Saturday, August 4, 2018

THE DEUCE


Recently had the chance to catch-up on the first season of the HBO drama series THE DEUCE, which looks at life amongst the denizens of New York's 42nd Street in the early-seventies, a decade before the big clean-up started and the area was rife with street prostitution, drugs, crime and corruption, and hardcore XXX movies were moving from the back room peep booths to the once-grand old cinemas which populated Times Square.
Of course I only know this period from what I have read in books and seen in movies and documentaries, so how accurate it may be in capturing the zeitgeist of the times may be open to debate, but THE DEUCE certainly brings the period to life in a visually impressive way (apart from the odd dodgy 70s wig on some of the male cast members). Created by the team behind the acclaimed THE WIRE, there are certainly some impressive names behind THE DEUCE that lend it some extra gravitas and credence. Noted crime fiction author Megan Abbott serves as a story consultant and also wrote one of the episodes, while the folks behind The Rialto Report (a remarkable website/podcast which documents the golden age of adult sinema) worked on it as creative consultants.
Maggie Gyllenhaal (who also executive produces the series) is excellent in the lead role as the hooker who finds a much-needed mental and creative outlet behind the camera, and she has some quite brave and daring scenes. I am not a huge James Franco fan and was dubious about him playing not one but two roles in this (as twin brothers), but I warmed to his characters and performances after a couple of episodes. And of course there is just the sheer joy of seeing all the Times Square cinema marquees recreated and advertising everything from Dave Friedman and Herschell Gordon Lewis films to THE OMEGA MAN and Argento's THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMMAGE (given an extra M here).
Looking forward to the second season which premieres in September and apparently jumps ahead five years, picking up the story and characters in 1977.






Friday, August 3, 2018

ROLLERCOASTER

‘SOMEWHERE IN THE CROWD IS A KILLER WHO CAN TURN THEIR SMILES INTO SCREAMS...’


Usually thrown-in with the 1970s cycle of disaster films (AIRPORT, EARTHQUAKE, THE TOWERING INFERNO, etc.), James Goldstone’s ROLLERCOASTER (1977) is actually much more in the style of the classic Alfred Hitchcock suspense thriller, and in that regard it is one of the best films of its type to emerge from that decade. George Segal turns in a marvelous performance as Harry Calder, a safety inspector for a big insurance firm, who finds himself caught up in a game of cat and mouse with an intelligent, blackmailing young psychopath (Timothy Bottoms) who is crisscrossing across the US planting bombs in some of the country’s biggest and most populated amusement parks.

A spectacular opening sequence, in which Bottoms’ unnamed character derails the old wooden Rocket rollercoaster ride at Ocean View Amusement Park in Virginia, is later followed by a tense and extended scene in which Calder, acting as bag man for the ransom money, is sent all over the Kings Dominion theme park by the psychopath, in an attempt to wear him and the cops down, disorienting them until he has the chance to snatch the suitcase filled with a cool million (well, it bought a lot more in 1977 than it does today). Adding suspense to this scene is the revelation that Calder is carrying a bomb, planted in the walkie-talkie which the bomber has delivered to him to enable communication. There are some terrific moments here, none more so than when Calder is ordered to ride the Rebel Yell rollercoaster, the first person camera doing a dizzying twirl off the ride’s highest turn, momentarily giving the impression that the coaster is soaring off its track.


Segal’s performance in ROLLERCOASTER has nice moments of humor and a great sense of mid-70's polyester swagger (a running subplot has him trying electric shock therapy to help him quit smoking), and he and Bottoms play off each other wonderfully. A nice supporting cast includes Richard Widmark as a gung-ho federal agent, Harry Guardino as a police chief, Henry Fonda as Calder’s boss, Susan Strasberg as his girlfriend and a teenaged Helen Hunt as his daughter.

Originally released in Universal Studios’ short-lived Sensurround process (initially developed for EARTHQUAKE in 1974), ROLLERCOASTER also benefits from a nice score by Lalo Schifrin, who mixes the usual amusement park calliope sounds with cues that are very reminiscent of past classic Hitchcock soundtracks (Bernard Hermann’s PSYCHO score in particular). Using expensive speakers that had to be specially installed in cinemas who wanted to take on the format, Sensurround bumped up the bass in the low frequency range, causing the seats and floors of the cinema to rumble in correlation to the onscreen action. Other than EARTHQUAKE and ROLLERCOASTER, Sensurround was only used for two other feature films, the war adventure MIDWAY (1977) and the theatrical version of the BATTLESTAR GALACTICA pilot from 1978. While I saw ROLLERBALL upon its initial release in Australia, it was at the drive-in (taken along by my older sister and her future husband) so I unfortunately did not get to experience the movie in Sensurround, though I at least did get to see BATTLESTAR GALACTICA in that process.


Mixing-up the soundtrack a bit are a couple of numbers by cult American New Wave rock band Sparks, who perform two of their numbers - Fill ‘er Up and Big Boy - during the climactic third act, which takes place during the July 4th grand opening of the 360 degrees Revolution rollercoaster at Magic Mountain in California. According to varying sources, the producers originally hoped to have either KISS or the Bay City Rollers perform in the film, but had to settle for Sparks after the other choices fell through (KISS would eventually invade Magic Mountain for their own film, KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK, the following year). As cool as it might have been to see KISS performing here, it is great to see Sparks get some decent screen time in a Hollywood production (though Sparks themselves often cite their appearance in the film as one of their biggest career mistakes, and the songs which they perform in the film are absent from the soundtrack LP released by MCA).

Long overdue for a home video upgrade, ROLLERCOASTER comes to hi-def in a limited (3000 copies) Blu-ray release from UK outfit 101 Films, who finally give the film the attention it deserves. Spread out over two discs, the release features both the US theatrical cut and the slightly longer German cut (in English language), which contains a couple of seconds of extra blood (in the opening roller coaster crash and during the climax). The transfer looks wonderful, preserving some nice light film grain yet adding so much depth and definition to the movie, and the amusement park sequences have never looked more vibrant or pulsating with colour (especially the neon-lit night scenes filmed at the Ocean View Amusement Park).


Extra features on the ROLLERCOASTER Blu-ray include an audio commentary by UK film journalists Allan (The Dark Side, Infinity) Bryce and David (Sheer Filth) Flint, a short featurette on the film and the 70s disaster film cycle (enjoyable if not overly-revealing), and an interview with Tommy Cook (who cooked up the original story for the film and served as an associate producer). The original theatrical trailer is also listed amongst the special features on the back cover of the sleeve and in the promotional specs, but I was unable to locate it on either of the discs. The Blu-ray is packaged in a cardboard slipcase and includes a very nice 28-page colour booklet printed on thick stock, which contains an essay on the film by Scott Harrison and a piece on the Sensurround process by Allan Bryce. The commentary by Bryce and Flint is pretty casual and free-flowing, not a lot of production information revealed but an enjoyable chat between two people who appreciate the film and have some entertaining observations about it, my favourite moments being those where the pair discuss the Lalo Schifrin score and the participation of Sparks (and rumoured KISS and Bay City Rollers involvement).

Though I would have loved a documentary featurette on the Sensurround process and a bit more variety in the packaging (the slick and cardboard slipcase both feature the same photo and design, ignoring the film’s great range of international poster art), this is still a much-welcomed and essential purchase, and will hopefully help this still somewhat underrated movie find the much larger audience that it deserves.

You can order the ROLLERCOASTER Blu-ray from 101 Films HERE.

Review Copyright John Harrison 2018





Saturday, July 28, 2018

CASTLE ROCK

Caught up with the first three episodes of the new CASTLE ROCK series, which weaves many of the people, places and situations from the writings of Stephen King into its own fictional narrative. Part murder mystery, part supernatural horror and part TWIN PEAKS, it's very Shawshank-heavy so far but I have found it intriguing and effective enough to keep watching for the moment. It thankfully isn't as "gimmicky" with all the King references as I feared it might have been (at least so far) and there's some nice performances from Sissy Spacek, Scott Glenn and Bill SkarsgÄrd (proving he can be as disturbing without the Pennywise get-up as he can be when he is inside it).


BLACK ZOO

Last night's movie. An enjoyably odd little horror thriller from 1963 starring Michael Gough in another deliriously over-the-top performance as the haughty British owner of a private zoo in Los Angeles, who not only treats his collection of big cats to private organ recitals in his own living room, but uses them to dispense of anyone who threatens him or tries to stick their noses into his business. BLACK ZOO is a quite lurid and seedy film in many ways, a lot more continental in look and style than an American production, and passages of Paul Dunlap's score contains the type of sleazy jazz more suited to a stag film loop. I had this souvenir photo magazine, published in 1963 by Charlton, long before I ever got to see the movie.


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

SPIRITS OF THE DEAD

SPIRITS OF THE DEAD (HISTOIRES EXTRAORDINAIRES)
Written by Tim Lucas
Midnight Movie Monographs
Published by Electric Dreamhouse/236 Pages
‘To me, Spirits of the Dead is not only that occasion of homecoming— the occasion of art returning to its birthplace in a necessarily evolved form—but an advancement of the Poe film comparable to the Beatles’ summit of artistic expression with Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The music from that album, first released in June 1967, was influencing the arts across the board at the time Histoires Extraordinaires was in production—as can be seen in the “Rocking Horse People” of “Metzengerstein,” the “Within You Without You” of “William Wilson,” and in “Toby Dammit,” who “blew his mind out in a car.”’ – Tim Lucas


I first read about SPIRITS OF THE DEAD – the 1968 Italian/French anthology film based on three short stories by Edgar Allan Poe - in the pages of Michael J. Weldon’s The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film (Ballantine, 1983). It was one of literally dozens upon dozens of titles which I eagerly jotted down into a notebook as Weldon’s amazing tome opened my eyes to a range of cinema I had never known existed before (and if I did, had never paid much attention to until reading the author’s unique spin on it). I have to admit that, as a teenaged boy who hotly anticipated every late-night Saturday TV screening of BARBARELLA (1968), my main impetus for initially wanting to see SPIRITS OF THE DEAD was the thought of watching more late-sixties-era Jane Fonda parading around in skimpy, fetishistic outfits. 
When I finally did get to see SPIRITS OF THE DEAD almost 15 years later (thanks to a grainy bootleg VHS sourced from an Australian grey-market company called Psycho Voodoo Video), my film appreciation had thankfully developed and matured substantially, and even with the tape’s dubious quality (third generation dub at least), the film seduced me and overwhelmed me from the get-go. That doesn’t mean that Jane Fonda didn’t look as stunning as I had imagined, but she was just one part of the film’s phantasmagorical collision of visuals, sounds and ideas which penetrated my senses like an unstoppable surrealistic hurricane. 



For those who are unfamiliar with SPIRITS OF THE DEAD (or HISTOIRES EXTRAORDINAIRES, as it was known in France), the three Poe stories adapted for the movie (in order of appearance) were: "Metzengerstein" (directed by Roger Vadim with Jane and Peter Fonda), “William Wilson” (directed by Louis Malle with Alain Delon) and “Never Bet the Devil Your Head” (filmed as “Toby Dammit”, directed by Federico Fellini with Terence Stamp). While the first two segments are works of frequent visual beauty and compelling abstract themes (the opening sequence of Malle’s segment in particular never fails to induce overwhelming anxiety in me), they are pretty much curtain raisers to Fellini’s “Toby Dammit”. A portrait of an alcoholic Shakespearean actor (Stamp) slowly losing his mind (and ultimately his head) in one of the most terrifying yet hauntingly beautiful descents into madness ever depicted on film, “Toby Dammit” was initially considered almost two good to be included as part of the trilogy. There was some discussion around Fellini adapting another Poe story and releasing that and “Toby Dammit” as its own anthology film, but as tempting as that idea is it never eventuated and “Toby Dammit” was included as the final story in SPIRITS OF THE DEAD as planned.

Written by Tim Lucas and published by Electric Dreamhouse as part of their excellent Midnight Movie Monographs series, Spirits of the Dead (Histoires Extraordinaires) is an engrossing read which serves as both an in-depth history of its production, critical reception and complex release history, as well as providing a virtual shot-by-shot analysis of the film. As someone who has long studied and championed European genre cinema (through the pages of his seminal Video Watchdog magazine and more recently via his audio commentary work), Lucas is certainly the one qualified to take on SPIRITS OF THE DEAD, and I personally have always enjoyed his writing style so it’s comforting to see him return to the page with a substantial written piece, now that Video Watchdog is sadly defunct.
Sensibly, after an entertaining and nostalgic recollection of his own introduction to SPIRITS OF THE DEAD at the Plaza Theatre in Norwood, Ohio in 1970, Lucas approaches each of the three segments as their own individual films, which of course is what they actually are. And just to ensure you are getting a complete overview of SPIRITS OF THE DEAD, and to help understand a lot of the points being made by Lucas’ text, Spirits of the Dead (Histoires Extraordinaires) even reprints the three Poe stories which inspired the film. I personally love production info above analysis, so my favourite parts of the book are those which deal with the history of the film, both as a whole and its individual parts – from a germ of an idea in the mind of French producer Raymond Eger and the recruiting of the talent (Orson Welles was originally tapped to direct an adaptation of “The Masque of the Red Death”) to its somewhat underwhelming premiere at Cannes and subsequent editing for its 1969 US release by AIP (American International Pictures). It was AIP who changed its title to SPIRITS OF THE DEAD for the American market, where it had the distinction of being the first horror film to be slapped with the R rating in that country. Also included is an overview of previous filmic and TV adaptations of Poe stories (including, of course, the classic run of Poe films made at AIP by Roger Corman), and a chronology of some of the more notable home video and disc releases (the one to beat currently being the 2010 Blu-ray released by Arrow Academy).


Though substantially smaller (in both word count and sheer size) than Lucas’ last book devoted to European genre cinema – his mammoth 2007 book on Italian filmmaker Mario Bava, All the Colors of the Dark – the Midnight Movie Monographs series are the perfect size for an in-depth examination of an individual film, providing enough room for details while trimming off any unnecessary fat. They are shaping up into a nice library of books which share the same format but highlight a diverse range of writing styles from various fine authors, and encompass a good range of cult cinema that includes both well-known films along with some more slightly obscure or unexpected titles. Future announced entries in the series include such films as From Beyond the Grave (1974), Eyes Without a Face (1960), Hammer’s masterful Frankenstein Must be Destroyed (1969), De Palma’s The Fury (1978), the beautifully hypnotic Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971), Cronenberg’s The Brood (1979) and Herk Harvey’s surrealist classic Carnival of Souls (1962), the latter two authored by noted comic book artist and film writer Stephen R. Bissette.

Because I had not seen it in quite a while, I gave SPIRITS OF THE DEAD a rewatch before plunging into the book. Immediately upon finishing the text I watched the film again, appreciating many of its textures in a new and re-invigorated way. To me, that marks the sign of a good book that has done its job well. Illustrated throughout with B&W photos, Spirits of the Dead (Histoires Extraordinaires) is due for publication (in hardcover) around the end of July, with a cover price of UK 20 pounds. For more information keep track of the publisher’s website at: ELECTRIC DREAMHOUSE
Review by and Copyright 2018 John Harrison



Friday, July 20, 2018

"10 TO MIDNIGHT" APPROACHES

Getting some work done on the slideshow presentation to accompany my upcoming introduction to the screening of the remarkably sleazy and vicious 1983 Cannon Films production 10 TO MIDNIGHT at The Backlot cinema in Melbourne on September 13.





Thursday, July 19, 2018

MONSTER! #33

Received my contributor's copy of MONSTER! #33 last week and can't wait to dive in. At 370 pages this beast will keep you absorbed for hours. Dedicated to the late artist Heather Paxton and featuring wonderful front and back cover art by Mike Hall, my contribution to this issue is an 18-page article on classic horror and sci-fi poster magazines of the 1970s & 80s, including an interview with Dez Skinn, inspirational editor of MONSTER MAG and THE HOUSE OF HAMMER.








GREG BRADY, BAD BOY

Just submitted my first completed piece for Lee Gambin's upcoming book TONIGHT, ON A VERY SPECIAL EPISODE, which examines episodes of American sit-coms (mostly from the 1960s-90s) that tackled serious and controversial topics. I will be writing about several episodes of THE BRADY BUNCH for the book, my first completed piece being for the second season episode "Where There's Smoke", where Greg gets busted smoking a cigarette while trying to impress the local hot high school rock band, The Banana Convention. This was also the famous "Clowns never laughed before, and beanstalks never grew" episode, where Greg's inner singer/songwriter began to emerge.


CUNNING STUNTS

Was a real treat getting to see STUNT ROCK (1979) on the big screen at the Astor this evening, my first time cinema viewing of this bizarre meld of theatrical rock and daring stuntwork, conceived as an attempt to make an international star out of acclaimed Australian stuntman Grant Page. The 35mm print screened was in exceptional shape and some of those old-school stunts looked even more exhilarating and hair-raising on the big screen. I have to say I quite dig the music of Sorcery, the theatrical rock band featured in the movie, who are reminiscent of Stonehenge-era Spinal Tap and unfortunately split-up soon after the movie was finished.
The screening was followed by a highly entertaining Q&A with the director and co-writer of the movie, Brian Trenchard-Smith, who gave some interesting insights into not only STUNT ROCK but many of his other films, which include such beloved Australian exploitation classics as THE MAN FROM HONG KONG (1975), TURKEY SHOOT (1982), BMX BANDITS (1983) and DEAD END DRIVE-IN (1986). I wish I had thought to ask him about his work on one of my fave 90s TV shows, SILK STALKINGS. I got to have a chat with him afterwards and told him about my wife Marneen's own career as a Hollywood stunt performer, which he asked about with a genuine interest. I also had him sign my DVD of NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD, the 2008 documentary on Australian exploitation cinema which he was interviewed and heavily featured in (his signature joins that of fellow interview, the fabulous John Michael Howson, and the director of the documentary, Mark Hartley).





Friday, April 6, 2018

HAMMER HORROR: THE WARNER BROTHERS YEARS

2017/UK/Directed by Marcus Hearn



Written and directed by noted Hammer scholar and author Marcus Hearn and produced by the folks behind Diabolique magazine, HAMMER HORROR: THE WARNER BROTHERS YEARS is an entertaining and fairly deep and thorough examination of the genre films which the legendary Hammer studios produced in conjunction with Warner Brothers between 1968 and 1974, a period which saw some of the best and most daring, as well as some of the more experimental and strange, titles emerging from the studio. The infusion of money from Warners saw the films reach a new level in terms of production values, while the distribution which Hammer received from the deal also saw their films gain more visibility in terms of worldwide distribution.

By the time Warner Brothers became involved with Hammer with DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968), the beautifully-lurid, gothic horror productions which made the studio famous across the globe had already been around for a decade, and while they were still turning out popular films, cinema - and the world in general - had changed immesurably, and what had been horrific and shocking about films like THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) now seemed rather quaint and tame compared to the new wave of cinema that was pushing boundaries and taking advantage of more tolerant censorship laws, movies such as BONNIE & CLYDE (1967), NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) THE WILD BUNCH (1969), MIDNIGHT COWBOY (1969) and EASY RIDER (1969), not to mention more provocative UK horror features like Michael Reeves' WITCHFINDER GENERAL (aka THE CONQUERER WORM, 1968). In an attempt to keep up with the times, Hammer began upping the ante once again, both graphically and thematically, with Terence Fisher's superb FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969) and Peter Sasdy's TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1970), as well as the strange and rather obscure CRESCENDO (1970). Other Hammer movies produced with the help of Warner's during this period included the rather oddball science-fiction film MOON ZERO TWO (1969) and the prehistoric adventure WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH (1970) with Victoria Vetri.

When Warner Brothers was sold and changed hands in June of 1969, the new owners sadly decided to cut right back on their dealings with Hammer, effectively limiting their involvement with the studio to just one film per year, a period which saw the release of DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972), THE SATANIC RIGHTS OF DRACULA (1973) and the much-maligned kung-fu/horror hybrid THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974). Sadly, by this point Hammer were once again being made to look somewhat antiquated in the wake of THE EXORCIST (1973) and the more provocative, grimy and transgressive British horror films directed by the likes of Pete Walker, such as HOUSE OF WHIPCORD (1974) and FRIGHTMARE (1974). Indeed, Warner did not even bother with a US release for the the last two films they produced under their deal with Hammer, with both THE SATANIC RIGHTS OF DRACULA and THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES sitting on the shelves for several years before getting a belated stateside release (under various titles) by small independent distributors.

Along with a number of rare production photos and archival behind-the-scenes footage, HAMMER HORROR: THE WARNER BROTHERS YEARS features new on-camera interviews with stars like Veronica Carlson, Madeline Smith, Caroline Munro and John Carson, as well as director Peter Sasdy along with noted Hammer fans and historians Joe Dante, Jonathan Rigby, Denis Meikle and others. My own personal highlights from the documentary are those which cover CRESCENDO (a film rarely discussed in other Hammer books or documentaries) and the scenes that were cut from various films for their US release (such as the controversial rape scene in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED and Victoria Vetri's nude shots in the otherwise kid-friendly WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH).

In many respects, HAMMER HORROR: THE WARNER BROTHERS YEARS is like a feature-length (101 minutes) version of the excellent featurettes which Hearn has put together for many of the non-Warner Hammer Blu-rays that have appeared over recent years.With most of the Warner Hammer Blu-ray and DVD releases being sadly bare bones affairs, this documentary provides the perfect accompaniment for these films, and should appeal to both die-hard Hammer fans and general cinema buffs and historians alike.

More information on the documentary can be found at the Diabolique website at the following link:



Sunday, April 1, 2018

X-RAY MARKS THE SPOT

My piece on the classic 1963 Roger Corman mind-bender  X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES is now up on the Diabolique website. Click on the link below to read.

X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES Diabolique Article





POLICEWOMAN

My current TV binge watch is the first (1974) season of POLICEWOMAN, a show I enjoyed watching growing-up but only ever saw sporadically so it's great to see how it unfolded and developed from the start.
My impetus for revisiting this series came about from recently watching the first fantastic season of POLICE STORY, where the final episode ("The Gamble") was the clear inspiration for POLICEWOMAN, since it starred Angie Dickinson as an undercover cop (with a different name to her "Pepper" Anderson character) alongside Ed Bernard and Charles Dierkop, both playing the same cops (Styles and Royster) that they would portray in POLICEWOMAN. With Bert Convy playing the character which Earl Holliman would portray in POLICEWOMAN, "The Gamble" is another great episode of POLICE STORY and provides a further example of just how honest and uncompromising the series was (at one point in "The Gamble", when the Angie Dickinson character goes undercover as a hooker, Royster asks her "Do you know what a string of pearls is?").
POLICEWOMAN is not quite as tough or gritty as POLICE STORY but it is still a highly-enjoyable watch anchored by a great cast with terrific chemistry, and of course Dickinson is so strong as the lead. Some great guest stars so far in the first season as well - my favourites being William Shatner as a high-school science teacher mixed-up in the on campus drug trade, and Bob Crane as a radio DJ who uses his wife's extra-marital affair as an excuse to bump her off. Considering Crane's own bloody demise in a Scottsdale motel room just a few years later, it's a rather unsettling appearance. I had to wonder if he flashed his famous collection of X-rated Polaroids to Angie while on set (he was supposedly quite proud of his photography work and not shy about showing it)?
Now I need to find the POLICEWOMAN action figure and costume accessory sets, would make great playtime fun with the KOJACK and STARSKY & HUTCH dolls from the same era.








Saturday, March 17, 2018

CITY ON FIRE

Another new addition to Netflix Australia which I highly recommend is LA 92, a recent (2017) feature-length documentary produced by National Geographic, which examines the incendiary racial riots and violence that occurred in the wake of the police beating of Rodney King and their subsequent clearing of the charges laid against them.
In Australia the King beating and the riots were big news, but there was still so much that I learnt from this riveting documentary, which is composed entirely of vintage news reports and amateur video footage shot by people caught up in the chaotic unrest. Brilliantly pieced together and combined with a powerfully effective score, LA 92 not only educates about its subject but puts you right in the midst of its terrifying whirlpool, which had clearly been simmering for years before the truly incomprehensible King decision (along with the earlier killing of African-American teenager Latasha Harlins by a Korean convenience store worker) forced the powder keg to ignite.



ANNIHILATION

Alex Garland's ANNIHILATION (2018) is another beautifully cerebral, thought-provoking and at times terrifying science-fiction thriller from the writer/director of the brilliant EX MACHINA. It's a true reflection on the sad state of current cinema distribution that ANNIHILATION was deemed "not commercial enough" for threatrical screenings outside of the US. Instead it has gone straight to Netflix in Australia and is available to view right now, and is well-worth doing so asap. Led by stars Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh, ANNIHILATION may not quite be the emotional stunner that EX MACHINA was, but it is totally seductive and gripping, a simple idea over which layers of complexity are slowly and effectively added. There's a few stunningly beautiful visual moments in the film that are composed like classic abstract and surreal paintings, not to mention a nail-biting monster attack that comes with an aural accompaniment that is truly unnerving. Delivering on its title, ANNIHILATION will wipe you out.



Saturday, March 10, 2018

SCARRED FOR LIFE

Another night, another of the new local Hammer Blu-rays given the once-over. Last night's title was SCARS OF DRACULA (1970), which I got up to watch at 2am as this always seems to be the hour when gothic Hammer is most effective to me (no doubt partly due to the fact that this was the time I first saw a lot of these films on TV when growing-up).
Produced at the same time as HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN in order for the two films to share a double-bill, SCARS OF DRACULA is not only the worst of Hammer's DRACULA films starring Christopher Lee, but possibly the studio's worst vampire film, period. It is good to see Lee getting more screen time (and dialogue) than usual, but the absence of Peter Cushing's Van Helsing is sorely felt, and the cheaper than usual production values (brick castle walls that wobble when bumped, rubber knives that bend when hitting skin, clearly fake vampire bats) are even more obvious in hi-def. And the mod hairdos on young male stars Dennis Waterman and Christopher Matthews make the characters better suited for the modern-day follow up DRACUL A.D. 1972 than a period gothic piece. And I can't help but hear the Benny Hill theme tune play when Bob Todd turns up as the Burgomaster.
On the plus side, one-time Doctor Who Patrick Troughton is great as Klove, Dracula's servant, and its nice to see Hammer regular Michael Ripper getting more scenes than usual (as the tavern landlord, of course). Dracula's death by lightning strike is also different and effective (despite the obvious rubber Chris Lee mask on the burning stuntman), and the film is surprisingly graphic thanks to the studio taking advantage of the recent change in the British X certificate (which raised the minimum viewing age from 16 to 18). The TV version I grew-up with on Channel 9 was clearly cut to ribbons. The Hammer glamour quota in SCARS OF DRACULA is filled by Jenny Hanley, Anouska Hempel and Wendy Hamilton.



MUMMY DEAREST

Despite numerous attempts over the years, I have never really been able to connect with Seth Holt's BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB (1971). In fact, other than Terrence Fisher's masterful THE MUMMY (1959) I have found all of Hammer's mummy flicks to be somewhat underwhelming and lacking, certainly in comparison to the studio's other great gothic (and modern) horrors. Unfortunately last night's viewing of the new local Blu-ray release of BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB has done little to alter my view of the film. Based on Bram Stoker's novel THE JEWEL OF THE SEVEN STARS, the film certainly looks beautiful and lush, has a fine score by Tristram Cary, and atmosphere oozing from almost every pore. It presents an interesting take on the traditional mummy themes, and Valerie Leon looks absolutely ethereal in her dual role as Margaret Fuchs/Queen Tera, but it's just one of those movies where its whole does not reflect or do justice to its wonderful individual elements. It's also a movie whose production was beset by personal tragedy - original star Peter Cushing had to drop out after only three days filming due to the illness of his beloved wife, and director Seth Holt died at the age of only 48 while the film was still one week away from the completion of filming (Michael Carreras overseeing the completion of the film).



CARRY ON FRANKENSTEIN

Really enjoyed a recent viewing of the new local Blu-ray release of HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (1970). It cops a lot of flack from Hammer fans, and it's understandable why, with its more comedic and saucy take on the classic gothic horror story. But it was the first Hammer horror film I ever saw, and it did its job of scaring the heck out of me on late-night TV when I was a kid. Ralph Bates is not the Victor Frankenstein that Peter Cushing was but he was a good actor who died far too young and I loved his take on the character here. He gets great support too from Jon Finch and Dennis Price as the creepy, jovial graverobber who loves his job, and Dave Prowse as the bald, muscle-bound monster. I've always loved the way film ends so abruptly and on such a blackly comedic note, and of course there is the usual dose of lovely Hammer glamour in the form of Veronica Carlson and Kate O'Mara. Not classic Hammer by any stretch but a very entertaining and different take on the subject and a clear indication of just how much Hammer were struggling to stay afloat and relevant as the 1970s dawned.



Monday, March 5, 2018

CLASSIC UNIVERSAL MONSTER ART

My article looking at 1950's Universal Studios genre movie posters and their often-stunning art has now been posted over at the Diabolique website. You can read the piece by clicking the link below.



Wednesday, February 28, 2018

SON OF UNSUNG HORRORS

Edited by Eric McNaughton & Darrell Buxton



Thanks to his excellent and long-running digest magazine We Belong Dead, Eric McNaughton is one of the more prominent and respected names in the UK genre magazine scene. Recently, his imprint has expanded to include the beautiful large-sized books Unsung Horrors, A Celebration of Peter Cushing and the truly phenomenal 70s Monster Memories (which I reviewed for the pages of Weng's Chop magazine in their ninth issue from 2016). Now Eric has ushered in 2018 with another absolute treat for the classic horror fan with Son of Unsung Horrors.

Featuring an introduction from filmmaker John Landis (Joe Dante introduced the first volume), Son of Unsung Horrors follows the same format as its predecessor, with a number of genre film writers taking a look at some of their favourite overlooked or underrated horror films from the silent ear to the early-1980s, with a large majority of them coming from the 1960s and 70s (a beloved era of horror for many of the people this book is aimed at). Most films are given between two to three pages, and each essay is accompanied by a rare and often stunning selection of still, posters, lobby cards and other original promotional material, the majority of them in full colour. Some of my own favourite films covered in Son of Unsung Horrors are the atmospheric Italian film The Embalmer (1965), Paul Naschy's Night of the Werewolf (1981), Irwin Allen's outrageous killer bees disaster epic The Swarm (1978), the wonderfully strange Brit biker horror Psychomania (1973), the messy Satanic Panic pulp The Devil's Rain (1975) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956, a film I recently discussed myself HERE as part of Diabolique's regular webite column on Universal Horrors).


Of course, there are quite a number of films covered which, to many film buffs, are not really considered to be "unsung". Certainly, Herk Harvey's Carnival of Souls (1962) is rightly regarded as a classic and highly influential piece of surrealist genre cinema, and movies like William Castle's The Tingler (1959) and Madhouse (1972) have many admirers and have been written about extensively in the past. Likewise Peter Bogdanovich's 1968 thriller Targets with Boris Karloff, and Peter Weir's haunting Australian mystery Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) are widely considered classics that have large followings outside the general horror audience. But on the whole Son of Unsung Horrors offers a pleasing and very interesting cross-section of titles and the writing is kept fresh by the number of contributors and their varying writing styles (some analytical, some informative, and some just plain appreciative).

The hefty cover price of Son of Unsung Horrors (UK 30 pounds plus another 20 for shipping if you are outside the UK) will restrict its appeal to mostly hardcore horror fans and collectors, but there's no doubt that if it is your cup of tea then the cost will be more than worth it to have this beautifully lush volume sitting on your shelf or coffee table for others to envy. Almost half of the limited print run for Son of Unsung Horrors has already been sold on pre-orders alone, and the rest are not likely to remain available for too long. Both 70s Monster Memories and A Celebration of Peter Cushing sold out quickly and go for mad money these days, so get in fast if you want to secure your copy of this one. 

Son of Unsung Horrors is available direct from the publisher's website at www.unsunghorrors.co.uk. Click HERE for more details.