Born and raised in London (1942), An avid film fan from childhood, Warren entered the film industry as a runner on The Millionairess (1960) and as an assistant director (The Dock Brief, 1962) before directing the short film Fragment in 1965. When the censorial belt loosened around the globe in the late 1960s, the cheeky Brits followed suit A string of softcore sex films was released. Calcutta-born Bachoo Sen (1934–2002), owner of the Astral Cinema in Brewer Street, London, who had an interest in film production, saw Fragment and subsequently hired Warren to direct two feature-length sex films.
Norman J. Warren first gained notoriety by directing the very first British sex film, Her Private Hell (1967), shortly followed by Loving Feeling (1968). He quickly became bored with the sexploitation genre and decided to switch to horror. His first horror feature was Satan’s Slave (1976), part of a ‘New Wave’ of grittier and gorier British horror made during the 1970s. Making a respectable profit for such a small-budgeted movie, Warren went on to make Prey (1977), Terror (1978) topping the British box office for one week and Inseminoid (1980). Warren had a less successful film experience with Gunpowder (1986) and Bloody New Year (1897). These troubled productions pointed to a general crisis for independent filmmakers from the 1980s onwards.
Norman J. Warren on his Early Films
You’ve always been very positive about your experiences in sexploitation cinema with Her Private Hell (1967) and Loving Feeling (1968). What did you learn from the experience?
Norman J. Warren: The biggest learning curve for me was working with a low budget; having to work fast and keep to a tight schedule. The film had to be shot in two weeks. Her Private Hell was the first feature film I got the chance to direct and it was a wonderful opportunity. At first, I didn’t know what the film was going to be because the producer didn’t have a script when he first approached me. To be honest I would have said yes to whatever the film was, and jumped at the chance to direct a feature film. It turned out to be what was termed a sexploitation film.
What was the budget?
Norman J. Warren: £18,000, but that was in 1967. It’s hard to say what that would actually be now. Nevertheless, it still wouldn’t have been a great deal of money. They were paying me virtually nothing as director. The crew – many of whom were being moved up a grade were also happy to accept a lower fee. If you put those two factors together, that’s why the budget was very low.
I also presume it taught you how to work under enormous pressure.
Norman J. Warren: Yes, the pressure was in having to make sure you got the right shots, things like eye lines and crossing the line, which I sometimes got slightly wrong. I also edited the film. It was in the cutting room that I discovered that shots wouldn’t always go together the right way. So, another learning curve.
Did you edit the film by yourself?
Norman J. Warren: Yes. Because they couldn’t afford an assistant for me, I did everything. I also did all the sound effects, but I love all that.
You have always been passionate about sound effects, haven’t you?
Norman J. Warren: Yes, I really enjoy doing the soundtrack, both the sound effects and working with the music composer. Mind you, by the time I had finished Satan’s Slave, I didn’t want to be the director and editor again, for two reasons. (a) Doing both jobs, there is always the danger you become too close to the film, and you can’t see the wood for the trees. Its nice to work with an editor who can bring something else to the film, because they are able to stand back and take a fresh look at the footage. (b) There’s the physical side of it.
Because it’s an exhausting process?
Norman J. Warren: Yes, absolutely. By the time I’d finished Satan’s Slave, I was on the verge of becoming very ill. To keep costs down, I edited the film at home, and, because we had a tight schedule, I tended to work very long hours every day. The danger of working at home is that you never stop to sleep, and very often I wouldn’t even get dressed in the morning.
Going back to Her Private Hell, what other lessons did you learn?
Norman J. Warren: Well, I’d been in the industry for quite some time working in editing and as an assistant director and all those things, but this was the first time that a lot of that knowledge was being put to the test. I was so lucky in having this exploitation film to start with. When the film came out, it was unbelievably successful. I don’t think it would have mattered if I’d shot the whole thing upside down.
Because it was a nudie?
Norman J. Warren: Yes. There were other sex films around of course, coming from Sweden, France and Germany, but there were no homegrown sex dramas. The British sex films tended to be made at holiday camps with naked young ladies playing volleyball, etc. So, that’s why Her Private Hell is written about as being the first British sex film. It was the first sex drama to be made in the UK.
After the success of Her Private Hell, did you become quite well known in the industry?
Norman J. Warren: Yes, within the industry I did. Outside, though, no one had ever heard of me. There was one funny occasion that I remember. The distributors were very kind to me because, if you’ve seen the film poster, it says “Norman J. Warren’s Her Private Hell”. You don’t normally get your name above the title at that stage of your career. Anyway, I went to a cinema at the time it was running five times a day in the West End and I went into the gents’ toilet and there were two guys who came in at the same time. One said, “Who is this Norman J. Warren?”, to which the other guy said, “’I’ve seen all his work.” God, there are some “bullshitters” out there.
But the film’s success and such anecdotes must have meant it was an amazing moment for you.
Norman J. Warren: Oh, yes. It was a dream come true.
How did your family react to the film’s popularity?
Norman J. Warren: Naturally, my family was very proud of me. However, when my mother went to see the film, she was surprised to discover she was the only woman in her row. The cinema was full of men.
Did you get a percentage of the film’s return?
Norman J. Warren: No. I signed a contract to do two films. When it came to trying to get any money out of them, it really became a nightmare. They actually gave me a settlement in the end and it worked out that I’d actually been working for about £20 a week and round the clock. I’d never had a day off in two years.
Where were you living at the time?
Norman J. Warren: I was living at home, not that I was at home very much. Her Private Hell and Loving Feeling, both of those films had become successful, so I became known in the industry in connection with the sex films. Hence, I was approached to do another one. It was a film that I’m sure you’ve heard of called The Wife Swappers (1970). Obviously, I appreciated having done those first two films they gave me a great learning curve and I didn’t even mind working for no money but, quite honestly, I did find them quite boring. There really was nothing in them. There was hardly any story.
You weren’t being given any challenge.
Norman J. Warren: No, not at all. The only requirement of the films was to get people to take their clothes off. There’s a sequence in Loving Feeling which is a film about a DJ and his various girlfriends where he meets up with his secretary for lunch. The producer of the film said to me that we could put in another sex scene at this point of the movie. I asked how, because all they were doing was meeting for lunch. He said, “The DJ picks her up from the office, he takes her back to his apartment, he then says he’s going to take a quick shower so that gets him to take his clothes off. Now, she’s left in his room and she notices that he hasn’t tidied up his old wine glasses and coffee cups, so she collects things up to do the washing-up, presumably. But, because she’s got her work clothes on, she can’t afford to make them dirty, so she takes her clothes off at which point, he comes out of the shower and the rest is history.” It sounds wonderful, but the scene isn’t. My point is, as the producers were paying. I couldn’t really argue with that, but that’s what you’re up against all the time.
With regard to the generic nature of these British sex films, it’s intriguing how they weren’t very funny or sexy.
Norman J. Warren: They were never sexy because they were British. I have to be honest: I just don’t think the British are capable of making a sexy film. It’s just not in our nature.
And that kind of rather prudish and juvenile mentality has filtered into men’s magazines, such as Loaded and Nuts.
Norman J. Warren: Yes, we still have that Victorian repressive thing about sex. Anyway, I’m glad I turned down The Wife Swappers. All the directors who continued to do them – and anyway it all came to an end a few years later – became labeled and there was nowhere else for them to go. I actually moved out of sex films just in time. Pete Walker who you mentioned earlier, was in a slightly different position from the others because he was able, more or less, to do financially what he wanted. He got out of those types of films as well and moved into the field of horror.
You don’t like working in that sex movie area, but a lot of your horror films have contained pretty frank sex scenes
Norman J. Warren: Yes, when I said I was uncomfortable doing sex films, I didn’t mean it was the sex side of it that bothered me. It was the limitations of the storylines, because they really were just revolving around people taking their clothes off and progressing to endless bed scenes, After a while you run out of things to do with a bed, you now, camera angles and so on. So David didn’t quite get that right.
Satan’s Slave (1976)
Catherine Yorke, a young woman from London, receives a bracelet from her boyfriend, John, for her upcoming birthday. She then leaves the city with her parents, Malcolm and Elizabeth, to join her father’s brother, Alexander, for a week at his home in the country. At the turn into Alexander’s estate, Malcolm suddenly falls ill at the wheel of the family car and crashes it into a tree. Although the vehicle is only lightly damaged, when Catherine steps outside it mysteriously explodes, seemingly killing her parents.
Alexander, assisted by his son Stephen and secretary Frances, takes the distraught Catherine into the house and gives her a sedative. On waking, Catherine finds that the driveway has been cleared of wreckage and is told that the police have concluded their investigation into her parents’ deaths. The funeral is conducted later that day in the grounds of the estate. After the ceremony, Catherine finds an old gravestone inscribed with the name of Camilla Yorke, a young woman said to have died at the age of 20 the age that Catherine will soon reach.
Over the next few days, as she continues to be hosted by Alexander, Catherine experiences disturbing visions of women being branded, flogged and sacrificed in Satanic rituals. She finds herself drawn to Stephen, with whom she becomes romantically involved. Meanwhile, with the aid of the bracelet that he has stolen from Catherine, Alexander uses dark magic to compel John to kill himself by jumping from the roof of a tower block.
Frances tells Catherine that Camilla, an ancestor of the Yorke family, possessed supernatural abilities. Now Alexander, a believer in necromancy, intends to resurrect Camilla’s spirit to increase his own power. Having murdered several women, including his own wife, to test his theories, he has determined that this can be achieved only through the sacrifice of Catherine, Camilla’s direct descendant, when she turns 20 – Camilla’s age at the time of her death. Frances also warns Catherine not to trust Stephen: having witnessed his mother’s sacrifice as a young boy he has grown up to become a murderer like his father.
When he discovers Frances’ betrayal, Stephen stabs her to death and locks Catherine in her bedroom. On the morning of her birthday, Catherine is led into the nearby woods to be sacrificed by Alexander and his cult but escapes after running a nail file through Stephen’s eye. At the entrance to the estate she runs into her father, who claims that both he and her mother survived the car accident. She is taken back to the house, where Alexander, no longer wearing his ritual robes, claims that her recent experiences were merely hallucinations brought on by the sedative. However, his deception is uncovered when Catherine pulls back a curtain to find Stephen’s corpse. Alexander praises Catherine’s brutality and hails her as a true descendant of Camilla. It is then revealed that Catherine’s father, not her uncle, is the head of the cult. Trapped, Catherine screams and the picture fades to shots of another human sacrifice.
After making Her Private Hell (1968) and Loving Feeling (1969), Norman J. Warren had been in negotiations to direct films for Amicus Productions and American International Pictures (AIP). When these deals fell through, Warren and Les Young, who had served as camera operator on the earlier films, agreed to make a film of their own.
Satan’s Slave is Warren’s horror debut as well as the first release of Monumental Pictures, an independent film production company that Warren formed with Young, Young’s wife Moira and another camera operator, Richard Crafter. With their limited means restricting their choice of genre to either erotic or horror, the four chose to make a horror film on the basis that it would enjoy a longer “shelf life”. The decision to produce the film independently was made after several failed attempts to secure a financing deal. Ultimately Crafter and Les Young funded the production with their own money: the former by selling his shares in the retailer Mothercare, the latter by selling his car and mortgaging his home and film equipment rental company, Crystal Film Productions. As labour union rules prohibited him from officially performing more than one role in the production, Warren was credited only as director. He gives the total budget as either £30,000 or £35,000, about half of which took the form of deferred payments.
The story was devised by Warren and the Youngs and expanded by screenwriter David McGillivray, whom Warren had first met while editing Her Private Hell. It was adapted from one of Warren’s abandoned projects for AIP: a film titled The Naked Eye, which would have starred Vincent Price. McGillivray completed the script in nine days. Warren did not want the script to end with a revelation that the events of the film had been a nightmare as he considered dream sequences to be clichéd. Though reluctant to edit the film, believing that this would result in a creative conflict of interest with his directorial responsibilities, Warren ultimately accepted the dual role as he “so much wanted this film to happen”.
Warren says that Candace Glendenning, whom he had seen in films such as Tower of Evil (1972), was “always [his] first choice” to play Catherine. Due to the character’s complexity, the role of Stephen was harder to cast. Martin Potter, who had recently played the title role in the TV serial The Legend of Robin Hood, was hired after first choice actor Michael Gothard withdrew at a late stage of pre-production. Potter researched psychopathic behavior to better understand his part. Although the production could not afford to pay Michael Gough’s usual fee, the actor accepted the role of Uncle Alexander after reading McGillivray’s script and hearing Warren’s personal vision for the film. His participation was conditional on the crew scheduling the filming around his theatre commitments. Gough was paid £300 (equivalent to £2,472 in 2018) for his appearance. James Bree and Celia Hewitt were cast through Spotlight. Michael Craze had worked with Warren before, having appeared in his short film Fragment (1965).
The film was largely shot in and around the country house of the Baron and Baroness DeVeuce in Pirbright, Surrey over three weeks in December 1975. The house had previously appeared in Tigon’s Virgin Witch (1971) and would also be used as a shooting location for Warren’s later film, Terror (1978). Warren remembers the challenges that the production was facing due to the low budget and how production designer Hayden Pearce found the DeVeuce house: “Most places were not suitable or the people were not interested. And because we didn’t have any money, we needed a house that also had furniture in it. Hayden was ringing everyone he knew in connection to art departments and someone suggested the mock-Tudor house in Pirbright, and we couldn’t believe our luck. Not only did it look great outside but everything in there was genuine – there were wall-to-wall paintings and it was fully dressed.” The estate surrounding the property contained an electrical substation that the crew were allowed to use as a power source, eliminating the need for generators. A nearby cottage served as the location for the Yorkes’ London home.
Due to budget limitations both Gough and Potter supplied their own wardrobe. Gough, who could not be provided with hotel accommodation, stayed with a friend in Barnes, London throughout the filming. Warren remembers: “We would pick him up each day at around 5.45 a.m. … He would work with us all day, often until midnight, and then we would drive him back to his friend’s house, stopping on the way to buy fish and chips.” He adds that “even with the incredibly long hours we worked each day, Gough never had a word of complaint.” Various members of the crew, including the producers, appear in the film as hooded cultists. Moira Young took over the role of the woman who is sacrificed in the opening scene when the actress who had been cast failed to attend on the night of filming.
While filming on a hill near an Army base, the production found itself surrounded by soldiers conducting a training exercise. Due to the noise from the base’s shooting range, the production schedule was revised to avoid filming outdoors on the days when it was in use. For the scene in which the Yorkes’ car explodes, the crew were given permission to film on the base; the Army then used the wreckage for target practice before disposing of it.
Scenes set inside John’s flat were filmed at the home of one of the crew. The character’s suicide was shot at a block of flats in Shepherd’s Bush, with producer Les Young serving as the stunt double for Michael Craze. To create a first-person “falling” effect, a camera was tied to a bungee cord and then dropped from the roof of the 23-story building. The car crash stunt was also performed by Young.
‘a complete professional and a joy to work with.” even if called upon to return to a set on four hours sleep after putting in a 20-hour shooting schedule. – Norman J. Warren on working with actor Michael Gough
BEHIND THE SCENES
Principal photography was completed shortly before Christmas 1975. Warren then edited the film at home. While preparing the first cut, Warren and his colleagues decided that the film contained an overabundance of dialogue and shortened or removed certain scenes that they considered redundant. These included a dream sequence involving Catherine and a scene set after the funeral in which the Yorkes bond over tea and Alexander and Stephen learn of the existence of Catherine’s boyfriend. According to Warren, “the main problem with [Satan’s Slave] was that the plot was very complicated, and actually rather boring. So we just cut out complete scenes where people were explaining things. And a lot of the film doesn’t make sense because of those cuts. But it was less complicated, and no one ever questioned the plot.”
Though Warren’s sense of modesty would probably never permit such an admission, it is likely that he is largely responsible for launching the career of horror makeup specialist Nick Maley, whose skills have been displayed recently in such extravaganzas as Krull and Lifeforce. In 1976, Warren was preparing his first horror film. Satan’s Slave, and decided to hire Maley, who he recalls was “rather new to the business but already showing signs of being quite clever.” Warren instructed Maley to create three key FX: the smashing of a head on cement, a woman impaled to a door by a knife driven into her.
“I like things to get a bit gory. At the same time, too much gore can be self- defeating.” mouth, and a destroyed knee joint. Maley succeeded so well that the censors demanded the removal of that last sequence from the finished print and ordered the remaining FX cut to a few frames.
To boost distribution prospects in the Far East, it was also decided to re-edit the film to include larger amounts of gore and nudity. This involved shooting a more explicit version of an early scene in the film, in which Stephen attempts to rape and then murders a young woman, Janice (played by Gloria Walker). Warren considers this version, in which Stephen ties his victim to a bed and threatens to cut off her nipples with scissors, “very unpleasant” and expresses his preference for the original. Additional scenes written by Warren and filmed during the re-shoots include Catherine’s vision of a Puritan priest (played by McGillivray) overseeing the torture of a young woman, which was filmed in the grounds of a nursing home. McGillivray also has a speaking role in the film as the priest who conducts the funeral of Catherine’s parents. Various cutaway shots were also filmed by Crystal Film Productions. The film’s title was changed from Evil Heritage to Satan’s Slave during post-production after distributors Brent Walker suggested that the latter was “more commercial”.
The score, composed by John Scott, was recorded in a single session with seven instrumentalists – the largest ensemble that the budget would allow. It features a clarinet and various gong effects, supported by a piano, xylophone, xylorimba and vibraphone.
Norman J. Warren on Satan’s Slave
The opening to your Satan’s Slave (1976), with the Tarot cards, is very similar to that of Walker’s Frightmare, which David McGillivray also wrote…
Norman J. Warren: Yes, but in fact there is no coincidence, because the idea of the Tarot cards came from the are director, Hayden Pierce. who also did the titles. So that’s just one of those strange links, Hayden is the co-writer and would-be co-producer of a lot of the stuff that I’ve been trying to develop, which is an example of that old “Why don’t we just try and do it ourselves?” attitude.
Was it the case that you and Pete Walker used to be very aware of each other, each checking out what the other was doing?
Norman J. Warren: The answer to that is probably yes. We were aware of each other, and did meet occasionally. Obviously I was interested in what he was doing, and 1 know that the reverse was also true. We had a ink through writer David McGillivray, who did a number of scripts for Pete.
You were the two young Turks of British 70s horror.
Norman J. Warren: The funny thing was if we’ve now moved on to the horror stuff that there was a lovely agent called Hazel Malone. If she liked you, she’d sort of take you under her wing and became a kind of mum. She really liked me. She had all the young actors and actresses of those days the Susan Georges, Richard O’Sullivans, etc. so you always went to her to get your actors and actresses. Pete and I were often trying to get the same actress.
Did you get the actresses in question?
Norman J. Warren: Most of the time I did.
How did you bring in scriptwriter David McGillivray?
Norman J. Warren: I first met David when I was editing Her Private Hell. I was working in a small cutting room in Soho and David always seemed to be there. He wasn’t working there, but he knew one of the owners of the cutting rooms. David would often come and watch me editing, and, because he shared my passion for films, we would have long conversations about movies in general. Later, he wrote the scripts for what I believe to be Pete Walker’s best films, House of Whipcord (and Frightmare 1974). When we decided to do Satan’s Slave, I suggested we ask David to write the script.
What was McGillivray like to work with?
Norman J. Warren: Very good indeed, because he doesn’t get offended when you want to make changes. A lot of writers feel that their work is set in gold and they don’t want any changes, but David…Maybe he’s just been very lenient with me, but he’s never had any complaints when I’ve thrown out lines or changed scenes around completely.
Before you came to direct your first horror, Satan’s Slave, you nearly got to direct for both Amicus and AIP (American International Pictures).
Norman J. Warren: The AIP film came by accident really. A writer by the name of Anthony Craze presented me with a script called “The Naked Eye”. I liked it very much and was keen to make it. Since Loving Feeling, I’d been working on documentaries and commercials as an editor, and I was keen to direct another feature film. So, I started taking the script around various production companies. I knew a man called Jacques de Lane Lea, who ran the sound studios, De Lane Lea, and I’d worked there as an editor. I had got to know Jacques very well. He liked the script and said he’d like to produce it. He had produced a few films in the past before he went into the sound side. He met up with someone from AIP and they were looking for a film for Vincent Price. They had him under contract and they needed to do one more feature with him. Hence, Vincent Price was onboard to play the lead and it was all looking wonderful, I must say. The cast was coming together nicely. We were going to use a young Lesley Anne-Down, who had just played a woman in a horror whose husband buys a door in the movie …
From Beyond the Grave (Kevin Conner, 1973).
Norman J. Warren: Yes, that’s it. AIP said they wanted some changes, so they brought in some top American writers. I was, again, on a steep learning curve because, boy, did they really pull the script apart. They made it so much better, but they really were brutal with it. Yet with all these changes and all the cast they were adding to, the film was getting more and more expensive. By the end, this low-budget film had got too expensive, and AIP decided to pay Vincent Price off. We were actually involved with that project for a year.
You must have been devastated.
Norman J. Warren: Oh, yes, I was.
Can you tell me about your involvement with Milton Subotsky and Amicus?
Norman J. Warren: Well, that didn’t go as far as The Naked Eye. I had a script called “The Book of Seven Seals”. It was very much in line with the sort of films Amicus made.
Norman J. Warren: Yes, because, as the title suggests, it had seven little stories. Milton Subotsky liked it very much. Once again, the meetings started, but then they fizzled out. Mind you, the meetings were very strange because Milton had no interest in directors whatsoever. He was more into the writer, the story and, after that, his big love was editing. I think he was a frustrated editor.
He wrote some of the stories for Amicus, didn’t he?
Norman J. Warren: Yes. He was very big on writing. He loved spending time with the writer. One thing to add: you might imagine Amicus as being very grand, but they literally had a porta-cabin at Shepperton Studios. It was like two rooms: one was where Milton had his desk, and the other room was for the secretary. She was surrounded by comics. I’d never seen so many comics. Milton was obviously a big collector.
From now on, I’ll always think of Amicus as a porta-cabin at Shepperton! Can we move onto the genesis of Satan’s Slave?
Norman J. Warren: Yes. Satan’s Slave was born out of the frustration caused by the previous films having fallen through. I was talking with Les Young, who was the camera operator on both Her Private Hell and Loving Feeling, and was now a director of photography. We said, more or less, “Why don’t we have a go at making a film ourselves.” At first, we did try and raise finance, but we really didn’t get anywhere. We just wasted a year.
So Les ended up financing it?
Norman J. Warren: Well, Les financed the bulk of it, yes. That at least gave us freedom to do what we wanted. Anyone who is putting money into a film keep wanting to make alterations and that just drives you nuts.
And that freedom is evident in the way that Satan’s Slave is much more brutal than, let’s say, what Hammer or Amicus were doing.
Norman J. Warren: Oh yeah, but we didn’t do that intentionally, I don’t think. Growing up, I was a huge Hammer fan, but I was also aware in the ’70s that Hammer was dying. It just wasn’t doing it anymore. Seeing any Hammer film at that time was such a disappointment. Amicus films were also becoming a bit tired. I remember seeing a double feature where Amicus was the main film and Death Line [Gary Sherman, 1972] was the B movie with it and, of course, we all loved Death Line much more than the Amicus picture. I think what one was getting tired of was all that period setting with middle-class people who didn’t seem to work with endless amounts of money and amazing houses.
And that’s what I like about your films, the way you take those gothic conventions and invert them. Anyway, please continue with Satan’s Slave.
Norman J. Warren: Les had an equipment hire company, Crystal Films. He mortgaged the company, he mortgaged his home and he sold the lovely old Bentley he had. Another friend and cameraman, Richard Crafter, then said he’d like to invest in the project. He had bought shares in Mother Care, which was doing very well in those early days. So he sold the shares and got quite a good price. I didn’t have any money to invest. I was pretty broke by that time.
How wonderful that a horror film was partly funded by Mother Care!
Norman J. Warren: Yes.
Who came up with the title Satan’s Slave?
Norman J. Warren: It was the distributor, Brent Walker. They didn’t like “Evil Heritage” because they thought people would not understand what it meant. Satan’s Slave is more self-explanatory. It gets straight to the point.
There is something much more Euro-horror about Satan’s Slave.
Norman J. Warren: Yes, it is odd how you do have to think about things like that.
Can you tell me about the location used for Satan’s Slave, because the house and forest help provide a very gothic atmosphere.
Norman J. Warren: The house was near Guildford in Pirbright. It is now owned by a Dutch family. When we used it, the Baron and Baroness who owned it were on hard times. That’s why I think they were renting it out for films. They were a wonderful couple. They’d moved over from France from a chateau and that was why the house was full of all these wonderful objects.
Watching the film, it looks like you have very expensive sets.
Norman J. Warren: Oh, our production designer Hayden Pearce was into all that. He couldn’t get over the paintings and the furniture.
Some critics have compared Satan’s Slave to an episode of Hammer House of Horror. It’s quite interesting comparison in that Hammer often used the one house in Great Hampden, Buckinghamshire, in many of their stories in the same way you use the house in Pirbright for this film and, later, Terror.
Norman J. Warren: When people saw Terror, no one really knew that it was the same house. The house was huge and could be used in so many different ways. It was just a perfect location. Not only was it a lovely house with loads of room in it, it was also in its own grounds. It was hard to find, so it was away from everything, and it also had its own sub-station that gave you all the electricity you wanted. Hence, you didn’t have to have generators. You just had to put a cable on it, which is nice because you’re also not running up the bill for the people who own the house; you have a completely separate feed.
There’s an interesting cast of characters in Satan’s Slave. As you’ve commented, no one seems to have a job in these narratives; it’s a world of leisure and pleasure. Could you say more about that because, in Prey as well, you have a set of characters that don’t seem to do anything.
Norman J. Warren: In Satan’s Slave, I thought we had got over that slightly because we are saying that the young girl, Catherine Yorke, played by Candace Glendenning, actually works. She’s due to start a new job. We didn’t suggest her mum and dad were wealthy, so they probably worked, too. But the Uncle Alexander character (Michael Gough): he obviously did have some money, hence that grand house. They obviously had a past where they did have more money. Yet now they are like the Baron and Baroness they’re on hard times and just happen to have the house still. Martin Potter’s character, Stephen Yorke, actually says that a few times. When Catherine asks, “Where do you get the money from?”, he says that his dad gets it from here and there. And, of course, he’s got his covens; you have to think about all those membership fees! There’s this lovely line that David wrote, which I thought so typical of that generation, which tells you that they were rich. Martin’s on the veranda walking along and says, “And when we were in Africa …” There seems to be a period of time when all wealthy people lived in Africa. Lovely line.
Going back to your question, I do know what you mean. The house was a bit grand and the whole film still had a Hammer influence. The Michael Gough character is straight out of Hammer. Plus, you have the house decorated with all these heavy red curtains, which is very Hammer.
The rich in decline …
Norman J. Warren: Yes, it is. It’s a film that keeps coming back to the real Baron and Baroness. There was one evening that none of us have ever forgotten when we were working late, as we very often were, and the sitting-room area and dinning room joined together. When we entered the rooms, the Baron and Baroness were sitting at that wonderful dinning table which you see in the movie with chandeliers above them. They were sitting at one end having their dinner, which consisted of a coupe of fish fingers and a bottle of Dubonet. All that opulence and eating fish fingers!
Satan’s Slave has a very dreamlike narrative, particularly as we approach the end of the film with Catherine bumping into her father, who was supposedly dead. Were you at all influenced by French surrealist cinema?
Norman J. Warren: I might have been without realizing. Yes, it’s very possible. In my early years, I’d always been nuts about going to the movies and so I’d see films from all different nationalities. I was also a big fan of silent movies. As well, my parents bought me my very first projector when I was nine. It had no sound, so at the weekends I’d use my pocket money to hire films from a local film library. That way I got to see all the classic silent films, like Metropolis (1927) and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
Not to try and sound too pretentious, but it’s almost a Luis Buñuel moment when she bumps into her father.
Norman J. Warren: I’d never thought about it that way. It was just a good story plot that David had come up with. I’ve always hated movies where you find out that it was all a dream it’s such a cop out. But our twist was that we actually cheated the audience at that time, because it’s not a bad dream. The big twist is that it’s her father who is the real villain. Michael Gough is not the leader of the coven. It’s her dad. Wearing this big crystal on his chest.
Which he wasn’t wearing earlier in the car …
Norman J. Warren: No, he had that in the boot! Actually, the jewellery he’s seen wearing at the end of the film is a glass doorknob.
Wonderful lo-fi filmmaking. But to go back to Hammer House of Horror again, what I like about your films is that you often have a very black conclusion that goes against the Hollywood classical narrative ending.
Norman J. Warren: Yeah. I’ve nothing against happy endings, but it just never seems to work out that way. To say something else, it’s always amazed me what you can get away with in films. For some unknown reason, Michael Gough’s character keeps a telephone behind the red curtain. The whole reason for that was that we needed the bit where Catherine finds Stephen’s body. That was the primary reason why the phone had to be kept behind the curtain.
Perhaps it also has another function. You almost don’t know what period they’re in. All technology seems to be hidden. There’s no visible television or radio.
Norman J. Warren: I’d never thought about that.
Tell me about the old Rover which we see blown up early in the story. Since the film was so low budget, how did you go about driving it into a tree and then blowing it up?
Norman J. Warren: Les drove it into the tree. He didn’t drive very fast, about 5mph, but it’s amazing what impact you get even at that speed.
Crikey, you wouldn’t allow a producer to also stand in as a stuntman now. Did he hurt himself?
Norman J. Warren: No, because we put loads of cushions on the steering wheel. The explosion was done by special-effects people, because it was very dangerous. We did that explosion on army training ground nearby.
At night, a carnivorous, shape-shifting alien named Kator lands in the woods of rural England. The vanguard of an invasion force, his mission is to evaluate the suitability of humans as a source of food for his species. Stumbling across Anderson and Sandy, a couple having a tryst in their parked car, he kills both and assumes the appearance of Anderson. The next morning, he encounters Jessica-Ann and Josephine, a lesbian couple who live in a nearby manor house. Although Jessica owns the property, having inherited it from her Canadian parents, the dominant of the pair is Jo, who is unusually possessive of Jessica and deeply suspicious of men. Simon, Jessica’s boyfriend, has mysteriously disappeared. The women are vegetarians and live in seclusion with only a few chickens and a pet parrot, Wally, for company.
Calling himself Anders, and feigning an injured leg, Kator is taken in by Jessica and Jo. His arrival immediately causes friction between the two. Bored of her monotonous existence, Jessica welcomes the stranger’s arrival. Jo, however, openly resents his presence and suggests that the socially-awkward Anders is an escapee from a psychiatric hospital (which she is herself). Later, having returned to the spot where he killed Anderson and Sandy, Kator kills and partly devours two policemen who are examining the couple’s abandoned car. Back at the house, Jessica finds a knife and bloodstained clothes in a spare bedroom; recognizing the latter as Simon’s, she realizes that he was murdered by Jo.
The next morning, Jo is furious to discover that all the chickens have been slaughtered. Blaming a local fox, she lays traps for the animal and goes after it with a rifle, assisted by Jessica and Kator. When the hunt fails, Kator tracks and kills the fox on his own and presents it to Jessica and Jo as a trophy. The trio celebrate with a champagne party for which Jo dresses Kator in drag. A subsequent game of hide-and-seek brings out more of the hunter in Kator. Later, Jo is disturbed to find the fox carcass stripped bare and realizes that the animal was not caught in a trap as she and Jessica thought. Jessica angrily rejects her warnings about Anders, interpreting Jo’s fear as jealousy and revealing that she knows the truth about Simon.
The next morning, Jo arms herself with her knife and stalks Kator as he hunts swans on a nearby river. Her attempt to eliminate him is thwarted when he starts to drown, alerting Jessica with his screams. Jessica and Jo rescue Kator and take him back to the house. While the two women clean themselves up, Kator kills and consumes Wally. Jessica tells Jo that she is no longer willing to be controlled and is leaving with Anders. Outraged, Jo knocks Jessica unconscious and runs into the woods to dig a grave for her. On waking, Jessica seduces Kator. As they start to have sex, Kator’s predatory instincts are stirred, causing him to revert to his natural form and tear open Jessica’s throat, killing her. Having returned to the house, Jo attempts to flee but falls into the open grave just as Kator catches up with her, and she screams as the scene fades to black.
Some time later, Kator leaves the house and calls his mother ship on an alien transceiver. Hungrily watching two girls walk along the river, he advises his superiors to dispatch more of his kind to Earth.
Prey took a total of ten weeks to make. The story was conceived by producers Terry Marcel and David Wimbury and developed by Quinn Donoghue. At the start of May 1977, Marcel pitched it to Warren, who was fascinated by the idea and quickly agreed to direct. Warren has since described the film as his “most hectic” production but also considers it to have been “a lot of fun”. Max Cuff, a journalist in his twenties, was hired to write a script based on Marcel and Wimbury’s outline. Prey was made on a budget of approximately £50,000 in deferred payments and £3,000 cash.
Warren agreed to shoot the film in ten days starting on 23 May, giving him just three weeks for pre-production. He remembers that during this time “everyone was working flat out – there wasn’t any sitting around waiting.” The cast were supplied by a single talent agency, which also invested in the film: CCA Management, founded by Howard Pays. Prey was the film debut of Glory Annen, who had graduated from drama school the year before. She and Barry Stokes later appeared in Spaced Out (1979), also directed by Warren. Not all of the cast were professional actors: Sandy Chinney was the girlfriend of the second assistant director, while the two girls who appear in the final scene were played by Marcel’s daughters. Due to budget constraints, some of the cast, including Annen, supplied their own wardrobe.
Marcel provided Warren with a filming slot on the wooded backlot of Shepperton Studios, located on the River Ash. Several scenes feature a bridge that had previously appeared in Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965). In addition, production designer Hayden Pearce secured the use of the manor house in Littleton Park (the studios’ original site) to serve as the location of Jessica and Jo’s country home. Of the filming arrangements, Warren comments: “This really was quite a unique situation because … here we were in a studio looking at a real house and real rooms as if shooting on location.” The crew were permitted to redecorate the rooms as necessary and, to this end, make use of any of the items in the studios’ prop store. Warren states that this resulted in a “crazy” mixture of decors that “certainly helped create the right atmosphere” for the film.
Filming commenced after only half a day’s rehearsal and without a finished script; the actors received the rest of their lines in daily dispatches. According to Warren, “dear old Max Cuff was trying to keep up with us. He was writing like mad.” Certain scenes were partly or wholly improvised: one example is a sex scene between the characters of Jessica and Jo, which was added mainly to boost the film’s overseas distribution prospects. Many of the crew had recently come off the production of The Pink Panther Strikes Again,on which Marcel had served as assistant director. They completed an average of 35 camera set-ups per day, employing hand-held shots whenever they fell behind schedule and filming scenes in no more than three takes to lower costs Stokes needed injections to ease the discomfort caused by the contact lenses that he was required to wear as part of his alien make-up The bird Wally was a cockatoo that often refused to perform when needed and squawked loudly off-camera, frequently causing problems with the sound recording. He eventually escaped from his cage and was never seen again.
The outdoor shooting was helped by the weather, which was sunny and warm throughout. This inspired Warren to direct the film in a “leisurely” manner while maintaining an “underlying sense of tension and uncertainty” to create a more shocking finale Warren considers the premise of the film to be “intimate” and situation-driven, arguing that the light script and small cast allowed the characters to develop naturally as the shooting progressed. Stuntmen Jerry Crampton and Eddie Stacey filmed their scenes in about two hours.
The scene in which Jessica and Jo save Kator from drowning in the river was among the first to be shot and presented difficulties for the crew.The Ash had been used as a waste dump for many years, causing the water to stagnate; according to Warren it looked “more like crude oil”. In addition, Annen was unable to swim. To keep Stokes, Annen and Faulkner in the water for as little time as possible, Warren reduced the amount of footage that needed to be shot by having the scene filmed in slow-motion on a high-speed camera. Once out of the water, the actors were given precautionary tetanus injections. Marcel was highly impressed with the footage and insisted that Alan Jones, the film’s editor, leave the scene uncut despite Warren’s concerns that it was too long. The production ended with the filming of Anderson and Sandy’s deaths; this scene was shot night-for-night as the last day’s filming had run into the early hours of the next morning.
To reduce costs, no alien spacecraft is seen at the start of the film; instead, Kator’s arrival is conveyed solely by flashing lights and sound effects.
Prey has become a minor cult favorite throughout Europe, leaving Warren somewhat amazed that it was marketed so poorly when first released in 1977.
NJW on Prey
Your next film was the excellent Prey. Did you always set out to make that film so bleak?
Norman J. Warren: It’s very hard to answer that because, like you, I like Prey. It’s never been a successful film. A lot of people didn’t like it because they felt it was too slow.
I think in retrospect the slow pace works for it.
Norman J. Warren: Yes, I do like it for that. Also, it was nice that the film only had a handful of characters – just the three of them – which meant that there was plenty of time to work on the characters. That was the only thing there was time for because the film came together so fast. It was made so quickly – 10 days – so you just did things rather than having much time to think over this or that.
Actually, the slow pace of the film was because there wasn’t that much script. Dear old Max Cuff was trying to keep up with us. He was writing like mad. The script was being written as we went along. In fact, there were times when I had to shoot and there wasn’t a script for it. You just made it up as you went along, but it worked. What Max was writing was so good and his dialogue was very clever.
There’s a wonderfully nonsensical logic to the film. For example, the reason Josephine (Sally Faulkner) lets Anders/Kator (Barry Stokes) stay for dinner is to find out if he’s mad or not. That’s hardly a reason for inviting someone over to your house.
Norman J. Warren: That was in the writing. The whole premise of the thing was bizarre anyway. Forgetting that he was an alien, the two girls’ relationship was also a strange one. Josephine seems to be the one in charge, whereas Jessica (Glory Annen) comes from a wealthy family who’s been left in this amazing house while her parents have gone off to where ever they’ve gone – maybe Africa! Anyway, that strangeness came out of these women’s situation.
Again, can you tell me about the house used in the film because it’s another interesting location.
Norman J. Warren: We were given the free reign of the old house on the Shepperton Studios backlot, and we were also told we could use any prop that was in the prop store at that time. Our designer, Hayden Pear, had to work with whatever he could find. He really didn’t have any choice. But somehow, with Hayden’s own magic, he managed to give a strange mix to the sets that certainly helped create the right atmosphere. I’d also challenge anyone to make a floor plan of the house, because none of it really makes any sense, but then it does, if you see what I mean.
Yes, I agree. There’s that scene where Anders is walking round the house while the two female leads are having sex. It’s impossible to work out where any of them are.
Norman J. Warren: In that scene, we used the loft because it looked nice.
All those elements give it a disconnection from reality. And, again, you have characters with no professions. There is a very surreal take on country life.
Norman J. Warren: I suppose so, yes.
Josephine and Jessica keep themselves separate from the rest of the village, don’t they? Josephine is clearly sociopath.
Norman J. Warren: I think that comes over in a nice way. I do like the way we manage to do the bit where Jessica discovers the knife and bloody shirt.
And what a knife! It’s enormous and looks incredibly dangerous.
Vicious thing that was.
It was real?
Norman J. Warren: Oh, yes. We had a choice. The others were really deadly. I think the producer got them. All were highly illegal. We’d have been arrested if we’d gone outside the studio with them. They were all Sicilian flick knives.
I know this sequence is endlessly talked about, but can you tell me about the scene where Anders nearly drowns in the pond. It’s a wonderfully shot and edited scene, but why does it go on for so long? It’s a rather indulgent scene.
Norman J. Warren: That is the very first cut from the first assembly that Alan Jones did, and yet the producer, Terry Marcel, fell in love with it and would never let us change it. He had that power. The editor and myself wanted to cut it down, but we couldn’t. I agree it’s too long, but there are people who say to me that they like it because it is so long.
Was the pond quite shallow, because the actors’ legs keep popping up from under the water?
Norman J. Warren: It was deep enough to drown. Glory couldn’t swim, which we didn’t know at the time. We did put a board down under the water, but that soon got very mucky. That pond was revolting, it really was. You know how black it was because you can see it in the film. As soon as you disturbed it, the smell was horrendous. You know what stagnant water is like. Goodness knows what had been thrown in there over the years by different film crews. And that scene was the very first day’s work for the actors.
Didn’t The Who take over that house after you’d finished shooting?
Norman J. Warren: Yes, they did.
You’ve always had memorable scores for your films and particularly so with Prey. Did you ask Ivor Slaney to specifically use synthesizers?
Norman J. Warren: No, it was budget again. There was just no money.
The music sounds very reminiscent of early ’70s Radiophonic workshop.
Norman J. Warren: Yes, I suppose it was in a way. It all worked. As well as electronic, he did bring in some live instruments that he played himself – for example, the piano. And I do like the song, “Accept the Arms of a Stranger”, in the scene where Anders is drinking without getting drunk he is an alien, after all and watching the two girls dancing.
Anders’ penchant for drinking reminds me very much of David Bowie’s alien in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976).
Norman J. Warren: Yes, yes. But I think it’s not so much about getting drunk, as about being one of the first things he’s found which he actually likes.
Are you still in contact with any of these actors?
Norman J. Warren: Not Barry Stokes. He now lives in Canada. He gave up acting altogether and is now into commercial kitchens for hotels, etc. I’m still in touch with Sally Faulkner.
After Prey (1977), Warren directed Terror (1978), in which an ancient curse destroys present-day characters. The idea was to make a horror film in which we did as many variations on as many genre themes as possible,” the director admits. The period opening sequence was particularly designed to reflect the feel of vintage Hammer.
Horror films up until that date took a more conventional approach. Although horror films often didn’t have to make a great deal of sense, they still did have some logic. Suspiria doesn’t make sense at all, yet it doesn’t bother you. It was also just so great to look at. It had lots of energy. As I was interested in sound, I also loved all the weird sound effects that often have nothing to do with what is going on screen. And the lighting used wild colours. Normally in films you can see where the light is coming from; therefore you justify what the colour it is. Suddenly, to have green light coming through the window, or red or blue, was so unusual, but it just worked for me. – NJW (on Horror Films Post-Suspiria)
Three hundred years ago, the witch Mad Dolly is captured on the orders of Lord Garrick. She is about to be burned at the stake when she invokes the Devil, causing one of her executioners to catch fire. Garrick rushes back to his house, where a disembodied arm bursts through a wall and strangles him. Lady Garrick is confronted by a sword-wielding Mad Dolly, who beheads her and curses the family’s descendants.
Credits roll, revealing that these scenes form the ending of a horror film directed by James Garrick – the last of the Garrick line with his cousin Ann, an aspiring actress. James is hosting a preview screening for Ann and his friends at the largely unchanged Garrick house, which he now owns. He believes his film to be based on true events and has also inherited Mad Dolly’s sword.
Gary, a mesmerist, hypnotizes Ann as a party trick. In her trance, Ann picks up the sword and swings it at James, wounding him slightly. After being overpowered by the other guests, she comes to her senses and flees the house. When James’s friend Carol leaves for the night she is stabbed to death in the surrounding woods by an unseen assailant. Ann returns to her hostel in London with bloodstained hands, observed by her roommate Suzy.
Other murders and strange deaths follow. At the strip club where Ann and her friends work as waitresses, a patron is ejected by the bouncer after groping Ann; on returning home, he is thrown onto a row of spiked railings and dismembered. At James’s film studio, an overhead lamp falls to the floor and crushes Les, a director shooting a sex film. Viv the star of the film, and one of Ann’s friends – is stabbed to death at the hostel. Ann visits James’s assistant Philip at the studio and tells him that she has no memory of her attack on James or how she got home on the night that Carol was murdered. After she leaves, Philip is attacked by flying props and equipment and decapitated by a falling sheet of glass.
Ann flees the hostel when she discovers police questioning Suzy about her and Viv. One of the officers pursues her but is repeatedly run over and crushed by the police car, which is being driven by a supernatural force. While making her way to the Garrick house, Ann is caught in unusually strong winds and takes refuge in a parked car, but is forced to jump out when the vehicle inexplicably rises into the air. Reaching the house, she experiences bizarre visions and sees various objects moving of their own accord. After seizing an axe, she is startled by the sudden appearance of James and accidentally kills him. Mad Dolly re-appears, cackling, as her sword flies across the room and fatally impales Ann against a wall.
Warren’s next project was simply entitled Terror, a film which came about as a result of his seeing Dario Argento’s masterful Suspiria. Hugely influenced by the Italian maestro’s willing disregard for plot logic counterpointed by an enthusiasm for terrifying, stylized, complex murder set pieces, Norman and his crew set about constructing a horror movie version of an ‘All You Can Eat’ restaurant – a murder medley based around an ancient witch’s curse but set in modern day England.
Terror was much more of a departure from the Hammer flavored Satan’s Slave than it sounds. “We really wanted to go completely the other way, away from that but had no idea what to do, and independently we’d seen Suspiria and of course with that film, all the rules had been broken, although there is a story there. Once again it doesn’t really stand up to being analysed. It doesn’t really make a great deal of sense but it doesn’t matter – it works, it’s 100% entertaining and the lighting, the sound effects – it’s just magic for me. It was like somebody saying, “You can do what you like”, so that was our approach to Terror – we did what we liked. Having done Satan’s Slave with the same group of people, this was our chance to make another one because fortunately Satan’s Slave made enough money for us to be able to do Terror, but we really didn’t want to go down that same route because Satan’s Slave was too much in the Hammer Film camp, which was sadly dying at that time, and also it was very heavy on dialogue and a very complicated plot”.
Through the years some people have unfairly accused Terror as being a wannabe Suspiria clone. There’s a huge difference between a straight copy and influence. Terror you said ‘influenced’ because a lot of people often say that Terror was trying to be Suspiria, which it never was. That was never the idea. We were completely knocked out by the new approach. But we didn’t say, “Let’s make another Suspiria.” It proved to us that you didn’t have to worry too much about telling a really good story in which everything made sense. Because it was a horror film, we wanted to entertain a young audience and it was basically just to have fun but put some scares in it as well, to put some nasty bits too. The lighting thing, too if you wanted to have red and green, just put it there, and if you wanted to have strange noises on the soundtrack, you didn’t have to say “where is it coming from?”
Just put it on there, which is what Suspiria did. So that was the influence on Terror, just saying “Forget all the rules”. When we came to do the dubbing on Terror, for the first couple of days I had a wonderful time with the mixer, who was a lovely guy but was often saying, “Why have you got this noise on here?” and I was forever saying to him, “Can you turn it up?” On day two he said “Look, are you fucking deaf? All the needles are banging on maximum all the time and you’re asking me to turn it up?!” You wouldn’t realize it now but at the time we produced one of the loudest soundtracks. We actually challenged what the levels were then. He said, “We’re going into distortion” and the editor asked, “When was this level set?” and he said “1939”, so the editor said, “Well it’s 1978 now, equipment has improved”, and the mixer said “No, you’ll still get distortion”. So we paid to have ten minutes of the cut printed and put onto positive film for cinema projection, and we tested it and there was no distortion at all, and yet we’d pushed it 40bs over what they said was the limit. It’s great.”
While casting the film, Warren and associate producer Moira Young deliberately sought out new actors with no film experience. All the roles were cast in two months. The characters played by Glynis Barber and Elaine Ives-Cameron did not appear in the original script; they were written in because Warren and Young were impressed by the actresses’ auditions and were determined to use them. Ives-Cameron based her performance as Dolores Hamilton, the owner of the Theatre Girls’ Hostel, on that of Gloria Swanson in the film Sunset Boulevard (1950).
The character Philip (played by James Aubrey) was a replacement for Gary, whose actor, Michael Craze, was forced to leave the production after suffering an epileptic seizure on set. Nine defective prints of the film Saturday Night Fever (1977), obtained from The Rank Organisation, were used to create the mass of film stock that attacks Philip before he is killed. Some of the background actors featured in the opening film-within-a-film sequence were employees of BBC Radio London, where McGillivray was working at the time. Other small parts were played by members of the crew; for example, McGillivray appears in one scene as a TV news reporter.
Terror was produced in four weeks during the summer and was shot in various locations around London and Surrey. Both Warren and producer Les Young have noted that due to the multiple locations, the filming logistics were more complicated than they had been for Satan’s Slave. The filming location for the Garrick residence was the house of the Baron and Baroness DeVeuce in Pirbright; this had previously served as the main location for Satan’s Slave. Many of the woodland scenes were shot on the surrounding estate. The opening party scenes were filmed in a single June evening. A nearby lodge served as the focus of an extended scene in which the character Suzy, whose car has broken down on a country lane, takes refuge inside a seemingly empty cottage where she is terrorized by a dark figure who turns out to be a friendly mechanic. Warren has admitted that this sequence “doesn’t make sense”, describing it as a “10-minute red herring”.
Scenes set at the Theatre Girls’ Hostel were filmed at a nurses’ hostel in Holland Park, while a club in Richmond supplied the location for the club where Ann works. James’s office at Garrick Studios was represented by the actual office of production company Crystal Film Productions, based in Harlesden. Scenes set on the studio floor were filmed over two days using the interior of Acorn Studios in Barnes. Other filming locations included a street in Victoria, Wood Lane in Shepherd’s Bush, Queensway in Bayswater, Barnes railway station and Barnes Common. Many of the outdoor scenes were shot night-for-night; this proved challenging as the decision to film in the summer limited the hours of darkness in which the crew could shoot.
An aspect of Argento’s groundbreaking film that really inspired Warren and cameraman Les Young was that of intense, strongly colored lighting. “There was always this law with lighting about “Where’s the light coming from?”, so if you have a green light, what’s making it green? Red, blue, whatever. There has to be a stained glass window or something, which has got bits of
glass in it that are making that color. But in Suspiria they just threw that out the window. So we did the same in Terror and it works. No one ever asked us “Why have you got all the colors?” At the end scene when Carolyn is getting stabbed, we’ve got loads of colors on her which aren’t in the room at all. There are a few close-ups where it’s red one side, green the other side, but it works somehow.”
While the formidably gifted John Scott wrote the haunting, complex musical score for Satan’s Slave as a favour for Warren – his old friend – the soundtrack for Terror was an altogether different affair. “That soundtrack was done by a man called Ivor Slaney. I’d met him on Prey. His credits were amazing. He’d done a hell of a lot of film work and other music generally, and got many awards but sadly when we came to do Prey he was on the way down and so he did it really just to keep doing things and it was done very inexpensively, basically him playing all the instruments himself and a lot of it was very electronic. But it works, don’t get me wrong, it works very well. In all fairness, I wouldn’t criticize Ivor on that because when it came to Terror, I’d been so influenced by Suspiria – the whole sort of different way of doing it, that there’s really no score to Terror. He did lots of sounds and lots of rhythms and a lot of it was made into loops, so I’m mixing in loops with noises that I did in a studio with clicks and bangs and my own voice, just standing in front of the microphone making sounds with our voices, then playing it at different speeds. We just played around with lot of different sounds. The one sound that was eluding us the whole time was the sound effect for the flying sword in Terror. We needed a sound and tried everything we could and nothing was working, then suddenly there was this noise and it turned out to be the engineer who was just resting a key on the tape reel as it was rewinding and making this noise, so we quickly recorded it and played around with it again and we ended up with that sound. It was just an accident.”
The success of Terror took everyone involved by surprise, and it even reached number one in the UK Box Office for a week in 1978. It also travelled well, taking American audiences by storm. “At the time, we couldn’t believe it because it was such a little film”, says Warren. “We made it very inexpensively, I think the total budget was £60,000, but we just did it at the right time. The young audience loved it. Now people probably can’t see what the fuss was about. But at that time it had a full-circuit release in this country. In America it broke box office records – don’t ask me why! There was a newspaper headline, “Terror Sweeps Chicago”, and then stated all the money it had taken at the box-office. I remember we were all in the foyer when the kids were coming out, and we’d chat to them and see what they thought of the movie, and they were loving Terror. Hard to believe – all for this little film which doesn’t actually make a lot of sense!”
Norman J. Warren on Terror
Did you ever get to meet Argento?
Norman J. Warren: No, I’d love to. It was always a bit unfair when people used to say that Terror was a copy of Suspiria, because Terror was never intended to be a copy. It was just liberating in that you could suddenly get away with doing whatever you liked. For this film, we had money from Satan’s Slave, so there were no finance problems; it was just a case of what were we going to do. After seeing Suspiria, we thought that we could really do whatever we wanted to. We all came up with ideas and David tied it all together. It was a very loose story idea. A lot of it doesn’t make sense, because many of the people who get killed have nothing to do with the cursed family.
One of the strangest sequences is where the heroine gets off the London tube, and then she’s running through the woods. It’s a classic Argento moment. Having said that, don’t forget that the house is out in the country and that station, believe it or not, is genuine. It’s Barnes Underground Station and, when you come out, you’re in part of Barnes Common. You cross the road and you’re in the woods. So, that sequence is genuine.
What was Peter Mayhew like to work with because, of course, he appears in that scene?
Norman J. Warren: Peter is a lovely guy. A gigantic man, but with the most gentle voice. We all used to smoke at that time and always offering cigarettes to each other. It was very weird if Peter offered you a cigarette while he was standing behind you, because the cigarette would come down from above, as if coming from the sky, and then a light would follow.
I wanted to ask about the character of James Garrick played by John Nolan. He has some of the oddest reactions to nearly being killed. Why is he so detached and nonchalant from the frightening events around him?
Norman J. Warren: Don’t forget that his character is the one who does believe in the family curse, so he’s half-expecting to die, I suppose. I do know what you mean, though. Mind you, the nice thing about that is that it gives a nice contrast to everybody else. I also like the James Aubrey character, who was a last-minute addition to the script, and the fact that he doesn’t believe in any of it until he’s attacked in the studio. He was a good contrast too.
You’ve been excused of sexism in Terror and the other films, but you also offer up some very powerful female types. I’m thinking here of the witch and that stripper and also Dolores. It’s a cast that offers up some very strong women.
Norman J. Warren: Yes, along with more fluffy ones. All these things may have happened subconsciously, I don’t know. Both the stripper, Tanya Ferova, and Dolores, Elain Ives-Cameron, were accidental finds, but great ones. I did the casting for Terror with Les Young’s wife, Moira, who was also the associate producer. When it came to finding the stripper, I was becoming really fed up and frustrated, because it was so boring going to endless clubs and watching the same old routine. I had nothing against the women doing it, but it definitely a case of thinking each time. “Oh, no, not the same thing again.” It was almost the same music each time. We contacted various agents and one day Tanya walked into the office. I didn’t ask her to show us her act, because her whole appearance and attitude told me she was the right one.
It’s interesting how these current horror directors are often obsessed with the horror movies from the 1970s. It has become their blueprint.
Norman J. Warren: Yes, I know. But the ’70s wasn’t only gore; there was something in-between. If you have too much of something, it actually defeats itself in the end. It’s a bit like the way modern films – and not just horror – have everything on the soundtrack very loud. If you start loud, which they often do right from the opening titles, there is nowhere else to go. They don’t actually have any silence in the soundtrack anymore. They fill up every gap with a noise and, in the end, you can hardly hear the dialogue because everything is fighting: the dialogue, the music and the sound effects.
Continued in Norman J Warren Director Profile Part 2
Norman J Warren Selected Filmography
The Millionairess (1960) (runner)
The Dock Brief (1962) (third assistant director)
Shellarama (1965) (assistant editor)
Fragment (1965) (director, editor)
Night of the Generals (1966) (third assistant director)
The Sailor from Gibraltar (1967) (third assistant director)
Her Private Hell (1967) (director, editor)
Loving Feeling (1968) (director, editor)
Rod the Mod (1970) (assistant editor)
Oink! (1970) (editor)
Satan’s Slave (1976) (director, editor)
Prey (1977) (director, editor)
Terror (1978) (director, sound editor)
Spaced Out (a.k.a. Outer Touch and Outer Spaced, 1979)
Inseminoid (a.k.a. Horror Planet, 1981)
Warbirds Air Display (1984) (director, editor)
Person to Person (1985)
Bloody New Year (1987)
Shock Cinema 36
//sensesofcinema.com (Interview by Adam Locks)