Frankensteinia, the Frankenstein Blog, is hosting one of the most impressive and important blogathons that have been made in the past few years: one that acknowledges the birth, existence and work of one of the best actors of all time: Peter Cushing, someone who always took a role as seriously as a human being could, no matter how silly or bad the film ended up being, he always gave it the gravity of a shakespearean performance, and that we should all admire and see in the upcoming years. So, I invite all of you to post your reviews or recollections on Peter Cushing films or career all through the 25 to the 31st of May 2013. In the meantime, here’s my grain of salt.
Cushing’s face appears at the halfway mark of this Amicus horror film and it’s still one of the few reasons as to why this company is so well known and why this particular movie is still memorable in some way or another. He instills life and soul to a movie so desperately needed something to clinge on, some kind of relief of all the nothingness and aimless wandering and talking that was going on, but, of course, I’m talking before addressing some other more important issues (like what was the nothingness and aimlessness that Cushing manages to somewhat stop), but of course, I had to start with Cushing, after all, he is still the best part of the film (the way he says “sexual relations with demons” is just delicious and in such a serious tone that it’s hilarious at the same time) and the reason to write a review of this film.
How much a film that is set in a victorian era can accomplish and get away with by only having it be placed in that era is incredible, it can have a precious art direction and at the same time have a slow pace, and even be boring, and it would all be justified by the era in which it takes place! We start to see the costumes and we can already start to relax our muscles, as if we were ready to take a nap… hell, a movie with that kind of setting can even go further into the past, to try to explain what is going on with the creatures or hauntings that are taking place in the classic wealthy manor in which these movies usually take place: places with secrets and obscure pasts that lurk around at every corner, there’s nothing more clear here than a ghost that is a metaphor of social justice and of new times that are coming around, specially for a movie about a raping ghost.
Well, as you might notice this isn’t a particularly good film, but it is somewhat enjoyable for certain tidbits and actors that appear here and there to leave their mark (as well as a floating killing severed hand), which brings it up quite a lot compared to other more forgettable pictures, in fact, I’ve seen this movie two times already and I have no idea why, there’s nothing that obliges me to come back in some certain way or fashion (not like with the Phibes films, that after a lukewarm reaction I’m more and more fond of each day that passes), there is just a dream-like quality that is brought up due to a strange (almost BBC-like) cinematography and pace, with all the period adornments and language, as well as all the classism that finally determines the reasons for the horror to appear. The movie has a level (a layer) of interest but it’s not deep enough for it to be remembered among the greats of the genre. Nevertheless, here we are, talking about it, in 2013, 40 years after it premiered.
Amicus knew what people were watching… people were watching Hammer films, and since they didn’t have access to the classic horror tales of Dracula and Frankenstein (among others) they went out for other original or more obscure material for their horror victorian (or not) films. This one uses the ghost genre to the best level, with a story about a newlywed couple, the groom being the heir of an old manor whose ancestors are the masters of the land that sorround them, and the bride who is a virgin and who quickly stops being so when she finds herself involved in some kind of sexual act with a ghost of a single-handed individual who looks a lot like the woodcutter who lives in the land of the castle. There’s a secret, unveiled thanks to the presence of Peter Cushing, who makes the main character speak and enter a long flashback in which rape and old customs are the law.
Peter Cushing’s performance isn’t particularly exceptional, but he always brings up that energy that is inside him, some kind of ulterior wisdom that turns him into the lovable know-it-all that we all wish to meet one day, the investigative fellow, the same force that accompanies his performances as Sherlock Holmes, in this one, as a medical doctor, he tries to discover what is going on with the bride’s body when we all know that she has a ghost baby. Cushing is a force to be reckon with, the film would be completely stale without his presence, he advances the plot, he manages to understand what’s going on, he is the one who ends the freaking film with those final movements of the baby in between his hands, he is the one who makes it live today, and at the end of the day… we should be grateful, specially towards Cushing, because this film isn’t that bad, specially if you can watch it two times and still find things to say about it.
Amicus would go and make more films, but better ones? Maybe yes, maybe not (not that I’ve actually seen, really) but with Peter Cushing under their sleeve they always had a hit. They were intelligent and they respected him, they gave him the most important and/or memorable characters, and this is not the exception.