Yesterday morning, I received a DVD in the post of the 2006 movie Special – Specioprin Hyrdrochloride which mad inventor John Ward had sent me.
According to the cover, Nuts magazine called the film “A huge cult hit”
I must have blinked. I have never heard of Special.
I guess, ironically, that is often the definition of a cult film.
Last night, I saw a special screening at the Museum of London of probably the biggest cult film ever made in Britain: The Wicker Man.
It is a film linked to one of the reasons I stopped drinking and I have family connections with its shooting.
It is often called a horror film but, despite Christopher Lee’s involvement as both actor and producer, it is not. It is just plain weird to an extraordinary extent; it has been called “a pagan musical” which, while being totally and utterly misleading, is not too far from the truth.
In fact, it is not as weird as director Robin Hardy’s next film The Fantasist – released a whole 16 years later in 1989 – that one takes the biscuit as the only film I have ever seen anywhere near Michael Powell’s bizarre 1950 movie Gone to Earth: one of the few movies which manages to directly link sex and fox hunting. Alright, maybe the ONLY movie to directly link sex and fox hunting.
For maybe the first 60 minutes of both films I thought This is the worst acting I have even seen in my entire life and The direction of this odd movie is more than a bit ropey. By the end of both, I had got half-used to the non-naturalistic style. But only just.
I think The Fantasist lasted maybe one week in Leicester Square before it was quickly taken off. When I saw it there, I was the only person in the cinema. I saw Gone to Earth at a one-off screening at The Cornerhouse in Manchester. When I left at the end, I recognised someone I worked with at Granada TV who had also sat through the movie. We looked at each other, speechless, united in our confused disbelief.
Neither The Fantasist nor Gone to Earth has really reached cult status. In fact, The Fantasist has simply sunk without trace.
Umberto Eco, the Italian who has an opinion on everything, apparently says a cult film has to be “ramshackle, rickety and unhinged” and that certainly covers The Fantasist and Gone To Earth.
When I first saw The Wicker Man, I definitely thought it was very ramshackle, very rickety, very rough-edged indeed and that the director was almost certainly unhinged. Since then, I’ve see it five or six more times (there are at least three different versions of it) and it gets better on repeated screenings. Though no less weird.
One of the problems is that you only realise on a second and third screening just how good and how tight the script is. You have to have seen the entire film to understand why you are watching what you are watching. It was scripted by Anthony Shaffer, who also wrote Sleuth; his brother Peter Schaffer wrote Equus and Amadeus. Those are a couple of siblings who must have had interesting parents.
Even the direction of The Wicker Man – more than slightly eccentric at best – seems better and tighter on repeated screenings
The Wicker Man was originally released in the UK as the bottom half of a double bill with Nic Roeg’s much over-rated Don’t Look Now.
As I mentioned in a blog last year, at the time The Wicker Man was released by British Lion Films in 1973, Michael Deeley, the highly-talented and highly-regarded head of British Lion, reportedly said that it was the worst film he had ever seen. Years afterwards, the equally highly-regarded Cinefantastique magazine devoted at entire issue to The Wicker Man, famously calling it “the Citizen Kane of horror films”, while the Los Angeles Times said it was: “Witty & scary! No one who sits through it to the end is likely to find it easy to shake off.”
One of the most impressive things in it, as far as I’m concerned, is Edward Woodward’s spot-on West Coast Scottish accent. Britt Ekland’s accent is pretty good too, though she has the advantage of being Scandinavian – always a bonus with the bizarre Western Isles accent.
I have a particular affinity for the The Wicker Man because some of the movie’s scenes were filmed in Whithorn, Wigtownshire, where both my parents went to school. And the climactic sequence with the Wicker Man itself takes place on Burrowhead, off which one of my dead relative’s ashes were tossed into the sea – not because of the film but because he had spent many happy childhood days there.
Also the film – which is so bizarre it must have turned many people to drink or drugs – ironically contributed to my giving up drink. I was never much of a drinker: in my late teens/early twenties, I drank weak lager to be sociable because it was less horrible than Bitter. All I really liked was vodka drowned in orange juice or champagne drowned in orange juice – and they were a bit pricey as everyday drinks.
But I was reviewing films when The Wicker Man came out and the press officer at its distributors British Lion was clearly a very intelligent man who had simply been drinking for too long – it was part of his job – and it appeared to have softened his thinking processes. The sharpness of mind which he presumably once had had melted away. It’s one of the downsides of being a PR man.
I thought I don’t enjoy drinking anyway, so why bother when this can be the outcome?
So I stopped.
Ever since then, because I don’t drink, people have thought I am weird.
Well, OK, there might be other reasons.
But if you want really weird, see The Wicker Man.
And if you want REALLY REALLY weird, see The Fantasist and Gone to Earth.
Ramshackle, rickety, unhinged. With knobs on.