A thrilling read, providing lip-smacking detail about screenplays, budgets, the on-set tantrums and the battles with the censor. Glorious stuff! -- Film Review, October 2005
If you're at all interested in the darker corners of the British film industry, here's a helpful searchlight. -- Crime Time magazine
The best ever single subject book in the field of British horror cinema. -- SFX magazine
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
"Exploitation: cash in on, develop, make capital out of, make use of, profit by, profit from, trade on, use, utilise, work on"
- Oxford University Press.
In 1960, Londons Soho was the recognised centre of the British film industry; all the Hollywood majors and those few British production companies which survived the Fifties jostled for space amongst the strip clubs and cafes in and around Wardour Street. As American dollars flooded into the capital, the back streets and alleyways of W1 became occupied by the offices of independent producers, most of whom were armed with little more than a desk and some lurid posters. These entrepreneurs were the foundation of the much-maligned British exploitation industry; their movies were cheaply made, nearly always contained gratuitous sex or horror, and frequently the only creative thing they had going for them was the poster. The term exploitation derives from the need for the films to focus attention on particular elements to the exclusion of everything else; typically a monster, a faded star or a well-endowed leading lady. Frequently all three! These films were sold indiscriminately and forgotten. Hardly the environment for the faint-hearted, and not too many producers lasted the course. However, one man not only survived but positively thrived. That man was of course Tony Tenser.
Tenser was singled out by Robert Murphy in the British Film Institute study Sixties British Cinema as, the most imaginative of the exploitation producers. Despite providing a platform for directors of the calibre of Michael Reeves, Roman Polanski and Robert Hartford-Davis, Tenser was never interested in the craft of filmmaking; rather his skill lay in setting up and selling films. Michael Armstrong, one of many young directors who got their break under Tenser recognised this: Tonys great love was the press conferences, the publicity and the selling side. He loved the publicity side, to him that was the film industry.
Throughout his remarkable career Tenser consistently demonstrated an inherent understanding of what the public would or wouldnt pay to go and see, or in some cases how films could be made to look like what the public would pay to go and see. Confident in his ability to market films, Tenser could drive a project from an idea on a page to a film on general release in a matter of months, and while these films may have been thrown together on the cheap they were always on the right side of respectability, just. I didnt make sex films, Tenser stresses, You can see more in the newspapers than you ever saw in my films. I didnt make sleaze, I was never a so-called sleaze merchant - I made exploitation films.
Unlike most of his contemporaries, Tenser never hesitated to plough his own money back into the company; he needed to be successful to ensure that he could make the next film. Again and again as one looks through Tensers back catalogue it is easy to understand his own simple assessment of his work; Id rather be ashamed of a film that was making money than proud of one that wasnt.
In choosing to study the films of a producer rather than those of a director or a writer, this book isnt really about subjects, styles or even genres; the movies are too diverse to be categorised that easily. The accumulated filmography of Tony Tenser contains some significant films by important filmmakers but it certainly doesnt reflect the development of British cinema. There is no common theme or style to Tony Tenser movies - they werent even all low budget. An out and out nudie flick, Naked - As Nature Intended, cost £5,000. A decade later Tenser made Hannie Caulder for over £600,000! Tensers filmography includes comedies, sex films, science-fiction, westerns and even a childrens film, Black Beauty - though true to form the critics lambasted it for being too violent - and of course, he made horror movies. Tony Tenser and his company, Tigon, remain synonymous with some of the most imaginative of the British horror movies, in particular those of Michael Reeves: The!
Sorcerers and Witchfinder General. But while Tenser was a fan of the genre and in particular Boris Karloff, he had never considered himself a horror filmmaker. It isnt even true to claim that Tensers motivation was always money, Miss Julie for example, a filmed adaptation of the Royal Shakespeare Companys Strindberg play was only one of the curious films to bear the Tigon marque.
Beasts in the Cellar is about films which were shamelessly commercial and frequently promoted and sold with more imagination than went into making them. These films have only one thing in common - they were produced by a remarkable man. In his definitive study of the British sex industry, Doing Rude Things, David McGillivray, a leading contributor to exploitation movies in his own right, made the statement; The reason that that the British industry is in the state that it is in today is because it has no-one like Tony Tenser to kick it up the backside. By the time you finish reading this book hopefully you will understand why McGillivray chose to single out Tenser for such attention.