Cult Movies: Co Armagh’s Patrick Magee was a top Thespian who wasn’t above tackling the odd B-movie role

Ralph zeroes in on one of the late actor’s most enjoyably over-the-top screen appearances

Patrick Magee in 1972's Beware My Brethren
Patrick Magee is in fine scenery-chewing form in 1972's Beware My Brethren

PATRICK Magee was a rightly revered stage actor. So revered, in fact, that he served time in the Royal Shakespeare Company, was adored by Harold Pinter, and even earned the title of ‘Beckett’s favourite actor’, with the esteemed Dublin playwright even going so far as to write Krapp’s Last Tape specifically for the Armagh-born Thespian in 1958.

On the silver screen, he built up a good relationship with Stanley Kubrick, appearing in two films by the notoriously elusive director – A Clockwork Orange in 1971 and Barry Lyndon in 1975 – and Joseph Losey, for whom he graced three films: The Criminal (1960), The Servant (1963) and Galileo (1975).

Less appreciated by the posh critical fraternity, but just as worthy of attention, are the raft of low-rent horror and genre films he also made throughout his career. These include the early Francis Ford Coppola shocker Dementia 13 (1963), Roger Corman’s lush Masque Of The Red Death (1964) and the creaky but fun Boris Karloff vehicle Die Monster Die (1965).

Patrick Magee was best known for his work with playwright Samuel Beckett and director Stanley Kubrick
Patrick Magee was best known for his work with playwright Samuel Beckett and director Stanley Kubrick

He also found time, doubtless encouraged by his accountant in an attempt to bankroll his notorious hell-raiser lifestyle, to grace a glut of garish little pot boilers for Amicus films that included The Skull (1965), Tales From The Crypt (1972) and Asylum (1972).

That he brings a gruff, actorly sense of gravitas to all of these productions almost goes without saying, but I want to focus on one of his less appreciated turns: the crazed preacher in a tiny little psychological thriller that crept out in 1972, Beware My Brethren.

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This seedy little British B-movie directed by Robert Hartford-Davis was actually made in 1970, but lay unloved until finally making its first appearance in British fleapits a full two years later. Sometimes known by the alternate titles Mummy Wouldn’t Like It and The Fiend, it’s a nasty little slice of exploitation cinema.

Beware My Brethren stars Tony Beckley as Kenny, a blonde-haired security man and swimming pool lifeguard who also happens to be a serial killer of attractive young women. He lives alone with his dotty and devoutly religious mother, Birdy (Ann Todd), and they both kneel down at the altar of a local Pentecostal priest (Magee), who fronts an intense bunch of believers based in the grotty confines of a tatty old church hall and call themselves ‘the Brethren’.

Tony Beckley in Beware My Brethren
Tony Beckley in Beware My Brethren

As Kenny’s murderous adventures escalate, so does Magee’s mania, and there’s a certain perverse pleasure to be had here watching a proper Thesp throw some seriously over-the-top shapes as the mad, gospel sounds reverberate around the grimy church walls.

As a director, Hartford-Davis adds little to the production: his career behind the camera amounted to little more than some middling British B-movies and the odd effort at softcore smut. However, Magee is magnetic throughout, savouring every over-the-top sermon he gets to spout and chowing down on the scenery like a man possessed.

It may not hold a candle to the great man’s stage achievements, but it’s still a whole lot of fun all the same.