Thursday, 7 April 2016

Film Fun (or not?) Glamis on the Silver Screen

Truly great supernatural films are few and far between.  Good ones in recent years (and I'm not taking horror films here) might stretch to the likes of The Others and The Woman in Black.  The glory days of ghostly films, like the glory days of almost everything else, are long gone.  Why was the story of the hereditary Monster of Glamis, known by a few by guessed at by a fearful multitude, never commemorated in a movie?  It would have made a prime candidate for a company like Hammer Films in its heyday, which I would reckon to be the late 1950s or early 1960s.

   Well, the story did make it to film a decade earlier, sort of.  In 1953 The Maze was released in terrifying 3-D and the plot had a passing resemblance to the legend that there as a monstrous heir born into the Bowes-Lyon family who owned Glamis Castle.  Historical accuracy is not the strong point of even serious minded films, let along those churned out for the B Movie market in the decades after World War II.  No-one could expect integrity to be a central element in a plot taken from a mere legend.  Although the film was based on a book by a Swiss writer (Maurice Sandoz), its director, William Cameron Menzies (1896-1957), was Scottish-American and may have known about the haunting of Glamis Castle from his parents, who were from Perthshire, or his time studying at the University of Edinburgh.  His biggest hit was Invaders From Mars, released in the same year, but he was an accomplished technician, whose credentials included being a second unit director on Gone With The Wind.

    I must admit I have not had the pleasure of seeing the film, but I understand the plot goes something like this.  A Scotsman named Gerald MacTeam abruptly breaks off his engagement to the alluring Kitty and runs off to the castle of his uncle back in Scotland.  His fiancé and her mother track him down to the ancestral mansion, where they find him oddly aged.  The mystery revolves around a peculiar hedge maze in the grounds of the baronial mansion, a dead ringer for Glamis but renamed Craven Castle.  It transpires that the place is haunted by a fantastically frog-like mutant heir who has been the family secret for several hundred years.  Hammer Horror may have done a better job; we will never know now.

   The unbelievability does not end there.  The late 60s sci-fi series Lost in Space featured an episode named 'The Astral Traveler' [sic.].  Two of the space marooned crew, Will and wicked Dr Smith, were somehow transported by a vortex back to medieval earth, where they are chased by a Scottish swamp monster into a castle where they encounter a ghostly laird named Hamish.  All sort of adventurous stuff ensues, not very much related to the Glamis legendary source material.

Will Robinson and Hamish the ghost earnestly discussing Scottish folklore.

   Incredibly, that was not the end of the chain of film and TV feeding upon itself with ever diminishing results.  Go forward to the 1970s and you have Space 1999, one of my favourite TV shows as a child.  No monster here, in an episode called 'Journey to Where' but no fear, the complicated plot has no need of it, merely nicking the sci-fi traveller journey back to medieval Scotland plot element, sending certain characters to face peril at the hands of the McDonal d clan in the year 1339.

   That seems to be it for Glamis-style film and TV treats, unless anyone knows better.  And they accuse legends of feeding upon themselves and becoming ever more incredible!



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