Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Flesh and Blood Show (1972)

Pete Walker's first foray into horror after years of knocking out sex movies, The Flesh and Blood Show is, structurally at least, surprisingly conventional.  Unlike his later efforts, such as House of Whipcord, Frightmare and House of Mortal Sin, The Flesh and Blood Show doesn't mount an all out assault upon the conventions of the genre, using it as a vehicle to satirise and critique the hypocrisy of contemporary moral standards.  Instead, Walker presents us with a relatively conventional 'old dark house' type of movie, except that the main venue is a deserted end-of-the-pier theatre, rather than a mouldering country pile.  Which isn't to say that it isn't without interest or lacking in many characteristic Walker touches.  The most obvious of these is the amount of naked flesh on display (both male and female), which was still unusual in horror films of the era, (Hammer and various independent producers were showing a few bared breasts and bums, but Walker gives us much more, including some brief full frontal male nudity). 

The plot is pretty straightforward: a group of young performers are brought to the pier theatre by an unseen producer to rehearse a new show (the titular 'Flesh and Blood Show'), due to a lack of money and local accommodation, they are also forced to sleep there but quickly find that their numbers are being rapidly reduced by an unseen killer.  The murders aren't shown in any detail and there certainly isn't any gore (perhaps surprisingly, bearing in mind the movie's title).  Walker instead aims at building atmosphere and suspense, greatly aided in the former by the empty theatre's sense of desolation and isolation.  The plot unravels slowly, with red herrings galore and even a vanishing body thrown in, but eventually builds to a flash back centred denouement (this sequence was originally shown in 3D).

Not surprisingly, the killer's motivation lies in the past of the theatre - a cuckolded Shakespearean star reliving his earlier murder of his unfaithful wife and her lover (also his co-stars in a wartime production of Othello).  In this respect, the film is superficially similar to another British horror movie released the following year: Theatre of Blood, in which Vincent Price's long assumed dead Shakespearean ham takes his revenge upon the critics who slated him, murdering them in methods derived from the bard's plays.  Coincidentally, both films also feature the deranged thespian being assisted by a daughter.  The Flesh and Blood Show, however, is shot on a much lower budget and lacks the Vincent Price movie's flamboyant sadism and black humour. 

Despite the conventional horror movie structure, some of the themes which would come to dominate later Walker horror projects do begin to emerge here.  Most notable of these are the inability of the authorities to effectively deal with, let alone acknowledge, anything which lies outside of their narrow parameters of 'normality, and the exploitation of the young by older 'establishment' figures in order to satisfy their own repressed perverted desires.  What's missing is the overt attack on the supposed 'moral superiority' of the exploiters: whereas in later films these figures would take the form of judges, priests and family patriarchs, here the role is given to a broken down and clearly insane actor - not an authority figure in any conventional sense.

The film features a semi-'name' cast, from whom Walker elicits, in the main, decent performances.  The nominal lead is Ray Brooks, playing the revue's director, and the cast also includes Jenny Hanley (who takes her clothes off - or rather a body double does, judging by the way the scene is shot), Luan Peters (who spends a large part of the film naked, without the aid of a body double) and  Candace Glendenning, an actress who briefly seemed to have a promising career ahead of her, but quickly found herself specialising in stripping off in low budget horror flicks.  Also present is Robin Askwith, in his pre Confessions days (he played straight roles in quite a few horror flicks in the early seventies, most notably the magnificently barmy Horror Hospital) and Judy Matheson, an actress who seemed to spend a lot of the early seventies being victimised in various horror films.  No wonder she later became a continuity announcer for TVS, my local ITV franchise.  Patrick Barr, as the murderous actor, gives good value and became something of a Walker favourite.

All-in-all, The Flesh and Blood Show is a reasonably entertaining horror flick - it flags somewhat in the middle, but picks up toward the end.  It makes good use of its locations and features decent performances from its cast.  But there is nothing really outstanding about it.  Indeed, the most interesting thing about it is the fact that it was directed by Pete Walker as, to those who have only seen his later horror films, it is so conventional.  Of course, Walker's subsequent directorial career would eventually come full circle, with his last - to date - film being 1983's House of Long Shadows, another conventional 'old dark house' movie, albeit featuring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Vincent Price and John Carradine, made for Cannon. 



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