Sunday, 1 April 2018

Doctor, what…? Doomwatch (1972)

Pollution, industrial waste, the ecology, even global warming… none of these things are new and there were plenty of programmes in the 1970s that dealt with what were then emerging concerns. There was an episode of Jon Pertwee’s Dr Who series, The Green Slime (“the one with the maggots”) in which the impact of waste was shown to have potentially lethal implications for the environment in general and Man in particular so much so that his assistant Jo (the eternally ace Katy Manning) leaves in the end to go on an environmental mission with her new fella to the Amazon.

Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis had both worked on Doctor Who having co-created the Cybermen and other science-horrors (they were both scientists too) and were to become the writers on the TV series of Doomwatch which ran for 24 episodes in the early 70’s.  This film was aimed at transferring that success on-screen and was based on elements of the series.

Directed by Peter Sasdy and with Clive Exton re-working the TV scripts, it featured familiar themes of pending environmental disaster and the shame of it was and is, that their sci-fi is fast becoming our reality…

Doomwatch is a British ecological watchdog group whose mission statement kind of speaks for itself: the big hand is ticking towards midnight and scientists need to provide as much early warning to a wilfully deaf establishment.

Doctor Del Shaw (the always-excellent Ian Bannen) is an investigator sent to the remote island of Balfe to investigate the effects of a recent oil tanker spill. There’s something sinister on the island, people are more than usually untrusting of strangers and are positively grumpy about questions and helping with enquiries, from PC Hartwell (Percy Herbert) to the priest (Joseph O'Conor) all give Doctor Del the bird and with desperate menace too.

Ian Bannen
The one bright spark is the attractive blonde improbably teaching at the village school, Victoria Brown (Judy Geeson) who is also staying at the only guest-house in the community. Naturally, as the only two outsiders, she and Del are drawn together without ever actually… you know… but they could. But like the others, Victoria is guarded even though she can see that Del is only a scientist trying to help.

But Balfe, stands alone and want to keep its secrets mostly because it feels it is being punished… Del starts his investigations, overlooked as he takes sample on the beach and in the midst of a fight in the pub over still unspoken tensions.

Del reports back to HQ, TV series regulars Dr Spencer Quist (John Paul) and Dr Fay Chantry (Jean Trend) are there along with Simon Oates as Dr John Ridge, clearly the man for action sequences later in the film.

Judy Geeson
As it becomes clear that the waters surrounding an island have been contaminated by chemical dumping, so too is the impact on the people who eat fish caught in those waters. It has not only changed behaviours but also physiology and, seeing this as God’s punishment, the community try to protect their own and to drive strangers away.

As strange split evolves in the action, with Del’s remarkably quick trips back to base mixed in with often tense encounters with the desperate folk on the supposedly remote island. You can’t really have both – he could escape/call for help anytime… but it doesn’t really matter as the plot is moved along.
The team dive and find illegally dumped barrels of waste in a Royal Naval zone and following the trail from the disbelieving Admiralty establish a private company has been in charge of this… See, even in 1972, public sector responsibility, handed over to private business undermines the whole process…

Dusty verdict: Doomwatch was a good series that – actually – wasn’t even ahead of its time: it was spot on then and sadly part of a movement that failed to gather enough momentum over the next half century.  Changes have been made and two-generations later, we are far more concerned with pollution and whether or not it is just too late…

The film has good performances from a strong cast – notably Geeson and Bannen. The Villagers are great too with everyone from Shelagh Fraser as Mrs. Betty Straker, Norman Bird as Brewer, the conflicted copper and even a young James Cosmo (Game of Thrones and so many more!) as Bob a local fisherman.

You also get George Sanders as an Admiral and Geoffrey Keen as irresponsible industrialist Sir Henry Leyton… as well as great location work at Polkerris, Cornwall and even Battersea Heliport in London.

It starts off like a hammer horror but there’s no mass slaughter just a tragic secret which, optimistically, the Doomwatch team tries to solve and help. Let’s hope that attitude hasn’t been lost.

Doomwatch can be purchased from Amazon and other retailers and most of the TV series is also available. The Truth is out there…


Saturday, 24 February 2018

What a carry on… Behind Locked Doors (1968)

The central premise of this film is the notion that scientific “research” could be conflated with the infantile sexual fantasies. The mad “scientist” at the heart of things wants to “experiment” on young women by having forced intercourse and, if they fail to meet his rather vague criteria, he has them frozen solid using some process that is actually less plausible than Kenneth Williams’ turning Joan Simms into a living showroom dummy in Carry on Screaming. The ending was also marginally less convincing than the British comedy and I did cry out “frying tonight” just for the heck of it…

Of course, Carry on… aimed to titillate through suggestion more than specifics and that’s where these films diverge. Like so many films of this period, the narrative feels like an excuse to set up some pervy happenings but at least, unlike some others, this film does contain some acting from actual actors.

 We begin at a disco party with the crease of corduroy and the static spark of woolly jumpers rubbing against nylon slacks in a remote countryside barn. There are lots of groovy guys and chicks with little inhibition raving the day away free from the censorious attentions of authority. But freedom comes at a price and one girl, a raven-haired beauty (natch) called Ann (Eve Reeves) is taken upstairs by a guy who proceeds to try and take things too far… He’s chased off by a middle-aged man who has been lurking… he is Dr Bradley (Daniel Garth) and the peak he sneaks at Ann as she gets dressed show he’s far from innocent, but he seems amiable enough

Back in the dance Ann and her pretty pal Terry (Joyce Danner) talk to the Doctor and, apart from looking like a younger version of Henry Kissinger – surely they notice that? – he leaves them with a good impression. When the two try to drive off in Ann’s car though it’s inexplicably non-functional and the Doc pops up to suggest that they could, er, stay at his place until the motor is fixed. The girls hike up to a very Scooby-Dooby mansion and accept tea with the Doc and his totally non-sinister sister Ida (Irene Lawrence).

Raven-haired Eve Reeves
They’re shown to their room, clearly unaware of the audience pleading for them to just run away but, by the time they find bars on the windows and their door locked… it’s far too late. A glimpse in the wardrobe reveals dozens of mod dresses… there’s a feeling that they’re not the first to stay at the house.

They are reassured by Ida… the door’s locked just because and well, all will be fine in the morning. This takes the pressure off enough for some good old-fashioned Sapphic sexual tension as Terry (ah, boy’s name…) casts meaningful glances at Eve’s pert body and holds her just that little bit tighter than a friend might. The two climb into bed and Terry takes her chances only to be gently rebuffed and, lie in back in frustration she shockingly, perhaps, has to console herself…

Terry holds on...
The girls try and escape but it’s all part of the game and whilst Terry is tied up in the experimentation room, the Doctor explains his cunning and rigorously-scientific discipline. He shows her compromising pictures of young women he has taken, all to be used to guarantee their silence after his procedures in which he attempts to find the perfect mate for his seriously-imperfect body and mind.

Then Evil Ida shows Ann a room in which tied-up Terry is forced to not only have sex with a man but an ‘orrible, creepy one… Seems the Doc’s procedure is just an excuse because, I can’t for the life of me see how this is science? After her ordeal, she and Ann explore escape routes only to find a cellar full of young women apparently frozen alive – trophies for the mad Doctor with their brutish handyman (Ivan Agar) worshiping one brunette. Terry makes a run for it and is chased down – Lurch is faster than he looks!

The doc gets agitated...
Then it’s Ann’s turn for the “treatment” and, bizarrely, this is played as a soft porn scene with the focus firmly on the actress of course… the Doc must be using some powerful hallucinogens.

Can the girl’s escape his evil clutches, will Lurch ever get to marry his beautiful brunette statue, what’s in all this for Ida, have the Doc and Henry Kissenger ever been seen in the same room and will Terry get to keep her splendid woollen jumper?!

Dusty Verdict: Behind Locked Doors is slightly frumpy sexploitation but has atmosphere and some genuine tension. This is helped by the performance of Joyce Danner in particular, she’s animated and eloquent with lines that would challenge many a Shakespearian and we share her revulsion with men on the evidence of this story. Eve Reeves is the less confidently-expressive although she also makes for a likeable heroine – innocent and less self-aware than her friend. You root for their escape when faced with Daniel Garth’s – literally – oily “Doctor” and his wonderfully wicked sister – well played by Irene Lawrence who lurks with marvellous malevolence!

The ending is predictably illogical and provides the poetic justice the story requires… it’s a bit of a bubble-gum psych fairytale and as Terry chats up a pretty girl at the next barn disco, Ann walks off to the fields with a darkly sexy dude… it’s been a coming of age experience for both. Nice enough if you can brush off the sexual assault, kidnap, torture, and the rest that is.

Charles Romine directs well with obviously limited resources and there is some solidly professional cinematography from Victor Petrashevic making the most of the locations and human resources…

It was produced by Stanley H. Brassloff   - who co-wrote with Charles Romine – who has some renown for this kind of work… it’s a guilty pleasure but if you suspend disbelief and moral judgement (everyone got paid?) if you like this sort of thing you’ll probably like Behind Locked Doors.

The film is available on DVD from all good online retailers but at "collectable" prices.