Sunday, August 21, 2011

No More Sequels for Jimmy.

Screenwriter/director/producer Jimmy Sangster died on Friday, at the too-tender age of 83. Primarily known as Hammer Films's main scribe, Little Jimmy wrote some of Little Dougie's favorite movies growing up.

He wrote this lovely memoir, which is required reading for all fans of Hammer monster movies. Little Dougie never met Sangster (who, in his prime, was billed as Jimmy "Frankenstein" Sangster), though they must have walked right past each other one evening in May, 1987. At the time, Sangster's wife was playing a small role in Shaw's Pygmalion on Broadway with Peter O'Toole, Amanda Plummer, Lionel Jeffries, and Sir John Mills. Jimmy used to come by the theater every evening when the show let out to escourt his wife home. As it happens, Little Dougie saw this production, and pathetically hung out at the stage door after the show to get autographs from the above-listed actors. Sangster must have walked right by him, but Dougie had no idea what he looked like back then. Had Dougie recognized him, Sangster would have been in for a boring ten minutes of "I love your movies!" but he was too busy gushing over Pete.

Sangster's book is chatty, and includes hilarious tales of Bette Davis literally chasing him around the sofa, trying to get into his pants, which Mrs. Sangster did not appreciate. Approachable and friendly, Sangster even made comments and engaged in fan dialogues on the message boards of his page on the IMDb, which you can still read there. (He gave there as his reason for no longer writing: "I'm too old, too tired." I know the feeling.)

Meanwhile, let's take a little photo-stroll through his career.

The second movie he wrote was the Hammer sci-fi classic X - The Unknown. This was a follow-up to their two successful movie adaptations of Nigel Kneale's first two Quatermass TV serials. X was a faux-Quatermass story, about a sentient radioactive mud monster (No, I am not joking) that seeps up from a crack in the planet and eats stuff. Here we see the Mud Monster rolling over a nuclear power plant. Yummy radioactivity was the Mud Monster's favorite dish. Hammer still, mistakenly, thought an American name was needed to topline a film to make it sell in the USA, so as Brian Donlevy had been a ridiculously American head of the British space program in the Quatermass pictures (Frankly, the idea of a British space program was pretty silly in and of itself.), so Dean Jagger was imported to star in this film. I'd like to have been there the day that Jagger's agent convinced Michael Carreras that the name "Dean Jagger" would sell tickets in America. Who, besides his immediate family and friends, ever went to see something JUST BECAUSE Dean Jagger was in it? Irony: future big, big star, far bigger than Dean Jagger would ever be, Anthony Newley, is in it, in a small role as a soldier who gets eaten early on by the mud monster. It's not a bad movie.

Curse of Frankenstein in 1957 was the movie that really began it all. It made a star of Peter Cushing. It made a horror team of Peter Cushing & Sir Christopher Lee, both taking their first horror roles as Baron Victor Frankenstein and his monster respectively. It was the first Hammer Technicolor gothic horror movie. It was Terence Fisher's first time directing a monster movie, which he quickly became a specialist in. It was the first color Frankenstein movie at all, it was Hazel Courts's first horror movie. It was the first absolute remake of the novel Frankenstein since James Whale's Frankenstein. Sangster's screenplay bears no resemblance to either Whale's movie or Mary Shelley's novel, but it's a fine, well-made ripping yarn, and spawned five sequels. Little Dougie discusses this movie further in his book The Q Guide to Classic Monster Movies.

Flat-out my favorite Hammer horror movie and favorite Jimmy Sangster movie, and favorite Dracula movie is Horror of Dracula, which was merely titled Dracula in Britain. Though one of the least-faithful adaptation's of Stoker's novel Dracula ever, it may be the best and scariest Dracula movie ever made. The Count in this movie was a lot more like the guy in the book, not to mention my late tragic third husband, Count Vlad Tepes, who was not thought of kindly by his serfs, than Bela lugosi's tepid vampire menace ever was. The film made Sir Christopher Lee a star and forever identified him with the role of Count Dracula. I've seen this movie dozens and dozens and dozens of times. When Little Dougie first saw Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula, at a double feature on the big screen in a theater in Santa Ana, CA, in 1964, Horror of Dracula came on first. Dougie so fell in love with it that he phoned home at intermission and asked his parents (He was only 13 at the time) to pick him up at the theater 90 minutes later than planned, as he HAD to watch it a second time. Dougie discusses this movie further in his book The Q Guide to Classic Monster Movies.

What do you do when you make a film of Frankenstein, and it's a surprise international hit and the biggest-grossing British movies in 10 years? You do two things. You make a Dracula, and you make a sequel to Frankenstein. Hammer knocked out Horror of Dracula and The Revenge of Frankenstein so quickly, one after the other, that they have some of the same sets, quite recognizable. Jimmy wrote both. If there is anything Revenge of Frankenstein is not, it's a remake of Bride of Frankenstein, from which it could not be more different. The monster is dizzolved in acid and Frankenstein himself beheaded at the end of Curse. They couldn't very well undizzolve the monster, so Victor built a new one. The film opened with showing how the Baron managed to get the unsympathetic priest who had listened to his whole confession in Curse, beheaded in his place. (Turns out that if you're a rich aristocrat, you can bribe the guillotine operator to kill a priest instead of you. And people say these films are unrealistic! I love that it's Science killing Faith.) Sangster's cleverest touch comes at the end. The Baron has built but not animated a third monster. When the new monster dies (He sort of falls apart, in public yet. Poor stitching I suspect.), and the Baron is ripped apart by the outraged patients in a hospital for the indigent (They discovered he was using the parts he amputated off of them in his monsters. Cheeky! And again, a clever Sangster idea.), his assistant, Hans or Carl (In the Hammer Frankensteins, he always has an assistant named either Hans or Carl, though in each film they are different Hanses and Carls, but NEVER an Igor!), saves the Baron's brain, puts it into the new monster and brings it to life. The new monster is a dead (literally) ringer for Baron Frankenstein, so at the end, when he sets up shop in a new town, the monster and the doctor have fused! Dougie discusses this movie further in his book The Q Guide to Classic Monster Movies.

Originally titled The Trolleberg Terror, you have to admit that The Crawling Eye is a better title for this black & white science-fiction thriller. Forrest Tucker and his amazing, immense dick starred. We ran this on Fright Night With Seymour once. At the end, jet planes napalm the giant crawling eyes. Seymour reran the clip with the soundtrack removed and instead, a slow, sultry vocal of "Smoke Gets in Your Eye."

Hammer's success in the 1950s led Universal to do a deal with Hammer. Universal would release their films in the USA, and Hammer would have rights to remake Universal's classics. This led to this first remake of The Mummy. It's an odd movie: the non-mummy characters take their names from The Mummy with Karloff, but the mummy is named Kharis, from The Mummy's Hand and it's three sequels, and is basically a remake of the entire Kharis series in one movie, and a much better movie than that entire series. Techncially, the 1999 Brendan Fraser movie The Mummy is a remake of this movie, but it bears no resemblance at all, and takes more from Universal's 1932 The Mummy, though no previous mummy pictures had thought to do it as an action movie ala Indiana Jones. Little Dougie wrote an essay on Hammer & Sangster's The Mummy in his book The Q Guide to Classic Monster Movies.

Any resemblance between this movie and the facts of the real Jack the Ripper are purely accidental.

One of Hammer's duller exercizes, it was based on a play, The Man in Half-Moon Street, and is really too stage bound. Still, any movie with both Sir Christopher Lee and Hazel Court in it, is worth seeing.

Sangster was assigned to write Hammer's sequel to Dracula naturally, with only one slight proviso, Sir Christopher refused to play Dracula again so he had to write a Dracula movie without Dracula in it. The poster above says "The most evil Dracula of all." No, more like "The Most Absent Dracula of all." Oddly enough, when Universal did their Dracula sequel, they also left Dracula out, except as a corpse, and went with Dracula's Daughter. (They made this dumb decision AFTER they had signed Lugosi to star in it. As a result, Lugosi was paid more not to appear in Dracula's Daughter than he was to appear in Dracula.)

Sangster used the character of Van Helsing, so it is still a sequel, and wrote an original tale that is actually pretty creepy and cool. And Martita Hunt, as a vampire's doting, tragic mommy, steals the movie.

I haven't seen this one, but I had an horrific experience in the Hellfire Club myself, to be found in Chapter 8 of my autobiography, My Lush Life.

I've never seen this very un-PC picture, but it seems to have been a dry run for Lee's later series of films as Fu Manchu.

I saw this silly pirate movie quite recently though. The pirates raid a town 50 miles inland, so there is ONE shipboard scene, and the entire rest of the movie takes place onland, mostly in a swamp. "Blood River" is a river full of piranha. Christopher Lee had to do a lot of fencing in this one while wearing an eyepatch!

I have not seen this pirate movie, though, since Sir Christopher Lee got killed in the last one, and wears no eye patch in this one, it's not a sequel.

After Psycho became a big hit, Hammer started turning out psychological thrillers in black & white, and Sangster became the go-to screenwriter for these imitation-Robert Bloch movies.

I haven't seen this one, but the poster is good and lurid, and adorable, gay Kerwin Matthews starred.

I've seen The Nanny though, and it made me scream with horror, but that was the American TV series The Nanny. I've also seen this excellent, thoughtful Hammer chiller The Nanny, but it is nowhere near as scary as the TV series.

Later in the 1960s, Sangster started exploiting his pitch-black sense of humor in his scripts. The Anniversary was an adaptation of a successful stage play, all very Freudian-imitation-Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe. Sangster and director Roy Ward Baker turned it into a very black, black comedy about a family so weird, they make The Addams Family look like pillars of the PTA. Davis dominates the picture as an hilariously horrible monster of a mother, who makes a full-time occupation out of ruining her children's lives. Trust me, it's a scream, my favorite Sangster picture after Horror of Dracula.

Bette's designer eyepatch was see-through, so she didn't collide with the scenery. Working with Miss Davis could be - ah - challenging. The first director couldn't manage her, and was fired after a single week. The first thing the new director, Roy Ward Baker, decreed was that the major staircase be moved from the middle of the main set to one side of the set. His reason? Simple and brilliant: so that they could not use ANY footage shot by the first director. Wrote Sangster in his memoir: "Bette hated everybody and everybody hated her."

Finally, in 1965, Sir Christopher Lee was convinced to play Count Dracula a second time, Dracula, Prince of Darkness. Once the ice was broken, it was all anyone could do to get him to stop playing Dracula. Sangster wrote a creepy original vampire tale for this picture. Terence Fisher made a fairly slow-moving film from it, and Lee hated his dialogue so much, he cut all of it, so the Count, who doesn't make his entrance until halfway through the movie, never speaks, though he hisses quite elequently. Still, it looks great (the first widescreen Dracula movie), and has several striking scenes. Renfield, unused in Horror of Dracula, appears in this one, now called Ludwig, and the unforgettable scene in the book where Dracula opens his chest with his nails and forces the heroine to drink from him is used here most effectively. The DVD commentary track has Lee and three of the other stars of the picture watching it together, clearly not having seen it in many years, and it's like having them over to watch it with you. I saw this in a drive-in when it came out, very excited to see Lee play Dracula a second time. After this movie, the Hammer Dracula series went to Hell very fast. Sangster did the script from a story the producer knocked out. Since both worked under psuedonyms on this film, I assume he wasn't proud of it. In his autobiography he claims he never saw it. Well I have.

Oh but I've seen this bit of psychological Grand Guinol. Don't jump to the conclusion that Oliver Reed is the titular paranoiac, though he certainly plays a nasty piece of work. Good, weird, a bit over-the-top thriller. And see, Rocky Horror fans, Janette Scott did more than just fight a Triffid that spits poison and kills. She also fought an Oliver Reed that spits poison and kills... or does he?

I've not see Phobia at all, but you have to notice when, instead of Terence Fisher or Freddie Francis, a Sangster screenplay was directed by John Huston, himself a legendary screenwriter.

Sangster produced and directed as well as wrote this remake of his earlier Curse of Frankenstein. But he was so bored at repeating himself, that this time he did a spoof. Not a big, obvious spoof like Young Frankenstein, but a subtle spoof, and not advertised as a comedy, so you had to notice that it was actually an hilarious black comedy as you watched it. I saw it in its original release, and believe me, I noticed it was funny.

Horror of Frankenstein was also notable for the hunkiest, most-homoerotic Frankenstein monster ever, played by David Prowse, soon to be world famous as Darth Vader. Prowse, whom I've met, later played the Frankenstein monster again, in Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell, the last of the series that began with Curse. Horror of Frankenstein, though made by Hammer, was not part of its series, but a stand-alone with a different actor as Frankenstein, Ralph Bates. It bombed, and Hammer returned to Peter Cushing's Baron Frankenstein again. Prowse's second monster was not hunky or hot at all, but was a rather interesting monster.

Lust for a Vampire was one of Hammer's attempts to keep its dying vampire pictures going by adding tits. Tits are nice and all, but no replacement for Peter Cushing or Sir Christopher Lee.

This was Sangster's entry into the old-lady-horror-movies genre of the 1960s that began with Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, when movies discovered that the scariest people on earth are crazy, mean old ladies. I could have told them that. This one is sort of loosely based on Hansel & Gretel. It's pretty good, with Winters typically shrill, over-the-top nutso. I saw it in a theater and now have the DVD. Gay director Curtis Harrington, who was a friend of James Whale, stylishly directed this horror romp. Little Mark Lester, who had played the title role in the Best Picture winning musical Oliver, played the imperiled little boy in this one as well, though he had grown a bit, and was the protective big brother of his little sister.

These movies were made a long time ago, and Little Mark "Oliver Twist" Lester grew up, and was for a time, pretty hot. He could have put the "fag" in "Fagin".

Okay, when you're writing this kind of dreck for Disney, it is time to retire, so I shall. Cheers darlings.


Natalie Sztern said...

Life is a funny thing - we never feel as old as we are until we see how young the next generation is working at the same jobs we are. It's hard to lose an older mentor because it means that we become the mentors and we are not ready for that nor do we feel qualified to do it. Somehow, also, we just don't feel that living this life in Reality and Virtuality makes it a valued life to live. Something just doesn't feel right...

PabloDiablo said...

I love those old horror movies. I am going to have to get that book as I forget more than I remember of the old "creature double feature" horror movies that used to play on Saturdays here in Philly.

One of my favorites was one with, I think Boris Karlov and Vincent Price and it was based (loosely I think) on an Edgar Allen Poe story. They both played wizards and shot crazy light beams out of their hands and battled each other like that. I would probably think it was lame today, but loved it as a kid.

Christopher Lee was the best vampire ever. There was also some vampire films that they showed a lot of and I suspect that they had a Spanish or Mexican star or story line in them, can't remember the titles, but the most awesome and very graphic stake through the heart scenes.

Loved Fiend Without a Face, had nightmares after watching that one. Again, probably would laugh at it now. Would love to get some of those movie posters.

Among some of the psycho thrillers, how about The Bad Seed? Otherwise known as the childhood biography of Voldebitch!

Tallulah Morehead said...

The movie you "love," but not well enough to remember its title, is THE RAVEN from 1963. Along with Karloff and Vincent Price, it also had Peter Lorre, Hazel Court, and Jack Nicholson as Peter Lorre's son. (Their voices match up well.) It's a totally delightful movie that I saw when it came out, and many times since. I have the DVD, which also includes the follow-up The Comedy of Terrors, another horror spoof with Karloff, Price & Lorre, and adding Basil Rathbone to the brew.

About 5 years ago I attended a screening of The Raven (in a brand new sparkling print) in Hollywood where Roger Corman spoke after the film. It holds up.

The Bad Seed is about Voldebitch's childhood? What a terrible thing to say about poor little homicidal Rhoda Penmark. She only hit little Claude Daigle with her shoe because he wouldn't give her the POV medal, I mean spelling medal. You can see how she had to. And she only set fire to LeRoy because he was going to tell on her. 10 year-old murderers are a very misunderstood lot of people.

But Rhoda never called anyone "Bukie," never had THAT LAUGH FROM HELL, and wasn't the world's biggest hyporite.

(Could you belive Voldebitch saying how SHE always pretends to be happy about someone else winning HOH? So her idea of "pretending to be happy" is sulking, sobbing, complaining that its not fair for her not to get to compete for HOH when she's the outgoing HOH, and go wail in the bushes? She's insane. Thank Heaven it's a double eviction week, so she could still get sent packing this week. And if not her, then Leatherface. But I'm afraid Dani is out this week also. When your only champions are Queen Kalia and Edsel, you are trapped in The Alliance of the Lame.)

PabloDiablo said...

The Raven, that's it! Thanks darling!

PabloDiablo said...

And yes, I guess I wasn't being fair to poor little Rhoda, sweet thing! She has nothing on the heinous Voldebitch.

I agree, I think it is going to be a bad week for Dani. Kalia really screwed things up with her awful week as HOH. Time to pay the piper.

Dave in San Diego said...

I remember seeing "The Crawling Eye" on TV when I lived in Culver City. I was about 5 or 6. It scared the living crap out of me. I watched it again not too long ago and it is the cheesiest movie.

Tallulah Morehead said...

The Crawling Eye is pretty cheesy all right. Netflix streams the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of it, with the puppet robots making jokes all through it. They don't stream the straight movie without joking robots.

GardenGuy said...

It's nice to go back to those horror films that didn't revolve around blood and gore. Thanks for that trip down memory lane (And a few lanes I've never visited). Though I've noticed more cheesiness from them as the years go on, they still make a nice "snack" for a rainy Saturday afternoon.

Tallulah Morehead said...

Actually, Sangster's earliest films CURSE O FRANKENSTEIN and HORROR OF DRACULA were widely condemned when originally released as excessively gory. One British critic in 1957 suggested a new rating for Curse of Frankenstein: "Should be rated 'SO,' for 'Sadists Only'." They were the first popular movies to have blood, bright, bright red blood, popping in Technicolor, and gruesome eyeballs floating in jars, lopped-off limbs, all the stuff the Universal movies os the 1930s and '40s kept just offscreen. Sangster and Terence Fisher, who directed these Sangster scripts, were considered the fathers of modern gory horror movies. Sangster's name naturally led to some calling him "Sanguine Sangster" because his films were so bloody. So your comment, "It's nice to go back to those horror films that didn't revolve around blood and gore." was made at that time meaning the black & White classics as opposed to these new modern, blood and gore Hammer horror movies, like very specifically the ones Sangster was writing.

It's generational. It also means that in another 50 years, your comment about his movies will seem as trite and dated as the criticism of Hammer's films back then does to us now. Like in music: My dad used to complain that the music of The Beatles was "not music, just noise," the exact same thing I say these days about rap and hip-hop "music". In 50 years my attitude that, to be music, you must have a melody, will undoubtedly be considered as boring and trite a comment as my dad's attitude that popular music began & ended with Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald.

Way back in 1965, The Beatles appeared on an episode of Doctor Who. The Doctor's young companion, who was from the far, far future, listening to them, said: "So that's The Beatles. I knew their names from school, but I'd never heard them before. I had no idea they played classical music!" They'd been singing I Wanna Hold Your Hand.

sports handicapping services said...

I have wanted to learn more about particular topics, but not many websites would help me out in informing me the way I expected. This left me with many question, but after reading your article, I got an answer to all my questions. You are too cool dude!!!