R.I.P. Ingrid Pitt

VampireLovers_IngridPittThe BBC announced that horror movie icon Ingrid Pitt passed away today. She was 73.
Born Ingoushka Petrov in 1937 Poland, Ingrid Pitt would survive the German occupation and internment in a concentration camp. Fluent in several languages, she appeared in both Spanish films and American television (IRONSIDE) before landing an attention-getting role with stars Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton in WHERE EAGLES DARE (1968).
That  high-profile WWII action film would help lead to her winning the part of Marcilla/Carmilla, actually the revived and passionate vampire Mircalla Karnstein in Hammer Studios THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970). Based on Sheridan Le Fanu’s story Carmilla , this film (directed by the recently deceased Roy Ward Baker See Obit) would push the boundaries of Hammer’s vampires over the edge of subtle hints of the erotic, into a frank and direct exploitation of the material. This new territoty would feature nudity and a blood-sucker interested in both men and women —mostly fetching, full-bosomed women .
Ingrid Pitt would show vampiric tendencies, literal and figurative, in COUNTESS DRACULA and Amicus’ THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (both 1971), making her a favorite among horror movie fans. She also did television and voice-over work.
Other genre roles included THE OMEGANS, THE WICKER MAN (1973), TRANSMUTATIONS (1986),  as well as two DOCTOR WHO serials The Time Monster (1972) and Warriors of the Deep (1984).

As Queen Galleria in DOCTOR WHO (with Roger Delgado)
As Queen Galleria in DOCTOR WHO (with Roger Delgado)

In recent years, Ingrid Pitt met many fans at various conventions, eager to compliment her on her work, and as being a fondly remembered part of their youth.
Ingrid Pitt vampire Ingrid Pitt with cat Clint Eastwood, Ingrid Pitt in WHERE EAGLES DARE Ingrid Pitt in "The Cloak" episode of THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD

RIP Roy Ward Baker – Genre Director

Roy_Ward_BakerRoy Ward Baker, UK film director best known to genre fans for his Horror and Science Fiction films for  Hammer Studios, passed away Tuesday October 5th, 2010.
With a long career in the British film industry, beginning as a ‘tea boy’ or ‘gofer’ at Gainsbourgh Studios, Baker’s first film was THE OCTOBER MAN, a murder mystery starring John Mills as an amnesiac suspect.
His best remembered work is likely A NIGHT TO REMEMBER (1958), a very well-received version of the sinking of the Titanic.
Roy Baker (as he was sometimes billed) moved into television, directing episodes of THE AVENGERS and THE SAINT. THE FICTION MAKERS (1968)  was made into a feature film from two of Baker’s episodes of  the Roger Moore series, an amusing caper film that spoofed the Bond movies. THE CHAMPIONS, MY PARTNER THE GHOST (Randal and Hopkirk, Deceased) and DEPARTMENT S were among his TV genre credits.


In 1967, he directed FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (aka Quatermass and The Pit), based on Nigel Kneale’s SF/Horror multi-part television play. This is one of the true classics of the genre, made by Hammer Films.
His next SF picture for Hammer was the “space western” MOON ZERO TWO (1969), which featured Catherine Schell (SPACE: 1999).
He then directed the horror films THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, SCARS OF DRACULA, and DOCTOR JEKYLL & SISTER HYDE for the British studio.
For their rivals Amicus, he helmed the horror Anthologies ASYLUM,  THE VAULT OF HORROR, and the gothic feature AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS.
Back with Hammer, he directed the English language scenes of THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974, aka The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula), the studio’s last-ditch effort to continue their Dracula series by mixing it with Hong-Kong style Kung Fu action. This was Peter Cushing’s last performance as a Van Helsing.
Cushing & Mills in THE MASKS OF DEATH
Cushing & Mills in THE MASKS OF DEATH

In 1984 he would work with Cushing and Sir John Mills as Holmes and Watson in THE MASKS OF DEATH (aka Sherlock Holmes and The Masks of Death) for Tyburn Films, with  several other ex-Hammer individuals such as Anthony Hinds also involved. It was released as a theatrical film in a few areas, but as a TV movie in others.
He continued to work in television into the 1990’s.

Cybersurfing: Little Shop of Horrors' History of Amicus

Keith Brown of Giallo Fever reviews an extra special issue of Little Shop of Horrors: the mgazine, devoted to British Gothic cinema, has published an issue titled “Scream and Scream Again: The Uncensored History of Amicus Productions.” Amicus, of course, was the major rival to Hammer Films when it came to churning out colorful, entertaining horror films in the 1960s and ’70s. They even used much of the same talent, both behind and before the camera (directors Roy Ward Baker and Freddie Francis, actors Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing), but their films were distinctly different. Whereas Hammer focused on Gothic Horror, usually set in the Victorian Era, Amicus tended to set their stories in modern day; Hammer focused on stories of Good and Evil, in which Good usually won; Amicus opted for irony, in which wicked the audience was asked to identify with wicked characters who inevitably brought about their own destruction. Amicus also became famous for the anthology format, taking four or five short stories and wrapping them together with some kind of linking narrative – a structure they used in several films, including adaptations of the comic books TALES FROM THE CRYPT and THE VAULT OF HORROR.
There have been one or two, unsatisfying efforts to document the history of Amicus, hampered by the fact that the two men who made the company, Milton Subotsky and Max J. Rosenberg had an acrimonious falling out. Subotsky died in 1992, Rosenberg in 2004, so now the story can be told without fear of litigation. Brown is pleased with the result, reporting that author Philip Nutman…

…succeeds in producing a work which will prove extremely useful as a reference guide (which one of those anthology films featured that story with that actor being the perennial question here?); for fans of trivia (the impressive main set in The Skull first saw service, albeit briefly, in Darling); as a source of quotes from the two men and figures like Freddie Francis, and for anyone just wanting to know more about the history of British horror and independent film production in the period from the mid-1950s to mid-1970s.

CFQ’s own Lawrence French previously vouched for this issue here.

Supernal Dreams: Little Shoppe of Horrors #20 – A History of Amicus films

Having recently received a copy of Richard Klemensen’s Little Shoppe of Horrors magazine devoted to the history of Amicus films ( #20), I found myself absolutely delighted. What we get in 100 beautiful pages is essentially a a book length study as written by Amicus expert Philip Nutman.
In fact, in a way, it’s too bad that this long piece didn’t actually receive publication as a book, but thankfully Richard Klemesnen convinced Mr. Nutman to present his fabulous history of Amicus to us in the pages of LSOH. I think, given the blood, sweat and years it must have taken Mr. Nutman to put this definitive history of Amicus films together, we should be happy to get it in any form.
Now, let’s flashback to 35 years ago. It’s 1973, when Amicus was still a viable production company. I had just brought my very first issue of Little Shoppe of Horrors, which I had found on the shelves of New York City’s fabulous Cinema bookshop Cinemabila, owned by Ernest P. Burns, in Greenwich Village. It was issue #2, devoted to Amicus Films. As I look at that issue now, I see it only cost $1.00, but was apparently considered so valuable by Mr. Burns, that he raised the price nearly double, to $1.75. It was a sum I paid gladly! At any rate, issue #2 of LSOH contained an extensive history of Amicus films, entitled, “Two’s A Company,” with very informative Q & A style interviews with three of the key Amicus players, Freddie Francis, Milton Subotsky and Robert Bloch.
Of course, the two men who were the mainstays of the company were the actual founders, Milton Subotsky and Max J. Rosenberg, but strangely enough, Mr. Rosenberg’s comments were mostly absent from all the early coverage of anything I read about Amicus.
Then, in the summer of 1973, Cinefantastiquegave us Chris Knight’s long interview with Milton Subotsky about the history of Amicus, that rated cover story status for CFQ’s eighth issue. By then, CFQ’s design and interior color stills were pretty stunning to most horror film fans. Sir Ralph Richardson as the Crypt-Keeper from TALES FROM THE CRYPT was featured in a two page color spead, as was a full page color shot of Richard Todd in the “Frozen Fear” episode from ASYLUM. The cover was a nice shot of a terrified Stefanie Beacham from AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS.
Needless to say, at the time, Cinefantastique’s story looked miles ahead of what LSOH had done that same year, mainly due to the far superior layout and design. CFQ looked very much like the prozine it was, while LSOH was a more low-budget, but still interesting fanzine. Of course, I still have that early issue of LSOH, and I find it’s contents are still “Invaluable” to quote the Duke de Richeleau’s comments while examining a rare copy of The Clavacle of Solomon in THE DEVIL RIDES OUT.  Plus, rather astonishingly, 35 years later, LSOH is still publishing, and is better than ever!
That is certainly proven by issue #20, which gives us an article I’ve no doubt CFQ’s editor Fred Clarke would have loved to publish. And to my way of thinking, Mr. Klemesen’s magazine is now certainly very much a “prozine.”
Here we get the fascinating history of Amicus productions, told in truly uncensored form, by Mr. Nutman. In fact what is so entertaining about the Amicus story is how Rosenberg and Subotsky apparently never agreed on anything! In this story we finally get the viewpoints of both partners, and since none of their stories ever seem to jive, the reader is left on his own to consider who is actually telling the truth. Like RASHOMON or CITIZEN KANE,  it’s actually a story that might make for quite a good movie! I also must confess, that before reading this, I always felt Milton Subotsky was the actual creative force behind Amicus, but Rosenberg’s comments here (many taken from an undoubtedly fascinating interview by Tom Weaver), clearly carry some weight that counter that view. They certainly indicate Rosenberg was not just the money man that Subotsky always suggested, after their bitter break-up in 1975. Indeed, perhaps what might be considered Amicus “classiest” ever film, was the recently deceased Harold Pinter’s THE BIRTHDAY PARTY, which would have never have been made without Mr. Rosenberg’s input.
In any case, this is a story that is very much unlike a studio press release, where everyone loves working with everyone else on the set. Here we get to read about all the behind the scenes fights that led each and every Amicus film, which encompasses the classic period of CITY OF THE DEAD in 1960, through their heyday in the late sixties, all the way to THE BEAST MUST DIE in 1974, and beyond (admittedly, THE BEAST MUST DIE is not one of Amicus’s better films, but what a cast it had: Peter Cushing, Michael Gambon, Charles Gray, Anton Diffring and Calvin Lockhart.)
However, what really makes LSOH’s “The Uncensored History of Amicus Productions” such fun, is the fact that in the last two or three years we’ve actually been able to revisit most of Amicus’s classic horror films in high quality DVD versions. Just in this last year we’ve been treated to Freddie Francis’s beautiful color cinematography in THE SKULL, as well as his TALES FROM THE CRYPT, TORTURE GARDEN and THE DEADLY BEES. 
Meanwhile, MADHOUSE,  with Vincent Price and Peter Cushing, as well as  SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN, with that supreme trio of terror stars, Price, Cushing and Lee, have been out for some time on DVD from MGM, as well as THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, and the uncut version of CITY OF THE DEAD.  Then, there is also the recent Dark Sky releases of ASYLUM, THE BRIDE OF FENGRIFFEN and THE BEAST MUST DIE, as well as WB’s FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE.

I for one find it rather enjoyable to read about these films and then be able to actually watch them in beautiful widescreen color versions, that are now as close as possible to the way they were meant to be seen in theaters (or often on drive-in screens), when they were first released over 35 years ago.
Finally, the LSOH Amicus issue features a gorgeous color cover by artist Mark Maddox. He is to be congratulated for his photo-montage/painting, which gives us images of Peter Cushing, Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Ingrid Pitt, Anna Massey, E. A. Poe, Doug McClure and a Dalek!

Any fan of Amicus movies will certainly want to have a copy of this magazine, which is now available from the LSOH website for the same price as a movie ticket… a mere $10.00.

Madhouse (1974) – A Retrospective

Vincent Price as horror actor Paul Toombes in MADHOUSE.This 1974 effort is Vincent Price’s last starring role in a horror film and the last film he made for American International Pictures, the company responsible for the vast majority of his later big screen appearances. Appropriately enough, MADHOUSE feels a bit like a requiem, with Price playing aging horror star Paul Toombs, who attempts to revive his famous Dr. Death character on television, decades after an unsolved murder destroyed his film career and his sanity. Unfortunately, people begin dying hideous deaths inspired by scenes from the Dr. Death movies, and the police naturally suspect Toombs. The actor himself is unable to speak in his own defense, afraid that he may be committing the murders in a black-out and not remembering them. Eventually consumed with guilt over the deaths his character is committing, he locks himself into the studio, turns on the cameras, and sets fire to the set, dying a spectacular death in a fire. Or does he?
A weak genre effort, MADHOUSE makes little if any effort to transcend the horror label, instead offering up familiar elements for the benefit of undemanding viewers. Nevertheless, it is amusing for Price fans, who get to see him playing, in a sense, a fictionalized version of himself, a point underlined by using numerous clips from Price’s old AIP horror films to represent Toombs’s career. One is almost tempted to label MADHOUSE Price’s version of SUNSET BOULEVARD, though the film scarcely merits comparison to Billy Wilder’s 1950 masterpiece.
Director Jim Clark (a former editor) stages the action competently, but he does not have the sophisticated sensibility to create a post-modern meta-movie – that is, not just a standard horror film but a self-reflexive film about horror films. Instead, we get a by-the-numbers approach, enlivened mostly by the presence of Price and his two co-stars, Peter Cushing and Robert Quarry, whose verbal sparring provides an opportunity to add a little panache to an otherwise prosaic effort. Though the dialogue is seldom more than adequate, the acting trio makes the most out of it, particularly in two show business party scenes, wherein they exchange amusingly snide witticisms.
The result falls far short of being a masterpiece, but it is more than enough to enough to please cult enthusiasts eager to see the horror stars on screen together.


A co-production between AIP and the English company Amicus (responsible for numerous horror films such as 1967’s TORTURE GARDEN), MADHOUSE was based on a bad novel by Angus Hall called Devilday.  The book wallowed in sleazy sex and scandal: we first meet Toombs shacked up with a sixteen-year-old, acne-scarred groupie (do aging horror stars really have groupies?), and his big scene consists of appearing naked at a Black Mass, so that the congregation can (literally) kiss his ass. Little happens, making the short novel feel longer than it is, and what does happen is deliberately left unexplained. The reader assumes that Toombs is up to something, but his guilt is never clearly established. At the climax, he is impaled by a falling rock, and a swarm of fans rifles his body for souveniers, but years later the novel’s narrator catches a glimpse of Toombs in a car, leading him to suspect that murder and mayhem will resume. Overall, despite the (then) modern English setting, the story seems inspired less by the Gothic Horror tradition than by scandalous legends from the early days of Hollywood. (Toombs’ career meltdown – after being suspected of shoving an icicle up a woman’s vagina – vaguely parallels that of silent film comic Fatty Arbuckle, who fell out of favor after being tried for literally raping a woman to death – even though the jury emphatically aquitted him of any and all wrong-doing.)

Fortunately, little of the novel remains in the screenplay, except the basic premise of a former film actor making a comeback on television, years after a bloody scandal. The script turns Toombs into a more sympathetic character, with whom the audience identifies even while uncertain of his guilt. Also added were the murders inspired by the Dr. Death movies – which lead us to suspect Toombes, even though we guess that someone may be setting him up. Unfortunately, the film feels a bit like a last gasp attempt to capitalize on the “Creative Deaths” formula used in Price’s previous efforts THE ABOMIMABLE DR. PHIBES, DR PHIBES RISES AGAIN, and THEATRE OF BLOOD, lacking the wit and imagination of those films.
Price had been working for American International Pictures since THE HOUSE OF USHER in 1960, but he had grown unhappy churning out low-budget, unimaginative horror films. “My contract had finished and I hoped it would be my last,” he told Cinefantastique for the career retrospective that ran in the January 1989 issues (Volume 19, No 2).
Actor Robert Quarry, who had co-starred with Price on the far superior DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN, was being groomed to replace the horror star after this film – a strategy that never came to fruition. He recalled that MADHOUSE was ill-fated from the start, thanks to Price’s shaky status at American International Pictures after year’s of contract disputes.
“What could we do?” Quarry asks rhetorically. “It ws Vincent’s last movie with AIP. His contract was up. We never got a script until Sunday morning, and we were to start shooting the next day. That gave us no time to bitch and scream. They knew if they’d sent it to us two weeks before, we’d have called them up and said, ‘Hey, work this over – it’s terrible!’ So they were very smart there.
“Jim Clark may have been a good film editor, but he was ill-prepared to direct a movie – he was just gonna shoot what was there,” Quarry continues. “So I would change the dialogue around so it was speakable and then leave the last line, the cue line, in. They never knew what hit them: when I finished talking and gave the cue line, the other actor spoke. About the second day, I told Vincent I had made some changes, so I wouldn’t have to speak this shit. He said, ‘God, help me with my stuff – could you rewrite some of this?’ I was flattered that Vincent trusted me enought to let me rewrite some of the scenes. I couldn’t change the scenes, but at least we put a little edge on some of them. That was probably the only serious work we did together, trying to find ways to do this dreadful movie.”
At the time of filming, Prices was in the process of breaking up with his second wife, who remained in the States with their daughter, while he was on the set in England (where all of Price’s later horror films were shot, for budgetary reasons). Quarry recalls that Price played fast and loose with his expense account.
“Vincent told me, in case anybody asked if Victoria and Mary were there, I was to say yes, because he wrote it in on his expenses. All that expense money for two weeks: first class air fare, food. I said, ‘Oh, I love it, I love it. Can’t you get anybody else on there?’ After all, he made a great deal of money for AIP. He was their only superstar. And they should have been damn grateful to him, and they should have paid him more money. Frankly, anything he could steal out of that studio – I said, ‘Baby, steal!‘”
When completed, MADHOUSE was barely released and never found much of an audience. Tentative plans for another Price vehicle at AIP, THE NAKED EYE, were dropped. It was the end of an era. Although Price would continue to remain busy as an actor, never again would he dominate the screen as the King of Horror. Partly this was due to the blockbuster success of THE EXORCIST: the lavish, major-studio production ushered in a new brand of horror, which helped contribute to the downfall of genre-friendly companies like Hammer Films, Amicus, and AIP, whose modestly budgeted efforts seemed low-key and quaint by comparison.
Viewed today, MADHOUSE is fun for fans, despite its flaws, and it does hold a place of some historical importance as Price’s last starring role in a horror film designed specifically as a vehicle for his talents. The film is available on DVD as part of MGM’s Midnight Movies Double Features, packaged with the far more enjoyable THEATRE OF BLOOD. The bare-bones presentation offers good transfers of both films but no bonus features except for trailers.


The credits for MADHOUSE somewhat misleadingly include the names of horror stars Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone, both of whom died long before MADHOUSE was filmed. They appear only in clips from films in which one or both of them co-starred with Price, THE RAVEN (1963) and TALES OF TERROR (1962).
MADHOUSE (American International Pictures and Amicus Films, 1974). Directed by Jim Clark. Screenplay by Ken Levison, Greg Morrison, based on the novel Devilday by Angus Hall. Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Robert Quarry, Adrienne Corri, Linda Hayden, Natasha Pyne.