Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Barry McKenzie Holds His Own – review

Director: Bruce Beresford

First released: 1974

Contains spoilers

You know, perhaps it is me. However despite the Barry McKenzie character first being suggested to Barry Humphries by Peter Cook and despite the character first appearing in Private Eye Magazine, and despite the strong, positive reviews of this movie over at IMDb, I found myself less than impressed with this movie.

Despite Barry Crocker injecting the Barry character with a great deal of good natured sympathy, I found this a product of its time and, quite frankly, rather embarrassing and offensive now. That said, it is an equal opportunities offender – every nation and race portrayed in the film are shown in a stereotyped light. The French (or frogs as the film habitually names them, even calling the French airline frog-air) are seen as drunken letches, Australians are displayed as alcoholic, brash idiots, the English are shown are effete snobs and immigrants to the UK are shown as state spongers (you see, Mail readers, there is nothing new under the sun). The racial language would be unacceptable in a modern film. I do not subscribe to the idea that this is ironic and self-defacing in nature – indeed the film appears to celebrate its distasteful side.

Nevertheless, there is a vampire in this – so let’s get on with it…

Barry and his Aunty Edna (Barry Humphries) are en route to France. The plane lurches around as the drunken French pilot gets it on with a stewardess. A caption informs us this is ‘the first English language film with English subtitles’ – just in case you can’t understand Barry’s colloquialisms. Edna tries on a tiara and two Eastern block (vampire) agents mistake her for the Queen of England and assume that Barry is her bodyguard.

Edna kidnapped
This leads to a farce of them trying to kill Barry so that they might kidnap Edna – they fail in the first but eventually succeed in the second. Why do they want to kidnap Edna? Because their master – Erich Count von Plasma (Donald Pleasence; Dracula, Vampire in Venice and the Monster Club), who is the Minister for Transylvanian tourism – wants her brought to his castle to attract the tourist trade.

a not so Royal tour
It will be up to Barry, his twin brother the Reverend Kevin McKenzie (also Barry Crocker) and a group of ex-pat Aussies to rescue Edna – whose life expectancy is no longer than the time it takes for Plasma to realise the mistake he and his men have made. Now, despite Plasma suggesting otherwise, these really are vampires and thus we have some lore to look at.

Fosters Cross
Plasma claims an immunity from holy objects but he cannot stand against Kevin when he approaches him, bible in one hand and a cross made out of Fosters cans in the other. The power of God is enough to despatch the vampire. Plasma himself actually subscribes to communism and thus it is Kevin’s faith that finishes the vampire off.

staked by loaf
They can also be staked – although the only staking we see is from the sharpened end of a French loaf wielded by Colin the Frog (Dick Bentley). Sunlight does not appear to be an issue for these vampires. A bite can turn a person into a vampire.

blood on tap
We see blood drinking. Plasma’s waiter (John James) has a tap in his neck from which he gives Plasma an aperitif. A tap in the neck was nothing new – the year before it had been used to horror rather than comedy effect in Vault of Horror – though, to be fair, the self tapping aspect was a new idea. Plasma also has a blood cellar, rather than a wine cellar.

the Auto Vamp
The method of filling it involved a machine called the Auto-Vamp, which drains a victim dry whilst the Count does other things. There is a second Auto-Vamp into which the hunchback Dorothy (Robert Gillespie) places one of the Australian rescuers, causing it to blow up when it draws pure fosters from his veins. There is a female vampire, Clothilde (Nancy Blair), whom Plasma refers to as a slave.

As I say, this just didn’t do it for me. Perhaps I am doing the film a disservice… but I think not. 2 out of 10. The imdb page is here.


House of Karnstein said...

Thanks for the heads-up on this one, Taliesin. It was on my curious list after I had seen SFX magazine (the vampire special edition) which gave it <snickers)...3 stars. Your rating is much closer to what I'm thinking.. I'm not real crazy about my vamps being mixed-up with comedy, rarely does this combination ever work for me. However, there most definitely are some gems in this field such as FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS, FRIGHT NIGHT, DRACULA BLOWS HIS COOL,& THE SADIST WITH RED TEETH...just to name a few that come to mind. The THRILLING VAMPIRES OF VOGEL ain't half bad, either..


Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hey HofK.

Comedy is always difficult as it is incredibly subjective. However I would say this one falls closer to Vampira than anything else.

Christine said...

Sounds... mediocre. Speaking about vampire comedies, I liked Dracula dead and loving it, although I found more fun with dazzlingly coloured period/Gothic sets (which consciously looked like sets!) and matte paintings than the scummy idea that abusing mentally ill is fun. Concentration camps are not so much fun than they used to be... But as parody of Stoker´s story it has soft place in my heart.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I, for one, love Dead and Loving It - as a gentle satire of the Lugosi Dracula it can't be beaten

Marcwolf said...

I think it is a terrible mistake to take a movie and try and view it with the morals of today.. rather than accept that it was a movie of it's time.

This attitude is becoming all the more common when we try and wind back the moral clock and judge actions that were acceptable at a previous time and 'tut tut' in righteous indignation.

Why are we trying this constant shaming, trying to prove that we are nowadays whiter than snow, totally removed from the humor of our youth and teens. Condemning our forefathers for attitudes which were the norm back then.

We bandy around words like "Offended", "oppression", "Micro-Aggression" et al. Rather than accept that was the past and move on.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I think you're wrong. I'd someone wants to watch any film, fair enough, but I equally have the right to feel uncomfortable and not find it funny (if it's a comedy).