Let's face it. Brad rules. Here is one of the many reasons
Somehow I had never watched a film by British horror director Norman J. Warren. I had it in my head that his films were cheap and honestly not that good. Being a fella that enjoys a good theme and a good moviethon, Elizabeth and I decided to give him a shot. Here's a shocker: I was wrong. Minor (not much) spoilers ahead.
Satan's Slave 1976
Warren had made a couple of successful sex comedies and when time came to make a third he decided that he didn't want to be known as a sexploitation director. So he spent several years putting together financing for his debut horror film Satan's Slave (A.K.A. Evil Heritage, I like the title Satan's Slave much better.) Armed with a script from Pete Walker mainstay David McGillivray (writer of House Of Whipcord, The Confessional, and Schizo) and starring Michael Gough, Satan's Slave is a charming little film. In fact that is one of the things that several of Warren's films have going for them: charm. I've mentioned before that if you had a British horror coin in the 70's (sans Hammer and Amicus) with Pete Walker on one side Warren would be on the other. Where Pete's films are maybe a little more professional in the budget department Warren compensates with ingenuity and enthusiasm. The story here, of a young woman named Catherine who may be the reincarnation of a ancient witch who goes to stay with her possibly head of a Satanic cult uncle, who may be trying to fully revive said ancient witch in her body, is nothing new. But it is all carried out quite nicely in widescreen with great practical gore effects, a restrained performance from Gough, and a very nice set piece in the form of a country estate. The gore scenes are nicely paced with the rest of the film so that when they appear they really pop. I watched this from one of Mill Creek's trusty public domain horror packs and it is is in widescreen. There is a new DVD coming from Scorpion Releasing with extra features that is supposed to be uncut for the first time ever. As we will see later with Terror, Scorpion does a fantastic job with their releases so I will definitely be picking up Satan's Slave from them.
See Richard's review here.
Next Warren had a chance to utilize a professional, top notch film crew that was in between productions, provided that he worked very quickly. So in 10 days he filmed Prey (Alien Prey in the U.S.) Prey is the story of an alien that lands on Earth, kills a pair of young lovers, takes the form of the man and infiltrates the lives of a lesbian couple that live nearby. Usually when a film is written as they go you can tell it but this isn't the case with Prey as nothing seems out of sync or like it doesn't belong. Starring Barry Stokes (of the excellent Spanish giallo/proto slasher The Corruption Of Chris Miller) as the alien and Sally Falkner (Vampyres) and Glory Annen (Felicity, the erotic film not the t.v. Show) as the lesbians. It is really quite fitting that Sally Falkner was also in Vampyres because to me, Prey plays out very much like a Larraz film from this period. Sex, danger, and death in a British country manor and in places, it is reminiscent of Larraz' fantastic film Symptoms. You know, plus an alien werewolf.
Listen to Hello! This Is The Doomed Show's episode of Symptoms here
After Prey, Warren saw Suspiria. And unlike the rest of us he did something about it. The story goes that Warren and his cohorts made a list of some of their favorite scenes/situations from horror films and turned that list over to David McGillivray to make a script of it. Meanwhile Warren and his director of photography Les Young set about to make it with Suspiria in mind. And we know what that means. Gore, interesting camera setups and gel lighting! ( And for those less charitable folks a script that exists primarily to get us from set piece to set piece.) The film begins with a flashback to a witch putting a curse on those who are burning her at the stake. Except it's not a flashback at all it's a film that has just been finished and we are watching it at the wrap party. The director James (John Nolan) and his cousin Ann (Carolyn Courage) soon find out that the curse is very real as folks start dropping in brutal ways. There are some nice stalking scenes, a sweet little “girl's car strands her at a deserted cottage in the rain sequence with Chewbacca,' a film studio attacking a man and killing him in a very Argentoesque manner. In fact according to the documentary on the new Scorpion Releasing disc, Warren says that he got word that Argento himself saw the film, enjoyed it, and took an idea or two for Tenebre. High praise indeed. Terror hit me in all the right places. It even has Chewbacca.
See Richard's review on Terror here
And listen to our podcast episode on Terror here.
The long and short of it is that Inseminoid (A.K.A. Horror Planet) is Warren's Alien ripoff. It's low budget and it shows but there is really no pretense here. A group of archaeologists run into some trouble when one of their own is impregnated with an alien baby, goes insane, and starts murdering everyone. There is a good performance from Judy Geeson (A Candle For The Devil, Hammer's Fear In The Night) as the crazy pregnant person killing everyone, an okay performance from Stephanie Beacham (who after appearing in films from Hammer, Amicus, and Pete Walker, may have just been completing the set) and everyone else is okay to bad. Bad being Jennifer Ashley's performance as the leader of the archaeologists. She has some spectacularly bad line readings. This film out of the bunch seems to be a less personal than the rest. I mean, I enjoyed it despite it's flaws (mostly budgetary I think) with it's Alienish plot and perhaps a dash of Cronenberg's body horror thrown in but it didn't grab me like the other ones.
Bloody New Year 1987
Here we are at Mr. Warren's last full length horror film and folks it is a doozy. A group of kids get into it with some thugs at a carnival and escape in a boat only to crash land on a haunted island. And that's all I'm saying in regards to the plot. What I will say is that the special effects are crazy inventive for a low budget horror film. One in particular, which I won't spoil, is breathtaking. Once again despite the low budget, you get the feeling that Norman J. Warren loves film and filmmaking. In fact I thought of Paul Naschy while watching them because you get a sense that Warren was excited to be making films as a fan of the genre. That may be a stretch but it is the way it came across to me. It is a shame that his career ended here for the most part because Bloody New Year is a little gem of a mid 80's horror film. Think of a camp slasher mixed with The Shining and you have a starting point. Good stuff.
As usual Elizabeth and I ranked them:
2. Bloody New Year
4. Satan's Slave
2. Bloody New Year
3. Satan's Slave
Note on my list: Satan's Slave easily had the 2nd spot on my list til we got to Bloody New Year. It edged it out. And Inseminoid, despite my non glowing mention above, barely edged out Prey because of Judy Geeson's very intense performance.