Saturday, March 22, 2014



I awoke this morning with a bad chest cold and my voice somewhere in the basso profundo range. This is an absolute disaster for a gifted vocalist such as myself, especially one with a concert to perform this coming Sunday. I have placed myself under temporary house arrest and in the hands of the all-wise Nurse Tameka. She blames my symptoms on hanging around drafty concert halls in states of semi-dress. I have ordered several pairs thermal fishnets to wear in West Virginia.

As I am feeling somewhat febrile and light headed, I am assiduously avoiding Norman, who catches cold easily. I had Tameka pour a large hot toddy with a generous helping of rum and hunkered down in the home theater. There is something restful about the Ottoman décor and all those throw pillows. My new laptop is at the ready for a day of movie watching and reportage. Things would be perfect if Norman didn’t keep yelling down the stairs for more Miracle-Gro. I've told him it won't make him any taller, but he keeps trying it anyway. I'm avoiding his summonses. Tameka can take care of anything required and she is often better at keeping him away from common household products than I am.

The first movie I caught during my channel surfing this morning was Berserk! , one of Joan Crawford's last starring vehicles and an entry in the 'hags and horror' cycle of movies made in the sixties, brought about by the success of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? some years earlier. In this low budget entry, Joan is a lady ringmaster and circus owner who wears jewel toned twin sets with matching elbow gloves and a large blonde brioche on her head. She has so much pancake make-up on, in an attempt to appear anything other than her actual age of sixty something, that she looks like an escapee from Lenin's Tomb. She is paired with Ty Hardin, who looks young enough to be her grandson and their love scenes are the scariest things in the flick.

Joan's circus, a small tent outfit that tours England’s provincial towns, is in financial trouble. That is until the opening credits sequence when her high wire artist's cable snaps and, in defiance of the laws of physics, wraps around his neck and hangs him in front of a horrified crowd. Sudden and gruesome death proves to be good for business so Joan takes advantage of the sudden capacity crowds and hires a new high wire artist (Hardin) who just happens to be Johnny on the spot. Soon there are more grotesque deaths, some from failed circus acts, some more direct. Business booms but the circus folk are certain there is a psycho killer on the loose and Scotland Yard comes to investigate (represented by Robert Hardy). In the meantime, in scenes reminiscent of both Mildred Pierce and Mommy Dearest , Joan is having problems with her wayward adolescent daughter (Judy Geeson).

The supporting cast contains a number of good British character actors (Michael Gough, Judy Geeson, Robert Hardy) who must have been desperate for a paycheck. Britain's answer to Mamie Van Doren, Diana Dors, also shows up as Crawford’s romantic rival (!) for Hardin's affections. She has little to do besides look pneumatic, and blonde and die horribly in a buzz saw accident. The film is a trifle and the actual necessary film time of this nearly two-hour film seems to be about an hour and a quarter. In between violent deaths and silly catfights, we are treated to endless sequences of circus acts that look like someone's home movies of Barnum and Bailey circa 1955. Additional padding is provided by the sideshow freaks who, for no particular reason, burst into a complete, and badly looped, musical number late in the proceedings.

This is a definite must for those who can't get enough of such films as Trog Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte and all those others, which starred aging female cinema icons. Fans of current horror and slasher cinema will find it far too tame, although it does have a few suspenseful moments. The surprise ending, however, is badly handled.

Manciniesque circus music. Red riding hood capes. Poodle dancing. Elephant anklets. Death by rotating circular saw. Gratuitous bearded lady. Savile row suits. Punishment by God. Gratuitous starchy British school marm.

No comments:

Post a Comment