Warning, this post contains clips which some readers may find disturbing.
Over the years there have been many eerie, unsettling and downright scary film and television sequences shot in London. Here is a small selection- complete with clips- to get you in the mood for Halloween…
Nineteen Eighty-Four (1954)
Television was still in its infancy when this adaptation of George Orwell’s totalitarian novel was shown. Staring Peter Cushing, the play was acted and broadcast live from BBC’s Alexandra Palace on the night of the 16th December 1954.
At the time, this adaptation was the most expensive television drama to date- and also the most controversial, with the film’s subversive and disturbing tone leading to questions being raised in the Houses of Parliament.
The following clip is taken from the film’s climax in which Winston Smith is hauled to the petrifying ‘Room 101’ and threatened with a ghastly form of rat torture. In real life Peter Cushing really did have a phobia of rodents which makes his turn all the more disturbing.
The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)
In The Day the Earth Caught Fire, nuclear bomb tests conducted by the USA and USSR have caused a catastrophic shift in the Earth’s orbit, pushing it on a deadly path towards the sun.
The story focuses on Peter Stenning, a journalist from the Daily Express who covers the crisis from his Fleet Street office. Although made in black and white, the final section of the film is tinted yellow to emulate Earth’s soaring temperatures. So intense is the heat that the Thames completely dries up.
As society collapses and the planet faces destruction, scientists detonate more nuclear bombs in Siberia in the desperate hope that the earth will be pushed back on course. In the final, eerie moments, the camera focuses on an almost deserted Fleet Street print room where two alternative headlines have been prepared: ‘World Saved’ and ‘World Doomed.’ The audience are left guessing as to which story goes to press…
Dr Who: The Invasion (1968)
Despite the obvious budget limitations, I’ve always found the Cybermen from the 1960s to be particularly chilling with their soulless eyes and uncanny electronic voices.
In this clip an army of Cybermen emerge from London’s sewers and begin their march on the capital, including an iconic shot of them stomping before St Paul’s Cathedral.
Death Line (1972)
Death Line (known as ‘Raw Meat’ in the USA) is a rather daft film in which a pack of cannibals lurk on the London Underground, snacking on hapless commuters. Much of it was filmed at the now disused Aldwych station (a site still popular with film and television crews today).
The original American trailer for the film can be viewed below.
The Omen (1976)
This modern classic about ‘Damien’- the young incarnation of the devil himself- was shot on location across London, including scenes at Lambeth, Hampstead Heath and Grosvenor Square.
In the film, Catholic priest, Father Brennan (played by Patrick Troughton) is aware of Damien’s true identity and attempts to warn Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) who is the US ambassador to Britain and Damien’s adoptive father. The shocking scene in which Father Brennan meets his grisly fate was filmed beside the Thames in Bishop’s Park, Fulham (look out for Putney Bridge which can be spotted in the background).
Later in the film, Damien deliberately knocks his mother, Katherine (Lee Remick) off of a balcony, landing her in hospital. Unfortunately Katherine is still not safe and ends up being hurled from a hospital window by Damien’s psychotic nanny and protector, Mrs Baylock (Billie Whitelaw). This scene was filmed at Northwick Park Hospital, Harrow (which also happens to be where I was born!)
The Omen’s final scene in which Damien gives the camera a sinister (and unscripted) smile was shot just outside the capital at Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey. For many years, Brookwood was linked to Waterloo station by a special funeral train (click here to learn more).
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Like The Omen, this cult favourite features many London locations.
After a vicious werewolf attack on the Yorkshire Dales which leaves his friend dead, American backpacker, David Kessler (played by David Naughton) ends up in a London hospital where he falls for nurse, Alex Price (Jenny Agutter). As David has nowhere to stay, Alex invites him to her flat at Redcliffe Square, Earls Court (sadly, I’m not quite sure how a nurse would be able to afford to live here nowadays).
It is here, as a full moon looms, that David succumbs to his werewolf bite…and transforms into a beast in a celebrated, but highly disturbing special effects sequence made long before the days of CGI. Shortly afterwards, we see David’s werewolf form commit its first attack on a young couple outside The Pryors, East Heath Road, Hampstead.
The werewolf then goes onto pursue a hapless late-night commuter at Tottenham Court Road tube station.
Finally, in the film’s famous climatic scene, the werewolf goes on a shocking, bloody rampage across Piccadilly Circus before meeting its fate at the hands of police marksmen on Clink Street, Southwark.
Please stay tuned for part two, coming soon…
I was recently driving along ‘Parkway’; a busy road lined with bars and restaurants which ploughs through trendy Camden.
Being a Monday afternoon, it wasn’t exactly the busiest part of the day for the area, and I wasn’t really expecting a job. If truth be told, I was in fact heading towards Camley Street, a small, Camden backwater which happens to be home to a popular cabbie’s café (where a cup of will set you back a mere 60p!)
However, whilst waiting at a set of traffic lights, a woman jogged towards me, arm held aloft.
“I need to get to Earl’s Court please.”
From Camden, that’s a very good journey indeed, and I was more than happy to forfeit my cuppa!
Only problem was, we were in the middle of Camden’s complex one-way system and, in order to head in the right direction, a bit of twisting and turning along a number of small side-streets was required. Whenever I have to do this (which, unsurprisingly in London, is quite often), I often quickly explain the reason to my passenger, for fear that it looks like I’m deliberately going around the block in order to nudge the meter up!
“No problem; you’re the boss! Do what you have to do.”
The passenger was most cheerful and clearly very friendly; an energetic woman colourfully dressed in a long, purple coat and red hat.
“Have you been shopping at the markets?” I asked, turning into yet another one-way street.
“Oh no, I wish! No, I’ve been working at rehearsals.”
“Oh… are you an actress?”
“No, nothing that glamorous I’m afraid! I’m a make-up artist; been working on a sitcom for the BBC.”
Now that I’m finally out of Camden’s labyrinth one-way network and heading through the quicker, tranquil roads of Regent’s Park, I ask the passenger where exactly in Earl’s Court she’s heading for.
“Redcliffe Square, please; I’m meeting a friend there.”
I’m interested to learn a little bit more about my passenger’s experience in make-up.
“You probably get asked this all the time,” I ask, “but what shows and films have you worked on?”
“Oh, quite a lot… I’ve been doing makeup professionally for over 25 years now. I suppose my favourite job I worked on was ‘Frankenstein’; the one directed in the 1990s by Kenneth Branagh.”
I’m quite familiar with that version, mainly because the creature cobbled together from various corpses is played by Robert De Niro; a popular actor amongst cabbies thanks to his role as ‘Travis Bickle’, the troubled loner in the classic 1976 movie, ‘Taxi Driver.’
It is perhaps the most clichéd question I could possibly ask on the subject, but I can’t help but inquire;
“What was De Niro like to work with?…”
“He’s very approachable… a polite man but, when working; whilst in character, he is deeply intense.
I worked on Saving Private Ryan too; that was an interesting job. Very upsetting though.
I did make-up on the opening scene… you know; where the soldiers storm the beach and get shot at and blasted from all sides.
It made you realise what those men went through. For that scene, they used a lot of amputees; guys with arms and legs missing. False limbs were made, and then blown off; graphic stuff. That wasn’t filmed in France though; they did it on a beach over in Ireland.”
“Do you get to travel much with your job then?” I ask.
“Quite a lot yes. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful; I know how lucky I am, but it can get pretty tiring sometimes; especially when you’re stuck in an open field for 12 hours in the freezing rain, it doesn’t feel that glamorous!
I did another film though with Kenneth Branagh; ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and that was wonderful… got to spend lots of time in the Mediterranean sunshine; a real treat!”
By now, we’ve hit the inevitable traffic. I apologise for the hitch, and start to wind through a number of twisting shortcuts.
“Oh, don’t worry about it” my passenger reassures me.
“I grew up in London; I know what the roads are like around here.
When I was younger, I used to drive around town all the time. It was so much easier back then; traffic didn’t seem quite as bad, you could park a lot easier. No cameras watching your every move- that’s the worst thing, isn’t it? You know the ‘Ritz’ Hotel; where they have that covered walkway outside?”
I do indeed know it. The passenger is referring to a fancy pedestrian walkway; a colonnade sheltered by a long, fancy roof. It runs along the front of the famous hotel; the windows and blue-coated doormen offering a tantalising glimpse into the luxury which lies within.
“Well, I was just a kid at the time; only about 19. I’d just passed my driving test, and I became the proud owner of an old Mini.
I went all around London in it and, early one Sunday morning, I drove through the Ritz’s walkway! Ha ha! It was like something out of the ‘Italian Job’! You’d never get away with that now would you; the CCTV would catch you out like a shot!”
The image which this conjures up in my mind makes me laugh so much that I nearly have to pull the taxi over! The make-up artist laughs too, amused at the impact her tale of juvenile anarchy has on me.
“I bet you’ll never be able to look at the Ritz in quite the same way again now, will you?!”
Usually, I’d take such a story with a pinch of salt, but the passenger is certainly eccentric enough to have committed such a reckless stunt!
As we drive on, I’m reminded of a film; revolutionary in its make-up and special effects which was filmed in the very square to which we are headed.
“Going back to movie make-up,” I say, “do you know the film, ‘An American Werewolf in London’?”
“Ohh, of course I do… it was the very first film I worked on!”
“You’re kidding? Did you know that they actually filmed that on Redcliffe Square?!”
“I do indeed… “
She pauses and looks out of the window briefly, clearly remembering, and then smiles to herself.
“Didn’t really think about it until you mentioned it, but I’m returning to where my career started aren’t I?”
To those unaware, ‘An American Werewolf in London’ is a film which has steadily gained the status of cult classic.
Released in 1981, the movie tells the story of two young, American friends; David and Jack who, as the story begins, are backpacking across the windswept, Yorkshire Moors.
Seeking a hot meal and a cup of tea, the pair come across a rather sinister pub called ‘The Slaughtered Lamb’.
(London has its very own ‘Slaughtered Lamb’ pub, named in homage to its famous movie namesake. It can be found on Great Sutton Street in Clerkenwell, and has a great music venue downstairs).
After being made to feel rather unsettled by the somewhat sinister, cagey locals, the two Americans leave the pub and resume their hike across the moors…
However, shortly after leaving the pub and as night sets in, the pair are attacked by a large and wild, vicious beast. Jack is killed instantly but David, who is severely injured, survives and slips into a coma.
When he awakes several weeks later, David finds himself lying in a London hospital bed.
The authorities tell him that he and Jack were ambushed by a crazed lunatic, but David knows better and insists that the attacker was a creature; a werewolf. Naturally, his bizarre recollections are brushed off as a symptom of the trauma through which he has been.
After being discharged from medical care, David is invited home by a young nurse; Alex Price (played by Jenny Agutter) who has rather fallen in love with the young American. Her flat is on Redcliffe Square, near Earls Court.
As he recuperates, David is haunted by gruesome nightmares and visions of his dead friend, Jack. Every time Jack appears- including a haunting in the Redcliffe Square apartment- he appears to be in an advanced state of decay. He warns David that, as he has been clawed by a werewolf, he is destined to become one himself.
Sure enough, on the full moon, and whilst Alex is on night-duty at the hospital, David undergoes a startling and painful transformation… Never before has Redcliffe Square witnessed something so terrifying!
Following the metamorphosis, David- in werewolf form- proceeds to go on a midnight rampage across London; feasting on a number of hapless victims.
In one of the film’s most famous scenes, the beast finds its way into Tottenham Court Road tube station and chases a late-night commuter along the eerily deserted walkways before cornering him on an escalator…
The following morning, David has returned to his human form. Despite waking up in the unusual location of London Zoo, he has no memory of his violent antics from the night before… and it takes a talkative London cabbie to make him realise what his nocturnal self has become!
(I must say, I wish I could drive from Earl’s Court to Trafalgar Square that quickly; it would do wonders for my blood pressure!)
After failing to get the police or authorities to take him seriously, David is forced to roam the streets of London and, as night falls, he finds himself in the ‘Eros Cinema’ on Piccadilly Circus.
(The Eros was a cinema which used to screen films of a more adult nature. Back in 1981, the area around Soho and Piccadilly Circus was notorious for its seediness and attractions of a more red-lit nature. The Eros closed in 1985, and has since been replaced by a far more clean-cut Gap clothing store).
Being a full moon, David once again warps into a werewolf. Bursting out of the grubby cinema, he proceeds to cause havoc in the West End, as the following clip demonstrates (Warning! Some if it’s a bit gory!)
For this amazing sequence, director John Landis was granted permission to completely close Piccadilly Circus off to the public for a night-time shoot.
All of the people you can see are actors, all of the vehicles carefully choreographed. The only other film to have been granted this amount of access to this famous London landmark was the more recent Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
When the American Werewolf in London scene was being prepared, the film crew had to do a sweep of the area, making sure all entrance points were closed, and no members of the public were around to stumble upon the carefully organised set.
There is a story (probably an urban legend, but fun all the same!) that an elderly homeless fellow, tucked away and fast asleep in an alleyway was missed by these roaming checks.
A few hours later, when he awoke, the filming was well underway; complete with crashing cars, screaming actors and a marauding, animatronic werewolf… needless to say, the elderly tramp received quite a shock!
* * *
“I was 16 years old when I got that job” continues the make-up artist. “Gosh, I was a precocious kid; a little snot really! I just went up to them and asked them to take me on. I practically insisted.
But you could do that in those days- it was certainly a lot easier to get into that business than it is today. Nowadays, you have to go through all sorts of hoop-jumping; lots of expensive courses and training.
On the American Werewolf set, I was just a tea girl; they had me running all over the place. I got to see things though; I picked up lots of knowledge on set.
I remember seeing one of the werewolf models; it was on a sort of see-saw contraption, and I got to move that up and down a bit.. quite primitive really, but then I still think models and puppets like that are miles better than the computer animation they use today, don’t you agree? You can’t beat having something solid in front of you; you know; something that actually exists. I learnt a lot on that job, and I’ll always be grateful to them.”
We finally arrive at Redcliffe Square and the friendly make-up artist bids me a cheerful farewell, leaving a generous tip in the process.
Putting the cab in gear, I drive off, turn the corner, and drive past the apartment where a team of talented make-up artists worked their magic all those years ago.