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Posts Tagged ‘Nigel Kneale’

Happy Halloween!  In honor of the (apparently) late, lamented Watching Hammer, I offer this nostalgic list, written at their request just before the site ceased posting new material:

Sincerest thanks to Watching Hammer for inviting me to contribute a Top Ten.  Since Hammer’s heyday ended when I wasn’t quite old enough to drive, I haven’t had the experience other contributors did of seeing these films on the big screen, and was forced to content myself with TV, home-video and convention screenings over the years.  In my infancy as a genre-film aficionado, I thought Hammer was a bunch of pretenders who had the audacity to remake our beloved Universal classics, but our friends across the Pond had the last laugh because now, at any given moment, I’d probably rather watch a Hammer than a Universal, much as I love them both.  And the fact that my future wife and I bonded in high school by chatting about these films during chorus class didn’t hurt.

As the guy who had a hard time getting his list of favorite films on his own blog down to 100, I found it difficult to limit myself to ten, and must give an honorable mention to The Phantom of the Opera before beginning.  So, rather than subject myself to further agony, I am listing them in chronological order.  I make no apologies for including both of the films written by the object of my obsession, Richard Matheson, because I genuinely believe they were two of Hammer’s best, although this is really a list of favorites rather than those I would rank as “best” by some mythical objective standard.  Here goes…

The Quatermass Experiment:  Given my focus on writers, it’s no surprise that I think Nigel Kneale was one of the best things ever to happen to Hammer.  He might not have agreed at the time, since he was unhappy with both the casting of Brian Donlevy in the lead and the adaptation (by Richard Landau and director Val Guest) of his seminal BBC serial, but since some chapters of the TV version are lost, we’ll never be able to compare them in their entirety.  Be that as it may, Quatermass’s struggle to learn what happened to the three-man crew of his first space rocket is eerie and suspenseful from the start, as he learns that contact with an alien life-form has made one astronaut (Richard Wordsworth) absorb the others and begin mutating.  It was Hammer’s first big success, and rightly so.

Quatermass 2:  Many years ago, when New York’s outstanding Film Forum repertory cinema was still in its old Watts Street location, I arranged with my friend Greg Cox (now Matheson’s editor at Tor and a successful author of franchise fiction) to attend a screening of the Quatermass trilogy.  When I told him we might want to arrive early, he laughed and said, “Matthew, these are old British SF films from the ’50s and ’60s; we won’t have any trouble getting in.”  Well, the line was literally around the block, but we did get in.  Due to the vagaries of television programming, I think this was the first time I’d seen the original since childhood—perhaps the first in its entirety—and the first time ever for the sequel, which really wowed me.  Donlevy and Guest were back (the latter sharing script credit with Kneale this time), as Quatermass copes with a government conspiracy that turns out to represent an alien invasion.  The scene of the politician who has fallen into a vat of toxic liquid is a particular standout in this gripping and inventive thriller.

The Curse of Frankenstein:  With its unprecedented full-color gore and sumptuous period production values, this set the template for Hammer’s most famous films and established the “dream team” of their early days, including director Terence Fisher, screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, composer James Bernard, and up-and-coming genre superstars Peter Cushing (as Baron Frankenstein) and Christopher Lee (as the Creature).  Cushing’s Baron is a fascinating character, and Hammer wisely built the ensuing series around him rather than the Creature, who gets dissolved in a vat of acid at the end.  Hazel Court is the delectable cherry on top as Elizabeth, and I love Cushing’s chutzpah as he yells, “Look out, Professor!”…while pushing the poor old guy—whose brain he needs—off a balcony, in order to throw anyone within earshot off the scent.

The Hound of the Baskervilles:  In all fairness, I haven’t seen a number of the screen incarnations of Sherlock Holmes, but of those I have, I would rank Peter Cushing as second only to Basil Rathbone in the role.  In most cases, Rathbone easily surpassed his material, much of which was not derived from Conan Doyle, but here, the above dream team (minus Sangster) provided a top-notch vehicle, complete with the always-welcome Andre Morell as an unusually intelligent Watson.  Although relegated to the role of the imperiled Baskerville heir, Lee adds considerable heft, and Cushing is a delight as he rips into lines like, “There are many strange things to be found upon the moor—like this, for instance!”  (Cue the loud “Thwock!” as he slams the ceremonial dagger into the table.)

Fanatic:  One might be forgiven for mistaking this as another of Hammer’s post-Psycho psycho-thrillers, written by Sangster and bearing similar one-word titles:  Paranoiac, Maniac, Nightmare, Hysteria.  But as much as I love Sangster’s seminal scripts for Hammer in the ’50s, I think Matheson far surpasses him in this adaptation of Anne Blaisdell’s Nightmare (whose title presumably had to be changed to differentiate it from the Sangster film).  Stefanie Powers is lovely and believable as the American girl imprisoned by her late former fiancé’s mother, equally well played by Tallulah Bankhead, and her growing realization that her captor is a dangerous religious fanatic rather than a harmless eccentric gives the film a satisfying dramatic arc.  Throw in the young Donald Sutherland as a mentally challenged servant, and you’re good to go.

Dracula—Prince of Darkness:  This is my wife’s favorite movie, but that’s not the only reason I’m including it.  I’m sure many would consider it sacrilege to give this the nod over what we Yanks think of as Horror of Dracula, especially since Lee’s distaste for the script (Distaste the Script of Dracula?) led him to omit his dialogue.  Still, I’ve always preferred Prince; maybe I never got over the fact that Sangster had Harker get turned into a vampire, just as Dan Curtis did in the Jack Palance television version—a plot point, I might add, that is not found in Matheson’s published teleplay.  But I digress.  Andrew Keir pinch-hits beautifully for Van Helsing as rifle-toting Father Sandor, and rich entertainment is provided by the interplay among the ill-fated Kent family, with Francis Matthews and Suzan Farmer amusingly cast as Charles and Diana and the ever-popular Barbara Shelley as the prim Helen, whose transformation into a sensuous vampire is most extraordinary.

Quatermass and the Pit:  Feel free to criticize me for devoting almost a third of my list to ol’ Bernie, but remember, I could have included Kneale’s The Abominable Snowman, as well.  Reuniting Keir (as Quatermass) and Shelley, this is truly a thinking man’s SF film, as Quatermass discovers a five-million-year-old Martian spacecraft that is buried beneath London and holds surprising secrets about mankind’s evolution.  With Roy Ward Baker [see “A Career to Remember”] succeeding Guest, and Kneale bearing sole script credit, it once again showed the triumph of good writing over pathetic special effects—in this case, those finger-puppet Martians.

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave:  Yeah, we Bradleys love us our vampires (Captain Kronos—Vampire Hunter almost made the list as well), and I’ve always had a big soft spot for this follow-up to Prince, an affection that not merely the presence of Veronica Carlson can explain.  The redoubtable Rupert Davies as the monsignor has a lot to do with it, as does the spectacular climax, with Dracula knocked over his own battlements and impaled on a giant cross.  One of Fisher’s periodic hospitalizations forced Freddie Francis to direct this, but although he told me when I interviewed him that he was more interested in the young lovers than in Dracula, I think that once again, the story of the non-nosferatu characters is strong enough to keep us going in between visits from Lee.

The Devil Rides Out:  A pinnacle for all concerned.  Dennis Wheatley justifiably praised Matheson for his exciting adaptation of Wheatley’s somewhat verbose novel, and Lee has a rare heroic (not to mention sizeable) role as the Duc de Richleau.  Charles Gray is also outstanding as the Satanist villain, Mocata, and although the usual complaints are leveled at the skimpy special effects, see Quatermass and the Pit for my response to that.  With the usual superior contributions from Fisher and James Bernard, this is horror at its fast-paced, non-jokey and intelligent finest.  Lee and others have argued that it is ripe for a remake, but since you know it would just turn into another CGI-fest, I’m not sure I agree.

The Vampire Lovers:  I’d be lying if I said that naked women in general, a naked Ingrid Pitt in particular, and lesbian vampires didn’t influence this choice.  But, in my defense, look at the record:  you’ve got Cushing as the devoted and devastated father, General von Spielsdorf.  You’ve Jon Finch, soon to be brilliant in Roman Polanski’s Macbeth and Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy, in a supporting role.  And, perhaps most of all, you’ve got what may be the most faithful adaptation of J. Sheridan LeFanu’s oft-filmed “Carmilla,” with Baker at the helm.  Threadbare production values be damned, this is a good movie.

BOF Addendum:  Now I’ll sit back and wait for Drax to complain (albeit with love) about the absence of visuals.  I keep telling him I am the Word-Man.  Word-Man.  WORD-MAN!  BWUHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

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Last night, I was surprised to learn that director Roy Ward Baker passed away on October 5 at the age of 93; surprised because, as is so often the case with someone so long off my personal radar, I had assumed he was long gone already.  I see now from the IMDb that he was working in British television as late as 1992, although the most recent credit I’ve seen is Sherlock Holmes and the Masks of Death (1984), with frequent Baker collaborator John Mills as Watson to Peter Cushing’s Holmes.  Of course, most people in the mainstream wouldn’t recognize his name in the first place, although they should thank him for giving Marilyn Monroe a solid early dramatic role opposite Richard Widmark in Don’t Bother to Knock (1952) during a sojourn in Hollywood.

Said sojourn also included, of all things, the 3-D thriller Inferno (1953), with Robert Ryan as a wealthy man stranded in the desert by his adulterous wife (Rhonda Fleming) and her lover, but soon afterward he was on his way back home to England.  There, Baker made the best film I’ve seen about the sinking of the Titanic, the 1958 adaptation of Walter Lord’s nonfiction bestseller A Night to Remember.  Unlike other Titanic films, e.g., the eponymous entries directed by Jean Negulesco in 1953 and that What’s-His-Name guy in 1997, Night found sufficient drama—to say the least—in the historical events themselves, without focusing on fictional characters and their soap operas, with Kenneth More heading a “usual suspects” cast (including Honor Blackman).

Baker was a prolific television director, notching episodes of such series as The Avengers, The Saint, Department S, The Champions (Alexandra Bastedo—woo-hoo!), Journey to the Unknown, The Persuaders!, The Protectors, and Return of the Saint (starring Ian Ogilvy, a fave of Madame BOF).  But to genre fans, Baker will always be recognized as one of the best of the second-tier Hammer directors, by which I mean most of those below big dogs Terence Fisher and Freddie Francis.  According to Dennis Fischer’s worthy McFarland tome Horror Film Directors, 1931-1990, his association with Hammer was an indirect result of A Night to Remember, since they wanted a technically savvy director, familiar with special effects, to helm Quatermass and the Pit (1967).

Known Stateside as Five Million Years to Earth, this SF epic was adapted by Nigel Kneale from the third of his BBC-TV Quatermass serials, with Hammer stalwart Andrew Keir in fine form as the titular scientist, who investigates the contents of a Martian spaceship found buried beneath London.  Oddly, top billing was given to James Donald, fondly remembered from The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and The Great Escape (1963), as Quatermass’s self-sacrificing colleague, Dr. Matthew Roney.  The effects are wildly uneven, with the finger-puppet Martians seen in the flashback sequences a hilarious low, but Baker’s command of the complex material was firm, and he wisely reunited Keir with his Dracula—Prince of Darkness (1966) co-star Barbara Shelley.

Having known Bette Davis in Hollywood, Baker next replaced Alvin Rakoff when the latter did not hit it off with the star in The Anniversary (1968), a black comedy scripted by the studio’s resident expert on psycho-thrillers, Jimmy Sangster.  I have seen neither that film nor Baker’s next Hammer outing, but given the conspicuously low reputation of Moon Zero Two (1969), I should perhaps be grateful that it is somewhat elusive today.  Perhaps notable only as the first space Western—a dubious precedent, perhaps, for Peter Hyams’s Outland (1981)—it was co-written by second-generation Hammer honcho and mediocrity-meister Michael Carreras, and as much as I love The Andromeda Strain (1971), I doubt that leading man James Olson set the screen on fire.

My other favorite among Baker’s Hammer credits is The Vampire Lovers (1970), with Ingrid Pitt as J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla,” backed by Peter Cushing and Jon Finch, and although its lesbian bloodsuckers pushed the envelope for its time, Baker kept it tasteful and, above all, serious.  His vampire credentials thus established, he bracketed Hammer’s ill-conceived modern-day Dracula films with two period outings that merit a closer look.  Scars of Dracula (1970) gave Christopher Lee a little more to do than usual, even throwing in a few dollops of material from the novel for a change, while for me to note that The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires (1974) was the first kung-fu vampire film is misleading, bolstered as it is by Peter Cushing’s presence as Van Helsing and Baker’s atmospheric direction.

In between, Baker directed Hammer’s offbeat Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971), my enjoyment of which will be forever hampered by my loathing for Ralph Bates, and—like Francis—worked the other side of the fence by making several films for local rival Amicus.  These included two of their trademark anthology films:  Asylum (1972), adapted by Robert Bloch from his own stories, and The Vault of Horror (1973), based on the E.C. horror comics of the 1950s.  He also directed one of the better stand-alone Amicus films, —And Now the Screaming Starts! (1973), and after that company’s dissolution, Baker was reunited with producer and co-founder Milton Subotsky for another omnibus film, The Monster Club (1980), based on the stories of R. Chetwynd-Hayes.

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Ray Harryhausen

On the occasion of his 90th birthday, we revisit this profile written for the late, lamented original Scifipedia website.

“When King Kong fell from the Empire State,” Ray Bradbury recalled in Ronald V. Borst’s Graven Images, “he killed two kids with one slam, me and my pal Ray Harryhausen. Kong changed our lives, only for the good, forever. Because of its fabulous monsters razoring the air with their electric cries, I stayed in touch with ancient beasts and wound up writing the screenplay of Moby Dick [1956] for John Huston. Harryhausen got work with Willis O’Brien, Kong’s animator, on Mighty Joe Young [1949].” Fittingly, Harryhausen’s first solo effort, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), was based on Bradbury’s story (aka “The Fog Horn”).

Born on June 29, 1920, in Los Angeles, Harryhausen supplemented his lifelong interest in dinosaurs and gorillas by studying sculpture and anatomy in high school and night film classes at USC. His first attempts at stop-motion animation, in which a detailed armature is moved incrementally and photographed frame by frame, then composited with live-action footage, were made in his garage. After working on George Pal’s Puppetoon shorts, Harryhausen joined the armed forces in the Signal Corps unit as an assistant cameraman and, on his own, produced the animated short How to Bridge a Gorge.

This was shown to Frank Capra, who had him transferred to his Special Service Division, where Harryhausen worked in various capacities. After the war, he was contacted by his idol, O’Brien (who had told him to study more anatomy when they met in 1939), and ended up doing most of the animation on Mighty Joe Young as his assistant. Retired since the original Clash of the Titans (1981), he is still recognized as the master of the technique, more recently used in Corpse Bride and The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (both 2005).

Harryhausen is perhaps the only effects technician whose name commands greater recognition than those of his directors, including Eugène Lourié, Fred F. Sears, Nathan Juran, Don Chaffey, and Gordon Hessler. In an interview for Filmfax, he told this writer, “these type of pictures that we made were not director’s pictures, as they call them in the European sense of the word. The director sometimes comes in after the picture is all laid out and even started in production.”

A twenty-five-year collaboration with producer Charles H. Schneer and Columbia Pictures began with Robert Gordon’s It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955), in which budget constraints forced him to animate a six-tentacled octopus attacking the Golden Gate Bridge. “We both had an intense interest in filmmaking, and Charles loved fantasy,” Harryhausen recalled. “We worked well together, although we had many opposing ideas.”

Harryhausen assisted O’Brien on the dinosaur sequences of Irwin Allen’s documentary The Animal World (1956)—which, like Lourié’s The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, was released by Warner Brothers—and animated machines rather than fauna for Sears that same year. “The challenge on Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, of course, was to see if you could make a mechanical-looking object have some sort of interest to the public for an hour and a half,” he said.

Creations like the Ymir, the alien in Juran’s Twenty Million Miles to Earth (1957), had more personality than rubber-suited monsters or computer-generated effects. “I don’t sit down and analyze it. I try to give it as much character as I can, little nuances and little gestures,” he said, noting that the gorilla in Mighty Joe Young “had an enormous amount of character, and that rubbed off a bit on the Ymir, too, I think, because he was a humanoid figure.”

Dynamation, Harryhausen’s technique of combining live action and animated figures without elaborate miniature sets and elaborate glass paintings, debuted in color in Juran’s The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958). It was the first of four consecutive films scored by Bernard Herrmann, who “seemed to fit our type of film so beautifully,” said Harryhausen. “Miklos Rozsa [who scored The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974)] writes a different type of music. His is more romantic in style, and for certain subjects his would be much more preferable.”

Jack Sher’s The Three Worlds of Gulliver (1960), based on Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, and Cy Endfield’s Mysterious Island (1961), from the novel by Jules Verne, both grew out of existing scripts, with Dynamation written in. Gulliver added only an animated alligator and squirrel, but Mysterious Island was extensively reworked to incorporate animated creatures.

Chaffey’s Jason and the Argonauts (1963) is Harryhausen’s personal favorite, and the climactic battle with an army of skeletons—brilliantly scored with castanets by Herrmann—took four and a half months to animate. “There are bits and pieces in each film that you sort of fall in love with, or you wouldn’t make the film,” he said. “But I think Jason was the most overall complete film, although there are many scenes I would love to do over.”

It was back to classic SF literature with Juran’s First Men in the Moon (1964), adapted from H.G. Wells’s novel by Nigel Kneale and Jan Read (who co-wrote Jason with Beverley Cross). “We adhered very closely to H.G. Wells’s description of the space sphere, and we tried to stick to Wells as close as possible,” Harryhausen recalled. “I shuddered when I had to use children in Selenite suits—which I once vowed I would never do—but being practical I was forced to, otherwise I might still be animating the many lunarians up to the present day!”

Harryhausen worked with screenwriters “very closely, because they had no idea of what you could and could not do with Dynamation. I would make many sketches. For example, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad started out with eight big sketches and a twenty-page outline I made of how to put the thing together, and I took it around Hollywood, and nobody was interested. I even took it to Edward Small, who later saw the success of Seventh Voyage, and then he latched onto Jack the Giant Killer [1961],” which reassembled many Sinbad alumni, but not Harryhausen.

Reunited with Chaffey at England’s Hammer Films, Harryhausen remade One Million B.C. (1940) with stop-motion as One Million Years B.C. (1966), which combined live-action and effects footage spectacularly, also showcasing Raquel Welch in a fur bikini. “They wanted to remake King Kong, but King Kong was such a classic I hesitated to get involved with that. But One Million I felt we could do so much better than crocodiles with rubber fins glued on their backs. So I jumped at the chance,” Harryhausen recalled.

James O’Connolly’s The Valley of Gwangi (1969) was a project O’Brien had been forced to abandon. “I remembered Obie had given me a script of it way back in the ‘40s, which I had in my garage. I dug it out, and we thought we could finally put it on the screen…Unfortunately, Warner Brothers was purchased by a different company by the time we finished the film, and of course the new companies never care for what the old companies did. So they just dumped it on the market with no publicity,” Harryhausen said.

The Sinbad trilogy concluded with Hessler’s The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and Sam Wanamaker’s Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977), which Harryhausen co-wrote with Brian Clemens and Cross, respectively; John Phillip Law and Patrick Wayne were the new Sinbads. “Kerwin [Mathews] naturally had aged a bit…but that wasn’t the main reason,” he noted. “We tried to have different approaches. Seventh Voyage had a very garish, storybook quality to it, a stylized type of film, where Golden Voyage had a different approach. We tried to keep the colors very subdued and we tried to make it more realistic, in a sense, than a stylized version such as Seventh Voyage, and then Eye of the Tiger was different again.”

Harryhausen always directed the effects sequences himself. “One has to guide the actors where to look and how to feel,” he noted, but Sinbad’s battle with the six-armed goddess Kali in Golden Voyage presented a unique challenge. “We had to have six arms, so that we could rehearse with the actors. So we strapped three stuntmen together, one behind the other, with a great big belt, which was rather grotesque looking on the set, but…that gave the position that the actors would have to know in order to have their swords in the right place at the right time.”

Cross and Harryhausen returned to Greek mythology with Clash of the Titans. “I had Jim Danforth and Steven Archer help finish the picture, because we had some technical problems that caused us to go way behind schedule.” Of his retirement, Harryhausen observes, “I wanted to get out of being in a dark room for a year after everybody else has gone home and made two or three other pictures…And then the front office seemed to think that you had to have an explosion every five minutes, and you just can’t develop mythology or Arabic things in that way…”

In 1992, Harryhausen received the Gordon E. Sawyer Academy Award for recognition of his technical contributions to the motion picture industry, and New York City’s Museum of Modern Art honored his contributions to fantasy and motion pictures with a 1981 exhibition of his work. He has also seen the palpable effects of his efforts on such fans and future filmmakers as Danforth, John Landis, Dave Allen, and Rick Baker, whose careers he has helped to inspire.

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Don’t be fooled by the fact that only one of their movies made it into the B100 (see “My Filmic Valentine”)—I love Hammer. It’s just that with so many to choose from, it was hard to single out any favorites; I own at least fifty of them in various home-video formats, so that should speak for itself. Interestingly, when I was a wee bairn and a die-hard fan of Universal Horror, I had a vituperative bias against Hammer, and couldn’t figure out where these pretenders from across the Pond got off remaking our beloved Karloff, Lugosi, and Chaney classics.

Well, live and learn: by the time I befriended my future spouse in high school, where we drove our poor music teacher nuts by chatting away during choir, Hammer was a big part of our common ground. Since Loreen loves vampire movies in general and Christopher Lee’s interpretation of Dracula in particular (this is, after all, a woman whose favorite film is Dracula—Prince of Darkness), we had lots to talk about there. We even ended up appearing in supporting roles in a junior-year production of Dracula, which marked my stage debut, and was no doubt inspired by the success of the then-recent Broadway revival with Frank Langella.

For anyone unfamiliar with the canon, England’s Hammer Films, Ltd., revived Gothic horror in the late 1950s with adaptations of Frankenstein and Dracula (just as Universal had initiated the Golden Age in 1931). For twenty years, they dominated the genre with a familial team including actors Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, directors Terence Fisher and Freddie Francis, screenwriters Jimmy Sangster and John Elder (aka producer Anthony Hinds), cinematographers Jack Asher and Arthur Grant, makeup artists Phil Leakey and Roy Ashton, composer James Bernard, and production designer Bernard Robinson, whose work belied his tight budgets.

Although the studio dabbled in genres such as science fiction, costume dramas, and comedies, Hammer Horror was its best-known output, most notably with long-running series featuring Lee’s Count Dracula and Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein. They also reinterpreted other venerable literary and cinematic properties, including The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Mummy, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and The Phantom of the Opera, all in color with then-shocking doses of gore and, later, nudity. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, many of Hammer’s personnel (e.g., Lee, Cushing, Francis, and director Roy Ward Baker) were routinely borrowed by a British competitor, Amicus Productions, albeit with less success.

What follows is a typically idiosyncratic survey of some noteworthy efforts and related items.

The Quatermass Xperiment (aka The Quatermass Experiment, The Creeping Unknown; 1955): After years of making mostly mysteries and other thrillers, Hammer dipped its toe into SF waters with two 1953 films directed by Fisher: Four Sided Triangle, which in some ways formed a template for The Curse of Frankenstein, and Spaceways, based on the radio play by Charles Eric Maine. The studio had its first big hit in the same genre with this seminal film, adapted by Richard Landau and director Val Guest from Nigel Kneale’s eponymous BBC-TV serial, with the spelling of its title slightly altered to emphasize its X rating (then used for horrific films in England). Allegedly red meat for U.S. viewers, Brian Donlevy is single-minded and driven as Professor Bernard Quatermass, whose remote-control rocket comes back to Earth minus two of its three astronauts but plus an alien organism that gradually turns the third (Richard Wordsworth) into, well, a creeping unknown. Indeed, Quatermass can be seen as a modern-day dry run for Peter Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein, just as the popularity of Wordsworth’s “human monster” helped lead to Curse. Admittedly, the special effects in the climactic scene in Westminster Abbey are cheesy beyond description, but the beauty of it is that the ideas transcend the limits of the budget. Kneale (recently profiled here) wrote three sequels, two of which were also filmed by Hammer.

Quatermass 2 (aka Enemy from Space; 1957): Intended as a sequel to the above, X the Unknown (1956) suffered from two big problems: first, Kneale denied permission for the use of the Quatermass character, forcing screenwriter Jimmy Sangster to transform him into Dr. Adam Royston (Dean Jagger), and second, Jagger reportedly refused to work with blacklisted director Joseph Losey, resulting in the latter’s replacement with Leslie Norman. Not surprisingly, Sangster’s tale of a radioactive blob was less successful, but Hammer got right back on track with this big-screen version of Kneale’s second Quatermass serial. It reunited Donlevy and writer-director Guest, but this time Kneale got to co-write the script, a riveting tale of an alien takeover.

The Abominable Snowman [of the Himalayas] (1957): Like the first two Quatermass films, this was directed by Guest and based on a BBC-TV script (entitled The Creature) by Kneale, who this time had sole screenwriting credit. Once again, it transcends its limited budget—despite some effective exteriors—with the power of its ideas. Peter Cushing (repeating his TV role) and Forrest Tucker of F Troop infamy star as, respectively, an idealistic scientist and an unscrupulous entrepreneur who seek the titular Yeti.

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957): More than any other single movie, this began a twenty-year renaissance in the fantasy film genre. Jimmy Sangster’s script bears very little resemblance to the book by Mary Shelley, but with Fisher’s excellent direction and the star power of Cushing, Christopher Lee as the Creature (whose makeup was drastically different from Universal’s copyrighted version), and heavenly Hazel Court as Elizabeth, you won’t hear me complaining a bit.

Dracula (aka Horror of Dracula; 1958): The success of this and The Curse of Frankenstein really kicked off the Hammer revolution. Lee instantly became one of the screen’s greatest Draculas, although I’ll always consider Lugosi definitive, and the athletic Cushing is a far cry from wizened old Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing. Featuring a radically revisionist script (don’t let Phil Hardy or anyone else tell you differently) in which Harker is vampirized, a slam-bang climax expertly orchestrated by Fisher, and a splendid score by James Bernard, whose main theme was reused in the many sequels.

Tales of Frankenstein (1958): “The Face in the Tombstone Mirror” was the shelved pilot for an abortive series to be co-produced by Hammer and Columbia’s Screen Gems television arm, with Anton Diffring (Where Eagles Dare) as Baron Frankenstein (a series with the Baron as a continuing character? Nah, no chance!), directed and co-written by Curt Siodmak. It’s a bit of a shock seeing in black and white what looks like a typical Hammer production in every other way, even if Diffring lacks Cushing’s charisma as the Baron. Interestingly, he also pinch-hit for Pete the following year when Cushing turned down the lead in Hammer’s The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959), a remake of Paramount’s The Man in Half Moon Street (1945). This is otherwise a respectable, if familiar, effort, with Big Don Megowan stumping around in Karloffian makeup as an uninteresting Monster.

To be continued.

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Nigel Kneale

Fourth in a series of six previously unpublished profiles.

Best known for his legendary BBC-TV serials featuring Professor Bernard Quatermass, Nigel Kneale (1922-2006) was consistently one of the most imaginative and intelligent screenwriters to specialize in SF. Born on the Isle of Man, he tried his hand at writing radio scripts and acting, and published an award-winning book of stories, Tomato Cain, before he joined the BBC.

Directed by Rudolph Cartier, The Quatermass Experiment (1953), Quatermass II (1955), and Quatermass and the Pit (1958) became Britain’s “must-see TV” of the day. All three scripts were published by Penguin Books, and the year after the first serial’s success, Kneale and Cartier embarked upon a television adaptation of George Orwell’s dystopic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

In a star-making lead performance, Peter Cushing played Winston Smith, threatened with a mask that will expose his face to hungry rats in one controversial scene. He appeared in other BBC productions co-written by Kneale, including Number Three (1953), about nuclear scientists concerned with the possible military applications of their work, and The Moment of Truth (1955).

Too numerous to detail here, Kneale’s television plays and serials were often broadcast live, rarely seen in the U.S. before the advent of DVD, and in some cases have been lost forever. As a result, many of today’s viewers—especially in America—know his work primarily through the feature films he has scripted, many of which were big-screen adaptations of earlier teleplays.

Before reviving Gothic horror onscreen with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Britain’s Hammer Films routinely made feature-film versions of properties that had proven successful on television and radio. These included the original Quatermass serials, as well as another BBC collaboration with Cartier, The Creature (1955), Kneale’s play about the Abominable Snowman.

The first effort was sometimes billed as The Quatermass Xperiment (1955), to emphasize the British X rating for horror films. Kneale was reportedly unhappy with the script by Richard Landau and director Val Guest, and with the lead casting of hard-drinking American actor Brian Donlevy to add box-office appeal in the U.S., where it was released as The Creeping Unknown.

Quatermass’s experimental rocket returns with two of its astronauts missing and the third, Victor Carroon (Richard Wordsworth), absorbing various life-forms as he is mutated by an alien organism. Wordsworth’s performance as the tortured man-monster is effective, and supposedly helped inspire Hammer to make The Curse of Frankenstein, which solidified Cushing’s stardom.

Donlevy returned to foil an interstellar infiltration in Quatermass II (aka Enemy from Space, 1957), with humans either controlled by, or unwittingly producing synthetic food for, the aliens, but this time Kneale shared script credit with Guest. It should be noted that the title is the name of Quatermass’s second rocket, rather than a precursor to today’s Roman-numeral sequels.

Guest again directed Hammer’s version of The Creature, aptly entitled The Abominable Snowman [of the Himalayas] (1957), with Kneale adapting his teleplay. Seeking the Yeti with differing agendas, Cushing wishes to study them and Forrest Tucker to exploit them; Tucker dies in an avalanche, but Cushing is spared, denying their existence to protect this wise, ancient race.

After Quatermass and the Pit, which Hammer did not film for almost a decade, Kneale worked with director Tony Richardson on screen versions of John Osborne’s plays Look Back in Anger (1959) and The Entertainer (1960). He also scripted a cracking good British naval yarn, HMS Defiant (aka Damn the Defiant!, 1962), from the future James Bond director Lewis Gilbert.

Directed by Nathan Juran, with stop-motion animation by Ray Harryhausen, First Men in the Moon (1964) was adapted from the H.G. Wells novel by Kneale and Jan Read. A U.N. team finds a flag on the moon, left there in 1899 by Arnold Bedford (Edward Judd) and Joseph Cavor (Lionel Jeffries), as well as evidence that Cavor’s cold germs wiped out the Selenite civilization.

Kneale, who often posited scientific explanations for the supernatural in his work, took a more traditional route in Hammer’s The Witches (aka The Devil’s Own, 1966), directed by Cyril Frankel and based on a novel by Peter Curtis. Headmistress Joan Fontaine encounters witchcraft at her school, and impurifies an intended sacrificial victim by spilling non-virgin blood over her.

Finally, Hammer embarked on Quatermass and the Pit (aka Five Million Years to Earth, 1967), with Roy Ward Baker directing Kneale’s adaptation of his serial. Investigating an ancient spaceship found buried beneath London, Quatermass (Andrew Keir) learns that Martians were responsible for not only our evolution, but also the image of horned demons in our race memory.

Back at the BBC, The Year of the Sex Olympics (1968) depicted a future in which sexual appetite is sated by televised porn to avoid overpopulation; presciently, the public then becomes preoccupied with a Survivor–style reality show. In The Stone Tape (1972), a research team seeks a new recording medium, and discovers that a ghost was “recorded” in the walls of an old house.

Kneale’s relationship with the BBC soured, partly over abortive attempts to film a fourth Quatermass serial, and he eventually took the project to the competition, ITV. In the title role of Quatermass (aka The Quatermass Conclusion, 1979), John Mills learns that young people who gather in places like Stonehenge are being harvested by aliens, not transported to a better world.

Dissatisfied with changes to his work, Kneale removed his name from the screenplay of Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1983), credited to director Tommy Lee Wallace. Not a part of the Michael Myers saga, it concerns a mad toymaker (Dan O’Herlihy) who is using deadly masks, impregnated with tiny fragments of Stonehenge, to return Halloween to its Druidic roots.

Kneale adapted the ghost story The Woman in Black (1989) from the book by Susan Hill, and in 2005 he served as story consultant when the BBC mounted a live remake of The Quatermass Experiment. Directed by Sam Miller, and adapted from Kneale’s script by its executive producer, Richard Fell, it starred Jason Flemyng as the latest Quatermass.

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