Norman J. 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, stylised, 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 flavoured 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. "I'm 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?" (laughs) 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 realise 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 4dbs over what they said was the limit. It's great."
James Aubrey relaxes with a pane of glass in Terror
An aspect of Argento's groundbreaking film that really inspired Warren and cameraman Les Young was that of intense, strongly coloured 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 colour. 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 colours?" At the end scene when Carolyn is getting stabbed, we've got loads of colours 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 criticise 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!"
Rosie Collins' hair, Tricia Walsh and Norman J. Warren on the set of Terror
When viewing the documentaries about the individual films included in this box set, we are treated to interviews with the cast members some 25 years later. Some, like Stephanie Beacham, became household names while others, like Martin Potter (Steven in Satan's Slave) have been criminally underused is subsequent years. One thing that they all have in common however is extremely fond memories of working on Norman's films, many saying that they've never enjoyed the process of film production so much in all their years of acting.
With the pressures and individual workload of low budget film production being so intense, it can't be easy to maintain a sense of fun on the set, so how did he manage to do it? "I don't know the full answer to that, but my belief is that even when something is really hard work, and to be honest, with filmmaking, even when you're not rushed, it's a very hard job to do. There's a lot of pressure on everybody. It's not easy, but at the same time if it's not fun and it becomes like work, there's really no point in doing it and you're punishing yourself. There are easier ways of making a living! In a way it has to be fun. I've always believed in that, and on top of that I've always believed that filmmaking is a collaborative thing too and therefore I always wanted to get everybody involved with the decision-making. There's a selfish side to that too, because in all honesty if you leave it open so that anybody, even an electrician can make a suggestion, they very often come up with an idea which is much better than yours, so why not take advantage of it? The director does get the glory for a lot of things that he may actually not have been responsible for! (laughs)
"I've never been given the chance, but I would've never have wanted to work on giant movies, because I've visited the set of many big multimillion dollar productions and the tension on them is frightening because there's so much money being spent, so much worry, so many men in grey suits looking at their watches and chequebooks, and everyone is terrified to speak. The director is the director, no one else can say anything, it's like he's the cameraman, he's the electrician, etc. The props man would never dream of making a suggestion because it's not his decision. They just do their job and the atmosphere is terrible. I hate it. If you were on the set of a film I did, or other low budget films, like a Pete Walker film, you'd find everybody chipping in. Everybody would be joking, but you're still doing the job. Don't get me wrong - it doesn't become a big party - everybody is still very professional and when the shot comes everybody is silent and concentrating on what they have to do, and then the jokes come back again. I love working like that actually. Some how when you have the restrictions of no money, it does actually make everybody suddenly very creative.
"There wasn't a single person on the film who didn't thoroughly enjoy it. When we finished, nobody wanted to leave. They all kept saying, "Well, can't we do more tomorrow?" Our last day was at that wonderful old house and we had the end sequence when Carolyn was going to get stabbed with the sword, and we had quite a lot of effects to do, and by the time we got to that - it was the last day - we were very tight in what little money we had. We had a couple of electricians and we had to say, "Look guys, we can actually only afford one of you tomorrow, and we don't want to chose who it's going to be, so can you please have a chat?" So they went away and a few moments later came back and said, "Look you only need to pay for one of us but neither of us want to miss the fun so we're both going to come in." So we had our full quota of electricians and we only paid for one and they shared it between them. And when we had a reunion party ten years later everybody came, all the crew, including the electricians, everyone reminiscing about the shoot. I haven't done another film like it. None of the other films had quite that atmosphere.
Sounds like a hell of a time. Everyone speaking the same language, playing the same game, with the same objective in mind. If only it could always be like that. Norman's next project was destined to be something with an altogether different flavour; 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 the 1956 B movie Fire Maidens From Outer Space."
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 favourite 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."
Whereas films like Satan's Slave, Terror and Inseminoid are well known to many horror fans, 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 humour 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. Image Entertainment are set to release the film on DVD in America in the near future. This will be the original UK version of the film and not the Mirimax one. However it was agreed to change the title to Spaced Out as Outer Touch was regarded as being too negative."
A very pleasant front of house still for Inseminoid
So, good news for the curious out there who are interested in seeing Norman's lost blend of sci-fi and cheeky Carry On style humour - it looks like we're going to get a chance to catch it on DVD in the near future! After Spaced Out came what is probably Norman's best known film to date, staying with the sci-fi but eschewing the Sid James flavoured humour - the Geeson screamfest that is Inseminoid. Shot in cold, dank Chislehurst Caves just outside London, the production was riddled with technical set problems that these low budget filmmakers could have no doubt done without. However, they were fortunate enough to have some helpful big-name casting, not least with Judy Geeson herself. "Lots of reviews have said that it's probably one of Geeson's best performances, even if they don't rate the film. We did work so well together. It's one of the best working relationships I'd ever had. She just trusted me 100% and gave me 100%. She did some really unpleasant things in the film and worked in unpleasant conditions but she'd never ever complain and worked very hard as well. Such a lovely person. Adorable. Like Candice Glendenning (from Satan's Slave), she's one of those people you just love. Once again with Inseminoid we shot it in just 4 weeks; 3 in the cave and one in the studio and on the schedule, Judy had two days off. So I said "Well you have the pleasure of staying in a nice warm bed tomorrow, so remember about us in the cold caves", and she said to me "It might sound crazy but do you mind if I come in tomorrow?" She came in for those 2 days and made coffee for people, she just wanted to be there."
Judy Geeson, back in the dentist's chair
Hayden Pearce's production design for Inseminoid transformed the ancient, British caves into an outer space environment that looked pretty darn authentic. A larger budget of around one million not only secured bigger names in the cast but also came in handy for production values. "The work Hayden Pearce, (Production Designer) did down there - everyone was amazed. Everything had to fit onto all these natural cave walls, and it all warped like mad with all that dampness. And it was a quarter / half a mile from the surface and we had to get all the saws, timber and everything down there. He made all those airlock doors, they were perfect, but you'd come down the next day and you couldn't open them because they had expanded due to the damp!"
This is when I tell Norman that while we at eatmybrains.com were watching Inseminoid at a recent Zombie Club, we couldn't fail to notice how great the door design was, to the point that we even began to compile verbal lists of our favourite doors in the film. Norman then ruins the magic by disclosing, "The door handles were paper punchers, stuck on! On the first day, our first shot was when they all rushed to the door because Dean was being brought in with what looked like bird shit on his helmet, and they put him on a stretcher and rush him off. Well, Barry Houghton who plays the mad doctor in it, he 's the first one to the door and he has to grab the handles and pull it open. Because overnight we hadn't noticed the doors were warped, he went like this and grabbed it and all he had was the paper hold-puncher in his hand!"
"When you see this thing, start screaming." Warren and Geeson on Inseminoid
Ah...the magic of the movies. And to think we thought those doors were a work of genius. Chronologically, Inseminoid is the last film featuring in the Anchor Bay boxset. But what of the NJW projects throughout the years that didn't get to the green light stage? "Well, (laughs) there were lots of films that were meant to happen. Going back to before Satan's Slave, I was meant to be doing a film called The Naked Eye, which AIP were going to finance, and the star was Vincent Price. Peter Cushing was going to be in it as well. It also had Michael Gough, Joss Ackland and Lesley-Anne Down. It went on and on, in pre-production and script re-writes and AIP kept changing things and it was getting so expensive, that in the end they said "This is too expensive, we're not going to make it" and we felt like saying, "Well, you're the guys that have made it expensive." So, they paid off Vincent Price because they had a contact with him to do one more film so they just paid off his contract and said goodbye to him. In his autobiography he refers to this film and puts the reason down to being never able to get the script right, but that wasn't really the truth. So, that fell apart. Then I got the chance to possibly do a film called The Book of Seven Seals for Amicus. I went down and met Subotsky many times. He was a strange guy, in so much that he hated directors and only seemed to like writers and editors, so I used have these really weird meetings with him and the writer, and he would completely ignore me. It was as if I wasn't there! He would discuss the whole film with the writer. Needless to say the film never happened - it just faded away. It was about a book with seven little stories in it with a key that opens different stories. Amicus was beginning to fall apart actually. They were doing a lot of stuff but weren't making much money."
The Amicus output was characterised by being generally very formulaic at the time, with an emphasis on compendium-style structures for almost all of their films. "It's a nice idea but it wasn't working in the end. Audiences really want one proper story. I never really liked those ones, where you're just getting into it and then it ends. Like Hammer, they were good when they started, but it got tired."
However, Norman did return to directing after Inseminoid, but this time it was work on something different again - Gunpowder - what he himself describes as "sort of a James Bond-type spoof. The story is of a mad scientist who has devised a way keeping gold liquid without heat, so he can ship it around the world and make it solid again at will. His plan is to flood the market with gold and thereby destroy the Western economy. MI5 need to find him and stop his activities, so they call in their ace agents, Gunn and Powder."
Now the title makes sense, huh? Sounds like a great little project, but Norman isn't overly enthused about it these days. A combination of little money, bad luck and unhelpful producers marred the project, making it increasingly troublesome for Norman and his crew to turn in the result they strived for. "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.
"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.
"We did manage to film some reasonable actions scenes, including a helicopter and speedboat chase, but as we were shooting in November and December with very limited daylight hours, 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."
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 (try eBay!). Another one of Norman's films that didn't make it onto the boxset but can be usually found on eBay, is his next film, Bloody New Year, from 1986. You might remember this one from your local video store shelves in the late 80's due to it's 3-dimensional video sleeve, which looked a bit like this:
Bloody New Year UK video cover
"Straight off I have to say Bloody New Year was a great disappointment to me, although at the start the project seemed to have a lot going for it and I had every reason to believe the end result would be good. The script was well written and contained a number of really interesting and original ideas. It tells of a group of teenagers enjoying the summer, and how after a boating accident they become marooned on a small island miles off the coast. The island appears to be deserted and the only hotel is decorated for Christmas and New Year celebrations, as if trapped in time. It is in fact the result of a nuclear experiment that went disastrously wrong, locking the whole island into 1959, on the eve of 1960.
"Unfortunately, most of the film just doesn't work, certainly not as a horror movie. It was not due to budget restrictions, but to the attitude of the production office. This didn't include production designer Hayden Pearce, who was also credited as producer but was never allowed to perform the duties of a producer. The problem was with the actual producer and the production office. They had no real interest or understanding of making a horror film. It just doesn't work if you don't like horror films or want to be involved with the genre. There was an enormous amount of tension between the shooting crew and the production office. Their thinking was very much 'let's get on and get it done' and 'we've done enough of that scene' or 'we don't need that'. As a result, the film has a lot of shortcomings."
But can it be that bad? Surely Norman is proud of at least some of how Bloody New Year tuned out..."There are a few scenes in the film that I believe work well and create the right atmosphere. One is when two of the characters discover a crashed aircraft and the remains of a small campfire. All around there are broken bits of mirror swinging in the air and reflecting the sunlight through a mist that hangs over the area. There is also a radio that continually repeats a mayday message, and as everything is trapped in time, nothing will ever change. The campfire will never burn out and the radios battery will never go flat. This scene also features one of the best visual effects in the film. It's when the pilot of the crashed plane appears, who is also trapped in time and therefore is neither dead nor alive. When it seems as if he is about to attack the girl, her male companion strikes the pilot across the head with a block of wood, causing him to explode and fall to the ground in a pile of dust. The false head for this shot was created by a remarkable model-maker by the name of Phil Rawsthorne. The likeness to the actor playing the pilot was incredible, but the most remarkable factor was that the head was almost entirely made out of dust."
From way back to Norman's early days in directing, he has always understood the importance of a good soundtrack - an element, he confesses, was sadly missing in his last film to date. "By the time it came to post-production and in particular the soundtrack, I must confess I was beginning to give up on the film, because they wouldn't consider the kind of thing I had in mind. One of the most important elements of any film, and in particular a horror movie, is the music and sound effects. Bloody New Year has a poor music score and little or no sound effects, a very weak soundtrack in fact."
It's now 20 years since Bloody New Year. No doubt, many fans of the films contained in the Anchor Bay boxset - including myself - would dearly love to see Norman get the opportunity to make at least one more film, and under the right conditions. But is such a thing likely to happen? "Sadly it's not good news. People think that I may have given up altogether but I've been trying to get another feature film off the ground for many years and I've been very close. Initially when I wasn't doing other things I was doing an enormous amount of work, a lot of documentaries, educational and promotional work for the BBC. I did nearly 300 documentaries. Film projects though (gasp), there's been so many, the ones that most people know about - Fiend Without a Face - Richard Gordon who produced the original film and was the main producer on Inseminoid, said that he was thinking about a remake of Fiend Without a Face and as it was always one of my favourite films from that b-movie period and I said I'd love to do it. So we worked quite a while on getting a script together to find a new approach, and I got another writer into work with me and it got to the stage when I spent 6 months in Hollywood seeing all the big guys and it almost got there many times, but in the end it just faded away. That went on for three years. To be honest, I was actually broke and just needed to do other things. Sadly, there have been other projects like that. There was one a few years ago called Stitches, which is a nice idea which had a background in the old textile mills in Lancashire, about a monster that comes from the thread. It almost happened, but never did.
"There have been 2 this year believe it or not. One, Children of Blood which I was really hopeful about but the backers on that went away because it had a little bit of child abuse, sort of referring back to something that happened in the 50's, but they were very nervous about that and then there were problems with tax and it all fell apart. And there was another project which was a film I almost got made a number of years ago called Beyond Terror, which wasn't a sequel to Terror. But I could never get all the finance, so I put it on the shelf. It was actually picked up again at the beginning of this year. Terry Marcel called and said, "What have you got Norman?" I showed him the Beyond Terror script and he said "I love it. We want to go with this", and a few months ago it all started to come together, it was amazing, we had distribution, overseas sales, studios set up and were ready to start shooting on 14th of this month (November) in Lithuania and then once again I won't give names but it got to this situation where we had everything in place and there was one person in the pack who had to give us a yes or a no, the answer wouldn't have affected it overall but he had to give us an answer by a set date. He never called back. Then Terry found out that he'd gone on 2 weeks holiday, so frantic texts went out to his mobile but he never came back to us, and by the Wednesday of the next week everything started falling apart like a pack of cards. On top of that, the tax laws in this country have been changed by the Government, suddenly they decided they are going to interfere again, so we couldn't resurrect it because now nobody knows what's going to happen between now and next April, so a lot of production has stopped."
Norman later admitted that even if he doesn't get another chance at directing, he is happy to have made a handful of films in his favourite genre - no small achievement to say the least. A combination of various elements on his final two productions left him with films that I'm sure he'd rather not consider to be his final works, so all of us here at eatmybrains.com sincerely wish him all the best for his future projects, and really hope that he doesn't give up fighting against the odds. Thanks again, Norman! Oh, and can we be extras in your next film?
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