Tag Archives: Donald Pleasance

Rocks In The Attic #711: Alan Howarth – ‘Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers (O.S.T.)’ (1988)

11183_JKTOne thing I’ve learnt from my discussions with fans of horror movies and horror soundtracks is that the majority of them have poor, poor taste in films. They might have jobs and families, but it’s like they have the mental age of a 7-year old when it comes to films.

The first Halloween is a stone-cold classic. It’s more than a little responsible for the popularity of the slasher genre of horror films. It was made a shoestring budget, and became one of the most profitable films of all time.

Halloween II gets by mainly because of the same cast, the involvement of John Carpenter (now in the producer’s chair), and its continuity (it takes place immediately after the events of the first film).

Halloween III: Season Of The Witch is the outlier – a brilliant side-step away from the threat of murderous kid brother Michael Myers, into something far more terrifying. But there’s no accounting for taste, and its poor box-office performance almost killed the franchise.

John Carpenter walks away, and in steps Syrian-American film producer Moustapha Akkad, attempting to resurrect the series by returning Michael Myers to Haddonfield, Illinois.

Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers should have been subtitled The Disappearance Of The Roman Numerals. It is a bad film. The story is bad. The script is bad. The performances are bad – not least the dreadfully hammy acting by Donald Pleasance. The action sequences are bad. Everything is bad.

Probably the most unforgivable aspect of the whole film is the production design. Where Michael Myers once looked terrifying, he now looks comical. His white mask has changed since the earlier films. He now looks like a confused Asian businessman standing at a hotel buffet cart.

The only saving grace is the synth-laden soundtrack, by Carpenter’s musical collaborator, Alan Howarth. The Halloween theme, with its fantastically odd-time signature, makes a welcome return, and feels like the most Carpenterish element of the whole film.

Moustapha Akkad was killed along with his daughter in 2005, by a Al-Qaeda bomb in the Grand Hyatt Hotel, Amman, Jordan. The Rob Zombie directed 2007 remake of Halloween was dedicated to his memory.

Hit: Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers

Hidden Gem: Halloween 4 Reprise

RITA#711a

Rocks In The Attic #617: John Barry – ‘Diamonds Are Forever (O.S.T.)’ (1971)

RITA#617Sean Connery is back! Shirley Bassey is back! Director Guy Hamilton is back! Everybody’s back!

Bond producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli’s attempts to reproduce the success of 1964’s Goldfinger were thinly veiled. Get the original 007 back in the role, get Goldfinger’s director back, and the singer of its theme song. Get Richard Maibaum, the screenwriter of Goldfinger, to write the script, and instruct him to set most of the film in America, much like the 1964 film. Hell, even the subject matter of the film is similar – where the subject matter of Goldfinger deals with gold, Diamonds Are Forever deals with, erm, diamonds.

The only problem is that the film it isn’t anywhere near as good as Goldfinger. The plotting is messy, and the film feels a little lost at sea between the swing of the sixties, and the sleaze of the seventies. It’s lucky that the Bond producers were able to bring Connery back, as the film might have suffered more without his magnetic presence.

The previous Bond, George Lazenby, had been offered a contract for seven films but left after only one (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). In his place, the role almost went to American actor John Gavin – the heroic brother-in-law in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Gavin even signed a contract to play Bond, before the producers were able to lure Connery back, and Gavin was again set to play Bond in Live And Let Die before they changed their minds again and settled on Roger Moore.

Connery looks a little heavy this time around – and his ever-present hairpiece looks more obvious than it ever had, John Barry’s score comes a little too close to sounding like James Last in his attempts to replicate the lounge music of the Las Vegas setting, and Charles Gray’s portrayal of Ernst Stavro Blofeld loses all the menace that Donald Pleasance had brought to the role (admittedly this had been lost with Telly Savalas’ portrayal in OHMSS).

But I love Diamonds Are Forever regardless. It features my favourite Bond girl – the top-heavy Lana Wood – despite her role being very short and sweet. The theme song remains one of my favourites, and I was lucky enough to see Bassey perform it one year at Glastonbury in a medley of her Bond themes. Bond’s gadgets are reined in before the silliness of the Roger Moore era, and the film feels like one last hurrah for Connery’s 007 (although of course he would return to the role one more time in 1983’s Never Say Never Again).

The only drawback about the film is the stunt work, particularly in the mistakes they made with the Ford Mustang car chase. First of all, the thrilling police pursuit through the streets of Las Vegas is partly ruined by the fact that the sequence is clearly being watched by crowds of onlookers – as the producer’s were unable to close off the city’s streets from pedestrians.

RITA#617aSecondly, and most damning of all, the chase’s finale where Bond escapes the police by driving on two wheels through a tight alleyway was filmed incorrectly. They filmed the approach using two wheels on one side of the car, and filmed the shot of the car emerging from the alley on the opposite two wheels of the car. How terrible, and one wonders whether the continuity person – or in fact anybody working on this particular stunt – could ever hold their head high in Hollywood ever again. As a movie mistake, it’s up there with the Star Wars stormtrooper hitting his head on the Death Star doorway, or Charlton Heston supposedly wearing a wristwatch in Ben-Hur’s chariot race (an urban legend that has since been quashed).

Editors Bert Bates and John Holmes couldn’t have solved the mistake by reversing the film as both shots featured writing on buildings and advertisement hoardings, and so the only way out was a shot mid-alley which was made to look like Bond switched sides of the car mid-stunt. James Bond 007, licence to defy the laws of physics. As far as Bond mistakes go, this is even worse than choosing to soundtrack The Man With The Golden Gun’s barrel-roll stunt with a slide whistle.

RITA#617bDiamonds Are Fever’s lovable villains, the vaguely homosexual Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd deserve special mention, and not only for their great performance in the film as the murderous duo. Mr. Wint was played by actor Bruce Glover – father of Crispin ‘George McFly’ Glover – while Mr. Kidd was played by musician Putter Smith, bass player on sessions for, among others, Thelonius Monk, the Beach Boys and the Righteous Brothers.

Hit: Diamonds Are Forever (Main Title) – Shirley Bassey

Hidden Gem: 007 And Counting

Rocks In The Attic #416: John Carpenter & Alan Howarth – ‘Escape From New York’ (1981)

RITA#416John Carpenter films are everything an adolescent boy needs growing up. I can’t remember which of his films I saw first – probably Big Trouble In Little China, as it seemed to reach a more mainstream audience when it was released – but Escape From New York will always be my favourite.

It was always a goal to see the film when I was growing up, right from when I first knew the film existed. I have a clear memory of seeing the front cover of the video that somebody had rented – the great image of Kurt Russell, Donald Pleasance and Adrienne Barbeau running away from a horde of nasties, down a dark New York City street dwarfed by the decapitated head of the Statue Of Liberty. I don’t know who rented it – maybe my parents, maybe a neighbour – but I remember being told that ‘it wasn’t for me’. I must have been really young – maybe four or five when it was released on VHS in the UK. It’s funny when you’re not allowed something; it just makes you want it more. The Statue Of Liberty image must have stuck in my head because as soon as I could, I sought it out.

The set-up is brilliant:

In 1988, the crime rate in the United States rises four hundred percent. The once great city of New York becomes the one maximum security prison for the entire country. A fifty-foot containment wall is erected along the New Jersey shoreline, across the Harlem River, and down along the Brooklyn shoreline. It completely surrounds Manhattan Island. All bridges and waterways are mined. The United States Police Force, like an army, is encamped around the island. There are no guards inside the prison, only prisoners and the worlds they have made. The rules are simple: once you go in, you don’t come out.

Add to that the marvellous minimalistic score by John Carpenter – possibly my favourite film score of all time – and you have the perfect launching-off point for a science-fiction film. The ingredients are perfect: a Han Solo-esque lead character, an anti-hero in a future without heroes; a futuristic setting in a well-known location; and a premise – the rescue of the President of the United States of America, and a McGuffin involving plans for a powerful new weapon – that the whole world can invest in.

Over time, it’s become even more endearing. The film is set in 1997 – now eighteen years in the past. What was once so futuristic – the last dying years of the twentieth century – now seem so lodged in the past. Yet the film still makes sense. It’s still within the realms of possibility that crime in the America would get to such an irreversible point that the authorities would wash their hands of it and create a super-prison. I’ve often thought about the chances of the New Zealand government sending the inmates of our overflowing prisons to the barren wastes of Stewart Island – who hasn’t? Although the cynical twenty-first century motivation behind this would probably be the government wanting to turn the resulting empty prisons into luxury apartment blocks.

The twin towers of the World Trade Centre even make an appearance in Escape From New York, being the landing point for Snake’s entrance into New York – another facet of the film that firmly places it in the past. Even the music could now be considered out of date. In 1981, it would have sounded futuristic – sequenced computer music to appeal to the video-game generation. Today, it still sounds like the future, just a version of the future that’s now locked in the past.

Hit: Main Title

Hidden Gem: The Bank Robbery

Rocks In The Attic #336: Various Artists – ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (O.S.T.)’ (1978)

RITA#336The one person who should be stood up against a wall and shot for this travesty of an album is George Martin. In just eighty three minutes, Martin manages to avoid all traces of innovation he was known for in the previous decade, and produces an album full of schlocky middle-of-the-road Beatles covers. With very few exceptions, each song sounds like it was recorded with Murph and the Magictones (in the Armada Room at the Holiday Inn, “Quando Quando Quando…”).

I’ve never seen the film that this album soundtracks, and I don’t think I ever want to. I’ve seen the segment where Aerosmith perform Come Together on YouTube – the highlight of the album (and while you might think I would say that, being a diehard and unapologetic Aerosmith fan, Robert Christgau earmarked it at the time as being the best of a very bad bunch, along with Earth, Wind & Fire’s Got To Get You Into My Life); but the farcical stuff that was going on around Aerosmith, involving Frankie Howerd, was very hard to watch.

Who would ever want to listen to Donald Pleasance sing (or rather, say) I Want You (She’s So Heavy)? While Peter Sellers doing A Hard Day’s Night in the ‘60s raised a smile, this just sounds bad. And Frankie Howerd singing When I’m Sixty-Four and Mean Mr. Mustard? Are you fucking joking?

Just to make things ever worse, the album is one of those annoying ‘70s double albums where sides A and D are on one disc, and B and C share the other disc. I’m prepared to forgive certain double albums for this (Electric Ladyland, Songs In The Key Of Life, for example), but with this album being so unlistenable I really resent the inconvenience. Did anybody ever even see one of those turntables that would play this sequence of sides? I’m sure it was just a record company conspiracy to confuse stoned people in the 1970s: “Hey man, as well as being blind, Stevie Wonder doesn’t seem to be able to spell. What gives, dude?”

Hit: Got To Get You Into My Life – Earth, Wind & Fire

Hidden Gem: Get Back – Billy Preston