D: Jim O’Connolly. S: Herman Cohen. P: Herman Cohen, Aben Kandel. Cast: Joan Crawford, Ty Hardin, Diana Dors, Michael Gough, Judy Geeson, Robert Hardy, Geoffrey Keen, Philip Madoc, Milton Reid, Marianne Stone. US dist (DVD): SPE-Mill Creek.
Or: Billy Smart’s Big Top of Tripe. Before wowing us all – ahem – with Tower of Evil (1972), director Jim O’Connolly showed everyone how not to make a horror film with this all-star Herman Cohen endurance test, another tawdry shocker headlining Joan Crawford (easily the most terrifying thing in the film, resembling a particularly unconvincing shemale in stockings and top hat). Someone’s killing off Ringmaster Crawford’s top circus acts in a variety of unconvincing ways (silliest of which is the precredits opener, with a high-wire act somehow contriving to hang himself with his own rope – his swinging corpse introducing the garish title onto the screen in an amusing optical wipe effect). When Joan’s troublesome business partner (Michael Gough, rote performance #6) threatens to cause a fuss, he cops it too. Police inspector Robert Hardy investigates (very slowly). WHO could the killer be?? Oh, fuck it: it’s Joan’s nutcase daughter (Judy Geeson), jealous of all those prancing nincompoops who robbed her of mommie dearest’s affections. O’Connolly pads the thing out interminably with endless circus routines, performers and animals parading on and on past the camera. See: Milton Reid sing a big production number! See: Judy Geeson hit by lightning! See: Michael Gough with a tent spike hammered into his bonce! See: something else, for Christ’s sake.
A.k.a. In the Devil’s Garden, Tower of Terror
D: Sidney Hayers. S: John Kruse. Novel: “The Ravine” by Kendal Young. P: George H. Brown, Peter Rogers. Cast: Suzy Kendall, Frank Finlay, Freddie Jones, Lesley-Anne Down, Tony Beckley, Anthony Ainley. UK dist (DVD): Network.
…That is, anything besides Assault! (1971), Peter Rogers’s limp-wristed attempt to ape the near-the-knuckle thrills of the vogueish European gialli. Scored by Eric Rogers with his usual sophistication, packed with schoolgirls in peril, Assault comes across like Carry on Solange made by an eighty-year-old eunuch. Or the fifty-year old Sidney Hayers, well past his Night of the Eagle prime and reduced to journeyman drivel to pay the rent. Hayers’s gentlemanly distaste for the subject matter – sex killer preys on teenage schoolgirls – is all-too-obvious, reducing a potentially salacious premise to a leaden slog through idiotic cliches and flatlining “suspense” sequences (during which it’s advisable to go off and make a cuppa).
Suzy Kendall (sandwiching this role between 1970’s Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Torso in ’73) plays a nitwit art teacher who catches a glimpse of the Mystery Perv at the scene of his latest attack, and so becomes the next target on his list. It’s impossible to empathize with her heroine, as she’s such a complete berk: during the inquest she actually stands up in the witness box and tells the court with a straight face that the killer “looked EXACTLY LIKE the Devil.” And why? Because the maniac was spookily-lit by the red glow from her car’s brake lights at the time, a fact which takes AN AGE to dawn on her. Christ almighty. (She’s “artistic”, you see. They’re a bit feeble upstairs.) Freddie Jones is a sleazy reporter (in dark glasses and pork-pie hat) who tries to get Suzy to act as bait for the killer, while also increasing his circulation figures. David Essex cameos as a gor-blimey biker blown up in a chemist’s shop by one of the villain’s dastardly devices. Frank Finlay investigates (very slowly). Anthony Ainley is such an obvious creep, it comes as little surprise – SPOILER ALERT!! – to learn he’s the slobbering sex fiend. His escape attempt ends in fireworks when he takes the odd decision to scale an electricity pylon. The daft sod.