Fleet Street at Sunset
Looking from Fleet Street towards St Paul’s Cathedral at sunset, June 2015
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…
Just off of Fleet Street,tucked between Chancery Lane and St Dunstan in the West church runs a little alley named ‘Clifford’s Inn Passage’.
Now overlooked by streams of commuters this quiet thoroughfare once held a greater purpose in that it formed the main entrance to Clifford’s Inn of Chancery, one of several institutions which, until the 17th century, provided a centre for training barristers.
By the 19th century the lane leading to this forgotten relic had morphed into a dark and claustrophobic little haunt… exactly the sort of place where a Londoner, having made merry in the surrounding multitude of taverns and gin palaces, would drunkenly stagger for a pee.
Back then of course London’s sanitary arrangements were grim to say the least and folk relieved themselves wherever they could– especially in the city’s labyrinth of alleyways which provided some discretion.
More often than not though the walls forming such passageways were private property, the owners of which did not take too kindly to having their cherished brickwork eroded by copious flows of steaming urine.
One way to overcome this problem was to bolt a deflector shield to the wall; an angled length of metal which would guide pollutions into the gutter rather than the grouting.
During the Victorian era such shields were a common sight across London but, as public lavatories were built and sanitation in general improved, they began to disappear.
The sturdy urine deflectors on Clifford’s Inn Passage are the best remaining example of these early sanitary attempts… just make sure you don’t mistake them for a bench!