Dr. Who: The Daemons, Part 1

While I did first see Doctor Who during the early part of Jon Pertwee’s run, those episodes that involve UNIT fighting off various alien invasions of Earth never engaged me very much. They still don’t–apart from this one.

What makes this particular story stand out for me is that its alien invasion is dressed up as a Hammer-type horror movie. Its setting in an English country village and the trappings of witchcraft throughout the story evoke films like The Witches and The Wicker Man. And yet, in the end, the film it’s most closely related to turns out to be Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass and the Pit.

The Daemons

This first episode of The Daemons begins on a dark and stormy night in a village called Devil’s End (actually, Aldbourne in Wiltshire). We get close-ups of a toad watching from the underbrush, a cat peeking out from shelter, and something black and slinky crawling along beside the road (actually, it’s a furry hat pulled on a string). A man is leaving the local pub, the Cloven Hoof, with his dog, when the dog breaks free of its leash and chases the creature up into the churchyard. The man follows it there, where he sees something horrible.

The man is found dead the next morning. The village doctor tells a concerned middle-aged lady dressed in a cloak belonging to Margaret Rutherford that the death was caused by a heart attack, but the lady, Miss Hawthorne (Damaris Hayman), vehemently disagrees. She sees it as part of something more dark and disastrous that’s going on.

“The signs are there for all to see,” she insists. “I cast the runes this morning!”

At UNIT HQ, the Doctor and his assistant Jo March (Katy Manning) are debating the central theme of this story: science versus superstition. Jo is very much an Age of Aquarius girl. The Doctor doesn’t believe in the supernatural, but is certain that there are always scientific explanations for phenomena that aren’t yet understood.  He despairs of ever making a scientist of her.

As a demonstration, he shows her and Captain Mike Yates some “magic” by making his car Bessie start up and drive around the garage yard by herself. The two are astonished, until the Doctor reveals that he’s doing it all via a remote-control device in his coat pocket. Did they really think that it could be anything else?

Continue reading “Dr. Who: The Daemons, Part 1”

H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival: Best of 2019

When I attended the NecronomiCon in Providence last summer, I had the opportunity to view a number of the Film Festival candidates and to offer my opinions on some of them, if not an actual vote on which ones I thought were the best.

So I’m not surprised to see some of the films on this latest DVD from the Film Festival, although I am a little disappointed that other short films I did like were not included.

The Colour

Ammi Pierce and the meteorite

This German adaptation of The Colour Out of Space is a wonderfully done 10-minute stop animation film with some interesting live effects: Steam rises from the tea kettle, smoke or mists curl around within the rooms of an old house and, best of all, blue goop drips upward from between the slats of the wooden floor.

Ammi Pierce is writing in his journal as if he’s addressing his long deceased friend–presumably Nahum Gardner, although that name is never used.

In this version of the story, there was no Gardner family to be afflicted by whatever came in with the meteorite from outer space, and what happened 50 years ago occurred on a remote farm that Ammi and his friend worked together. It also appears as if Ammi has been living in the old house alone ever since the disaster, with the glowing meteorite sitting in a back room.

Meteorite Drawn to the well

The meteorite’s glow projects silent images upon the wall; Ammi watches and remembers that day when it came shooting down from the sky and crashed into the well. Ammi looked away from the light, but his friend was drawn toward it, even fighting Ammi when he tried to stop him from going to the well to meet his doom.

At last, Ammi takes a sledgehammer and goes out to deal with the meteorite once and for all. Hitting it isn’t really a good idea, but I suppose at this point he’s past caring.

Continue reading “H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival: Best of 2019”

The Ballad of Tam Lin

I had never heard of this obscure 1970 film until I read someone else’s review of it last fall. I was so intrigued by the description that I sought my own DVD copy to watch. As the narrator explains early on:

“There is a story in verse that belongs to this part of the country, the border of England and Scotland. It is hundreds of years old. It tells the adventures of a young man held in thrall by the Queen of the Faeries… A dangerous lady. It is called the Ballad of Tam Lin.”

Tam Lin panel

The film retells this old folk ballad in a modern setting. It is Roddy McDowall’s only film as a director (It was his work on this that kept him from playing Cornelius in Beneath the Planet of the Apes).

The film begins with a young black man in cool-cat 1960s clothes playing a sultry sax while sitting in the front hall of a grand London townhouse on a staircase beneath a crystal chandelier. He’s seen through a glass panel with frosted images painted on it which depict people wearing medieval clothes and enacting key scenes from the old ballad–and also showing us the plot of the story we’re about to see.

The camera then takes us upstairs past the chandelier and into a vast white bedroom containing a vast white bed. Two naked people recline beneath the sheets, Tom Lynn (Ian McShane) and Michaela “Mickey” Cazaret (Ava Gardner). They have the following post-coital conversation:

Tom: “I love you.”
Mickey: “I’m immensely old.”
Tom: “It doesn’t matter.”
Mickey: “It doesn’t matter to you. You grow older every year. I grow older every sordid second.”

He insists again that it doesn’t matter. She grows more beautiful with age.
She responds, “I love you…. I will love you and leave you for dead.”

Tom and Mickey

He should be paying more attention to her side of the conversation, but he’s too young and besotted. Instead, he kisses her, and they go at it again.

Continue reading “The Ballad of Tam Lin”

K9 & Company

Sarah Jane, K9, and Brendan

The Sarah Jane Adventures were not Elisabeth Sladen’s and John Leeson’s first mutual spinoff from Doctor Who. In 1981, a single episode of K9 & Company aired on the BBC at Christmastime, featuring two of the Doctor’s most popular companions.

The show received respectably high ratings, drawing an audience of over 8 million. John Nathan Turner, the producer for Doctor Who at that time, had hopes that this would lead to a whole new series–but, sadly, nothing further came of it.

The single episode is given its own disc on the recently released BluRay set for Tom Baker’s final series as the Doctor, along with a set of related features.

A Girl’s Best Friend

The opening credits show us Sarah Jane and K9. She sits atop a stone wall in the countryside, reading a newspaper. She sips champagne at an open-air table outside a restaurant. She jogs. She drives around the country roads. He scoots along in his usual fashion. All accompanied by the theme song, an electronic, upbeat melody with the following simple lyrics (sung by John Leeson in his K9 voice–something he apparently still enjoys doing):

K9! K9! [music: blip, blip, bloop, bloop]
K9! K9! [music: blip, blip, bloop, bloop]
K9! K9! [music: blip, blip, bloop, bloop]
K9! K9! 

Good luck with getting that out of your head after you’ve heard it a couple of times.

Continue reading “K9 & Company”

The Witches

Also known as The Devil’s Own, which was the title of the book this film was based on.

The Witches is a fairly obscure and peculiar little mid-60s film from the British Hammer Studio. The screenplay was written by Nigel Kneale, but it’s not his original material. It stars an actress one doesn’t normally associate with horror films: Joan Fontaine. Yes, that Joan Fontaine, of Rebecca, Suspicion, and Jane Eyre. The great actresses of her generation did dabble in horror during this period, late in their careers, and this is her turn. IMDB has a story that she bought the rights to the book so she could star in the movie version, then retired when it flopped. I’ve no idea how much of that’s true.

African knifeThere’s one other very peculiar peculiarity about this film, but I’ll get to that later.

Joan plays Gwen Mayfield, a missionary / teacher. We meet her in the opening scenes in an unnamed African country; the local witch-doctor has turned  his tribe against the missionaries, and the school where Gwen teaches is under attack. Gwen is packing up the school to make her escape, but she doesn’t get out in time. A group of men in enormous decorated masks come into the school, and the witch-doctor does something undefined but horrible to her. That he’d “eat your soul” is what the native men who worked for Gwen were afraid of, and she pooh-poohed that idea as nonsense only minutes before.

A year or so later, after recovering from a nervous breakdown following this incident, Gwen is back in England. She takes up a job teaching at the small and remote village of Heddaby, and finds that she hasn’t gotten away from witchcraft after all.

Continue reading “The Witches”

Trilogy of Terror

In the mid-1970s, Karen Black was at the height of her career. She had worked with those directors and actors–Francis Ford Coppola, Waiting for MomJack Nicholson, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper–who were changing American film during that era, as well as established film-makers like Alfred Hitchcock. She’d won two Golden Globe awards, and would be nominated for another. She had also received one Oscar nomination and was even up for a shared Grammy for her song work in Robert Altman’s Nashville.

But when her name comes up among people of my generation, the words that we automatically associate with it are “Zuni fetish doll.”

No one who saw this 1975 made-for-TV movie, directed by Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis, when they were a child has ever forgotten the final segment.

While I can’t call the first two segments of this trilogy terrifying, I do think they’ve been unjustly disregarded. Along with the third segment, they provide Black with a rare opportunity for a young actress to showcase her talent by playing 4-to-6 different characters (depending on how you want to count them), from meek to menacing. One might assume that she chose this TV movie as a vanity project, but she always said that, when it was first offered to her, she didn’t want to do it.

Continue reading “Trilogy of Terror”

Dark Shadows Revival: Episodes 9-10

Carrying on with the 1790s storyline.

Episode 9: HPhyllis Wickeow Barnabas Became a Vampire

In 1991, Phyllis Wicke remains dangerously ill with diphtheria, but she retains a connection with the events she was once part of in 1790 before she and Vicky switched places. In her delirious state, she tells the present-day inhabitants of Collinwood that it was such a pity, that handsome young man being killed. She’s referring to Jeremiah Collins, Barnabas’s younger brother.

When we jump to the 1790s story, the Collinses of that era are attending Jeremiah’s funeral. Josette, still under Angelique’s love-spell, is in hysterics over her husband’s coffin and sobs that Barnabas has “killed my only love!”

The pastor performing the service speaks of Jeremiah dying in a “tragic firearms accident” instead of being shot in a duel. The Collinses are already hard at work covering up their family secrets and rewriting the past.

Witchfinder TraskWitchfinder Trask interrupts the funeral, arriving to arrest the witch responsible for this calamity: not Angelique, but Victoria Winters.

The family protests, apart from Aunt Abigail, who literally points an  accusatory finger at Vicky.  Trask hauls Vicky into a carriage and takes her to the Collinsport Gaol.

Barnabas comes to the jail to stop any interrogation before Trask can lay a hand on her. He seems to think the whole thing is ridiculous even if the old witchcraft laws are still on the books, and tries to reassure Vicky that nothing bad will happen to her; she’ll be acquitted and she certainly will never be hanged as a witch.

But if you remember the original series, you know exactly how this is going to turn out. Vicky has every reason to be worried.

Continue reading “Dark Shadows Revival: Episodes 9-10”

Dark Shadows Revival: Episodes 7-8

The last episode ended with a seance, during which Victoria Winters Seance disappeared abruptly from the table to be replaced by another young woman, who was wearing colonial-era clothes and  immediately collapsed. A letter of recommendation she carried with her addressed to Joshua Collins provided her name, Phyllis Wicke*, and a date of April 1790.

The inhabitants of modern-day Collinwood wonder: Is that where Vicky has gone?

Let’s find out.

Episode 7: 1790

Unlike the original series during this same storyline, time does not stand still at Collinwood. Vicky is gone, but life goes on in the 1990s. Before we even find out what happened to her, this episode begins with Dr. Hoffman and Elizabeth Collins-Stoddard looking after the unconscious 1790s governess.

Phyllis WickAfter she’s tended to the young woman, Julia asks Barnabas if he recognized her. He confirms that he does: Phyllis Wicke was indeed governess to the children, and she arrived at Collinwood 200 years ago in pretty much the same state. The mail-coach from Boston overturned on its way to Collinsport and she was injured. She recovered from that, but soon afterward became ill from a fever and died.

Elizabeth falls asleep while sitting at Phyllis’s bedside. When Phyllis wakes up, she dashes out of the room and out of the house wearing only her colonial underwear.

Continue reading “Dark Shadows Revival: Episodes 7-8”

The Legacy

The Legacy is one of those sophisticated devil-worshipper films that were popular during the 1970s following Rosemary’s Baby. While it has some narrativeBestowing the ring flaws, it was one of the staples of my late-night TV viewing as a teenager and I still have a fondness for it.  The story plays out as if it were an old-fashioned, country-house murder mystery and features a number of  grisly, magically induced baroque deaths. But there’s really little doubt about who’s responsible in the end.

Los Angeles architect Maggie Walsh (Katharine Ross) receives a job offer in England. The work itself isn’t clearly defined, but the letter encloses a check for $50,000 as a retainer–a massive amount of money in the 1970s–and asks that Maggie be in the UK by a specific date a couple of weeks away.  Her business partner and lover Pete Danner (Sam Elliott)* is dubious about taking a job they know nothing about, but the check is certainly real.

Maggie decides to accept. In fact, she wants to go right away to spend a few days as a tourist and to look up “where her English blood came from” before meeting with her client.

During the opening credits, accompanied by the movie theme song sung by Kiki Dee, we see Pete and Maggie in London, then zipping around the countryside on a motorcycle. They pass through a charming little village, stop to have a picnic lunch beside a stream, then ride down a narrow lane where they swerve off suddenly into the trees to avoid a crash with a Rolls Royce coming up the other way.

Motorcycle crashThe owner of the Rolls (John Standing) is extremely apologetic as he  checks the couple for injuries. They aren’t hurt, but the motorcycle is a bit banged up.

The gentleman offers to take them to his house for a spot of tea while the local mechanic comes for the bike and repairs it. Only when they’re actually in the back of the limo does he introduce himself as Jason Mountolive.

After a brief stop in that village for Harry the chauffeur to speak to the garage mechanic, they drive on to Jason’s house, Ravenshurst, which is a lovely old mansion on a grand estate.

Jason sends his guests in through the front door, telling them that “Adams” will take care of them. He stays in the car as it goes around to the back. While he seemed perfectly fine while talking to Maggie and Pete after the accident, something is seriously wrong with him; he’s very weak, and the chauffeur has to help him out of the car and up the back stairs to his room.

Maggie and Pete, meanwhile, are impressed by the gorgeous interior of the house. They see no sign of Adams or anyone else, apart from a white cat with mismatched eyes like David Bowie–one green and one blue.

The drawing room

Continue reading “The Legacy”

The VVitch

The witch

“Wouldst thou like the taste of butter?
A pretty dress?
Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?
Wouldst thou like to see the world?”

 

All that in exchange for signing your name in a book and handing over your immortal soul.

The VVitch is titled in that style to mimic the printed works of the 16th and early 17th century, when U, V, and W weren’t quite distinguished as separate letters of the alphabet. This was one of the things that attracted me to this movie before I even saw it. The other thing was learning that the language used was also in the period style, with dialog taken directly from pamphlets and trial accounts of the era. While some have found this mode of speech and the character’s accents off-putting, for me it’s the best thing about the movie. The way the characters talk and their social and religious attitudes are as close as we’ll probably ever get to authentically historic, while remaining accessible to a modern audience.

Aside from a few quibbles–like the breed of dog, the number of candles, or the pierced holes in the  heroine’s earlobes–the look of this film is also marvelously well done with regard to historic details. It feels right.

Subtitled “A New-England Folktale,” The VVitch evokes several classic  fairytales, but gives them a darker turn. It’s almost a version of Hansel and Gretel in which the witch triumphs.

It’s 1630 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. We meet a transplanted Yorkshire family with no given last name as the father William (Ralph Ineson) is being judged by members of a Puritan council. With him are his wife Kate (Kate Dickie), their teenage daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), 12-year-old Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), and the 6-year old twins, Jonas and Mercy.

William is having religious differences with the elders. Those who came from England to the North American colonies during this period seeking religious freedom were generally in one of two categories: Puritans, who sought to purify the Church of England and remove all taint of Catholicism and “Popish” practice from its rites and ceremonies, and separatists, who gave the Church up as impossibly corrupt and wanted to strike out on their own with their individual ideas of true Christianity. William falls into this second category, and his ideas are out of accord with the rest of the community.

After calling the council “false Christians” and declaring his beliefs to be the true way, William is banished from the colony. He loads his family into a cart and they head out alone into the wilderness.

They journey for two days before they come to a meadow near a vast primeval wood and decide that this is the place where God meant them to settle. Everyone kneels to pray.

The farm

We next see the family some months later, in the bleak, late autumn: the trees are bare and a small field of colorful but somewhat blighted corn has been harvested into standing stacks. There’s also a withered garden. William has built a one-room thatched cottage and a goat-shed, but a larger barn is still under construction. Kate has had a new baby since the family settled here, a little boy named Samuel.

Unfortunately, with the family living in such isolated circumstances, Samuel hasn’t been baptized.

Continue reading “The VVitch”