Norman J Warren pioneered the slasher in the UK. TERRY SHERWOOD looks at his brief but influential horror film output in this week’s Sherwood After Dark
Certain film styles – subject matter or production dynamics – bridge into other styles. Hammer films did not suddenly explode on the screens of the world overnight (although it seems like it). Hammer brought about Amicus, Tyburn and other imitators.
British filmmaker Norman J Warren, through his brief six film output in the horror genre, became the English equivalent of American gore king Herschel Gordon Lewis.
Warren bridged the gap between Hammer Studios and the rise of slasher, blood-filled pictures that began in the late 1970s and still continue.
The oooohs and ahhhs have it
An avid film fan from childhood, Norman J Warren entered the film industry as a runner on The Millionairess (1960) and as an assistant director (The Dock Brief, 1962), before directing the short film Fragment in 1965.
Calcutta business person Bachoo Sen, who owned movie theatres in London, hired Warren on the strength of his short film to direct two feature-length sex films, Her Private Hell (1968) and Loving Feeling (1969). These pictures were highly successful.
Demons and Devilry take root
The Exorcist (1973) proved demons could make big money on screen.
Not wanting to be known as a director of sex films, Warren turned down a second directing offer from Sen and began to raise the money required to make Satan’s Slave (1976).
This picture featured Michael Gough in a surprisingly evil performance of the medical doctor running a devil cult.
Candice Glendenning is the wholesome Catherine Yorke, who is victimized by hallucinations and other things, is a highlight. Satan’s Slave (1976) was shot on a budget using some very atmospheric sets, almost entirely in Surrey, England.
Prey (1977) was next, and then Terror (1978).
Each of these pictures were different from what was currently in theatres, due to heavy gore and sexual content, bordering on softcore.
Plenty of naked bodies are seen on screen. Killings were usually done slowly with quite a lot of screaming and blood.
It was nothing to see a mangled body in all its gore in a sanitation truck, as in a sequence in Terror (1978).
Warren harkens back to his sex film days with an amusing moment with a director trying to film a scene in a bath tub.
Terror (1978), while disjoined, features some inventive moments such as demonically possessed film stock, rigging, and camera stands attacking a Producer.
The Horror Planet becomes real
Warren’s most notorious film and the one he is best remembered for is Inseminoid (1981) aka Horror Planet.
It’s the lurid, cheaply produced, gore filled story of an alien that reproduces within a human female. That human female is played by film veteran Judy Geeson, whom one sees in compromising positions along with many of the other actors.
The obvious comparison is to Alien (1979).
Inseminoid (1981) is complete with blood, stabbings and a rather graphic reproductive and birth sequence even by today’s standards.
Warren’s final two films, Bloody New Year and Gunpowder (both 1987), were hampered by low budgets. Norman J Warren continued to work in the industry, directing music videos and educational short films such as the BBC film, Person to Person.
The Importance of Being Earnest
Norman J Warren’s work is important. He created his own style, even while borrowing from a few others.
Warren’s work happened without major studio backing for releasing or budgets; all money was self-raised. Warren employed a small stable of actors and technicians and he did some of the editing.
Fans will get to see a young and still very tall Peter Mayhew speak in a minor role as the mechanic in Terror (1978).
Mayhew, who passed away in 2019, went on to be the body of Chewbacca in the Star Wars series.
Independent film is literally the life blood of the horror film today with many new concepts and ideas in subject matter being tested.
The rise of the digital film camera means anyone can make a film today. This is not necessarily a good thing.
One tends to see haphazard ideas in a flood online and on some services.
Norman J Warren did not have an easy road, nor did any of the independents.
His work is worth seeing to appreciate the road to creation.