Wednesday 1 April 2015

Editorial: April, 2015

It's April already, and no sooner have you worked off all of that Christmas weight it's now time to gorge yourself half to death on chocolate eggs! It's also time for another editorial ramble, so strap yourself in...

This month I'm inclined to talk about the late, great Ralph Bates. Yes, this is my Hammer Horror fetish rising up from the depths once again. And while I could talk for hours and hours about Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, I always appreciated Bates' work, and not just for Hammer.

Bates died from pancreatic cancer 24 years ago on 27th March 1991, aged 51. His career spanned stage, film and television from the 1960s until his death. But after Lee, Cushing and Ingrid Pitt, he became one of the recognisable faces linked to the Hammer Films productions – as both a hero and villain with his pale skin, raven hair and strong jawline as gothic as the subjects themselves – with appearances in 'Taste The Blood Of Dracula' (1969), 'The Horror Of Frankenstein' (1970), 'Lust For A Vampire' (1971), 'Dr. Jekyll And Sister Hyde' (1971), and 'Fear In The Night' (1972).

The Hammer films of the early 70s are often criticised as being more blood and boobs than actual story content, but nonetheless actors such as Bates continued to add depth to the increasingly formulaic and shallow plots. One particularly admirable role saw Bates take over the mantel of Baron Victor Frankenstein from Peter Cushing for the studio's attempted reboot of the series in 'The Horror Of Frankenstein'. Bates' Baron brought the arrogance and fanaticism of Cushing's portrayal and mixed it with a sly coolness that left you hoping he would get away with his crimes. His version of the Baron was markedly more psychotic, and Director Jimmy Sangster does an adequate job at attempting to live up to Terrence Fisher, but it nonetheless became one of the most misunderstood of the Frankenstein canon and did not enjoy the success it deserved.

The film was a tall order for anyone considering that the first two Hammer Frankenstein films, along with 'Frankenstein Created Woman' (1967) were some of the strongest films the studio ever released. Bates rises to the task, and preserves the idiosyncrasies of Cushing's Baron, while adding a more youthful fervour. However, he wasn't cast in the next film 'Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell' (1974), which saw Cushing take the reigns once again to close the series.

Post-Hammer Bates continued to be a regular on television screens for the rest of his life, but his film career was, perhaps unfairly, tied to horror with appearances in some less than memorable titles to punctuate his film career. But all the while Bates remained a strong and believable actor no matter in what capacity he was cast. Had he lived, I'd have no doubt he would be counted along with many of his contemporary peers among Britain's current crop of venerable actors.

Finally, in case you haven't seen it yet, we launched our second free digital compilation on 1st January 2015 to coincide with our second birthday as a website.

You can download all fifteen tracks for free at out bandcamppage.

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