Guest Actor Biography
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Caroline Munro

Tammy, Angels of Death

by Pete Stampede

Although there have been many British horror or cult film stars, they've almost always been men. British scream queens have been few, almost as rare as British sex symbols, in fact: but Caroline Munro, dark-haired, flashing-eyed, well-endowed and inevitably described as sultry-looking, is an exception in both categories. In the late 70's and early 80's, there didn't seem to be a single issue of the British magazine Starburst (created to cover the post-Star Wars sci-fi boom, and more wide-ranging than Starlog) that didn't have an interview with her, or at least a provocatively-dressed poster, ensuring her status as a fantasy (in both senses of the word) icon for pubescent boys of the time. (There will now be a short pause while the present author puts his hands up.) She was first unveiled to public gaze as "The Face of 1966" on one of my favourite bits of 60's TV kitsch, the first edition of a desperately groovy but short-lived series, Whole Scene Going (BBC, 1966): the rest of the programme included a feature on "a new craze from the States— skateboards," Lulu offering romantic advice, and the Who performing live. At one point, Pete Townshend was asked questions by the studio audience, who, as the BBC's idea of typical youth, all wore suits and ties and were frightfully upper-middle class, and asked him things like what his salary was; one horse-faced blonde asked him, "We've read about you and the other band members taking drugs—does this mean you're blocked up when you perform on stage?" Townshend's deadpan reply was "Nah. It just means we're blocked up all the time!"

Most sources give Munro's first film as Where's Jack? (1969), a period yarn with Tommy Steele and the unfairly forgotten Stanley Baker; however, one of her many Starburst interviews claimed she had a bit part in the terrible Casino Royale (1967—I've certainly never managed to spot her in it). Her first genre foray was as the embalmed wife whose death spurs Vincent Price into loony revenge against the surgeons responsible, in The Abdominable Dr. Phibes (1971) and its follow-up, Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972), both directed by Robert Fuest with plenty of Avengers-esque black humour; in fact, it's been claimed Joanna Lumley filmed a scene in one of them, as a lab assistant, that ended up being cut. (And, particularly given his status as an honorary Englishman, Price really should have done an Avengers at some stage.) According to legend, Hammer boss Michael Carreras put Munro under contract after being, er, taken with a billboard poster of one of her (long-running) ads for Lamb's Navy Rum. Her first work for them was in Brian Clemens' Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1972), as a sensitive gypsy girl, getting to have a roll in the hay with the hero of the title. Unfortunately for her, she next had a prominent role in the studio's simply pathetic attempt to get with it, Dracula AD 1972 (1972); she played one of a group of fellow swingers of "Johnny Alucard", who conjure up Christopher Lee with inevitable consequences. Lee has spoken of his embarrassment in making this, although he and Peter Cushing did their usual professional job; typical of Hammer's attempt to come to terms with the times, Rod Stewart and the Faces were originally booked to appear in a party scene, but dropped at the last minute in favour of a band never heard of before or since. It was back into the jewelled bikini for Munro in both Ray Harryhausen's The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), in which Tom Baker's role as a villainous wizard apparently convinced producer Barry Letts to cast him as Doctor Who, and At The Earth's Core (1976), a daft underground fantasy adventure, again with Cushing, and Troy—oh sorry, Doug McClure. A rare TV guest spot was in an episode of The Howerd Confessions (Thames, 1976), a weekly romp with Frankie Howerd that featured an appearance by Linda Thorson; Munroe was a French Resistance operative, trying to break down soldier Frankie's resistance. When she breathily urges, "You must get a grip on yourself," he splutters, "That'll make it worse!" Well, it made me laugh, anyway.

Possibly her most visible role in mainstream cinema was as a flirtatiously murderous helicopter pilot in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). But the one her fans go for was a no-budgeted Italian sci-fi effort, Starcrash (1979), as a heroine called Stella Star; it's tempting to assume it was meant as a send-up, but it's pretty hard to tell, and how on earth did Christopher Plummer wind up in it? Also in the cast was Italianate character actor and frequent heavy Joe Spinell, who persuaded her to co-star in his notorious, self-penned Maniac (1980), about a deranged scalper; it was much criticised for its violence (courtesy of Tom Savini's detailed make-up) and apparent misogyny, even though it ends with the female victims' revenge on Spinell. She teamed with him again for The Last Horror Film (1982); with the independent American horror film market burgeoning, she seemed to work more frequently in the US as the 80's continued, but items like April Fool's Day (1985) didn't do her any favours. By this time, incongruously, she had started the assignment she's best known for to the British public, handing out prizes and shepherding gormless contestants on 3-2-1 (YTV, 1978-86), a low-brow game show with regular sketches and guests thrown in, derived from a Spanish model (the European version ran for hours!—at least this only ran for one!). Host Ted Rogers was a terrible Cockney comic who fancied himself as an American-style quickfire gag merchant, the nearest he got was sharing Bob Hope's latter-day penchant for jokes sneering at hippies; it really was awful, but I guarantee all British TV viewers of the time remember it. Munro's presence on it was deeply incongruous; after that, what other cult film stars might have ended up on game shows—Klaus Kinski on Blankety Blank?

More in character for Munro, but still a bit of a plunge, was a role in Faceless!/Les Predateurs de la Nuit (1988), for unique (thank God, some would say), unstoppable (well over 200 films) Spanish eccentric Jesus Franco. By the standards of Franco, who had made more than a few hardcore efforts in the 80's (critic Kim Newman once defined his horror output as "necro-erotica"), this was an up-market entry; the decidedly eclectic cast included Telly Savalas, menacingly camp art-house fave Helmut Berger, Stephane Audran and Anton Diffring, yet again cast as a Nazi (as he was in umpteen British war films; this was his last film, in fact). And for Franco, this was technically above par (i.e., the camera was usually pointing in the right place), but perhaps because of this, there were rumours that the producers had him fired, or at least re-shot some of the film (Franco didn't film again for a few years, which is unusual for him). In interviews, though, Munro has said she found "Jess" utterly charming, despite his previous output; in previous interviews, she mentioned having turned down several soft-core porn-ish roles in the 70's. Remaining in Europe, she did Howl of the Devil (1987) starring Paul Naschy, a huge horror star in his native Spain, but whose rather old-fashioned genre output doesn't travel well; The Black Cat (1989), which had next to nothing to do with Poe, re-united her with Starcrash director Luigi Cozzi. To Die For (1994), in Britain, was a camp fantasy in which she had a cameo; it's definitely not to be confused with Gus Van Sant's film of the same name, and was retitled Heaven's A Drag in the US anyway. Her last film to date is Pervirella (1997), made by a bunch of film fans, which she only really appeared in as a favour; it was only publicly shown at a horror weekend at the Everyman Cinema in north London, before going straight to video. I was actually at the last-named event, where she introduced a screening of Maniac, looking very well-preserved indeed! During that appearance, she mentioned her disappointment that a big-budget film of Doctor Who, endlessly promised in the late 80's, and in which she would have been a villainess, was never made. (The BBC bought the film rights back from the would-be production company, and the 1996 result, made for TV and full of fan-angering concessions to the US, didn't make the big numbers on either side of the Atlantic, or lead to a new series.)

Links: There is, of course, The Official Caroline Munro Website.

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Page last modified: 5 May 2017.

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