❉ We go inside Talking Pictures TV’s The Cellar Club with its host, cult film icon Caroline Munro!
“The Cellar Club is films that you haven’t seen for years, and actors that you haven’t seen for years, and people sadly that aren’t around but that have left such a legacy on film. In the first lot we’ve got a lot about Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing and Vincent Price. All of whom I’ve had the honour of working with. So it’s wonderful. Viewers get the chats, they get the guests, and they also get the films so I think it is a winning formula!”
Talking Pictures TV’s new, exclusive series The Cellar Club with Caroline Munro premiers tonight (Friday 3 September) from 9pm. The Cellar Club is the channel’s new slot for lovers of horror and spine tingling film fun, kicking off with a Hammer Horror season. In this new series, Caroline introduces the films from her Cellar Club and gives her personal, insider perspective.
We Are Cult was fortunate enough to gain an audience with the cult film icon on the day her new series debuts, to chat with her about Talking Pictures TV, working for Hammer Studios, conventions, and some of her recent and upcoming projects!
Let’s start by talking about Talking Pictures TV.
The amazing Talking Pictures. I mean, I loved them before I got involved. I just thought it was so clever.
For anyone who’s got sort of fondness or nostalgia for classic cinema, Talking Pictures has been a beacon really, because it’s so hard to get to see a lot of these films and it’s nice to have generations of British film and TV all kind of under one roof, isn’t it?
I just think it’s wonderful. Sarah Cronin who started Talking Pictures TV, she’s an extraordinary woman, she’s got such an insight into cinema too, her knowledge is amazing, both her and her father – their knowledge, their history. So I’m really excited about this because it’s something very different. And I do believe there’s a lot of interest in Hammer and, and vintage – ‘vintage’ – cinema, because we get to share a lot of older films and do interviews and things and it goes back quite a long way really. But I’ve learned so much really listening and reading the scripts and things for it. So I feel very honoured to have been invited by Sarah to do this. So let’s hope it works. Hopefully a few people can watch it and, and you know, get the gist of it. I certainly loved doing it. She’s a clever, clever lady.
Can you tell us how you come to be involved? I mean, did you collaborate on creating the format? Or was it brought to you?
No, it’s totally Sarah – Sarah and her father. It’s a family affair. They approached me and then approached my agent, it just came to me. We talked and we met up. She’s a lovely woman, very creative and clever. And, as I say, such knowledge and history of cinema and film, and she’s been working in it for many, many years. So really, that’s how I was asked really, via Sarah, she’s seen some of my work. And we’ve met I think, at a couple of the shows, convention shows and so she knew my work. So we’ll see what happens.
How does it feel, is this the first kind of project you’d had during lockdown?
I mean, I’ve done quite a few zoomy things with America which was to do with Dr. Phibes and then I’ve got something with Bond coming up fairly soon. But no, this is the first kind of serious project. Oh, no, I forgot. I did Venna’s Planet a couple of months ago, that was fun. But this one, yes. This is kind of very much a labour of love for Sarah and I’m very honoured to be invited to be involved with it really. I’m excited to see what happens, to see what people think. I’m a bit nervous tonight, whether I watch it or not! It goes on from nine until goodness knows. We have a chat, you know, we introduce it and then we see the various films. And then we have guests in it. So it goes on till very late.
I think this is such a great format, because it reminds me of how, before all the satellite channels, BBC Two would do theme nights and midnight movies.
Yeah, really special. And people would stay up and get the popcorn and Coca Cola out, you know, or something stronger. ‘You know what, let’s watch all that’. So I really hope it works, I really do hope so. But I feel it’s got all the right ingredients for it to work. And with Sarah behind it, I have a feeling it will work. I am excited to be a part of it.
That’s terrific. I’d like to say, such a unique format these days, no one else is really doing it.
It’s a first, it really is a first. And because Talking Pictures has such a really good reputation. And they know their stuff, then I think people will definitely tune into it to watch it. You know, maybe not all the way up to 1am in the morning. But you never know!
And it’s almost a magazine format – people can dip in and out if they wanted to.
Exactly, yeah, can make a cup of tea in between and come back and it’ll still be going on. And it’s films that you haven’t seen for years, you know, going back and actors that you haven’t seen for years, and people sadly that aren’t around but that have left such a legacy on film. We’ve done two lots of filming so I think we’ve got 8 or 10 in the can so far. But in the first lot we’ve got a lot about Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing and Vincent Price. All of whom I got to work with, I’ve had the honour of working with them. So it’s wonderful. Viewers get the chats, they get the guests, and they also get the films so I think it is a winning formula.
The series is leading with a Hammer season, which will see ‘Captain Kronos’ from ’74 getting a screening.
Yes, yes, I had to introduce that – that was quite, quite bizarre. I haven’t seen that for a while. So that will be quite interesting. My daughters have never seen it. Whether they watch it, I don’t know.
Looking at the cast list for Kronos, it’s full of real top brass actors. I mean, you’ve got Shane Briant, who sadly passed away recently, John Cater, John Carson, Wanda Ventham, Ian Hendry.
I know, extraordinary, and lovely Horst Jansen, who played our Kronos, who was very dashing and wonderful in it. And of course, Brian Clemens, the writer/director, who did The Avengers, was stupendous.
As you’re been reflecting on these films you’re introducing, some of which you’ve appeared in, I would imagine it must evoke a lot of memories of camaraderie on set?
Incredible camaraderie, because I think James and Michael Carreras seem to get the format right insofar as they got the same crew, so the crew was so used to working together. It was like clockwork and the end result is on the screen. Different directors, but mostly the same crew working with total heart. So they all knew each other and they fit so comfortably in and then, and then the various actors. Some of the stalwart sort of character actors had done a few Hammer films. I did two, I was lucky enough to do two. But it just sort of worked like clockwork. Not big budgets, but filled with so much heart and love, love, love for the genre, but also love for the writing. And Brian was my director in ‘Kronos’. And I just think he was a wonderful director, lovely man. And it was shot in the countryside. A lot of the film location was very exciting, lovely countryside. And it was nice for ‘Kronos’ because I had one basic costume to wear ‘cause I was a gypsy. I used to go into the makeup room and they just used to ask me, they said, ‘Have you washed your hair?’ I said, ‘Nope, you told me not to wash it’. ‘Perfect. We’re just going to wrap a little bit of mud into it’. So I had very little to do. So it only took me about 10 minutes to get ready for the actual shoot. So that was great.
But also, it was working with these amazing people – working with Christopher (Lee) on AD 72 and that I’ll never forget that. That to me was totally a revelation, a turning point for my acting as he was so good. He was so good as Dracula and as a man but he it made it all so real really, seeing him in all his gear. And I loved it. I just, I love the whole experience of working on film, and then seeing the end result. You know, I love that – it’s a magical processes to me really.
Do you feel you were quite lucky that you had directors who would help guide your performance and the technical side of it?
Yeah, very, very much. I mean, insofar as you have to give guidance, but they also could let you be free if they felt it was right for the character, you know. Obviously you had your marks to hit and stuff and your dialogue and everything was in the scripts but you sort of had a free reign within that. So that was nice that you could experiment a bit with what you could bring to it and I liked that. I liked that.
So circling back to Kronos just for a second…
It’s a beautiful film.
Revisiting it, the ending is set up to leave the door open for sequels and spin-offs, which obviously never happened. It’s a road less travelled, isn’t it?
I think the door was very, very much open and still could be actually, but at the time, I don’t know why but it wasn’t. It wasn’t a normal Hammer film. Because firstly, we didn’t have Dracula, we had a another form of vampires – the Karnstein family. They aged rather than got bitten. So it was a whole different way.
It was a very esoteric film. And I think people didn’t like that it didn’t have so much sex or blood as the usual Hammer. But it was a different kind of Hammer film. I think it was ahead of its time actually. I always say this. I think it wasn’t particularly well regarded at the time because people didn’t perceive it the way that it was intended. Because it was a beautifully crafted film, you know, beautifully shot, very naturalistic; Brian shot naturalistic performances. I think people didn’t get the nuances. But I think now, it has such a reputation with being a beautifully-crafted film that I think people get it now. So maybe, hey, who knows? You know, maybe there is a chance now for redoing it or bringing it back. I think why not? Especially with all the time travelling, I mean, Kronos meant time traveller. Kronos is Greek for time traveller. So I’m sure they could do it. Obviously different cast, but I’m sure it has a lot of love out there.
Definitely. You have quite a few films to your name, to your credit, that definitely come the ‘cult film’ banner. And I mean, a lot of those films have gradually found an audience over time. I mean, before satellite TV and home video, when did you start to become aware that some of your films that maybe didn’t have a commercial impact at the time, were enjoying a second coming?
Yes, I suppose it was when I began to the shows, conventions; I do quite a few of these lovely shows and talks and film festivals and things, and you realise it when people come up, and they know the films – they actually know them, and they really like them. And you know, enjoy. So that always amazes me. But yes, they do. I think even Dracula AD 1972 has… you know, again at the time it was all “No, not sure about that”. But now, it’s quite a cult film.
Is it fair to call it a camp classic?
Yeah, absolutely. It is. It’s a feel-good sort of film. And then of course, you’ve got Christopher (Lee) and Peter (Cushing) in it. So what’s not to like? And then you have a great cast with Stephanie Beacham and Michael Kitchen, Marsha Hunt… amazing cast there. And it was it was beautifully shot, directed by Alan Gibson who was an extraordinary director; wonderful director, actually. So yeah, I can see that. It’s a fun film to watch. I’ve seen it. They showed it at the Regent Street cinema not so long ago, actually, before the pandemic, and again, the audience loved it. You know, it’s a good, kind of classic culty thing.
You mentioned the conventions and panels that you enjoy doing. During lockdown you must have missed that scene?
It’s wonderful, because it’s like-minded people all across the genres, but all really interesting people. And then you’ve got the actors there. And it’s just lovely. It’s a lovely kind of meeting of the two. It’s a lovely, respectful thing on both counts; people coming to see you. And they have the talks. And, you know, seeing the fans. I love it…
Have you got any lined up now things are opening up again?
Well, several I’ve had to cancel in the States. There’s quite a few actually I’ve had to cancel. Because of the flight, obviously. And they don’t want us over there. I really don’t blame them! But, no, I long to get back to that. Because I like to meet the people. You know, it’s just a joy to actually have the mutual thing in common film. So yeah, I hope to get back. I mean, we’ve got all the ones that were this year, have been put on to next year. So yeah, and we’ve got a big charity one coming up in May. For Maggie for cancer charity. So we’re doing that in Covcon (Coventry Comic Con). It’s going to be a CovCon one. But that’s in May, but I’m not sure of the dates. So hopefully that will go ahead. And you know, all proceeds go to Maggie’s, so it’s a good cause.
One of your upcoming titles is a role in ‘The Pocket Film of Superstitions’ directed by West Midlands film maker Tom Lee Rutter, who also happens to be a We Are Cult contributor.
I’m so excited to see that – it hasn’t come out yet. Tom was lovely, what a clever chap, I loved working with him. I wish him the best because he’s fabulous. He’s such a clever filmmaker, and he’s easy to work with. We had a great crew, and Tommy is just going to go so big. Yeah, I really do reckon he is because he’s very, very, very different. Very different. And lovely with it too.
So that’s something that’s already in the can, are there any other bits and pieces we can look forward to from you coming up?
I did a film two years ago, The Haunting Of Margam Castle, which is out I believe. Shot in Wales. And that was with a great cast. We had Derren Nesbitt and Jane Merrow – wonderful English stalwart actors and really good people. We shot in Margam Castle, we shot the film around there.
And then I’ve done something called Venna’s Planet, which is an audio drama, that will be waiting to come out. So I’ve got a few things waiting to come out. And hopefully more work coming up ahead.
As I say, all the shows have been put off till next year, so we’ll see what happens. It’s exciting, exciting times. And we did a film called House of the Gorgon that was shot it in Texas. Martine was in it, Martine Beswick, and Veronica Carlsen. Joshua Kennedy, the film director and writer of it, was such a big fan of Hammer so he got in touch. And my daughter, Georgina, is in it. So that’s exciting.
So quite a few things to look forward to and in the meantime, looking forward to seeing you on the telly over the coming months on Talking Pictures TV!
❉ The Cellar Club is on Talking Pictures TV (www.talkingpicturestv.co.uk) at 9pm every Friday. Talking Pictures TV is available free on the following services: Sky 328, Freeview 81, Freesat 306, Virgin 445.
❉ Jay Gent is the editor of We Are Cult and is co-editor of Me And The Starman (Cult Ink), available to buy from Amazon, RRP £11.99. UK: https://amzn.to/30ZE8KE | US: bit.ly/starmanUSA. They are also a contributor to Scarred For Life Volume Two: Television In The 1980s, now available to buy in paperback, £19.99, and as a full colour Ebook (PDF format) £6.99.