Monday 27 August 2012

The rise (and fall) of Jason Voorhees - FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) / FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 (1981)

Technology tended to arrive late in our household. In the early 1980’s, by some quirk of technological geography, some of my friends had an early form of home cable TV. They would often regale me with tantalisingly lurid descriptions of the juicy horror films they’d viewed. And then came the home video revolution where once again my appetite was stoked by my friends’ gruesome summaries. But amongst all this vivid video viscera there was one title which, above all the others, stood out as being the one I most wanted to watch: Friday the 13th. 
I can still recall my pal Adrian detailing every murderous set piece with Grand Guignol glee. Crucially though, when describing the classic shock moment finale, he neglected to mention one aspect of the scene which actually made my first viewing of the film just that little bit more special...
As detailed in a previous posting (The Afternoon HE Came Home) the first horror film I saw in the cinema was Halloween 2, but the most significant experience of that wonderful year (1982) was the double bill of: Friday the 13th & Friday the 13th Part 2. The venue was my old beloved ABC Edgware Road of course, and my companion that day was Adrian (who hadn’t seen Part 2). We’d arrived far too early (probably due to my eagerness) and had to wait outside the cinema in the rain. I stared transfixed up at the poster which was posing the ominous question: “How many times can death strike in one night...Now double it.” As the rain pelted down forming puddles at our feet I made a pact with Adrian that we would sit as far apart in the cinema as possible so as not to dilute the terror on the screen with nervous whisperings and shared sniggering.  And so it was that I took my seat about five rows from the screen in studio 1 on that early afternoon at Edgware Road and waited for the lights to go out...

‘Camp Crystal Lake 1958’ read the title card as the camera reveals a lake, boathouse and a group of camp counsellors singing around the fire. Harry Manfredini’s “Ki ki ki, ma ma ma” echoed around the auditorium (even though the film was only recorded in mono it seemed to be whispering directly into my ears). An unseen prowler is moving amongst the cabins whilst the children sleep in their bunks...

I have no recollection whatsoever of the interval – that brief pause before the lights dimmed to reveal a child reciting a nursery rhyme whilst walking through the rain puddles on a suburban street. Summoned by a mother’s call, the child stomps their feet in disappointment before complying. The puddle briefly settles before rather more ominous footsteps appear on the sidewalk, moving in calculated measure toward a house where a young woman is racked with nightmares from her horrific night at Camp Blood...

Wait for it... (Adrienne King - 'Alice')
Those three hours were the most riveting, suspenseful, terrifying and exhilarating hours I’ve ever spent in a cinema auditorium. I emerged into the foyer visibly shaking with excitement. Jason’s sudden emergence from Crystal Lake - dragging sole survivor Alice (Adrienne King) from the canoe - was a magnificent jump-scare. Even though Adrian had outlined this moment to me previously I’d somehow envisioned the scene taking place at night; not in broad daylight; not with a falsely lulling watery theme playing on the soundtrack: and not with state troopers clearly visible on the shore calling to her. In today’s jaded times, the jump-scare denouement is a tired perfunctory cliché of horror cinema, an obligatory hook to leave the door open for franchising potential. But back in 1982, on that wet afternoon at the ABC Edgware Road, I was still a relatively fresh canvas upon which fright filmmakers could leave their mark with jumps and ‘stingers’. Director Sean S. Cunningham got me good that afternoon with that one, and after the intermission, Steve Miner (Part 2’s director), took over the scare-raising reins, consistently springing cloth-sacked Jason at me. By the time the (un-bagged) deformed monster burst through the window grabbing the resourceful Ginny (Amy Steel) I was so twitchy I must’ve resembled a marionette whose strings were being constantly plucked by an unseen puppeteer. 
Behind you! (Amy Steel- 'Ginny')

I went back and re-watched this particular double-bill twice more during its limited run. On the third outing I was sat in screen 2 or 3 – both of which featured sloped seating plans down toward the screen. As Alice’s canoe floated gently across the still reflective surface of Crystal Lake I settled  back in knowing anticipation of the jump moment approaching: unlike the lady several rows in front of me.  She stood up and edged herself out into the aisle – clearly satisfied the film was concluded and the end credits were imminent. Young Jason Voorhees suddenly lunged up out of the water and in perfect synchronicity the lady in the aisle lost her balance and slid down the steps gently colliding with the balcony wall. Happy days...

Friday 24 August 2012


“What must you think of me, I’m such a terrible hostess, I haven’t offered you a thing.”

“I wouldn’t say that Miss…”

 Arguably the most memorable and most quotable of the entire Carry on… series, the team take the conventions and trappings of the classic Hammer horror film, stir in a House of Wax plot, some Addams Family styling, and infuse it with their own unique chemistry of nudge-nudge wink-wink humour. The result is an infectious potion of clever word-play, not-so subtle innuendo and affectionate pastiche.

Resplendent in his Sherlock Holmes costume, Harry H. Corbett (Detective Sergeant Sidney Bung) is pitch-perfect as the wide-eyed policeman desperately trying to solve the mystery of the missing ladies and the hairy severed six-toed foot. He is ably supported by Peter Butterworth as bumbling Detective Slobotham, and Jim Dale’s innocent Albert Potter who together contribute to the two best interplays of words in the film. Often wrongly dismissed for being little more than naughty sea-side postcard humour, the “Now then, you name please. Doctor Watt. Doctor who, sir…?” exchange is clearly a homage to the classic Abbott and Costello ‘Who’s on first” sketch. And then we have the beautifully timed: “Whereabouts? Hereabouts…” rapid fire questioning delivered with great aplomb by all and finished off with Jim Dales’ “Or layabouts!”

The baddies are also richly observed. We have the evil Doctor Watt played with nasally perfection by Kenneth Williams, and his gorgeously seductive sister Valeria, the sultry siren Fenella Fielding. Despite the countless come-ons and accidental disrobings throughout the Carry on series, there is no single scene more memorable or more erotically charged than the truly iconic “Do you mind if I smoke?” seduction of Sergeant Bung by Valeria. (For my money the scene works much better with Harry H. Corbett rather than the original choice of Sid James who I can’t help feeling would have brought a less subtle approach to the character and the scene itself).

And as well as the main leads we also have a rich treasure trove of support from the likes of Charles Hawtrey as Dan Dann the drowned lavatory attendant; Joan Sims as the ever nagging Mrs Bung (although she does make a lovely trouser press); gentle giant Bernard Bresslaw as the sinister butler Sockett) and even the great John Pertwee (pre-Doctor Who) as Doctor Fettle – strangled by Oddbod Junior!

Stir all these ingredients into the mix, garnish with the inimitable “Frying tonight!” and you have a truly heady comedy concoction guaranteed to cure all known ills.

****(out of 5*)

Paul Worts

Monday 13 August 2012

An Interview with Fenella Fielding

In delicious anticipation of The Misty Moon Gallery’s 2012 celebratory evening dedicated to her, Paul Worts was granted an exclusive interview with the seductively (and quite literally) smoking-hot temptress from ‘Carry on Screaming’; the truly iconic and velvety voiced Fenella Fielding. Although perhaps best known for her role as vampish Valeria Watt, Ms. Fielding has an extraordinarily rich and diverse CV which ranges from Carry on to Chaucer by way of Chekov; from Dickens to ‘Danger Man’ to ‘Dougal and the Blue Cat’; and from Shakespeare to Shaw and the plays of Ernie Wise (what he wrote).

Now I recently went along to the National Portrait Gallery for the sole purpose of viewing one particular photograph. Can you guess which one it was?
I think you’re going to say it’s the picture of me.

Indeed I am. It was the display of photographs by former Vogue photographer Peter Rand. Now there are three images of you in the Gallery’s library, but Kenneth Williams apparently has four...

Oh well!

And rather disappointingly, when I enquired in the gallery’s bookshop as to whether there was a postcard of your photo to purchase one of the two assistants at the counter informed me there wasn’t (although I could order a print). I continued to browse for a few moments and passing by the counter on my way out I overheard one assistant whisper to her colleague: “Carry on Screaming”...

I don’t know what to say! Do you know a woman stopped me in the street yesterday and she said, “Oh, it’s you!” and then she said, “May I kiss you?” and before I had the chance to say yes or no she did and kissed me on the cheek and said “I can’t get over you!”

Now I mentioned Kenneth Williams earlier, who of course you firstly worked with in the comedy stage revue Pieces of Eight written by Harold Pinter and Peter Cook. What was it like working with Kenneth back then (some six years before Carry on Screaming)? Was it, shall we say, a bit of a ‘challenge’ at times?

Well yes because he didn’t always feel like it. And if he didn’t feel like it he would kind of throw it over to you – so I had to play both parts at once! But on the other hand when he did feel like it he didn’t really want you to be in it at all! It was a tricky time. 18 months of it, but the thing is when we did Carry on Screaming we got on fine. But I think you see with film it’s different because you only do each scene once, if it’s done right that’s it – you move on to the next – you never have to do it again. But with the stage you had to do it every night – eight times a week – and if it goes on for a long time that’s a great many repetitions.

From Kenneth Williams to Patrick McGoohan (absolutely no connection) who you firstly worked with on an episode of ‘Danger Man’...

He was absolutely lovely.

And then of course you provided the voice of the Loudspeaker Announcer & Telephone Operator in the cult classic series 'The Prisoner'. Did you ever visit Portmeirion during the filming?

No, and as a matter of fact I didn’t see the series itself till years and years later (and I mean only a few years ago). I didn’t know anything about The Prisoner at the time because when it was first broadcast if you were out for the evening you missed it [no TiVo back then] and I was in plays and shows at the time. So I had to listen to other people talking about it which was very interesting...For example, I went to a dinner party one particular night and practically everybody there was a writer of some sort, a script writer or a playwright and they were all talking about The Prisoner and saying how fascinating it was and what a brilliant series it was and what they couldn’t make out – any of them – was how it was going to finish. 

So you’d only got around to seeing it a few years ago, and at the time you’d had no advanced glimpse as to how it was going to finish?

That’s right. I recorded it in a sound box at the studio, and I had no idea at the time what it was even about! I remember Patrick popped in to see me before I recorded my parts. He said be careful, don’t make it too sexy! Well, from the script I saw in front of me I couldn’t possibly see how it could sound sexy!

Oh I don’t know I’m sure you would have found a way...

Some people apparently do find it sexy! Well all I can say is it takes all sorts!

And yet you weren’t originally credited for it?     

No, but I had tons of fan mail from it so people must’ve known it was me mustn’t they?

Now before we get on to a certain film with the word ‘Screaming’ in the title, I must ask you about ‘The Old Dark House’ horror-comedy remake, directed by William Castle.

Our remake was about the millionth remake I think! It was meant to be a comedy-horror film. I know it didn’t get a premiere, and I know that they kept on thinking they hadn’t done it right – we must take out the comedy they said – and make it more horror. So they did that and then that was not a good idea, so then they took out some horror and put back the comedy! I don’t really know what it’s like now; I think they must have lost some bits with all the cutting out and changes! Is it a good film, I just don’t know?

Well I enjoyed it immensely. It was entertainingly unpredictable – then again after what you’ve just told me I can see why! And of course what an amazing cast: Robert Morley; Joyce Grenfell -   

Lunchtimes on the set were wonderful!

I can imagine. And of course Mervyn Johns, who was also in one of my favourite scary films of all time – ‘Dead of Night’.

Oh yes! That was a wonderful film – now that one frightens me!

‘The Old Dark House’ was a Hammer co-production. Now I’ve always wondered why Hammer never asked you to be in one of their horrors. I suppose after ‘Carry on Screaming’ they feared the audience couldn’t take you seriously in a full-blown horror film?

I think that’s it, yes.

Which is a shame...

I suppose so, but I’ve not really seen many horror films so I don’t know whether it would have been a good idea or not. The most brilliant horror film I did see was Rosemary’s Baby. I mean to me that was really frightening and a brilliant movie altogether.  [Although the tension was momentarily broken for Fenella by spotting ‘The Old Dark House’ director William Castle in a cameo role during the scene where Mia Farrow runs into the phone box!].

William Castle was of course legendary for his cinema gimmicks, like suspending skeletons above the audience or most infamously for wiring up the seats in the auditorium to give patrons a mild electric shock during ‘The Tingler’ with Vincent Price.

Oh gosh that would do it wouldn’t it! I did a poetry reading with Vincent Price at the Wigmore Hall once.

Wow! And what did you read?

Ooh, some pretty scary stuff...I don’t want to tell you actually because I might just recite it at the Misty Moon on the night...

Intriguing...Okay that’s one question I can’t ask you then! So, in that case let’s move away from the scary stuff (for now at least) and talk about comedy, particularly your experiences working with the legendary Morecambe and Wise.

It was lovely - a big thrill. It was wonderful to be asked, and having done it once it was then wonderful to be asked to do it again. And everyone was so jealous of me I can’t begin to tell you! Glenda [Jackson] didn’t do it until after I’d done it!

She obviously saw what she was missing! Did they do a lot of rehearsal before they recorded? It looked so natural and at times improvised?

That’s the marvellous part isn’t it? They rehearsed very thoroughly. Eric was the boss, and he more or less told Ernie what to do. I mean Ernie knew what to do but Eric told him more. They rehearsed a lot which I found a great relief.

Right, now of course as part of the ‘Evening with Fenella Fielding’, the Misty Moon Gallery will be screening the one and only ‘Carry on Screaming’ – naturally. So let’s start at the beginning...

They had already asked me to do Carry on Cleo and I didn’t do it because I was going off to America at the time. 

How was it working with Harry H. Corbett [drafted in as a replacement for Sid James who was unavailable at the time of filming]?

It was lovely darling, so nice, so sweet; we’d have lovely chats between scenes.

Speaking of scenes...the”Do you mind if I smoke?” scene...did it require many takes?

Well we only did it twice. In fact I asked for a retake. I told Gerry [Gerald Thomas, director] why - I won’t mention why to you – [I’m intrigued!]. Gerry said ‘fine’ and so we had a retake, which was most unusual because providing you got the words out on a Carry On film it was usually straight on to the next scene as quickly as possible!  My character of course was meant to be a take on that lady in the Addams Family [Morticia Addams].

Was it true you had to buy your own ring as part of your costume for the role?

Well, yes. I went out with the lovely wardrobe lady one day and she took me to a place called Paris House in South Moulton Street that did costume jewellery. She wanted me to have these tube shaped gold-earrings. Well, while I was there I thought wouldn’t it be lovely if I had a ring with a big drop of blood in it [as you do]. So I asked if I could and she said, “Well, you can if you like, I don’t disapprove of it, but if you do you’ll have to pay for it yourself!” So I did – it was nine quid! (And I still have it – although it doesn’t come in handy that often now).

And did you get to keep the dress?

Oh good lord, I wore it every day for six weeks! No I haven’t got the dress. I had to have a ‘leaning board’. It’s something they give you for a tight frock. You just lean backwards on it on a slant. I couldn’t really sit down in it without spoiling it. I mean the only time I sat down in the whole film was in that scene with Harry.

So going to the loo must’ve been quite tricky as well!

That’s just a question of disrobing completely!

And you got along with Kenneth Williams a lot better by then as well?

Yes, it was like all the ‘difficulty’ had completely been forgotten – thank heavens.

Now, your voice once gave me nightmares – not from ‘Carry on Screaming’, but from a far more terrifying film: ‘Dougal and the Blue Cat’ (1970) and your voice as The Blue Queen...


And then far less disturbingly, I believe you were once considered for the voice of Lady Penelope in ‘Thunderbirds’?

There was talk of it yes, but it never came to anything.

And with that gorgeous voice you’ve naturally done a number of spoken word recordings. What would you say is your favourite recording?

I’ve done loads of radio plays. I did Hedda Gabler - the same week that I recorded a little novelty record called: ‘Big bad mouse’ [1966]. I’m quite keen on that.

Now more up to date, I understand in February of this year you read an extract from Mary Shelly’s ‘Frankenstein’ down in the Old Vic tunnels.

Oh yes that’s right! I’d never read it before, nor ever seen a Frankenstein movie, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I found it quite chilling.

Well perhaps I could give you a crash course in horror some time?

Well, fine! Fire away, I’d love it!

Theatre-wise, not quite horror, but certainly sinister and spooky, you played Mrs Danvers in a production of ‘Rebecca’. 

That’s a wonderful roleReally and truly, but it wasn’t a wonderful production. Dear me no. We had a week’s rehearsal!

That’s less than a Carry on film!

Unbelievable. Never again. I didn’t get anything to wear until the opening night!

Let’s pretend I didn’t mention that then (!) Any particular role you always wished you could have played?

There’s that lovely lady in ‘Uncle Vanya’ (Helena), but I love the fact I’ve done ‘Hedda Gabler’ on stage as well, and then there was ‘Nora’ from ‘A Doll’s House’; they’re wonderful parts.

And just before we conclude our little chat, let me lower the tone if I may and ask you who is the sexiest actor (or actress) you’ve worked with?

Oh good lord! I can’t possibly say. (You’ll have to ask me on the night!)

How do you celebrate Halloween (if at all)?

In the usual way, going to a party.

You wouldn’t watch a scary film then?, I’d much rather have a lovely time!

Fenella Fielding: 17th November 1927 - 11th September 2018.  

Interviewed by Paul Worts