Camp David


By • Jul 1st, 2003 •

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A few days ago my old friend Curtis Harrington summoned me to his “Haunted Palace” nestled high above the traffic of Sunset Blvd and Tinseltown itself. The occasion was to screen his new film “USHER’ a return to the avant-garde style of film making that began his career in the late 1940’s.

Curtis has spent the better part of the last two years lensing this spidery valentine to the Divine Edgar and it was a labor of love from its first frame to its haunting conclusion. I was so impressed with what I saw that I simply could not wait to let you know the good news: Curtis Harrington is back and has done some of his best work in years!!

Curtis Harrington in USHER

Without spoiling any of its many treasures let me just say that Curtis is not only the director of this update on the FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER but also plays the leading roles. His own home is used to great effect and years of collecting Art Nouveau is put on display in the film. USHER brings Harrington full circle as one of his earliest short films was an adaptation of Poe’s “House of Usher” made when he was only fourteen! Later he would return to Poe with a more mature short entitled THE ASSIGNATION which was filmed in Venice in 1952.

Watching USHER with Curtis was a special privilege for me as I was able to see many of the nuances and in-jokes he placed along the way. The film is so personal and yet so right for him to make at this point in his life as a film maker and more importantly as an artist that when it was over I knew if he never made another film this would be a fitting finale for a lifetime in a genre that he understood so well.

The Film Community should now acknowledge Curtis as one of the true pioneers of the Gothic genre. Harrington’s underground films pre-date their mainstream counterparts by more than two decades! His identity as one of the founding fathers of the underground film as well as a genre director who carved a special niche in Hollywood Gothic with films like NIGHT TIDE and THE KILLING KIND is long overdue for the critical attention he so richly deserves.

Currently there is a film festival going on over at UCLA that needs more attention. Prints are hard to find for the Sword and Sandals retrospective showcasing more than just the films of Steve Reeves the King of beefcake in Italy during the 60’s. The actors who attended the festivities were Ed Fury, Mickey Hargitay and Gordon Mitchell. The quality of the prints all for the most part widescreen went from brand new to 16mm and as the demand for these films grows we will need to search the seven hills of Rome to find them!!

Mickey Hargitay was the first of the “beefcake kings” to be honored with a screening of THE LOVES OF HERCULES with his late wife the legendary Jayne Mansfield. A moment of silence was observed for Mansfield who was killed in a tragic car accident in 1967.

THE LOVES OF HERCULES was never shown in Theaters in the US, only on television, and it was a treat to see it with the entire Hargitay clan in attendance. Mickey is a sincere speaker and was moved by the experience of seeing himself of the screen with his late wife who was pregnant at the time of the filming with daughter Jayne Marie. He confided to the audience “that it brought back so many happy memories of that time in Rome when all the eyes of the world were fixed on the making of CLEOPATRA and the antics of Liz and Dick!!

The Sword and Sandal Festival ended with brand new prints of THE GIANT OF METROPOLIS and THE WITCH’S CURSE. A Special Appearance by METROPOLIS Star Gordon Mitchell made the evening complete. Mitchell is immortalized in Fellini’s SATYRICON as the Centurian/Gladiator who battles the hero Martin Potter near the films’ conclusion.

Gordon Mitchell is a legend in the world of Body-Building and still enjoys acting at the age of 79! He came back from Germany recently with a cult classic “DEADLINE – DAS MUSIKILL” which was written, directed, and produced by Clemens Kieffenheim. The trailer had to be seen to be believed! Mitchell sings and dances in the ROCKY HORROR-like send-up that may become a midnight-circuit-must as soon as the word gets out! Remember, everyone, YOU READ IT HERE FIRST!

Speaking of Body-Builders, Jean-Claude Van Damme (“The Muscles from Brussels”) is profiled with four features from NU IMAGE here in L.A. He can be seen in REPLICANT, with Michael Rooker, as a killer-at-large in Seattle – talk about SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE!! The action keeps on coming with DERAILED, a spy yarn and HELL, a survival tale of one man pitted against a wealthy group of sociopaths using a prison for entertainment. From 2001 comes one of Charlton Heston’s last screen appearances, with Van Damme, in THE ORDER – a frantic search for the lost treasure of The Crusaders and the covert agencies determined to find it at all costs.

NU IMAGE is an up-and-coming hip company to watch as this writer became aware during an earlier AFM in which I saw the Orson Welles-based screenplay THE BIG BRASS RING with the late great Nigel Hawthorne and William Hurt in a blackmail mystery set during a governor’s race for the State of Missouri with a gay subplot only the master could conceive. Like THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, Welles’ screenplay deals with the old playing Fire and the Young playing a game of Cat-and-Mouse. NU IMAGE is always picking up the unusual and bizarre fare for all to enjoy!!

I recently met with the Great Director Ronald Neame as he was signing copies of his new biography of his days with David Lean and all the Giants of British Cinema. Neame has been living here in Hollywood for the last three decades and was a founding member of BAFTA. I asked him about the troubled production of “I Could Go on Singing” with the Legendary Judy Garland and the equally talented Dirk Bogarde. Neame explained that the studio wanted to fire Judy when the film was halfway through production and he had to fight to get the film in the can. “Judy was a great entertainer but such a handful to attempt to work with as she had no confidence in her talent and made life hell for all concerned!”

I was anxious to meet Richard Chamberlain during his book tour with Shattered Love when he was in town. However once I read the slim volume itself which tells little or nothing about his gay life beyond the obvious meeting Mr. Right during the run of “Night of the Iguana” in the late Seventies, and describing his marriage vows with him, that I was put off doing the long line of middle aged women that loved Dr. Kildare. I chose to take a pass. Hopefully he will be more forthcoming in the next volume and discuss his best work in Ken Russell’s THE MUSIC LOVERS at the very least!!

Well, that’s all for this installment of Camp David! Look for Yours Truly in the new DVD of FINAL DESTINATION PART 2. I am one of those “film historians discussing splatter films in the featurette “BITS AND PIECES: BRINGING DEATH TO LIFE”

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