The Flesh and Blood Show (1972)
The Flesh and Blood Show starts with a scream, and not just because Ray "Mr Benn" Brookes has top billing. Unfortunately, it then immediately descends into some of the murkiest camerawork you're ever likely to see (or not). There's something going on as the credits roll, but I'm buggered if I know what it is.
Luckily, the next thing we actually get to see is a naked busty bird, who opens her front door in the middle of the night (still naked, like you do) to a man with a knife in his gut, who staggers in and promptly bursts out laughing. It's a "joke".
"You stupid bastard!" she complains, "That's not funny at all!"
She's right, but what is funny (peculiar) is how he's totally ignored her quite remarkable nakedness and seems more intent on laughing at his own joke.
All this has been conducted in slightly less gloom than the titles sequence, which hasn't exactly filled the viewer with hopes of seeing a quality film - pneumatic strumpet aside. Which makes the next sequence even more bizarre - a beautifully lit, expensive-looking scene from a "film within the film" which shows that if director/producer Pete Walker wants to shoot in broad daylight, he can. So there.
All this is basically laying the groundwork for the main storyline, which involves a group of actors taking up a job from a mysery rep company to rehearse a new show in a gloomy seaside resort. The naked girl is an actress, her comedy mate has just finished working on a horror film (hence the knife gag), and Jenny "Magpie" Hanley is one of the stars of the "film within the film", and she wants to tread the boards again.
After asking directions to the pier theatre (it's on the sea front - well, duh), our heroes/cannon fodder arrive to find the place in pitch darkness (of course). Also there is Robin Askwith and a topless bird ("Oh bloody hell - look at me" she says, as she realises after about five minutes that her baps are on view to all and sundry) - and, of course, Ray Brookes.
Ray's the producer, and, as he says, working and sleeping together in the theatre is going to be great, because: "If anyone gets a great dramatic idea during the night, we can get up and act it out."
Then they all get dressed up as cave people and perform an impromptu dance routine. Make up your own minds whether that's a "great dramatic idea" or not.
John (the joker, and a greasy dingus to boot) watches as the rest of 'em pair off (can't think why no-one picks him) - blokes with girls, girls with girls etc.
Later that night they are wakened by a scream. Splitting up, Scooby Doo style, they go to find out what's going on (still without bothering to switch on the lights). Mike (Brookes) finds one of the girls' decapitated bodies in the cellar (do piers have a cellar?), her head neatly stored on a nearby shelf. However, rather than running screaming from the place and alerting everyone else to the ghastly discovery, he just walks out of the theatre. When he gets back with the obligatory thick plod, the body has disappeared (of course), replaced with a dummy. As the police inspector says: "We don't investigate..." (knock, knock) "waxwork murders."
Quite right, officer. Lock him up for wasting police (and the audience's) time.
Mike then finds a letter addressed to him (pinned to the noticeboard by a sinister black-gloved hand) which states that the murdered girl has decided to go back home. Spooky...
Jenny Hanley starts getting deja vu, and it' not just because Brookes has got the same shirt on he wears in House Of Whipcord. In the best British manner, the group decide what they need to cheer them up is a brew, so they go to a nearby tearoom, where they meet Major Bell, an old soldier played by Patrick Barr.
"Poor sod," they say, sympathetically when he tries to engage them in conversation. "I hope I'm never reduced to having conversations with a dog."
By the look of it mate, you already are.
Later on, one of the girls, Carol, sits on a bench next to a grotty tramp, and despite him edging towards her grunting and eventually nearly raping and murdering her, manages to look bored throughout the scene. Luckily, she's saved. "We ought to go to the police," says someone.
"It's not that simple," says Mike (eh?)
The general consensus of opinion is now that the guilty party is John The Joker, who has gone missing. There's a fair amount more female nudity as more people get bumped off, and the group learns about Arnold Gates, an actor who played his last performance in the old theatre during the war. Yet despite the continued murder spree, no-one wants to leave the pier - even the police advise them to stay. John is still the prime suspect, until his body turns up - then even the police have to admit it probably isn't him.
To celebrate John's death and the end of the practical jokes, the group go back into the theatre for one last rehearsal before returning to London. Major Bell turns up, and explains that he is not only the murderer, he's Gates as well. Cue flashback (and 3D glasses, believe it or not). In the middle of a performance of Othello back during the war, he finds out his wife (playing Desdemona) is having an affair. Both her and her beau get caught in the act, both extremely naked (yes, even the bloke is "tackle out", and it's not a pleasant sight). He ties them up and puts them in the cellar, where their skeletons remain until this day.
"It was too good for them..." he explains, obviously Barking and Dagenham by this point. "They're all the same, young actors - filthy and degraded letches."
Okay, I can take his point about Askwith. But even that's no reason for his killing spree, is it?
"Scum!" he opines. "Excrement!"
Quite what this film is saying about the acting profession is anyone's guess. But as a dry run for Whipcord, Frightmare and House Of Mortal Sin, it deserves it's place in the grand pantheon of half decent Brit Horrors. We'll leave the last word to Askwith's character, who, in his longest bit of dialogue in the entire film, says at the end: "If it wasn't so bloody tragic and horrible, it could almost make a movie script."
Last updated: February 22, 2010
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