Saturday, 4 May 2013

The Lost Skeleton on a Dark and Stormy Night

Writer, director and actor Larry Blamire is my new hero.

Anyone who's read this blog (or indeed my books!) will know of my abiding fondness for movies of a certain vintage and type. Not to put too fine a point on it, I love bad films. Or better put, films that the wider, more mainstream world might think of as bad. Bad films that involve giant killer squid, UFOs, tinfoil aliens, cat women, werewolves, vampires and strapping space heroes.

There are films that set out to be good and turn out bad. There are films that know they're bad from the start and simply go with the flow. There are films that stay bad because bad is what they want to be. There are films that don't give a fuck about good or bad. They just do their own thing, full throttle, with no apologies and create a style all of their own.

Tacky and glorious.

I love the bit of the Venn diagram of moviedom most people prefer not to notice. The bit  - probably round the back of the diagram - where the auteur of the arthouse pic overlaps his thinking and practise  with the no-less committed auteur of the shlocky B movie. Both have a completely wonky, idiosyncratic vision. Last weekend, during our writing retreat and the customary movie marathon we watched Dario Argento's 'Suspiria' again. Is it arthouse or schlockfest? Classic or sleazy exploitation crap? I still don't know. I just know it's not like anything I've ever seen before.

On our shelves at home Roger Corman's 'Wasp Woman' rubs shoulders with Lindsay Anderson's 'O Lucky Man.' The biggest thing they have in common is the fact that they are obviously the vision of their own creators and no one else.

Anyhow - I have a new hero. Larry Blamire. I don't even know how I came across his films. I think Amazon recommended him because I'd been developing a dreadful penchant for those low-budget Sy-Fy monster films. Like 'Mammoth' and 'The Omen IV'. With the CGI effects that look like those washable tattoos you used to get in bubble gum.

And I've fallen in love with Blamire's pictures.

'Dark and Stormy Night' came first. I think because I love mansion-bound mysteries ('And Then There Were None' from Agatha Christie, and all the many iterations of Shirley Jackson's 'Hill House' - best of all Robert Wise's 'The Haunting.') And I *love* the parodies of the genre - Amicus' 'The Beast Must Die' - and my beloved 'Clue.'

'Dark and Stormy Night' is something else again. It's pitch perfect in satirizing the genre - everything from James Whale's 'The Old Dark House' to 'Murder by Death'. So far - so Mel Brooks. But it adds something else, too. A dizzying, surreal style of its own that makes the whole glossy, beautifully-shot and produced endeavour still feel like a piece of homemade outsider art.

The ensemble cast that recurs across his movies gives slightly crazed, hypnotic performances that remind me of turns from Ed Wood films or - even more strongly - early John Waters movies. This is a cast well-drilled in a particular type of performance and who belong to a very specific world with its own dark, spooky logic. A world... of deliberate, wonderful, hyper-real camp.

Each of the three films i've seen so far pastiches a very particular B Movie genre. After the Dark House parody (DO watch out for Alison Martin as the wonderful psychic medium, Mrs CupCupboard - the best performance in any of in these movies which are teeming with fabulous character turns) i next saw 'The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra' which, i think is the earliest of his films on release. We're in the world of early 50s scientists versus monsters - films like 'Them' and 'Creature from the Black Lagoon.' Here the humour is wilder, odder, and (to borrow a glorious term nicked from Doctor Who fandom to denote deliriously gleeful self-indulgence - FANWANKY.)

The third I've seen is 'The Trail of the Screaming Forehead' and we're very much into technicolour and paranoia and the beginnings of 'body horror' - in terms of homages to the history of monster pics. The humour is broader, maybe, but the performances and the writing still have a great intensity and charm.

I haven't seen the fourth - a return for that ghastly, stentorian skeleton monster - because bloody Amazon screwed up the delivery. (The film's inability to even find its way through the postal system feels like a extra piece of endearing wonkiness and ineptitude...)

These are films I know I'll be watching many times over. I've already been making friends sit down and watch them with me. Not everyone will chime with the delicious dark humour of Blamire's cinema. Stupid people are welcome to watch humdrum crap such as 'Avengers Assemble' (to name one noisy, overblown fantasy spectacular I've been forced to watch recently) instead.

Blamire's cheap and skewed aesthetic has a fabulous deadpan quality that reminds me of both 'Harold and Maude' AND 'The Earth Dies Screaming' at exactly the same time. Now, isn't that something to aspire to?  I sit there in wonder, thinking - how can a film be as erudite and as daft as this, all at the same time..?

Go and watch!

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