Monday, March 9, 2009

The Tragedy of Lynne Frederick

She only made a handful of films, including 1976’s star-studded “Voyage of the Damned,” Saul Bass’ “Phase IV” (1975) and “Nicholas and Alexandra” (1971). But what I remember her most for are two key films that fit within the Weird Movie Village realm: “Vampire Circus” and ”Schizo.”

It is said she gave up her career for Peter Sellers, who was 30 years her senior when they married in 1977. As has been revealed since his death, Sellers was a troubled – and troublesome – man, difficult to live with under any circumstances but even more so as his health declined toward the end of his short life. She would make only one more film (with him, of course), “The Prisoner of Zenda” in 1979, which flopped. Upon his death in 1980, her battles with studios and Sellers’ own family ensued over the will and rights to his likeness. She won nearly $1.5 million in a lawsuit against the makers of “Trail of the Pink Panther,” which was an opportunistic cut-and-paste job of flashbacks from older films and deleted scenes. Instead of resuming her career, she married David Frost and then had a third husband before becoming an angry, bitter, lonely, substance-abusing recluse. When she died in Los Angeles in 1994, her health and her fortune were gone thanks to alcoholism and drugs, and she weighed 195 pounds. She was only 39 years old.

But Lynne Frederick started out as a beautiful, talented actress with promise. She made the transition from teenager to adult without a hitch, and she projected a sweet innocence in her youthful roles and an attractive naturalness as she matured.

In the rarely-seen (in America, at any rate) but terrific “Vampire Circus,” she plays Dora Miller, a young woman whose village is ravaged by plague and vampirism. John Moulder Brown plays her love interest, Anton, but it’s the kinky, corrupt vampires who come to town with a mysterious traveling circus that really test her purity.

“Vampire Circus” is late Hammer, meaning that there is sex and nudity as well as swinging sixties hairstyles, but that only adds to the fun. The film addresses such taboo topics as incest and pedophilia, and this is as sleazy a bunch of vampires as you’d ever not want to meet. Frederick and Brown make a believably chaste (and ultimately heroic) couple. Hammer regular Thorley Walters is on the scene as the befuddled mayor of the village, and horror regular Adrienne Corri (“Madhouse,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “A Study in Terror”). Dave Prowse, the muscleman in the Darth Vadar costume plays...a muscleman. For once the circus acts are interesting and strange, and the plague backstory enhances the feeling of disease and decay when the nasty band of vampires arrives in the village.

Unfortunately, Frederick’s A-list career was already teetering by 1976. The same year she appeared in the big-budgeter “Voyage of the Damned" she also starred in English trashmeister Pete Walker’s (“House of Whipcord,” “Die Screaming Marianne”) po-faced “Schizo,” which is not without its sleazy charms. The hackneyed plot sees professional figure skater Samantha (Frederick) on the verge of marrying Alan Falconer, a carpeting manufacturer and something of a drip. But a mysterious guy with a big nose (John Fraser) has come to London to ruin her wedding plans. There are flashbacks to Samantha’s mother being murdered violently with a knife from the big-nosed guy's POV. There’s also a séance, possession, lots of fun bloody killings and a surprise (?) ending. The best murder occurs when their housekeeper gets a knitting needle thrust through the back of her head and out of her eye. That’s one helluva strong killer! You also get to see Lynne topless (as seen in this picture). The best reason to see the film is that it is so-o-o-o English. If you’re an Anglophile you’ll especially love all the location photography, the 70s London fashions (dig the wallpaper!) and the extremely English dialogue. Frederick is attractive and natural in a role that doesn’t give her much to do except be frightened of the big-nosed guy. I own “Schizo” on super 8mm. The color is faded, but it’s still the most fun way to watch it.

Frederick spent her last years essaying the role of “the widow of Peter Sellers,” even after she was remarried to others. She remained fiercely protective of his image and just as fiercely antagonistic to his family. Sometimes she would confide that she wished she had maintained her career, realizing what she had thrown away. “I guess I smashed the vase in which the roses of my life once stood,’ she told friend Peter Evans. “But I can still smell the scent.”


Unknown said...

An excellent article. I've been a fan of Lynne's for many years. I'd never read that quote at the end from her before, a nice way of putting things. Sorry to nit-pick, but the actor in 'Schizo' (with the big nose) is not John Fraser, it was Jack Watson. John Fraser played Leonard the psychiatrist who is killed in his car. I had to mention it as Jack Watson was a very under-rated character actor. Anyway, thanks again for this very well written piece, Steve Pope -

Unknown said...

An excellent article. I have been a fan of Lynne's for many years. Loved her quote at the end, I'd never read that before, very well put by her. Sorry to nit-pick but in your review of 'Schizo', the actor who played the man with the big nose, was not John Fraser, it was Jack Watson. Fraser played Leonard the psychiatrist who is killed in his car. I thought I'd mention it as Jack Watson was such an under-rated character actor. Anyway, thanks again for a very well written piece. Steve -


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