Horror Brought To Life: Static (2012) at The Cut!

The Horror Hothouse

July’s presentation at the Cut! was Static, it’s due to be released on Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK on 15 July and is a great little chiller that serves up some unexpected twists

Author Jonathan Dade (Milo Ventimiglia) and his wife Addie (Sarah Shahi) have the full rural Californian idyll complete with big house and pool, but both of them are grieving over the loss of their son, Thomas. Jonathan copes by throwing himself into his work, while Addie takes to the bottle. Then the night Jonathan finishes his latest book Rachel (Sara Paxton) comes banging on the door and begging to be let in. She claims her car has broken down and that she’s being chased by a gas mask wearing gang. Is she genuine or is she barking?

This is where I thought ‘hang on a minute I thought this was going to be one of…

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Horror Brought to Life: Horrors of The Black Museum (1959) at The CUT!

My exploration of the Horrors of the Black Museum is now posted at Horror Hothouse, Be careful what you open Mwahahahaha

The Horror Hothouse

Each month, as regular as a werewolf howling at a full moon, I emerge from the subterranean bowels of London’s Russell Square tube station to join London horror fans gathering in Bloomsbury’s Herbrand Street. At the opposite end to the sparkling white Art Deco splendour of the Daimler Hire Company building, on the corner of a narrow mews known as the Colonnade stands our destination the Horse Hospital.Excited chatter breaks the silence as we wait in eager anticipation for the door to open and be beckoned us down into the depths of the only unspoilt example of a purpose built 18th century stable accessible to the public. Now part of a multi-discipline arts centre, our basement cinema retains the channels etched into its floor to carry away the blood from the veterinary surgeon’s knife.

Since August 2010 this has been the venue of CUT!. As our host, Mr Billy…

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Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell

I went to a screening of the restored print of Hammer’s Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell at the British Film Institute  last night. This was the first Hammer Horror that I ever saw on the big screen when I snuck into the Odeon Wood Green at the tender age of 14 back in 1975. It was also the last Hammer Frankenstein and marked the final time that Peter Cushing would wield a scalpel and bone saw as the Baron. It was also the final film of director Terence Fisher, the director who had done more to define Hammer horror than any other having helmed all three of Hammer’s monster reboots in the 1950s with The Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy.

The film was introduced by a panel featuring Cushing’s former secretary , Dave Prowse who played the Monster (and of course was also Darth Vader and the Green Cross Man) and female lead Madeline Smith, who all spoke about what a nice man Peter Cushing was. This was especially relevant as Cushing was born 100 years ago this month on 26 May and has recently been featured on a stamp to mark the occasion.

Hammer made the film on the cheap, by confining all the action within the confines of a lunatic asylum, where the Baron had assumed the role of the asylum doctor. Well it wasn’t long before he was knocking up a creature out bits of dead inmates with the aid of his disciple Dr Helder (Shane Bryant) and the mute Sarah (Madeline Smith). I won’t spoil this for anyone by giving away the plot, but the lunatic asylum set makes this the most intensely claustrophobic Frankenstein movie that Hammer ever made. Still reeling from the recent death of his beloved wife Helen, Cushing gave the film one of the most intense performances of his career and this combined with the atmospheric music score by James Bernard and a John Elder script that wasn’t afraid to throw in the odd self mocking gag, make this film a pure British Gothic delight.

Once the panel had finished the introduction they joined us in the audience. Imagine the thrill when I realised that Dave Prowse was going to take the empty seat next to mine. As the film ended I thanked him and shook his hand. I have been truly touched by the Dark Side Young Jedi

Is This the End of the Konga Line?

Sorry but it was too good a gag not to use when I rolled up at London’s Russell Square Horse Hospital arts centre for the Cut‘s screening of the 1961 British giant gorilla movie Konga.

Producer Herman Cohen had by 1961 already established a reputation for cheapy horror movies like I Was a Teenage Werewolf and Horrors of the Black Museum. It won’t coma as any surprise that Konga concerns a giant ape, however thanks to what must have been a tiny budget similarities to King Kong are surprisingly few until the final reel where Konga goes apeshit and tramples through some model houses.

Michael Gough (the economy Peter Cushing) plays Dr Decker who discovers the secret of how to stimulate growth in animals with extracts of tropical carnivorous plants and experiments on Konga the baby chimp he has brought back from Uganda. Of course all this experimenting gets in the way of his teaching at Essex University, but Decker soon sorts that out by getting the by now gorilla sized Konga to murder anyone who gets in the way. Naturally it all goes horribly wrong when Margaret (Margo Johns), Deckers’ mistress catches him trying it on with student Sandra (Claire Gordon) and she gives Konga a walloping great dose of the growth serum with predictable consequences.

Somehow, despite having grown up in the 1960s and being mad for this kind of film I had never seen it before and it is a delightful mix of rubbish special effects (Konga is a bloke in a gorilla suit that isn’t even the same colour as the chimp who plays baby Konga, although it does allow for some spectacular eye rolling) and some of the campest dialogue I have ever heard, with which the cast battle valiantly. I think my favourite line was uttered by the Scotland Yard Inspector as Konga goes on the rampage.

“There’s a huge monster gorilla that’s constantly growing to outlandish proportions loose on the streets”

Thank heaven we had lots of National Service men ready to jump into the backs of trucks and take the menace of Konga down and let’s face it with all the aliens and other monsters that turned up post-war British cinema we’d have been sunk without a huge conscript army!

The Cut is a film club dedicated to previewing DVD releases of the weird. Curator Billy Chainsaw had arranged for 1960s teen idol Jess Conrad who played student Bob (Konga’s third murder victim and probably the only member of the cast still living) to introduce the movie. He did such a nice line in self deprecatory humour that he’s almost forgiven for This Pullover.

Konga is released on DVD on 13 May

Feline Frolics

We have a friend with an indoor cat and we do worry that he does not get enough stimulation with only a small flat to patrol (the cat that is not our friend). So we bought the cat a DVD called Feline Frolics.  The DVD contains about an hour of footage of birds, rodents, cat toys and other cats. Naturally in the interests of consumer research we decided to try it with our resident feline Cleopatra first.

Ohhhh birdies

Ohhhh birdies

The DVD’s visuals and soundtrack have supposedly been enhanced to make the range of images and sounds more attractive to the feline senses.

A chuffin chaffinch

A chuffin chaffinch

Cleopatra certainly enjoyed the little birds

I love those mices

I love those mices

The images of mice, hamsters and bunnies went down well too.

I hates you

I hates you

When it comes to the other cats her reaction was more hostile, but after about fifteen minutes she seemed to get tired of watching the telly and hopped off the stool to get on with her favourite hobby.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Lord Of Tears

As anyone who has read my about post will know I am a big fan of horror movies, maybe growing up in the 1960s and 70s when Hammer, Tigon and Amicus film horrors were a regular fixture on late night telly is something to do with this. However there are few post 1975 horrors that I have really enjoyed. I think this is largely because of a shift of focus away from traditional supernatural monsters like vampires, werewolves and ghosts to serial killers, torture porn and the ubiquitous bloody zombies (which technically are not even zombies) and the consequent replacement of that shivering anticipation of something nasty that is about to happen with gratuitously graphic gruesomeness . There are some notable exceptions like the gloriously deranged Dog Soldiers or Reanimator, but I guess I’m kind of an old school horror fan.

So imagine my delight when I came upon Lord of Tears, a new Scottish movie that Lawrie Brewster, the director/producer, claims is influenced by such British classics as The Innocents, The Haunting and The Wicker Man. I’m quite excited about a filmaker with these influences, as I remember The Innocents, with the lovely Deborah Kerr as the governess haunted by the spirit of evil valet Peter Quint through those awful children, as one of the most frightening films that I have ever seen. One of the reasons that The Innocents worked as a scary movie was the haunting cinematography by Freddie Francis and from what I have seen in the trailer Lord of Tears also employs some stunningly brilliant camera work too.

So over to the movie press release: The film tells the chilling story of James Findlay (Euan Douglas), a school teacher plagued by recurring nightmares of a mysterious and unsettling entity. Suspecting that his visions are linked to a dark incident in his past, James returns to his childhood home, a notorious mansion in the Scottish Highlands. There, he finds love in the form of aspiring dancer Evie Turner (Lexy Hulme) who helps him to unravel the dark history of the house. But, when James finally uncovers the disturbing truth behind his dreams, he must fight to survive the brutal consequences of his curiosity…

The Owl Man cometh

The Owl Man cometh

What’s even more encouraging about this movie is that it has been made outside of the traditional studio system and is therefore more of a product of love and enthusiasm than the commercial imperative. The film is shot and edited, but Lawrie is looking for support with the marketing costs through Kickstater, if you want to pledge a few quid you can here.

Certainly the quality of the footage in the trailer looks very impressive and there is a memorable monster in the owl man. I can’t wait to see the whole film when it is released.

The Wolfman

I just watched Joe Johnston’ 2010 remake of The Wolfman with Benicio del Toro as the unfortunate Lawrence Talbot. The basic story seems to have been largely based upon Curt Siodmek’s script for the 1941 original starring Lon Chaney, Claude Rains and Bela Lugosi. Most of the characters who are central to the plot retain their names and functions, but other than that there had been quite a lot of tinkering with the plot.

The biggest element of that is the retrofitting of the story into a some kind of Hammer Horror Victorian Britain. Much of the action takes place in moodily shot woodland, very similar to that so often utilised in the classic Hammer Draculas (although with the bigger budget it’s free of the occasional continuity errors where Hammer’s cameramen forgot about the night filters), but the Hammer production it reminded me most of was Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde, not so much from the point of view of the plot, but because of the co-opting of a real historical character in the form of Ripper cop Inspector Abberline played by Hugo Weaving who is assigned to investigate the werewolf killings.  There is also an element of Inspector Mulroony from Hammer’s The Mummy (1959) in Weaving’s performance. while the use of the family house also reminded me of the same film (except that The Wolfman‘s budget stretched to location shooting at Chatsworth House, while Hammer filmed most of their early films at their studio in Bray House) .

One of the problems for me with post Hammer big budget remakes of classic horrors is their basic lack of humour (I’m discounting the Brendan Fraser Mummy movies which, although they were played for laughs, were in my opinion pretty dire CGI fests). With a A list cast including Tony Hopkins, Art Malik and Emily Blunt everybody was taking their roles very seriously and being an actor. I could have done with gurning undertaker or barman in the mould of Michael Ripper, one of the few actors to have a technique named after him. The other problem with this film in particular was the rather over the top gory violence effects,with body parts flying all over the shop, bit too much of that when it’s not really needed. And while suspension of belief is necessary for any film and particularly the horror genre, I just didn’t buy Tony Hopkins being Benicio del Toro’s dad. Sadly del Toro’s dive through the Manor House window towards the end of the movie inadvertently reminded me of Father Jack doing the same at Craggy Island Parochial House in Father Ted.

Night of the Demon – Kate Bush

Way back in May I wrote about one of my favourite films Night of the Demon, (see here) based upon the MR James story Casting the Runes. curiously a recent post on the Classic Horror Campaign website reminded me that Kate Bush sampled Maurice Denham’s line from the film “it’s in the trees, it’s coming!” in the song Hounds of Love.

Here’s a pretty little video mash-up of the song and film.

My ‘On the Road’ read – Funeral in Berlin

Whenever I travel I always have a book in the bag, whether it’s to cope with those long moments stuck waiting for the flight to be called or just chilling on the beach. Looking back most of my choices bear little relation to their ultimate destination – Swedish Noir in Cuba or Charles Dickens in the Cape Verde spring to mind.

Enjoying a Wallander moment – Cuba 2010

I grew up during the 1960s, when the Cold War between the Communist East and the West was at its height. Without any real understanding of what lay behind it I lapped up films featuring secret agents like James Bond and more particularly Harry Palmer played by Michael Caine in three movies, The Ipcress File, Billion Dollar Brain and Funeral in Berlin. The adventures of Caine’s Palmer, being grounded more in the gritty real world than Bond’s fantasies (with the exception of Billion Dollar Brain, but then it was directed by Ken Russell), appealed far more to my formative imagination. There were no super villains lurking in underground bunkers, only the stark brutality of totalitarian regimes and double-crossing traitors driven by greed. Deighton’s MI6 was run by public school toffs and staffed by crooked former soldiers, given the choice of becoming a spy or going to jail. As the fall of Communism, cheap air travel and the internet opened up eastern Europe we avidly took up the opportunity to explore cities that we’d previously only dreamed of visiting and in 2009 I packed a copy of Len Deighton’s Funeral in Berlin into my bag on the way to Luton Airport.

Deighton’s hero (who is never actually named in the books, the Harry Palmer identity was created just for the films) arrives in a city divided not by a river or a bridge but by ‘bricked up buildings and sections of breeze block that bisect the city…’ , well the wall that divided east from west finally crumbled in 1989, but we found enough of it still standing for a group photo.

up against the wall

before exploring the lively bars and nightclubs of the former Soviet east – a far cry from the bombed out grey wilderness of Deighton’s novel.

The Funeral in Berlin is sold to the intelligence services as a ruse for smuggling a scientist from east to west, disguised as a corpse in a coffin. The crossing point is the infamous Checkpoint Charlie.

Checkpoint Charlie

Aside from a moving set of display boards outlining the history of the divide and those who tried and died trying to cross it, Checkpoint Charlie has become a theme park attraction where you can have your photo taken with an actor dressed as either an American MP or a Russian border guard for a couple of Euro. But things are rarely what they seem in espionage fiction either and the coffin turns out to contain nothing more than Communist propaganda. We found our own piece of the Communist east outside a nearby cafe in Friedrichstraße, a Trabant with a for sale sign on it – a modern-day antique rather than the automotive joke that Eastern-bloc manufactured cars were in the 1970s.

Trabi for sale

Looking back the Berlin of Deighton’s novel seems more displaced in time than many of its contemporary dystopian science fiction novels were, ultimately the desire for blue jeans, the Beatles and Baywatch overcame the ideological divide that for so many years had defied the militaristic posturing of Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan and Thatcher, and the icons of a totalitarian past became just another tourist attraction. All hail the might of TV and the internet!

Engles, Marx and two other blokes

Theworks.co.uk is celebrating the film release of Kerouac’s legendary ‘On the Road’ by asking book-loving travel bloggers to share their travel reading experiences. Thank you to Suzanne  from the-travelbunny for my nomination.  Do have a read of her great Gardens of Water entry.

My nominations which are a bit late I know (sorry folks, jet lag, adjusting back to UK time and stuff) are to Sherry from Fabulous  50s, Dan and HJ from Waterfalls and Caribous and Andrew  at Have Bag Will travel. I’m looking forward to reading your entries folks.  The competition is open to anyone and for details on how to enter see the competition page: www.theworks.co.uk/travelbloggercomp

Charles Dickens, Great Expectations and Stuff

I recently wrote a feature on Charles Dickens as the author celebrated his 200th birthday on 7 February 1812. Now I ‘m not an expert on the man who is frequently described as the UK’s second best writer (Shakespeare darlings), but researching and writing about such a great Victorian was a really interesting experience.

Broadstairs Dickens Festival Parade

Like many people my own relationship with Charles Dickens didn’t really get off to a great start. At age 11 we were given Oliver Twist as an English set book by a unispiring English teacher with a fondness for knuckle rapping. Thinking about the prose we were reading was just not encouraged and the (seemingly) hours spent reading the book out loud passed with the rapidity of a mogodon laced snail doing a marathon. I imagine many people of my vintage have shared the experience.

My Dickens epiphany was when I read Hard Times as part of an Open University course. Of course I was a bit older by then and had developed a taste for 19th and early 20th century genre fiction authors like MR James and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, so the denser nature of Dickens’ Victorian prose wasn’t quite so daunting. Gaining an insight into how books were consumed at the time they were written, as magazine serials much like modern soap operas and having a fuller understanding of both the period and the social conditions Dickens was highlighting made me realise how important he was as both an author and a social campaigner.

Over the years I have read a number of Dickens’ novels and short stories with varying degrees of pleasure. After writing my piece for the Philatelic Bulletin to coincide with Royal Mail’s recent stamp issue my interest in reading more Dickens was piqued so I took Great Expectations to the Cape Verde Islands, instead of my usual Swedish noir or historic romp.

I won’t spoil anything by giving the plot away, but I was immediately struck by the very dark Gothic opening as Pip encounters the convict Magwitch in the graveyard where Pip’s parents are buried. David Lean really nailed this in the opening of his 1946 film adaptation.

Though I do feel Lean’s vision has been slightly influenced by the grave robbing scene in James Whale’s  1931 Frankenstein, you can see how Lean must have influenced Terence Fisher’s Hammer Horrors. Of course the other great Gothic set- piece is Miss Haversham’s house with the rotting remnants of her aborted wedding breakfast. This clip from Lean’s adaptation features the divine Jean Simmons as Estella and some amazingly dark and atmospheric lighting.

I’m glad I re-aquainted myself with the world of Pip, Estella and Miss Havisham, not least because it gave me the opportunity to revisit Lean’s splendid film adaptation, so I might take Mr Pickwick and his Papers to Rhodes, lets see.