It has recently been announced that Louis Tussauds in Great Yarmouth may close, not because of falling visitor numbers but because the owners are now in their eighties and need to retire. The museum opened in the 1950’s, and I have visited it perhaps thirty times since my first trip round it in the early seventies. Its potential closure is something I am still trying to process, but it has made me assess my feelings towards the place, which are full of warmth, but also laced with contradiction.
Louis Tussauds is a place that succeeds brilliantly in its primary function, to interest and entertain, but is somewhat hit and miss in its secondary function, i.e. as a museum, even of wax figures. I have argued before that the majority of the exhibits are, facially at least, very good likenesses, but they are let down by odd, slightly disproportionate bodies and low budget costumes and, in some cases, by a lack of maintenance. The contradiction is that this is a place that I hold incredibly dear and find fascinating, yet I also know is actually fairly ridiculous. My abiding feeling for this odd little corner of Britain is, overwhelmingly, of love – a love that accepts the imperfections and, indeed, is strengthened by these foibles. I’ll miss the place very much.
All of which brings me, eventually, to my main point: in the new issue of ‘Bedabbled!’, friend of the Island and Mounds and Circles contributor Fearlono makes a valid observation: why do people writing about British horror tend to focus on the negative, to disparage and dismiss, instead of celebrating its brilliance? As someone who writes about horror, and has been guilty of taking the piss quite a lot, this question gave me pause. British horror (and sci fi and almost all points inbetween) is very rarely flawless but, by Christ, it’s lovable.
I can’t in all honesty review a film and say that the script is a work of genius and the performances brilliant and the effects astounding if they’re not, and I won’t. It’s also in my nature to make a joke about almost everything, so I’ll carry on doing that, too. But please know this: ‘Island Of Terror’, and the work I put into it, is not driven by a desire to denigrate the subject matter, it exists to celebrate it and to share the deep admiration and enthusiasm I have for it. I couldn’t live without British horror films, they’re an absolutely integral part of my life and, if I occasionally point out the wires or a hole in the script or a scenery chewing performance, I do so because, for me, that’s part of the appeal. The fact that they exist is enough, if they are good then that’s a bonus. Like Louis Tussaud’s, the love is not sensible or rational, but it is enduring and unconditional.
And so, finally, to ‘The Body Stealers’, a highly enjoyable sci fi romp about military parachutists disappearing mid jump, kidnapped by stranded aliens who need their expertise on their home planet. Done on the cheap, the film benefits from a distinguished cast (Maurice Evans, George Sanders, Robert Flemyng, Allan Cuthbertson) and a star turn from the chin and voice himself, Patrick ‘Barratt Homes’ Allen. Sean’s Connery sibling Neil is in it, too, and does a passable impression of his big brother, down to the toupee. Allen’s entrance is brilliant - laying under the wing of his private plane dressed in a pair of ball bag splitting slacks, he hungrily kisses a dolly bird before jumping up from their picnic to hop into a waiting helicopter on his way to save the world. The daft / brilliant contradiction in action.Oh, in case you wondered about the connection between ‘The Blood Beast Terror’ and ‘The Body Stealers’ (I try to have the films in the double bills complement or link with each other) it’s quite simple: both films were products of Tigon, a company founded by Tony Tenser which, from 1966 to 1973 were responsible for a heady mix of horror and smut films, including a huge number of Island (and ‘Mounds & Circles’) favourites. Click on the link for more details of their amazing output. You won’t regret it