Coming up with a list of my all-time favourite movies, as requested by the cheerfully-youthful “Old Cheeser” Simon, was trickier than expected! It is always more interesting for the reader if top tens, such as these, contain a little variety. A number of my favourites, though, have equally good sequels. Some sequels are even preferable to the original, though not often. If several films from a series were to be included, it would make the list a little obvious even though I might choose to watch them in preference to some of those I’ve actually selected. With this in mind, it’s more of “A Top Ten” as opposed to “The Top Ten” but that doesn’t make it any-the-less valid because you might re-evaluate the list at some point anyway. So, without further ado, and in no particular order of preference, I present “My Top Ten Favourite Movies”…
1: “Taste the Blood of Dracula” (1970) Director: Peter Sasdy
I love Hammer Horror! I did at one time know more about this studio’s films than I did “Doctor Who” simply because they were oft-repeated while I was growing up. I especially love their vampire movies and “Taste the Blood of Dracula” is the fourth in their seven-film “Dracula” series. It does of course star Christopher Lee as Dracula although he doesn’t get to say much, except count the number of his victims, but boy is this film sensually erotic. It concerns three bored hypocritical aristocrats, including Geoffrey Keen from the “James Bond” films and Peter Sallis from long running sitcom “Last of the Summer Wine”, seeking ever-extreme thrills until, one night, they take on more than they bargained for in the crypt of a church. Plenty of heaving bosoms but little nudity, it is in fact James Bernard’s music score which delivers the romance with such beautifully-orchestrated melodic punch. Linda Hayden, as Alice Hargood, is the heroine to die for. I’d quite happily be bitten by her, anytime!
2: “Blood on Satan’s Claw” (1971) Director: Piers Haggard
Another horror, this time not from Hammer but from Tigon although it also stars Linda Hayden. “Blood on Satan’s Claw” is about witchcraft and superstitions. Unlike in Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”, with which it has much in common, the fears of local villagers are well-founded as Linda, playing temptress Angel Blake, attempts to seduce the Master himself! Yes, Anthony Ainley appears as a preacher, the Reverend Fallowfield, who gives into her naked charms inside his very church. A whole host of famous faces appear in this film. Wendy Padbury, as Cathy Vespers, is ritualistically raped. Simon Williams dons 17th century period costume while Michele Dotrice gets away from Frank Spencer! Like the Dracula film, it is extremely seductive owing, in no small part, to the direction of Piers Haggard. He is the great grand-nephew of author H. Rider Haggard, though equally famous, in his own right, as the director of Dennis Potter’s much acclaimed television serial, with musical numbers, “Pennies From Heaven”.
3: “Twins of Evil” (1971) Director: John Hough
A second Hammer Horror and, yes, another vampire movie although with “Twins of Evil” the inspiration isn’t from the pen of Bram Stoker but J Sheridan Le Fanu, albeit interpreted rather loosely. It’s one of a trilogy of films centring on the legend of the Countess Mircalla and my favourite movie to feature the much-missed Peter Cushing. Here, though, he isn’t playing Van Helsing but a witch hunter called Gustav Weil, rather in the mould of the “Witchfinder General”. The beauty of this film is in the blurring of the lines between who is the hunter and who the hunted. Good and evil are Twins of the same coin when both lead to the deaths of innocent young women (if there is such a thing!). The title, taken more literally, stars real life twins and “Playboy” playmates Mary and Madeleine Collinson, as Maria and Frieda Gellhorn, who, while undoubtedly beautiful, aren’t exactly the world’s finest actresses. The incidental music strangely makes the film feel like a western at times and, amongst the many delights on offer, concludes with the gruesome decapitation of one of the sisters! But, which one?
4: “The Railway Children” (1970) Director: Lionel Jeffries
Another film about siblings though slightly different from the last! “The Railway Children” is usually billed in the “Radio Times” as the best British children’s film ever made. I think that’s an understatement. It is the best children’s film ever made, British or otherwise, and is a contender for best British film too, children’s or otherwise. It stars the gorgeous Miss Jenny Agutter, as Roberta Waterbury, with whom I am still in love! The eldest of three children who move to the country with their mother, after their father is wrongfully arrested and imprisoned, Roberta shoulders much of the familial responsibility as the trio become friends with the railway. I’m not ashamed to say that the appearance of Bobbie’s father Charles, played by Mr. Iain Cuthbertson, on the platform through the engine smoke, returned to his family at the film’s conclusion, coupled with Jenny’s plaintive cry of “Daddy, my Daddy”, still has the same effect on me now as it did when I was a boy. But, there is much fun to be had before the heartrending finale, especially with Mr. Bernard Cribbins, as porter Albert Perks, at Oakworth Railway Station!
5: “Walkabout” (1971) Director: Nicolas Roeg
In “Walkabout”, Jenny Agutter stars as a schoolgirl stranded in the Australian outback with her younger brother after their father takes them on a picnic, in order to do away with them, where he ends up committing suicide. They are befriended by an aboriginal who helps them return to civilisation. But, where is real civilisation to be found? Is it in an alienating city where no-one communicates or with someone who doesn’t speak the English language but teaches the skills of survival? I’ve seen most, if not all, of director Nicolas Roeg’s movies and this is one of the finest together with the David Bowie-vehicle “The Man Who Fell to Earth”. Roeg often works with his wife, actress Theresa Russell. Especially intriguing is their collaboration on the Dennis Potter-scripted “Track 29” as both director and writer are equally interested in a non-linear approach to narrative. It’s perhaps no coincidence that both “Walkabout” and Dennis Potter, in his “Play for Today” entitled “Blue Remembered Hills”, quote the same lines from A. E. Housman’s 1896 poem “A Shropshire Lad”: Into my heart an air that kills, From yon far country blows, What are those blue remembered hills, What spires, what farms are those? That is the land of lost content, I see it shining plain, The happy highways where I went And cannot come again.
6: “Logan’s Run” (1976) Director: Michael Anderson
Never has an actress looked more stunning in a movie than Jenny Agutter does in “Logan’s Run”! Michael York stars as Sandman-cop Logan 5, assassin of those who choose to evade Renewal on Carousel and try to escape a premature death, known as Last Day, by becoming Runners. Computer instructs our anti-hero to seek Sanctuary, believed to be the destination of Runners, outside the dome-enclosed city and alters Logan’s life-clock crystal, embedded in the palm of his hand, accordingly. Seeking the truth concerning an object recovered from a Runner, Logan comes into contact with Jenny’s character Jessica 6 but, in their quest, inadvertently cause the death of one of “Charlie’s Angels”! Outside they meet Old Man Peter Ustinov with a penchant for cats and T. S. Eliot but, don’t worry, there’s no sign of Andrew Lloyd Webber! High in concept, “Logan’s Run” uses many of the ideas that would later find their way into Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” and James Cameron’s “The Terminator”, as well as the latter’s sequels.
7: “Alien” (1979) Director: Ridley Scott
And speaking of Ridley Scott, I come to the ultimate science fiction/horror movie of them all, “Alien”. Whereas the equally exhilarating sequel “Aliens” is a work of Symphonic proportions, its forerunner is a piece of carefully-constructed chamber music, a string septet if you like! The small cast of seven actors, two of whom are women, and including Brits John Hurt and Ian Holm, struggle to survive aboard the space freighter Nostromo as they are picked off one-by-one by a constantly evolving entity that drips acid for blood. Veronica Cartwright is one of the crew who, as a child, had appeared in Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. Yes, “Alien” is a haunted house story set in space, it was even unfairly called “Jaws” in space at the time of its release, but it has never been bettered as a roller coaster ride of unimaginable terror. It’s as visually stunning as the director’s next film, the truly-groundbreaking “Blade Runner”, and thus a genre to which I wish Ridley would return.
8: “Lifeforce” (1985) Director: Tobe Hooper
Like “Alien” before it, the screenplay for “Lifeforce” was written by Dan O’Bannon. It is very loosely based on a novel by criminologist Colin Wilson called “The Space Vampires”. It was directed by Tobe Hooper, much better known for “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” and the Steven Spielberg produced “Poltergeist”. The film is often likened to “Quatermass” and owes a great deal to Hammer Horror. It checks all the right boxes for me being a mix of science fiction, horror, and vampire story, though on this occasion without the fangs! “Lifeforce” has often been criticised for much laughable dialogue but it really does move along at an incredible pace. Alongside Space Girl Mathilda May, naked for much of the film, are a whole host of British actors including Peter Firth, Harry Pearce in “Spooks”, as the spirited hero Caine; Frank Finlay, best known for “Bouquet of Barbed Wire”, as Fallada; Patrick Stewart, from “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, as Dr. Armstrong; and Aubrey Morris, the B-Ark Captain from “The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy”, as Sir Percy. The latter has one of the best of those unintentionally-hilarious lines as he welcomes his visitors to the asylum with, “Hello, gentlemen, and welcome to the home for the criminally insane!”
9: “The Bounty” (1984) Director: Roger Donaldson
I have been completely fascinated with the story of “The Bounty” for the whole of my life. Three film versions of the most famous mutiny in maritime history have been made and they are all excellent! My Dad would choose the 1935 black and white rendering of “Mutiny on the Bounty”, starring Charles Laughton and Clark Gable, as his favourite while I grew up repeatedly-watching the 1962 interpretation starring Trevor Howard and Marlon Brando. But, it is the third darkest-reading of “The Bounty” that, as an adult, completely captures my imagination. Anthony Hopkins plays Lieutenant William Bligh (“Oh, there are rumblings, are there?”) usurped from his position by Mel Gibson in the role of Fletcher Christian, Master’s Mate. Like “Blade Runner” and “Chariots of Fire”, the action is superbly accompanied with an electronic music score by Greek composer Vangelis. And, as does my previous choice “Lifeforce”, so too does “The Bounty” boast a supporting cast of many British household names including Bernard Hill, Daniel Day-Lewis, Liam Neeson, John Sessions, Philip Davis, Edward Fox, Laurence Olivier and even a young Neil Morrissey, before becoming one of those “Men Behaving Badly”!
10: “Brassed Off” (1996) Director: Mark Herman
“Brassed Off” challenges “The Railway Children” as the best British film ever made. It, surprisingly, has a lot in common with that earlier film, interspersing its darker themes with much fun and good humour over its course. Unemployment is rife in Thatcher’s Britain and the closing of the colliery could spell the end of its associated brass band. Pete Postlethwaite plays Danny, the band’s conductor, whose sole ambition is to get his group of disparate musicians to the final of the Battle of the Bands competition at the Royal Albert Hall. He is ably helped by his son Phil, Stephen Tompkinson, when not playing the clown, and Jim Carter, who takes over the conducting chores when Danny is hospitalised. Ewan McGregor renews his acquaintance with Tara Fitzgerald, as Gloria, when she joins the men as the only female in their ensemble. It’s no wonder they’re not willing to give up their positions! By turns, desperately sad and achingly funny… not least when Danny boy suggests they rehearse Rodrigo’s “Concerto de Orange Juice”!!!
As you can see, even with a preference for science fiction and horror, there are other threads running through this list such as a fondness for directors Ridley Scott and, in particular, Nicolas Roeg. The eagle-eyed amongst you will have numbered no less than three Jenny Agutter films in the countdown as well as a couple of Linda Hayden movies. I don’t know how much should be read into this as I wouldn’t touch the “Confessions” series, in which Linda also appears, with a bargepole! I’m also a fan, as far as these things go, of Judy Geeson, but she doesn’t feature at all in the chosen ten. Director Alfred Hitchcock is also missing even though much pleasure can be had from rewatching “Psycho”, “The Birds” and “Vertigo”. What I’m attempting to say is, fun though they are, such lists are but a snapshot!