Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Joan Collins: Oh, the "Horror" of it All!

It's created a bit of buzz lately that for its eighth season, the acclaimed FX series American Horror Story has announced that Joan Collins is being tossed into the casting mix for the first time. The sexy, violent, provocative show has focused on staple performers such as Sarah Paulson and Evan Peters while blending in a variety of others, from Broadway-level talent to Oscar winners such as Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Cuba Gooding Jr. (yes...) Other notable names have included Angela Bassett, Dylan McDermott, Zach Quinto and especially Lady Gaga. Each season has its own individual storyline with actors playing all new roles from ones they may have done prior (though the creator of the show does plan to connect at least some of the different "worlds" in an upcoming crossover season.)

But even with the sizable gallery of performers who've set foot in the realm of AHS, the casting of Joan Collins still comes as a bit of a shock. The eighty-four year-old actress, who is endlessly busy even now with a touring one-woman show and a recurring role on The Royals, hasn't been seen with any regularity on American television for over fifteen years.

An ingenue in British films from 1951 before coming to Hollywood in 1955, she's enjoyed an on-camera career spanning more than sixty-five years! Nothing about her winsome, often wholesome roles in movies like The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (1955), Sea Wife (1957) or Stopover Tokyo (1957), among others would suggest that she had any place in horror.

Her evil, scheming turn in Land of the Pharaohs (1955) is at least a step in that direction, yet hardly still qualifies.

Collins, who ruled the airwaves on Dynasty in the 1980s, is more often considered to represent eye-popping glitz than anything else, no matter what other projects she's done over her long and surprisingly varied career.
But as it turns out, Miss C. does have the necessary cred (not that it's even required anyway!) to appear in AHS. For a decade-long period from 1971 to 1980, she costarred in quite a string of outright horror flicks. So today we're going to take a brief peek at each one as we ready ourselves for her upcoming return to U.S. television.
First up was the thriller Inn of the Frightened People (1971) - aka Revenge - which found our Joan married to James Booth and mourning the loss of their young daughter who was brutally beaten and raped before dying. The couple owns a busy pub where dishy Collins can be found pulling the taps. When the murderer goes free for lack of evidence, Booth kidnaps him and savagely beats him, tossing him in the basement of their house to die!

Collins had recently taken the reins with her own costumes in 1969's Subterfuge and was equally enthusiastic this time around in creating an up-to-the-minute look for her character. Naturally, this became dated rather swiftly after release, but in retrospect adds some delicious time capsule grooviness to the proceedings.

Then thirty-eight and the mother of two, she could still turn it on in scenes with little to no clothes on. As the story progresses, she begins to get cozy with her adult stepson, adding another dimension of stress to the characters' lives.

Next came Tales from the Crypt (1972), one of many horror anthologies that were highly popular at the time. Most of them contained four separate stories told in-between some connective tissue. In this case, five strangers find themselves lost inside a crypt and the keeper, Sir Ralph Richardson (!), informs them of how they each will die. Collins' is the first called, "And All Through the House."

She plays a wife who kills her husband for the insurance money, but, before she can complete her plan to dispose of the body, must fend off an escaped pathological mental patient in a Santa suit! (This coming long before such shockers as the controversial Silent Night, Deadly Night, 1984, and even before 1974's Black Christmas.)

Also in 1972 came Fear in the Night. The lead role in this one went to Judy Geeson as a fragile school- teacher recovering from a hideous attack and subsequent breakdown. She and her husband move to a remote boys school run by Peter Cushing. His wife is Collins, a sculptress and not a particularly genial one.
In something of a preview of her Dynasty days, Collins enjoys brandishing a rifle. Only in this case, instead of shooting skeet, she tosses her freshly-killed game on the kitchen counter! One unusual tidbit in this chiller is that though she and Cushing are a married couple in the storyline, they are never once shown together!

In 1973, Collins appeared in another anthology. This one, Tales That Witness Madness, has two psychiatrists (Jack Hawkins and Donald Pleasance) discussing some of their cases with one another, revealing the stories in flashback. Collins' tale involves her husband bringing a strange shaped log home with him one day and placing it inside the house.
Collins, irritated by the mess it is making, begins to suspect that somehow her husband is beginning to prefer the log (which he has nicknamed "Mel") over her!

That same year, Collins portrayed Christopher Lee's sister in Dark Places, a spooky tale involving the search for hidden loot inside a haunted estate. (The more things change... Note Joan is a dark wig being strangled, then see the shot from Dynasty below of John Forsythe doing the same! Only the angle is flipped..)
This foreign lobby card also looks like it could have come from "Dynasty: The Early Years" with Herbert Lom in the white wig and glasses as Blake!

True, outright horror came in 1975 with The Devil Within Her (also known as I Don't Want to Be Born), a rip-off of Rose- mary's Baby (1968.) When exotic dancer Collins spurns the advances of a dwarf she uses in her act (!), he puts a curse on her, shouting that she will have a devil child.
Sure enough, when she eventually retires from the biz and marries Ralph Bates, they have a child to does not take a liking to most of the adults around, especially if they are part of the clergy! No less than Eileen Atkins appears as a nun.

Sometimes things just stick in one's brain and I can never forget Leonard Maltin stating in a capsule review of this film that Collins was "uncharacteristically excellent" in it! Truth be told, she was often the best thing to be found in these various thrillers and chillers. And if she could be accused of "slumming" in them, then she was in good company with Pleasance, Cushing, Lee, Atkins, Richardson and others.

If things were scary before, they took a turn for the worst (in more ways than one!) when Collins agreed to star in 1977's Empire of the Ants. As you can see here, the forty-four year-old Collins was still radiantly beautiful at this time in the opening sequences. She played a bitchy (surprise!) real estate agent, selling worthless swamp lamp to gullible visitors.
Trouble is, thanks to some radioactive seepage, hordes of giant ants have taken over the entire area and they seem to enjoy snacking on the occasional human being. The low-budget movie offered up an array of appetizers from Robert Lansing to Robert Pine and even old Irene Tedrow of Dennis the Menace.

The sweltering, filthy Florida shooting locations represented the nadir of Collins' movie-making experiences, but the hooty film ultimately became a cult camp classic. And, really, who else would choose to wield a jaunty little sprig of branch like this to wave around amid all the death and squalor! Soon after, when she hit it big on Dynasty, the makers of this thing wisely cashed in on her newfound notoriety by changing the artwork for the VHS cover and adding taglines like:  "SEE: A Dynasty of Ants Terrorize Joan Collins!" And please don't fail to take note of the price of this video (in 1983 dollars!!)
Still not completely done with the horror genre, Collins took part in three different episodes of the British TV series Tales of the Unexpected, all based upon Roald Dahl stories. As I say, if anything felt that she was slumming, then so was her costar in the first one, Sir John Gielgud! (He would, within two years, enjoy a career blast-off thanks to an Oscar-winning role in Arthur, 1981. Collins would land on Dynasty later that same year.)
In the first one from 1979, she played a wealthy wife with an older husband who she cheats on with an army major. All during their stay at a friend's estate, her goings on are noted by the staid butler Gielgud and when she finds herself in an unlikely and dangerous predicament it is up to him to save her. If he chooses to!

The second one in 1980 had her playing a dual role. A seductive lady with her eye on the local vicar (!) and also that of the vicar's bizarre mother. Look at the difference makeup has made in these shots from the episode. She's barely recognizable as the flaky mother. Anyway, the more nubile rendition of JC (she even has a wet shirt scene!) has more in store for the vicar than meets the eye.

Her final go at the series involved two actresses touring in a production of "The Importance of Being Earnest" who both rather like the same wealthy patron, though Collins snaps him up for herself rather quickly. The other actress Pauline Collins is called upon to help her out of the relationship, but with dire results.

Remarkably, Joan Collins and Pauline Collins (best known for Upstairs, Downstairs and Shirley Valentine, 1989) were reunited in 2017, thirty-seven years after their work on Tales of the Unexpected, for Joan's latest film venture The Time of Their Lives. The road trip movie featuring two gals of a certain age won decent reviews and scads of fans, but wasn't given a U.S. release. But it is now available to us on DVD.
When pressed by the media for information about her role in the upcoming season of American Horror Story (whose theme and setting are always kept secret by the producers until the last possible moment), the only things revealed by her were that she'd be in 6 or 7 episodes (imdb.com says 10, but is likely inaccurate) and that her role would be "glamorous." We'd expect no less! These photos were taken mere weeks ago for the British magazine Hello!, proving that the octogenarian can more than deliver the goods when it comes to glamour. It's also been revealed that she will portray Evan Peters' grandmother in the series. We certainly doubt it will be the kind who bakes cookies and wears an apron! I just hope she's given something meaty and captivating to do... Naturally, once this hits the airwaves, we'll be back, weighing in with our own opinion on it.


Alan Scott said...

I hate to be cliche, but my favorite Joan Collins role will always be her appearance in the Star Trek episode "City on the Edge of Forever". The only time William Shatner was allowed to cuss. :)

Gingerguy said...

Oddly, I just watched The Time Of Their Lives on the plane the other day (I always rip through films I wouldn't rent) and was shocked to see this offered, and at how good it was. Joan is better here than I can remember and has a few surprises up her sleeve including a nice voice. Classic old broad road movie. I am thrilled for her and thrilled at finding this today Poseidon.
Lol, Inn of the Frightened People. What a hilarious title. I used that Santa photo as a Christmas greeting recently. Her belt buckle looks like claws. Santa claws?
Tales That Witness Madness had me screaming but not with horror. The last shot in her storyline gave me a "woody" in my funny bone.
It sounds weird, but there are some people I love to hear scream, and in The Devil Within Her" Joan has a prolonged birthing scene. She screams endlessly, it's fabulous.
She never ceases to delight and this may get me to watch AHS. I bailed after first season but will open my mind for Dame Joan. Thanks a million Poseidon!

Scooter said...

I've never watched an episode of AHS but with Joan Collins slated to join, I might just tune in. Any need to catch up on past seasons or is each one a stand-alone story line?

loulou de la falaise said...

Nope, they are all different, complete seasons.

Poseidon3 said...

Alan, that's a renowned episode of "Trek." Joan and Bill Shatner were reunited and interviewed years later if you have any interest. I think you can find clips of that on youtube.

Gingerguy, how neat that you were able to catch TTOTL! My DVD is in the mail to me as I type. Should be here any time. I noticed Joan's belt in both "Inn of the Frightened People" and "Tales from the Crypt" and at first thought it was one belt, then thought it was one belt turned upside down for further use, but finally noticed that they are two separate belts, presumably from a designer or manufacturer who she favored at the time. People on imdb have referred to Joan's childbirth moaning in "The Devil Within Her" as orgasmic! LOL I haven't seen it recently enough to recall myself. My first AHS season was season 2. Then I watched 3, then 1. I have skipped two seasons, I think... the carnival and the cult ones. I wasn't going to watch the latest one until JC was announced.

Scooter, a loulou said before I got here to answer you, the cast often contains the same folks as the prior season or seasons, but each season is it's own theme/world with all new characters. It's interesting to see the highly different roles that the key actors play from year to year. There are occasionally very obscure references between the seasons, but usually only very attuned watchers catch those. You can start from scratch and be fine! Thanks!

Forever1267 said...

"Empire of the Ants" is super dirty (nature dirty) fun.

Can't wait to see how Ryan Murphy uses her talents on "AHS".

Poseidon3 said...

I believe I read yesterday that this season will indeed be a crossover of Murder House (Se 01) and Coven (Se 03), so maybe she'll be a witch? ;-)