Tuesday, 23 June 2009

BEASTS IN THE CELLAR: The Exploitation Film Career Of Tony Tenser

By John Hamilton
FAB Press
303 pages, B&W w/Colour Insert
Dimensions: H=27.1cm W=19.3cm D=2.2cm
SRP: £17.99(UK)

*All information above refers to the standard version. A signed, limited edition hardback with alternative cover art (shown below) is available directly from FAB Press themselves.

Well, after my review of BOOK OF THE DEAD, I said that subsequent FAB Press titles that came up for review would have a lot to live up to. Well, if you want to skip out on reading the rest of this review (thus missing out on the semi-nude pics of Racquel Welch and Linda Hayden), let me give you the capsule version right away...I am pleased to announce that they have done it yet again.

Some of you may no doubt be asking yourselves 'Who was this Tony Tenser guy, then?' about now. Indeed, it is likely that some of you may never even have heard of him before, but hardly surprising. Tony Tenser was the driving force behind a number of exploitation flicks such as Witchfinder General (AKA 'The Conqueror Worm' in the US), Blood On Satan's Claw, Hannie Caulder, The Sorcerors, Repulsion, Cul-De-Sac and a whole slew of others. The reason you may not be familiar with his name is because despite his oft-demonstrated ability as a master publicist, he was not particularly given to being a self-publicist, prefering instead to let the erstwhile stars of the show take the limelight. Whilst it is a slightly erroneous comparison, as all such comparisons inevitably are, he might be best summed up as the British equivalent of Roger Corman, i.e. a successful producer of lower budget exploitation fare with a track record of giving emerging talents (like director Michael Reeves, for example) a chance to show what they can do.

The template that the book adopts to explore Tenser's varied career is an interesting one. Ostensibly chronological, the text is staggered in such a way so as to accurately reflect the gradual evolution of each film project and those concurrent to it. Ergo, rather than having to wade through one whole chapter devoted to one whole film, we are instead given a body of text which is continually changing focus and thus illustrating the respective progress of each of these diverse 'storylines', effectively mirroring the workload (and attendant problems) that Tenser was juggling as part of his day-to-day business. It is not therefore uncommon for one period of time covered by a chapter to include the pitching and pre-production of one film, the shooting and post-production of another, and the theatrical release of another still. Variety is, after all, the spice of life, and I find this approach keeps things both interesting and informative at the same time.

Indeed, 'interesting and informative' could very well be bywords for this review. It's a fantastically well-written piece and meticulously researched. Asides from the wealth of information contained within the main body of text itself, each chapter has a significant amount of footnotes appended to it (individually rather than all crammed together at the back of the book) in which a further treasure trove of supplemental knowledge is bestowed upon the reader about various supporting players, both onscreen and off, in Tenser's storied career.

Perhaps the best testament I can offer to the quality of prose within is the fact Tenser's early years are comtemporaneous with those of Stanley Long (Author of 'X-Rated'), both having cut their teeth in the midst of the nudie/naturist boom, and also having collaborated on numerous occasions. As a consequence, I was already familiar with a lot of the information at hand, having already read about it in Long's book, yet never once did I think to myself 'I'll skip this'. There's a lot of reading to be had in this book (some chapters took me over an hour, and I'm a pretty fast reader!) and all of it is good.

If you read my review of 'X-Rated', you'll know I recommended it to aspiring low-budget exploitation filmmakers. I can make the same recommendation with Beasts In The Cellar as well, as whilst it not only covers the creative genesis and production process of these movies, it also gives the reader an eye-opening glimpse into the nuts and bolts business side of funding, promoting, marketing, selling, distributing, and exhibiting films as well. In truth, it is not just the story of Tony Tenser, but also the story of his company as well, and the evolution from Compton to Tigon to LMG, whilst simultaneously tracing the gradual, glacial progress achieved in terms of the relaxation of the film censorship situation in Britain at the time (again, much like 'X-Rated').

Whilst we're talking about the financial side of things, perhaps now would be a good time for me to interject with my opinion as to whether or not I think this book constitutes good value for money?

Again, the answer is a resounding yes...it's only a few pages shorter (yet it's a 'taller' book, dimensions-wise) than Book Of The Dead, but £2.00 cheaper. Okay, it only has one colour insert to Book Of The Dead's two, but then Book Of The Dead doesn't have pictures of Pamela Green in all her glory, either!

Quality beats quantity every time, I say!

Still, that's a fairly redundant argument with regards to both books, as they tick all the boxes in this respect. I shall squeeze in a few other reviews before I tackle the monstrosity that is 'Nightmare USA', but suffice to say, FAB Press are currently two for two with me, and long may their quality work continue...now all I've got to do track down their books on Fulci and Argento for a reasonable price. Kidney, anyone?


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