I received a simple 8mm camera for my 12th birthday and made my first short film soon after. It was shot in the Welsh hills and entitled “Hiram Prong, Vampire Exterminator”. I had long been captivated by the cinema, and could not understand why parents and friends did not want to watch the whole programme at least twice, given that in those days you could stay in the cinema as long as you liked on just one ticket.
I soon teamed up with my best friend at school, Richard Taylor, who had a rather better camera, to make a number of short comedy films. We decided to make our films famous by starring as many named actors as we could. Richard could be very persuasive, and not only comedy actors like Harry H. Corbett (Steptoe & Son), Irene Handel and Brian Rix, but also rather grander names like Sammy Davis Junior, Michael Redgrave, Peter O’Toole and Charlton Heston all appeared in our films. Lawrence Olivier had also agreed, but sadly could not film because of illness.
It was the discovery of Castle Goring by a group of my friends on a cycle trip from school that made things take a new direction. It was a derelict architectural curiosity, built for but never lived in by Percy and Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), and it inspired me to write a ghost story, under Mary’s influence, for a rather longer film, “L’Eredita di Diavolo”, starring Richard, Nigel Andrews and David Hare. From there I followed my own path, creating my own cinematic style, which is still potentially there today.
List of Films:
Edward Altringham inherits an old house from a relative whom he has never met. Together with a friend he goes to visit his new property. The caretaker who shows them round is full of foreboding. He is right to be, as the following morning he is found dead on the altar of the chapel, a victim of Edward’s ancestor, a priest who sold his soul to the devil. It becomes apparent that Edward has inherited not just a house but a curse, as he now becomes obsessed with a desire to murder his friend.
The Fugitive 8mm
Among the Brighton gangs, the Mods and Rockers, a teenager is victimised by a member of his own group, who then steals his girlfriend. He can take no more, and knives his rival in a fight. But his troubles are just beginning. His girlfriend is not coming back. The police are after him, as are the other members of the gang. Everywhere he is a fugitive. He suffers a breakdown, and fantasises that the doctors in the hospital are killing his injured rival, and that he will be blamed. He steals a bottle of serum that a doctor had used for an injection, hoping to convince his former friends that he is innocent, but it is just an empty bottle which will convince no-one. He finds himself cornered in a dark lane where there is no way out.
The Scrolls 8mm
In a futuristic totalitarian state workers on a communal farm are liable to be given a scroll which informs them that they are superfluous to the needs of the people and must surrender themselves for execution. Workers who receive such a scroll get on a train and are never seen again. A young man receives such a death sentence, and is expected to disappear, but in an act of rebellion the messenger who brings the scrolls is attacked and killed. After this, the young man, who has already said goodbye to his girlfriend, begins slowly to question the power of the rulers of the state, who have not been seen for years, and who have no connection to their people. If he can conquer his fear, he can perhaps free those around him and eventually his whole world, as it is now fear alone that controls them.
The Far Cry 16mm
A drama documentary about American students in the U.K., who are suddenly called up to fight in a war in Vietnam to which they feel no connection. Filmed in black and white, the film is intercut with real footage of the war.
An exploration of the visionary world of William Blake, and how the “New Age” which he imagined relates to the events of the revolutionary year of 1968, the year in which the film was made.
(The film is now available through the British Film Institute, who have put it together with some naked witches, if you are into that kind of thing.)
A Journey out of Hell
A drama based on the journal of the poet John Clare who escaped from a lunatic asylum in Essex in an attempt to find his first love, Mary Joyce, who had died in a fire on her farm. The news of her death triggered his breakdown, and he cannot bring himself to believe it is true, although ultimately he has to come to terms with it. Only a short section of the feature length screenplay was filmed, and is with the National Film and Television School. However songs which were to be included in the film gave rise to the song cycle “The Vagrant Muse” (See Music).
London Sketches – Brenda
A student film following a day in the life of a minicab driver, also now with the National Film and Television School.
A horror screenplay which was filmed in 1970 by director Piers Haggard, with Linda Hayden and Patrick Wymark in the lead roles. It is now regarded as one of the founding films of “folk Horror” and is enjoying a huge rise in popularity. (See News for new novel)
A short ghost story which I wrote and directed for RTE in Dublin. A tourist who visits a country house is taken, much against his will, on a deadly journey back in time.
This realistic folk tale tells the story of a backward girl in pre-famine Ireland, who is befriended by an itinerant fiddler, Scarf Michael, a man who is thought to have come back from the dead, and how she learns from him a totally new way of looking at the world. Mary Ryan and Mick Lally take the lead roles, along with Cyril Cusack as the Matchmaker.
A short film which relates the experiences of a young boy who is left alone at night with his baby sister and the shadows that haunt him. The film follows the music of the third movement (Scherzo, “Schattenhaft”) of Gustav Mahler’s Seventh Symphony.
A group of supernatural tales by various writers, made for television (Strongbow Pictures, Chanel Four UK and RTE Dublin)
“Out of Time” screenplay by Ronald Frame, directed by myself. The experience of souls in a state of limbo, after being killed in the “Blitz” of the Second World War.
“A Summer Ghost” screenplay by Maria Fitzgerald, directed by myself. A young family encounter the ghost of a Principessa’s former lover, while staying in her house in Italy.
“Fear of the Dark” screenplayby myself, directed by Tony Barry. A young man who breaks into a town house encounters there the frightened ghost of himself as a child.
“The Horseman (The Scar)” screenplay by Tom Gallacher, directed by myself. An actor who has killed another in a production of “Romeo and Juliet” tries to hide in a remote cottage in Scotland, but is pursued by a horseman sent by the Prince in the play, a dark figure created by his own guilt.