behind by missing occult investigator David Norliss, these are found by a friend who is looking for Norliss.

 

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He finds the collection of tapes and places tape number 1 in the player and listens, he hears his friend telling the story of a widow whos dead husband, an artist has returned from the dead. The movie is filled to overflowing with tense and nervous situations and Director Curtis handles the proceedings well and contained an effective score by Curtis’s long-time composer collaborator Robert Colbert. The film was aired in February 1973, as a pilot with a view to a series being produced, sadly NBC were not impressed with the ratings that the pilot achieved which led to the series being cancelled. Which is such a pity because I think it could have been a successful series. Cutis was a prolific film maker and worked on TV productions and motion pictures, between 1970 and 1979 Curtis directed no less than 9 projects the majority of which were for television. The NORLISS TAPES is highly entertaining and leaves the audience hanging on a cliff edge when the tape finishes and the friend picks up tape two and inserts it into the player, only for the credits to roll, how frustrating is that.

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Moving on I am going to take you to a movie I saw just once, and I know it is available on the internet but have not re-visited it as yet. Its not horror in the normal sense but more of a phycological thriller with horror undertones, it starred Michael Douglas and Ben Gazzara, WHEN MICHAEL CALLS was first screened in the early part of 1972.
And although it probably isn’t a great movie it certainly made an impression on me at the age of 17, because I remember it.

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I also remember the music which was of a high quality for a TV movie, the composer credited was Lionel Newman although on further investigation recently I discovered that he only wrote a little original music, the remainder of the score being made up of stock music tracks by various composers. Newman was also credited as conductor which is probably more the case as this is what he was best remembered for. So that is probably why the music was of such a high quality, after all when you have at least five composer’s music in your movie at least one of them has to get it right, wouldn’t you say? Anyway, back to the film, directed by Philip Leacock the storyline dealt with a woman called Helen played by Elizabeth Ashley who starts to get phone calls from her nephew Michael, the problem is that Michael died some fifteen years prior to the calls. Soon after she receives the first call people start to die and she becomes paranoid and scared that she may the next victim. The caller speaks in a young boy’s voice which checks out with the age of Michael when he disappeared, after a while it transpires that Michael’s body was never found and everyone assumed that he had died of exposure the body maybe carried off by animals. This is a gripping storyline which contains some stalwart acting performances from the leading players and other members of the cast.

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Certainly, one to check out or in my case re-visit. Ben Gazzara is excellent as he always was in everything, he had a natural acting talent and, in this case, certainly steals the show outclassing Douglas. I have always wondered why the soundtracks to TV movies from the 1970’s were never released, ok a few did receive LP releases, but considering the great wealth and the overall high quality of the music in these productions, surely studios would have benefitted from a soundtrack release? Maybe its me?

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ROBERT DRASNIN

 

Moving away from the movies I thought I would spotlight just two composers who made a number of contributions to the world of the TV movie soundtrack, they both worked on a variety of genres and their music was always supportive as well as melodic in places, so may I begin with ROBERT DRASNIN, this underrated composer/musician worked on some of the more interesting TV movies and series that were around during the 1960’S and 1970, s. He contributed scores to already established shows as well as creating original works for new series.

 

These included, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, CUSTER, MANNIX, LOST IN SPACE, TIME TUNNEL, HAWAII FIVE 0, THE MAN FROM UNCLE, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, I SPY, WILD WILD WEST, PETROCELLI, CANON, POLICE STORY, THE ROOKIES, BARNABY JONES and CHIPS. His output was immense, and the quality was consistently of a high calibre, the composer having the ability to write quickly for the ever-looming schedules of popular TV.

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Born on November 17th, 1927, in Charleston West Virginia, the composer began his career playing the clarinet and took an interest and lessons from an early age. His family moved to Los Angeles in 1938, where he continued to study the instrument, he attended the Franklin Avenue High School in Hollywood and then moved onto the Thomas Starr King High School and eventually settling at THE Los Angeles High School where he joined the American Federation of Musicians. After graduating he joined the army and served a tour of duty in the Korean war. He was not only responsible for writing music for TV and films but also released several music albums which in many ways were similar to the style of Les Baxter and Henry Mancini, mainly easy listening but Drasnin never found the wider audience as the other two did. He died on May 13th, 2015. His TV movie credits include, TASTE OF EVIL, THE OLD MAN WHO CRIED WOLF, CROWHAVEN FARM, A TATTERED WEB, JIGSAW, WHEELER and MURDOCH plus many more.

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The next composer I want to spotlight is Paul Chihara, he wrote numerous TV movie scores and was particularly active during the 1970’s. I asked the composer,

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What musical education did you receive and what musical instrument did you focus upon if any?
My first music teacher was a Catholic nun (Sister Virginia Marie) at the Immaculate Conception parochial school in Seattle in 1947, when I was nine. She gave me lessons in piano and violin. Other violin teachers included Francis Aranyi (who gave also gave me my first counterpoint lessons) and Emmanuel Zetlin at the University of Washington. I began composing music without any teachers while still in high school, and eventually received more formal composition lessons from John Verrall. But for the most part, I began composing without teachers, and have always considered myself basically self-taught. I majored in English Literature, History, and Classic Studies in college, and won a scholarship to Cornel University in 1960 in the English Department, where I completed my Master’s Degree majoring in Old English. My MA thesis was a linguistic study of the grammar in the original Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf.While at Cornell as an English Major in 1961, studying composition privately with Robert Palmer, the visiting teacher (the legendary Nadia Boulanger) invited me to study with her in Paris. While there (in 1961-2) I received the Lili Boulanger Memorial Award for my orchestral work “Four Pieces for Orchestra,” which was performed at Carnegie Hall in 1963 by the National Orchestral Association. In 1965, I completed my Doctorate in Music at Cornell University, then attended the Tanglewood Music Festival on a choral singing and conducting scholarship.
In September 1965, I travelled to Berlin on a Fulbright Scholarship where I studied composition with Ernst Pepping at the Hochschule für Musik (1965-6).
I studied on Fellowships at Tanglewood in 1966 and 1968 with Gunther Schuller.I was hired by the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1966, where I taught until 1971, when I resigned (just after receiving tenure) to begin my career as a free-lance composer. In 1971, I was hired by the newly founded Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra to be their first composer-in-residence, under the conductor Neville Marriner. I wrote my first movie score in 1975 “Death Race 2000.” Also, in 1975, Michael Smuin commissioned me to compose my first ballet score “Shinju” for the San Francisco Ballet, for which I was subsequently appointed their composer-in-residence. In 1979, Mercer Ellington (with the strong support of Gunther Schuller) hired me to orchestrate the music of his father (Duke Ellington) in the Broadway show “Sophisticated Ladies” which opened to great success at the Lunt Fontaine Theatre in 1980.
Is working in TV more demanding than writing for a feature film, by this I mean are the schedules tighter and the budgets lower?

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Nothing is more demanding than working for a director who is not sure what he wants or changes his mind with each passing day of post-production.
Every composer has stories to tell of situations like that! (Though most of us would welcome that situation over not having any work at all!). TV can be more frantic than feature films in that the post-production schedule is often compromised (shortened) by delays in production. And series TV is like a roller coaster ride with scary ups and downs in the time given to compose and record a segment. Budgets are usually lower for TV than independent features, though some feature producers sometimes offer a package deal so small that the composer must create the score entirely digitally or in Europe. In recent years, the so-called “back-end” deal is becoming more common, where nothing is paid the composer up front for the creation of the score, though he is promised a certain amount or percentage of profits when the picture is sold. This is the most precarious of situations for the composer, though with so many now looking for work and willing to take risks, they are becoming more common.

Chihara has scored a vast amount of TV movies here is a list of just some of them from the 1970’s.
Act of Violence
Mind Over Murder
The Darker Side of Terror
Almost Heaven
A Fire in the Sky
Betrayal
Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery
Doctor Strange
Death Moon
Night Cries
These two composers I thought made interesting and original contributions to the TV movie market, as did all the composers who wrote for the small screen whether for made for TV films. Series or one-off dramas etc. Writing for television is demanding and often the composer is up against tight deadlines, but during the 1970’s in-particular the quality and high standard of music in TV was noticeable, it was the golden age for not only productions but also for music as well.

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BILL MARX AND COUNT YORGA VAMPIRE.

 

 

 

In the 1970’s the story of Dracula had been committed to film many times. Hammer were looking for a way to transport the infamous Count into the 20th Century and attempted to do this in two movies, THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA and DRACULA AD 1972, the former worked to a degree but AD 1972 was something of an embarrassment, the studio tried to make the story of Dracula hip or with it by the use of locations in London which were supposedly swinging, nice idea but London was swinging in the 1960’ not the 1970’s.

 

Badly dressed young people were also planted throughout who spoke in a language that existed in the minds of Hammer script writers who were far from being teenagers or young adult these frequented coffee bars and wanted to be far out or crazy man. In effect the movie failed and even Christopher Lee was akward and out of place as the Count. But in my opinion, it was Hammer desperately trying to attract younger audiences in a market where the tastes and likes of cinema audiences were changing and sadly Hammer were becoming tired and out dated.

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American International Pictures who were effectively Hammers rival in the United States and had also worked in association with the British studio on movies such as THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, also decided to try and transport the vampire story into contemporary settings, not having made what was a true Dracula movie, the AIP studio introduced another vampire Count, COUNT YORGA VAMPIRE was portrayed wonderfully by debonair actor Robert Quarry. The movie was set in modern day America, Yorga being transported to the States in his coffin, the opening scenes showing his servant Brudda (Edward Walsh) who is devoted to his Vampiric Master loading the coffin onto a station wagon at the docks and driving it to a suitably creepy looking house. We then cut to a séance scene, with Yorga being the person carrying it out, also in attendance are a group of friends, who are trying to contact one of their number Donna’s Mother, who was having a relationship with Yorga and suddenly died. After an eventful evening Yorga is offered a lift to his house by two of the friends Erica and Paul Landers. The Manor where the Count resides is in a remote location and on their way back out of the property they become stuck in mud and decide to sleep in their small mobile home, they are awakened in the early hours and attacked by an unknown adversary, Paul being knocked out. It is then we see Yorga as he enters the vehicle where Erica is, and he bites her.

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The next day neither of the couple have any recollections of the events of the night before. However, Erica becomes ill and seems to have lost a lot of blood. Paul calls his friend Jim who is a doctor to check her over and he begins to become suspicious about how she might have lost that amount of blood and after hearing about Yorga also becomes uneasy about him.

 


In one scene which is quite shocking Paul walks in on Erica who is drinking blood from a cat, although this is horrific and startling it is also somewhat believable within the story line and because it is convincing becomes even more chilling and unsettling.
COUNT YORGA VAMPIRE is I think one of the more convincing and entertaining movies from the 1970’s which attempted to bring the tale of vampires into the 20th Century. The story was quite slick and fast moving and yes there were as in all horror films some “cheezy” lines but what I like about COUNT YORGA VAMPIRE is that it remains very believable and it also has several scenes which stay with the audience long after they have left the cinema or stopped watching the DVD.

 

 

One is the slow-motion section where Yorga comes out of nowhere, outstretched arms, fangs bared and cloak flowing behind him as him launches himself at Michael who is Donna’s partner and is searching for her after Yorga has taken her to his house.

 

 

One other is the scene where Jim confronts Yorga, the vampire taunting him and laughing as he calls for Michael to help him, as Jim holds off Yorga with a stake made from a broken chair leg and a homemade crucifix. He fails to see three of Yorga’ s female victims begin to rise from their resting places behind him, Yorga does not have to do anything as his disciple’s attack and bite Jim knocking him to the floor and then leaping on him and then carrying out a frenzied attack upon him. The end scene is also stylish and shocking, but if I tell you what it is it would spoil your own enjoyment of the movie. The movie was very successful I both the US and the UK, it was a vampire movie with a difference, and far removed from the Hammer films style.

 

 

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The success of the film was I think something of a surprise to AIP, so a sequel was made which was imaginatively entitled THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA. Again, Robert Quarry took the title role, and in some ways the sequel was more entertaining than the original movie, there were new characters and the storyline was a little more ambitious with Yorga and his brides for want of a better word were not restricted to the confines of Yorga’ s manor house. However, it did seem to me to have the look of a TV movie rather than a feature film, but nevertheless it is still a worthy entry by AIP.

 
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The musical scores for both YORGA movies was composed by Bill Marx, Marx is the son of Harpo Marx and wrote the music for a handful of movies during the 1970’s most of them being of the horror variety. His music for both Yorga movies was highly effective and although there are not that many melodies or a great deal of themeatic material they certainly make their mark when it comes to underlining and highlighting certain scenes and moments within both movies. I cannot be sure, but it sounds as if the music is written for a smaller ensemble of players in the main strings. The composers sparse scoring working effectively for the films, with music being used for the more shocking or surprising moments of the movie. It is surprising that the scores have never been released onto any form of recording as the demand for them has grown over the years. With the composer’s music acquiring just as much of a cult status as the films themselves.

 


The lack of a soundtrack release for these movies is probably due to the films being low budget and because Marx is not that well known by film music enthusiasts or at least was not at the time of the film’s release. Marx also scored films such as SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM which is probably one of the worst horror flicks made along with its predecessor BLACULA. The first BLACULA was scored by Gene Page who wrote a serviceable disco orientated soundtrack, Page, had acted as arranger and producer for Barry White and had also worked with the likes of Elton John as well as having hits of his own, including a version of the theme from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. Marx was brought on board by director, Bob Kelljan, who directed both Yorga movies. His score for the second BLACULA was slightly more disco/jazz orientated than his scores for YORGA, but again his music was not released. Marx was born in the January of 1937 and was adopted by Harpo Marx and his wife Susan. Marx attended Juilliard where he trained in composition, he composed concerti for violin, flute, alto sax, harp, piano and double harps. He also has several symphonic works to his credit and has also scored a handful of motion pictures. He worked in TV as well as movies and has made several recordings and given concerts all over the United States, he is an accomplished pianist and focuses more upon jazz than any other genre of music in recent years. The composer/musician is said to enjoy giving live performances where he can connect with audiences. One other movie that Marx scored which is worth a mention is THE DEATHMASTER which cast Robert Quarry again in the leading role as a Vampire who entices a group of local hippies to follow him and rather than instilling love and peace amongst them his plan is to turn them all into vampires.

 

It is very sad that Marx has not been given the credit he so richly deserves, his music for the horror movies he has been involved on is superbly written and gives a greater atmosphere and character to the films. Maybe a record label somewhere might be persuaded to release some of his film music.

 

 

WITCHFINDER.

 

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Opening Narration for WITCHFINDER GENERAL.

The year is 1645, England is in the grip of bloody Civil War. On the one side stand the Royalist party of King Charles, on the other, Cromwell’s Parliamentary party: The Roundheads. The Structure of law and order has collapsed. Local Magistrates indulge their individual whims, justice and injustice are dispensed in more or less equal quantities, without opposition. An atmosphere in which the unscrupulous revel, and the likes of Matthew Hopkins take full advantage of the situation. In a time where the superstitions of country folk are still a powerful factor, Hopkins preys upon them, torturing and killing in a supposed drive to eliminate witchcraft from the country, and doing so with the full blessing of what law there is. However, his influence is confined largely to the Eastern Sector of the country: East Anglia, which is held firmly in Cromwell’s grasp, but not so firmly that Roundhead cavalry patrols have everything their way. For here persists an ever present threat of the remnants of the Royalist armies, desperately foraging for food, horses and supplies.”

 

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Do you remember the phone call in SCREAM, when the caller asks, “WHATS YOUR FAVOURITE HORROR FILM”? So, what is your favourite horror movie? There have been many that I have watched and have to say that the type of horror movie I like (if that’s the right word) is the Gothic horrors as produced by Hammer films in that studios heyday. But for me one movie stood out and still does, it was not a hammer movie, there was no sign of Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee, no indoor sets well not that many, and no thundering crashing score. I am talking about THE WITCHFINDER GENERAL, this for me was the ultimate horror film, it had an interesting storyline contained great performances from its leading actors and for me had a beautifully haunting musical score by composer Paul Ferris who also made an appearance in the film.

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Directed by Michael Reeves, WITCHFINDER GENERAL looked good and for the most part was an accurate account of what was going on in England during the Civil War years. Whilst Royalists and Parliamentarians battled it out in the Counties of England, Matthew Hopkins appointed himself as THE WITCHFINDER GENERAL and travelled the Suffolk countryside exposing and burning supposed Witches. The film was directed by Michael Reeves, a young filmmaker who showed much promise.

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WITCHFINDER GENERAL was Reeves first feature film, although he had already worked on various movies after he left public school. Reeves carried out various minor duties for Don Siegal and then Jack Cardiff and Henry Levin working on films in Europe such as THE LONG SHIPS and GENGHIS KHAN which were both Yugoslavian/UK/GERMAN co-productions and had mild success at the box office. Reeves got his first break onto making films himself when he travelled to Italy to work with Paul Maslansky, firstly on NIGHTMARE CASTLE in 1964 and then two years later on LA SORELLA DI SATANA (THE SHE BEAST) where he not only co-wrote the screenplay but directed the film. THE SHE BEAST was a low budget horror movie but saying this it was a fairly robust and entertaining production, with an inventive script and Reeves displaying his maturity as a filmmaker for one so young. The films witch hunt scene was particularly impressive and watching it now one can see that this was a precursor or the inspiration for the opening sequence of WITCHFINDER GENERAL as there are marked similarities. In 1962 Reeves worked on THE SORCERERS which starred Boris Karloff and was a Tigon production. Despite this having a very low budget Reeves was able to create a movie that stood out. His next project which was also for Tigon was WITCHFINDER GENERAL again the budget for this was not huge but Reeves once again rose to the challenge and created a film that is arguably one of the finest British horror movies of the 1960’s.

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The film set during the English civil war manged to avoid including any of the battles in that conflict, but as I have said the budget was meagre and probably did not allow for this, however Reeves manages to include certain aspects of the Roundhead and Cavalier war, which given the storyline and the direction of the main thread of the film is enough. Vincent Price was eventually cast in the role of Matthew Hopkins although Reeves originally wanted Donald Pleasance, who could not take up the offer due to other commitments at the time. Price got the part mainly because of American International Pictures investment in the production and he turned in a wonderful performance and although he and Reeves had many verbal altercations and disagreements whilst filming took place and even though Reeves did not want him in the role, Price was most definitely made for the part with Reeves being responsible for extracting an unsettling, subtle but at the same time malevolent performance from him.

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The production started filming in the Autumn of 1967, and when Price arrived in a damp and cold Suffolk, Reeves refused to greet him, and also avoided the actor off set, this dismayed Price who was astounded at the lack of respect Reeves had shown which led Price to refer to Reeves as an “Anti-social Limey screwball”.

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WITCHFINDER GENERAL is one of the very few movies that has managed to transcend the confines of its genre and be applauded to gain a wide critical acclaim. This happens very rarely especially within the horror genre, and it is probably true to say that only THE WICKER MAN has also managed to do this. The cast of the movie was impressive although most were relatively unknown, except for Patrick Wymark, Rupert Davies and Wilfred Bramble who made a brief appearance in the role of Master Loach. Hilary Dwyer, Ian Ogilvy, Nicky Henson and Robert Russell all play their parts with conviction and are convincing in their roles. Both Ogilvy and Henson were friends of Reeves as was the composer on the movie Paul Ferris who incidentally was given a small part in the film. But it was not just the superb acting and edgy direction that made WITCHFINDER an outstanding motion picture, John Coquillon’s extraordinary cinematography, Jim Morahan’s art direction and Paul Ferris’s melodically haunting soundtrack all combined to bring us this disturbing but at the same time attractive slice of horror. Plus, there were the locations, the action being set against the background of a quiet English village and the tranquillity and sheer beauty of the British countryside and because of the idyllic locations and soothing music combined with the magical photography, the story and images on screen became even more shocking and disturbing.

 

 

 

 

 

The film underwent a number of cuts under the gaze of the censor even after Reeves’s fighting for the film to be released uncut, but it was not only the censor that Reeves had to fight over the movie, American International wanted the ending of the film altered so that the young lovers played by Dwyer and Ogilvy literally rode off into the sunset happy, which is something that Reeves would not allow, AIP also changed the title of the film for its USA release to THE CONQUERER WORM. This was so that audiences would associate it with Edgar Allan Poe on which so many of the studios films were based on, Reeves could not do anything about this and on American posters the story was credited to Poe as well as Author Ronald Bassett.

 

 

 

Reeves next movie should have been THE OBLONG BOX, which was an American International Picture, but sadly the young filmmaker passed away on February 11th, 1969, and director Gordon Hessler replaced him on the film. If Reeves had lived I think he would have gone on to create so many iconic films and would have been one of Britain’s if not the world’s top film makers. The film was criticised for its graphic violence and also for not being historically correct, well we can say that about a great number of movies that are supposedly based upon historical events or true stories, ZULU for example is a classic of British cinema, yes the battle of Rorke’s Drift took place yes the Zulus, outnumbered the British and yes there were many examples of bravery on both sides, but was the film historically correct? No, it wasn’t, does it make the movie any less of a classic, any less entertaining, no it does not.

 

 
WITCHFINDER came under fire from many directions, Matthew Hopkins for example was in his early 20’s, when he roamed the English countryside seeking out Witches, Price was 53 when he took on the role. Matthew Hopkins presided over many trials of so called Witches, in the movie no trials were mentioned or seen, just the grisly punishments. The scene where we see Patrick Wymark as Cromwell is supposedly before the battle of Nazeby, at this battle the Parliamentary forces numbered nearly 14,000, in the film we see just a handful of Cromwell’s troopers. The rights to WITCHFINDER GENERAL have rumoured to have been sold with view to Re-make, is this a good thing or a bad thing? Only time will tell.

 

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Quotes.

“Matthew Hopkins: By the way, you know what they call me now?
John Stearne: What?
Matthew Hopkins: Witchfinder General.”

 

[Hopkins and his men throw three securely-bound people into the moat as a witchcraft test]
Matthew Hopkins: They swim… the mark of Satan is upon them. They must hang.”

 

“[a tied-up woman Hopkins has thrown into the moat to test for witchcraft drowns]
Matthew Hopkins: She was innocent.

 

 

 

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Price to Reeves “Young man, I’ve been in 84 films. How many have you made?”
To which Reeves replied, “Two good ones.”

 

 

 

MICHAEL REEVES CREDITS.

 

 

CARRION c. 1958 director
DOWN c. 1958 / 9 director
INTRUSION 1961 director
THE LONG SHIPS UK / Yugoslavia, 1963 assistant director
IL CASTELLO DEI MORTI VIVI Italy, 1964 2nd assistant director
LA SORELLA DI SATANA / REVENGE OF THE BLOOD BEAST UK / Italy / Yugoslavia, 1966 director / producer
THE SORCERERS 1967 director / producer / screenplay
WITCHFINDER GENERAL 1968 director / screenplay
THE OBLONG BOX 1969 (original director)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cast

Matthew Hopkins PRICE, Vincent
Richard Marshall OGILVY, Ian
Trooper Swallow HENSON, Nicky
John Stearne RUSSELL, Robert
Sara DWYER, Hilary
Salter SELBY, Tony
Captain Gordon BEINT, Michael
fisherman KAY, Bernard
Trooper Harcourt TRENEMAN, John
Trooper Gifford MAXWELL, Bill
farrier THOMAS, Peter
Elizabeth Clark KIMBERLEY, Maggie
villager THORNE, Dennis
second old woman TIRARD, Ann
young woman in cell ALDHAM, Gillian
first old woman TALFREY, Hira
first innkeeper LYNN, Jack
villager SEGAL, Michael
jailer WEBB, David
wench in inn DOUGLAS, Sally
shepherd PALMER, Edward
infantry sergeant PETERS, Lee
Lavenham magistrate HAIGH, Peter
Webb JAMES, Godfrey
Wench in inn NOLAN, Margaret
old man LENNON, Toby
Paul, young husband JAR, Morris (Paul Ferris)
foot soldier LYELL, David
sentry JOINT, Alf
second innkeeper TERRY, Martin
first magistrate KIDD, John
John Lowes DAVIES, Rupert
Oliver Cromwell WYMARK, Patrick
Master Loach BRAMBELL, Wilfred
farmer DAWKINS, Paul
wenches in inn BRERETON, Tasma
SEAGER, Sandy
priest MILTON, Beaufoy
wench in inn READING, Donna

 

 

 

Credits

Director REEVES, Michael
©/Production Company Tigon British Productions Ltd.
Executive Producer TENSER, Tony
Producer MILLER, Arnold Louis
Co-producer HEYWARD, Louis M.
Associate Producer WADDILOVE, Philip
Production Manager COWARD, Ricky
Assistant Director GODDARD, Ian
Continuity SELWYN, Lorna
Screenplay REEVES, Michael
Screenplay BAKER, Tom
Additional scenes HEYWARD, Louis M.
Original novel BASSETT, Ronald
Director of Photography COQUILLON, John
Grips WILLIAMS, Fred
Special Effects DICKEN, Roger
Editor LANNING, Howard
Art Director MORAHAN, Jim
Set Decorator LOW, Andrew
Wardrobe THOMPSON, Jill
Make-up HAMILTON, Dore
Music Composed and Conducted by FERRIS, Paul
Theme Song (uncredited)(un used) LANGLEY, Gerry
Sound LeMARE, Paul

 

 

THE REAL MATTHEW HOPKINS.

 

 

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The film as we know was inspired by the real-life events and the Witch Hunter Matthew Hopkins. He was a self-appointed WITCHFINDER GENERAL as there was no actual post that was recognised by either the King or Parliament. Hopkins murdered over 300 men and women and all was done with the backing and blessing of the Church in England. The Church was at the time in a precarious position and wanted to assert its authority and thought what better way to do this than by striking fear into the hearts of people. Hopkins would investigate claims of Witchcraft or Witches and this don’t mean that the person accused would necessarily have to be seen casting spells in fact many of the accused were brought to trial simply because they were different in some way. These could be single woman who had skin blemishes, or even Cat Lovers. Matthew Hopkins was born in 1620, his witch finding began in 1644 and lasted until 1647. In short space of time he and his associates tried and hung more people in those three years than had been hung in the preceding 100 years. Hopkins was also responsible for the increase in Witch trials. But a trial was not a trial as we know it, very often the Witch was falsely accused by a neighbour or someone who that did not like them and the Witchfinder always took the word of the accuser and the accused was always guilty until proved innocent. Hopkins methods to extract confessions were brutal and he relied on fear and torture to get his confessions. He also went unchallenged mainly because there was no one strong enough to challenge him and both Parliament and the Crown were to busy fighting each other in a Civil War.

 

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It is estimated that the majority of English Witch trials between the early 15th Century and the late 16th Century resulted in less than 500 executions. So Hopkins residing over the 300 he is credited for along with his colleague John Stearn accounted for approx. 60 percent of that total. Matthew Hopkins died at his home in Essex on August 12th 1647 the cause of death is uncertain but it was thought to be from Tuberculosis. Stories say that Hopkins was hanged as a Witch after being tested by use of his own water test, but this is thought to be unlikely as he is buried at St Mary’s in Mistley Heath. And it is recorded that he was buried just a few hours after his death, was Hopkins the evil figure that he is made out to be, or did he acquire the reputation as time passed and stories were circulated?

PALACE OF DREAMS. CINEMA’S OLD AND NEW IN BRIGHTON.

PART ONE.

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When one gets to a certain age, one most probably will start to think I miss “THE GOOD OLD DAYS” and how great it was “WHEN I WAS YOUNGER”. But, hang on a minute. Wasn’t it? I can remember being a teenager in Brighton, yes, I can remember things that long ago, before anyone asks, any way what was I saying???? Oh yes, I remember the Brighton of my teenage years being literally crammed with cinemas. In fact in an area of approximately half a mile there were five picture houses, ok one THE ESSOLDO had already fallen foul of the trend that was beginning and been changed into a bingo hall, but the remaining four, THE REGENT,THE BRIGHTON FILM THEATRE,THE ACADEMY and THE ODEON were all showing great movies and were always full, in fact sometimes one would have to que to get in and nine times out of ten would end up being disappointed or running up the road to the next cinema to see if there were any seats there, that’s how popular these places were. The Regent, The Academy and The Odeon were all part of one chain of cinemas, the BFT was an independent that often screened art house movies or foreign language films that did not have such a wide appeal to us mere minions. I remember seeing BATTLE OF ALGIERS at the BFT and they went through a period of screening silent movies with either a live small orchestra or a piano player. But it was the three other cinemas in Brighton’s Queens road and West street that I frequented the most, remember this was at a time when films such as PLANET OF THE APES, 2001 A SPACE ODYESSEY, BATTLE OF BRITAIN etc were on release and it seemed like there was a blockbuster on every weekend. Movies such as BATTLE OF BRITAIN were advertised with grand posters and even at times with life size models of spitfires perched on the frontage of the cinema. I can recall that on some Saturdays in the winter months especially my friends and I would start at the matinee showing at the Academy, then move down to the Odeon for the early evening movie, then up to the regent for the late performance, very often ending up walking home talking about the films the music etc because we had missed the last bus, (Yes buses, stopped at 11 30 on a Saturday night then). In Brighton as I say we were spoilt for choice, as you will see as this article progresses.

 

 

 

Let’s, start with a list of cinemas that I remember shall we, THE ASTORIA, in Gloucester Place, THE SAVOY or THE ABC (THE CANNON later) in East Street, I remember this had two entrances one in East Street the other opened onto the Seafront, THE ODEON, THE ACADEMY, in West Street, THE REGENT, in Queens road, THE BFT (which had been THE PRINCES news theatre showing mainly Pathe News and cartoons), in North Street, THE ESSOLDO also in North Street, THE GAIETY (which was also known as THE VOGUE and then THE ACE in later years which was a members only cinema) in Lewes Road, THE DUKE OF YORKS, at Preston Circus, THE CURZON (also known as THE CLASSIC),in Western Road, THE ABC HOVE, previously called THE GRANADA (posh one that), in Portland Road, THE EMBASSY in Western Road, THE CONTINENTAL in Paston/Sudeley Place Kemp Town, which was what my Grand Mother called a mucky cinema. But, it showed Foreign language movies, many of which starred Bridget Bardot if I recall correctly, (not that I even looked at the lobby cards and stills on display outside, much) it was a Miles Byrne cinema that specialised in screening the cinematic works of directors such as Fellini, Bergman and Truffuat which nowadays I am sure would not in any way be referred to as mucky (sorry Gran).

Before these there was THE ARCADIA or the Scratch as it was named locally because of the amount of unwelcome friend’s people used to pick up whilst watching films there, it was said that during the intermission the usherette would walk around spraying DDT, whether this is true or not I am not sure, but it seems so, the Scratch became the Labour club and is still in use today as a club. There was also an Odeon in the Kemp Town area not far from the Continental. This stood in St Georges road, the cinema is remembered for a tragic event which took place during WWll. Being a seaside town Brighton was heavily fortified, as an invasion from the German forces was always looming, the South coast was a target for the Luftwaffe as it was in easy reach of their bombers many of which were just across the channel in France, on one September day a German Heinkel attempting to escape being shot down by a Spitfire ditched its payload of bombs on the Kemp Town area of Brighton, hitting targets in Upper Rock Gardens and sadly St Georges road, where the Odeon stood, at the time it was filled with children enjoying a matinee movie, many of the children were injured and killed in the attack, in fact over fifty people lost their lives that day in Kemp Town.
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The Odeon did re-open and eventually closed its doors in 1960, due to dwindling audience numbers, what Hitler’s bombs had failed to do on that fateful September day, eventually happened because of competition from the small screen which so many people now had in their homes, television. There were many other cinemas in Brighton dating back to the 19th century a list of these will be included at the end of this article.

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I would like to begin however, with my memories of THE ASTORIA, the reason being I drove past the building just the other day and to my horror I could see the diggers and heavy machinery at work demolishing it, I wanted to stop and stand in their way telling them do you not realise what you are doing, how many memories you are destroying, and what for? More student accommodation another lot of shops that will soon close because of internet shopping or maybe even a car park. It’s a sad fact that so many cinemas are now gone, this one holds many fond and frightening memories for me personally. Frightening I hear you say, well yes this is where I went to see the EXORCIST a film that at the time I must admit I did not sit through leaving the cinema as quickly as I could after one of the scenes, now though it seems tame compared to what filmmakers serve up.

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I suppose my connection with the ASTORIA began when I was around eight or nine, the cinema was open on Saturday mornings for THE ABC MINORS matinee, this is when hundreds of kids descended upon the luxurious and regal looking art nu-vogue building to watch the latest instalment of FLASH GORDON, SUPERMAN or some other hero and also to see so many of those CHILDRENS FILM FOUNDATION productions, and also join in the enthusiastic sing along at the beginning of each session, accompanied by the in house organ. It was also the ASTORIA that screened MARY POPPINS, THE SOUND OF MUSIC, THE GREAT RACE (still I laugh at Jack Lemmon and Peter Falk), ICE STATION ZEBRA, WHERE EAGLES DARE, KELLYS HEROES etc all in wonderful stereo sound and 70mm. The thing with The ASTORIA was that it was more than just a case of going to see a movie, this was an occasion an event and something rather special. Why? Well because they had the giant posters the lights the glitz etc all of which was associated with the magic of the movies. It was also in the same cinema that I saw my first X certificate, THE WILD BUNCH, even though I was not old enough.

 

 

I always remember the manager dressed so smart, complete with bow tie, he would greet each customer on the door, even the kids at the ABC MINORS, knowing many of them by name. There was a time when the Organist at the cinema spoke about WHERE EAGLES DARE, which was unusual, but it turned out that he was a good friend of the composer on the movie Ron Goodwin and was I suppose making sure that the audience realised that there was music in films or at least this one. The ASTORIA was a grand building, with a long staircase to the left of the main foyer which lead to the upstairs seating areas, highly polished woodwork, brass handles that shone brightly, its thick plush red carpet making you feel like a VIP as you walked through with the smell of polish and popcorn in the air, this is what made the ASTORIA distinctive and exceptional.
Seeing the building become a shabby looking shell after it closed as a cinema was upsetting but to see it being ripped down the other day was harrowing, how could we let this happen, who let it happen? Seeing the bulldozers smashing it to the ground was heart breaking, it is like losing a friend, and I cannot believe that our Council agreed for this demolition to go ahead, it was a landmark in the town an iconic building and a place where dreams were realised and also a haven where one could escape to where ever you wanted to as long as you had the price of a ticket and enough money left over for your bus fare and a tub of ice cream in the intermission.

 

The Astoria chain of Cinema’s had become well established especially in the London area by the early 1930’s. There were numerous cinemas and theatres bearing the Astoria name in Brixton, Finsbury Park Old Kent Road and Charring Cross as well as in Streatham. Each building had been designed by Edward Stone and were what is now referred to as French art deco in their appearance. The dazzling and beautiful looking buildings were sometimes more of a talking point than the movies that were being screened within their walls.
The Astoria name or brand soon spread to other locations in England, seaside resorts such as Brighton being one of them, this was on the say so of group of business men who had invested in the Astoria name headed by Edward Lyons. Lyons had been responsible for opening one of Brighton’s earliest picture houses THE ACADEMY in 1911 and had become a well-known figure within the towns entertainment community. The investors included J. Infield who was the owner of THE SUSSEX DAILY NEWS a man who had been involved with THE ACADEMY and had served as chairman of the cinema until the latter part of 1926.

Infield had selected a site that he thought would be perfect for another cinema in Brighton and was not too close to the Academy and would he thought be easier to get to and an attraction for members of the public who lived outside of the central area of Brighton. In 1932, Infield had wanted to build a theatre on the site under the PLAZA name, but the plans to do this fell through, but just a year later, the group of business men commissioned Edward Stone to design and construct a super cinema at the site which was on Brighton’s Gloucester Place. The building was designed to be a cinema and doubled as a theatre with a full-size stage that included dressing rooms. The work started on July 17th, 1933, the combined theatre/cinema would have a capacity of 1,823.
The work was completed in a very short space of time and the opening night for THE ASTORIA was on 21st December 1933. The theatre was opened by the Mayor of Brighton, Margaret Hardy and the towns then MP Cooper Rawson. The programme on the opening night consisted of Movie tone newsreel and Path’e news with a b feature of SANTA’S WORKSHOP a Disney film and the main feature which was THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY Vlll, which starred Charles Laughton. In the February of 1935, the ASTORIA passed from being an independent cinema to being part of the ABC group of cinemas. ABC had been operating The Savoy cinema in East street in Brighton since 1930. The Astoria was a popular venue and was always screening the best films until that is THE ODEON opened in the towns central area of west street, then the ASTORIA was thought of as a B feature venue until that is they secured the rights to show GONE WITH THE WIND in 1939. The American Civil War classic was the most talked about and anticipated movie of that year, The Astoria was one of a handful of cinemas outside of London that screened it. In 1958 the ASTORIA was refurbished and altered the theatre section was removed and this made way for a larger screen the venue becoming a dedicated Cinema rather than having dual purpose. A new projector was fitted, and the balcony area was also altered, the original organ was removed and replaced with a smaller one, and the auditorium was concealed by curtains, the refurbishment was costly running into thousands, the alterations reducing the capacity of the theatre to 1,200. On August 2nd, 1958 the cinema re-opened with the Rogers and Hammerstein musical SOUTH PACIFIC which ran for five months, which was a record in Brighton, the cinema also had great success with GIGI a year later and THE NUNS STORY, with BEN HUR being screened there in 1961 and the Epic British war movie LAWRENCE OF ARABIA filling the cinema to capacity most nights in 1962.

 

 

 

THE ASTORIA remained a popular venue up until its doors finally closed as a cinema in 1977, it re-opened as a bingo hall later that year, but it did not fare as well as the owners had thought, and it struggled throughout its remaining years but surprisingly survived until 2007, when the doors closed for the last time. I often wonder what treasures were left behind in the projection room, what posters were laying gathering dust as the years passed by, the building soon fell into decay and dis-repair, but that is something that Brighton is very good at letting important land marks fall into dust, take the west pier for example, but that as they say is another story.

 

 

 

The next cinema I want to include is THE ACADEMY situated in west street, this was one of the towns first cinema’s opening in 1911, built on the site of a former Turkish bath, the Academy Picture Place as it was then called opened in the summer of 1911 at that time it had a capacity of 400. The opening night there was a talk given on Kinemancolour films and examples of these were shown to the audience. The original Academy was replaced by a larger building which was able to seat 1.000 people, it was at that time part of the Biocolour pictures chain of theatres and cinema’s, but in 1928 was sold to the Gaumont British Picture Corporation and two years later was re-christened The Tatler Cinema. This renaming was short lived and in 1932 The Academy name was re-stored. In 1939, the building was given a make-over and re-furbished in the art Deco style with a capacity of nearly 950 seats. It remained the Academy until it sadly closed its doors on January 24th, 1973, its last movie to be screened was fittingly THE LAST PICTURE SHOW directed by Peter Bogdanovich. Later that year the building was demolished, and an office block was constructed, Academy house was home to several business’s. The building still operates as a multi office block with its ground and first floors being the home of Yate’s Wine Lodge. The Academy for me was a brilliant cinema it was the place where one could catch movies late on release and it along with the Odeon in West Street and The Regent in Queens Road were part of the Rank Organization, who also owned the Ice Rink which also stood on the corner of west street and the Brighton sea front. At times the organization would often put a movie on at The Academy when it had finished its run at The Odeon if it had been a popular one at the box office. I saw so many movies there that are now considered as classics or innovative productions that have gone down in cinema history as being groundbreaking or important. PLANET OF THE APES, starring Charlton Heston for example.

 


Confession time now, I skipped school to go and see this one, and I am glad I did, the image of the Gorilla trooper on horseback in the movies hunt scene stays with me to this day as does Jerry Goldsmith’s highly original and modern sounding score, it was this film and its soundtrack that placed me firmly in the film music fan ranks. It is rather ironic that after it ceased being a cinema it was turned into offices, and then along came Yate’s Ironic because I became resident DJ at Yate’s in the late 1990’s and stayed there till 2008, so I was effectively the entertainment in a place where I had been entertained so many times.

 

 

 

Ok, follow me up West Street to the pedestrian crossing across North Street and opposite the famous Brighton Clock Tower stands a large Boots the chemist, which is situated in Queens road the main road to the railway station. The Boots building goes around the corner into North Street and this is where The REGENT stood, a gorgeous Cinema, and in later years the flagship picture house of the Rank Organization. THE REGENT in the 1960’s and 1970’s was the Cinema in Brighton where all the big movies were shown, OLIVER, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, BATTLE OF BRITAIN, CROMWELL.THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE, MARY POPPINS, WATERLOO and the Russian made version of WAR AND PEACE etc all were screened there, and I can still see people queuing around the block on weekdays as well as weekends if I close my eyes.

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THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN was a big film for the cinema and they even sold the soundtrack LP’s in the foyer when they screened the film (an album I still have). This was a plush cinema a luxurious picture palace in every sense of the title. A wide set of steps led up to the box office and the Cinema entrance, one walked into a large and rather lofty entrance hall, with red thick carpet and staff in smart uniforms. I remember the Regent for the coming attractions posters and stills, where they would advertise films that were coming and its great selection of goodies that they had to help the audience get through the movie. Whereas the Academy and The Odeon would show a B feature and then a main film, The Regent would show ads first then the it was onto the film, with an intermission halfway through, (that’s something we don’t get now). Heavy red and gold velvet curtains covered the big, big screen, many of the movies coming with a musical overture at the beginning which would play with the curtains closed creating a wonderful atmosphere of anticipation. Again, we don’t get that, anymore do we? THE REGENT was also a dance hall, and a popular one, it was renowned for hosting big bands and popular vocalists during the 1950’s and into the 1960’s and was known for its unique dance floor which was sprung.

 

 

 

 

THE REGENT opened to the public in 1921, its opening screening of a motion picture was A YANKEE IN THE COURT OF KING ARTHUR which starred Bing Crosby and Cedric Hardwicke. The movie was preceded by a performance by Baritone and orchestra and a recital on the Organ. So, the grand looking picture house was launched in a suitably grandiose fashion. The site where the cinema was to be constructed was purchased in 1914 by Provincial Cinematograph theatres. However due to the outbreak of World War one the actual work of construction did not commence until the beginning of 1919.The architect for the building Robert Atkinson, had also included a winter garden on the roof of the building as well as an underground ballroom. The project cost half a million pounds to develop and included many of the most up to date techniques in theatre design. Because of the position of the site, it was a difficult job excavating and carving out the foundations for the building, it being on a slope and because of this Atkinson was basically forced to return to the drawing board so that he could revise the plans. Eventually the architect had to position the ballroom on the roof forsaking the planned winter gardens and building a restaurant above the cinemas main entrance hall. The interior of the Regent was stunning decorated with ornate and striking plaster work that was enhanced further by the placing of effective and stylish lighting. The auditorium was fan shaped which was also innovative and this was adorned by an archway that was decorated in striking illustrations that contained an array of vivid colours all of which were created by Lawrence Preston. In the January of 1929 the cinema was damaged by fire, which destroyed the in-house organ and stage, subsequently major rebuilding work had to be undertaken and whilst this was taking place films were shown on Sunday afternoons at THE HIPPODROME which was a short walk away in Middle street. In the February of 1929, the cinema was acquired by the Gaumont British Picture Corporation and in July of that year re-opened with a new sound system which made it the first cinema in Brighton to be sound equipped. Over the years THE REGENT changed owners and in 1953 became a part of Odeon Cinemas ltd, two year later it was refurbished and was modified to be able to show Cinemascope films. Again in 1962 the cinema had work carried out this time to enable it to screen 7omm films. The famous ballroom which was also popular was closed in 1967 and it fell foul to the bingo craze that was sweeping the country at the time. In 1973, THE REGENT closed its doors for the last time, and the building was demolished in 1974. The Regent was one of Brighton’s most popular venues and catered for dancing, films and eating out, when it closed the city lost an important venue and a stunning landmark.

 

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From the Regent we turn left into North Street, cross the road and go to Burger King, no I am not feeling hungry, but Burger King is on the site of what I remember as the Brighton Film Theatre and before that was PRINCES, All I remember about PRINCES is that is showed cartoons, mainly produced by Warner Brothers, TOM AND JERRY, BUGS BUNNY, DAFFY DUCK etc., and a lot of news reels and travelogues.
I only remember it being very dark and having a somewhat musky smell. The cinema was small, and was an independent venue, in the 1970’s it became the BFT, which was a completely different from its predecessor. The BFT would screen art house movies, obscure Italian or French movies and silent films with a live musical accompaniment. It was at this time, one could see movies such as Z. BATTLE OF ALGIERS, QUEIMADA, CHE and their like. When the cinema first opened in 1911 it was called THE BIJOU ELECTRIC EMPIRE, the building was originally the home of The Southern Publishing Company, in 1915 the Bijou became PRINCE’S electric theatre and remained under that name until the end of WWl. It was given the name of PRINCE’S cinema the following year. In 1929 the foyer of the cinema was altered, and sound equipment was also installed and in 1933 they added a neon lit facia. After WWll the cinema changed its name once again and became PRINCE’S NEWS THEATRE, and again in 1967 when it was dubbed THE JACEY. The venue’s appeal began to wain rapidly as audience’s tastes altered and in 1969 the cinema was taken over in association with the British Film Institute who wanted the venue to screen specialist movies outside of London and changing its name once again to THE BRIGHTON FILM THEATRE. The venue became popular and was busy for nine years after which is closed and re-opened as CINESCENE in September 1979 it continued as a cinema until the June of 1983 when it was closed. In 1988 the building was sold to Burger King, who are still in residence there, the screen or a screen is still in place and used for customers to view various music channels and cartoons.

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Standing outside of The BFT as it was and looking across the road there was another cinema or at least a building that was once a cinema, THE ESSOLDO, I cannot remember this ever-showing movies because it had already changed usage and become a bingo hall or some other entertainment venue during the 1970’s. The foundation stone for the building was laid in 1939 by Ralph Lynn, initially the venue was to be for live theatre and variety. The background and the end of the venue is not a nice one and I get frustrated when reading about it, this beautiful building could have been saved in my opinion, there are far too many people around nowadays that are so quick to sign a demolition order on old buildings, but these “OLD” buildings are part of out heritage part of our background and history.

 


The ESSOLDO was a building I always would look at as a child and it was a building that had always been there, this I think was a case of the uncaring attitude of The Rank organization and the complacency of the local council who failed to act, and this led the building to go into a state of dis-repair and eventually had to be demolished. One of the two balconies were removed in 1997 and this ruined the interior and after the venue’s ground floor was demolished to house a bowling alley which lasted less than two years, this resulted in the complete demolition of the property and being replaced with ugly looking buildings that have no character whatsoever. The council saying that the decay of the venue was so bad that it would have to go. The building was designed by architect Samuel Beverly. It opened in 1940, as THE IMPERIAL THEATRE and was owned by Jack Buchanan, they began to show films in 1943, and after the war it became mainly a cinema, but did on occasion put on stage shows. Gaywood Cinema’s took over the building, from Buchanan and then in 1949 The Essoldo cinemas circuit renamed it THE ESSOLDO, this lasted until 1964 when it closed on May 15th and was then converted into a Bingo Hall which was taken over by Rank. The design of the building was ART-DECO with a striking and stylish entrance in North Street. The capacity was 1.877 a number that was divided between three areas. Balcony, stalls and circle. The front of the building was illuminated with an impressive neon display. The interior of the building was decorated with Cockleshells and Dolphins, the latter now being utilized as a symbol for the city. The ESSOLDO is yet another sad story from the cinema history of Brighton.

 

 

Next, we go back up North Street turn left and then down to the bottom of West Street where THE ODEON stands, nowadays it is incorporated into the old KINGSWEST center which also houses a disco and clubs. Years ago, THE ODEON stood in west street, this was probably the busiest cinema in Brighton and I think it still is, it was THE ODEON that showed the best films and sometimes changed programmes mid-week, so we got to see two big movies in a week. The ODEON opened 1937, the first film that hit the screen there was SIXTY GLORIOUS YEARS which was a film focusing on the reign of Queen Victoria, who was admirably portrayed by actress Anna Neagle. This was followed by THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER.

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It was the most popular cinema in west street during the late 1960’s and throughout the 1970’s films such as EL CID, SPARTACUS and THE APE movies were screened there along with all the BOND movies. Again, the showing of a new Bond movie was made to be an occasion with lots of posters etc. adorning the foyer.

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I also remember going to see AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS there the original version with David Niven. As the 1960’s came to an end the cinemas in west street began to show a lot of Italian made westerns because they were becoming increasingly popular THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY theme by Hugo Montenegro was even number 1 in the music chart and the Odeon would do double bills of these and at times would show them as the B feature, putting movies such as THE BIG GUNDOWN, DAY OF ANGER, BLINDMAN and DEATH RIDES A HORSE on with movies such as THE WRECKING CREW starring Dean Martin or War movies like ANZIO which starred Robert Mitchum, so one got value for money back then and if you went into a movie in the afternoon you could stay there and watch the films again, without having to pay any extra. Sergio Leone’s Dollar movies were also screened a lot normally A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS would be shown with FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, but THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY was a film that was shown on its own even if they screened the edited version.

 

 

In 1973 the ODEON was refurbished after being moved to where the Ice rink was located and three screens were installed this was I think the beginning of the end for the cinemas in west street and also the regent in queens road, the three screens at the Odeon were installed to replace both The Academy and The Regent, but in my opinion all that was accomplished by this move was to cramp all the cinema goers into one place, with a view to saving money of rent and maintenance which although made perfect sense to the cinema owners made the cinema going experience a cramped and at times uncomfortable one for paying customers. The multiplex at The Odeon in west street still stands and now has eight screens, but due to current trends of streaming films at home and DVD’s and satellite and cable TV along with the rise of Netflix and Apple and Amazon the Cinemas are not as busy and it is very rare that one see’s anyone standing in a line waiting to go in. Unless it is a STAR WARS movie or maybe when the new Harry Potter was released.

 

 

 

Another cinema in Brighton that still operates today is THE DUKE OF YORKS which is situated at the other end of the city on the busy Preston Circus. Built in 1910 and opening in the September of that year, it is said to be the oldest cinema in the UK by this I mean the only purpose-built cinema that has remained a cinema since it was opened. This was a regular haunt of mine in the 1960’s and the early 1970’s. They would show good movies that had already been screened at cinemas such as the Odeon, The Regent and The Astoria, but late on release thus they were able to keep their seat prices down.

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I have many memories of seeing, films such as KHARTOUM, ZULU, FLIPPER, FU MAN CHU, TOO LATE THE HERO and THE MERCENARIES at THE DUKES, it was a smaller theatre, but we did not care it was great even when the projector broke down.

 

 

 

 

Nowadays it’s a bit more up-market showing classic movies alongside art house and independent films. In fact, I would say that The Dukes is thriving which can only be a good thing. It is also heavily involved with the Brighton Festival which takes place annually, for example this week I looked at what is on offer, we have SICARIO 2, LEAVE NO TRACE, NORTH BY NORTH WEST, YELLOW SUBMARINE, WHITNEY (the documentary), WONDERSTRUCK and a live streaming of the west end show JAIME. A long way from COUNT YORGA VAMPIRE and THE CRY OF THE BANSHEE on a Saturday night. The cinema also put on kid’s clubs and special nights for anyone with Autism and mother and baby days called BIG SCREAM SCREENINGS. The site was originally occupied by the Amber Ale Brewery and the cinema cost 3,000 pounds to construct, it was opened by the then Mayor of Brighton, Charles Thomas-Stanford and owned by Mrs. Violet Melnotte-Wyatt, the opening of the cinema caused quite a stir in Brighton and attracted large crowds. The cinema was designed by architect C.E.Clayton and had a capacity of 800, it was one of the only cinemas at that time to have tip up seats and plush carpets throughout. It also has electric fans and an electric powered projector. The cinema had its original sound equipment installed in 1930, and seven years after this underwent a re-decoration but retained its impressive façade which is in the Edwardian baroque style. It did go through a period of uncertainty during the 1970’s when it continued to screen moves but also experimented with bingo evenings and live wrestling events. After the BFT in central Brighton closed its doors, THE DUKE OF YORKS, saw a gap in the market and began to cater for a specialist market that was present due to the audience base that had been built up by the BFT because of their showing of a more non-commercial programme of films. THE DUKE OF YORKS not only began to show these types of movies but also continued to screen the more popular films, thus appealing to two different audiences and establishing themselves as a cinema where people could see independent films or foreign language movies as well as family pictures and popular current or classic movies. The cinema is still as busy today and continues to attract audiences young and old.

CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR.

 

altar6The 1960’s in my opinion was the golden age for British made Horror movies. Yes. When we think of horror films from that period we invariably go straight to Hammer film productions. But there were as we know more to the genre than what came out of Hammer studios. A classic example is WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968) directed by Michael Reeves and starring Vincent Price. Its interesting to point out that composer Paul Ferris’s music for the movie which is the property of De Wolfe music was originally released on a long-playing record for promotional purposes with a view to it being played on radio stations, on the B or flip side of the record was the music from another De Wolfe owned soundtrack for another classic British horror movie that was also in cinemas in 1968. On viewing THE CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR recently it is true to say that it probably does not stand the test of time as well as WITCHFINDER GENERAL, but it is still part of the horror genre from that period which is now considered as cult cinema alongside titles such as THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR from the same year and BESERK, EYE OF THE DEVIL and THE SHUTTERED ROOM from the previous year and taking into consideration the wealth of horror movies made during the 1960’s I suppose the film does have something about it to be remembered at all and also to have attained a cult status in later years. It was movies such as this that were the inspiration for later British entries in the form of stylish and disturbing BLOOD ON SATANS CLAW (1971) and the excellent THE CRY OF THE BANSHEE (1970).

 

 

But, CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR, does pale effectively when compared to the examples I have mentioned.
The musical score for THE CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR was composed and conducted by British musician/composer/arranger Peter Knight. Knight was the veritable chameleon when it came to his musical skills and was active and popular within many varying genres of music. During his career he worked with THE MOODY BLUES, PETULIA CLARK, HARRY SECOMBE, TOMMY STEELE, NANA MOUSKARI, THE BATCHELORS, VAL DOONICAN, JUDITH DURHAM, THE MOODY BLUES, THE CARPENTERS, CLIFF RICHARD, SCOTT WALKER and LULU.

 

 

As well as acting as musical director on popular TV shows for DICK EMERY, BRUCE FORSYTHE, MORECOMBE AND WISE, BENNY HILL, BERNARD CRIBBINS, LANCE PERCIVAL, THE LAST GOON SHOW OF ALL and many others. He was also active in the scoring of television programmes and series, which included THE BOUNDER and HOME TO ROOST. Knight was much in demand as an orchestrator and conductor working with composer Trevor Jones on the film scores THE DARK CRYSTAL and SAVAGE ISLANDS and orchestrating the music for the mini series THE LAST PLACE ON EARTH. He also had a long association with French Maestro Philippe Sarde and conducted and orchestrated many of his scores, QUEST FOR FIRE, GHOST STORY, TESS and COUP DE TORCHON amongst them.

 


Peter Knight was born in Exmouth, Devon on June 23rd, 1917, he is probably well known in general for his numerous recordings with his orchestra which were of the easy listening variety. The composer being responsible for arranging and producing a completely orchestral album of the famous SGT PEPPERS album originally recorded by The Beatles. He also worked on the vocal arrangements for THE KINGS SINGERS and his arrangement of YOU ARE A NEW DAY became a best seller in the United States. The composer began his career in the mid-1950’s when he began to work for ITV in the UK, becoming the musical director on SPOT THE TUNE in 1956. His association with ITV and in-particular Yorkshire TV, endured until 1986 when he worked on popular sit-com series such as HOME TO ROOST and DUTY FREE.

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His score for THE CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR is an atmospheric one, the composer utilising apprehensive but at the same time dramatic music to underline the more unnerving sequences and then drawing on his considerable experience within the pop/easy listening world to fashion a tuneful theme that enhanced scenes between the leading man and lady and also infused an atmosphere of calm into the proceedings, which effectively lulled the watching audience into a false sense of security, thus giving the moments of horror a greater impact. It is something of a mystery as to why the score has never been released commercially, seeing a Knight was a popular figure within the world of music and because of the popularity of the movie at the time of its release and because the music is already in the library of De Wolfe music, maybe it will be a future project for the company, after all it did only take then forty-five years to release WITCHFINDER GENERAL. Knight died on July 30th, 1985.

 

THE CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR is a movie that at times ends up exasperating the watching audience rather than being entertaining, this is not because it is a bad movie although many critics and cinema goers at the time of its release had mixed feelings about it, because of its rather muddling and at times disjointed storyline. Released under the Tigon films banner, which was the brainchild of Tony Tenser and had already had success with WITCHFINDER GENERAL followed this release up with the less successful BLOOD BEAST TERROR, assigned the director of BLOOD BEAST TERROR Vernon Sewell to the movie which was to the disappointment of many who believed it should have been Michael Reeves who took the helm on the film. One would have thought with a cast that included iconic figures such as Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Barbara Steele and Michael Gough that the production could not fail, and maybe the finished movie would have been a more focused and cohesive if Reeves had directed.

 

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Antiques dealer Robert played by Mark Eden, discovers that his brother has disappeared whilst he is on a business trip, Robert takes it upon himself to search for his sibling. He ends up at an old manor house which is owned by the Morley family, the current owner played by Christopher Lee, invites Robert to stay at the house whilst he carries out his investigations, but these are fruitless. It is not long before Robert becomes aware that the Morley family are obsessed with a legend that surrounds the Manor and the history of the family. The Black Witch of Grey marsh is an ancestor of the family that was burned at the stake many years before, but it is soon apparent that the Witch Lavinia played by Barbara Steele very much influences the Morley’s and her presence is still firmly felt.

 

 

 

The films screenplay was not credited as being based upon DREAMS IN THE WITCH HOUSE by H.P Lovecraft, but it did borrow heavily from it and most certainly influenced writer Jerry Sohl’s storyline. John Coquillon did a sterling job with his camera work straight off the back of his marvellous efforts on WITCHFINDER GENERAL. Which is why he moved on to work with directors such as Peckinpah on CROSS OF IRON and STRAW DOGS. The movie could have possibly been a classic if handled correctly by a director who had at least had a decent leading man, let’s not forget Mark Eden was more suited to television and working with the likes of Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff it exposed his weakness’s and flaws.

 

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There is now a Blu-Ray edition of the movie available which contains a few extras, these are the trailer, a making of the curse of the crimson altar, a conversation with Christopher Lee and also interviews with Mark Eden and Virginia Wetherall, plus commentary by Barbara Steele and David Del Valle, and an Image gallery. CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR cannot be deemed a great movie it is a film that is mentioned and discussed when horror films are the subject matter. The DVD on Blu Ray help’s and a soundtrack release would certainly be welcome. We can only hope….de wolfe