Monday, 20 June 2016

Doomwatch (1972)

One of the last films to be made under the auspices of producer Tony Tenser before he sold Tigon pictures to the Laurie Marsh Group, the movie version of the BBC TV series DOOMWATCH gets a DVD & Blu-ray release courtesy of Screenbound.

         On an isolated island off the Cornish coast people are suffering a strange affliction that is causing them to attack one another and stay indoors once things become too bad. Into this community comes Dr Del Shaw (Ian Bannen wearing a colourful range of hats and polo-neck jumpers of which much was made in the reviews of the time). He’s there to investigate whether or not there have been any long-term effects from an oil tanker spill a year ago. What he discovers is something very different altogether.

I reviewed the TV series of DOOMWATCH a while ago on here. A gritty, eco-angry slice of early 1970s British science fiction, the film version doesn't quite capture the doom-laden dread of the best episodes, but it still does a pretty good job, with a scientific basis for what's going on and an ending that’s suitably downbeat. The main problem with DOOMWATCH the movie is that it's often thought of as a horror film when it's actually more of an Eco-SF piece. 

You can understand why people think it's a horror picture, though. The first thirty minutes feels like a combination of Hammer meets Pete Walker, with director Peter Sasdy giving us a nicely grim and threatening island community with a Deep Dark Secret. John Scott’s music score helps immensely here as well.

  The reason many of us in our youth thought DOOMWATCH  was a horror picture was because while we didn't know the TV series, we were very familiar with all the stills of lumpy-faced Michael Brennan in Denis Gifford’s Pictorial History of Horror Movies, Alan Frank's Monsters and Vampires, and Monster Mag. It was a bit of a disappointment when DOOMWATCH turned out not to have the kind of exploitation elements other Tigon product such as WITCHFINDER GENERAL and BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW were famous for. But once you realise that's not the point of it, the film can definitely be enjoyed on its own merits. 

Fans of DOOMWATCH the TV series might have felt a bit short changed going to see this at the cinema on its release as well. The usual team are kept well in the background to allow presumably bigger name stars like Ian Bannen and Judy Geeson to take centre stage. These days that's not such a problem, even if George Sanders seems to have taken quite a bit of valium before being wheeled on for extended cameo. For fans of British cinema of the period, DOOMWATCH remains a must-see.

Back in the day I saw the first showing on British television of DOOMWATCH. It looked absolutely sparkling - a pretty much new movie as it was then. Therefore I’m guessing time has not been kind to the vault elements. Screenbound did a fantastic job with Antony Balch’s HORROR HOSPITAL (it’s well worth catching up with their Blu-ray if you haven’t). Unfortunately a rather washed-out print seems to have been used here, with the brightness turned right up so there’s lots of picture noise, even on a very low resolution monitor setting. There are no extras apart from a trailer. 

Tigon's DOOMWATCH is out on DVD and Blu-ray from Screenbound on Monday 20th June

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