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Beyond The Fog

Beyond The Fog(1972)

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Beyond The Fog (1972)

We begin, curiously enough, at what feels like the end:

One foggy day, a pair of crusty old sea dogs sail up to the shore of a lonely island so spooky even seagulls fear to tread there (and who's a better judge of scary than a seagull, I ask you?). As the pair explore the abandoned hulk of a forgotten lighthouse, they are shocked to discover the naked, dismembered corpses of some teenagers. And, hiding in a closet, a nude girl with a knife who kills one of the fishermen in a mad rage before being subdued.

Just as you've started to groove into the gothic atmosphere, the setting switches abruptly to the glaring white walls of the early-1970s vision of the future. A hypnotherapist employed by Scotland Yard to interrogate the crazy girl has strapped her into a chair, injected her full of psychotropic pharmaceuticals, and dragged in the wildest colored light show this side of a discotheque. To induce her to reveal what happened on sinister Snape Island, the doctor helpfully chants at her, "You're on the island... You're on the island...you're on the island!"

Sure enough, the poor girl flashes back to her experiences, which appear to have been filmed by a pornographer for the benefit of epileptics. In a stutter of images, we see how she and her jazz-loving free-love hippie friends came to the island to indulge in some bed-hopping, not realizing that there was a murderous murderer hidden about the place eager to do some murderin'.

Meanwhile, a group of horny archeologists sporting the latest in skimpy skin-tight fashion have become fascinated by the fact that the murder weapon in these crimes was a 3,000 year-old solid gold scepter from a previously unknown Phoenician shrine to Baa, god of fertility. They set off in search of what other archeological treasures are waiting to be uncovered on Snape Island.

Arriving at the lighthouse in the company of some secretive guides, very possibly hunted by a still unknown killer, and in the immediate vicinity of an untapped trove of fabulous wealth, they immediately settle in to the most critical activities: smoking pot, sleeping with each other, and wandering off alone at night. One by one, they fall victim, dying in order of their sluttiness.

Years after Tower of Evil (1972) made its modest tour of the drive-in circuit, the horror genre would develop a new set of conventions. In the mad slasher films that dominated horror filmmaking of the late 1970s and 80s, teenagers who dared risk promiscuous sexual activity would soon be slaughtered by the likes of Freddy and Jason. Tower of Evil straddles the transition between the Gothic horrors of the previous generation and the soon-to-be world of slashers. The driving force behind the change was a relaxing of censorship rules. Once forbidden images of sex and violence were now permitted onto screens, but audiences still felt awkwardly torn about them. British audiences were more comfortable with graphic sexuality than with gore, while the Puritanical impulse of Americans more easily tolerated blood and guts than scenes of sex. As a British production consciously aimed at American audiences, Tower of Evil did the obvious thing and mixed the two. English cinemas at the time were increasingly full of ribald sex comedies, but such things were hard to sell in the U.S. The approach of horror films like Tower of Evil and those that followed its template was to provide enough titillating nudity to cater to that prurient interest while lathering an anti-sex hostility over the top to make the whole thing appear less salacious. Here are your skanky whores, now watch them die.

In the flashback sequences, as the randy teens strip down and have at each other, one girl demurs. "I get the only chick in Europe who doesn't want to get laid," the boy moans (although he has scored a woman who subscribes to the theory that fellatio doesn't count as sex). Any guesses which of their party will be the sole survivor?

Director Jim O'Connolly packs as much bare flesh and bloody stumps into the flashback sequences as humanly possible, and lets loose with a sex scene just this side of hardcore. Along with the schizophrenic storytelling, skipping almost randomly between disparate timelines and settings, Tower of Evil is a film somewhat ahead of its time. In its British run, it was doubled up with Hammer's Demons of the Mind (1972), itself a crossbred hybrid of Gothic melodrama and modern psychosexual psychedelia. Demons of the Mind leans more heavily on the "psycho" side of that divide, with Tower of Evil favoring the "sexual" part, but both films marked furtive forays into a new uncharted realm for 70s horror. Yet, while it ventured into territory that would later be aggressively colonized by Reagan-era horror filmmakers, Tower of Evil made sure to set up its base camp safely within the confines of the familiar trappings of traditional horror. When the feces-smeared madman Saul finally makes his entrance late in the picture, fans of James Whale's The Old Dark House (1932) will recognize significant chunks of that narrative awkwardly cut-and-pasted into the middle of the proceedings. And as Tower of Evil winds to its conclusion, it ends with a blazing fire, natch. If you grew up in that time, you could be forgiven for wondering why municipalities bothered with fire departments at all, since obviously the only fires were those that destroyed the haunted castles and mad scientist's laboratories, and why would you want to put those fires out?

It is a rare and special thing to critique a low-budget horror quickie for having too many ideas, but that is the greatest failing of Tower of Evil. The characters are wanly drawn and given absurd things to say and do, but such was the stuff of 70s horror even in the most competent of hands, and easily forgiven. Harder to swallow is the fact the audacious first half of this movie promises a more ambitious and entertaining ride than the second half delivers. The script by George Baxt never seems sure whether it wants to attribute the brutal slayings to a case of hereditary insanity or to the ancient supernatural influence of the devil himself. Not only does it try to have that cake and eat it too, but spends the middle part of the film baking up additional cakes in the hopes of also having/eating them. Unfortunately for the film's reputation, it finishes on its weakest and hoariest notes, allowing audiences to depart in frustration that overshadows the memories of the genuinely distinctive farrago of ideas bustling in the opening reels. Tower of Evil was neither a huge hit on its original run nor well-remembered today, but this bleeding edge example of the slasher genre has merits enough to warrant a revisit today.

Producer: Richard Gordon
Director: Jim O'Connolly
Screenplay: Jim O'Connolly; George Baxt (novel)
Cinematography: Desmond Dickinson
Music: Kenneth V. Jones
Film Editing: Henry Richardson
Cast: Bryant Haliday (Brent), Jill Haworth (Rose), Mark Edwards (Adam), Jack Watson (Hamp), Anna Palk (Nora), Derek Fowlds (Dan), Dennis Price (Bakewell), Anthony Valentine (Dr. Simpson), Gary Hamilton (Brom), George Coulouris (John Gurney), William Lucas (Inspector Hawk), John Hamill (Gary).
C-89m.

by David Kalat

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Beyond The Fog (1972)

The year is 1956, and a young man originally trained as a monk but who chose acting instead now runs the 55th Street Playhouse Theater in New York, a shrine to the art house film. No, he doesn't just run art house films - he created the art house circuit himself. As the founder of Janus Films, this young man (his name is Bryant Haliday) was the one who brought Fellini and Bergman and Kurosawa to moviegoers in the United States, who nurtured their audiences and fan bases and thereby created the marketplace for such artists to do their work in the first place. But there is something strangely telling about the name Haliday chose for his enterprise. Like Janus, the two-faced Roman god, Haliday was himself an oddly bifurcated man. On the one side he was the avatar of the art house, a classically trained thespian championing the most pointy-headed aspects of cinema. And the other, he was a B-movie star making low-budget horror movies for producer Richard Gordon.

Their partnership began in 1963 when exploitation producer Gordon cast Haliday as a maniacal ventriloquist in Devil Doll, inaugurating a long-running collaboration on par with Alfred Hitchcock and Jimmy Stewart, Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Koji Yakusho, Jack Hill and Pam Grier.

Gordon's Grenadier Films struck a deal with drive-in maven Joe Solomon's Fanfare Corporation to make a flick full of gore and bare breasts tailor-made for the 70s exploitation market. Shot at Shepperton Studios at the same time that Amicus was mounting their anthology triptych Tales from the Crypt, Horror on Snape Island (as it was originally known) did not originally have a part for Haliday. The already convoluted plot was adapted to make room for Haliday as a private detective who joins up with an archeological expedition exploring an abandoned lighthouse where a group of teenagers were hacked to bits...well, it sort of makes sense when you see it.

Joining Haliday in the cast was a motley collection of young newbies and experienced hands, few of whom had any real connection to the horror genre. Character actors like George Coulouris, Anthony Valentine, Dennis Price, and Jack Watson certainly had horror credits on their busy resumes, but were hardly the usual faces for such outings. Candace Glendenning, the topless lunatic driven to a killing frenzy by her experiences, was fresh from her role in Franklin Schaffner's Nicholas and Alexandra (1971). Robin Askwith was best known for appearing in sex comedies, and Jill Haworth grumbled, "I never wanted to do horror movies, but when acting is your livelihood, you sometimes have to accept unwanted roles just to survive. I remember in Horror of Snape Island my character stumbles upon five dead bodies and I had to say with a straight face, 'Ooh, the police aren't going to like this.' The crew just kept laughing every time I said it."

Director Jim O'Connolly had previously supervised the Ray Harryhausen monster-vs.-cowboys The Valley of Gwangi (1969) and Joan Crawford's horror opus Berserk! (1967, A.K.A. Circus of Blood), neither of which match the creepy atmospherics of his work here. This is largely due to the considerable skill of cinematographer Desmond Dickinson, the distinguished D.P. responsible for Laurence Olivier's 1948 Hamlet, The Importance of Being Earnest (1952), and The Browning Version (1951), whose career had veered into horror as the years went on and English cinema found that Gothic shockers were the only movies they could reliably export. O'Connolly directed but one more film, Mistress Pamela (1974), an example of the British sexploitation films that would give cable outlets like Cinemax something to fill its airtime with.

by David Kalat

Sources:

Robin Askwith, www.freewebs.com/robinaskwith

Tom Lisanti, Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema

Hank Reardon, Tower of Slash, Horror-wood.com

George Reis, An Interview with Richard Gordon, DVD Drive-In

Jonathan Rigby, English Gothic



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Beyond The Fog (1972)

"They came, they saw, they died!" This, blazoned across the posters for a tawdry little thing called Tower of Evil, playing double bills in England with one of Hammer's lesser efforts, Demons of the Mind (1972). Joe Solomon's Fanfare Corporation distributed it in the States as Horror on Snape Island alongside another Richard Gordon-produced flick, Tales of the Bizarre (1970). The most bizarre tale of Tales of the Bizarre is that just a few years earlier, it had been known as Secrets of Sex (1970). The problem was, getting the word "sex" into newspaper ads was a tricky thing in those days, and befuddled audiences assumed that the movie was a documentary. It was not - it was an anthology of sexy vignettes narrated by, I kid you not, a mummy! Disappointed by its poor performance, Gordon recut and retitled Sex to share the lower half of the double bill with Horror. About a decade later, Sam Sherman's Independent International outfit slapped a new title on the prints of Horror of Snape Island and sent it on the round all over again, this time as Beyond the Fog, a title intended to piggyback on the success of John Carpenter's The Fog (1980).

In these various versions, the film had undergone some editorial revision. American censors removed some of the nudity, a sex scene, and some gore. For a turn of the millennium DVD reissue, the censored footage was restored, and the original British release title Tower of Evil restored. The new home video version also restored some footage the British censors had found worrisome - a scene of the mad killer engulfed in flames.

To shoot that sequence, director Jim O'Connolly had stuntman Mark McBride in a fire-retardant suit. McBride would go on to bring his expertise to the Superman and Batman blockbuster franchises, and a few of the James Bond flicks as well, but at this point in his career he was still a young man with limited experience. When the sequence was finished, and O'Connolly called "cut!" the crew was shocked to discover McBride unconscious on the stage. The suit had saved him from being burned, but had also nearly suffocated him!

by David Kalat

Sources:
Robin Askwith, www.freewebs.com/robinaskwith
Tom Lisanti, Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema
Hank Reardon, Tower of Slash, Horror-wood.com
George Reis, An Interview with Richard Gordon, DVD Drive-In
Jonathan Rigby, English Gothic

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Beyond The Fog (1972)

"Tower of Evil might be fun if you're drunk and with a group of rowdy and inebriated friends, because it doesn't offer anything to the lucid."
- Mike Jackson, DVD Verdict

"The film is decorated with incongruous and self-conscious nudity as if to hedge its distributional bets. The dialogue is uncomfortable and it is not surprising, despite O'Connolly's vigorous handling of the murders and mayhem, that the performances are unconvincing."
- The Encyclopedia of Horror Movies

"Graphic shocker has plenty of bare flesh and sexual activity in addition to its horrors to hold interest - and that's during the film's quieter moments."
- John Stanley, Creature Features

"A gory, ahead-of-its-time slash flick...Complete with nude sex scenes; bloody, imaginative murders; a disfigured, Jason-like killer; and a twist ending, this could have been the Friday the 13th [1980] of its days if it hadn't been released in the U.S. in a drastically cut 85-minute version..."
- James O'Neill, Terror on Tape

"An almost perfect case study as a link between the old and the new-the rules of old Hollywood haunted house films, and the U.S. slasher cycle that hadn't yet started."
- Maximillian, Blog Critics

"With its innovative depictions of graphic violence, Tower of Evil is unquestionably an archetype-alongside Mario Bava's Bay of Blood [1971], produced the following year-of the "body count" slasher films that would become a Hollywood staple a decade later."
- George R. Reis, DVD Drive-In

"Hilarious dialogue aside, the film is surprisingly atmospheric."
-Jonathan Rigby & Richard Gordon, English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema

"Tower of Evil takes us back to the basics of the horror genre, delivering a good scare without all of the excess hype...Sitting down to watch Tower of Evil, I thought, "I know I won't be scared by this movie", but as I watched, I curiously found the hair on the back of my neck standing up! I couldn't believe that I was actually getting into this B-class horror movie."
- Troy Lambert, digitallyObsessed.com

"While the story line is somewhat confusing and contrived, it serves well enough for the purpose and excellent production values and cast help build excitement."
- Variety

Tower of Evil is a particularly ugly example of early seventies horror. In fact, you'd go a long way before you found a better example of cinematic hypocrisy. With censorship restrictions lifted, screenwriter-director Jim O'Connolly leapt at the chance to send a parade of sex and nudity in front of his cameras. But, as we all know, sex is wrong. And so the characters who have so obligingly shown all are almost without exception brutally punished for their behaviour shortly afterwards."
- Liz Kingsley, And You Call Yourself a Scientist! (http://twtd.bluemountains.net.au/Rick/liz_toe.htm)

"There is a lot of tense atmosphere combined with gothic visuals which makes this film rise above your average bloodshed movie. Plus there is tons of gore, nudity, and sex to titillate and repulse the viewer. These graphic elements are nicely interwoven with the narrative and lend to the feeling of dread that this film instills. For instance, in the first five minutes alone, the film demonstrates what the movie is capable of as it creates an atmospheric foggy condition, and then throws the gore elements at you. The sets are creepy enough, especially the light house and the island itself. Many nasty looking corpses with crabs skittering around (somebody get out the butter!) on them are unnerving. There is a real overwhelming sense of dread, claustrophobia, and paranoia."
- Neil Messinger, DVD Cult (http://www.dvdcult.com/rev_TowerEvil.htm)

"The film certainly contains moments of genuine horror, but they aren't sustained. The movie ends up as being mainly a curiosity item for genre addicts and those who enjoy their Euro Horror. Low production values, plenty of gore and nudity, the film could certainly have been a lot worse."
- Omar Khan, The Hot Spot Online

Compiled by David Kalat

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Beyond The Fog (1972)

INSPECTOR HAWK: Why should a young girl suddenly run amok and butcher three friends in such a brutal manner as well as the fisherman John Gurney?
DR. SIMPSON: That's what I have to find out.

DR. SIMPSON: What probably happened is that her brain has become overloaded by the horror of what it has done, or seen. So, its only course was to blow the fuse, so to speak.
INSPECTOR HAWK: What, like a machine that short-circuits?
DR. SIMPSON: That's roughly the analogy. So what we have to do is find the fault and correct it. Otherwise the fuse will blow again when the machine restarts.

DES: But it's terrific here-just like the kid said it was. We have sounds, food, and some great grass! This place is really far out!
MAE: It scares the hell out of me!

MAE: Evil. I get feelings of evil from this island.
DES: That's just me wanting to boing you.

GARY: I get the only chick in Europe who doesn't want to get laid.
PENNY: I told you before we came, I don't. That doesn't mean I don't want to.
GARY: You drive me crazy like that. For Christ's sake, I'm a man.
PENNY: And I know how to take care of a man. And I will. I promise.
GARY: Penny? Can you take care of me now? I'm going insane.
PENNY: All dressed up and nowhere to go.

NORA: It was a hot night. And what's a girl to do when her husband's away? Masturbation's so boring.

ROSE: Oh, I wish they hadn't left us alone!

BROM: Time enough for one of those shipboard romances.
NORA: Don't bust your jeans, kid. I seldom make love to strangers, and never while my husband's watching.
BROM: You ought to give it a go. You might find he likes it.
NORA: It's not him I'm worried about, sonny, it's you. You look a trifle inexperienced. You know - big on chat, small in everything else.

HAMP: The island has a bad name, Mr. Brent. Always has, always will.
BRENT: Especially after the death of your father and those three American kids.

NORA: You want me to sort out who sleeps with whom, or shall we draw lots?

NORA: (screams)
BROM: Turn it off, will you? Do you want them to think I wanted to rape you?
NORA: Oh, that wouldn't be so bad, you stupid bastard. You just scared the pants off me.
BROM: Did I? That's interesting. While they're off, I'll take advantage of it.
NORA: I'll let you know when I want that.

NORA: Brent carries a gun.
DAN: How do you know that?
NORA: I noticed the bulge in his trousers under his sweater.
DAN: Yes, you would.

Compiled by David Kalat

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