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Warren, Norman J. (1942-)

Director, Writer, Editor

Main image of Warren, Norman J. (1942-)

The films of Norman J. Warren are as much a window on the fortunes of independent film making in 1960s and 70s Britain as they are an insight into the creative imagination behind some of the country's more individual genre titles. Starting out in 1959, Warren perfected his craft in professional studios at a time when British productions were supported by Hollywood money, but his chance to direct came at the opposite end of the budgetary scale, as independent film making began to flourish.

Born in West London on 25 June 1942, Warren was a cinema fan from an early age and began making amateur films in his teens. He was determined to enter the business and was taken on as teaboy and runner for producers Anatole and Dimitri de Grunwald. He soon graduated to trainee in the cutting room of their cinema advertising arm, ScreenSpace, where he learned editing skills. Frustrated by the lack of opportunities to direct, Warren decided to make his own 35mm short film; the result, Fragment (1965), was screened by Richard Schulman at the Paris Pullman cinema in South Kensington, which meant that it could be registered with the Board of Trade and thus gain 'professional' status.

At that time, Schulman was teaming up with distributor Bachoo Sen to form a production company and they were on the look out for a director for their first film. So Warren was signed up to make Her Private Hell (1967), which was shot in two weeks on a tiny budget. Promoted as Britain's first narrative sex film, it brought in massive profits for Sen and Schulman. The following year they asked Warren to make another 'sexploitation' film, Loving Feeling, the cautionary tale of a successful disc jockey who sleeps around behind his wife's back but finds himself alone by the closing credits. A further indictment of the 'free love' ethos of the period, this film was also a money-spinner, and Warren was offered the chance to direct further adult titles. However, he had become bored with the limitations of the genre and returned to editing to await a more fulfilling project.

After several prospects fell through, Warren decided to move into a new genre. He had always been interested in horror films and was aware of the imaginative opportunities and commercial possibilities they brought. Britain's horror boom was starting to wind down but there was still a demand for films with something new to offer. Satan's Slave (1976), although influenced by Hammer, was an attempt to bring a more modern, everyday feel to the genre, as well rendering the violence more graphically. Its success encouraged Warren to remain with the genre for his next production, Prey (1977).

Also made independently (this time for Terry Marcel, who went on to make Hawk the Slayer, UK/US, 1980), Prey tells the story of an alien who comes to earth in search of new food sources and finds himself living with a lesbian couple. Meanwhile, Satan's Slave was still making money and, with the profits, Warren embarked on Terror (1978), which was heavily influenced by Dario Argento's Suspiria (Italy, 1977), particularly in its sound and lighting effects. Again, it was a huge financial success. The tale of a man whose friends are killed off one by one by an unseen force, Terror is essentially a collection of horror 'set pieces', including one which takes place in a deserted film studio where a character is suffocated by thousands of feet of celluloid.

Warren turned next to science fiction, with Outer Touch (aka Spaced Out, 1979), which took a comic view of the genre, followed by the much darker Inseminoid (1980), in which Judy Geeson plays a female astronaut impregnated by an extra-terrestrial. Comparisons were made between the latter and Ridley Scott's Alien (1979) and 20th Century Fox demanded to see a print, which flattered Warren given the budget differential of the two films. Inseminoid was one of the last independent films to get a wide distribution in the UK; home video had by now become the chief medium for low-budget genre films and neither of Warren's later productions, Gunpowder and Bloody New Year (both 1987), got a UK cinema release. His career had flourished during a period when it was possible for independent producers to compete with the studios but, with fewer screens willing to take a chance on such films, domestic titles were squeezed out by the more graphic horror coming from America and Italy.

Norman Warren's filmography, although short, does demonstrate that genre cinema can be effective even when made under difficult circumstances. '"Big budgets really aren't an attraction to me,'" he has said. '"They don't help creativity.'" For Warren, collaboration with an enthusiastic, talented crew able to find creative solutions to technical challenges was the key to successful independent filmmaking.

Josephine Botting

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Satan's Slave (1976)Satan's Slave (1976)

Effective low-budget horror by exploitation king Norman J. Warren

Thumbnail image of Shellarama (1965)Shellarama (1965)

Visually stunning promotional film for Shell petrol

Thumbnail image of Terror (1979)Terror (1979)

Low-budget but effective horror by cult director Norman J. Warren

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