Interview: Norman J. Warren

A career discussion with the legendary British exploitation film director

The eccentric exploitation films of British filmmaker Norman J. Warren are certainly flawed and nowhere near as angry or socially-minded as his contemporary, Pete Walker, but they have a charm all their own.

Films like INSEMINOID (aka HORROR PLANET), PREY (aka ALIEN PREY), TERROR, SATAN’S SLAVE and of course, his final film to date, BLOODY NEW YEAR, offer nothing save 90 minutes (or less) of pure, down and dirty phantasmagorical escapism; well-crafted genre romps made to distract, shock and titillate.

And there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

Warren’s roots were in short films and eventually included, as many European genre director’s early credits did, soft core porn comedies; but it is with horror and dark fantasy that we concern ourselves and that put the charming director on the small stretch of the cult film map he now occupies.

So then, in honor Vinegar Syndrome’s delicious recent Blu-ray re-release of his first horror movie, 1976’s SATAN’S SLAVE, we’re happy to present this interview with the one and only Norman J. Warren.

ALEXANDER: After your initial short film experiments in the mid ’60s, your first feature-length picture was 1968’s A PRIVATE HELL, a naughty film, no?

WARREN: Yes, it was! There were of course many films like it around from Germany and Sweden, sexploitation films we called them then and still do, but none really that were made in England. So when Her Private Hell came along, it suddenly became this enormous hit and I think that it was because it was homegrown. It was also one of the first sex films to really tell a coherent story. So while it was still pretty far from being a great film, it was unique and box office wise it was an amazing hit, which did me a world of good, I assure you!

ALEXANDER: The BBFC have always been notorious for their hatred of horror…but what were their views on the sexploitation film? How much could you show without getting your figurative knuckles rapped?

WARREN: If you were to see HER PRIVATE HELL now, it would seem innocent, naïve and really, it was never that bad. But still, the censor was very particular about what you could put on screen. If you had a bare breast you couldn’t show the nipple. And of course the guy still had to keep his pants on in bed or else you had to cover him with a sheet. So it was a very innocent time. My film did run into trouble, however, even though most of my nudity was only shown from the rear. I made only one more sexploitation film called Loving Feeling the following year – in color and in cinemascope – and by that time the censor had relaxed. We could at this point show the nipple and show SOME female frontal nudity. Things were beginning to change.

Continue reading “Interview: Norman J. Warren”

On JACK THE RIPPER

A brief look at both cuts of the undervalued 1959 shocker

The mystery of the Victorian-era serial killer dubbed “Jack the Ripper” has endured the ages, with countless fictionalized novels and films riffing onthe  sordid story of the fiend who once slashed his way through the flesh of London’s ladies of the night. The fact that “Saucy Jack” himself was never caught has only fueled the fantastical, with conspiracies ladled upon conspiracies as to who or what the murderer might have been, most potently in Alan Moore’s FROM HELL graphic novel and the freely adapted (and absolutely undervalued) Hughes Brothers feature film. But one of the more obscure remounts of the Jack the Ripper crimes can be found in Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman’s crackerjack 1959 chiller, simply called JACK THE RIPPER. Working from a script by Hammer Horror vet Jimmy Sangster, the film is a low budget but deft little murder mystery that sends ample chills up the spine, especially in its original UK theatrical cut, the likes of which is represented here – alongside the more sensational American re-edit – on Severin‘s snazzy new Blu-ray release.

Continue reading “On JACK THE RIPPER”

Interview: Nicky Henson on PSYCHOMANIA

A conversation with the star of the classic British exploitation movie

From its first dreamy frames, as a gang of leather clad, skull faced bikers poured into black leather come charging over a mist drenched hill in slow motion, to its final surreal wind down, with men, women and motorcycles morphing into massive tombstones, to all its cheeky, wonderfully lunatic mayhem in the middle, cinema history has never, ever seen the likes of a picture quite like Don Sharp’s unapologetically mental PSYCHOMANIA.

Released in 1971 (in some markets on a double bill with the equally nuts WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS) and made to crassly ride the coattails of EASY RIDER, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD with perhaps a dash of ROSEMARY’S BABY added for supernatural spice, PSYCHOMANIA (filmed as THE LIVING DEAD and also known as THE DEATH WHEELERS) is an artifact of post-mod, British kitsch, admired with irony and worshiped by millions, perhaps thousands, even dozens of cult movie fans around the globe.

Continue reading “Interview: Nicky Henson on PSYCHOMANIA”

On CIRCUS OF HORRORS

In praise of the lurid and pulpy 1960 shocker

Before H.G. Lewis was bathing in cheap stage blood and flipping stomachs at drive-ins everywhere and the same year that Alfred Hitchcock ran chocolate sauce down the drain while a sort-of nude Janet Leigh screamed, there was director Sidney (BURN WITCH BURN) Hayers’ wonderfully pulpy and surprisingly sadistic CIRCUS OF HORRORS, a Grand Guignol shocker with a campy cruel streak that was far ahead of its time.

The film was the product of a partnership between British studio Anglo-Amalgamated (the same studio that brought us PEEPING TOM and Roger Corman’s THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH) and US genre machine American International Pictures, their second after the successful Michael Gough vehicle HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM. And like that deliciously dark picture, CIRCUS has a rough, lurid edge and trades in cruelty and nasty behavior to provide its frissons.

Continue reading “On CIRCUS OF HORRORS”

On LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF

A look at the obscure 1975 British werewolf movie

One of the rarest of lycanthrope-centric films is the unfortunately late, Oscar-winning British cinematographer (David Lynch’s The Elephant Man) and noted horror filmmaker (Dracula has Risen from the Grave, Tales from the Crypt) Freddie Francis’ little discussed 1975 Hammer-esque wolfman shocker Legend of the Werewolf. And really, I have to ask why it’s so obscure, because the movie is rather fantastic.

As the films’ star Peter Cushing (whose work here is first rate as always) so helpfully explains in Legend of the Werewolf’s weird opening sequence, it has been said that the beasts of the forest shall watch over and protect human children on Christmas Eve, because, well, their forefathers and mothers did it for Jesus, so if they didn’t do it too they’d be jerks. This bit of made up myth provides credibility for the ensuing tale of poor little Etoile, a baby who, after his immigrant parents are chomped on by a pack of starving wolves, is inexplicably adopted by the now sated pack. He grows up like a sort of lupine Tarzan, a wild untamed thing who is eventually ‘rescued’ by a sleazy carny (the amazing, wild eyed actor Hugh Griffith from, among many, many other fine films, Ben Hur) and top billed in his skid row circus as the feral ‘Wolf Boy’. Eventually Etoile grows into a strapping young lad (played by veteran actor David Rintoul who appeared in Roman Polanski’s excellent thriller The Ghost Writer) who makes the rather startling discovery that, when under pressure of full moon, he grows fangs, sprouts fur, pops his shirt and end up looking a lot like Oliver Reed did in Terence Fisher’s 1961 Hammer horror classic Curse of the Werewolf.

Continue reading “On LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF”