Crazy Old Ladies: The Story Of Hag Horror
Crazy Old Ladies: The Story Of Hag Horror by Caroline Young, Bear Manor Media, ISBN-10 : 1629339970, ISBN-13: 978-1629339979, $40.00
Throughout most of the history of cinema, women over a certain age – sometimes as low as 30 – have been considered past it by Hollywood studios. It’s still a problem at the top of the industry, even though the picture has changed dramatically in the independent sector recent years. Back in the Sixties and Seventies, some of the Golden Age’s biggest stars dealt with such rejection by finding a home in the horror genre, in a subgenre known as Hag Horror. Caroline Young’s book examines this phenomenon, the early films which shaped it and its influence today, as well as looking at what actually happened to some of those great actresses after their stars began to fade.
When they think about hag horror, many readers’ minds will go straight to Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, but Young also reflects on the importance of All About Eve and Sunset Boulevard in establishing that older actresses could still give tremendous performances which would pull in crowds. She looks at the abundance of titles which followed – the likes of Strait-Jacket, Psycho, Carrie, The Witches, Lady In A Cage and Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte. She also touches on the appearance of such women as supporting characters in such films as Rosemary’s Baby.
A central concern for Young is the suite of anxieties on which these films fixated, and the way in which this reflected the failure of these characters to fulfil ‘normal’ female roles as established in patriarchal society. They are, for the most part, characters who do not have children, or whose children have died; who are unmarried and have no male suitors except, occasionally, those whose prime concern is with extracting money from them; and they are seen, consequently, as lacking, as broken or seriously mentally ill. This is the source of their instability and dangerousness, though one cannot help but feel that the argument might be taken a stage further – that the threat they represent to other characters within these cinematic narratives is emblematic of the anxieties of male film producers (often the same age themselves) about the threat posed to society more generally by women who don’t know their place.
Young’s writing is fluid and easy to read, and does not presuppose in-depth knowledge either of feminist arguments or of cinema itself. She has an occasional tendency to present as fact matters which are open to debate, but the vast amount of work which she has put into this volume in terms of research and organisation is worthy of praise, and readers will find it tremendously useful either as a reference source or as an introduction to the subject, giving them a lot of viewing to do if they want to explore it in more depth.
By assembling so much information in one place and exploring it in roughly linear fashion (with a bit of back and forth as necessary), Young also makes it clear how little basic attitudes to older women have changed over the past century, even as the insecurities which they reflect have begun to be addressed in different ways. As such, the book makes useful reading for scriptwriters keen to do things differently, highlighting how easy it is to inadvertently fall back on the same old tropes.
If this makes the book sound like a rant, it is not. Although there are frustrations to address, it is also a celebration of the adaptability and toughness of some of Hollywood’s neglected stars, and there is within it a recognition of the delight to be found in some of these big, wonderfully egotistical characters – representations, perhaps, of ways in which younger actresses would also like to express themselves given the chance. Hag horror imagines what women are capable of when the gloves are off, and as such it offers its own form of liberation.
The Lost Adventures Of James Bond
The Lost Adventures Of James Bond by Mark Edlitz, ISBN: 97871735461618, £40.00
Mark Edlitz' book is a weighty tome that explores some of the more obscure corners of the James Bond oeuvre, but its greatest attraction to film fans is in new information about unproduced Bond films of the Dalton era.
Making extensive use of interview, and also of pencil drawings by artist Pat Carbajal to depict counter-factual Bonds in unmade works, light is shed on several roads not taken. There's a constant undercurrent of the legal wrangling around Bond, with rights issues, restrictions, lawsuits between production partners and more frequently mentioned in passing. There are also any number of stirring revelations that are ancillary to Bond but that would catch the attention of fans of other franchises.
In an interview about his contributions Max Landis seems to claim some responsibility (or blame?) for King Kong (1976), and the image of him sharing an office with Anthony Burgess whose own unproduced script involved a kidnapping of the Pope is a striking one. The continual presence of financial and legal issues makes discussion of a /fourth/ Timothy Dalton movie seem even more ambitious. While Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe treadmill seems a perpetual motion machine it's a reminder that it's easier to keep grinding sausage than to age ham. All these unproduced scripts seem to bear features that are repeated in later outings, but how much of that is theft and how much of that is convergent evolution is a much muddier question.
The work is heavily (and oddly) referenced. We get the 200th footnote by the 58th page. Notes 176 to 274 are different pages of the same source. The numbered references are formatted to a single column which might work on e-readers but seems wasteful on paper, and 'ibid' or some other solution would be more elegant. There's also a long list of Bond outings in various media, but none give publisher information and for entries like video-games format would have been helpful too. A list of the thirty-ish actors to have portrayed Bond is potentially useful for pub quiz purposes, but even within it there are opportunities to start arguments.
The film content includes not only unproduced Dalton Moore, and Brosnan films but an analysis of Richard Maibaum's Bond Essays. They're not reproduced here, forming part of the papers collection at the University of Iowa. ( http://collguides.lib.uiowa.edu/?MSC0149 ). At least one is available in Maibaum's posthumously published collection 'Speaking of Writing', but I've had trouble tracking them down myself. That may be less a function of obscurity than of looking for The section does offer some insights into the insights of the screenwriter for 13 Bond adventures, but at this stage me talking about them is a third remove.
That perilous piling of metatextuality includes a discussion of the comic book of the novelisation of the script of the cartoon inspired by the film(s), 90s animated production James Bond Jr. I do actually recall watching it, though not details. It's not currently licitly available, and even at the time home media releases were minimal. Of a 65 episode syndication run, just fourteen episodes made it to VHS, and three of those were in UK Saturday morning compilations. UK viewers might recall it from a Saturday slot in some ITV regions in 1992 or so, or in the coveted 5AM at Christmas spot from 1996, playing opposite 4-TEL and "Pages From Ceefax". It's not just TV schedulers that have buried it, EON's negotiations with DiC, toy manufacturer Hasbro and their TV arm Claster, and actual producers United Artists and Murakami-Wolf-Swenson (among others!) don't seem to have soured everybody but the gap between Dalton and Brosnan seems to have become a memory hole. The production constraints were numerous, but not so great that the series didn't include telepathy and have a final episode involving an attempt to find Thor's hammer Mjolnir. It may at that level be best forgotten, though you can still find action figures and die-cast vehicles on eBay.
Those constant rights issues feature in the stories of the various comics adaptations too, though they provide a good portion of the art that fills several pages. On the film side interviews with Alfonse Ruggiero, Nicolas Meyer, Cary Bates and Landis are all interesting. Of particular note is an interview with Keith Melton and plenty of behind the scenes shots of the James Bond ride, which was shot from the secret agent's point of view. Some pretty complex stunt and camera work with chest-rigged film cameras as it was pre-GoPro is well explained. There's also some discussion of Heineken adverts featuring the secret agent, including interviews with at least one of their director. That's back to the sausage-making though, as however subtle and suave some aspects of 007's conspicuous consumption might be, product placement is never far behind.
As a physical text it suffers from some of the usual business of Amazon print on demand. I'll not complain too much about the occasional error (AOL for AWOL, "just deserts") as my own editors would ensure I was hoist by my own pedant. I did check a declaration that a Harrier could fly down the Mont Blanc tunnel, but it was saved by the specification that it was a "Hawker" (p.151, interview tih Mary Crawford and Alan Templeton). The later BAe/AV8B models wouldn't, but "first generation" Harriers could squeak through with a wingspan of 7.7m to the tunnel's 8.6m.
They couldn't do it with 'ferry' wing-tip extensions though, nor with room for more than a couple of copies of this book to spare. It is a big book, 425 numbered pages, 24 x 21 x 2.5 cm and well over a kilo in weight. Admittedly, a lot of film texts end up awkwardly sized but while it has pages of (black and white) art and comics pages, it doesn't have any film stills though there are some behind the scenes shots of the James Bond ride's filming. The lack of images from the films themselves, except for Carbajal's pretty convincing pencil imaginings of unfilmed films, is probably itself a rights issue.
This is Edlitz's third film book, his second on James Bond. He's got a good voice and has clearly been able to use industry access for some insightful interviews. He's also a massive Bond fan, and this is firmly the audience for the book. A more film-focused work would perhaps have been more attractive to a lay audience. I picked up a copy of this for my father who said he found the stuff about the unproduced films interesting and didn't read the rest. While my father's fond of the movies and has a modest collection of the Fleming novels this isn't pitched at his level of interest. If, however, you are or know someone who is further into the double-O loop then this is likely to be of interest.
The Frightfest Guide To Vampire Movies
The Frightfest Guide To Vampire Movies by Nathaniel Thompson, ISBN: 9781913051198, 9781913051204, £19.99 or $29.99
They have given us some of cinema’s most celebrated monsters and unlikely sex symbols, and have found their way into the hearts of viewers who would never think of themselves as horror fans. What is it about vampires that gives them such enduring appeal? In this extensive exploration of the subgenre, Nathaniel Thompson attempts to find out.
It’s the sixth book in the popular Frightfest Guide series and sticks to a tried and tested formula. An ‘introduction’ makes up the first half of the book, followed by reviews of assorted vampire films, carefully chosen to provide a timelines, incorporate the classics and explore the boundaries of the genre. In accordance with the latter concern, there are some titles here which you might not immediately think of as vampire films at all, but Thompson makes a good argument for their inclusion in each case, and the effect is to give readers a broader sense of the scope of the phenomenon.
It’s an apposite time to produce this volume, as we have now had roughly a century of vampire film, and the dual time lines offered by the introduction and reviews reveal a lot about how these films reflected societal preoccupations over that period. Thompson feels that one of the vampire’s strengths as a figure in horror is its flexibility. There are outright monsters here, and plague metaphors (associated with several different epidemics), and also misunderstood loners. There are elegant aristocrats (several of whom fall foul of revolutionary peasants), troubled working class youths and romantic idols. Though most of them are male, Thompson gives some weight of consideration to female vampires and the important role they played both as objects of fantasy and as illustrations of unconstrained female sexuality with the potential to empower women in the audience.
When it comes to race, Hollywood's vampires and their imitators may be almost universally white, but Thompson looks further afield to find more diverse representation. In doing so, he looks at how vampires are defined in different cultural contexts (as, indeed, the book explores how definitions have changed over time), covering films which offer viewers an introduction to different types of vampire lore.
Inevitably, most dedicated vampire film fans will find that some favourite or other is missing, but given the scope of the book – and the fact that it makes no claim to be comprehensive – one cannot really complain about that. It’s a rare reader who will find nothing new here, or who will not be prompted to return to some much-loved but forgotten favourite of yore. The book is broad more than it is deep but that is, again, not to fault it. There are plenty of in-depth studies on smaller numbers of films available if that’s what you’re looking for. For the general readers, there is a great deal here to enjoy. For relative newcomers to the genre, it’s a great place to make a start on a thrilling journey of discovery.