As both fan and critic, I have oft deliberated on how the definition of the British Horror movie can be stretched: this film, for those of you out there lucky enough to have seen it (I would hazard that totals less than a hundred) is as fine an example as any of the kind of title liable to provoke such debate. The years 1967 – 73, as we know, saw the breaking of many cinematic boundaries and genres, normally with a little help from our old friend Dr. Ugs, and the redefinition of the aims of both the film-maker and the film itself. It hadn’t happened before – although there had been hints – and it has definitely not happened since.
Nor will it, as the economic miracle such films flourished under is never likely to rise again. This was partially spurred on by the arrival of the ‘counter culture’, a rather vague catch-all term which covered everything from the Beatles, Hendrix, Moody Blues and Zappa to Easy Rider (1969), free love, Gysin, Ginsberg, Borroughs, Kesey and Leary. Or rather, the discovery of all these seminal writers about ten years too late. How typically British! The influence of rock music, Carnaby Street fashions (and, across the pond, Andy Warhol) could no longer be ignored, and for the first time, the film industry turned its hand to movies which reflected the dilemmas, dichotomies and above all lifestyles of the young.
Or rather, the young of Swinging London. These, after all, were not the dour youths that had populated a dozen or so Loach-penned kitchen sink dramas, or indeed the ‘angry young men’ of Osborne’s vision. These were the relatively amiable, well spoken young men, who all lived somewhere between Richmond and Maida Vale. And, of course, once horror got in on the act, these became the well spoken troubled young men with sinister undercurrents. This was not exactly new – the trend had started of course with Karl Boehm (more phonetic than well spoken – he was German, after all) in Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1959) and continued with Terence Stamp in the John Fowles-penned The Collector (1964), Ian Ogilvy in Michael Reeves’ The Sorcerors (1967) and Hywel Bennett in the Boultings’ Twisted Nerve (1968) not to mention Mick Jagger’s portrayal of Turner in Roeg’s Performance the same year. Was that horror? Well, we’ll discuss that later, as this is one of the many questions Gemini raises.
Destined to be, (at least until its forthcoming release through Scorpion on Region 1 DVD in 2010), one of those apocryphal, almost never-seen movies, Goodbye Gemini is typical of the cross-pollination of the period, as it would seem equally at home on a bill with Smashing Time (1967) or Darling (1965) as it would with the films of the ‘real world’ horror boom of the early 70s it quite clearly paved the way for, most notably Peter Collinson’s Hammer oddity Straight on Till Morning (1972) and Pete Walker’s The Flesh and Blood Show (1972) and Die Screaming, Marianne (1971). The era was one of juxtapositions – rock bands were borrowing more and more from jazz and classical to create ‘prog’, and it worked the other way too.
Likewise, whilst horror movies were borrowing from the ‘beat’ films of the era left right and centre, such films were dipping their toe into decidedly macabre waters with some fine and creative results, as best evinced in Peter Medak’s The Ruling Class (1971) and Kevin Billington’s The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer (1969). Gemini sits oddly betwixt the two camps, as does the sexuality of many of its characters – not least of all the houseboat-dwelling Garfield (Terry Scully) and his ‘friend’ David (Brithorror stalwart Freddie Jones), who at one point turns to one of the film’s less androgynous but still ambiguous personages, James (Michael Redgrave, a real- life bisexual) and states “You know, you and me, my dear, we’re like a pair of old statues, and if we’re not careful, someone just might come up and inscribe us.”
With that type of dialogue, which languishes somewhere on the verge of what George Melly refers to as “Mayfair Cockney” the film was never destined to go mano a mano with its American counterparts of the time, nor indeed the more blatant schoolboy erotica of Hammer’s 1970 output, but taken in the correct context – i.e. a cultural upheaval as yet unparalleled – it makes perfect sense. Indeed, this may well seem to be the type of horror film not aimed in any way at horror enthusiasts- there are only two (albeit one very sinister and one very bloodthirsty) murders, one right at the start, the other of which occurs almost bang in the middle of the run time, and these are straddled by a large amount of dialogue, hallucinogenic visuals and general ‘camping around’ which would not appeal to someone whose stereotype of a British horror picture might be The Omen (1976).
Its potential audience were, one would imagine, the broadminded individuals that had flocked to see both The Sorcerers and Peter Watkins’ Privilige (1968) – or for that matter the aforementioned Performance (yes, it may seem farfetched, but there was a time when people did queue in their droves to see Brit horror, sci-fi and arthouse flicks), which makes its chance of finding a potential audience on DVD in today’s climate of Avid Merrions and Jamie Theakstons almost impossible. Where the horror stems from, apart from one’s revulsion (did I hear ‘fascination’ at the back?) at the incestuous gropings of Julian (Martin Potter) towards his ‘identical’ – well, same hair colour anyway – sister Jacki (Judy Geeson), is the idea that we the viewer – rather like any one in the film other than Geeson, Potter and their positively Satanic-looking teddy bear Agamemnon – are interlopers, unwelcome guests in a strange world we have no place in with rules we cannot understand.
The world of ‘Swinging London’ parties, with their focus on drug culture, sexual ambivalence, flamboyant apparel and a mixture of foppish lunacy and studied intellect, is not one many of us – not even my own mother, who lived in Brixton and actually worked with both the Beatles and Judy Geeson, but still claims the decade “swung past her” – were privy to, and when we see these films now it tends to be in retrospect, without knowing what it was actually like to step into that world. Therefore, when we see within that world yet another – which even the supporting cast cannot be bade enter – then we find it a little unsettling, and that more than anything qualifies Gemini as a genuine horror movie.
As the song that plays over the opening credits as the wide-eyed twins enter London via the Great West Road hints, outsiders are not welcome. Of course, the film also deals ultimately with that other staple of the genre – psychosis (which the typically obvious American release title Twinsanity makes no attempt to handle subtly). Jacki and Julian, or ‘Jube’ as she calls him, are quite clearly, if not insane, then highly unbalanced from the start. One gets the feeling that like many cosseted middle-class youngsters of the time (their rent is paid by their ‘absent’ father, another telling point) their emotional growth didn’t advance with their intellectual one, and their inability to function without each other – or more worryingly Jube’s inability to function without Jacki, who is the older by some two hours – is a symptom of this retardation. It’s easy to assume that like the characters in Cool It Carol! (1970), or Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (1967) – which Geeson had also appeared in – they might have kept more of a grip had they not been unleashed as innocents in the big smoke, but several hints, not least of all their identical posing in mirrors and reliance on ‘Fotheringay’ (the butler, not the Sandy Denny song) in-jokes, yet another attempt at cutting the outside off by couching everything in a secret lexicon – seem to suggest they have been beyond both repair and reproach since childhood. Their behaviour is so disconcerting, without ever actually intending to be, that it even tries the patience of their ‘benefactor’ Clive Landseer (Alexis Kanner) – and he’s a pretty worrying individual himself.
Clive, one of the most unpleasant characters ever dreamed up in horror history (and I’ve seen Giallo a Venezia (1979)) is sleaze personified. A white-clad, sockless, sideburned ponce with the most annoying half-American, half-English accent ever heard, Clive is asking for a doughboy round the mooey from the moment he sets foot on screen, but manages to avoid getting one via a combination of derring-do and manipulation. That is, until he meets his nemesis, bookie Rod (Mike Pratt in a wonderful pre-Randall moustache) who has been searching for him since quite early on in the proceedings, and who duly deals out the beating the whole audience has been waiting to see administered – also much to the pleasure of his semi-girlfriend, landed gentry slummer Denise (Marion Diamond, icily attractive and surely a contender for the ‘what is she doing now’ file), who, it should be noted, is the only vaguely normal person in the entire social circle.
One can honestly say that Clive’s utterances (“he disapproves of mey!”, “I ain’t got no car, they done reeeposessed it”, and “there’s two kindsa people in this world, baby, the marks and the operators”) are among the most irritating ever to issue forth from the mouth of a Brit horror character (up there with the “I’ll go and get her some brandy” man from Repulsion (1965)), and his death – OK, I gave it away, but you’re not likely to see this film at any time in the next few years, so why worry – is one of the most welcome (not to mention savagely gory for 1969, when it was lensed) in the genre. Furthermore, it’s a tribute and a testament to the acting ability of Kanner (still unappreciated some six years after his passing- and when is someone going to bring out Kings And Desperate Men on DVD?) that one hates his character so much, as a lesser actor might not have let go of his own endearing attributes so easily.
Overall, the acting is of a high standard. Redgrave, Jones, Pratt, Terry Scully and the ever-reliable Peter Jeffrey (one of the UK’s great ‘policular’ faces, alongside Gary Whelan, Jim Carter and David Lodge) are in their element, firing suitably savage dialogue back and forth with aplomb. As for the leads, Geeson, fresh from her first genre appearance in Jim O’Connolly’s Berserk! (1968), and a memorable role in the aforementioned Mulberry Bush, is well up to the challenge, carrying convincingly the idea of one torn between various stools – girlhood and womanhood, responsibility and frivolity, attraction and revulsion (both toward Clive) sanity and dementia (particularly in later scenes when suffering, post-death of Clive, from amnesia, nausea and hallucinations of huge piles of glowering Agamemnons) and her ambivalence regarding her brother’s incestuous advances.
Potter, who had recently come into the limelight in the similarly decadent Satyricon (1968) was never quite better than here, his sometimes melodramatic style being perfectly suited to this kind of role, and conveying perfectly the lexicon of the shuddering, obsessive sociopath and psychopath; particularly towards the final reel, where, by this time cold, dirty and in the grip of severe delusions, he makes statements like “he tried to say there were three of us, didn’t he Jacki?” and “that’s what people will get if they try to come between us, we can kill them, can’t we!!” which lean towards the last-ditch rationalisations of the unhinged. His blonde androgyny is typical of the period – cf Hywel Bennett, Shane Briant, Karl Lanchbury, Paul Nicholas – but takes on genuine Bowiesque proportions in one scene where Clive introduces him to ‘Audrey’ and ‘Myra’, who, as Stephen Fry’s Melchett might have described it, are girls with a great deal more spunk than most you’ll find and he catches sight of himself in the bedroom mirror to behold his terrible fate. He actually bears an even closer resemblance to 70s cult gay rock icon Jobriath, who by turn was quite obviously the real blueprint (rather than the comparatively masculine Bowie) for Jonathan Rhys-Meyers’ character Brian Slade in the misunderstood glam biopic Velvet Goldmine (1997) – a film which bears several similarities in its subject matter to Gemini, not least of all its depiction of hitherto ‘straight’ people thrown into a ‘gay’ underworld. Is Rhys-Meyers the new Martin Potter? Maybe, in which case he should be snipping girls’ clothes off with scissors and crushing their heads between oak doors by next year (an in-joke for Norman Warren fans, there).
And, indeed, like its 90s non-horror counterpart, part of the strength of Gemini lies in its soundtrack. For once, the standard Hammond ‘n’ guitar twang of most Brit horror club scenes of the period has actually been jettisoned in favour of proper songs, mainly by freakbeat combo The Peddlers – with the exception of Goodbye Gemini itself, a beautiful, Joni Mitchell-style ballad perfectly evocative of the scenes it accompanies, as a barefoot Geeson trudges the streets of London in varying stages of disarray, stopping only briefly to buy a sweater from Hilda Barry, later to play Anthony Sharp’s invalid mum in Pete Walker’s 1975 classic House of Mortal Sin (warning!! serious anorak zone encountered!!). In addition to this there is some beautiful Bacharach style trumpet-led loungecore, which is particularly effective in the closing scene, which must be discussed. Scary it may not be – this is not ‘that’ type of horror film – but upsetting and disturbing in the extreme it certainly is, bringing yet another parallel with its immediate successors – What Became of Jack and Jill (1971), Endless Night (1971) and Straight on Till Morning (1972), the latter of which shares the crown with Gemini for summing up this particular subgenre, and for the feeling of sickly, kitchen sink bleakness they both evoke, although the later film more so. I myself cannot bring myself to watch it without a slight feeling of unease, and I’ve seen it twelve times now.
If I have one major criticism of Gibson’s direction (despite his enthusiasm for the subject, which he would later put to use in Dracula AD 1972, and which shows incredible flair for one so inexperienced) it’s that once the murder has taken place and the ‘horror’ we crave as genre fans has reared (or, in Wyngardian speech, ‘leered’) its ugly head, the tension inherent in the dialogue that had festered over the previous forty minutes seems to slacken, and the pace seems to if not slow, then meander, particularly round the scenes set in Redgrave’s Battersea flat. Also, that taken from a distance, the events of the film (which unfold over less than a week) would not be, realistically, harrowing enough to drive one to the consequences shown in the final denouement. But then again, I’m not a psychopath, so I can’t say (mwohahahaha). But I wouldn’t let a minor few quibbles like that, put you off the experience of watching one of the most unusual, rewarding and hauntingly memorable films to have emerged from Britain’s urban horror boom of its classic 65-75 period. See it if you can. One day they may have the sense to release it and let people discover its charm- if not, there’s always SAW 250… Woes betide us.
This review is dedicated to Alexis Kanner.