Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Lost World: Hammer Studios' 'Nessie'

Developing a movie project is such a convoluted process that it’s amazing any films ever get made at all. There are the budgetary problems, and the casting difficulties, and the conflicts between directors and producers that have caused more than a few projects to be aborted before reaching term. In this on-going series I’ve dubbed “The Lost World”, I’ll be looking at some of these sweet abortions.

What would have become of Horror had it not been for Hammer Studios? By the 1950s Sci-Fi allegories buzzing with UFOs and the nefarious aliens who piloted them had essentially subsumed their Gothic cousins. Hammer restored the genre, returning tried and true creeps such as Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, and the werewolf to their rightful places within desiccated abbeys and quaint European villages. The artistry of Hammer’s The Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula, The Mummy, The Brides of Dracula, The Curse of the Werewolf, and The Devil Rides Out are basically inarguable (at least among aficionados). The value of the sexier, bloodier, kitschier fare that followed—The Vampire Lovers and Taste the Blood of Dracula and Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb and Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde and Lust for a Vampire—is more a matter of taste, so to speak. As wonderful as Britain’s venerated studio surely was, Hammer could never really compete with Psycho or Peeping Tom or Repulsion or Rosemary’s Baby in terms of sophistication. So to continue luring hapless victims into cinemas during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Hammer amped up the luridness and the silliness. For those who appreciate high-camp, there is much to enjoy in these pictures, but they still signaled the unfortunate fact that Hammer was running low on inspiration.

Hammer was not only running low on fresh ideas; the coffers were drying out, as well. Britain was in the midst of a major recession sparked by the oil embargo declared by OPEC in response to the U.S. supplying the Israeli military during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. The situation was not aided by the policies of Tory chancellor Anthony Barber or a miners strike resulting in significant electricity cuts the previous year. Britain’s film industry felt the pinch. Hammer went from cranking out 19 films in 1968 to 6 each in ’72 and ’73 and a mere 5 in ’74. Cinemas were closing and transforming into Bingo halls. In 1975, two of Britain’s major production companies, Elstree and Pinewood, produced no films. Hammer was down to a single one.

The origins of Nessie are sketchy. The man most associated with the film is Bryan Forbes. In 1969, Forbes became managing director of EMI, which had just merged with Rank Films, a company that, despite its name, was associated with stodgy tastefulness. Forbes readily admits in Sinclair McKay’s Hammer history A Thing of Unspeakable Horror that Horror was “not really my genre.” Yet he was the man whom Hammer executive Michael Carreras approached about writing the studio’s next feature. As EMI was funding the comparatively profitable Hammer films, Forbes may have had extra incentive for saying “yes” to Carreras’s offer. He certainly had the screenwriting credentials to do the job: The League of Gentlemen, Séance on a Wet Afternoon, King Rat. He’d go on to write even higher profile films, including International Velvet and Chaplin. He’d also proven himself a strong director with Séance, Rat, and The Stepford Wives. But whether the idea of writing a horror film involving the Loch Ness Monster came from Forbes or Carreras is not known.

Bryan Forbes

In his A Thing of Unspeakable Horror, McKay described Nessie as “a sort of cross between King Kong and Jaws.” Forbes completed the screenplay, and according to the official website of Toho Films— the Japanese studio responsible for all those giant monster movies starring Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan —was also slotted to direct. Revered media personality David Frost, of all people, apparently was interested in co-producing the film.

"That's fine, Mr. President, but what are your thoughts on King Ghidorah?"

Less bizarrely, Toho wanted in on the action, as well. In fact, pre-production work supposedly was underway at Toho. Teruyoshi Nakano, who was behind the special effects in all those Godzilla pictures, created the Loch Ness Monster prop, which is possibly depicted in this photo at Tojo Kindom.

Forbes has supplied little information on his script, only telling McKay that one draft involved “underwater oil ruins and oil rigs in the Indian Ocean getting wrecked.” His explanation for why the film fizzled is equally nebulous. “Just disappeared without a trace, really,” he told McKay.

Hammer wound up producing the spectacularly sleazy To the Devil a Daughter, starring Christopher Lee and 15-year-old Nastassja Kinski, instead. The film would be the Studio’s last Horror, if not its last hurrah (that would be the 1976 Hitchcock remake The Lady Vanishes), in its original incarnation. But the Nessie project supposedly persisted. Even as financial backing was vanishing, Toho created an advance poster for the film in 1978. But the film was officially scrapped the following year.

Had Nessie materialized it may have done its part in reviving Hammer. The Godzilla films are certainly perennial favorites and Nakano’s creation is cheesily promising. But fans of Hammer’s Gothic tradition may have only been baffled by a giant sea-monster movie starring a hand puppet. A similar effort written and directed by Larry “Mars Needs Women” Buchanan in 1981 called The Loch Ness Horror produced nothing more than guffaws. But that film didn’t have Bryan Forbes on board. Would he have written and directed a contemporary King Kong or a six-years-early Loch Ness Horror? Only dwellers in The Lost World know for sure…

"Loch Ness Horror? More like Schlock Mess Schmorror. Ha! Good one, Me."

Sinclair McKay’s A Thing of Unspeakable Horror: The History of Hammer Films was indispensable in writing this piece. It is highly recommended and can be purchased at here.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
All written content of is the property of Mike Segretto and may not be reprinted or reposted without permission.