Tag Archives: Vanessa Howard

What Became of Jack and Jill? (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Greedy couple learns lesson.

Johnnie (Paul Nicholas) lives with his elderly grandmother Alice (Mona Washbourne). He has no motivation to get a job and hopes that by staying in her good graces he can inherit her small fortune and house when she passes away. Johnnie’s girlfriend Jill (Vanessa Howard) becomes impatient waiting for the old lady to die and hopes to hasten it by hatching a plan with Johnnie where Alice will think that a youth movement has occurred where those under 30 rebel against the older generation, particularly those over 75, by taking them away to prison camps, or killing them outright. Johnnie manipulates Alice into believing that this movement has pegged her as their next victim and even stages a protest outside her home to convince her that they’re coming for her. Succumbed with fear Alice drops over with a heart attack, and the couple believe they now can get their hands on her money, but at the reading of her will they find that Alice has placed a stipulation that they weren’t expecting.

The filmed was produced by Amicus Productions, which was a British film studio that specialized in horror movies, mainly those of the Gothic variety. To keep up with changing tastes they decided to dabble in the grindhouse genre and picked this story, which was based on a novel called ‘The Ruthless Ones’ by Laurence Moody, as their first venture. They were so impressed with Vanessa Howard’s creepy performance in Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly that they signed her on as the star hoping to make her their next ‘scream queen’. Howard, who was upset at how the previous film she was in fell into obscurity, that she was happy to take on a new project that would be financed by a well know studio, which she felt would guarantee that the picture would receive strong box office appeal. Unfortunately, once the project was finished Amicus studio heads were aghast at the dark subject matter and decided not to release it causing this movie to become as obscure as Howard’s other one, which in-turn disillusioned her wit the business and causing her to retire.

The story does have its share of faults. There’s no explanation for what happened to Johnnie’s parents, or what their take is on his living situation. His ability to fool the grandmother into believing such an outrageous conspiracy theory happens too easily and is hard to believe, but the dark story elements, despite the slow pace, still holds adequate intrigue. A lot of credit goes to the performances. Howard is quite nasty, but in a different way than she was in her other movie where she behaved like she was in a trance, but here is knowingly devious while also shockingly callous. Washbourne is also terrific causing you to gain sympathy for her character and what she goes through.

The twist is good, but not a complete surprise and it takes too long to get there. My biggest gripe is that once the story shifts it doesn’t explore enough of the wrinkles that it creates. There’s a whole array of different plot threads it could’ve taken, but instead settles for the most obvious one culminating in a climax that peters itself out instead of inviting in even more twists and characters to it.

Spoiler Alert!

The stabbing scene is problematic in that the victim clothes get stained with blood, but there’s no rip in the clothing to represent where the knife was able to get through. A person can’t bleed unless a sharp object touches their skin and for that to happen it needs to be able to cut through the fabric on top of it, so to have a shot where the victim is ‘bleeding’ into their clothing, but clothing itself  isn’t ripped is illogical. Also, having the police continue to stand outside the home and politely knock on the door to be let in, after they become aware of what Johnnie has done, while he remains inside refusing to open it, got overdone. At some point the police are going to have to break down the door if the suspect refuses to come out and this should’ve been shown.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall I still enjoyed it especially the music played over the opening and closing credits and during the club scenes. I don’t know what the name of the band was, but it has a great punk band-like sound that’s distinct and hard edged. If the movie itself won’t get the proper Blu-ray release that it deserves then the soundtrack at least should.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 16, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bill Bain

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: None

Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Family plays weird games.

Sonny (Howard Trevor) and Girly (Vanessa Howard) are brother and sister who live with their mother (Ursala Howells) and nanny (Pat Heywood) in a large stately mansion in rural England. Despite both being adolescents they still sleep in cribs and behave as if they’re only 5. They enjoy playing what they call ‘The Game’, which is bringing home strangers, usually homeless men that they’ve met at a park, and forcing them to dress in a schoolboy’s outfit and compelled to behave like a child. If they refuse they are then ‘sent to the angels’.

The film was a product of famed British cinematographer Freddie Francis who wanted to make a movie inside the Oakley Court, which is a castle built in 1859 that overlooks the River Thames. He commissioned his friend Brian Comport to write the screenplay with the only condition being that the action had to take place on the Oakley Court property. Comport decided to revolve the plot around a play called ‘Happy Family’ written by Maisie Mosco, which dealt with a family that got involved with role playing games. Both Francis and Comport disliked the play, but were intrigued with the concept and decided to turn it into the genesis for a horror movie.

The film can best be described as experimental and has an intriguing quality to it, which holds your interest for the first 30-minutes, or so. One of the best elements is the alluring performance of Vanessa Howard, who’s able to mix her beauty with that of an evil mischievous nature. In fact the entire cast does an exceptionally fine job despite the material not offering much in the way of characterizations. The cast gives off an energetic zeal that keeps you compelled even as very little else happens. I kept thinking how sad it was that these actors put so much effort into a movie that fell into obscurity almost right away and this it turns out was the very reason why Howard left the profession just a few years later.

Outside of the acting there’s little else to recommend as the flimsy plot gets stretched far more than it should. There’s also no normal character that the viewer can relate to. Initially I thought it would be Michael Bryant, who plays a middle-aged male prostitute that they bring back to their place as one of their ‘new friends’, but he ends up behaving almost as weirdly as the rest. There should’ve been some outside force that intervened like a police inspector that would come to the castle to investigate the disappearance of one of the prostitute’s female clients, played by Imogen Hassall, that he and the two teens kill when they push her off a slide, which could’ve added tension and nuance that is otherwise lacking.

The film is also too skittish with the shocks. It’s supposed to be a horror movie, but there’s barely anything in it that’s all that disturbing. Sure, it does imply some dark things, but it doesn’t show any of it. The victims die too easily to the point that the death scenes aren’t any fun to watch. The part where a woman falls from a children’s slide at a playground and dies instantly is ridiculous as it wasn’t a high enough for the fall to have been fatal.  Another scene is the discovery of a severed head inside a boiling pot of water, but it never  gets shown, which comes-off as a total cop-out. I realize this was made in the 60’s in England where the culture was quite prudish to gore and violence, hence the creation of the infamous ‘video nasties’, which was a list of banned horror movies that came out about a decade later, but if you’re going to create a story that is dark and edgy, such as this one, then you should have the balls to push-the-envelope in order to give it a payoff, which this thing is ultimately devoid of.

Alternate Title: Girly

Released: February 12, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Freddie Francis

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporations

Available: DVD, Amazon Video