Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '76 - Mark Hodgson ""

Friday, July 15, 2016

Underrated '76 - Mark Hodgson

A movie-goer since 1966, Mark Hodgson is a Twitter addict and hoarder of movie ephemera, he works in an independent TV post-production house in London.
1976 was a very special year for me - my first trips to the cinema sneaking underage into X certificate movies (this is England's ‘X’, not the US one). The UK usually got American films many months later than their original releases, so my early horror film experiences that year were Squirm, Shivers, Carrie, The Omen and Death Race 2000. Of course, with a start like that, it's still my favourite movie decade. I think all of the above are now better appreciated, so here are my underdogs...

Hammer Films' last horror film (for nearly forty years) starred Christopher Lee, naturally, but in a very different light. The studio had earlier dabbled in satanism with their adaption of The Devil Rides Out (1968), also based on a Dennis Wheatley novel. But that had been set in the 1930s, while this was updated to a gritty modern setting, looking not unlike The Omen released the same year. An almost documentary style of cinematography, helped by mostly location shoots, presumably influenced by The Exorcist, this doesn't resemble any other Hammer film. Rather than the usual costume drama gothic and busty teasing, here the horror is realistically repellant and the sex central to the plot. The nudity is almost as explicit as Last Tango In Paris. Richard Widmark stars as the investigator chasing down the satanists, his seriousness adding to the believability of the events, at least while you're watching. The film wasn't a hit, which many still assume makes the film a failure, and the grim tone makes it less likely to be a favourite of Hammer horror fans. But there's plenty here for admirers of a decade that dared to be unusual.

SURVIVE! (aka Supervivientes De Los Andes)
A straightforward dramatisation of the infamous true story of a 1972 plane crash in the Andes. Stranded hundreds of miles from anywhere while search and rescue didn't realise the flight had been off course, the survivors soon run out of food - the only source of nutrition left to them are the bodies of the crash victims... The case grabbed the headlines and accounts became bestsellers. Mexican exploitation producer Rene Cardona seemed unlikely to treat the subject sensitively, but does an excellent job of sticking to the facts. Less manipulative than the, gulp, Ethan Hawke remake, Alive (1993), Survive! got a bad taste reputation after an extremely exploitative advertising campaign (from the US distributors Alan Carr and Robert Stigwood), which made it look worse than The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (which incidentally had yet to be released in England).

DEATH WEEKEND (aka The House By The Lake)
This Canadian thriller could easily have inspired I Spit on Your Grave, but pushes feminism far more subtly than a woman waving an axe. While the local creeps are the obvious bad guys, Brenda Vaccaro's boyfriend is also far from perfect. There's a hint of controversial chemistry between her and gang leader Don Stroud, but not nearly as problematic as Straw Dogs. Meaning that I watch Death Weekend more than Peckinpah's film. Death Weekend qualifies as an early home invasion movie, as well as survival horror. Pity that it's still not on DVD.

WOULD YOU KILL A CHILD? (aka Quien Puede Matar A Un Nino?, Who Can Kill A Child?, Death Is Child's Play, Island of the Damned)
Two tourists trapped on an island both geographically and ethically by killer kids. For me, the recent remake Come Out And Play (2012) strangely held none of the power of this original, written and directed by Narciso Ibanez Serrador, who gave us the powerful but completely different horror film La Residencia. The UK poster scared me off the film - the premise seemed too nasty, so I was eventually surprised at the masterly, suspenseful slow burn and delicate treatment of this cinematic taboo. But while it's not the bloodbath I feared, the title sequence is an impossible-to-watch mondo news footage montage of crimes against children - setting up the children's revenge on adults using similar logic to Hitchcock's trailer for The Birds. It's a Spanish film, but the tourists are played by English actors, so it was filmed English-language. It belatedly reached DVD in America in 2007.

I failed to catch this in 1976, presumably because it only snuck out in cinemas for one week. Can't believe I'd not go and see a Brian De Palma film after my instant worship of Phantom of the Paradise and Carrie (1976). Unappreciated then and now, it's his most Hitchcockian movie, a tricksy homage to Vertigo full of outrageous visual flourishes. Considering Vertigo was yet to be critically acclaimed, it was a brave choice of inspiration, but it's a superbly crafted movie. Stars Cliff Robertson, Genevieve Bujold and early De Palma favourite John Lithgow. Script by Paul Schrader, heartbreaking lush music by Bernard Herrmann, location filming in Florence and New Orleans. What more incentive do you need?

No comments: