Cult Movies: Hammer hero Shane Briant a solid gold cult star
SHANE Briant, who passed away last week at the age of 74 after a long illness, was a man of many talents.
He was born in London but educated at Trinity College in Dublin, where he studied law and first got his taste for the stage when he landed the title role of Hamlet at the Eblana Theatre in 1971.
He would later relocate to Australia where he would become a respected novelist, but for the purposes of this column we will focus on his brief tenure as a movie star.
Briant was a fine, versatile actor who graced several solid gold cult films in the 1970s.
His flowing blond locks and youthful good looks won him leading man roles in Hammer horror classics like Demons of the Mind, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell and Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter.
Rumour has it the powers that be at the so-called House of Horror saw him as a natural successor to Peter Cushing as the man to drive their Gothic adventures into a brave new era. Sadly, that was never to be.
As the passion for traditional bloodthirsty old-school horror waned in the era of The Omen and The Exorcist, so Briant's light faded from view, although he did turn in memorable performances in the 1973 adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Naked Civil Servant (1975).
Whatever the role and however occasionally low rent the production, Briant brought a strange, almost ethereal, on-screen quality to just about every part he played.
Should you wish to see the man at his very finest on screen I would suggest digging out Straight On Till Morning, an odd and often unsettling psycho thriller he made in 1972.
Directed by Italian Job helmer Peter Collinson, it gives Briant full reign to explore his strange, aloof coldness in the role of Peter, a good looking psychopath obsessed with killing "beautiful things".
Rita Tushingham plays Brenda, a plain Jane Liverpudlian who heads down to the Big Smoke to taste a little of the much-hyped Swinging London good life for herself.
When the fashionable in crowd reject her for being too ordinary, things start to take a decidedly dark turn as she falls in with Peter and everything begins to turn sour very quickly.
The arrested development theme and Peter Pan allusions of the title are further explored when the unhinged Peter renames Brenda Wendy (in J.M. Barrie's book Peter tells Wendy that Neverland is "second star to the right, and straight on till morning") and they begin a strange and inevitably doomed relationship.
Uncomfortable as this psychopath-meets-innocent fable is, it is impossible not to be impressed by Briant's performance as the detached and deranged killer who is simultaneously psychotic and pathetic.
He flits between manic and melancholic with an ease that suggests he could have been a serious player if the roles had been forthcoming and the lure of writing hadn't dragged him away.
Straight On Till Morning is the man at his absolute on-screen best.