Confessions Of A
Horror Hospital (aka Computer Killers) 1973 UK
Directed by Antony Balch
Screening as part of a combined presentation of the Classic Horror Campaign and Scala Forever at the Roxy Screen and Bar on September 4th
And so... on to the second part of this extraordinary double bill following on from Black Sunday (reviewed here). After the first movie had shown there were a load of rather generous prize giveaways for answering quiz questions and I won a hardback novel I’m looking forward to reading at some point by correctly identifying that Harry Manfredini was the composer of choice on the Friday the 13th series. Now I have to own up to something here and now about answering that question... even though it’s true I'm really into my soundtracks and I have somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 of the things on CD, I’d never heard of Harry Manfredini until the day before this screening took place, as I really don’t have a lot of time for the American variety of slasher pics such as the Friday the 13th series (preferring to look to the sheer artistry and beauty of an Italian giallo when I’m in a stabby-stabby-naked-sexy-music mood). However, by sheer coincidence my friend and I had been chatting away with a friendly and quite enthusiastically charming American guy who was ordering a custom made iced coffee at the Queen Elizabeth Hall the night before. When I went in to see a seminar on horror film music which was part of a short series of concerts entitled The sound Of Fear, one of the guests was Harry Manfredini, the composer of the Friday the 13th scores... who, it turns out, was the guy we’d been chatting to in the foyer, ordering the iced coffee. So... great way to know the answer to win a prize I reckon.
Anyway, after lady fortune (or in this case ScareSarah) had smiled on me, the lights went dim and we were in for what turned out to be a rare treat... a gravely appalling film called Horror Hospital. This movie was truly an eye opener for me in that it was both cinephile torture and unbelievable fun all in one hit. It really is a great movie to watch where everyone in the cast and crew seemed to be on their own special brand of acid and this was reflected in some really crazy (aka especially incompetent) editing and a sense of on screen chemistry which seemed to be working really well for the actors but possibly less well for some of the members of the audience, it has to be said.
This movie really made my day and was absolutely, trashily brilliant. This one stars, if you want to use that word in this particular context, young generation hero Robin Askwith (playing Jason Jones) who, at the time he was doing this, was just a hairs breadth away from starring in the successful Confessions Of A... series of movies and who had only the year before played Sid James’ son in the movie version of successful British sitcom Bless This House. Now I’ve not personally seen any of the Confessions movies, and I really count myself fortunate in that respect, but I can just tell from the tone of this movie that this was definitely a forerunner to the social attitudes on display in those kinds of movies.
This film is horrendously sexist... but in a good way that only a lot of water passing under the bridge can help to render this stuff in a hazy cloud of nostalgia for a time when things seemed much simpler in life. So while there’s some blatantly obnoxious behaviour in this movie from most of the main leads (some of it rubbing off on the character of Michael Gough’s bizarre mad scientist/clay monster) it’s also truly hilarious to watch and, in a scene on a train which set up the lead actress/love interest (Judy Peters, played by Vanessa Shaw), young Mr. Askwith bought the house down in fits of laughter from the audience with his hip and ingratiating chat up line... “There’s no need to get so uptight about things, I’m not going to rape you!”
There’s no way my mere words can do this justice so I’ll do something I rarely do and put this little link in right here so you can see a two and a bit minute clip I stumbled across on youtube... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aimXehypwd0
Honestly... some of this stuff in here is amazing and people under the age of, say 35, probably won’t understand how natural all of this seemed to us in a time when our media bombardment comprised of TV shows like On The Buses and Love Thy Neighbour and movies like the Carry On... series. Back in the seventies, a fair number of people wouldn’t have recognised the atrocities of this kind of omnipresent demeanor in the arts except for, maybe, the victims of such behaviour themselves.
Horror Hospital is a fun watch dealing with a crazed Michael Gough (Dr. Christian Storm) who has a car which slices the heads off of passers-by and a dwarf sidekick (who I last saw at the Classic Horror Campaign’s screening of Vampire Circus) who steals the show with hammy, over the top readings of his dialogue and who got away with that, probably, because everyone on the set adored him (according to my research). MIchael Gough, is of course, running a "Health Farm", in conjunction with a travel agent for Hairy Holidays, which turns out to be “recruitment” for Storms experiments with removing parts of young people’s brains so they can become his super-strong and obedient zombie army. Jason and Judy are both heading to Storm’s “Health Farm” and soon find themselves "a couple" in danger of zombification... after some gratuitous shower scene nudity and sex shenanigans, of course.
One of the things that struck me as I watched this amazing piece of fluff unfold was just how inappropriate the musical score is. Way over the top. When the film started I saw the composer listed as De Wolfe, who I’d never heard of, but after a while I was pretty sure what was going on with the music. I checked the movie on the International Movie Data Base a week or so after the screening and saw that a music credit for Horror Hospital is not even on there. This pretty much confirmed my suspicions and so I did a little bit more research. The problem with the music is that this 1973 movie had a 1940s, over the top romantic score a lot of the time... and none of the music seemed that much related to a shared concept throughout the movie. And with the arrival of a second lead actor, the hippy called Abraham (played by Kurt Christian), the music suddenly takes a detour and starts playing beat lead, funny sitar funk to completely overplay what is already an over the top performance. It was at this point that I realised this movie had a “needle-drop” soundtrack... that is to say, it has no original music composed for it and the score is assembled from cues from a big music library (this is something that Quentin Tarantino does successfully to this day in his movies but instead of a specially written library he just cribs the scores from other films), which in this case was a fairly famous one, it seems, called De Wolfe. I can honestly say that the clumsy attempts to support the music with what can only be called “some of the most lame-brained and incompetently inappropriate choices ever" only adds another layer of “f*ck me, if I laugh any harder my sides will come undone” to the proceedings.
So, bit of a schizophrenic reaction to this second movie I reckon. Did I like it as a horror movie. No, it was awful on that level. Did I like it as an entertainment. Absolutely... truly genius rubbish which I could happily watch again (and will if I can ever find a decent DVD) and, yes, I would recommend it to anyone wanting a good time with a truly cheesy flick... with the caveat that you need to not be so sensitive to any rampant sexism on display. You can’t do anything about that now anyway and, honestly, watching stuff like this, that’s half the fun.
My thanks to the Classic Horror Campaign and, of course, to the brains behind it, http://twitter.com/#!/cyberschizoid and http://twitter.com/#!/ScareSarah for introducing me to this wonderfully awful slice of “Great British Movie Making” which I thoroughly enjoyed. More great stuff to come, hopefully, from future events from http://www.classichorrorcampaign.com/ so check out their website now and sign their petition for them!