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Film / What a Carve Up!

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What a Carve Up! is a 1961 British comedy-horror film, directed by Pat Jackson and starring Sid James, Kenneth Connor, Shirley Eaton, Dennis Price, Donald Pleasence, Esma Cannon, and Michael Gough. It was released in the United States in 1962 as No Place Like Homicide. The film was loosely based on the novel The Ghoul by Frank King.

Ernie Broughton's (Connor) uncle Gabriel has just died but to claim his inheritance he must spend the night in the ancestral home with the rest of his relatives. Before long the guests begin to drop dead.

The film figures extensively within Jonathan Coe's 1994 satirical novel of the same title. The novel's protagonist, Michael Owen, becomes obsessed with the film after having first watched it as a young boy. Additionally, the last part of the book follows the plot of the film.

What a Carve Up! contains examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Major Guy Broughton, who spends most of the movie with a drink in his hand. It's implied that his alcoholism is the reason why he is no longer in the army. When Syd tells him that he is going drink himself to death, Guy's response is a dreamy "What a way to go!"
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The general consensus is that the Brougham family is completely mad: including amongst members of the family. Ernie Brougham, who was unaware of this reputation, is deeply shocked. His best friend Syd, however, is completely unsurprised
  • Blowgun: The murderer kills Janet by shooting her with a curare-tipped dart fired from a blowgun.
  • Bookcase Passage: There are multiple bookcase passages in the library. One leads to the music room; another to the vaults.
  • The Cameo: Teen Idol Adam Faith (implicitly playing himself) appears at the very end of the film as Linda's boyfriend.
  • Coincidental Dodge: The killer attempts to drop a Falling Chandelier of Doom on Ernie's head, but has to abandon the attempt because Ernie's nervous pacing keeps carrying him out of the drop zone before he can trigger it.
  • Crusty Caretaker: Fisk the butler (brilliantly played by Michael Gough) moves around the Old, Dark House silently—despite having a limp—and generally comes across as Lurch's shorter, slightly more talkative cousin.
  • Cut Phone Lines: When Sid attempts to phone the police, he discovers the phone line has been severed.
  • Delusions of Eloquence: Working in the publishing industry—albeit as a proofreader of lurid horror novels—Ernie has an overinflated opinion of his level of culture and education. Best demonstrated when he explains the vital importance of his job as proofreader while completely mangling the grammar of the sentence. The bemused look on Syd's face is something to behold
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Ernie spends the film trying to impress Linda, but, at the end of the film, her previously unmentioned boyfriend (played by Teen Idol Adam Faith) arrives and takes her away, leaving Ernie heartbroken.
  • Faking the Dead: Gabriel and Edward conspire to fake Gabriel's death, with Edward signing the death certificate. Gabriel then murders Edward first as Edward is the only one who knows the truth and could expose Gabriel's scheme.
  • Falling Chandelier of Doom: The murderer attempts to drop a chandelier on Ernie's head, but abandons the attempt because Ernie won't stop moving around. This becomes a Chekhov's Gun as later Fisk throws a burning brand at the killer, which hits the release mechanism on the chandelier, dropping it on the killer's head.
  • Fed to the Beast: The killer to dispose of the four remaining guests by feeding them to a pack of dogs which haven't been fed for ten days. It fails because the butler Fisk has been sneaking down to vaults and feeding them.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Syd and Ernie. The two live together, eat together and, despite being Vitriolic Best Buds, look after each other, with Syd even being willing to sleep in the same bed when Ernie is too scared to sleep alone.
  • Hospital Hottie: Uncle Gabriel's nurse is played by the delectable future Bond Girl Shirley Eaton. Janet worries that she might have used her physical charms and access to Gabriel to turn his head and make him change his will.
  • Hypocritical Humour: Janet complains about Ernie being at the will reading; saying that he is obviously only there for Uncle Gabriel's money. This ignores the fact that the money is the only reason she is there.
  • Impersonating an Officer: Ispector Arkwright arrives at Blackshaw Towers, telling the surviving guests that Mr. Sloane had made it to the village and informed him of the murders. However, when Ernie and Syd later discover Sloane's body in the garden, they realise that Sloane never made it to the village and that Inspector Arkwright is really the murderer Gabriel.
  • It Was Here, I Swear!: When Ernie falls into the vaults and emerges from Uncle Gabriel's coffin, he goes racing back to the house to tell Syd and Guy that the coffin is empty. When the three of them return, Gabriel's body is back in place. Later, Syd takes Inspector Arkwright to the vault to show him Malcolm's body in Gabriel's coffin, only to find the entire coffin has vanished.
  • Luck-Based Search Technique: Done by Ernie multiple times. He accidentally activates the secret door in the music room by pulling out the stops on the organ while Syd is searching the walls. He later finds the second secret door in the library when he trips and jams his hands onto the breasts of the fireplace decoration.
  • Market-Based Title: The film was released in America as No Place Like Homicide.
  • Nervous Wreck: Ernie. He proofreads lurid horrid novels for a living, which makes him inclined to panic at the slightest thing. According to his best friend Syd, he actually starts hallucinating things when there is nothing to be frightened of. Needless to say, being invited to his uncle's Old, Dark House for a reading of his will does nothing to improve his state of mind.
  • "No Peeking!" Request: Linda asks Ernie to turn around so she can change. He turns but finds himself facing a mirror that lets him watch her change anyway.
  • Nuclear Candle: Ernie strikes a match that provides enough illumination to light up the whole secret tunnel. Immediately subverted when he then falls down a hole in the floor he failed to notice.
  • Old, Dark House: Most of the film takes place in Blackshaw Towers; a creepy old mansion of the Yorkshire moors. It becomes even creepier when the killer sabotages the power plant, plunging the house into darkness.
  • Ominous Pipe Organ: There is an ominous pipe organ in the music room. Malcolm is playing it the first time Ernie sees him. Malcolm is later murdered while playing it seated next to Ernie.
  • Passed-Over Inheritance: Gabriel Broughton summons his entire family to his Old, Dark House to hear the reading of his will, which informs them that none of them are receiving anything. And then they start being murdered.
  • Peek-a-Boo Corpse: Ernie opens the cocktail cabinet only to have Guy's body topple out.
  • Portrait Painting Peephole: The killer spies on his remaining victims when they gather in the library by looking through the cutout eyes in the portrait of Uncle Gabriel that hangs over the fireplace. There is also a hole cut in the mouth that he uses to fire the Blow Gun that kills Janet.
  • Scary Shadow Fakeout: Ernie sees a shadow around a corner that appears to be the killer standing with a club raise, ready to strike him. He dives round the corner and tackles it, only to discover he has just tackled a suit of armour holding a mace.
  • Scatterbrained Senior: Aunt Emily. She says she is knitting balaclavas for the boys in the trenches. When Syd says she's a bit late for that she responds "Of course not. It only started in 1914". (The film is set in 1961). She also thinks George Bernard Shaw is alive and offers to introduce Ernie to him, and cannot keep track of who is alive and who is dead.
  • Silly Will: Not only does Gabriel leave absolutely nothing to his family in his will (and make them all travel to his Old, Dark House to hear this), but he bequeaths his nurse Linda all of his medicines, syringes and empty medicine bottles. Linda, at least, sees the funny side of this.
  • Songs in the Key of Lock: Ernie accidentally activates the secret door in the music room by pulling out the stops on the organ while Syd is searching the walls.
  • Ten Little Murder Victims: Someone starts picking off the members of the Broughton family who have gathered for the reading of the will one by one.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Syd and Ernie spend a lot of time insulting each other. However, when the chips are down and there is a madman running around the mansion offing the guests one by one, they've got each others backs.
  • Watching the Reflection Undress: When Ernie finds himself in Linda's room, she asks him to turn around so she can finish getting changed. He does so but finds himself facing a mirror that he hurriedly tilts downwards as she starts to take off her bra.