Spaced Out (a.k.a. Outer Touch and Outer Spaced, 1979)
The crew of a malfunctioning alien cargo ship make an emergency landing on Earth. This draws the attention of four sexually-frustrated humans in a nearby park: Oliver and Prudence (a mild-mannered professional and his highly-strung fiancée), Willy (a bumbling shop assistant) and Cliff (a middle-aged man).
Oliver, Prudence, Willy and Cliff wander into the ship and encounter three aliens resembling human women: engineer Partha, nurse Cosia and the captain, known only as Skipper. Willy inadvertently drops some pornographic magazines that he has recently bought. The aliens mistake some approaching cows for a hostile force and hurriedly take off, despite warnings from the long-suffering computer about the precarious state of the ship’s systems. Resuming their original course, they study their guests in detail. Fascinated by the anatomy of the males, they decide to sell them to a zoo for exotic lifeforms on a distant planet. They also debate the significance of the acts depicted in Willy’s magazines. Partha is particularly keen to emulate them and enthusiastically has sex with Cliff.
Skipper, Cosia and Partha subject the males to a series of tests to learn more about their abilities. Oliver and Cliff fail miserably. However, Willy, looking for his magazines, beats Skipper’s combat simulation by unknowingly evading her attacks, causing her to collapse with exhaustion and infer that he is a stronger being. While conducting a physical examination on Willy, Cosia discovers that his biology is more advanced than anything known to their species; encouraging Cosia with exaggerated claims about his sexual prowess, Willy loses his virginity to her. Later, he passes an intelligence test by a fluke and has sex with Partha.
In the ship’s recreation area, Oliver seeks relationship advice from an artificial intelligence residing in an object resembling a Wurlitzer jukebox. At the Wurlitzer’s suggestion, he adopts a “caveman” approach to seducing Prudence. Shocked by her fiancé’s behaviour, Prudence moves to a luxurious bedroom, where she immediately relaxes and willingly has sex with him.
Awed by Willy’s assumed physical and intellectual superiority, the aliens invite him to remain on board with them and propose to return the other humans to Earth. Willy is initially hesitant to leave his planet behind but relents when Skipper, wanting to confirm Cosia and Partha’s findings for herself, allows him to seduce her. The ship touches down safely and Oliver, Prudence and Cliff depart. However, the subsequent launch causes a fatal overload and the ship explodes, killing Willy and the three aliens. The disembodied voices of the computer and the Wurlitzer are left stranded in space.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Norman’s next project was destined to be something with an altogether different flavor; a comedy sci-fi spoof which re-teamed him with Gloria Annan and Barry Stokes from Prey. The rock-bottom budget of Spaced Out (AKA Outer Touch) isn’t easy to ignore but it’s difficult not to enjoy as a comedy experiment from the man who had recently unleashed three strong, independent horror pictures. “When I first read the script for Outer Touch, I must confess I wasn’t too sure if I wanted to do it, because it was like going back to the days of Loving Feeling and Her Private Hell. It was about sex and had an English naivety about it. It’s about sex but you’re too embarrassed to admit it. However, after meeting with the producers, Peter Schlesinger and David Speechley, I started to change my mind about the project, mainly because they agreed I could make changes to the script. I felt it would work much better if we concentrated more on the comedy elements of the story. I’ve always seen Outer Touch as a cross between a Carry On film and Fire Maidens of Outer Space (1956).”
It must have been a bonus to work with such familiar cast members again too, in surprisingly different roles, particularly Barry Stokes. “I was pleased to be able to include Barry Stokes and Glory Annan in the cast. Not only because I enjoyed working with them both on Prey, but also because I was sure they could both bring something extra to their character. Barry was excellent as the sexually frustrated research assistant, Oliver, as was Glory Annan as the space girl, Cosia. Glory is very good at giving the character a sort of innocent approach to various situations. Two of my favorite scenes in the film feature Glory. One is the scene in which she has to record the body measurements of Willy, played by Tony Maiden, and her amazement at the changing size of his ‘extra member’. The other scene is when she delivers a meal on roller-skates and gets it all a little wrong. Glory really couldn’t roller-skate and was almost falling over for much of the time, but she made it work and the scene has a certain charm to it.”
Spaced Out remains one of Norman’s lesser known films. So why haven’t a lot of people heard of it? “The film was released in the UK by Miracle Films. Unfortunately they didn’t promote the film much, relying instead on the poster to attract people, which was a pity, because the poster was very dull. It featured a spaceship in the shape of a breast with the nipple on top and all in silhouette. As a result, the film only had a limited release throughout the UK. America was a different story. The film was released by Mirimax in the US, and they made a few changes to the film. Two of the ‘characters’ in the film, are a talking computer and juke-box. Mirimax had them both re-voiced and gave them a sort of New York / Jewish humor which worked very well. They also changed the title to Spaced Out and produced a poster that was far more eye-catching and fun. Although in didn’t break any box-office records, the film did have a successful run across America.
Shooting commenced on 22 January 1979 and ran for four weeks. Studio filming was conducted at Twickenham Studios and Bray Studios while the film’s outdoor opening was shot on location in Marble Hill Park, Twickenham. The section of spaceship that appears in the park scenes was created using scaffolding covered with plastic sheets. The lighting of these scenes was intended to pastiche Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The special effects shots of the ship in flight were recycled from the TV series Space: 1999. Due to the variety of shots used the appearance of the ship changes over the course of the film. According to Warren, Barry Stokes, whom he had previously directed in Prey (1977), based his performance as Oliver partly on Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of Clark Kent in Superman (1978).
You made an earlier space opera, entitled Outer Touch (1979). That’s a pretty obscure movie, can you tell us something about it? The only thing I’ve seen from it is a still featuring a woman in fetish gear, fencing with a disembodied arm…
Right. Outer Touch was quite successful in American, where it was known as Spaced Out. It didn’t do much in Britain, but in America it did actually take off, one reason for that being that they redid the soundtrack. They didn’t revoice any of the human characters, but there were a jukebox and a computer that talked to each other a lot and they redubbed those, which worked very well. Basically. It was a science fiction comedy, What I would say about it is that it taught me just how difficult comedy is – the most difficult, I think, of all the genres. It’s totally about getting the timing right.
Inseminoid (a.k.a. Horror Planet, 1981)
On a desolate planet, a team of 12 Xeno project scientists are conducting an archaeological excavation of the ruins of an ancient civilization. Shortly after an underground tomb network is found to contain crystals and wall inscriptions, photographer Dean White (Dominic Jephcott) is engulfed in a rock blast and left incapacitated. Deciphering the alien language in the caves, xeno-linguist Mitch (Trevor Thomas) theories that the civilization was built on the concept of dualism: the planet orbits a binary star, and a pair of twins seems to have ruled the race that once inhabited it. Medical assistant Sharon (Heather Wright) discovers that an energy field surrounds the crystals, which causes her to deduce that a “chemical intelligence” controlled life on the planet.
A mentally unbalanced Ricky Williams (David Baxt) is driven to re-enter the caves when a sample of crystals pulsates and the chemical intelligence exerts its influence through a mark on his arm. Thrown into a grille in a compromised environmental suit, Gail (Rosalind Lloyd) removes her helmet and freezes to death in the toxic atmosphere while trying to amputate her trapped foot with a chainsaw. Documentation officer Kate Frost (Stephanie Beacham) shoots Ricky with a harpoon gun before he opens both the inner and outer airlock doors and renders the air inside the base unbreathable.
Following the burial of Ricky and Gail, Mitch and Sandy (Judy Geeson) return to the caves to collect more crystals. A monstrous creature appears and dismembers Mitch before raping Sandy. Found distraught, Sandy receives treatment from Sharon and chief medical officer Karl (Barry Houghton), who discovers that the assault has triggered an accelerated pregnancy despite the regular intravenous injections of contraceptives given to the women in the team. When further explosions within the catacombs scuttle the chances of deeper investigation, the surviving members of the team are left with nothing to do but await the arrival of a Xeno rescue shuttle.
The intelligence assumes control of Sandy, who has been marked in the same way as Ricky. She stabs Barbra (Victoria Tennant) to death with a pair of scissors, demonstrating superhuman strength while committing the murder, and then mutilates Dean and the remains of Mitch, drinking their blood. The rest of the team seek refuge in the Operations Room as Sandy destroys essential machinery – including the base transmitter – with explosives. When the imbalance in Sandy’s mind appears to correct itself, Karl, Sharon and Commander Holly McKay (Jennifer Ashley) attempt to sedate her to spare the unborn children. Sandy’s madness returns and Holly and Karl are killed in an accident with heat-sealing apparatus, whereupon Sandy disembowels the corpses.
Senior officer Mark (Robin Clarke) radios Sandy – his romantic interest – from the Operations Room to stall for time as Kate and operations chief Gary (Steven Grives) depart to requisition chainsaws from a storage room. The ruse is uncovered and Sandy harpoons Gary outside the airlock, breathing the atmosphere to no ill effect as she mauls his flesh. Preparing for a final confrontation, Mark stumbles across Sandy’s newborn, mutant twins. He entrusts them to Sharon as the mother blasts through the Operations Room door and destroys all the equipment inside, although it is evident that she no longer possesses unnatural strength. Crippled by an explosive charge, Kate is gored to death. In a last stand, Mark strangles and kills Sandy with a ripped-out cable. He returns to Sharon to discover one of the twins biting at her slit neck, before its sibling launches itself at him.
Twenty-eight days later, Xeno Auxiliary Module 047 lands on the planet to investigate the loss of contact with the team. With the base in ruins, the mission records destroyed and the scientists either murdered or missing, combat marksmen Corin (Kevin O’Shea) and Roy (Robert Pugh) abandon the search for survivors and pilot Jeff (John Segal) contacts Xeno control to request clearance to return. The final shots reveal that Sandy’s children have stowed themselves away inside a storage compartment on board the shuttle.
Filmed between May and June 1980, Inseminoid is based on a script written by Nick and Gloria Maley, a couple who had contributed to the special effects of Warren’s films starting with Satan’s Slave (1976). A low budget of £1 million, half of which was contributed by the Hong Kong Shaw Brothers, funded location filming in both the Chislehurst Caves in Kent and on the island of Gozo in Malta. Composer John Scott perfected the electronic score of Inseminoid in multiple hours-long studio sessions following the completion of shooting.
Following the releases of Satan’s Slave (1976), Prey (1978) and Terror (1979), Norman J. Warren had at first been attached to direct a film titled Gargoyles. When this production collapsed at the scripting stage, Warren and his producer, Richard Gordon, accepted a plot proposal from the husband-and-wife team of Nick and Gloria Maley, who had worked on Satan’s Slave as members of the special effects department besides Star Wars (1977) and Superman (1978). The Maleys drafted their concept as a composite of their favourite science-fiction ideas and an opportunity to exhibit their best effects work, although the suggested title, Doomseeds, had to be changed to avoid confusion with the 1977 film Demon Seed. The script for the new Inseminoid, which indicates that the film is set two decades in the future in a militaristic universe, required amendments prior to filming, although the premise received Warren and Gordon’s approval.
Producer Richard Gordon cast American actors Clarke and Ashley while on business in Hollywood. Prior to Inseminoid, Ashley had starred in minor films of such independent studios as Crown International Pictures, while Clarke had just completed filming on the 1980 film The Formula. Warren recalls that although Ashley “was not the greatest actress, she was very enthusiastic and very easy to work with.” The professional relationship between Warren and Clarke broke down during the filming of sequences such as Dean’s incapacitation inside the caves, when the director and actor disagreed about the extent to which Clarke needed to respond to the script when his character raises his voice to a shout. Warren asserts that Clarke’s “high opinion of himself” made the actor “a nightmare to work with”, and adds that he “could be extremely difficult, making every scene with him an uphill struggle.”
Rapports between the director and other cast members proved to be positive: in particular, Geeson is credited as “an absolute dream to work with” and praised for her acting of the maddened expectant mother, which Warren argues avoids descending into unintentional humour. Gordon also offers a positive assessment, stating that Geeson accepted the demands of her part with enthusiasm and did not complain that it demeaned her as an actress.
Warren retains fond memories of Beacham’s “very professional” performance, and remarks that, “with tongue firmly in cheek, she would often wind me up by asking what her motivation was for a particular action, just as I about to call ‘Action!’, knowing full well that my answer would be, ‘Because it’s in the script’.” Beacham, a mother of two infant children, agreed to appear in the film to support her family: “I had to choose between a play that I really, really wanted to do, which would have paid me £65 a week, and this script for a film called Inseminoid. Hey! No choice. Two pink babies asleep upstairs! No choice!”
Agreeing to fund half of the proposed £1 million budget, the Hong Kong Shaw Brothers became partners in the film’s production. Elder brother Sir Run Run Shaw is credited as the presenter of Inseminoid in the opening titles. With a production staff of 75, principal photography commenced on 12 May 1980. John Metcalfe, camera operator for Satan’s Slave and Terror, assumed the role of cinematographer. His former role fell to the less experienced Dick Pope. Three weeks of location filming at the Chislehurst Caves in Kent preceded a one-week indoor session at Lee International Studios at Wembley Park in London. The second unit completed special effects and linking shots in a fifth week, based at Film House in Wardour Street. To simulate the desolate landscape of the alien planet in long shots, the production team departed for the island of Gozo, Malta for a final shoot of two days, capitalizing on the strong Mediterranean sun to produce good lighting.
Opting to shoot using Mitchell cameras incorporating 35 mm Eastman Kodak film and anamorphic lenses, Warren recalls that the produced footage boasted “an incredibly sharp image and what I would term as the ‘American’ look.” He remembers that the setting of the Chislehurst Caves rendered the subterranean complex more realistic than a potential in-studio alternative given the modest budget of Inseminoid. However, the cold, damp, airless conditions, combined with the uneven surface of the cave floors, complicated the filming sessions and necessitated frequent repairs of equipment.
Shooting often ran for 12 hours at a time and led to frequent minor injuries among the cast and production staff, while some developed intense feelings of claustrophobia in the confined space. Gordon suggests that the uncomfortable working conditions made the performances of the cast more realistic, but concedes that although, “I think all this paid off in terms of what we got on the screen for the budget, but the circumstances were very difficult.” In the absence of suitable facilities inside the caves, the personnel established administrative, dressing and make-up rooms in a car park some distance from the filming area. Co-writer Nick Maley reprised his role as a special effects technician to produce the infant twin props that appear in the climax of the film.
The filming of Inseminoid wrapped two days behind schedule. Warren remembers making a major cut to scenes of Ricky’s rampage to help the shooting finish on time: “I had to put the “blue pencil” through part of the scene, which involved a chase through various tunnels. Three pages of script, which I had to condense into one shot.
Having to make such an enormous compromise was not a happy choice for me, but it was the only way of getting us back on schedule.” On his contribution to Inseminoid, Warren stated that Peter Boyle proved to be “a pleasure to work with, because he had a natural feel for the material and managed to create just the right pace and rhythm throughout the film.”During the post-production process, the editing staff increased the brightness of the original print, concerned that a dim appearance would damage the chances of sales to television broadcasters, and removed the most graphic shots of the birth of the mutant children to ensure that the film would be certified by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). The opening title visuals, consisting of vibrant oil frames, are a contribution of Oxford Scientific Films.
BEHIND THE SCENES w/ Jennifer Ashley on Inseminoid
Having met Norman J. Warren, who directed you in INSEMINOID, he seems like the perfect gentleman. Was that also the case when you worked with him?
Jennifer Ashley: Yes, I adored Norman. He was so easy to work with and just the nicest guy. He worked us hard on INSEMINOID, though, and it was freezing cold in these Chislehurst caves that we shot the film in. We were in London, and that was the best part of making that movie. I wanted to see London and I got to stay there for two months. It was one of the perks of being an actress, (laughs) We were driving an hour out of London every day to work in these caves in the English countryside and it was so cold. We all had to wait around to film our scenes and it was just ice cold. But we were being paid so you didn’t complain.
INSEMINOID was an obvious rip-off of ALIEN. Were you aware of that when you began production?
Jennifer Ashley: No, because I had never seen ALIEN! So it all felt very original to me. I believe in aliens but never saw the movie.
How do you feel INSEMINOID holds up today?
Jennifer Ashley: Oh yeah, it is great. My husband has watched that film quite a few times and my kids love it, even if it is very gory. We even won some kind of award for the soundtrack at one movie festival. They had this great, eerie music on INSEMINOID, which I thought was very atmospheric, and I still have the original album.
INSEMINOID has since become something of a cult film, but it was not a big hit when it came out. As a low budget UK production, how did it go down in the US?
Jennifer Ashley: Universal bought the movie and they thought it was going to be this huge success and. sadly, that wasn’t the case. But it did play everywhere when it first came out. I think the distribution for it was quite strong,
The film was shot on a tight four week schedule, much of which was spent in Chiselhurst Caves, a tourist attraction in Kent, England, where a space station set was constructed at a fraction of studio sound stage costs. “Originally the story was set on a spaceship.” Gloria Maley said, “but we changed that so we wouldn’t get involved in any elaborate special effects. It was decided to shoot there because it would have been virtually impossible to find a soundstage large enough to house such a construction. Warren believes, “The production value that evolved from this decision speaks eloquently for itself.”
“We knew from the beginning,” says Gordon, “that there was no way we could compete with films like Star Wars in terms of special effects. The emphasis in our movie was to be on the horrific elements; the makeup as opposed to the electrical gadgetry. The nature of the story required a minimum amount of exterior shooting; mainly dealing with the goings on within the alien caverns. So, we decided to build the sets we needed on location rather than a studio in order to get a more atmospheric, realistic touch.
The caves, however, posed some unusual technical problems. “Our production manager knew of them and suggested we use them,” said Warren. “The production value you get on the screen is incredible-you can’t beat il-but it is the most unpleasant place to work it. It’s cold and damp and, as the floors are uneven, moving lamps and the camera became a real problem. We had 1.5 miles of electrical cable to be rerouted each time.” “We shot three weeks in the caves, six days a week. We ran into a great deal of unexpected tension on the set. It seems that people kept underground for long periods of time get a bit edgy. If I had to sum up the atmosphere on this picture, I’d say it was similar to what you’d find while working in a coal mine.
Warren also made a conscious decision to restrict the futuristic hardware. “Again. I didn’t want the technology to dwarf the characters, the story and the horror,” he says. “After all, the alien world is really just a variation on the haunted house in the more typical thrillers. isolated settings from which the characters cannot easily escape.”
Though Horror Planet includes its share of gore, both Warren and producer Gordon believe the movie emerges as more disturbing than violent. They point to the scene in which Geeson, huddled alone in an isolated cave, gives painful birth to the monster babies.
Scriptwriter Maley served as a jack of-all-trades in the production. He created the make-up worn by Judy Geeson when she mutates into a monster and also designed the air pressure controlled twin aliens, operating them along with two assistants.
“It helped that I could work out how to do something before we wrote it into the script,” Maley said. “When you work on this kind of picture a lot, you know there are things that will eventually end up not being used. We tried to join little things together to add up to something that hadn’t been seen before. We want people to come out of the cinema wondering if the aliens were puppet animation or models or something else. We are making our models do more than they should do for puppets, which may make people think that it is animation, but then we pull the rug out from under them when the actors become involved in the action.”
Maley created two carnivorous baby monsters and their father, the latter affectionately named “Big Daddy” by Warren. Warren decided to show the paternal monster only fleetingly. “No matter how well the creature is constructed,” he opines, ‘it is hard to keep the horror level. Though only two creatures are bom in Horror Planet, six were actually constructed. Each was specifically designed to perform certain functions, from snarling at the astronauts through blood-smeared lips to manifesting a heartbeat or pulse. It took up to six FX technicians to operate the various ropes and pulleys needed to animate them. For Inseminoid Maley worked hardest on a decompression death and the scene wherein the twins are seen slithering from the womb of their earthborn mama. In constructing the baby aliens, Maley relied heavily on his experience in previous films.
Determining that the low budget precluded an orchestral soundtrack, Warren and his long-serving composer, John Scott, agreed that all the music should be electronic. Produced after hours of studio multi-tracking and overdubbing, Warren considers the final score an “amazing achievement” and praises Scott’s realization of a soundtrack incorporating the “experimental” electronic brand of music. The score received an LP release in 1982.
Norman J Warren on Inseminoid
I believe Inseminoid (1981) was conceived as a showcase for Nick Maley’s special FX…
Norman J Warren: Yes, and incidentally it was genuinely written by Nick and his wife Gloria before they or anybody else had seen Alien It was the classic situation of being very surprised, when we saw Alien, that there was this similarity to the script that we were about to do. But you’re right, Nick and Gloria did come up with the original script and obviously they included a number of scenes where he could demonstrate his abilities, which were quite amazing.
The FX in Inseminoid are pretty gruesome in places, and that’s also the case in several of your other films. Were you surprised that none of your stuff ever turned up on the dreaded “video nasties” list? Did you expect it to?
Norman J Warren: No, because I’ve never really seen them as being that nasty, and the reactions to one or two of them have actually quite surprised me, because I didn’t think they were as nasty as everybody else said they were. I’m not even too sure what a “video nasty” is. What I can say is that I see a lot of horror films which are rubbish. I don’t know if they’re the ones that are regarded as “nasties, but they are rubbish, and they just seem to throw a lot of unnecessary gore in. It’s basically the fact that they’re so badly made that offends me, not what they contain. I can tell you that Beyond Terror, for instance, would contain a number of special effects sequences and a fair amount of gore, but the main emphasis would be on creating edge of the seat tension. I have nothing against gore movies, but I do feel it’s time that horror movies moved back into the shadows”, so to speak.
What’s the attitude of somebody like Stephanie Beacham to having appeared in Inseminoid now? I ask because people like Joan Collins. after they’ve moved onto glossy soaps, have been very dismissive of their horror credits.
Norman J Warren: Yes, I do know what you mean, and that has tended to happen with Stephanie Beacham as well, although I do feel that wouldn’t be Stephanie herself, it would probably be her agent. I did notice that all reference to Inseminoid had disappeared from her list of credits in certain publications when she was doing Dynasty. But it is probably the agents and press representatives that do that. I can’t believe that Stephanie herself would.
Are there any actors that you particularly liked working with, or any that you disliked?
Norman J Warren: Certainly on the likes side, Stephanie, whom we’ve just mentioned, and on top of the list would be Judy Geeson, who was an absolute dream to work with, in all respects. She was just so enthusiastic and so co-operative and so involved with the whole production. I don’t think she had had more than two or three days off in the entire shoot. Even when those days came along she insisted that she come to the studio each day, simply because she didn’t want to miss anything that was happening.
Inseminoid was shot in actual caves rather than on a set, wasn’t it?
Norman J Warren: Yes, it was shot in Chislehurst Caves in Surrey, quite an amazing place really. It’s 22 miles of manmade cave complex, an amazing place visually but not the most pleasant of places to work. There were many logistics problems, The first was electricity, which meant that the generators had to be in use all the time. We were three miles from the actual surface, it was very damp down there and very cold, and in fact I think the biggest problem was actually being underground, being right down there for three weeks. Had it been any longer, I think things would have been very difficult, because people would have started to get a bit edgy, just from the lack of daylight, just from being kept underground. Having said that, production wise it proved wonderful, giving us sets that really would have been incredibly expensive to build. I watch the movie now and am so pleased at how expensive it looks!
DEVELOPMENT/BEHIND THE SCENES
Gunpowder was film in 1985 around the Macclesfield and Nether Alderley areas of Cheshire, and starred David Gillian from the American TV police series Chips, also in the film as a guest appearance was Gordon Jackson of British Film and TV fame such as Upstairs and Downstairs and The Professionals.
In the midst of a routine day’s trading on the gold market, a beautiful woman arrives to unload a vast amount of the precious metal in exchange for cash, The effect is devastating, Gold prices tumble as security exchanges across the western world rush to rid themselves of their stockpiles. In no time at all international currencies plummet to the point of collapse and whole nations face financial ruin. This calls for urgent action. The source of the renegade gold must be found, So Interpol’s Special Executive calls in its top two agents Mike Gunn and his sidekick Powder.
A race against time takes the two of them to France and the remote headquarters of evil genius Dr. Vache. By car, by speedboat and by Helicopter the duo do battle with the ruthless mastermind in a desperate bid to save the world from disaster.
A Macclesfield-set thriller which Norman embarked on with the same producer as Bloody New Year. “She told me she had all these arrangements to make a film in Macclesfield,” he said. “But when we got there, there was nothing. We had to start from scratch. We all wondered why we were doing it there it was filmed in November and December, in the freezing cold, and we were using boats and helicopters as it was a spoof James Bond film. It was murder. The two main agents were called Gun and Powder. After I while I got so fed up of trying to sort everything out that I decided to make a joke out of it. The budget was so tiny that the producer kept sending hired props back before we had finished with them! One scene required an atomic submarine to arrive. I asked how we were supposed to achieve that and the producer suggested we use a drainpipe to look like a periscope.
“I would really have liked to have made the film more fun, more comic-strip, and played on the fact that we didn’t have everything the film should’ve had. But unfortunately the producer didn’t agree, even though it was becoming more and more chaotic towards the end of shooting, with main props being sent back because we could no longer afford the rental. There are scenes in which Powder doesn’t have his gun because it had been returned to the prop company. In fact we did do one shot in which we played on the missing gun. Gun turns to Powder and asks, “Where’s your gun?”, because he had it in the previous shot, to which Powder just shrugs and says, “I have no idea”. Of course in the very next shot he has the gun back again.
“I have always worked with low budgets, but in the case of Gunpowder, the budget proved to be so low it was really impossible to achieve everything the script called for. Casting was a good example of the limited funds, because apart from the two principle characters and one guest star, the selection of actors was very much based on where they lived. Rather than ask the actor or actress about their previous work, the first question asked by the producer would be, “Where do you live?” If they didn’t live in Macclesfield, or within an easy driving distance, they didn’t get the part.
“We did manage to film some reasonable actions scenes, including a helicopter and speedboat chase, we did have to work fast and with little chance of a second take. We also managed to create an interesting relationship between the two central characters. David Gilliam, an American actor played Gun, a tough and rugged sort of guy. Martin Potter, with whom I’d worked with previously on Satan’s Slave, played Powder, a slightly camp agent who is always immaculately dressed no matter what. His hair is never out of place and when he wears a white jacket it never gets dirty. There’s a nice interplay between the two characters which works very well in the film.”
“We had just 10 extras to use, and some scenes involved battles between two different armies. When you watch it you can actually see people shooting themselves, because the same people were playing parts on both sides. None of the uniforms matched, either. For the finished film the producer put in loads of library material, so there are shots of helicopters arriving and hundreds of men pouring out of them, then it cuts to our 10 guys in their non-matching uniforms.”
Although Gunpowder was never intended for theatrical release, it has been shown on TV in many countries and was released on video throughout the world. Although currently unavailable, you can still find it on VHS if you look hard enough.
Bloody New Year (1987)
In 1959, a group of party goers celebrate at a New Year’s Eve party at a hotel before mysteriously disappearing. Decades later, couples Lesley and Tom, and Janet and Rick, along with their friend, Spud, are spending the day at a seaside funfair when they run afoul of local hooligans after rescuing an American tourist named Carol. Running from the gang, they take a boat out to sea, only to run aground and be left stranded on an island. They stumble across the Grand Island Hotel, only to find it abandoned, with no sign of staff or guests; the lobby is adorned with Christmas decorations and a Christmas tree, despite the fact that it is July.
While by the fireplace, Spud offers to seek a towel for Carol, who is shivering and damp. Just as he leaves, the apparition of a maid enters and offers Carol a towel, which she takes. Meanwhile, Spud hears music coming from the empty ballroom, and witnesses a live duo performing onstage, who disappear before his eyes. In a guest’s room, Janet and Rick dress themselves in fresh clothing they discover, but Janet is disturbed by the apparition of a woman she sees in the mirror. In the basement while looking for the building’s braker, Lesley and Tom are disturbed by fireworks which inexplicably ignite.
Later, the group find an empty theatre in the hotel screening the film Fiend Without a Face. Rick, convinced someone is staging an elaborate prank, attempts to turn off the projector, but inadvertently plays a vintage promotional reel for the hotel showing party goers in front of the entrance. In the theatre, Spud is attacked by a figure who emerges out of the screen, and killed. The group separate to find a way off the island, and are each plagued by bizarre or supernatural events: Lesley and Tom come across a cottage near the shore, where Lesley is attacked by a monstrous figure which vanishes after Tom spears it; Janet and Rick hear disembodied voices in the woods and witness a plane crash into an adjacent building; and Carol experiences a snowstorm inside the hotel, which inexplicably disappears.
Lesley summons the group to the seaside cottage to find Tom, where they are attacked by the three hooligans from the funfair. One of the men kills Lesley by impaling her through the abdomen, immediately after which she transforms into a zombie, and throws him to his death. Back at the hotel, the disfigured Lesley kills one of the hooligans by twisting his head off, and Janet is attacked by a banister carving which comes to life. Rick shoots Lesley, apparently killing her.
An injured Tom returns to the hotel, and is cared for by Janet; meanwhile Rick and Carol seek the hooligans’ boat, and come across another plane crash site. Tom transforms into a zombie himself, and attacks Janet. She flees into a lift and is pursued by Tom, but he is killed after the lift crushes and ultimately severs his arm. Trapped in the lift, Janet is attacked by a figure which absorbs her into the walls of the building. Pursued by the last of the hooligans, Carol and Rick return, and witness a series of apparitions and poltergeist activities in the hotel. The hooligan is killed in the kitchen after falling into a large vat. They flee to the ballroom, where they are greeted by a woman in a ballgown onstage. She informs them that they are trapped in a time warp resulting from a government-funded science experiment that went awry when a plane containing a time-altering machine crashed on the island on New Year’s Eve 1959.
As Carol and Rick flee through the hotel, the hooligans, as well as their friends — all now zombies — attack them, and push them through a window on a rolling pool table. The two run for the shoreline, and Carol manages to board the hooligans’ boat, while Rick becomes trapped in quicksand and is killed by one of the zombified hooligans. Carol is pulled into the water and re-emerges behind a mirror in the ballroom, where she watches her friends join the New Years’ Eve party.
On December 31, 1959, a plane carrying a secret military experiment soars over an island resort off the English coast. Something goes horribly wrong and it crashes near the Grand Island Hotel, where a New Year’s Eve party is in progress. The unreported incident eventually sends shock waves of terror into the present day. Thus begins Bloody New Year (1987), the newest opus from director Norman Warren, who here combines splatter horror with a firm sense of nostalgia for those beloved B movies of the 1950s.
Warren and screenwriter Frazer Pearce (the wife of producer Hayden Pearce) have blended science fact and fiction into their own unique formula. According to Warren, in the 1950s the military and scientific communities combined their resources for numerous experiments without always paying full attention to safety factors. This actually resulted in an experiment in disease control, on an island off Scotland, going awry. The island was evacuated and is contaminated to this day.
Warren, building on these facts, added speculative film and fiction concepts that mirror the ’50s outlook, including time warps and alternate universes, evidenced cinematically in Bloody New Year. What if, Warren theorized, a military experiment in light bending to defeat radar detection, resulted in time and matter alterations? People on the island would be disassembled, then reassembled into a crazy quilt pattern of flesh, blood and inanimate matter.
Then there is what Warren calls “the film invader.” A group of youngsters have come to the seemingly deserted Grand Island Hotel to party. They enter a room where Richard Gordon’s Fiend. without a Face is being screened. The movie classic ends and a second projector clicks on, showing home movies made at the hotel. One of the kids goes up to the screen and begins mimicking one of the film’s characters. Before anyone realizes what has happened, the “actor” suddenly lurches from the screen, mutilates the youth and flies up the light beam into the projector, which shuts itself off.
Yet. Warren is pleased with the dramatic texture of Time Warp Terror, since the creatures are not violent by nature. “They approach the young people on the island because they want to make contact and could even be looking for help. Let’s face it, would you want to spend the rest of your life as a kitchen table?”
The challenge of creating FX for such low-budget films is sizeable, and Warren contends that many filmmakers fall into the trap of bringing their problems to a special FX houses where the solution is to come up with the most elaborate way of creating an effect instead of considering other possibilities. “Instead, I figure. ‘This is what I want to do, but I know I can’t possibly afford to do it.’ Then I sit down with the effects crew and work out the solution.”
Warren dubs one creature “the table monster.” “Once people and everything else on the island are broken down into particles of matter, then brought back together, the human beings may no longer be their same lovable selves.” he explains. But what would a kitchen table monster look like? Warren and his crew, headed by makeup specialist Jane Bevan, created what the director describes as a mix of kitchen counter and The Monster of something of Piedras Blancas. The beast is played by Paul Barratt. a 6-foot-6 inch actor covered in a rubber suit and green slime.
In another highlight, a young woman, turned Jekyll & Hyde by the forces on the island, attacks a man and rips his head off. “Ideally, you would have a dummy with a motorized head, but we couldn’t afford that.” recalls Warren. The solution was to have the actress twist the man’s head as far as she could. The cameras are then stopped and a specially constructed jacket is rotated to an angle, giving the impression that the head has been twisted front to back. This rotation was repeated several times, so when sound and makeup FX were added, the illusion of a head being twisted off was successfully created. Time Warp Terror also features an assortment of exploding bodies and severed limbs, each artfully and economically created.
“I like things to get a bit gory.” Warren smiles. “At the same time, too much gore tends to get self-defeating. Gory horror should be used sparingly for overall impact. Wholesale use diminishes the effect and numbs the audience toward it.”
Warren has commented negatively on the film. In one interview, he described Bloody New Year as “a very terrible experience for me; in fact it turned out to be a bloody nightmare. We had the wrong producers on that film and they didn’t know anything about horror. So the film lacks in every department and by the end of it, my heart just wasn’t in it.” He added that the producers “wanted to make the film cheaply and terribly quick” and that this was to the detriment of the music and sound effects. In another interview, Warren criticized the music, stating that it “just doesn’t work”. He added: “On the second day of dubbing, I must confess I gave up on the film. I’d run out of fight, and just sat there and let them go through the motions.” Warren has said that his negative experiences on Bloody New Year put him off making any more films.
Norman J Warren on his Directing Experiences in the 80’s
What happened after Inseminoid, because there only seemed to be a couple of films made in the 1980s?
Norman J Warren: Well, the last film I made in the 1980’s was Bloody New Year, which was a great disappointment to me and others involved with the project.
Norman J Warren: It had a lot of potential but the producer, sadly, just wasn’t interested. I did learn one lesson on that which was you should never work with a producer who has no interest or understanding of horror. It’s self-defeating. I found out afterwards, when it was all too late, because I also knew some of the finances involved, that the studio was pleased with what they saw to begin with. They were waiting to hear from us to say that we could do with some more money. But whenever they spoke to the producer, she’d say, “Oh no, we’re doing fine. We don’t need anymore money.” Her whole ambition was to get the film made as quickly as possible and bring it under budget because she wanted to impress the financers, but that was to the detriment of the film. She was cutting back on so many things.
I was not involved with the editing, so, when we went into the dubbing theatre to do the final sound mix, I was horrified to discover there were really no sound effects. Remember how much importance I put on the soundtrack, especially when it comes to a horror film. When I pointed out that we needed a sound for a particular item, she’d say, “Well that doesn’t make any sound in reality”, to which I said, “No it doesn’t, but in a horror film it does!” She also did a terrible music deal. In order to get a few songs for a low price, she agreed to a young guy to do the music score. It wasn’t his fault, he just had no experience of film music and had no idea how to write to picture. The music in the film just doesn’t work. On the second day of dubbing, I must confess I gave up on the film. I’d run out of fight, and just sat there and let them go through the motions.
After that unpleasant experience, did you think about getting back with David for another film?
Norman J Warren: Oh, yes. But I was so disappointed with Bloody New Year, I decided to set about writing a script myself, something I’d never done before – well, not from page one. It was a sort of sequel to Terror, a fast-moving film that, along with the horror, also involves music and dancers. I sent the script to Richard Gordon in New York.
I should explain that I was to have been making a film with Richard, but it had fallen through, so I knew he was interested in looking at new scripts. He liked the script and agreed to finance half the budget. Jacques de Lane Lea also liked the script and agreed to come in on the deal. Anyhow, for various reasons, part of the finance fell away and after two years of trying to raise the balance of the finance, we just had to let it go.
What sort of budget had you in mind?
Norman J Warren: It was around five to eight hundred thousand pounds. Not a vast amount for a film, but it’s still a lot of money to find. The film has almost been made three times, the last being in 2005, but for various reasons it has collapsed again.
So what happened after that?
Norman J Warren: Then I got involved with another production with Richard Gordon, a new version of his 1958 film, Fiend Without A Face. I wrote the script and then brought in a writer to work on the dialogue. I was involved with the project for three years, and I was in America for quite a long time meeting with various production companies, but unfortunately it never happened in the end.
After that, was it documentaries that you went into?
Norman J Warren: Yes, I did. And, of course, by that time the film industry had started to change quite a lot. Not only were the independent cinemas fading, but the thing that was hardest was that the small production companies that were run by one guy or woman very often they made all the decisions, whether they were right or not were also gone. It was all becoming dominated by big organizations, committees. That’s what happened with Fiend without a Face. People would like it, but it had to go to the Board, as it were. A lot of these Hollywood companies get thousands of scripts and they have a monthly meet and they’ve all read the scripts and, so, they just have a vote. As they explained to Richard and myself, if you don’t get the full set of hands, the project’s out. In the ’60s and ’70s, you’d take a script to a small company, and they’d say this is too expensive or this is fine or this is a load of crap. You knew where you stood. And if they decided to go with it, you didn’t even bother about the contract because they really meant it. They were old showmen. These guys in these committees: I’m not sure if they’d know how to judge a script anyway.
Another reason why the ’70s are viewed as the golden age of horror cinema …
Norman J Warren: I think so, yes. You still obviously had a job to find the money and, of course, you had to find a subject that was commercial, otherwise you still wouldn’t have got distribution in those days. Distributors were quite tough. They knew what they were doing and they knew what would sell.
One thing I haven’t yet asked you about is censorship and how you got on with the censors during your career.
Norman J Warren: John Travelyan was a wonderful censor to work with. He was the only censor who you could actually go and talk with before you made the film. He loved film. He would read the script and come to the cutting room and look at any sequences we thought could be a problem. He would say, “I think there might be a problem with the way you’ve got it there”, and you could keep cutting the scene until it was right. With the new censors, you had to show them the completed film. They wouldn’t look at the script or ever come to a cutting room.
Norman J Warren on Failed Film Projects
One of the projects that you’re been hoping to make is called Beyond Terror. Is this a sequel to your 1978 effort Terror or something entirely different?
Norman J Warren: Well, although it’s not a sequel to, or a remake of Terror, there are certainly a number of elements that I have taken from the first film. The criticism has justifiably been leveled at Terror that it has no real storyline. This is because at the time of making that film, my Intention was to come up with fast moving fun and not worry too much about the narrative. It still holds up, of course, even without a story! With Beyond Terror I feel that I can cover many of the story points that organization since Lord Grade died, rang me and said the money had just fallen through. He went to LA to try and raise some more, for Beyond Terror and the other projects they had on their roster, but unfortunately there was no luck there either.
What about your projected Fiend Without A Face sequel?
Norman J Warren: I showed what we had to Richard Gordon, who produced the original and owns the rights. He liked some of what we had, but he made a few comments which, as always, hurt a bit when we first heard them. When he came over to London and I had a chance to sit down and talk to him, I had to agree that he was right in most cases. So we headed back to the drawing board and started over. The hardest thing is to come up with that combination which will appeal to fans of the original film but also those who haven’t seen it. It would be great to do those flying brains with today’s effects technology!
I believe you’ve written the screenplay for Beyond Terror yourself. Is that because you’ve been dissatisfied with the scripts in your past movies?
Norman J Warren: No, not dissatisfied with the past ones. The frustrations of trying to find a new script have forced me to write one myself. It’s also largely down to economics again, because if you have a screenplay by an established writer, it’s easier to raise money on that person’s name. But if there’s a problem otherwise, one way of cutting costs is to write the screen play yourself. A lot of times people have said to me “Why don’t you have a go and try it?” and I suppose I’ve actually lacked the confidence as to whether I could actually write the whole thing from page one. But because it was becoming so hard to find a script. I think it was out of frustration that I finally thought “Well, why not have a go?’. Once I got past that dreaded page one, I was OK
It sounds as though there’s a dearth of people writing the kind of stuff that you’d be interested in.
Norman J Warren: It’s not so much the shortage of people writing. The thing is that with the special effects side in particular, people come up with some really wonderful ideas. But of course some things do cost an enormous amount of money to achieve, and that’s actually the biggest problem. If people don’t really have the experience of knowing how to achieve the effect, they often put in things that are spectacular but totally impractical.
Did you ever think of shipping out to Hollywood and trying your luck there?
Norman J Warren: Yes, I didn’t actually make a positive move to do it at any time, but I was in America seven or eight years ago, at a time when some opportunities almost presented themselves, One of the highlights of my time over there was that I had the opportunity of meeting with Roger Corman, I spent some time with him, talking about movies, and was amazed, not to mention flattered, to learn that he knew all my films, and had in fact seen most of them. I got the impression that if I had had a script ready at the time, there would have been a very good chance of making a movie with him. This would have been a dream come true, as Corman has always been one of my idols. Ultimately though, nothing positive happened and I decided to come back to England and try and do it here, though if the opportunity of work in America were ever to present itself I would certainly go. I’d love to work in the States.
Do you wish you’d been given a chance to work on a big feature film?
Norman J Warren: No. This may sound strange, but the reason is because it wouldn’t be fun. I have many friends in the industry who have worked on big movies, and over the years I have visited them on films like Superman (Richard Donner, 1978). The moment you walk on the set, you can feel the tension. It’s alarming. The tension is because the film is costing so much money. There are always groups of men in grey suits, checking their watches and looking worried. Everyone is afraid to say anything because it’s not their place to do so. I don’t like that at all. I could never work in that atmosphere. If you came on to the set of one of my films, you’d think there was a party going on. Even though we worked hard for long hours each day and got the job done, there was always the belief that you should also be able to have a laugh and enjoy what you were doing. I also like having everyone feel free to make suggestions. On the big films, you’d never have an electrician say, “Why don’t you try so and so?”, whereas I would welcome that. Very often, they’d have a much better idea than you because they’re standing back and looking at it from a different viewpoint.
So would you still like to make another horror?
Norman J Warren: Yes, very much so, and I have been trying for a while now, working with people like Hayden Pearce. I have considered quite a few scripts in the last two years. Sadly, the one thing we are very short of in the UK is good screenwriters. It’s not easy to find good scripts. It really isn’t.
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