Category: Cult Film


Early on in Deadlock, Roland Klick’s cult German Western, the marvellously named Charles Dump (Mario Adorf) finds the unconscious Kid (Marquard Bohm) lying unconscious on the side of the ride near to a metal suitcase.  Shortly before, we have seen Kid – face dirty and scorched by the sun (a malign presence in the film – the film’s most vicious character is named Sunshine), his arm bloody from a gunshot wound – staggering through the desert carrying the case.  On opening it, Dump finds it contains stolen money – no surprises there – and a jukebox record.  The money is ostensibly what Deadlock is all about – its three male antagonists appear to form and betray alliances with one another over it.  While it has a modern-day setting and its only Italian connection is one of its actors, Deadlock has Sergio Leone (and the Italian Western more generally) writ large upon it.  It’s a film of stare-outs, waiting for killers to arrive on trains, money (possibly) hidden in graveyards, a raincoat worn like a duster, desert heat and dust storms, double crosses and sadistic games.  It’s the type of film where cold-eyed killers bark ‘Where’s the money!’  But it’s also a film where a few moments later, the same killer insists that he doesn’t care about the money (and seems to actually mean it) – that it’s not about the money.  In some ways, it’s that record that tells us more about the film.  Firstly, because music is central to Deadlock’s enduring cult status – the soundtrack is by Can, comprising three tracks that appear on the ‘Soundtracks’ album (1970), and can also be played as extras on the German 451RedLine DVD of the film.  When the record is played on the (otherwise empty) jukebox, what we hear is Can’s ‘Tango Whiskeyman’ – several times in the course of the film.  As Kid plays the record repeatedly, his older partner Mr Sunshine (Anthony Dawson) suspects some kind of significance in it – ‘How long will this stupid game go on?’ he wonders.  During the climax of the film, the record sticks and perhaps reveals its real significance – these are characters in a locked groove, unable to escape or progress, fated to constantly return to the same point until death intervenes.  When Dump first finds Kid, he intends to kill him with a large rock.  He can’t go through with it and drives off.  He changes his mind and returns, clutching a monkey wrench to complete the task, but Kid (temporarily) gets the better of him.  Back at the almost deserted former mining town – population: three (Dump, what seems to be the local whore and her, and possibly his, daughter) – he keeps coming back to the matter of killing the weakened, wounded man.  He points a gun at him, then insists (seemingly to himself as much as anyone) that he will allow him to die from his bullet wound, prevents Jessy (Mascha Rabben) from removing the bullet (‘The bullet stays in!’) – and then finally does it himself.  At night, he clutches the stolen money as if in prayer, and sobs with self-loathing.

Three men play a series of deadly games over ill-gotten wealth – little wonder the film has been compared particularly with The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  Like Eastwood’s Blondie, Kid is ruthless up to a point but with some capacity for humanity (he wants to spare Dump and is protective towards Jessy) – both characters have their handsome features temporarily ruined by the brutal desert sun.  Mr Sunshine is the most like his counterpart, Van Cleef’s Angel Eyes – the sadistic older killer.  That leaves Dump as equivalent to Eli Wallach’s Tuco – an abject figure, a kind of Holy Fool.  But where Tuco is a quick-witted trickster – someone we like in spite of ourselves – Dump is a genuine all-out loser.  He isn’t a bandit but a low-level employee of the North American Mining Company – it isn’t clear what he actually does, although he boasts police powers.  Even his name is abject – seemingly both a reference to his living arrangements (he remarks that his bed stinks, at one point) and human waste (‘I’m a piece of shit!’ he declares whilst pleading for his life.)  As with Leone – and Peckinpah (another point of comparison one finds in some reviews) – this is an unremittingly masculine world (by which I mean, film.)  Jessy – beautiful but virtually mute and vacant-eyed, either mentally challenged or (as Dump seems to imply at one point) doped to the eyeballs – is passive and sexually available (‘She’ll do anything you want’, Dump boasts to Kid.)  But while Leone’s characters like to play their sadistic games – with nooses, with unmarked graves – they are more obviously and literally goal-oriented.  Deadlock is the kind of thriller that often prompts the word ‘existential’ – populated by uncommunicative violent individualists (and also men who unwisely talk too much) with a dawning realisation that they are engaged in a meaningless game in which every victory, including survival, is empty.  Take Point Blank, for example – another film about a man constantly demanding ‘his’ money – in which Walker’s (Lee Marvin) vendetta ever-diminishes into a series of mechanical acts of violence and the growing sense that he can’t fully remember why he started.

Mario Adorf gets the best role in the film, and he’s no stranger to such loser roles (in the films of Fernando di Leo, for example.)  In the English version, he gets the best deal with the dubbing, too – the gravelly line delivery is reminiscent of Jason Robards’ Cheyenne in Once Upon a Time in the West.  But it’s Anthony Dawson who’s the revelation – not because he’s never impressed as an actor but because he might not have struck anybody as the Lee Van Cleef type.  A reliable, and occasionally inspired, British character actor, Dawson is probably best remembered as either the hired killer that Grace Kelly gets the better of in Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder or as one of Dr No’s underlings Professor Dent, despatched in a particularly cold-blooded manner by 007.  He’s better still as the Marques Siniestro in Hammer’s  Curse of the Werewolf, a character who could easily have wandered in from a de Sade novel.  Here he’s grizzled, one eye nearly shut, sometimes seen striding through the desert like one of Leone’s hired killers, or waggling his fingers mockingly when Dump points a gun at him.  But ultimately even Sunshine isn’t entirely what he appears to be and so Dawson is called upon to do rather more than the more taciturn Van Cleef was generally required to.  With its spare narrative, striking performances and settings (a cowboy sign with an arm hanging loose that seems to mock Kid’s injury), and the obvious appeal of its soundtrack, it’s little wonder that Deadlock has a growing reputation as one of the best European Westerns.  It also makes you hear those Can tracks slightly differently, inevitably overshadowed on ‘Soundtracks’ by the mighty ‘Mother Sky’.  But if ‘Soundtracks’ ends with ‘She Brings the Rain’, once you’ve seen Deadlock, those first three tracks are likely to make you think of the sun – the burning, unremitting sun and its deadly namesake.

The 451RedLIne DVD features an excellent transfer (especially when upscaled) and German and English language tracks (no subtitles on the German track.)  Trailers are also available in both languages, but all other extras (bar the Can tracks) are in German only with no subs – a commentary by and interview with Roland Klick and an archive documentary about the casting of the female lead.

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This first blog entry originated in my ‘other life’ – as a paper at the Cine-Excess Conference at the ICA in 2008.  I don’t generally intend to include that kind of writing here, even though I’ll be blogging about the same kinds of things – movies, TV, comedy, comics etc.  Please note: subsequent entries will be shorter, too.  But there are two reasons why I’m releasing Linda Hayden from the ‘unpublished’ drawer (there’s a 70s exploitation film in there somewhere.)  Firstly, it never really found a proper home, partly because I didn’t want to footnote it to death and take some of the fun out of it in order to make it sound more ‘academic’.  Secondly, to merely report that I delivered it at Cine-Excess is only part of the story.  The day before I was due to give the paper, I was told that Linda Hayden would be in the audience and was very interested to hear what I was going to say about her.  Ok … so let me get this straight.  I’m giving a paper on Linda Hayden’s exploitation career, a career that includes at least one film that she seems rather touchy about (Expose – note the virtual absence of any real discussion of that below.)  Oh, and I’m focusing particularly on a film in which she plays an underage Lolita-type character (and was actually under 16 herself at the time.)  And she’s going to be in the audience?  No, no, that’s absolutely fine – no pressure, no stress.  Anyway, fortunately she really liked what you’re about to read – and being forewarned of her presence meant that I had a B/W still from Baby Love on hand for her to sign.  The whole experience did, however, leave me with the slightly unrealistic expectation that whenever I give a paper on a cult icon in the future, they will miraculously materialise in the audience, so I’m working on that Collinson Twins piece right now.

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When Linda Hayden was cast in Baby Love (1968), aged fifteen, the press referred to her as the ‘new Lolita’, comparing her with Sue Lyon, who’d been a similar age when she appeared in Kubrick’s adaptation.  While the film’s notoriety didn’t produce the major long term stardom that producer Michael Klinger had been grooming Hayden for, it did lead to an interesting, if characteristically (for British cinema) fractured and halting, career in horror (Taste the Blood of Dracula, Blood on Satan’s Claw, Madhouse), sexploitation (Confessions of a Window Cleaner/from a Holiday Camp, Let’s Get Laid) and a mixture of the two (Expose).  Her career and life connect to other cult figures like Klinger and actor Robin Askwith, with whom she had a fairly complicated relationship in the latter half of the 1970s (see his biography for one side of that story.)   While Hayden’s roles were varied, her early films exploit her youth and sexuality.  A new type of female character had emerged in 60s British cinema – Christine Geraghty calls her the ‘Darling girl’ (after Julie Christie’s film of the same name), unpredictable, liberated, pleasure seeking and manipulative.  In the heated imagination of British (s)exploitation, this produces Hayden’s more troubling persona – a psychotic, even demonic, child-adult, destroying the family (Baby Love, Taste the Blood of Dracula) or reassuring images of childhood (Satan’s Claw).  ‘Would you give a home to a girl like Luci?’ asked the poster for Baby Love, while a recent DVD featurette accompanying Blood on Satan’s Claw dubbed her ‘An Angel for Satan’.

There are two contexts for Hayden’s early persona.  Firstly, according to Christine Geraghty, the emergence of stars like Julie Christie can be linked to a sociological interest in young, sexually active, mainly middle class women in the 60s.  In studies like Michael Schofield’s The Sexual Behaviour of Young People, a key figure emerged – ‘the middle class, educated teenage girl who has a measure of control over her own pleasure and behaviour.’ This ‘new’ girl was ‘unpredictable, spontaneous, emotionally honest, sexually active’, even though movie versions tended to add a misogynist undercurrent – she could also be cold-hearted, capricious, irresponsible and shallow (like Christie in Darling and Judy Geeson in Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush.)  Secondly, in ‘An Angel for Satan’, Hayden refers to the period in which she emerged as ‘the sex nymphet era’.  A piece on Baby Love in Nova commented, ‘Lately the film industry as a whole seems to have a predilection for immaturity and inexperience as star qualities.’  While Carroll Baker’s performance in Baby Doll (1956) had established much of the thumb-sucking sexual iconography for the cinematic ‘nymphet’,  Lolita (1962) seems to have been a more direct influence on the late 60s cycle, perhaps because while Sue Lyon’s Lol was older than Nabokov’s, the actress was significantly younger than Baker had been.  Late 60s ‘nymphet’ movies include Age of Consent (1968), Candy (1968), and Twinky/Lola (1969.)  Some of the provincial British cinemas that screened Baby Love had shown Candy just weeks earlier.

Hayden’s career can be compared with that of another 60s/70s British star, Susan George – one could easily imagine them having each other’s careers (Hayden was actually auditioned for the Straw Dogs role.)  While George made exploitation films, too, including The Sorcerers (1967) and Die Screaming Marianne (1971), she made more of a transition into mainstream films, sufficiently so to have a Hollywood career. Three years older than Hayden, George can be seen as part of a minor trend where former child stars were starting to assume more conspicuously sexualised personas – Jenny Agutter, Hayley Mills.  Agutter and Mills still played nice girls, albeit with added nudity (virtually compulsory by the 70s), but George was a more provocative figure.   She played a nymphet role in Twinky, as the schoolgirl bride of porn writer Charles Bronson (I don’t know if this later made him more lenient towards paedophiles in Death Wish.)    Brian McFarlane refers to George’s ‘jailbait sexiness’ and ‘pouting sensuality’, and some of this adolescent sexuality carries into her adult roles like Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974.)  In her most famous film, Straw Dogs, she is still a kind of child-woman, precocious, spoilt and manipulative, sticking chewing gum on Dustin Hoffman’s blackboard when he doesn’t give her the attention she wants.  Hayden, too, carried a kind of extended adolescence into some of her adult roles – in Expose, according to Monthy Film Bulletin’s review, she ‘pouts evilly even while remaining innocently wide-eyed.’

Baby Love was adapted from the debut novel of Tina Chad Christian.  Its central character, Luci is raised in a northern industrial town by a single mother (Diana Dors), who commits suicide rather than succumb slowly to cancer.  Luci is taken in by one of her mother’s former lovers.  Robert (Keith Barron) is not her biological father, but she desires him as a father as well as a sexual conquest.  Robert is a wealthy Hampton Court doctor, but also a kind of cold-hearted Joe Lampton figure, marrying into money through his frustrated wife Amy (Ann Lynn) – he’s a northern social climber made good in affluent London.  Their awkward son, Nick, rounds out this complicated family romance.  Luci sets out to seduce each member of the family, and soon has Amy and Nick under her spell, while Robert is both attracted and appalled by her resemblance to her mother, whose destructive sexuality she seems to have inherited – she nearly kills Nick and rakes Robert’s face with a fork (in a detail left out of the film, he already has a facial scar from a similar attack by her mother.)  In the film, the dead mother is an almost supernatural presence who both ‘haunts’ and ‘possesses’ Luci – she is played (in a non-speaking part) by Diana Dors, invoking a dangerous sexuality from an earlier moment in British cinema.  Michael Klinger bought the rights to the novel before it had even been published.  He had stepped down as head of Compton films the previous year and started a new career as an independent producer with The Penthouse (1967), and Baby Love would be the debut film of his new company Avton Films.  As Klinger searched for his teenage star, he told the press, ‘the 15 year old girl must look like an innocent girl who underneath is a woman, as every man who looks at her will realise.’  She was also supposed to be northern, but Linda Higginson was a middle class stage-school girl from Middlesex – her father Hayden Higginson was chairman of Sperlings Motor Car Company.  She had played small parts on TV, but this would be her film debut and Klinger promoted her as a major discovery.  The press was largely more titillated than outraged by someone so young performing nude scenes on screen.   Watford Evening Echo’s subheadings were fairly representative – ‘Nude Scene’, ‘Sugar Daddies’, ‘Teenage Body’.  References to Lolita and Sue Lyon (and, less commonly, Carroll Baker) proliferated, but Nova reported that ‘She dreams of parts like Julie Christie’s in Darling as well as a Mercedes with an old English sheepdog as passenger.’  This also seems to have informed the persona Hayden projected in interviews – she preferred older men, but her career came before long-term relationships.  ‘Boys find it hard to understand that I put my career above everything else, and they get angry when I stand them up because some American producer has flown in or something’, she told the Watford Evening Echo. 

Hayden’s age would figure prominently in the promotion of the film. In the US trailer, she addressed the camera directly and announced, ‘I’m old enough to make it but not to see it.’  The press had made much of the fact that, at 15, she was not legally old enough to see the racy X certificate film she had made.  The British premier was scheduled to coincide with her 16th birthday, with the invitations taking the form of copies of her birth certificate.  If this ostensibly confirmed that she was now old enough to see it, it also reminded people once more of how young she had been when she was making it.  The extent of this short-term fascination with Hayden and what she might represent as an emerging star is reflected by a cartoon that appeared in Today’s Cinema on March 19th, 1969 – a schoolgirl with her face painted like Luci’s is told by her mother, ‘I don’t care how Linda Hayden looks – get your face washed.’

When we first encounter Luci, in a scene intercut with her mother’s suicide, she is putting on a show for her friends.  Adjusting the skirt of her school uniform to a shorter length, she French-kisses a boy of a similar age, surrounded by a crowd of enthralled schoolchildren.  According to the shooting script, the kiss is ‘very innocent and childish, the result of a dare.’  At this stage, she partially recalls another 60s female star, Rita Tushingham, characterised by her more gauche, childish appearance and behaviour.  When Luci moves to London, there is much play on her lack of sophistication, as she negotiates cutlery etiquette at the dinner table.  Her childishness – framed with dolls and cuddly toys – has not yet taken on the nymphet connotations that it will in a later scene, where she sucks the thumb of one hand while the other partially cups Amy’s breast. When Amy takes her shopping at a trendy boutique, Luci gets changed in the shop window to much consternation, her exhibitionism naïve rather than provocative.  Now armed in revealing Carnaby Street fashions, the next scene signals the transformation of Luci when she goes to the cinema with Nick, where she is felt up by a sleazy older man.    According to the shooting script, ‘Her eyes are dreamy and mocking.  For the first time we discover the woman.’  In some ways, this is a scenario familiar from both Swinging London and British sexploitation films – provincial girl transformed by permissive London.  When Luci realises that her sexuality gives her a power she otherwise lacks, she immediately becomes manipulative and destructive.  During a strange near-rape episode by the Thames, where Luci and Nick are menaced by what the script calls ‘four swinging ex-public school layabouts with more money than sense’, she regards the pursuit as a game, her mocking laughter intimidating her would-be attackers and infuriating Nick, humiliated by the boys, one of whom mouths the word ‘queer’.  Later, she uses the episode to manipulate Amy into resisting Robert’splan to send her to boarding school.

 

After such a high profile debut, Hammer films might not seem to be the place to go to raise her star power – certainly not by the late 60s when the tide was turning against them.  Nevertheless, Taste the Blood of Dracula (1969) is the most well-regarded, if not the most coherent, of the later Draculas – it suffers from an unresolved tension between its theme of generational conflict and the fact that a Dracula film’s gotta do what a Dracula film’s gotta do.  Hayden plays Alice Hargood, one of the three Victorian children who will turn on their fathers under Christopher Lee’s disinterested gaze – ‘The first … the second … the third’ he intones wearily after each killing (they don’t call him the Count for nothing.)  It isn’t clear how old Alice is supposed to be, but Hayden was approaching seventeen and the film is palpably titillated by the nastiest of the three patriarchs (Geoffrey Keen) threatening to whip her, his eyes visibly on her cleavage.  Instead, she brains him with a spade and assumes a Renfield-like role for Dracula, possessed but not vampirised, leading the other children to their dark liberator.  If the Count is the ‘father’ she desires, once again she is spurned – as Robert rejects Luci’s advances – but this time, she isn’t prepared to stand for it.  As she participates in the obligatory destruction of Dracula, she has effectively seen off two fathers, both sexually corrupt and neglectful.  In the world of Gothic melodrama, Hayden’s character is permitted to destroy the family with no real consequences for her.

From Hammer, Hayden went to Tigon, the company run by Klinger’s former Compton partner and now rival, Tony Tenser.  Blood on Satan’s Claw (1970) is arguably Hayden’s best film and its cult reputation has grown significantly over the yearsAs Angel Blake, she plays a kind of Gothic nymphet, the leader of a 17th century cult worshipping a demon with a very distinctive mode of resurrection – growing different parts of himself on the bodies of adolescents.  If the werewolf is sometimes seen as the horror genre’s take on puberty, Satan’s Claw takes the idea much further, as rogue patches of hair provide corporeal warning of a degeneration into libidinous and cruel excesses.  Angel is already precocious at the start of film, her mocking laughter accompanying a scene where she finds the demon’s claw in a freshly ploughed field.  But she soon progresses to what Anthony Ainley’s priest calls ‘insolent ungodliness’, albeit of a type that he probably hadn’t envisioned.  In a sequence much fetishised by horror fans, Angel disrobes in an attempt to seduce him, and when that fails, she accuses him of attempted molestation.  As in Baby Love, if the eroticisation of adolescence is offered as a form of titillation, it is simultaneously represented as grotesque.  Angel grows enormous Klingon eyebrows as she becomes fully possessed.  In Baby Love, Luci paints on similarly grotesque eyebrows during a sequence when she announces, ‘I’m going to paint my face, and paint and paint, and be utterly evil!’

Critic David Taylor identifies Blood on Satan’s Claw’s two taboo themes as ‘the inherent evil of children and the overt sexuality of evil.’  One of the contemporaneous influences on Robert Wynne-Simmons’ script (particularly the figure of Angel) had been the case of 11-year old child-murderer Mary Bell, convicted in 1968.  Inspector James Dobson said of Bell’s murders, ‘There was a terrible playfulness about it, a terrible gentleness if you like.’  This ‘terrible playfulness’ translates into the cruel games played by the young cult in Satan’s Claw, which extend to rape and murder – their inability to empathise or acknowledge the pain and terror they inflict is still genuinely chilling.  But there’s a ‘terrible playfulness’ about Luci, too, who play-acts the role of her own angry mother as Nick lies unconscious in the shower.  Hayden played characters significantly older than Bell was, but this is suggestive of what sets her apart from the other nymphet stars who emerged in the late 60s.  As the Bulger case would many years later, the Mary Bell case seemed to lend childhood a frighteningly unfathomable quality.  In a controversial 1998 biography, Bell was reconstructed as a victim herself, of an abusive prostitute mother just as Luci’s destiny seems predetermined by her monstrous mother.  ‘Is she a Demon or just a Lost Child?’ asks Welwyn Times in a piece on Baby Love.  This is the question that Hayden’s early films keep returning to.  That they can rarely decide on a satisfactory answer is part of the fun.