Saturday 13 December 2008

Tower of Evil (1972)

We're in coastal England and the tower of the title is a lighthouse, so my lass is in hog heaven from moment one. It's a rundown gothic sort of place so it looks even more cool even though the sets don't always live up to the exterior shots. Of course, as the title would suggest, it's a place of evil too, and the fishermen who arrive there at the opening of the film on the Sea Ghost find four tourists not quite having the time of their lives touring Europe. Three are dead: decapitated, speared to the wall or just left outside on the rocks. Three are naked, including the one live one, a young lady hiding in a cupboard who promptly wipes out one of the fishermen before being brought back to a psychiatric hospital.

She's Penelope Reed and the police are naturally convinced she's the murderer, but just as naturally her parents aren't so they hire a private investigator called Brent to look into it. He hitches a lift to the island with a bunch of archaeologists, who are keen on investigating it for their own reasons. You see, the spear that speared the young man to the wall was a solid gold ceremonial Phoenician spear, of the sort that is generally buried with a Phoenician chief along with the rest of his treasure and a golden bust of the god Baal. It's all valuable both financially and archeologically and they're very keen on finding it, but there are a lot of hidden motives too.

What else there's plenty of are bitchy lines. There's more cutting dialogue here than in anything else I can think of off hand, all delivered by women, and if you added the word 'meow' as a response to each bitchy line it would be the most used word in the film. You see, beyond being intelligent and educated, there's a lot of entangled back history here. There are four archaeologists: Rose, Adam, Nora and Dan; and while Dan's married to Nora but he's sleeping with Rose, who was formerly engaged to Adam. This leads to some notable sexual tension, especially in scenes with both Nora and Rose, with actresses Anna Palk and Jill Haworth able to act with their eyes as well as their bodies and with excellent inflection.

Both were seasoned horror veterans. Palk worked mostly in TV, especially a long run in The Main Chance, but her film credits incude The Skull, The Earth Dies Screaming and The Nightcomers, along with a co-lead in The Frozen Dead. Haworth was a big star, having originated the role of Sally Bowles in Cabaret on Broadway, and played in a number of Otto Preminger movies. However she ended up in horror movies, this one coming after It! and The Haunted House of Horror, and before The Mutations. Naturally all of them have numerous alternative titles, so I could have listed Curse of the Golem, The Dark, Horror of Snape Island and The Freakmaker instead, but they're all the same films.

While I'd be more than happy to see either or both of these actresses again, especially in outfits like these, I recognise others. Dan is Derek Fowlds, who I remember well from TV in Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister, and he's still going strong in Heartbeat after 16 years. He isn't known for the horror genre beyond a part in Hammer's Frankenstein Created Woman. One of the tourists, the one who gets speared to the wall, is Robin Askwith, from the Confessions films among many others, as well as Horror Hospital. And then there's Dennis Price, who appeared in no end of horror movies after his heyday in films like Kind Hearts and Coronets, including many of those mentioned above. He only has a small part here though, like George Coulouris who gets killed off pretty quickly.

The film itself, written and directed by Jim O'Connolly from a novel by George Baxt, is a curiosity. It has a really good go at being effective, with some solid atmosphere and effective shocks, as well as the expected early 70s nudity. It has a solid place in a few different subgenres of British horror but really stands alone because of the unique directions it takes. However those directions are far from explored to their fullest, and there's much that's disappointing, though that's generally because it's missing rather than because it's there. It also falls prey to many of the usual downfals of genre film: the women don't get to do too much, people wander off on their own all the time and professionals don't tend to act professionally. It's definitely worth a look though.

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