Horror Maniacs (1948): Some Bodies Here To See You
0 comment Tuesday, April 29, 2014 |
Directed by Oswald Mitchell
Written by John Gilling
Starring Tod Slaughter, Henry Oscar, Patrick Addison, Ann Trego, Aubrey Woods, Arnold Bell, and Jenny Lynn
"I�ll be seein� that you join her. Don�t be fearin� that you won�t."
The story begins in 19th century Edinburgh, but we hardly have time to process this as we�re flung right into the action from the opening credits through an uncomfortable jump cut. The setting is a seedy tavern, mostly occupied by guffawing medical students easing their hours of intense study with some cool pints of golden goodness. Right outside the pub we see the broad William Hart (Tod Slaughter) promptly berate some poor wench with both words and fists before he heads in himself. There he spots his ally and co-conspirator Mr. Moore (Henry Oscar, the man with two first names!) whom he calls upon to begin plotting foul deeds and dirty crimes.
A barfly informs the sneering Hart that the local sergeant was calling on him earlier to question the wretch about the disappearance of some chap named Joe, who had been renting a room from Hart. Hart�s elusive about the matter, but we can see he definitely knows more than he�s letting on through his toothy grin. Moore�s a little wary of Hart�s new plan, which apparently involves the two intercepting a jailbird right when he�s due to be released from the pen. But Hart comforts his partner, spitting that it�ll be as "easy as killing pigs."
Moore then begins sweet talking little Mary Patterson who swaggers at the bar and is probably one shot away from orally evacuating her intestines. Janet Brown (Ann Trego), a friend of Mary�s, attempts to dissuade her gal pal from leaving with Moore for dinner at his house, but the sauced mistress insists on hitting the road. Sensing that trouble is afoot, Janet beseeches town simpleton "Daft" Jamie Wilson (Aubrey Woods) to relay a message to her beau telling him that she has finally found Mary and that she may be in danger of being turned into a skin suit.
Yes, we are those badasses you heard about.
Janet eventually makes it to the tenement of her honey Hugh Alston (Patrick Addison), but the man�s cantankerous caretaker insists that the two converse right outside the front door to ensure that there�s no hanky panky going on upstairs. The distressed maiden relates all the sordid details of the evening to Hugh, saying that Mary was taken away to the dark, infamous corners of the Gibbs Close neighborhood, a breeding ground for the resurrectionists who dig up cadavers for medical school doctors to use in the anatomical dissection labs. Much to Hugh�s chagrin, Janet insists that she must be the one to approach Hart and Moore as the sight of Hugh would set off the alarm.
Back in Gibbs Close, Hart exasperatedly sighs that they must pick a man for their next victim, since the nice coats that he steals from all the dead chicks don�t fit his healthy-sized pot belly! Just as the two get finished stuffing the significantly condensed remains (wink wink) of Mary into a trunk, Janet knocks at the door and enters the den of the body snatchers. Janet is uneasy, especially since the grinning Hart sizes her up with his sooty fingers and Moore pours a little hair of the dog to give the lass a good burn in the throat.
Saying that Mary had gone for a walk (yeah, maybe to the butcher�s), Hart is interrupted when Hugh barges in just before the two can claim another victim for the night. The dashing hero calls the duo a pair of liars, threatening to sic the law on them if they attempt any funny business. Jamie shows up later, as he is the personal deliveryman for Hart and Moore who gets the privilege of hauling around bloody woman carcass for a small sum of money. Poor Moore is afraid of death at the gallows, though, while Hart is disappointed by the sad waste of space from the trunk. They could�ve easily fit two bodies in there. Just like Slaughter�
Later at the medical college, Moore and Hart harass the elder Patterson, assistant to Dr. Cox (Arnold Bell), for their money and the doctor�s presence. Of course Hugh would just have to show up, stirring up more conflicts with the two scumbags and even getting personal by telling Hart he�s a murderous swine whose cowardice forces him to only kill little old ladies and helpless women. He should really lay off; Moore and Hart are only their to collect their dues for slaughtering an innocent but very drunk bar wench and selling her odds and ends for the betterment of science. What�s so wrong about THAT? The police haven�t been any help to Hugh so he�s taken the law into his own hands to bring Hart and Moore down.
I'm a little new to this "burking" thing. Is it anything like the reverse cowgirl?
Then here comes Jamie, off-handedly referring to the "merchandise" he transported for the gents and instantly arousing Hugh�s suspicions. Just then old Patterson comes stumbling into the room, stammering of some gory horror he had witnessed upon opening the trunk (Mary was his niece, you see). Turns out the cadaver�s head is missing, but Patterson is certain that the chop suey in the trunk is his darling Mary, although he doesn�t admit this as Hart shoots some crazy eyes in his direction. Cox then enters the room and verbally slaps his assistant upside the head for being a fearful and superstitious fool. Patterson, tortured with guilt over his implication in the resurrectionists� crimes, calls Cox blasphemous and leaves in a shouting fit.
Cox decides to break the awkward silence by marveling at Jamie�s skeletal structure in a none-too-inconspicuous manner, making the doctor�s association with Hart and Moore all the more apparent to Hugh. But Cox tries to settle Hugh�s mind by telling him that his experimentation with corpses is to improve man�s understanding of science, narrating a tale to Hugh of how he could have saved a homicidal idiot from execution if only he had known the proper procedure to remove a splinter from the skull that was causing the brute to kill. Cool story, doc.
Hugh�s all for science (he�s probably a closeted chemist) but he doesn�t condone the utilization of ghouls and other lowlifes to obtain bodies through dubious means. He believes Hart and Moore removed the head in order to obscure Mary�s identity and again warns that he�ll get the police. Cox promptly blows all this crap off his shoulder and tells Hart and Moore that he wants young Jamie on his operating table. And don�t worry, because they know of just the right means to get him�
Hugh attempts to consult with Sergeant Fisher at the local precinct, but the lawman says that definite proof is needed to bring the body snatchers in, even it means that another poor devil might have to meet death at their hands. He does reassure Hugh by saying that, after their tremendous streak of success thus far, the criminals are due to slip up on their perfected formula soon. Just on his way to the pub to fetch some supper, Jamie is prompted by Mrs. Helen Moore (Jenny Lynn, Tod Slaughter�s real life wife!) to come to her husband�s abode for a little get together with drinks and merriment. There Hart is insanely drunk, and he promises the dismayed Jamie that his pal Hughie will be showing later to join in on the absent festivities.
Willie then sends his wife Meg out to the market to fetch some groceries, literally throwing her out onto the street by the scrap of her threadbare shawl. Waking up the slumbering Moore, Hart and his partner pour glasses all around for the three chaps to toast with. Although the acrid odor of the drink offends his nostrils, Jamie drinks up anyway and is soon in the agonizing throes of death. With the sap now passed his expiration date from a large dose of rat poison, Hart and Moore plan to profit off of the hide of their former delivery boy. But not before Willie can snatch Jamie�s coat and slap Mrs. Moore around. All in a day�s work.
More Ovaltine, please!
Mrs. Hart arrives back at the squalid home, rightfully worried that her husband and his accomplice did something unspeakable to Jamie. Oh, look at that. Jamie�s stiff remains are propped up in the closet/bedroom that comprises 70% of the house. Pleading old Mrs. Dockerty (an elderly biddy who was apparently pulled out of Mrs. Hart�s ass) to inform Hugh Alston of the murder as soon as possible. Of course Hart and Moore don�t take too kindly to this treason, and Hart axes the locked door down Jack Torrance-style to give his wife a good thrashing. Dockerty asks barkeep Swanson of Hugh�s whereabouts and heads into the foggy streets when she can�t find him. Moore watches on as Hart goes in to intercept, looming upon the woman as a giant, brooding shadow before snapping her neck in two (as the crackling sound effects seem to suggest, anyhow).
Sergeant Fisher walks in on the scene just as Hart cradles the rumpled form in his arms, the ghouls informing the policeman that the old gal had a wee bit too much to drink and that they, ever the Good Samaritans, are returning her home. When Hugh arrives shortly afterward and hears the news from Swanson, he begins to suspect foul play upon listening to Fisher�s story. The two then head straight for the medical school, suspecting that Moore and Hart brought the body there to be dissected immediately. The chilly bones of the bar patrons have been heated by their growing suspicions and hunger for vengeance over the disappearances in town, particularly that of Jamie Wilson. I hope you have your pitchforks ready, because dere�s a mob a-brewin� in dis heah town!
Just when Moore and Hart think they can put their feet up after a long day of murder and mayhem, Hugh and Fisher come pounding on the front door of their humble abode. The kooky Mrs. Moore assures Hart and Moore that Jamie�s body is out in the gutter, hidden underneath some garbage before the Hugh and Fisher are allowed in. Hugh confronts the duo with the evidence, but the sly Moore says that old Mrs. Dockerty had put up a fit, kicking and screaming, forcing the two gents to drop her off on the sidewalk before they could take her home. Not defeated by Moore�s imagination, Hugh wryly comments on Hart�s lovely coat� a parcel of clothing that Hugh had given to Jamie himself and who was wearing it that very morning before his disappearance.
By the time the Christmas turkey was ready to be carved, there were only three people left living at the Slaughter household.
Inflated with confidence, Hart snarls that the two men should search the entire house if they so please, and even swings the doors open to the bedroom to prove his innocence. And whaddaya know, there�s ol� Jamie lying up in bed and whiter than the sheets he�s tucked into. Hart is shaking in his pants now as he faces certain death at the gallows for practically showing off the corpse to the cops. Seeking a quick way out of this plight, Hart eagerly sells Moore and his wife out, placing all the blame for the crimes on them.
The screaming and squirming Moores are placed under arrest just as Janet arrives to inform Hugh of the bloodthirsty mob outside the front door. And the only way out of the house is a twenty foot drop out back. Uh oh. Hart begins to have second thoughts, shrieking his preference for arrest over facing the vigilantes. The grave robber�s pleas fall on deaf ears and he�s duly thrown out by Hugh into the awaiting hands of the gang as they pummel his body with staff and spear.
One thing that can be said about Horror Maniacs (a.k.a. The Greed of William Hart, its original U.K. title) is that it is one strange bird indeed. Feeling more like an episode for a horror anthology series than a fully fleshed out film, Horror Maniacs suffers a bit from a low boiling point and generally uninteresting characters. Add to that the fact that the copy I had of the film was of poor quality and it made for a dissatisfying viewing experience; the picture was very muddied and dark and the sound was a tad garbled at times. I�ve seen pieces of the film in a much more cleaned-up medium, and I think I can honestly say my enjoyment for Horror Maniacs might have improved if the overall quality was just tidied up, as superficial as that might sound.
But the film is hampered by things beyond the realms of sound and sight. Tod Slaughter is here to reprise the very role that brought him infamous stardom on the stages of Britain as the bloodthirsty corpse stealer William Hare. But you won�t find any of the actor�s lip-smacking villainy at work here too often; Slaughter�s regulated to more of a supporting role, despite receiving top billing. Noticeably older, Slaughter brings his menace down to a minimum here and let�s his depravity leak out in small, slimy doses here and there.
As opposed to playing the eccentric aristocrat as he did in other films, Slaughter is a blue-collar murderer in this movie, working as one of the dredges of society to earn his keep in this mad rat race of life. I really respect the mood Slaughter�s invoking here, but I can�t help but feel a longing for his snicker-snackering baddies. This grittier, more realistic approach would be fine, but when you couple that with a shockingly low amount of screen time, you�re left with a handful of unfulfilled potential and "could-have-beens."
No, giving someone your unwanted bastard child is a HORRIBLE Secret Santa gift!
Don�t think that Horror Maniacs is completely devoid of redeeming qualities. Tod still has moments to shine, like in his scenes of drunken assery and the little moments where he�s allowed to bring the menace up a few notches by stalking old women or feeling up the young ladies (I obviously have a completely deranged perspective on what "good viewing" is). Outside of Tod, there really isn�t too much to be said about the rest of the actors. At first glance I didn�t really enjoy Henry Oscar�s doddering Irish blarney performance as Mr. Moore, but during subsequent viewings I�ve come to grow fond of Oscar�s quirky mannerisms as the cinematic counterpart to William Burke.
Aubrey Woods is awfully endearing as Jamie Wilson, more so than you might at first expect from a film of this caliber. He talks with a high, infectious lilt and his large, expressive eyes convey a genuine sense of wonder and bewilderment. I just may have let loose a small sniffle when the good boy bites it in the end (or in this case drinks it). Another cute touch is having none other than Tod�s own wife Jenny Lynn star as Mrs. Moore. She�s a drunk, cackling old biddy, even giggling over a morbid pun about Mrs. Dockerty resting in pieces at Dr. Cox�s school (Tod and Jenny were made for each other!). Seeing Tod yell and push Jenny around is adorable in the sense of the word that can only be applied to Slaughter.
Through my research into Horror Maniacs, I found out there was a bit of controversy surrounding the film. Apparently the British Board of Censors didn�t take kindly to the idea of a film depicting the infamous grave snatchers (the film was originally about the actual Burke and Hare) and insisted that the names be changed. Trouble was filming was complete and there wasn�t any money left to re-shoot each scene where the characters� names were mentioned.
So instead the producers had the actors dub the new names over the soundtrack in post-production. This creates a somewhat jarring effect, as you can clearly see the actors mouthing the original names under "Hart", "Moore", and "Cox." It sadly only adds to the film�s ramshackle appearance. Not to mention the U.S. DVD version is apparently only 58 minutes long, compared to the 80-minute length of the original print as reported by IMDb. I can�t help but wonder if this 20-odd minute gap of missing footage contained an instance of "burking," as the DVD cover art so luridly displays�
At the end of the day though, I still cannot dislike this movie. My love for Slaughter is so completely cemented that I could probably find enjoyment in any film he were to be in, even if it was just a walk on cameo. Even as the subdued but grimy William Hart he still manages to steal my heart (heh) with that delectable charm and charisma of his. There might not bee too much action in this tale of resurrectionists and rascals and the overall product might lack the fiery power of Tod�s other cinematic efforts, but I still stand by this British chiller in all of its choppy glory. Maybe I�m nothing but a horror maniac. Or maybe it�s because I know there�s always gold if you know where to look for it.
ANOTHER neck rope for Christmas?!

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