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One of the oddest horror films you'll ever see...
on 18 July 2013
This 1970 British horror film was reportedly greatly admired by Fritz Lang. This is worth noting, as hardly anyone else seemed to like it, back in the day. One can see why - it's extremely nasty, nastier in its implications than in its details, and they're gruesome enough; it hardly bothers to explain itself, plot-wise; it seems to move around from one storyline to another, more or less at will, without resolving anything; it gives us nobody we can actively like, and the only person who can draw our sympathy is a man whose identity we never learn, and who exists in the film merely to be the victim of abominable cruelties; and it doesn't even have a central character. What, you say, how can that be true when the three greatest horror stars of that era are all in it? Therein lies the rub; it advertises Messrs. Price, Lee and Cushing as its stars, and they're not. From that angle, the film is a monumental swiz. It's a bit like those terrible Universal horror films of the war years - "House of Frankenstein" or the interchangeable "House Of Dracula" - which piled in all the monsters who'd made the studio fortunes in days gone by, and then kept them apart inside the film itself, so that we had a bit of plot with the Creature and a bit more plot with the Wolf Man and then a bit more plot with the Count, and by the end, we realised we'd been dunned by the advertising, and there was nothing to the actual movie. Here, Price and Lee occupy separate plot-strands which finally come together (well, sort of...) right at the end, when they share one very brief scene together; Cushing has nothing to do with either one, and has only one scene, maybe two or three minutes of screen-time. If you put all the footage involving the three actors together, it would only come to about a quarter of an hour in a film of an hour and a half. Outrageous! Well, yes, but then, the whole film is outrageous. You will likely scratch your head, muttering "What the hell is going on?" in a hurt tone, on several occasions throughout its running time. But it does make a kind of emotional sense, and the deliberate failure of the dialogue to make the plotline ever quite concrete eventually comes to seem a very cunning move on the part of screenwriter Christopher Wicking. The fact that we're never quite sure whether or not Price and Lee are playing actual human beings is very unsettling, and the political undertones of the film - the ghastly Eastern European (or wherever) police state in which Cushing briefly operates is not so very different from the secret Britain of the main action - are very subversive, indeed, very Fritz Langian. The inventor of Dr. Mabuse would appreciate the rampant, runaway paranoia of this shameless film. It's a pity it wasn't directed with something like Fritz Lang's subtlety and stylishness, it's a pity the budget wasn't larger, and one can quite understand how something so unapologetically peculiar (and gory) would alienate a great many thoroughly intelligent people. But it has got something - it stays in your mind, and, in the era of cyber-spying, it still seems rather modern.