When I was eight years old I saw a book called the Hamlyn book of Horror Films by Alan Frank: it was startling, full of creepy, dark and bloody images of severed heads, eyeless faces and twisted ghouls lunging, and at £2.95, the best use of birthday money ever. It was also hugely educational, as the book taught me left from right, Richard Scarry having previously failed me.
Until that point I had no idea which was which, but I did know the difference from Lon Chaney Jr as the Man Made Monster and Boris Karloff in The Black Cat, so by following the captions, I soon knew which foot was which. The next month I had saved up enough for Denis Giffordís Pictorial History of the Horror Movie, and so my education continued and my collection of odd fanzines and bubble gum cards grew.
With gifts of found sheep and fox skulls and glow in the dark phantoms, it wasnít long before my sisters were quite certain I would become some kind of mass murderer, a route I havenít yet taken, but should all other paths to respect fail me, then watch out for my drains blocking and the discovery of a mossy wedding ring in my grate. The only problem was, I still hadnít actually seen a horror movie. I failed to successfully conceal myself behind the sofa in the hope of peeking The Quatermass Experiment (one of the few youthful excursions of hiding behind a sofa in the hope of seeing horror rather than recoiling from it) and Vincent Priceís Pit and the Pendulum was deemed far to horrifying to allow a nine year old stay up later than nine for (though I had been allowed to stay up until ten to see Patton: Lust for Glory).
The images in these books remained my sole experience of these chillers, the only trouble being that these were snap shots of the finest moments, so my mind imagined that each film would be jam-packed with such images.
By the time I experienced my first Hammer horror film (The Abominable Snowman), I was surprised at quite how prissily English and quaint it all was. Mind you, when Hans Verhoeven allowed my twelve year old self to watch Scanners, I reveled in the gore and seemed unaffected until I walked back home in the dark. I didnít imagine people concentrating on my head until gunky explosion, but I do remain quaking.
There are still films whose photograph I have seen, but whose moving images I have not experienced, and each time I come across them, I purchase them, slip them into the DVD player, and after my twenty six year wait, I wait to see the pandoraís box of shameful images I imagined as a child unfold before my eyes. They seldom do. Only recently I got the chance to watch a selection of those Daily Mail outrages, the video nasty, and was quite surprised to discover that they are just poorly made exercises with Z-grade actors revealing sheep offal from under their shirts plus occasional eye grazing. I so hoped they were darkly lit offences to humanity and worthy of all that time and venom the morally-correct gave them (they must find the right subjects for their anger one day, but for the time being we must allow them to foam at an image of a man called Abdul who might be stealing their wife and giro or farmland).
Cry of the Banshee was a film from AIP, the company that brought you Michael Landonís career, Teenage Cavemen and the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations starring Vincent Price (though frequently it was little more than theft of a story title and the occasional rhyming couplet). Cry of the Banshee would be the last of the Vincent Price/AIP collaborations that would even hint at any link to Poe (there is a brief poem excerpt pre-titles) and is yet another film I have waited nearly three decades to see that has turned out to be a bit rubbish, despite the appearance of Patrick Mower - '70s hunk and now Emmerdale regular:
In the 16th century Britain is plagued by magistrates who believe Britain is plagued by witches, Vincent Price is such a man. But before we meet him, we must experience the highlight of the film, which is sadly the opening credit sequence designed by Terry Gilliam. Whether this sequence was ever meant to have any element of creeping fear or doom portents it is impossible to say as we are so familiar with Gilliamís style. Vincent Priceís head breaks out of a bud and grows as wob-eyed monsters bouncy around like rabid Chihuahuas, this cut and paste, pastel excellence suggests an originality within the film that vanishes as soon as Gilliamís last image fades.
We join Chinese cookery expert, art aficionado, motorway phobic and all round magnificent ham Vincent presiding over the trial of a skinny witch, a scowl adorning her face. She is none to keen to confess to any sorcery and so is branded, she is then dragged around the muddy 17th century streets being whipped until her nipples are apparent.
I say streets, but carefully budgeting allows us only to see the bit of one street and then enjoy imaging what the rest of the streets may have looked like. She is placed in the stocks at the end of the ordeal and shouted at in a gutteral and unconvincing way by a baying mob of hags and slobs.
Vincent returns home with his evil son to torture and kill gypsy folk, while his quietly mad wife goes to her room to be unpleasantly attended to by her stepson. Throughout the film, the tight laced corseting of almost every female under 40 is slowly torn open by sneering men so the excited audience get to glimpse yet another half nipple. Vincentís nice son returns home, he is educated, and therefore less sure about his relations desire to kill everyone that has a cat or has been seen mumbling to themselves on a moor. His daughter (Hilary Dwyer, who was tortured by Vincent in Witchfinder General) is also pleasant, but is engaged in carnality with Patrick Mower, a pleasant lad with a way with animals, suggesting to the priest he may have a touch of
the black arts about him.
Vincent and bad son kill some saucily dancing witchís children and are so cursed by her. One by one, the Magistrateís family are killed to death by a savage possessed beast. The last we see of Vincent is him being led away in his galloping carriage by the human face of the banshee, by heck, itís Patrick Mower.
Cry of the Banshee keeps promising the outrageous gore and nudity that would make it bearable, but keeps pulling back at the last minute for fear of offending the Bible belt. With Witchfinder General in the shops for a mere £5.99, it seems ludicrous to waste your time watching this, and even more ridiculous to buy it from America and pay import tax on it and hefty postage, but I did both. Oh well, at least Iíve still got Night of the Lepus to look forward to, I love a good killer rabbit on the loose flick.
And if you are a Patrick Mower horror movie fan, Bloodsuckers aka Incense of the Damned is also available for £5.99 in one of those rotating stands in newsagents. This is one of the worst British horror movies of the seventies and has some fine psychaedelic orgy scenes and a plot that makes no sense (Do not buy it off ebay on an American double bill package for £18 - like I did).