Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Pete Walker

Although he has been retired from film-making since the mid-1980s, Pete Walker made a rare live appearance in a Q&A at the British Film Institute in 2009 (see video of the Q&A below). Best known for his ‘terror’ films written with David McGillivray (House of Whipcord, 1974, Frightmare, 1974, House of Mortal Sin, 1976), Walker loved to cause controversy by taking pot shots at the pillars of the British establishment such as the church, the penal system and the family. His films came out at a time when Britain was going through something of a sexual revolution thanks to the social reforms of the 1960s Wilson government, which saw a relaxation of laws on abortion, homosexuality and divorce. The inevitable moral backlash that followed this in the mid-1970s, led by people like Lord Longford and Mary Whitehouse, threatened a return to Victorian values and it was this that Walker and McGillivray kicked against in their wickedly enjoyable films.

Despite the cultural importance of Walker's films, which is only now becoming fully recognised thanks to Walker scholars such as Prof. Steve Chibnall, Walker is modest about his own achievements.  “The films were never as good as I wanted them to be," he says, "not enough money or time”. He was, however, a director of considerable skill. House of Mortal Sin, in particular, shows a mastery of the camera few ‘exploitation’ directors achieve in their careers.

Walker started making ‘terror’ pictures in the early 1970s after several years making soft-core sex films. Although profitable, he found the soft porn film rather boring because “the sex stopped the plot”. A gifted raconteur with a background as a stand up comic in the final days of music hall, Walker wrote the scenarios for many of his films. In his collaborations with McGillivray, Walker decided the storyline and McGillivray scripted the scenes. An admirer of Hitchcock, Walker always included a set piece murder in his films and his best work showcases his skills in creating suspense sequences, such as the first murder in The Comeback (1980).  

When the British film industry all but collapsed in the 1980s, Pete Walker quit film-making to go into property development, buying and refurbishing cinemas. It was the biggest loss to the British horror film since the death of Michael Reeves.


Wes M said...

Wonderful stuff Jon, I'd never go pass a Pete Walker film, even his minor stuff is interesting. It irritates me when reviewers lazily write off Walker as a schlockmeister, when like you say, there's a lot of subversive swipes at the Establishment in his films. I think Frightmare is a masterpiece - Shelia Keith is so sinister in that film (and House of Whipcord). The last Pete Walker I saw was Man of Violence, which the BFI very generously issued on Blu-Ray (complete with an earlier Walker - The Big Swiitch). Good film, not quite up there with Performance but an enjoyable film nonetheless. Luan Peters is so damn cute, playing what my Dad would call, "the dolly bird"...

Jon T said...

Cheers, Wes. I haven't seen those early films, must have a look. My favourite Walker is House of Mortal Sin, I love the dark anti-clerical satire - worthy of Bunuel,