Announcement

Collapse
No announcement yet.

The Ice House (1978) (not the mini serial by Minette Walters)

Collapse
X
 
  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • The Ice House (1978) (not the mini serial by Minette Walters)

    Did anyone watch The Ice House https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0216824/reference on TV over Christmas? If so, do you think the dialogue and acting was supposed to be as stilted and wooden as it turned out to be? Everyone sounded as if they were on stage and had to deliver their lines loudly enough to be heard at the back of the theatre, and slowly and clearly enough to be intelligible to someone of low intelligence whose native language wasn't English? I see from the comments on IMDB that it was universally slated by viewers and reviewers alike. It came over like a very badly-written Tales of the Unexpected episode. I stuck it out for 15 minutes which seemed like 15 hours and then skipped to the final seconds to confirm that what I had guessed within the first minute or so was actually the case.

  • #2
    The Ice House is indeed much-hated but in my opinion it is a neglected masterpiece. For what it's worth here's a review I wrote for a book called Creeping Flesh Volume 1.

    This is certainly the most enigmatic of the Christmas Ghost Stories and it has been dismissed by some viewers as pretentious; but repeated viewings reveal it to be perhaps the richest and most rewarding of the whole series. Written by John Bowen, it bears little relation to the Jamesian archetype, but its milieu of middle-class characters caught up in inexplicable events and its elegant, subtly menacing dialogue is strongly reminiscent of the work of Robert Aickman (particularly his stories "The Hospice" and "Into the Wood"). Aickman actually preferred to label his tales as "strange stories" rather than "ghost stories". This is a much more accurate term for his hauntingly ambiguous and insidiously disturbing work which, like THE ICE HOUSE, resists easy supernatural or psychological intepretation.
    The protagonist of THE ICE HOUSE, Paul, is staying at a health farm run by Clovis and his sister Jessica. We soon learn that the local villagers avoid the place and that the other residents are all solitary types, mostly old or middle-aged. "Those who do come tend to stay." says Clovis. Paul himself has recently separated from his wife. There are no families or children in the place, and the only young person, apart from Clovis and Jessica, is a masseur called Bob. During massage Paul notices Bob's cold hands - "A touch of the cools" as Bob calls it. The next time he gives Paul a massage his hands are even colder, and he suddenly begs Paul to help him escape from the place. Before he can explain further Clovis appears and takes over the massage session. That night Paul is disturbed by tapping noises on his window and a faint distant scream. The next day Clovis tells Paul that Bob has left. Clovis and Jessica show Paul a vine with two large flowers on it, one white and one red. Their scent is "overpowering" and they are described as "brother and sister". They are clearly linked to Clovis and Jessica in some way because the former dresses predominantly in white and the latter in red.(Later we see the pair sharing an incestuous kiss beneath the vine.) They show Paul the ice house which they claim is still used to store ice in case there is a power cut. One night, a hole shaped like one of the flowers appears in Paul's bedroom window. Paul becomes more nervous about the whole place and goes out one night to investigate the ice house. Lighting a letter from his wife for illumination (symbolically burning his links with his old family life) he sees rows of upright blocks of ice. Bob is frozen in one of them. In a state of shock, Paul tells Clovis that he wants to leave. Paul agrees to stay until morning and a second flower-shaped hole appears in his window. Clovis and Jessica convince him that he imagined the incident, and another visit to the ice house shows no upright blocks and no Bob. Paul agrees to stay but he finds that he is feeling increasingly cold, even in the sauna. He begs for help from Jessica who seems to sense that Paul is now ready for his final "treatment". She tells him, "My brother and I do not approve of death you see. 'Dust to dust, ashes to ashes' is what is said but that is not true. Flesh does not return to dust or ashes; it putrefies. It returns to maggots, to stench and to slime. We do not find that at all pleasing. Therefore we will not tolerate it." Clovis says "Ice preserves." Paul falls into a trance and they lead him to the ice house where Bob waits impassively by the door. Paul enters...
    So what has happened to Paul? The health farm attracts people of a particular type, people who are tired of life, and the place seems to offer them a strange sort of immortality. They are intoxicated by the perfume of the vine (perhaps the holes in Paul's window are to allow the scent into his room) and suffer sudden chills until they somehow enter a zombie-like existence. They are preserved by the ice in some way, neither dead nor alive but immune to bodily decay and presumably also confined to the house and its grounds, trapped in an eternity of croquet games and afternoon tea. The presence of the other blocks of ice that Paul sees suggests that the guests re-freeze themselves periodically. On one occasion after Paul hears the door of the ice house closing he finds an old woman (credited as "diamond lady") sitting impassively in the garden apparently in a trance. Presumably she needs a little time to "thaw out" because within minutes she walks past him with a polite greeting.
    A scene on the croquet lawn encapsulates the major theme of the play. When Clovis declines to knock Paul's ball off the lawn when he has the chance Paul expresses surprise that the game is played in so gentle a manner. Clovis asks "You find it lacks edge?" and Paul replies "No indeed. Surprisingly pleasant." Within seconds he shudders with an attack of "the cools". Paul seeks to avoid conflict, risk, commitment, vitality. The health farm is a zone where he can enter his desired state of somnambulant stasis.
    THE ICE HOUSE is the only one of the series not to be directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark (around this time he filmed another M. R. James adaptation, CASTING THE RUNES for Yorkshire Television which was shown on 24/4/79) but Derek Lister does a superb job in his stead. The restrained music, sensitivity to natural sound, extensive use of natural locations, the deliberate pace and careful avoidance of lurid shock tactics and special effects - all these combine to evoke a mood of strangeness and unease. Also, the visual design expresses the themes of the story. The decor of the health farm is predominantly white. There are even two white peacocks in the garden. This not only echoes the white clothing of the man in charge (Clovis) but also points up the siblings' obsessive revulsion of bodily decay. Of course it also represents the whiteness of ice itself. The mysterious, whimpering "diamond lady" is always seen wearing a white dress and diamonds (colloquially "ice").
    But who are Clovis and Jessica, and where do they come from? This is not clear at all but, because they are symbolically echoed in the film by the flowers on the vine, perhaps their comments about the plant may shed light on their own nature. The plant was brought to England from abroad and Paul is surprised by how hardy it is. His request for a cutting is firmly refused, which suggests that damage to the plant might also damage Clovis and Jessica.The vine is not self-pollinating and it "does not die." The flowers are brother and sister and do not bear fruit. Clovis says "They persist until they are replaced." This suggests that Clovis and Jessica cannot reproduce themselves (though they seem to be lovers). It's tempting to speculate that the two of them actually grew from the plant (like the pod-people in INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS) and that they will eventually be replaced by fresh blooms. All this is fairly tenuous speculation but there is no denying that Clovis and Jessica are not normal human beings. Their unctuous politeness and excessively crisp diction are distinctly sinister, and perhaps they are best viewed as metaphors for middle-class ennui. They represent the world of genteel English good taste taken to an extreme, a fossilised state where emotions are suppressed beneath a veneer of etiquette and routine, where life (as Paul implies at one point) is something to be "got through" rather than lived, and where the inevitable horrors of death are swept under the carpet. All health farms are devoted to the battle against death but this one seems to be against any kind of meaningful life as well.
    If THE ICE HOUSE contains a message, perhaps it is that we must engage wholeheartedly and realistically with life and its risks. Failure to do so means that we are never really alive at all...

    Comment


    • #3
      Yes I get the impression that The Ice House is a "marmite programme" - you either love it or hate it. I thought it was spectacularly badly written and acted, and a waste of 35 minutes. The premise of the story, that the brother and sister (if that is even what they are) are freezing all their residents in the ice house to preserve them, is a good one, but the way it is executed in the film is amateurishly written and acted, like a very bad school play: it is laughable and ridiculous rather than being scary. But you obviously can see the Emperor's New Clothes and I can't ;-)

      Comment


      • Robin Davies
        Robin Davies
        Junior Member
        Robin Davies commented
        Editing a comment
        You're perfectly entitled to hate it, but I object to that odious phrase "the Emperor's New Clothes". Different people have different tastes and just because you can't see any quality in it, doesn't mean it isn't there. John Bowen is a highly respected writer.

      • tv horror
        tv horror
        Senior Member
        tv horror commented
        Editing a comment
        That's the sign of a good reviewer that he's able to be objective.

    • #4
      Originally posted by Robin Davies View Post
      The Ice House is indeed much-hated but in my opinion it is a neglected masterpiece. For what it's worth here's a review I wrote for a book called Creeping Flesh Volume 1.

      This is certainly the most enigmatic of the Christmas Ghost Stories and it has been dismissed by some viewers as pretentious; but repeated viewings reveal it to be perhaps the richest and most rewarding of the whole series. Written by John Bowen, it bears little relation to the Jamesian archetype, but its milieu of middle-class characters caught up in inexplicable events and its elegant, subtly menacing dialogue is strongly reminiscent of the work of Robert Aickman (particularly his stories "The Hospice" and "Into the Wood"). Aickman actually preferred to label his tales as "strange stories" rather than "ghost stories". This is a much more accurate term for his hauntingly ambiguous and insidiously disturbing work which, like THE ICE HOUSE, resists easy supernatural or psychological intepretation.
      The protagonist of THE ICE HOUSE, Paul, is staying at a health farm run by Clovis and his sister Jessica. We soon learn that the local villagers avoid the place and that the other residents are all solitary types, mostly old or middle-aged. "Those who do come tend to stay." says Clovis. Paul himself has recently separated from his wife. There are no families or children in the place, and the only young person, apart from Clovis and Jessica, is a masseur called Bob. During massage Paul notices Bob's cold hands - "A touch of the cools" as Bob calls it. The next time he gives Paul a massage his hands are even colder, and he suddenly begs Paul to help him escape from the place. Before he can explain further Clovis appears and takes over the massage session. That night Paul is disturbed by tapping noises on his window and a faint distant scream. The next day Clovis tells Paul that Bob has left. Clovis and Jessica show Paul a vine with two large flowers on it, one white and one red. Their scent is "overpowering" and they are described as "brother and sister". They are clearly linked to Clovis and Jessica in some way because the former dresses predominantly in white and the latter in red.(Later we see the pair sharing an incestuous kiss beneath the vine.) They show Paul the ice house which they claim is still used to store ice in case there is a power cut. One night, a hole shaped like one of the flowers appears in Paul's bedroom window. Paul becomes more nervous about the whole place and goes out one night to investigate the ice house. Lighting a letter from his wife for illumination (symbolically burning his links with his old family life) he sees rows of upright blocks of ice. Bob is frozen in one of them. In a state of shock, Paul tells Clovis that he wants to leave. Paul agrees to stay until morning and a second flower-shaped hole appears in his window. Clovis and Jessica convince him that he imagined the incident, and another visit to the ice house shows no upright blocks and no Bob. Paul agrees to stay but he finds that he is feeling increasingly cold, even in the sauna. He begs for help from Jessica who seems to sense that Paul is now ready for his final "treatment". She tells him, "My brother and I do not approve of death you see. 'Dust to dust, ashes to ashes' is what is said but that is not true. Flesh does not return to dust or ashes; it putrefies. It returns to maggots, to stench and to slime. We do not find that at all pleasing. Therefore we will not tolerate it." Clovis says "Ice preserves." Paul falls into a trance and they lead him to the ice house where Bob waits impassively by the door. Paul enters...
      So what has happened to Paul? The health farm attracts people of a particular type, people who are tired of life, and the place seems to offer them a strange sort of immortality. They are intoxicated by the perfume of the vine (perhaps the holes in Paul's window are to allow the scent into his room) and suffer sudden chills until they somehow enter a zombie-like existence. They are preserved by the ice in some way, neither dead nor alive but immune to bodily decay and presumably also confined to the house and its grounds, trapped in an eternity of croquet games and afternoon tea. The presence of the other blocks of ice that Paul sees suggests that the guests re-freeze themselves periodically. On one occasion after Paul hears the door of the ice house closing he finds an old woman (credited as "diamond lady") sitting impassively in the garden apparently in a trance. Presumably she needs a little time to "thaw out" because within minutes she walks past him with a polite greeting.
      A scene on the croquet lawn encapsulates the major theme of the play. When Clovis declines to knock Paul's ball off the lawn when he has the chance Paul expresses surprise that the game is played in so gentle a manner. Clovis asks "You find it lacks edge?" and Paul replies "No indeed. Surprisingly pleasant." Within seconds he shudders with an attack of "the cools". Paul seeks to avoid conflict, risk, commitment, vitality. The health farm is a zone where he can enter his desired state of somnambulant stasis.
      THE ICE HOUSE is the only one of the series not to be directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark (around this time he filmed another M. R. James adaptation, CASTING THE RUNES for Yorkshire Television which was shown on 24/4/79) but Derek Lister does a superb job in his stead. The restrained music, sensitivity to natural sound, extensive use of natural locations, the deliberate pace and careful avoidance of lurid shock tactics and special effects - all these combine to evoke a mood of strangeness and unease. Also, the visual design expresses the themes of the story. The decor of the health farm is predominantly white. There are even two white peacocks in the garden. This not only echoes the white clothing of the man in charge (Clovis) but also points up the siblings' obsessive revulsion of bodily decay. Of course it also represents the whiteness of ice itself. The mysterious, whimpering "diamond lady" is always seen wearing a white dress and diamonds (colloquially "ice").
      But who are Clovis and Jessica, and where do they come from? This is not clear at all but, because they are symbolically echoed in the film by the flowers on the vine, perhaps their comments about the plant may shed light on their own nature. The plant was brought to England from abroad and Paul is surprised by how hardy it is. His request for a cutting is firmly refused, which suggests that damage to the plant might also damage Clovis and Jessica.The vine is not self-pollinating and it "does not die." The flowers are brother and sister and do not bear fruit. Clovis says "They persist until they are replaced." This suggests that Clovis and Jessica cannot reproduce themselves (though they seem to be lovers). It's tempting to speculate that the two of them actually grew from the plant (like the pod-people in INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS) and that they will eventually be replaced by fresh blooms. All this is fairly tenuous speculation but there is no denying that Clovis and Jessica are not normal human beings. Their unctuous politeness and excessively crisp diction are distinctly sinister, and perhaps they are best viewed as metaphors for middle-class ennui. They represent the world of genteel English good taste taken to an extreme, a fossilised state where emotions are suppressed beneath a veneer of etiquette and routine, where life (as Paul implies at one point) is something to be "got through" rather than lived, and where the inevitable horrors of death are swept under the carpet. All health farms are devoted to the battle against death but this one seems to be against any kind of meaningful life as well.
      If THE ICE HOUSE contains a message, perhaps it is that we must engage wholeheartedly and realistically with life and its risks. Failure to do so means that we are never really alive at all...
      First of all I really enjoyed your writing in the Creeping Flesh book Robin and found it very informative. As for The Ice House I agree about the strangeness however I can't for the life of me understand why they needed these people? Were the guests plant food and the hosts (good word for them) needed a certain ingredient like vampires need blood? I'm of the opinion that John Stride already acted like a zombie before anything happened to him, he lacked warmth (pun). By the way has John Bowen ever commented on the episode?

      Comment


      • #5
        Originally posted by tv horror View Post
        First of all I really enjoyed your writing in the Creeping Flesh book Robin and found it very informative.
        Thanks!
        As for The Ice House I agree about the strangeness however I can't for the life of me understand why they needed these people? Were the guests plant food and the hosts (good word for them) needed a certain ingredient like vampires need blood?
        Dunno! My guess is that Clovis and Jessica represent middle-class complacency and the avoidance of any risky vitality or physical horror (like the horror of ageing) so perhaps they think they are doing their guests a favour by turning them into frozen zombies.
        I saw another review which suggested a more political angle to this film (mentioning the significance of the ice house protecting the running of the health spa against industrial action) but I'm afraid I can't find it at the moment. Here are two other reviews which I quite liked:
        https://hauntological1.rssing.com/ch...article60.html
        https://www.horrifiedmagazine.co.uk/...the-ice-house/
        I'm of the opinion that John Stride already acted like a zombie before anything happened to him, he lacked warmth (pun).
        I don't see any "bad acting" in the film. It seems to me that Geoffrey Burridge and Elizabeth Romilly play Clovis and Jessica in a deliberately mannered way. This emphasises their strangeness and the creeping sense of unease which runs through the whole film. Paul and Bob also speak in a rather mannered way but to a lesser extent, suggesting that they have been only partially infected by the atmosphere of the place.
        By the way has John Bowen ever commented on the episode?
        I don't think so. Maybe I should have written to him, at the risk of finding none of my theories matched his intentions! Still, sometimes personal interpretation is the most satisfying. And the mystery more enduring than the explanation.

        Comment


        • tv horror
          tv horror
          Senior Member
          tv horror commented
          Editing a comment
          Thank you Robin, however it was the presence of John Stride only that I found lacking any warmth. The part needed a more out going character that the gradual change was more noticeable.

      • #6
        Originally posted by Robin Davies View Post
        I don't see any "bad acting" in the film. It seems to me that Geoffrey Burridge and Elizabeth Romilly play Clovis and Jessica in a deliberately mannered way. This emphasises their strangeness and the creeping sense of unease which runs through the whole film. Paul and Bob also speak in a rather mannered way but to a lesser extent, suggesting that they have been only partially infected by the atmosphere of the place.
        Having watched it again, I can't decide whether it was bad acting/writing, or whether they were supposed to be that way for the reasons you say. I'd say that no director would allow such mannered performances unless the script demanded it, so it probably is intended - but it's very weird and not really my cup of tea. If I'd been Paul I'd have run a mile when it all started to kick off - but then maybe my "creepy" sensors are more fine-tuned than his - and maybe I wouldn't have been able to get away even if I'd wanted to.

        I'm surprised that Elizabeth Romilly didn't do more acting - IMDB says she was only active from 1973 to 1981.

        Good that the play has made us think...

        Comment


        • #7
          I recall it being a big disappointment. 'Stigma' had been a bit ho hum the previous year with the modern setting and a victim who did nothing to deserve her gruesome fate, but 'The Ice House' was just too vague and unclear.

          Comment


          • #8
            Originally posted by martinu View Post
            If I'd been Paul I'd have run a mile when it all started to kick off - but then maybe my "creepy" sensors are more fine-tuned than his - and maybe I wouldn't have been able to get away even if I'd wanted to.
            I don't think Paul really wants to leave. He has burned the letter from his wife, thinks life is just something to be "got through" and is please to avoid even a competitive game of croquet. He is, in a way, already dead. That's the horror of the piece. It's not a conventional ghost story or morality tale.

            Comment


            • #9
              Originally posted by Robin Davies View Post
              I don't think Paul really wants to leave. He has burned the letter from his wife, thinks life is just something to be "got through" and is please to avoid even a competitive game of croquet. He is, in a way, already dead. That's the horror of the piece. It's not a conventional ghost story or morality tale.
              If he was so hopeless why did he want to live? He was even suggesting investing in a cottage or Farm, Why? I agree he was depressed about his marriage I believe that he just using the Spa as a get away to clear his mind.
              tv horror
              Senior Member
              Last edited by tv horror; 16 January 2022, 02:56 PM.

              Comment


              • Robin Davies
                Robin Davies
                Junior Member
                Robin Davies commented
                Editing a comment
                I think you're looking at it too literally. As the stylised approach suggests, it's not a realistic drama. Paul symbolises a certain attitude of middle-class ennui which Clovis and Jessica identify and then push to a grim supernatural conclusion, perhaps with the help of the "overpowering" scent of the plant.

            • #10
              I can't agree totally with you Robin, however I do remember watching it on it's first transmission back in the day and was not impressed even then. I expected so much more from the episode and the night scenes gave me hope that there would be a more horrific ending which never came. I'm afraid that it left me cold as in ice. I have to add that any tv horror/ ghost programme is a plus in my eyes even bad or good.

              Comment

              Working...
              X