At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews

DOOMWATCH (KINO Lorber)

By • Nov 30th, 2016 •

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BluRay review by Roy Frumkes

Adapted from a 1970 UK TV series, DOOMWATCH reminds me of the evolution of the Quatermass flms. So it wasn’t surprising to learn that Nigel Kneale, the creator of Quatermass, was approached to write the feature. But he declined, and the resulting film lacks his extraordinary gifts of highly stimulating ideas and relentless narrative drive. DOOMWATCH is linear and slow, though those qualities shouldn’t necessarily be read as negatives. The film is stylish in a subdued, hushed horror flick sort of way. It’s a one of a kind. Or maybe there are one or two more like it, but they don’t readily spring to mind.

Ian Bannen plays Del Shaw, a doctor assigned to investigate strange ecological goings-on at a small island off Cornwell. He represents Doomwatch, a company which tracks pernicious instances of pollution worldwide. Though rebuffed by one and all of the island’s inhabitants, including his ‘meeting-cute’ female co-star Judy Geeson, he slowly pieces together the enormity of what he’s stumbled into. And as director Peter Sasdy states during the commentary, and Geeson seconds in her brief but delightful interview, the film’s relevance to today’s environmental ravagings make it remarkably pertinent and therefore collectible.

Best on the acting front is Shelagh Fraser as a quietly distraught local. She looks exactly right for the role, and her tragic countenance says it all, and a good deal more. 81-year-old Sasdy states that “Her face is a map of suffering.”

Bannen is very competent, and when he starts to go high-decibel in the third act, it’s clearly not his fault (probably the director’s, who by this time realized that the film had set too realistic a tone for itself and needed a little punching up in the home stretch.) The histrionics wound Bannen’s performance, though not terminally.

Judy Geeson is wonderful visually, something she always was, and in fact her supplemental filmed interview conducted this year reveal her, 45 years further up the road, to be a bit bizarre in appearance but just as compelling, and even as quirkily attractive, as ever she was.

It’s a sort of blessing to see George Sanders in his supporting role. It was his last before going off on holiday to commit suicide, and watching his utterly effortless work here makes him greatly missed.

John Scott’s score is predominantly supportive, at times rising above support and introducing a lovely theme. Later, near Act three, he’s called upon to punch up the narrative (like Bannen was called upon), and his score suddenly becomes intrusive and inappropriate. Reminiscent of Elmer Bernstein’s for THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER, where John Wayne in his, first film back from having had a lung removed, could only ride his horse slowly, so by ratcheting up the pace of the score, it seemed that he was at least cantering.

Hungarian director Peter Sasdy has quite a resume. He directed HANDS OF THE RIPPER, COUNTESS DRACULA, and TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA for Hammer, THE STONE TAPE (for TV, written by Nigel Kneale), a ton of episodic TV, and last but far from least, THE LONELY LADY starring Pia Zadora.

KenTalbot’s grainy, documentary-like cinematography is consistently and by far the best creative element in the film. Desaturated colors emphasize the dilemma of the isolated community, which is utterly unable to deal with its frightening plight, a horror which the community perceives as a Jackson-Whites result of inbreeding, or a plague visited on them as God’s vengeance. But they couldn’t be further from the truth.

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