Monday, 11 December 2017

REMEMBERING VAL GUEST TODAY BORN DECEMBER 1911


HONORING the director Val Guest on today (what would have been his 101st birthday) is a pretty tough thing to do. After all, this is the man who gave us Hammer Horror, without the smash success of The Quatermass Xperiment and its sequels and follows up, we wouldn’t have had The Curse of Frankenstein and the gothic boom that followed. It’s a well-known fact that Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale had his differences with Guest in terms of his interpretations of the story, but the film itself is a masterpiece of British Sci-Fi Horror and perfectly captures a bleak post-war world. During my time at university I wrote a dissertation covering the post-war themes within the Quatermass television series and films and spent a great deal of time defending Guests adaptation. His Quatermass’s strength lies in its difference to the TV version, non-more explicit than it it’s titular hero…or in Guest’s eyes Villain. In his vision, Quatermass becomes an inhuman monster, representing the dangers of science. The world he inhabits is shown to the audience in an almost ‘documentary’ style, infusing it with a gritty realism. The next-two sci-fi horror films Guest did for Hammer, Quatermass II and The Abominable Snowman, were also adapted from Kneale screenplays and have a disturbing realism to them.


QUATERMASS II is, at least in my humble opinion, a massive improvement on its television predecessor, exorcising a somewhat frivolous space-journey at its climax that only served to undo all the tension built up to this point. With a somewhat softer Donlevy and several shocking and disturbing moments (‘they blocked the pipe with human pulp!’) it’s another classic. One of his best and easily my favourite of his science fiction films is his memorable collaboration with Peter Cushing, The Abominable Snowman. Adapted from Nigel Kneale’s The Creature, it’s a mesmerising exercise in a slow building sense of claustrophobic tension. All the more admirable considering the films set in vast snowy plains. Guest gets the best out of his performers and by keeping the Yeti mostly off screen, they become a genuinely frightening presence.



PETER CUSHING'S CO-STAR, EDWARD JUDD FROM ''ISLAND OF TERROR'' STARS IN 'THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE' GREAT GALLERY AND REVIEW:  HERE!


IT SEEMS unfair to just discuss these films though when Guest had a rich and varied career within the British film industry. Of course his most famous film is probably, 'The Day the Earth Caught Fire', another science-fiction film that adopts the same documentary eye as his previous works and tells the story of what happens when the earth begins to overheat. He was one of the directors on the masterpiece of mess that is the 1967 version of 'Casino Royale', and this was by no means his first stab at comedy either, having director both Up the Creek and Further up the Creek. Two of his best however were once again for Hammer, both war pictures and films that manage to be almost the opposite of each other. 


PETER SELLLERS WITH CUSHING'S 'SHE' CO STAR, URSULA ANDRESS, IN VAL GUEST'S 'CASINO ROYALE' (1967) Peter Sellers Facebook Scrapbook page: HERE


BARBARA SHELLEY IN VAL GUEST'S 'THE CAMP ON BLOOD ISLAND' (1958)


'THE CAMP ON BLOOD ISLAND' is a brutal tale of the horrors of a Japanese prisoner of war camp that caused quite a stir on its release in 1958. The following year came Yesterday’s Enemy, a film which Val Guest often said he was most proud. Based on a BBC teleplay it’s still a criminally unknown film, which is a shame as it’s a masterpiece. Featuring stunning performances from Stanley Baker, Guy Rolfe, Leo Mckern and Gordon Jackson, the film features no incidental music for the entirety of its run time. A relentlessly depressing film, it shows the horrors of war as they are and doesn’t shy away from condemning both the British and their enemies. In my opinion it’s Guest’s best and film that, if you have yet to see it, deserves your attention


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