Reviews header
The Latest in Horror Entertainment
In this issue: 8 pages of reviews, covering Film Reviews • The newest UK cinema releases Gods and Monsters, Seul Contre Tous and the re-releasedNight of the Hunter Book Reviews • The latest Horror titles examined, including The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Among the Missing, The Complete Book of Vampires and Cannibal Holocaust and the Savage Cinema of Ruggero Deodato Video Reviews • New DVD, LaserDisc or VHS editions include Hellbound: Hellraiser II and A Perfect Murder. plus news of The Exorcist TV Reviews • Three new US-televised episodes of The X-Files
Film Review
Gods and Monsters
Director Bill Condon

StarsIan McKellen, Brendan Fraser, Lynn Redgrave
ReleasedMarch 26th 1999

selected and edited from Shivers #65

Ian McKellen and Brendan FraserBill Condon's much fêted film is small but perfectly formed, probing at the wellsprings of Gothic imagery by placing us in the Hollywood home of retired director James Whale as he recovers from what he lightly calls "a touch of stroke". Tormented by mental images, Whale shows how the landscape of Frankenstein was synthesized from the 'dark satanic mills' of his Dudley childhood and the bloody battlegrounds of the First World War. And, aware that his mental condition can only deteriorate, he determines to have his chunky 'yard man', Clayton Boone, relieve his pain by way of mercy killing.

This fictionalized account of Whale's final days is exquisitely done, with an affecting score by Carter Burwell and crystalline photography from Stephen M Katz. There are excellent performances, too, from Brendan Fraser's bovine Boone to Lynn Redgrave's "comic maid" Hanna, who comes across as a kind of Teutonic Una O'Connor.

Best of all is Ian McKellen's moving account of the sexagenarian Whale, outwardly dapper and unflappable but inwardly aghast at his loss of control. McKellen makes it clear that Whale's gayness is not the theme of the film; indeed, it seems almost peripheral, a 'given'. The film's real theme is old age, and in this McKellen's role resembles Gregory Peck's in Luis Puenzo's Old Gringo. There, Peck played the bitter satirist Ambrose Bierce, a Horror writer determined, like Whale, to stage-manage his own death and do it with dignity.

Writer/director Condon is perfectly attuned to the nuances of Whale's work, whether having him announce, in Thesigeresque style, that cigars are "my only other vice" (beyond the homosexuality which Hanna thinks will send him to Hell) or prefacing the appearance of Rosalind Ayres' Elsa Lanchester with a view of swans. (Lanchester modelled her climactic hisses in Bride of Frankenstein on the swans in a London park.) The film's feeling of a sultry 1950s summer is also brilliantly conveyed, particularly in a garden party sequence in which Whale and rival director George Cukor behave like "two old men slapping each other with lilies."

The 1930s are another matter, however, for Condon's only mis-step is in the very sequence which Horror fans will probably be looking forward to most keenly. The brief recreation of the making of Bride is unpersuasively done, with a particularly hopeless Ernest Thesiger courtesy of Australian actor Arthur Dignam. Where was the impressively nostriled British actor Murray Melvin when they needed him?

But this is a minor cavil, for Gods and Monsters is surely the most sophisticated tear-jerker in many moons. Which tacky Horror film, of much more recent date than James Whale's, advertised itself with the phrase, 'If this doesn't scare you, you're already dead'? I forget which, but, adapting that phrase a little, it's certain that if Gods and Monsters doesn't move you, you're already dead. Jonathan Rigby


From our Video Review section
BBFC News – The Exorcist
selected and edited from Shivers #65

Linda Blair as the possessed ReganIt surprises many people to learn that The Exorcist was briefly - legally - available on video in the early 1980s. It was one of a number of controversial titles available during the fledgling years of the video industry, before the 1984 Video Recordings Act made it a requirement for all tapes to be re-certificated for home use. The original video version was released with the film's theatrical X certificate, but was subsequently denied a video certificate by the BBFC.

The film became something of a bête noire for censor James Ferman, who felt that the film couldn't even be released in an edited version. Last year, to celebrate its 25th anniversary, the film was re-released theatrically in a remastered version with improved sound. Warner naturally wanted to follow this with a video release, which would potentially be much more lucrative. With Ferman no longer at the helm, it suddenly seemed likely that the BBFC would finally bow to commercial pressure and allow the film to be released on video.

Well, the Board have finally passed The Exorcist for video without cuts, with an 18 certificate. In a frank statement the BBFC admitted that there is little - if any - hard evidence to support the position it had maintained for almost 15 years. Acknowledging that the film's recent theatrical re-release passed without incident, the Board concluded that "The Exorcist, while still a powerful and compelling work, no longer has the same impact it did 25 years ago. Film technique and special effects have moved on a long way since then, and audiences - including (or especially) teenagers brought up on a range of modern multi-media output - are less likely to be affected. Correspondingly, the potential of The Exorcist to disturb a small, impressionable minority must be significantly diminished".

Stephen Foster