Monday 23 July 2012

An interview with Caroline Munro

She was the face and body of Lambs Navy Rum. Bitten by Dracula, she then joined forces with a vampire hunter named Kronos; helped Sinbad on his Golden Voyage and tried to kill James Bond in a helicopter. And that’s only a fraction of her story. In an exclusive interview ahead of an event at The Misty Moon Gallery, Paul Worts reminisced with the wonderfully iconic Caroline Munro about her career which saw her work with the ‘holy trinity' of horror stars and the greatest actor ever to have portrayed 007 on screen...

Before the modelling career and the acting, you were studying art...?
I was 16 and still at school. I was in Rottingdean, a very small village outside of Brighton. I went to life-study classes on a Saturday at Brighton Art College (a terrific art college) with a view to pursuing it in some way. I don’t know how I was going to earn my living but that’s what I thought I was going to do.

One of your very first roles, albeit a minor role, was in ‘Casino Royale’ (1967) –
It wasn’t a role at all really I was an extra!

Well yes, but you did the chance to witness the greatest actor ever to have played 007 -
Woody Allen! I did, that was amazing sitting on the set and watching him working. I felt very privileged. I knew nothing about acting I was pretty green, but to be given the chance to be an extra on the film with all these fabulous names:  Orson Welles, Peter Sellers and David Niven was just incredible. I asked my director, Val Guest if I could sit quietly at the side of the set and just watch. He said yes and that’s just what I did!

The Lambs Navy Rum adverts were a big exposure for you, erm, perhaps that’s not quite the right expression...?
Well I don’t know I would think it is the right expression actually! When my dad first saw me on a giant poster in Waterloo Station he said: “Oh my goodness Caroline!” – he was quite surprised I think. I suppose for the time it was quite a strong advert the idea of a strong female character being captain of a ship. The first one was shot in a studio with a tiny budget, then we moved to Cornwall, then Majorca and Ibiza, and eventually the last one was shot in Palms Springs, California. No contract though – they just used to phone up and say would you like to do another one and I’d say ‘Oh yes please - terrific!’.

Unlike with Hammer, where you got a contract for a year -
I did get a contract; you’ve done your research haven’t you!

I’ve done a bit I have to say, not least of which has been watching as many of your films in the last couple of weeks as I could get my hands on.
Oh you poor thing!  What have you subjected yourself too!

No, no it’s been an absolute pleasure! Now, you’ve worked with the horror holy trinity of Price, Cushing and Lee. Let’s talk about Vincent Price and ‘The Abominable Dr. Phibes’. You lay in a coffin with him all day I believe?
Yes we did! We had great fun. He was just such an amazing man to listen to, he had that wonderful voice. And he was just charming. I wished I’d had some ‘proper’ scenes with him. I was his dead wife – so I didn’t really have any dialogue!

So continuing with the holy trinity we then come to Mr Christopher Lee (O.B.E) and ‘Dracula A.D. 1972’. Was he really a pain in the neck? (sorry).
Well he did bite my neck pretty well! I suppose now looking back I see how lucky I was to have worked with them all. As a young actress I was quite in awe to work with him and it was a real turning point working with him. I totally believed that when I saw him for the first time in character as Dracula he was Dracula. I was a believer; I thought wow and so I acted accordingly, or rather reacted accordingly.     

He absolutely embodies Dracula and for me this is no other Dracula –
I totally agree and I’m just sad he doesn’t really embrace it because he was just so magnificent.

Now I saw you at a celebration event at the National Film Theatre for Ray Harryhausen, the stop-motion maestro from such films as ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ and of course ‘The Golden Voyage of Sinbad’.
He is the Golden Voyage of Sinbad. Not only one of the nicest people you could meet but also a true master of the special effects. The amount of directors who have been inspired by his work, the likes of Steven Spielberg and Tim Burton for example. And of course Peter Jackson who brought along a home movie he made trying to recreate the skeleton fight sequence from Jason and the Argonauts.

Next up, eggs and tomatoes thrown at you during ‘Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter’…?
True story! Quite fun, it helped put me in character.

And you were told not to wash your hair for a week!
That’s right, for Kronos the scruffier the better. The film itself didn’t go over the top with the gore and the bosoms and the usual Hammer stuff in fact it’s very minimal, and maybe that’s why it didn’t do so well at the time. In fact I think it was ahead of its time. The dialogue is quite witty and I think it’s really well done.

I completely agree. And now we come onto the first of our delightful offerings at the Gallery next Saturday: ‘At the Earth’s Core’. This film features an absolutely wonderful performance from the third of the horror icons in the trinity: Peter Cushing (and his duck umbrella!)
Oh yes, what a joy. We worked together for six weeks on that film. An amazingly funny witty man, and so modest too.  Absolutely extraordinary. I have to kick myself every now and then to think that actually I’m really lucky to have worked with them all. I feel very blessed.

I’ve re-watched the film recently, you are of course fantastic in the film, although you disappear for about thirty minutes when you’re kidnapped by Hoojah (“The sly one”). But you return with a bang when you’re almost burned alive by a gigantic toad spewing fire!
We had great fun. We did all our own stunts - even though they had stunt doubles for us - we said we’d be alright. Little did we know how hot the fire scenes were going to be...

No CGI back then!
No CGI – REAL fire. Speaking of CGI, do you know I’m really not too sure about it these days? In certain things it’s great but in certain things it’s just not necessary.

I completely agree. Then, having survived all those monsters and fire you get blown up by Roger Moore in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’! The first female baddy to have been killed on screen by 007.
Not very nice, not very gentlemanly was it?

I’ll never forgive Roger Moore for that. But then you bounce back from this minor setback by kicking and karate chopping almost the entire galaxy in the one and only ‘Star Crash’ .
Luigi (the director) added even more ‘stuff’ than was originally in the script. He quite liked the kicking so I went back and did a bit more!

Now I watched Star Crash again the other night...
Oh no, (Oh yes!), and with the dubbed voice!

Yes, and then there’s the voice of the robot Elle, dubbed by Hamilton Camp. Am I right in saying your mother originally favoured the name ‘Stella’ for you?
Mum did always like the name ‘Stella’, possibly after the character in A Streetcar Named Desire but my dad liked the name ‘Marilyn’. This was before Marilyn Monroe was well known, but that could’ve been interesting...although my surname’s spelt the Scottish way.

As Stella Star you obviously get into some very tight situations. But you also get into some very tight costumes! 
And there wasn’t a lot to them was there! It was very uncomfortable.

I can understand you being (un)dressed that way as a slave, but once you’d escaped I though they could’ve found you some proper clothes!
Yes, I thought I’d get a nice suit a bit like a Star Trek uniform, but no...

I think the director had at least one eye on the box office returns there...And then, incredibly, Christopher Plummer is in it!
I don’t know how he was in it. He must have been offered the role as he was passing by; he was only on the film for a day. But he was delightful, a lovely man. How difficult for him to say those words –

Without laughing you mean?
I think so yes, we all had to look VERY serious.

Was anyone under any illusions that you were making anything other than what it was?
You mean like Shakespeare? No, I don’t think so. David (Hasselhoff) was very excited and enthusiastic; it was his first major film. We had terrific fun on that film, although it was a very long shoot: 3 months. And a lot was left on the cutting room floor…

No need to worry, there’s still plenty of good stuff left in the restored version.
I do hope people won’t be too bored!    

How could they be? Not only do we get Christopher Plummer and ‘The Hoff’, but we also have The Evil Count Zarth Arn, played by the wonderful Joe Spinell.
Oh Joe. Very charismatic, I was so lucky to work with Joe three times and each time was a joy. We got on so well, he was a real character - you can imagine. (I can). We worked together 3 times: Star Crash, Maniac and The Last Horror Film. Maniac came about by a complete fluke. I happened to be in New York for a Fangoria convention just as the original actress Daria Nicolodi (long-term partner of Dario Argento and mother of Asia) pulled out of the film.

You also got to kick Joanna Lumley about a bit in an episode of ‘The New Avengers’.
I’d just come off Star Crash so I was in quite a kicking mode! I actually had to play it down a bit as I wasn’t meant to be very good at it.

And then you got to work with someone who I’m very jealous about, the one and only Dusty Bin (and his sidekick Ted Rogers) on the quiz show 3, 2, 1!
Oh they were happy times, I think I did about 2 years and really enjoyed it at the time. I don’t know whether it was a good thing to do or not now but it was certainly enjoyable. Not that anyone could ever work out the clues – even we didn’t know!

In the film ‘Eldorado’ you played Lilly the waitress...
I haven’t seen the film so can’t really comment, but what an amazing cast. Is it that bad, is it a terrible film?

No, I actually think it’s one of those films that could develop a cult following like ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’. Particularly with all the song and dance numbers, including an Aretha Franklin song performed by your good self...
Oh dear was it that bad? It was lip-syncing and I got it the night before down in Cornwall and I’m not a dancer. That was so tough and we worked really hard on it. 

You can definitely tell your scene in the ‘diner’ clearly wasn’t filmed in the US! Now, speaking of music, you’ve also recorded with one of my favourite musicians: Gary Numan.
It’s funny you should mention that. Last week I was at a charity event last week and a wonderful looking lady came up to me and said ‘’You worked with Gary didn’t you? I’m Gemma, his wife...” He was a sweet man, I only met him 3 or 4 times when we did the recording at his studios.

How do you feel about your fanbase?
I love them. I think if people bother to come along and see us and they know our work then I just love meeting them!  It never ceases to amaze me, and it makes you feel very humble to know people have actually quite liked some of your stuff –I find it extraordinary really – particularly after all these years; we’ve been around a long time.

Well true quality and true star quality never fades out. The major franchises you’ve been involved in; Hammer and Bond – those films will never be forgotten and they will always be held in high regard by my generation. And I’ll be showing Hammer films to my daughter as soon as she’s old enough to appreciate them. I’ve already started to show her the Sinbad films to pass on the baton to her generation.
And out little Hammer films were made in 4 or 5 weeks with minuscule budgets and nearly every penny went up there on the screen. We were all on minimal wages (well I expect Peter and Christopher got a bit more).

And just like Count Dracula himself, those films will be resurrected again and again and never truly die.
Paul Worts
An Evening with Caroline Munro took place on Saturday 30th June 2012 at The Misty Moon Gallery.

Saturday 21 July 2012

JAWS (1975)

Fake merchandise - real blogger
“Smile you son of a bitch!”

(This review contains spoilers - and a shark)

Recently restored and screened in cinemas, and sadly followed soon after by the death of one of its co-producers Richard Zanuck, I thought it was about time I revisited those sandy white beaches of Amity with their hastily produced ‘No swimming…’ signs dotted around…

Jaws was the first VHS cassette I owned. I played the tape so often I literally wore it out. I was only 7 years old when the film first hit cinemas in the UK. My father – despite my numerous entreaties – declined to take me to see it. I sometimes wonder whether this was for my protection or his… But, with the advent of home video, I soon found myself dipping my toes in the crystal blue waters of Amity and becoming acquainted with the titular Carcharodon carcharias (great white shark) known affectionately to its film crew as ‘Bruce’.

The trials and tribulations of filming Peter Benchley’s source novel are well documented. The fact that the saltwater caused the mechanical model shark to malfunction and even on occasion sink forced the young Spielberg to become more creative and suggestive when depicting the shark – and the film is all the more powerful for it. Helped immeasurably by John Williams’ shark motif, surely the most instantly recognisable and effective piece of film music ever committed to celluloid; a crisp screenplay bristling with eminently memorable lines; and a trinity of actors at the peak of their game; it is rightly regarded as one of the classic films of all time.

So ‘Bruce’ is a tad unconvincing when he belly-flops right out of the water onto the Orca and chows down on Robert Shaw’s salty sea-dog Quint. It matters not a jot. Deep Blue Sea in 1999, Shark Night 3D in 2011 and practically every other movie on the Sharknado Syfy channel have given us CG sharks which, in theory, given the technological advancements since 1975, should have blown Jaws out of the water. The fact that they haven’t (and let's be honest never will) is a testament to good old-fashioned characterisation and storytelling – two things Jaws has in abundance.

Unfortunately, both the film and the original source novel by Peter Benchley did (however unintentionally) contribute immeasurably towards the demonisation of the great white shark – a much maligned and misunderstood fish. But in popular entertainment sometimes you can’t make an omelette without cracking a few eggs – ask any piranha.

*****(out of 5*)  One of Fleapits and Picture Palaces top 5 films.

Paul Worts