Tuesday, July 18, 2023

R.I.P.: Ken Russell, Part II (1975–2011)


Henry Kenneth Alfred Russell*
 
3 July 1927 – 27 Nov 2011
 
In a career that spanned decades, British director Ken Russell was the undisputed enfant terrible of the movie industry, and his Baroque vision was both praised and vilified by fans and detractors alike. First gaining attention as the director of TV biographies in Great Britain, he gained international fame with the Oscar-winning film Women in Love, a film based on the novel of the same name by D.H. Lawrence. In his later years, after becoming a popular whipping boy for the press and suffering a series of critical and commercial disasters, aside from an occasional TV project or short film Russell concentrated mostly on the stage productions of opera. But throughout his life, from sensitive and insensitive biographies to nun exploitation to light musicals to weirded-out horror to rock operas, Russell continually presented his uncompromising creative vision on the big screen, the result being one of the most consistently outrageous and interesting filmic outputs to be found in cinema. Towards the end, his vision may have become obviously cheap and threadbare and decidedly amateurish, but it never stopped being on another plane.
Ken Russell died of natural causes at the age of 84 on 27 November 2011. Below is an overview of a selection of his early, TV and feature-length films.
 
* NOTE: On 7 May 2023, someone took it to themselves to flag a bunch of posts here at a wasted life as containing "sensitive content". For the most part, that meant any post with a denigrating or humorous comment about that Fascist lump of lard known as Donald Trump or his plasticine trophy wife, but one or two did contain comfy love pillows and/or tasty salamis. (Yummy Yummy Yummy.)
Unlike say, our R.I.P. Career Review of the great Susan Tyrrell from way back in 2012, or this one here, our R.I.P. Career Review of the director Kenneth Russell from 2011, both of which really did not contain any all-that-questionable images or statements. Here, the flagger, undoubtedly a cancel culture "conservative", flagged merely to annoy – or because they are of the type of person that finds the art piece below pornographic (i.e., a cancel culture "conservative").
But, as we had to resubmit the blog entry for review, we took advantage of the moment to update all embedded videos as well as aspects of the text. Also, because we always found the original entry — like our first boyfriend — much too large and long to swallow easily, we've decided to split it in two and make half of the now up-dated 2011 entry today's blogpost.
PS: Actually, to the probable shock of the rest of the world, according to Harper's July 2023 Index, a shocking one in five US Americans think that Michelangelo's David — the sculpture above – is pornographic, and one in ten thinks they would be able to "replicate" it themselves if they wanted to. Long live the Idiocracy (trailer).

Go here for 
 (Which, thanks to Michelangelo's David, is still considered "mature content". Beware: more penis follows below.)
 
 
Lisztomania
(1975, dir. Ken Russell)

The movie that out-Tommys Tommy; unlike Tommy, however, Lisztomania was a resounding box-office flop.
Russell returns to the world of classical music, this time setting his sights on the pianist with big, long fingers: Franz Liszt (22 Oct 1811 – 31 Jul 1886). The movie takes its title from the term "Lisztomania", or "Liszt fever", perhaps the earliest and famous example of fan frenzy ala the "Beatlemania" of the mid 60s. While this kind of wild, ecstatic hysteria amongst fans of this or that pop star or celebrity is relatively normal today, at the time of composer and pianist Franz Liszt it was unknown and unheard of. (Scandal!)
Trailer to
Lisztomania:
Though based on a literary source, namely the 1846 French scandal novel Nélida, by Marie Cathérine Sophie, the Comtesse d'Agoult (31 Dec 1805 – 5 Mar1876), a.k.a. Daniel Stern, a "thinly disguised fictional account" of her affair with composer, which lasted from about 1834 to 1844.* Russell eschews any form of traditional, progressive narrative in favor of the outrageous key scenes as he practiced in his 1970 TV "biography" of Strauss, Dance of the Seven Veils. Lisztomania is Russell at the highpoint of his Rococo excess — and, as such, is a film that not has to be seen to be believed, but also separates the men from the boys. Historical fact plays twelfth fiddle — if it plays a fiddle at all — to Russell's visual madness, liberally seasoned with his obsession with cock, which stands tall more than once in this fabulous auditory assault of what must have been acid-inspired scenes and a narrative dictated by peyote.
* Fun trivia: She and Liszt had three "illegitimate" children, including a daughter named Cosima. Cosima went on to marry Wagner. Yep, that daughter and that Wagner. The female in the clip below, played by the babalicious Fiona Lewis (of Dr Phibes Rises Again [1972 / trailer] and Strange Behavior [1981 / trailer]), is the fecund Marie...
Can love survive three children?
Russell wanted a contemporary rock star to play the musician and ended up casting Roger Daltrey (of Vampirella [1996]). Ringo Starr also shows up as the Pope, while Rick Wakeman of Yes, who composed and did the Liszt arrangements of the movie's soundtrack, shows up as Thor, the Nordic god of Thunder. None of the musicians are exactly thespian winners, but Daltrey's acting ability is flatter than his six-pack. But thanks to the non-stop visual barrage, one usually forgets to notice the acting in what is, essentially, a colossal visual farce. This film is simply nuts — and a true masterpiece!
Ringo & Daltrey in
Lisztomania:
The plot: "Composer/pianist Franz Liszt (Daltrey) hosts concerts before screaming throngs of 19th-century women, and enjoys as many groupies and mistresses as he can fit in on the side. Young composer Richard Wagner (Paul Nicholas of What became of Jack and Jill? [1972 / trailer] and See No Evil [1971 / trailer]) gives Liszt a piece to perform, thinking it will make his career, but is outraged when the star transforms the composition into his hit Chopsticks on stage. Wagner takes it upon himself to wreck Liszt's life and career, eventually seducing the older musician's illegitimate daughter (Veronica Quilligan) into joining his fascist cult while simultaneously building an Aryan monster with which he hopes to conquer the world. [366 Weird Movies]" Currently available at the Internet Archives.
Penis, anyone?:

 
Valentino
(1977, dir. Ken Russell)
After practicing uncontrolled cinematic bukakki with Lisztomania, for his next artist's bio two years later Russell decided for a minutely more controlled, almost Mannerist approach for his "biographical" film about some silent film star named Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d'Antonguolla. That is him below, with his wife below in a famous photo from the silent age.
Valentino:
But neither the public nor the critics were in an agreeable mood: the film tanked critically and commercially, and can be seen as another loose nail in the coffin that was Russell's career. Oddly enough for a movie that has aged so well, even Ken Russell later stated that he wished he hadn't made the film. But then, for a long time Valentino got no respect from nobody — it even has its place in John Wilson's The Official Razzie Movie Guide, listed (in our opinion incorrectly, as Valentino is far from bad) among "The 100 Most Amusing Bad Movies Ever Made"...
Okay, it is true that the film lacks any notable continuity of disposition, and neither Rudolf Nureyev (17 Mar 1938 – 6 Jan 1993) — seen above, not from the film — nor Michelle Phillips (California Dreamin') are particularly strong actors and there is a noticeable lack of chemistry between the two, but while not the noteworthy thespians they don't exactly suck and the movie, on the whole, is a good example of style over substance with some truly well-imagined visual sequences. (We here at a wasted life are particularly fond the scene in which a mini-western plays from beginning to end over the shoulder of Huntz Hall — seriously: Huntz Hall! — [as Jesse Lasky] during a scene on a studio lot.)
"The plot: "Russell's film opens with the famous funeral for Valentino, who died at the age of 31 and whose demise caused hysteria and self-destructive behavior among his female fans. The crashing of the funeral parlor is followed by the arrival of several significant women in his life whose stories relate his progression from dance hall gigolo to celebrated movie star in films like The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921 / full film) and The Sheik (1921 / full film). Among the narrating mourners are dramatic movie star Alla Nazimova (Leslie Caron), his former wife Natacha (Michelle Phillips), and studio executive June Mathis (Felicity Kendal of Parting Shots [1997 / trailer]), who relate the ups and downs of life including a humiliating night in a New York drunk tank due to a bigamy charge, his disastrous business decisions with Natacha that nearly led to his ruin, and his defensive attitude to his masculinity that ultimately resulted in his demise. [Mondo Digital]"
As Valentino is a Ken Russell bio, the possible validity of the facts presented need not be discussed, all the more so since the book upon which the movie is based, Brad Steiger & Chaw Mank's biography Valentino, an Intimate Exposé of the Sheik, was less "intimate" or "sensational" than veracity-challenged and gossip-mongering. (In other words, a good read.) A film well worth watching.
"In the picture's most outrageous scene, Nureyev ends up in jail on a bigamy charge — but not just any jail, an over-the-top Ken Russell madhouse. As harpy-like hookers claw at Valentino from the next cell, freakazoid inmates including a toothless masturbator stalk him within the cell until he trips and falls into a giant pile of vomit, and then a malicious guard (Bill McKinney of She Freak [1967 / trailer]) pokes Valentino's stomach until the actor, who has been denied bathroom privileges, urinates in his pants. Ken Russell: always a class act. [Every 70s Movie]"
Rudolf Noureev (above, not from the film)
dans Valentino (DVD/Blu-ray trailer):


Altered States
(1980, dir. Ken Russell)
The first of only two films Ken Russell was to make in the US for an American studio; Altered States was not exactly a huge financial hit but wasn't a complete loss (it took in $19.9 million at the box office against a production budget of almost $15 million) and it divided the critics — Time magazine, for example, put it on their Top Ten Best Films list for 1980. Personally, here at a wasted life, we agree with Roger Ebert when he says "the movie's characters [are] a band of overwrought pseudo-intellectuals who talk like a cross between Werner Erhard, Freud, and Tarzan."
Altered States:
Based on a book by Paddy Chayefsky, who both wrote the screenplay and disowned the movie before it was released, Altered States is a drug movie for people who like stupid drug movies. Ken Russell got pulled in to direct after Arthur Penn, who found that he couldn't work with Paddy Chayefsky looking over his shoulder all the time, pulled out.
The feature film debut of both William Hurt and Drew Barrymore, Altered States is pretty stupid stuff but, as always, Russell throws in enough weirdness to make the film bearable — if barely: for all its surreal scurrility, the movie gets oddly boring after a while. "The Thinking Man's Bombshell", Blair Brown, playing the love interest of the Hurt's character Dr. Jessup, gets nekkid a lot.
TV Guide has claimed that Basil Dearden's 1963 film The Mind Benders (trailer) "is the direct predecessor of Altered States", but we are more of the opinion that Altered States is a take on Jack Arnold's classic trash film Monster on the Campus (1958 / trailer below), but this time around it isn't fish blood and gamma rays that instigate the transformation, it's drugs and (GASP!) something dangerous known as a sensory-deprivation tank.
Trailer to
Monster on the Campus:
The plot, as explained at 366 Weird Movies: "Dr. Eddie Jessup (William Hurt of Dark City [1998] and The 4th Floor [1999]) is a Harvard physiologist who used to experience religious visions as a teenager and is now studying the phenomenon of hallucinations caused by sensory deprivation in isolation tanks. His inquiries into the nature of consciousness eventually take him to an isolated tribe in Mexico who use a powerful psychedelic mushroom in ancient Toltec religious rituals. When he combines the magic mushrooms and the isolation tank, he finds that the mixture causes him to regress to an earlier evolutionary state."
Possibly the only "bizarre and excessive work" of Ken Russell that the Worldwide Celluloid Massacre ever liked, they gush: "A perfectly suitable movie for Russell, where hallucinations and bizarre, overwrought transformations are part of the story. Scientists experiment with extreme sense-deprivation until one of them finds his mind and physical body changing to another evolutionary stage, and then to another existential level, while his girlfriend watches in horror. Powerfully strange and fascinating, with a superb William Hurt."
Used in the movie —
Pierre Henry's Voile d'Orphee:

 
 Crimes of Passion
(1984, dir. Ken Russell)

That Anthony Perkins is in Crimes of Passion is hardly worth batting an eye about, but Kathleen Turner? She was at the height of her career, with this thing sandwiched between Romancing the Stone (1984 / trailer) and Prizzi's Honor (1985 / trailer), but Russell's feature film directorial career was on the skids. The film died at the box office, but those who know, know that Crimes of Passion is a blast! This is a must-see movie! Whoever gave the green light for this movie must have been taking the same drugs as William Hurt in Altered States, but we here at a wasted life can only say "Yay for Drugs!" This film is high camp and unbelievably ridiculous — the perfect film to show, dunno, as a double feature with Psycho Beach Party (2000 / trailer), the sweetness of which makes that movie pale in comparison.
"With a new level of serious sleaze, Russell's Crimes is a 'hallelujah' to bad taste. Turner, as China Blue, sears. Perkins is in full twitchy ham mode and is equally fun, consistently chewing the scenery. Maddening, and yet also showing restraint, Crimes feels sincere in its mockery of hypocritical sexual mores. [Alfred Eaker]"
Okay, it is perhaps a bit sad to think that everyone involved in Crimes of Passion probably really did think that they were making a serious film with a serious statement (albeit with an occasional wink of the eye) about American sexuality, but had they not been so serious the film would surely never have become so enjoyably "bad". This film is very similar to another classic "serious" film gone camp, Mommy Dearest (1981 / trailer): both films were made with deeply sober intentions, and both, despite anchored by a memorable star portrayal — Faye Dunaway in Mommy, Anthony Perkins in Crimes — simply lost their way so thoroughly and deeply that they achieve a new inexplicable level of otherness, a level of unadulterated kitsch and camp, thus causing them both to become much more enjoyable and memorable they in any way should be. Only, in Crimes's case, the Mannerist Russell couldn't stop himself from sliding in his crazy stuff, stealthing his way to create one wildly fun "serious" movie. Crimes of Passion is a thriller to see – preferably in the uncut European version!

Plot: A part-time P.I. (John Laughlin of Gacy [2003 / trailer]) with a rocky marriage finds out the object of his latest surveillance job, a sportswear designer (Kathleen Turner), has a secret double life as a prostitute named China Blue. He gets the itch and lets her scratch it, and before you know it the two emotional cripples sort of become a thing. One of China Blue's clients is the nutziod street preacher Rev. Peter Shayne (an entertainingly overacting Anthony Perkins) who likes to flaunt a razor-lined vibrator; Rev. Peter decides it is time to save China's mortal soul...
Crimes of Passion, his last film made for an American studio, was a major flop and definitely added another few nails to the coffin that was Ken Russell's mainstream career as a name director.
Trailer to
Crimes of Passion:
"Crimes of Passion may be the ultimate litmus test when it comes to Ken Russell's filmography. A cum-stained piece of mega theater where motel rooms become stages and Barry Sandler's script is seemingly written in pornographic iambic pentameter, nothing is off limits as neon lights strobe and pulse during various sex acts. Nevertheless, Russell is attempting to evoke sympathy as much as he's trying to shock, placing an emotionally glacial fuck princess (Turner) front and center and then having her melt into a puddle of vulnerability before our eyes. It's an incredible bit of acting on Turner's part, as she performs multiple roles within one prostitute, cautiously offering her clientele an impersonal aloofness while indulging their desires. At the same time, she keeps an eye on the door, as various wolves are clawing to get in, their advances scored by stabbing synths provided by prog wacko Rick Wakeman. It's sticky, disorienting and incredibly distasteful, but Crimes of Passion might also be an utter masterwork. [BirthMoviesDeath]"


Elton John's Nikita
(July 1985, dir. Ken Russell)
So, what do you do when you are a famous feature film director and have just killed your career in Hollywood? You do a music video — to one of Elton John's worst songs. Unluckily, one cannot say that Ken Russell's direction, or the video he wrote and filmed, is any better than the suck-ass song. Contrary to rumor, Nikita, or rather the woman who plays her, former athlete Anya Major, did not die of breast cancer: she is alive and happy. The only other notable person in the video, the icy male guard, is played by Andreas Wisniewski. If he looks familiar, it's because you've seen him Die Hard (1988 / trailer) and The Living Daylights (1987 / trailer); he still takes part in an occasional low-brow feature film.


Cliff Richard's She's So Beautiful
(September 1985, dir. Ken Russell)
So, if you do a bad music video for a bad song in July, where can you go from here? In Ken Russell's case, slide further down the hill and do an even worse but funnier video for a worse song: Cliff Richard's pap pop song, She's So Beautiful. Admittedly, however, it is easier to see this music video as written and directed by Russell than it is with that for the Elton song.


Gothic
(1986, dir. Ken Russell)
After Crimes of Passion and the total disappearance of any interest from the major Hollywood studios in the directorial talents of Ken Russell, the low-tier Vestron Pictures was his studio of employment for his next four projects. (Vestron released some good stuff in its day, but was bankrupt by 1991.) The film was not a hit, but it did well on video.
 
"Switzerland is a selfish, cursed, swinish country of brutes. It just happens to be placed in the most romantic region in the world."
Lord Byron (Gabriel Byrne)
 
For the first of the two feature-length horror films that Russell made for them, he decided to combine horror with his favorite genre, the artist's biography film. The result is a typically crazed and enjoyable mess that isn't very scary but is highly entertaining in a bombastic, badly acted sort of way — had he only found someone other than Thomas Dolby to do the music! (On the bright side: at least it was neither Cliff Richard or Elton John.)
Trailer to
Gothic:
Russell's true Rococo and Baroque days may have been long behind him, but Gothic has its share of pretentiousness and disturbing scenes — but the film is hardly as extreme as those of his heyday. It is, so to speak, "Russell Lite", but with more pretentiousness and less intentional stupidity than his next horror film, the surreally inept but enjoyable Lair of the White Worm (1988). But even more so than that film, Gothic is not just stupidly funny but immensely watchable as a movie, if admittedly not very scary for "horror". (The nipples to eyes did sort of freak us out, though, the first time we saw it.) It is a film awaiting reappraisal and rediscovery, especially for those who like their movie's weird.
 
"And here I thought you that contradiction in terms: an intelligent woman!"
Lord Byron (Gabriel Byrne)
 
The plot of Gothic, as supplied by the Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review: "1816. The poet Percy Shelley (Julian Sands of Romasanta [2004]) goes to visit fellow poet Lord Byron (Gabriel Byrne) [...] on the shores of Lake Geneva. Shelley takes with him his lover Mary Godwin (Natasha Richardson) and her half-sister Claire (Myriam Cyr of Species II [1998]). While there Byron urges them to seek madness and inspiration in the name of free love, free thought and defiance of religion. They take turns reading from a book of horror stories and on impulse decide to hold a séance around the skull of a medieval monk Byron has found [...]. But for each of them this brings into existence a greater horror than they imagined." 
And, in the end, Mary Godwin Shelley was inspired to write Frankenstein… and Byron's personal physician, John William Polidori (7 Sep 1795 – 24 Aug 1824), to write the influential but generally overlooked novella, The Vampyre, the first "modern" vampire narrative to be published in English. Never "officially" adapted for film, The Vampyre has nevertheless inspired flicks as diverse as the BBC TV opera production, The Vampyr: A Soap Opera (1992 / full film), and the above-average Poverty Row programmer, The Vampire's Ghost (1945 / full film).
"There isn't much plot to organize the goings-on, but there are strong characters and characterizations to keep us grounded. Though Gothic plays fast and loose with historical accuracy for its own ends, Steven Volk's screenplay is intricately researched and full of tiny biographical details that pump blood to these pale aristocratic visages, from references to Mary's miscarriage to Byron's clubfoot to Claire's singing voice. The characters, each of whom harbors a hidden fear or shameful secret, take the place of events in driving the story; learning about their individual psychologies and relationships to each other is what keeps our interest in the spaces between episodes of delirious depravity. [366 Weird Movies]"
Gothic, in any event, was a financial flop, taking in less than a quarter of its original budget when originally released... but the subsequent VHS release put it in the plus. And lest we forget, the famous painting (seen above) hanging over the mantelpiece in a guest room in the film — it comes to life in a dream sequence and is the inspiration behind all the movie's posters — is The Nightmare (1781), an oil painting by the "Swiss" artist Johann Heinrich Füssli (7 Feb 1741 – 17 Apr 1825) that currently hangs in Chicago.



Richard Golub & Power of Attorney's
Dancing for Justice
(1987, dir. Kurt Russell)
One of Ken Russell's odder projects, if only for how it came into being. At the time, [Aaron] Richard Golub was a successful, if arguably obnoxious, "lawyer to the stars" with an eye on a supplementary music career. When the litigious-happy publisher of Penthouse, Bob Guccione, sued Russell for walking off a film project — a Penthouse-produced film version of Molly Flanders that ultimately never happened — Russell ended up taking on the services of Richard Golub, who, among other past court cases, had already represented Penthouse Pet of the Year Isabel Lanza (a.k.a. Isabella Ardigo) in her case against Guccione a few years earlier. Golob lost Lanza's case, but he won Russell's — and in lieu of payment, Golub had Russell direct the music video to his rap song Dancing for Justice, which was released on Golub Records. Shot at Sing Sing Prison, Ken Russell Plays the judge.
If you like Golub's music, here's his self-shot video to his other song, He Is My Lawyer.


Aria
(1987, multiple directors)
Long trailer to
Aria:
MTV for opera lovers: producer Don Boyd culled together ten directors (including Ken Russell, Jean-Luc Godard, Robert Altman, and Nicolas Roeg) to direct ten separate short vignettes inspired by arias by Vivaldi, Bach, Wagner, etc. Aria features the film debut of Bridget Fonda, who has a nude scene, but in the segment by Franc Roddam (the director of The Bride [1985 / trailer] and Quadrophenia [1979 / trailer]), not by Russell.
Short trailer to
Aria:
Russell's segment is set to the aria Nessun dorma from Giacomo Puccini's opera Turandot and stars the English Page-Three model and "corporal punishment" fetish film star Linzi Drew as an accident victim who fantasizes her body being adorned with jewels in a tribal ritual; the jewels correspond to her real injuries, the rituals to the medical procedures of the people (emergency staff?) treating her at a car accident site and hospital. A rather dull and cheap-looking segment, actually...
Russell's segment in
Aria:


Salome's Last Dance
(1988, dir. Ken Russell)
Russell's second film with Vestron was a direct-to-video mildly bat-shit crazy trifle that came and went quickly, but not quickly enough not to add another nail to the coffin of his reputation. A throwback to his more Baroque days, it may be (in our humble opinion) second-rate Russell, but it is fun in that way only Russell films can be, forced shocks and all, and thus worth watching.
"Profane, passionate, tacky, bawdy, gaudy, naughty, and wearing its theatricality on sleeve, Salome is delicious Russell, ranking with his best work. After all, what could be more campy than the Bible? Russell is completely in his element here; even stirring. […] Salome is primarily set-bound, but never feels like it. It proved too literary and heterodox for American audiences, who avoided Salome altogether. [Alfred Eaker]"
"Salome's Last Dance might well have been a trashy, glitzy exercise in camp were it not for the tragic layer of [Oscar] Wilde's own life, as suggested in sharp strokes by Russell. The movie may be crammed with gold-painted bodies, bare-breasted servant girls, dancing dwarfs, and a murderous banana peel, but with all of that, as is true of Russell's best films, there's more here than meets the eye. [What A Feeling!]"
Salome's Last Dance:
In Paris, Oscar Wilde (Nickolas Grace of Dream Demon [1988 / trailer]) — who, although most people see him as a guiltless victim of the homophobia of his day and age, was actually very much into underage boys (you know, like them guys at Nambla) — arrives at a male bordello with his underage lover, Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas (Douglas Hodge of The Descent: Part 2 [2009 / trailer]), where the owner, as a surprise, has arranged a performance of Wilde's banned-in-England play Salome, a fem-fatale version of the Old Testament tale of Salome (Imogen Millais-Scott) dancing the Dance of Seven Veils for her father King Herod (Stratford Johns) in exchange for the head of John the Baptist (Douglas Hodge, again). The big surprise of the film is of course the dangling weenie, but somehow it just fits to the gaudy stylization and excess of the whole film. Your mommy probably won't like the film, but you might — even if you don't belong to Nambla.
The always easily offended Worldwide Celluloid Massacre hates the "worthless" film: "Oscar Wilde's banned play is performed in front of him in a brothel while he woos one of the male actors. Of course Russell has to exaggerate or twist everything with vulgarities and a slew of horrible or perverted characters. Nudity, S&M, sex and farts are used for pointlessly campy effect, and there's a mind-boggling scene involving three topless whores gyrating on top of three Hasidic dwarves. This is typical of Ken Russell, to take only the most controversial and lurid details of a person's life or work, and sensationalize it even further as a way to depict his lowest-common-denominator social image."
Fragments of the second & lost version of
 Salome (1918), with Theda Bara:
Extraneous fact tangential to the movie: despite making rather an impression in Salome's Last Dance, her second feature-film appearance after the G-rated Little Dorrit (1987 / trailer), Imogen Millais-Scott, who threw "herself into her part with the demented, eyeball-rolling enthusiasm of Pia Zadora impersonating Mae West", disappeared from the film world. About her, Russell once stated "I don't think anyone else has ever given her a job. She's too strange, too unique." Whatever the reason she left the film world, by 2000, as Imogen Taylor, she was a life-long diabetes sufferer with failing kidneys who was given a second chance. Where she is now, who knows, but one hopes that she is enjoying herself.
 
 
The Lair of the White Worm
(1988, dir. Ken Russell)
If we are to believe Multiglom's Bring Me the Head of Ken Russell, Russell had long worked on a screenplay based on Bram Stoker's Dracula and planned with Mick Fleetwood as the bloodsucker. But then the backers went bust, Dracula started popping up everywhere, and he lost his interest. That is when a friend gave him Stoker's last book, "a farrago of Freudian vermicelli entitled The Lair of the White Worm. 'It was an absolute shambles. I think he was going gaga when he wrote it. There are red herrings and false trails which I'm sure he didn't intend. But there are good things in it and I've always liked that old Geordie folk song The Lampton Worm, about brave John Lampton riding out and slaying the dragon. […]." And thus Russell's next project, this much maligned and lambasted and bat-shit wonderful horror comedy, came to be made…
The Lair of the White Worm:
For years, everyone hated The Lair of the White Worm but us. We laughed our way through from the beginning to the end, and loved the ending with the oblivious Lord James D'Ampton, played by a then relatively unknown Hugh Grant. Today, the film has a minor cult following, probably among people who could realize Russell was not being thoroughly serious and who enjoy films like Robert Fuest's The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971 / trailer) or Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1971 / trailer).
366 Weird Films gets in right when they say, "Ken Russell throws a handful of his typically excessive hallucination/dream sequences into what is otherwise a subtle horror parody, creating a minor masterpiece of deliberate camp blooming with ridiculously memorable scenes."

The Lair of the White Worm — a.k.a. The Garden of Evil — is based in part on the legend of the Lambton Worm and was published in 1911, a year before Stoker's death. Russell moved the action to then-present-day England. Theoretically a horror film, it has all the troupes one might expect from a film named The Lair of the White Worm — teenage heroes, a big white worm, a couple of nasty deaths, screaming gals that need to be saved — and a lot of sly as well as pubescent humor thrown in on top. As Lady Sylvia Marsh, the evil incarnate of the tale, Amanda Donohoe might be hot but she definitely personifies the last person in the world from whom you would want a blowjob. A young Hugh Grant is there as one of the two lads that go up against her to save the babes and kill the worm in what is a relatively tame — but for a few nicely over-the-top hallucination scenes like the one of Roman soldiers raping nuns in front of a cross upon which the white worm slithers — but nevertheless entertainingly ridiculous, weird, and witty Russell film. We here at a wasted life heartily recommend it. A version can currently be found at the Internet Archives.
The plot, from Radiator Heaven: "Scottish archaeology student Angus Flint (Peter "Dr. Who" Capaldi) finds a fossil that he believes may have come from Roman times over a thousand years ago at an excavation site of an English convent. […] He's staying on site at a bed and breakfast run by the Trent sisters, Mary (Sammi Davis) and Eve (Catherine Oxenberg), who take him to a party later that night at a lavish mansion belonging to their landlord, James d'Ampton (Hugh Grant). […] Meanwhile, one of the local constables (Paul Brooke of Lighthouse [1999 / trailer]) checks out a disturbance over at Temple House, the stately abode of Lady Sylvia Marsh (Amanda Donohoe), who 'saves' the man from snakebite. When she's not casually bragging about changing cars as often as a snake sheds its skin, Lady Sylvia is not above hissing venom on a crucifix she encounters while skulking around the Trent B&B. In no time, she has stolen the fossil and later kidnaps Eve with plans to sacrifice the girl to her snake god Dionin. It's up to Angus and Mary, with James' help, to stop the evil snake lady from summoning her ancient god."
What do evil, white-worm-worshipping snake-lady vampires watch when they have free time to lounge about? How about Georges Méliès' The Brahmin and the Butterfly (1901)?
Full film —
The Brahmin and the Butterfly:

 
The Rainbow
(1989, dir. Ken Russell)
 
For his final Vestron-financed project, Russell returned to the works of D.H. Lawrence to make this drama, a prequel to his film of 20 years earlier, Women in Love (see Part I). Glenda Jackson also returns (in her fifth of six projects that she worked on with Russell) to play the mother of the character she played in Women in Love, Gudron (played here by Glenda McKay). But the focus of the film, which Roger Elbert calls "a measured, thoughtful literary adaptation," is not on Gudron but on her sister Ursula (Sammi Davis), a young woman of a staid family who, as a proto-feminist, spurns the traditional path of marriage, hearth, and home to venture forth on her own as a schoolteacher. She befriends the schoolteacher Winifred (Amanda Donohoe), an older, unmarried and independent woman in whom she sees a role model. Is lezzie love in them thar hills? Not for long: Winifred marries Uncle Henry (David Hemmings), who is liberated in his own way — but the man in Ursula's life, Anton Skrebensky (Paul McGann), proves not to be...
Trailer to
The Rainbow:
What a Feeling, which says that "Russell displays little of the outrageousness that has so often placed him in hot water", thinks: "Russell seems to care about the material, and that is a good sign; he has some soaring photography of the English countryside from cameraman Billy Williams. But the movie feels skeletal in comparison to Lawrence's dark prose. It's fine when dealing with the charmingly immature foot-stomping of its heroine, but on shakier ground when attempting to plumb the depths of her emotional awakening."
"Regardless, The Rainbow is one of Russell's best-reviewed films […]. As expected, he does not shirk from themes of bisexuality. It is emotionally rich and never feels like a costume drama. Being Russell, it is also visually stunning, but not the equal of Women in Love. Good reviews, however, did not lead to box office results. The Rainbow tanked stateside. [Alfred Deaker]"


Pandora's Box — It's All Coming Back to Me Now
(1989, dir. Ken Russell)
Another music video, included primarily because it's so embarrassing: a good example of old white heterosexual men thinking that they're pushing sexual boundaries instead of just making something to slobber over. Pandora's Box was a pop group project of the 80s created by producer and composer and lyricist Jim Steinman (1 Nov 1947 – 19 Apr 2021), and It's All Coming Back to Me Now, sung by Elaine Caswell, comes from the debut concept LP, Original Sin. The song reached #51 on the UK Charts when released, and did nothing in the US — at least, that is, until 1996, when Celine Dion released a cover version (found here) that hit #2 in the US & #3 in the UK; Meat Loaf's version (found here) in 2006 hit #1 — in Norway. (We here at a wasted life like none of the versions.)
Music video to
It's All Coming Back to Me Now:
Russell may have directed this perfume come leather goods commercial, but the Steinman wrote the script, inspired by Russell's segment in the opera movie Aria (1987), Nessun Dorma. Basically, once again, a woman has a near-death experience after an accident — perhaps the fact it was a motorcycle accident is why, instead of exotics and jewels, the woman dreams of motorcycles, chaps and leather, bras and spiked codpieces. The whole thing is sort of funny, in a pathetic sort of way. The version above has a special intro read by Jim Steinman.
   

The Russia House
(1990, dir. Fred Schepisi)
In this spy drama based on the eponymous John le Carré novel starring Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer, Russell appears to play Walter, one of the M16 intelligence officers — and unlike many of his past appearances, he actually had lines to say. And you see him all of a half a second in the trailer…
Trailer to
The Russia House:
The plot, from Rock!Shock!Pop!: "Bartholomew 'Barley' Scott-Blair (Sean Connery) is a British man snagged by British intelligence while visiting in Moscow. He's a publisher by trade and the reason the agents want to talk to him is because they know that a beautiful Russian woman named Katya Orlova (Michelle Pfeiffer) tried to get him a manuscript […] written by a man once known as 'Dante' (Klaus Maria Brandauer). This man wants his writing published […] so that the truth about the U.S.S.R.'s military can be exposed. […] The agents […] ask Barley to work for them, undercover, to bring them to Dante so that they can try to ascertain the truth about what is in the manuscript. To do this, they put him in touch with Katya, whom he quickly falls fast in love with. While Barley is doing what he can to help his country, American agents — Russell (Roy Scheider of The Curse of the Living Corpse [1964 / trailer]), Quinn (J.T. Walsh of Red Rock West [1993]) and Brady (John Mahoney) — begin to take on a more active role, not entirely sure that they can trust Barley to finish the mission. […]"


Women and Men: Stories of Seduction
(1990, multiple directors)
 
A three-segment anthology film made for HBO. Russell joins director Tony Richardson (whose best film may be the much contemned B&W masterpiece The Loved One [1965 / trailer]) and, in a rare directorial excursion, the scriptwriter Frederic Raphael (who, also in 1990, supplied the screenplay for the decidedly odd costume drama, The King's Whore [trailer]) to film three separate short stories that each focus on a man and a woman.
"The first is set in the 1940s, the other two in the 1920s. In The Man in a Brooks Brothers Suit, a businessman of about 40 plies a younger Leftist women with liquor aboard a train. They spend the night together, and he decides he's in love with her; she plays along. In Dusk before Fireworks, Kit, a youthful flapper, arrives at Hoby's classy flat intent on an evening of passion, but a constantly ringing telephone interrupts each embrace. In Hills Like White Elephants, a couple traveling in Spain discuss her pregnancy: he wants things to stay as they are, she doesn't quite know what she wants. [AV Club]"
Russell's segment is the one starring the great thespian luminaries Peter Weller (of Leviathan [1988] and Screamers [1995]) and Molly Ringwald (of Cut [2000]). A minor discursion for Russell, and since his segment was supposedly re-cut and rescored by HBO, one he quickly chose to forget. Perhaps the viewer should, too.
Trailer to
Women and Men: Stories of Seduction

 
The Strange Affliction of Anton Bruckner
(1990, dir. Ken Russell)
Two years after The Rainbow, Russell returned to television and his favorite theme, the artist's biography, this time around focusing on the Austrian composer Anton Bruckner — or, to be more exact, to cast a fictionalizing eye upon Bruckner's real-life stay in a sanatorium due to his "numeromania", an obsessive-compulsive need to count objects and things. At what might count as the Bruckner Fan Club Webpage, they gripe: "This film […] portrays Bruckner as a childish person and does not give weight to the composer's creativity."
The Strange Affliction of Anton Bruckner:

 
Whore
(1991, dir. Ken Russell)
Whore pretty much put the final nail in Ken Russell's feature-film directorial career; until his low-budget, direct-to-video Poe-inspired The Fall of the Louse of Usher: A Gothic Tale for the 21st Century in 2002, he had pretty much retreated to British television.
Unlike Crimes of Passion, Russell's prior film about career girls, Whore is more gritty docu-drama than thriller-chic. The film is based on a play entitled Bondage, which was written by the London cabbie David Hines and is in turn based on the tales told to him by the working girls he'd carried in his cab. Russell and his co-scriptwriter Deborah Dalton moved the "action" from London to Los Angeles; needless to say, Pretty Woman (1990) it ain't — but that was Russell's intention: to show the real, and not the sanitized.
Liz (Theresa Russell) never gets her millionaire, but she does have a lonely and dangerous life. The plot, as found at Retro Junk: "[…] The eponymous character lives a hellish existence. Relating her story directly to the camera, Russell introduces us to her no-good former husband (Jason Saucier of The Crawlers [1990 / full film]), her brutish pimp (Benjamin Mouton), and the kinkiest of her 'johns'. Her one true friend, a bag man named Rasta (Antonio Fargas of Milo [1998] and Cleopatra Jones [1973]), also saves her life — but not her soul."
Of course, Whore was cut to shreds in the US to get any viable release, whereupon it was torn apart by the critics and barely broke even, but there is an uncut 92-minute European version is available out there. 
Unglamorous and depressing, Whore was not exactly a hit... which makes it all the odder that it was followed by an in-name-only "sequel" three years later, Whore 2 (1994 / trailer), directed by the independent filmmaker Amos Kollek (Fast Food Fast Women [2000 / trailer]). Unlike in Russell's film, however, in the more traditionally structured Kollek film — originally entitled Bad Girls — many of the "actresses" playing prostitutes are actually the real thing.
Trailer to
Whore:


Prisoner of Honor
(1992, dir. Ken Russell)
Russell's days of feature-film productions ended with Whore. His next project was a British TV film originally shown on HBO in the US entitled Prisoner of Honor (a.k.a. Prisoners of Honor), which is based on the turn-of-the-century French scandal known as the Dreyfus Affair.
In short, Captain Alfred Dreyfus (Kenneth Colley of The Blood Beast Terror [1968 / trailer]), of Jewish descent, was wrongly accused and convicted on trumped-up charges of espionage for the Germans and sent to Devil's Island (where he ended up serving almost five years before rehabilitation). Lieutenant-Colonel George Piquart (Richard Dreyfuss of Piranha 3D [2010] and James and the Giant Peach [1996]) found evidence that Dreyfus was innocent, but was forced to suppress it by anti-Semitic officials; he leaked it to the pro-Dreyfus press, which eventually led to the end of his military career. (The author Emile Zola, also a proponent of Dreyfus's innocence was found guilty of libel for the damning articles he wrote about the case.)
Trailer to
Prisoner of Honor:
According to Movie Poster Shop, "Russell's flamboyant direction takes the heroic tale into the realm of the surreal; this may not be a thoroughly accurate account, but it's one of the more eye-filling." Richard Dreyfuss, the producer of the movie, took the final cut away from Russell, but the latter chose to leave his name on the film anyway. Currently, the film can be found at the Internet Archives.


The Mystery of Dr Martinu
(1992, dir. Ken Russell)
After 22 years, Ken Russell returned to the BBC to direct, unexpectedly enough, a biographical film about a composer, this time around about the Czech modernist Bohuslav Martinu (played by Patrick Ryecart).
"The Mystery of Dr. Martinu, subtitled A Revelation by Ken Russell from 1993. This is Freud meets Buñuel's Un Chien Andalou (1929) meets Hitchcock (Spellbound [1945 / trailer] and Vertigo [1958 / trailer]). This biographical film of Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu is in two parts: the first part a recurring dream with little real dialogue, the second a Freudian analysis of the dreams, also revealing the mystery of the title. [Savage Messiah]"
Over at Letterboxd, Hischier was moved to say, "Note to self: if you're going to commit to awful storytelling, you might as well do it with copious amounts of nudity. The arch performing styles and artificial sets are classic Ken Russell, as is the utterly insane commitment to each half of the 60-minute film: the surreal dream and unreal analysis that deflates the dream. These two halves sandwich the best — and most horrifying — part of the film: the composer's destruction of his wife Charlotte Martinu (Shauna Baird) on behalf of his art. If you make it to the end, you'll see the genius of Ken Russell while wondering why he hates us so much."


Lady Chatterley
(1993, dir. Ken Russell)
Russell's third D.H. Lawrence adaptation after Women in Love (1969) and The Rainbow (1989), this time around as a TV miniseries first broadcast on BBC1 in four 55-minute episodes between 6 and 27 June 1993.
 
The plot: "Lady Chatterley (Joely Richardson of Event Horizon [1997]) has been keeping the home fires burning for her husband (James Wilby) while he was off fighting the war. However, upon his return, he has changed. He has been wounded and that wound has left him paralyzed from the waist down. Other than the fact that he will never walk again, there is another factor at stake for them: he can never perform his husbandly duties so that she might perform hers and present him with an heir to his fortune and estate. So, he suggests that perhaps it would be best if she were able to perform her wifely duties under the care of another man. Enter Mellors (Sean Bean), who is the gamekeeper of the Chatterley estate. Lady Chatterley becomes enamored of him and he of her, so they begin a love affair that will cross not only the grounds of the Chatterley estate, but the lines of social status as well. [Need Coffee]"

"For more than a century, the name 'Lady Chatterley' has become synonymous with softcore naughtiness. […] Russell decided to make a miniseries instead of a feature film, thus allowing him to adapt nearly every single word from Lawrence's text. Like The Rainbow, this adaptation finds the outrageous filmmaker more subdued than usual, with delicate pastoral photography and some great period costumes providing all of the visual flair. […] While literature and Russell devotees will find plenty to enjoy here, there's no denying that the running time (over three hours) will prove daunting to the average viewer. Metrodome's DVD breaks down each of the four episodes, allowing for periodic viewing (the best option) and […] a menu option to skip to all the sex scenes. Actually, the 'very erotic sex' promised on the packaging looks like pretty weak tea, but for TV this is spicier than usual. Fans of Ms. Richardson will be happy to know that she disrobes often and still manages to turn in a solid performance, while the underrated Bean is great as always. [Mondo Digital]"
German trailer to
Lady Chatterley:


Treasure Island
(1995, dir. Ken Russell)
A forgotten British TV film based on the classic novel of Robert Louis Stevenson given a gender swap and starring Ken Russell's wife of the time, Hetty Baynes as Long Jane Silver, whom she plays "in the style of Marilyn Monroe. To date, it must be stamped as "Broadcast and shelved", it would seem, as there has never been a VHS, DVD or streaming release. Infamously, it includes a scene of Jim Hawkins (Gregory Hall) doing blackface and singing Mamie.

Musical number from
Treasure Island:
Among the comments at YouTube beneath the above video, one from 8 years ago by someone named Osmund Bullock stands out: "I was in it! [Playing Captain Smollett] It was a strange thing — its main purpose was as a vehicle for Ken's then (third) wife, an actress and would-be sex goddess called Hetty Baynes with whom the 68-year old Ken was somewhat obsessed at the time. Ken tried to do it all on a shoestring, shooting on low-res video in cheap locations like the Cutty Sark ship at Greenwich, and in some sand dunes in Cornwall — most of the rest was done at Pinewood, both on the sound stages and outside in very English-looking woodland! He even tried to save money by using amateur actors found at open London auditions, though that was mainly a publicity stunt — in the event they were so awful he cast professionals in most of the leads (though not, alas, Jim Hawkins, who was excruciating). One of the other amateurs, playing a member of the pirate crew, walked out halfway through the shoot, and Ken was in despair until someone noticed the sound engineer looked a bit like him. He was duly dressed in the costume and shot for the remaining scenes, and two quite different people ended up playing the same part! The other challenge was that Ken had a major heart attack just after we'd started, and the whole thing was postponed for months. When he finally came back he was pretty sick man, and had lost what remained of his famous daring and energy. What could have been a bizarre but entertainingly surreal and freaky piece turned into a very damp squib, and is undoubtedly the worst thing I've done in over 40 years as an actor — so bad was it that when the lights came up at the end of the first screening there was no applause, just a completely stunned silence!"


 
Alice in Russialand
(1995, writ. & dir. Ken Russell)
 
The documentary "shows Alice (Hetty Baynes) traveling through a century of Russian's history, from the period of Tsarism, through Socialism and Glasnost. Alice's original characters embody ideological conflicts crossing politics, art and cultural movements. [Alicenations]"
Outtakes from
Alice in Russialand:
According to Richard Niles, "In 1992, [Niles] produced, arranged and co-wrote Valeriya's Russian hit Merry Christmas to the World featuring the Moscow State Symphony and the Russian National Folk Orchestra. The recording included a spoken introduction by Uri Geller and was shot in Red Square. The music was featured in the Ken Russell film Alice in Russialand."
Valeriya sings
Merry Christmas to the World:
Not much is known about this British television project, generally credited as from 1995 but possibly from 1993. If we should believe the German-language websites Filmdienst and OFDb, the documentary is part of five-episode creative documentary series dealing with history and evolution of Russian society — the other four episodes being equally obscure: Werner Herzog's Bells from the Deep (1993), Jean Luc Godard's Les enfants jouent à la Russie (1993), Lina Wertmuller's The Nose (1993) and Nobuhiko Ôbayashi's Russian Lullaby (1993). The last two, while locatable on the web, are not listed on the respective filmmaker's generally found filmographies.
In case you are unfamiliar with the work of Nobuhiko Ôbayashi, we suggest you take a look at the trailer below to what might be his most (in)famous film…
Trailer to
Nobuhiko Ôbayashi's House (1977):

 
Mindbender
(1996, dir. Ken Russell)
With his (serious), hook-line-and-sinker biographical film on the great stage illusionist Uri Geller, "probably the world's most famous psychic", Ken Russell finally devolves to full bad film mode.
Mindbender
 in 2 Minutes:
"If you are interested in bending spoons this is one of the best films on the subject. The life story of Uri Geller. […] But this sort of thing is really banal and the films comes over as a paid-for vanity film for Uri Geller. There is a silly spy plot and Geller seems to save the world from nuclear war. [Savage Messiah]"
"In a true story with all the intrigue of science fiction, acclaimed director Ken Russell […] takes us on a fantastic journey through the life of one of the most controversial men of modern times — psychic wonder, Uri Geller [played by Ishai Golan of The Golem [2018 / trailer]. […] Bending spoons and fixing broken clocks and watches through the power of thought are but the tip of the iceberg of Geller's incredible powers. Studies by some of the world's top scientists have confirmed what skeptics have refused to believe. One such scientist, Joe Hartman, portrayed by Terence Stamp, follows Geller's remarkable feats and openly testifies to phenomena that conventional wisdom cannot explain. From dematerializing objects in sealed cases, to numbing the heart of a plagued rat by sheer will power, experiments with Uri Geller have yielded results that simply cannot be ignored. At the film's end, the real Uri Geller appears on-screen and performs the first ever interactive psychic experiment with a movie audience. Have your broken clocks and watches ready and participate in Geller's experiment! [SMS]"
Over at the Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy  Film Review, which voted Mindbender one of the worst movies they saw that year [1996], they write: "[…] In the 1980s and 90s, Ken Russell's star has fallen considerably and he has struggled for the recognition he once held and was eventually forced to take on low-budget hackwork like this. Mindbender appears to be taking itself deadly serious. […] On the other hand, the serious intent of the endeavour seems to be fighting with Ken Russell's characteristic proclivities towards turning the film into a lunatically over-the-top madhouse. […] Mindbender sinks down to a level of true ineptitude. It is an entirely laughable film on almost every single count. In a few years, it is probably going to be revived and deemed worthy of Golden Turkey status. […]"
 
 
Tales of Erotica
(1996, multiple directors)
Available as a four-segment DVD with "erotic" shorts, including Russell's The Insatiable Mrs. Kirsch. The DVD is harvested from the 1996 German television series Erotic Tales (1994-2003), which lasted a good 30 episodes of 30-minute shorts [Filmdienst]. Producer Regina Ziegler contracted each of the 30 directors to make an artistic erotic short. Russell's segment, which is basically about food and masturbation, is among those later collected and released as a series of direct-to-video compilations; this one here features shorts by Susan Seidelman (The Dutch Master), Melvin Van Peebles (Vroom Vroom Vroom), Bob Rafelson (Wet), and Russell's segment, The Insatiable Mrs. Kirsch. (We assume it to be an in-joke that the lady's last name is the German word for "cherry".) The trailer can be found at metacritic, not to mention any number of internet porn sites.
The plot: at a hotel, a young novelist (Simon Shepherd) becomes obsessed with a highly-sexed woman, Mrs. Kirsch (Hetty Baynes), with a thing for masturbation and toys. As perhaps fitting, Mr. Kirsch is played by Ken Russell.


Dog Boys
(1998, dir. Kurt Russell)
Two years after sinking so low as to do a movie bio of the great fraud Uri Geller (Mindbender), Russell did Dog Boys — also known as Tracked — a tenth-generation misbegotten fifth cousin of The Most Dangerous Game (1932 / full film) starring a batch of equally on-the-skids former "stars": Dean "Superduperboy" Cain (of Lost [2004]), Bryan Brown (of F/X [1986 / trailer]), and Tia Carrere (of Hollow Point [1995]). The result is a film that leaves one wondering where Russell was while it was being made: there is [almost] nothing about it that bears his stamp.
The plot, at encyclopedia.com: "Prisoner Julian Taylor (Cain) is sent to the patrol-dog training detail and discovers that the twisted department head (Brown) 'rents' out his dogs and prisoners to hunters who want human prey. Carrere is the beautiful D.A. who investigates the rash of inmate deaths and discovers Julian is the next quarry."
Trailer to
Tracked:
"The premise is loony enough for Russell to make something of it, but he doesn't. In fact, it's as dull as any movie revolving around Dean Cain being chased by giant dogs can be, although Brown does seem to have fun spitting out the phrase 'dog boy' in a thick Australian accent as often as possible. [AV Club]"
A voice of dissent can be heard at The Schlock Pit, "To be clear: yes, Dogboys was a for-the-money gig. Ken Russell himself said as much on the rare occasions this made-for-cable programmer was broached in interviews. However, it's far from the phoned-in hack-job it's often described as. […] Crazy talk, if you ask me. Dogboys is ludicrously Russell-esque and, though nowhere near as good, it isn't that different to The Lair of the White Worm (1988). It's Russell doing genre again, and the fun rests on how he reconciles his style and anti-establishment themes with B-movie material. The film's earthy palette might be a little confusing […], but the highly theatrical staging; dance-like photography; and explosive close-ups are unquestionably the work of the same iconoclast who gave British cinema such a kick up the jacksie in the '70s."


The Fall of the Louse of Usher: A Gothic Tale for the 21st Century
(2002, writ. & dir. Ken Russell)
A "sequel" to Poe's classic tale, The Fall of the House of Usher — an early short-film version of which, from 1928, was our Short Film of the Month for October 2020.

With no real mainstream directorial career left to speak of, Ken Russell's last feature-length film is basically a home movie shot on a camcorder in his garage/studio/back yard, featuring a cast of friends and neighbors and relatives. By now, his third wife Hetty Baynes had been replaced by his fourth wife, Elize Tribble Russell. (Her film career seems to have started here and ended with Russell's death.)
From the film —
James Johnston and Lisi Tribble do Ligeia:
The website The Spinning Image says: "The Fall of the Louse of Usher ought to have disciples of one-time 'enfant terrible' Ken Russell salivating, producers flinging open their chequebooks and showering the great man with millions, and the arts world in general besieging parliament and demanding that Ken be given a life peerage. What will really happen is that this camcorder masterpiece will be ignored by most, and dismissed as trash by 90 per cent of those who do manage to see it. If you've got the slightest interest in movie mavericks, outrageous visual style, Edgar Allan Poe, or fighting against adversity, I urge you to seek out [...] Usher wherever you can."
From the film —
James Johnston does Annabel Lee:
The plot, as described by Worldwide Celluloid Massacre (which hates the film): "[...] A kind of sequel to the story of Usher with random Poe allusions and puns. After the murder of his wife (Elize Tribble Russell), Roderick Usher (James Johnston) the rock star is put in an insane asylum where the chief doctor is Russell himself as a kind of crazy, naughty Benny Hill psychiatrist with a young nurse sidekick (Marie Findley)."


Brothers of the Head
(2005, dirs. Keith Fulton & Louis Pepe)
On the rare occasion, Russell would also appear as an actor in the films of others, as in Brothers of Head. The directors of the film, Keith Fulton & Louis Pepe, are better known as documentary filmmakers and received some acclaim for their 2002 movie Lost in La Mancha (trailer), a film about Terry Gilliam's cursed and never-completed film project Don Quixote. Brothers of the Head is based on the novel of the same name by Brian Aldriss, who also wrote the literary source of Roger Corman's final directorial project, Frankenstein Unbound (1990 / trailer).
Brothers of the Head is a faux documentary, and Russell appears as himself as one of the talking heads in a film based on an idea so weird that it could well have come from him.
The plot, from Shadows on the Wall:  "Conjoined twins Tom and Barry Howe (played by non-conjoined twins Harry and Luke Treadaway) are living in isolated L'Estrange Head on England's east coast when, in the mid-1970s, an impresario (Howard Attfield of Lighthouse [1999 / trailer]) decides the 18-year-olds would make great pop stars. So he sequesters them to a remote manor house, where a musician (Bryan Dick of Blood and Chocolate [2007 / trailer]) teaches them to sing and play, and a manager (Sean Harris of Isolation [2005] and Creep [2004]) literally whips them into shape. But when a sexy journalist (Tania Emery) arrives to tell their story, love and drugs boil over into a jealous mix. […]"
Sound unreal? Impossible? Guess you don't know the biography of the Hilton Sisters.
 Trailer to
Brothers of the Head:


Trapped Ashes
(2006, multiple directors)
Russell's last directorial project was his segment for this overlooked and forgotten horror anthology film, which very much follows the structure — as well as the traditional ending — of the classic Amicus horror anthology films of yesteryear.

"Trapped Ashes was Dennis Bartok's anthology horror production, with each segment (all written by Bartok) being directed by different a cult filmmaker. Monte Hellman's entry is probably the best. Russell, as expected, delivers an over-the-top vignette about vampire udders. The problem with this anthology is not the directors, but the uninspiring writer. Russell camps it up and, despite a lackluster script, seems to be having fun one last time. [Savage Messiah]"
 
Trailer to
Trapped Ashes:
The five directors involved, aside from Hellman and Russell, include Sean S. Cunningham, Joe Dante and John Gaeta (doing his only currently known directorial turn) – and among the cast are no less than Dick Miller and John Saxon (the latter of The Deadly Thief [1978]. amongst so much more). Neither appears in Russell's segment, however, though Russell himself does as the crazed Dr. Lucy.

Entitled The Girl with Golden Breasts, the segment is properly Russellian: The blonde actress Phoebe (Rachel Veltri) is of the opinion that babes with bigger boobs get all the parts, so she decides to lift her career with an augmentation. But she chooses the wrong doctors — they all have undergone boob jobs themselves, as can be seen in image above — and ends up with a pair of breasts that give breastfeeding a new meaning. Not a segment for the more mammary-obsessed among us…


Mr. Nice
(2010, dir. Bernard Rose)
Mr. Nice… We bought Howard Marks' book once, second hand, and barely made it a fourth of the way in before we decided we had something better to read and would have more fun with a home-rolled smoke. Director Bernard Rose made the original version of Candyman (1992 / trailer), which despite being a white-final-girl-savior flick still remains the best of the franchise, including the recent Black-centric remake (2021 / trailer). Ken Russell does a quick acting job in this movie we haven't seen and probably won't see, appearing somewhere to play Russell Miegs.
Trailer to
Mr Nice:
The plot, from Movie House: "Mr Nice is a biopic about convicted drug dealer Howard Marks (Rhya Ifans) and his wife Judy (Chloe Sevigny). […] As Howard tells it, he only dealt in cannabis, a virtually harmless substance that should be legalized, and he therefore did nothing really wrong, even if it was illegal. While he was dealing, he never carried a weapon or committed a violent act, yet almost single-handedly wiped out Irish terrorism and organized crime. While in prison, he helped all the innocent men get released, and helped all the guilty men get rehabilitated and educated. He was braver than Sgt. York and smarter than Socrates, was irresistible to women, and was a better husband and father than Dr. Cliff Huxtable. Everyone who knew him loved him."
"There is much happening at the fringes of Mr Nice, but as much as it plays out rather entertainingly, it perhaps delivers the hollowness of Marks' life too well. The story of a man who does what he does because it just turns out to be what he's doing, without any purpose or direction, the film takes on the trait itself, and becomes equally a bit of a laugh without a great deal to recommend. Fascinating in its own way, but unfortunately largely forgettable. [Are You Screening]"


Invasion of the Not Quite Dead
(2011/23, writ. & dir. Tony Lane)
Ken Russell is/was one of many who threw their support for this independent production that was still in production when he died (2011), but has [suposedly] since been released (2022). Back in 2011, imdb also had him listed as having a small part in the film as someone named "Alan Burrows", but that character is not in the current credit list found at the website.
Promo:
The original storyline, as supplied by none other than Tony Lane himself, back when the film was still intended as a comedy: "In 1978 a meteorite crash lands into the Swiss Mountains, unleashing a deadly virus. Killing everyone within a 20 mile radius, the incident was covered up by local officials. Now thirty years later the virus is released onto an unsuspecting island off the coast of England. A group of survivors must band together in order to survive the death and destruction of the once friendly locals in this black comedy horror Invasion of the Not Quite Dead."
"It's been fifteen years in the making, but the time has finally come. Invasion of the Not Quite Dead is coming in 2023. […] For many, the project seemed dead in the water after several years of 24-hour, no-sleep streams to crowdfund with little to show for it. Some backers pulled their support and took to social media to spout disparaging remarks about the production and those who continued to support it. This negativity did take its toll on Lane, who has been very open about his mental health struggles. What started as a dream project quickly turned to a nightmare. Invasion went from a comedy-horror to a dark, gritty tale that deals with loss, abandonment, mental health, and suicide. […] It took him four years to edit, chipping away at the original 3-and-a-half-hour runtime. It was during this time that life took some unexpected turns for Lane, causing him to put the project on hold again. […] Fifteen years is a long time to work on a movie. [Rush Cutters]"
Music to Invasion Of The Not Quite Dead 
by MC Frontalot (feat. Wheatus):
No longer a comedy, here's the current plot: "Invasion of the Not Quite Dead is a brutal character-driven story that takes place in and around a small suburban sleepy village called Little Grimsby. After 15 years away, Sam Peterson (Frank Jakeman) returns to try and fix his severely broken family, an ex-wife who despises him, two sons who want him dead, and a brother who wouldn't piss on him if he were on fire. This is the story of a once-broken man who gave up on everything he loved in order to selfishly try for a better life and then, after 15 years, decided he wanted a chance at redemption, BUT... is he too late? Sam picked the wrong time to move back to Little Grimsby, a virus is sweeping the town, making the locals semi-insane and, when darkness comes, so do the 'not quite dead'. [Dreamcage]" Coming out soon — maybe, maybe not.
 
 

 

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