Friday, 30 March 2012

From the archives: Wild at Heart

This feature originally appeared in ZERO magazine circa 2005.

It’s difficult to believe that it is fifteen years since I took an unwitting female companion to see Wild at Heart at the cinema ,because it seems like only yesterday. I remember it distinctly. The lights went down, the strains of Schubert’s ‘Im Abendrot’ boomed from the speakers and those credits splashed across the image of intense flames. The fire and the classical music faded to be replaced by a disorientating view of an ornate ceiling and the familiar sound of Glen Miller’s “In the Mood”. Sailor Ripley (Nicholas Cage) dressed like a cool Potsy from ‘Happy Days’ skips down a marble staircase and is confronted by a man in a suit who declares his intention to do harm, and everything explodes. The music becomes a thrash hammer accompanying the brutal blows as Ripley smashes the antagonist’s head again and again and again on the brass railings, his blood splashing starkly against the pale steps. Thus does ‘Wild At Heart’ introduce itself to the unsuspecting viewers and declare boldly, “You’re not gonna fucking believe this movie and it will stay with you forever!”

It has to be the craziest first three minutes of a film I’ve ever seen.

The combination of the intense, hymn-like music and the vision of boiling flames has a unique effect on the viewer. It is hypnotic. The subsequent rapid transitions in image and sound and the shocking switch into brutal violence and thunderous music is dizzying. That is how ‘Wild At Heart’ works. It keeps you off balance because you can’t bear to look away, even when you want to or have to.

David Lynch has forged his career from keeping us off balance and the juxtaposition of diverse sounds and images in just one of his techniques. The explosive sound of ‘Slaughterhouse’ by little known metal monsters Powermad (they sadly split shortly after their debut album was released) punctuates the action and almost always accompanies Sailor’s violent paroxysms. Powermad are now a little part of movie history. Shortly after Sailor is released from a correctional institute for the murder of the man on the steps he and his girl Lula elope, much to the chagrin of Lula’s mother. Whilst attending a Powermad show (an opportunity for Sailor to show his Elvis style kung-fu dance moves) an unwise patron of the club makes a move on Lula and refers to Sailor as a ‘faggot’ for wearing a snake-skin jacket. Sailor exclaims “This is a snake-skin jacket, symbol of my individuality and belief in personal freedom!”  After making an example of the fool he proceeds to sing Elvis Presley’s “Love Me” to a delighted Lula, with Powermad themselves providing accompaniment.

Cinema just does not get any better than this.

Lynch has a long-standing connection with more extreme forms of music, as reflected by the soundtracks to both ‘Wild At Heart’ and ‘The Lost Highway’. Using such diverse elements as Angelo Badalamenti and Rammstein to create emotional soundscapes that not only accompany but also enhance the onscreen imagery is not unusual in film. Lynch simply does it better than most. Another great example is the use of ‘Wicked Game’ by Chris Isaak. The music seems to haunt the lonely highway when we see Lula menaced by the spectre of her mother in the form of the wicked witch (one of many references to the Wizard of Oz) and the lovestruck couple happen upon a devastating car crash. Incidentally it is that car crash that gives Lynch an opportunity to demonstrate his fascination with the brain as we see a bewildered Sherilyn Fenn put her fingers into the wound in her head, remove a piece of brain and bemoan, “I’ve got sticky stuff in my hair! Has anyone seen my hairbrush?” It echo’s the scene in ‘Blue Velvet’ where a shot police officer stands with exposed brains like a malfunctioning android. Lynch has used the brain, head and mind as powerful symbols throughout his career. The Elephant Man was killed by the weight of his own head, in his version of ‘Dune’ he eschews the book’s attitude to physical combat in favour of mental discipline used to kill. ‘The Lost Highway’ and ‘Mullholland Drive’ ponder identity and mental illness. Lynch says the brain is “just like a plate, but the nervous system and the mind is, uh, It's the thing that traps us and ultimately frees you." He regularly gives lectures and speaks on ‘Consciousness, Creativity and the Brain’.

So is he a genius or just crackers? Or both?

He did bring us the backwards-speaking and funky-walking dwarf in Twin Peaks.

He also has started his own foundation dedicated to raising $7 billion so he can make transcendental meditation available for students, and build a university for world peace in Washington, D.C.

He cast Isabella Rossellini (his wife at the time) in the role of Dorothy Vallens, the brutalised lover/victim of Dennis Hopper’s terrifying Frank Booth in arguably his most disturbing film ‘Blue Velvet’. On voyeurism Lynch said, "I'm convinced we all are voyeurs. It's part of the detective thing. We want to know secrets and we want to know what goes on behind those windows. And not in a way that we would use to hurt anyone.” Through ‘Blue Velvet’ he makes us voyeurs. It’s difficult to watch but we can’t look away. It’s also maniacally funny, because if you don’t laugh at the sight of Dean Stockwell miming ‘In Dreams’ to Frank Booth you’d probably cry. The marriage with Rossellini did not long survive the release of ‘Blue Velvet’. She cited his increasingly bizarre behaviour (including laughing hysterically during the filming of the ritualistic rape scene) as cause for the split.

Interestingly Robert Loggia wanted to play Frank Booth. Lynch later cast him as the similarly disturbing Mr Eddy in ‘The Lost Highway’, continuing the tradition (as he did with Willem Dafoe’s Bobby Peru character in ‘Wild At Heart’) of populating his worlds with the most terrifying and powerful tyrants.

Lynch described ‘The Lost Highway’ as a “psychogenic fugue”, another example of his fascination with the mind and psychosis. Ironic as a self induced fugue state is one of his creative techniques for brainstorming ideas, brought on by epic quantities of very strong, sugary coffee and doughnuts. It would be easy to forget that Lynch also has a keen sense of self-deprecating humour. Witness his performance as Gordon, Agent Cooper’s deaf boss in ‘Twin Peaks’, nor is he above self parody, evidenced by the achingly slow version of his signature white lines on the highway in ‘Straight Story.’

Ultimately David Lynch’s movies conform to a template of his own making and ‘Wild at Heart’ fits that template perfectly. Lynch said it was “about finding love in hell – which might be a theme in all my movies!”

It’s a fairy tale, a romance, a violent road movie, a rocking good time and it’s required watching.

Stab it ‘n’ steer!

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

900 million pounds

When the Department of Health, spurred on by the then-new coalition government, announced that all regional offender health teams would be canned I was disappointed, frustrated and generally pissed off at the looming spectre of redundancy. However, on a certain level, I understood. Countless millions were squandered under labour through regional development agencies that accomplished little more than swelling the egos of a whole host of self-congratulatory ingrates and arse-lickers, something which the Department of Health has more than its fair share of. Of course one always takes an elevated view of ones own worth in these things but deep down I knew that the gravy train had to be stopped and that the natural order of things is for the baby to be thrown out with the bathwater and for everything to have a fucking good re-booting.

I've said it before and I'll say it again here and now, I am an idiot.

When I look at the people who presided over the culture of cock-sucking, bottom-feeding waste, they were the ones left standing.

And they were the ones who kowtowed to the new regime, threw out millions of pounds worth of reporting and recommendations and, at the cost of several more millions, rebadged it all and rolled it out as something newer and shinier.

And they of course are the ones who last year underspent the DH budget by £900,000,000.

Nine-hundred million Earth pounds.

That is 3600 dinners with the PM.

Holy fuck!

And I, and hundreds like me, was made redundant because the Department of Health had to save some money.

It's a tough thing to swallow but then of course we have tories in Number 10. Every line that has been spun about the NHS, the criminal justice system and beyond is a pack of lies and the bullshit continues to make us gag and splutter. Today the petrol stations are running out of fuel due to panic buying and a government commissioned report condemned schools, parents and advertisers for the riots of last summer.

Schools. The same schools that have been fundamentally undermined and devalued by 30 years of Polyfilla policies.

Parents. Whose parents? Most of the rioters were in their twenties and thirties! The fifteen year olds involved may have been there with their parents and who knows, are probably shitting babies out on the floor of Schu as they ransack it but seriously... parents to blame? Before anything else? Before any broader analysis?

And finally advertisers. The fact that adverts suggest we live in a capitalist utopia is a dream that nobody (normal or grounded) truly believes, only the fat fucking pigs in the City of London buy it and they encourage it and love it and worship it like an even bigger, fatter fucking pig whose udders they repeatedly deep throat in their orgasmic throes of delirium at having fucked the proles, raped their ragged arses and left them to take root in the ditches in which they were born, like the filthy mandrake roots with which they share their squalid IQs.

That is the big three then. No mention whatsoever of thirty and more years of irresponsible social policy on the part of successive tory, labour and tory again governments. Governements that, thanks to Thatcher's example, saw the teet and not only chased it, but in doing so bulldozed over any decent, moralistic bystanders and institutions in the pursuit of self-satisfaction and the life-enhancing cheese from Satan's cock. Meanwhile we devolve further because the adverts tell us we're cunts if we can't afford to buy little Jimmy a Big Trak and we have no self-esteem if we can't blow a Cadbury's Flake like a first class hooker. There is hope though because when I crash my car into a group of school-children after being blinded by rage at the next pack of fucking lies that the BBC fails to challenge, their parents can always ring Billy Murray and his whorebag actor 'real lawyer' mates and sue me further blind, right to the point where I fail to spot Mr Big in the showers and get seventeen pounds of dick hammer up my arse.

Which, strangely, is how I feel right now.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

2019: After the Fall of New York

It's sunday morning and, after a pre-9am visit to the recycling site in Bradford, I heard on Radio 4 that a Downing Street aide has been selling access to the Prime Minister and to 'Osborne and Cameron dinners' for around £250,000 a pop. For this, the aide promised the undercover reporters, their concerns can be addressed by the Downing Street Policy Department. In other words yet more evidence that our government are a set of disgusting pimps busy whoring out the country to the wealthy and corrupt. In the face of this new, but entirely unsurprising revelation, I resisted the urge to pull over, drop my dunnies and curl one out on the white lines. Had I done so the inevitable consequence would have been that I flag down the first Range Rover Sport I saw, drag out the occupant and beat their head like a cracked egg and feast on the goo inside. Fortunate then that I forced myself home to sob into a bowl of muesli (my willpower also got me past the MacDonalds sausage muffin) whilst watching some delightfully crappy 1980s Italian exploitation garbage. In this case 2019: After the Fall of New York.

In the early eighties Italian hack film-makers were privy to a startling alchemical recipe and the director of 2019 was definitely in on the secret. Giallo journeyman Sergio Martino had already tasted a moderate degree of grindhouse notoriety with Mountain/Slave of the Cannibal God, a vehicle for an aging Ursula Andress set against a backdrop of jungle adventure, genital mutilation and Stacy Keach. Sadly on this occasion the taste was ruined by the at-the-time seemingly ubiquitous-to-the-genre scenes of genuine animal cruelty and the impression that Andress was deeply miserable about the entire experience and sour-faced throughout.

Martino's next foray into tasteless genre film-making was Island of the Fishmen, in many ways his genetic splicing of The Island of Doctor Moreau with some Shadow Over Innsmouth. Elevated by the presence of Barabara Bach and the by now permanently slumming Richard Johnson (amazingly once considered for the role of James Bond) it's an all round hoot.

Sergio's zenith in the field of low budget craporamas would come in 1983 with the marvellous 2019: After the Fall of New York.

Take the plot of Escape From New York, but hollowed out and filled with the key premise of Children of Men, along with some essential staples such as cheap gore, a leading man that makes Michael Beck look like John Gielgud, a truck load of rats and a healthy sprinkling of dwarfs. Once these cornerstones are established then terribly dubbed and lumpen dialogue only add to the magic. Cue some sloppily staged fights, a raft of tramp-chic costumes, oodles of illogical behaviour and a moving demonstration of heroic self-sacrifice and BOOM. My shit is itching ever so slightly less thinking about those Bullingdon Club cunts and their sleeper hold on everything righteous and beautiful about this decaying country.

Death to all tories.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

From the archives: The Stink of Flesh

Back when zombie movies were really hard to come by this was the second indie effort I chanced my arm on after Feeding the Masses, I wrote this for a Horror site  where it must have been read by at least seven people. Reviving it here I hope to double that readership.

Low budget indie zombie movies always appeal to me on a puerile level and this one featured Billy Garberina, star of another ultra low budget effort of which I am very fond, Feeding the Masses. Although slightly thinner plot-wise than Masses the detail and dynamics of the characterisations, and the higher levels of innovative gore, ensure that The Stink of Flesh now occupies a spot similarly close to my heart.

Matool is a loner who has been surviving the apocalypse of the undead thanks to his wits and more than competent use of his hands, feet, hammer and nine inch nails. More recently however a new strain of more mobile and capable hyper-zombie have been making his hand-to-hand melee approach somewhat more risky. After picking up a young kid,  the sole survivor from the den of a thinly veiled paedophile, Matool is himself picked up (after being knocked out) by Nathan. Back at their place Matool meets Nathan's wife, Dexy, and becomes willingly involved in their 'alternative lifestyle' in which Dexy's sister Sassy (complete with malformed conjoined twin Dorothy and played by the niece of Gunnar 'Leatherface' Hansen) is also deeply involved. The situation is further complicated by the arrival of three special forces troopers and Nathan's unhealthy obsession with the female zombie he has chained up in his shed.

The lack of budget is evident but thanks to lashings of fun effects, blood and throat tearing The Stink of Flesh is never anything short of entertaining. The action is deftly handled and original, the hyper-zombies owing less to 28 Days Later and the Dawn remake, more to Umberto Lenzi's Nightmare City and the kung fu zombies of Versus. The cheesy acting (especially by the great Garberina) only lends a greater weight of charm to the sharp and pointed script, it is obvious the cast (with the possible exception of Nathan) are amateurs but they are obviously having fun and they exercise total dedication to their buddy's film. Their buddy in this case is Scott Phillips, screenwriter of cult classic Drive and his cameraman is Richard Griffin, director of Feeding the Masses.

The Stink of Flesh was made for just $3000 and it was worth every sweat-soaked cent so viva EDP Productions. I'll be keeping a close eye on their output from now on, especially their unofficial Star Wars spin-off Moisture Farmers.

Incidentally the extras are a heap of fun, particularly the commentary track which provides a warm and witty accompaniment to the feature.

From the archives: Feeding the Masses

These days one look at amazon reveals that there seem to be at least 834 new low budget zombie movies being released on cheap DVD EVERY MINUTE. I wrote this seven or eight years ago when such finds were extremely rare and usually had to be sourced from America.

"No-one remembers the guy who filmed the Hindenburg disaster, but we all remember the footage."

I totally love zombie films of all shapes and sizes but there is a reason why I like some way more than others. A lot of people rate Lucio Fulci's 'Zombie' (AKA 'Zombi 2' AKA 'Zombie Flesheaters') very highly and I do like it a lot for the gore factor but my favourites are the ones that drive home the apocalyptic message through exploring the reaction of characters as the world around them is falling apart. The first ten outstanding minutes of the remake of Dawn of the Dead (and the incredible credits sequence set to Johnny Cash's When the Man Comes Around) is a great example of what I'm talking about. My favourite bits of Romero's first two zombie flicks are the media bits, perplexed newscasters struggling to report on and rationalise the end of the world. It makes for fantastic drama. The Ddddy of them all of course is the original Dawn of the Dead with the chaotic TV studio scenes and that's the perspective that 'Feeding The Masses' attempts to tackle, that of the weary TV workers feebly attempting to document disaster in the face of personal danger, conflicting emotions and government interference.

Our main protagonists are..
Torch, cameraman for a small TV station in Providence, Rhode Island, he wants to record the end of the world for posterity instead of filming features on the effects of the zombie plague on mom-and-pop businesses such as coffee shops;
Sherry, aspiring TV journalist who wants to be a serious journalist and save the lives of viewers by reporting accurately the true extent of the zombie outbreak;
James, video engineer who hasn't slept in days and is feeling a bit under the weather, more so since the Government took over the TV station;
Roger, military escort to the TV crew, he REALLY wants to get in Sherry's pants.

As society collapses around them James ends up in charge of the Station under the close eye of a government agent with dreams of TV stardom, Roger and Sherry find they are not on the same wavelength and Torch leaves his weed at home. Meanwhile the army are shooting everything that moves, the virus is becoming more virulent by the day, and one of the gang is hiding some disturbing fetishes.

"When I lost my wife to cancer six months ago it was the worst moment of my life... until I saw her reanimated body being dreagged down Main Street behind a motorcycle!"
Customer testimonial for

As soon as the film opens it is obvious that this is no 'Dawn Of The Dead', it looks and sounds exactly like the indie film it is but that just seems to add to its charm, its all very Troma in fact, but Troma on Digital Video and with a more sophisticated sense of humour. It's a good job too because it's the sense of humour and sharp script that elevate the film well above other, way more expensive efforts at the zombie genre. The faux advertisements that punctuate the action are hilarious and reminiscent of Ed Neumeier's darkly witty ads in Robocop and Starship Troopers, and the film delights in taking stabs at the Fox News obsession with maps and alert levels and assuring us that the government is in control and has our best interests at heart.

As in
The Stink of Flesh the acting performances vary in quality but overall are buoyed up by the deliriously wild-eyed and infectiously energetic Billy Garberina. The gore is functional rather than spectacular and a few cheap CGI effects simply do not work but all of that is largely irrelevant thanks to smart writing by Trent Haaga and creative direction from Richard Griffin. The DVD extras are great and provide a cool insight into the lengths indie film-makers will go to to see their vision come to fruition.

Bottom line, if you expect gloss on your movies and cannot suspend disbelief when confronted with a bit of cheese then avoid. However if you want to watch a refreshing take on a beloved genre and can forgive low production values for the sake of good gags and entertaining characters then you may just find that, like me, you've stumbled across eighty minutes of fried gold.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

From the archives: The Exorcism of Emily Rose

In the week that yet another crap exorcism related film (The Devil Inside) comes from a major studio why not check out this old review of another crap exorcism related film. From a major studio.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose

The version I watched was the 'Unseen' extended edition (not unbloodyseen enough for my liking).

To cut a long story short the movie addresses the thorny issue of whether a presented behaviour which is disturbing and contrary to normal personality traits should be viewed as a symptom of mental illness or evidence of something more profoundly spiritual resulting from an external source and that can only be addressed through spiritual means. It's kind of like the science versus faith debate at the core of the snoretastic scifi bore Contact.
Unfortunately it suffers from the exact same problem in that it falls firmly behind the churchy argument and totally demerits any argument to the contrary through an alarmingly glib dismissal in which our protagonist, a feisty female defence attorney who normally defends evil men, paraphrases the input from a shady doctor thus, "So someone who's crazy doesn't know they're crazy?", to which he provides a Eureka moment and thereby dismisses one hundred years hard earned knowledge of psychiatry. By this reckoning anyone classed as mentally ill, but displaying insight, can reasonably be argued to be possessed by the devil!

All of this hogwash wouldn't matter so much if the film didn't portray itself as a true story with a valid moral point of view. Sadly it does and, as such, stands as a monumental bucket of snot that, if anyone bright actually got suckered in by it, could set back the treatment of mental illness in less enlightened areas by a couple of hundred years.

Interestingly the story upon which the movie is based is that of a
European girl whose backwards family drafted in the local priest to exorcise the devil from her body, ultimately resulting in her brutal and tragic death. In Europe the tragedy of this case is generally accepted as a result of blinkered narrow-mindedness and ignorance of the realities of chronic schizophrenia. Amazingly the movie flips that on its head and declares that science and medicine are hopeless in the face of the demonic possession that can afflict anyone, anytime.

Utter, utter bullshit and a big fat zero out of five.

Thanks to Lovecraft

This month saw the 75th anniversary of the death of one of the most influential authors the majority of us have never heard of.

H.P. Lovecraft wrote dozens of short tales over his short 47 years of life, mostly for publication as a jobbing writer. He was in many ways a terrified Victorian reactionary living in a rapidly changing, modernising and homogenising early 20th century and his rampant imagination took not only his surface fears but also his darkest, deepest anxieties about life and the cosmos and plaited them into tales of ancient traditions, slumbering terrors and nihilistic visions of our place in the universe.

I first discovered Lovecraft via a couple of routes, the first being a tattered old paperback copy of The House on the Borderlands by the brilliant but doomed British author William Hope Hodgson. My Gradfather and uncles were rapacious readers of all things pulp and The House on the Borderlands was one of hundreds of paperbacks that were passed onto me during my formative years. I was inducted in this way to a bizarre and colourful club that included Arthur Machen, Frank Herbert, Robert E Howard, Alfred Bester, Michael Moorcock and many others. Of course there was always the rough to go along with the smooth in the shape of E.C. Tubb's seemingly infinite Dumarest saga, the lasciviously awful Gor books by John Norman and what is to this day my favourite shit book ever, Dannus and the Dark Straights of Reglathium. Of all of these hundreds of tomes that I devoured as a child the biggest impact came via the works of Michael Moorcock and that one book by Hope Hodgson. The Sphere paperback had a striking cover, a muscled, pig-headed creature looming over a dark, gothic manse. The same painting would be used many years later on an early issue of White Dwarf magazine, by which time my old sphere paperback had long since been chewed up by a needle-toothed puppy.*

There was a quote on the back by Lovecraft, describing the book as 'a classic of the first water’. That was the first time I’d ever seen his name, and to this day I don't really know what Lovecraft meant by that, other than he rated it highly (as do I), but I would later learn after reading Lovecraft's essay Supernatural Horror in Fiction (from whence the quote originated) that the 1908 novel, and Hodgson's other weird fiction works, were an enormous influence on the then young american writer.

My second exposure to the Lovecraft name came when a friend and I, both aged 13, visited the Cecil cinema in Hull on our weekly monday cheap movie night. It cost just a pound and we had the choice of three (count them) screens. This night in particular our eyes flicked over the three posters on show and we instantly settled upon From Beyond. To my 13 year old  brain it was a lurid, nauseating and utterly stunning revelation and it was adapted from a story by H.P. Lovecraft.

I became obsessed with finding out who this Lovecraft fellow was so I requested that my school library obtain some. They did so and, much to their dismay, the books that arrived were the British Grafton omnibuses with the wonderfully bloody and grotesque Tim White covers*. They promptly vanished from the library, deemed unsuitable for our young minds, but not before my tiny brain had been exposed to At the Mountains of Madness, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath. To this day they are my favourite Lovecraft stories. I subsequently saved my pocket money and bought all three omnibuses and buried my head in what transpired to be a rather turgid body of work, littered with lumpen tropes and forgettable, over-wrought accounts of strange encounters. Shining in amongst the workaday jobbing works however lay a number of mind-expandingly brilliant stories that were evidently of a more personal nature to the troubled writer, and in them he reached me more than almost any other author I had ever read up until that point in my life.

It was around this point that, having played Dungeons & Dragons for a few years, my tastes in role-playing games moved towards more contemporary settings including Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu RPG. I still own and treasure my second edition box set and have very fond memories of playing (and taking my first ever mushrooms) in my friend Geof's loft. Geof was all about atmosphere and his sole intention when running Cthulhu games was to scare the shit out of us, and he did so on numerous occasions before turning his attention to games of Twilight 2000 in which we would argue and bicker endlessly over how many guns one man could realistically carry, and whether chinese soldiers would have that many gold teeth. It may or more not surprise you that we were short on girlfriends in those days.

I went on to play modifications of Call of Cthulhu extensively in my later teens and early twenties and sought out all other Lovecraft movie adaptations I could get my hands on, even the truly terrible ones. Since the halcyon days of straight-to-video horror films waned the Lovecraft adaptation has become a rarer beast but they do still emerge from time to time, and they are still mostly terrible. The notable recent exception is the black and white, silent movie of The Call of Cthulhu made on a modest budget by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. Although not a horror film by today's gore-drenched standards this lovingly crafted homage to the man successfully captures the angst-ridden tone of his best works and presents the story in a fashion that he himself would have recognised had he been an avid cinema-goer. The same people have recently released their take, this time a black and white talkie, on The Whisperer in Darkness.

Over recent years Lovecraft has come in from the literary cold, even having Penguin publish editions of his work. Today collections of his works (numerous and duplicative) dominate my bookcases, the most recent being the first ever to revert to his original manuscripts as source material rather than reprint the August Derleth amended Arkham House versions that have been the standard for over fifty years.

Lovecraft role-playing is, despite a decline in the fortunes of publisher and lincence-holder Chaosium, stronger than ever with numerous takes on the Mythos finding their way into print and pdf form for avid gamers everywhere. Kenneth Hite's tremendous Trail of Cthulhu rekindled my passion for all things Lovecraft but in all honesty I never went for, as a player of games or as a reader, the Mythos’s fear factor. I do however adore the cosmic scope and dreamy qualities of his work, and that is what my imagination is infused with thanks to William Hope Hodgson unwittingly and posthumously introducing me to H.P. Lovecraft.

*Fortunately my wonderful partner would, more than twenty years later, gift me a pristine copy of that very edition for christmas purely based upon a drunken, teary description form several months previous. I dread to think what she paid for it.

**For many years in the UK the Tim White covered Grafton ominibuses were the only Lovecraft in print (as they still are to this day) so too numerous fans such as myself they are burned into our memories as the defintive Lovecraft images, despite them having relatively little relation to the contents.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

From the archives: Alone in the Dark

Another oldie, from around 2006 this time. Uwe Boll was just beginning to make serious inroads to my crap-film-loving brain. I later wrote a feature on the good Doctor for the Quietus (linked on the right somewhere), but for now let's look back to...

Alone in the Dark
Back in the eighties when the home video market took off in a big way (a phenomenon I'm old enough to remember... aah Inseminoid [image] ) there were a handful of producers and directors who excelled in making movies specifically for that market. The biggest name in straight-to-video scifi/horror/action was Charles Band (now well known for his Full Moon company). Charles Band films were low budget and cheesy but full of character and often very funny. There is obviously a market for the Band brand as he has directed twenty-six and produced an astonishing two hundred and thirty-two films for the home video, DVD and cable market! Band is the positive face of uncinematic low budget scifi horror popcorn movies. He gave the world the Trancers and Puppetmaster series' and introduced Tim Thomerson to the world as a leading man (genius). He also hired Albert Pyun a couple of times. Albert was like the prototype Paul W. Anderson, there was no genre or style he could not rape wholesale to knock out his cheap, derivative (but entertaining) flicks, and he's still out there (@AlbertPyunFilms), somehow getting money to do his thing (although it appears that some of his fund raising methods may be dubious, he allegedly owes the government of Guam huge amounts of cash which they stumped up to fund his opus 'Max Havoc: Curse Of The Dragon').

I propose that the logical progression was for the major studios to realise that not only do they not have to produce anything original, in addition they too can plunder the existing library and hire a pro to cobble together money making garbage, but this time with a substantial budget and the promotional steamroller to MAKE us go see it. Enter Paul W.S. Anderson, Hack Extraordinnaire and director of video game and comic book adaptations. How the hell that even happened is anyone's guess as his first film, 'Shopping', was dire. It's ironic that major Hollywood player and cardboard cut-out Jude Law also owes his big break to 'Shopping'. In Anderson's favour his Hollywood films are watchably bad, and there are some things he does rather well. He has a good ability to integrate special effects into his work and everything does look slick, it just lacks character. Event Horizon is a great example. As Anderson farmed out the directing jobs for the Resident Evil sequels and AvP, and has entered remake territory with 'Deathrace 3000' then a gap in the video game adaptation market has yawned wide-open and, just in the nick of time, been filled by the sizeable personality of Uwe Boll!

Uwe Boll is an enigma. In the space of three years he became the internet fan's most hated and reviled character, and he hadn't even begun to roll. He owns his own production company and so has sole creative control over his projects yet manages to convince HUGE companies to entrust him with the reputation of their multi-million dollar franchises. How does he do it? I personally believe he is the modern day J Edgar Hoover and has embarrassing files on every major video game company executive in the world. He probably wears dresses too.

'House Of The Dead' was his first sojourn into the realm of video game adaptations, yes it was woeful but I enjoyed it on exactly the same level that I enjoyed Charles Band or Albert Pyun films when I was 14. I had no experience of the game on which it was based so had no axe to grind on that score. I'm a huge zombie movie fan but as I can happily watch any Italian stinkfest involving zombies I didn't mind it's bizarre approach to the zombie horror genre. I can handle a bit more Boll I thought to myself. So one day I watched 'Alone In The Dark', and here is what I found.

It begins with a crawl (like the text at the beginning of each Star Wars film to give us a bit of background), a fairly common tool in scifi and horror but this is no ordinary crawl. It goes on for HALF THE MOVIE, and has to be the longest, most excrutiatingly badly written piece of exposition ever to precede a movie. Just in case you don't like crawls, hate reading or are just plain illiterate fear not, Boll provided us with an anonymous eastern European sounding narrator so there is no escape from the mediocrity. In a nutshell it says that an ancient race called the Abkani created a gate to somewhere (probably dark) and before they could close it 'some evil' came through and they disappeared. Meanwhile an archaeologist blah blah, a shadowy government bureau blah blah, etc. According to the director he added the crawl because preview audiences didn't know what the hell his film was all about! Thanks for clearing that up for us Uwe.

Anyway Edward Carnby is a paranormal investigator. He looks the part anyway.
Long coat?
Skimpy low necked vest?
Erm.. Check!
Ability to karate kick impervious-to-bullets bad guys through windows?
Ugh... hang on a minute. I've never played the Alone In The Dark video games but had heard that they were adventure games of Gothic horror inspired by H. P. Lovecraft! In fact the mini-documentary on the disc features the writers and director name-checking Lovecraft numerous times. But then again Boll does say something along the lines of 'Lovecraft in a contemporary setting', so if contemporary means pointless kung fu fights and bullet-time then they've absolutely done everything right.
A thousand times wrong! I've banged my drum about gratuitous slow motion before but have to confess that, like seventies Hong Kong cinema with their hilarious irrelevant zooms, Boll has elevated irrelevant slow motion to the level of an art form. An irrelevant art form but an art form nonetheless.

Carnby: 'Will someone tell me what's going on here?'
Bureau woman: 'We're picking up massive readings!'
Carnby: 'That's not what I asked! I asked what the hell is going on here?'

On several occasions during the film I knew exactly how Carnby felt. Incidentally Carnby is played by Christian Slater, by no means the worst piece of casting in 'Alone In The Dark'.
After all Stephen Dorff plays a tough, uncompromising and quite frankly unpleasant government bureau action man called 'Burke' and, most hilariously of all, Tara Reid (of American Pie) plays an archaeologist called 'Aline'. I say hilariously because it seemed to me that every time she had to say 'cataloguing' or 'catalogued', or any sentence with more than seven words, her dialogue appeared dubbed on, as though Uwe had said 'Don't worry Fraulein, we'll get it in post!' Ironic when you consider that Tara could do so much better in actual catalogues. She would look mighty fine on the cover of the autumn/winter edition of Grattan.

Boy on plane: 'My mommy says that there is nothing to be afraid of in the dark.'
Carnby: 'Your mother's wrong, kid. Being afraid of the dark is what keeps most of us alive.'

Chill out Carnby you uptight freak! He was just making conversation. Carnby is like the movie, he has absolutely no sense of humour whatsoever, and for a movie that even rips off 'The Relic' at one point it really needs to get one fast. Ultimately, despite the source material and the claimed (but conspicuously absent) Lovecraftian inspiration 'Alone In The Dark' isn't a horror movie, it's a low quality action adventure. Carnby doesn't investigate the paranormal, he blows away CGI monsters with, and I quote, 'photon accelerated luminescent resin coated bullets'.
The days of Pyun and Anderson are gone, there is a new hack in town, and with another FIVE video game adaptations coming our way from Boll Filmproduction and Boll KG (Bloodrayne is completed and reviewed elsewhere) it appears Herr Boll's sojourn is looking more than permanent.
I cannot recommend this film to anyone except people like me, the curious and the insane, and it defies my ability to give it a rating. Watch it or don't.

Join me again soon for a review of Postal which, I'm convinced, will be the best film to come out of the US since Mario Bros. Curiously enough I've been hearing a lot of retrospective love for the Mario Bros film. I may have to grab a copy.

Thatcher's Bloody Britain

Last year, thanks to the spending cuts implemented by the incumbent Tory/Lib Dem coalition government I was made redundant. In the subsequent year I've signed on for a while, put a business together with some former colleagues and done a variety of pieces of work for a number of clients, however business is a little slow and I have some time on my hands. Therefore I applied for work as a 'bank' nurse, in other words a basic grade nurse available for flexible shifts and temporary assignments according to the needs of local NHS establishments. As a qualified mental health nurse of 18 years, with experience of all areas of mental health including high pressure environments (6 years working in a category B prison) I have no qualms about getting down and dirty with some coal-face nursing work, after all that's exactly how I spent the first 14 years of my qualified career.

Imagine my surprise then when, standing in a chip shop waiting for my extraordinarily unhealthy lunch,  I checked my emails and found that I had received the following anonymous response to my application from NHS Professionals:

Thank you for applying to NHS Professionals. It is with regret that I write to inform you that you have been unsuccessful at this stage of the selection process.

There is a palpable feeling of ignominious defeat in being made redundant, a sense that all of your efforts have been for naught. I consider myself extraordinarily lucky that I have a career to fall back on, after all this nation is short of qualified nurses. I have former colleagues that have found themselves applying for jobs two and three full grades below their former position and competing against hundreds of other applicants. I also have a fantastic partner who is also a healthcare professional with a solid job, therefore I am not in the position that many face, in that we remain able to pay the mortgage and put food on the table. In other words I am fully aware that my situation is not dire and that I am very fortunate.

Nevertheless I was livid when I read the above email. The reason for the rejection is unfathomable to me but appears to be yet another example of how bizarre this country is getting. On the radio today is news 5000 frontline police officers gone since the cuts, ambulances from Hull being dispatched to Leeds because of a shortage of 999 response vehicles, and theft, robbery and violence incidents up 11%. The Home Office doesn't recognise these problems of course but then they will shortly no doubt act on a new report commissioned by the FUCKING TORIES that suggests that police entry requirements should be more strict in the same breath as declaring that police constable starting pay should be dropped from around £23k to just above £19k. Come again? £19,000 per year to do the job of a police officer. These people are off their fucking gourds. Who in their right mind would want to deal with all of the horrible shit that coppers have to put up with for less than a computer operator in an NHS Trust, or a call centre? £19,000 per year. Unbelievable. Of course this report has been prepared by an independently wealthy Oxford graduate. Meanwhile our glorious leader is sucking Satan's cock with all the wet-mouthed enthusiasm of Tory Fucking Blair and managing to come off looking like exactly what he is, a frighteningly uncool, anti-hip, toffee-nosed shitbird. Still, he needn't worry, he's well taken care of as are all of his friends. That unbelievable whore-bag that was his employment tsar has stepped down as chair of the business she took £8.2 million from in one year (all of which is public money, that's theft for me), whilst remaining the company's biggest shareholder. The company that is undergoing investigation for several counts of fraud. The company which, despite the fraud probes, has just been granted another £30 million of public money to run education in prisons in London and the South-East.

Meanwhile I, as a qualified nurse of 18 years, can't get shortlisted for a bank nurse job.

Back to Far Cry 2 then.

Conan the Barbarian: It's not actually that shit!

I finally succumbed to the phage. I saw the all new Conan film on sale in a video rental store for under a tenner and had to have it. Until that point I had resisted the temptation as, anticipating the shitness, I'd promised myself that I would only buy it once it was under seven quid. I paid eight so once again my utter lack of self-discipline prevailed, as it so often does. That, no doubt, is the reason why I tend to live unhealthily, have a huge library of really quite crap films and only twenty minutes ago nipped out for some ciabatta so I could wolf an enormous sausage sandwich rather than eat the healthy, low GI muesli my erstwhile other half painstakingly sourced for me from an extortionately expensive farm shop (thanks babe). On the whole this personality quirk is a self-destructive defect but I reckon in the right circumstances it could make me a pretty awesome tory MP. A shame then that I consider them all to be a bottom-feeding gang of blood-sucking slags.

So then, Conan the Barbarian. It was evident from the first announcement of the pre-production of this film where it's core values would lay. Robert E Howard, the complex and doomed creator of Conan, never wrote a story with that name, or in fact any that included the name of the titular character in their title. It was coined by Roy Thomas for the popular 1970s comic line and later adopted by John Milius for his legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle in 1982. It's a curious phenomenon in modern cinema that we as an audience are considered too stupid and lacking in concentration that stand-alone titles a la the Bond series are no longer considered appropriate. In the case of Conan however the habit was started by the editor of the 1960s paperback collections of Howard's Conan stories and henceforth we read Conan the Warrior, Conan the Freebooter, Conan the Usurper etc. What readers weren't fully aware of at the time was that this editor, L Sprague de Camp, actually had the temerity to rewrite some of Howard's prose (something which has thankfully been ejected from the most recent collections).

The books proved hugely popular, largely thanks to their luridly painted covers by Frank Frazetta (and later by his successors like Melvyn Grant), leading De Camp and fellow pastiche author Lin Carter to pen their own Conan novels. Within twenty or so years a host of other authors had added to the Conan mythology and Howard's original output of just twenty-one short stories (and four fragments), collected in four or five paperback volumes, had been utterly dwarfed by a parade of mostly terrible sequels and prequels to the existing canon (to date their have been a staggering fifty additional Conan novels by a number of authors, of variable quality). The biggest problem with the Milius adaptation, as well as the Marvel comics, is that it is not really a film about Howard's Conan, but a film based upon Frank Frazetta's paintings of Conan. Milius and screenplay writer Oliver Stone rejected any of the Howard background or plots, opting instead for a Conan that grew up a muscled slave and is motivated by a hackneyed 'You killed my famileeeeeeee....' plot device. It was utter bollocks from a purist perpsective but still managed to be massively entertaining thanks to Ahnuld's unique charisma and Milius's bombastic, ultra-violent eye for capturing the sword and sorcery genre. A risible sequel, Conan the Destroyer, veered further from the Howard roots and firmly into Marvel territory and, depite abortive attempts to continue the franchise, Conan disappeared from cinema screens in 1984 (although not from televisions thanks to increasingly lame attempts to exploit the property).

Imagine then the delight of Robert E Howard fans when the announcement was made around 2009 that an all-new big budget Conan movie was in the offing. That very year there had been joy and disappointment in equal measure as Michael J Basset's Solomon Kane movie, based upon the lesser known Howard character, had achieved some success. Bassett's take on Howard themes being a modest success was a good sign, after all it was slick, had a reasonable budget behind it and was a well crafted fantasy film with a pleasingly dirty, muddy and bloody take on a 16th century puritan avenger's quest for redemption in the face of creeping death and evil. Unfortunately it had FUCK ALL to do with Howard's stories. Bassett, seemingly in love with the image of the character, like Milius and Stone before him, ejected the entirety of Howard's actual story output in favour of an invented backstory and a 'You killed my surrogate family and later my faaaaather....' plot device. There is definitely a theme developing here. Is it really impossible to garner emotional investment in a heroic, sword-wielding character without 'You killed my famileeee/faaaather/haaaaamster' angle? Even when the original source material managed quite successfully without it? As it happens, no it isn't impossible.

The very afternoon of the day I bought the all-new Conan the Barbarian, Philippa and I saw John Carter at the cinema. Apart from the utterly distracting and gimmicky 3D, which we did not have the option of eschewing, it was a grand and warmly faithful adaptation of a series of books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, an early 20th century contemporary of Robert E Howard (although older, Princess of Mars predated the bulk of Howard's output by a good fifteen years and was in fact an inspiration on the Texan's approach to adventure stories). Most impressively the film-makers did not feel pressured to preface matters with a cheap gimmick designed to 'short-hand' the protagonist's motivations.

With this freshly in mind I felt justified in blowing my allowable Conan film budget by a whole Earth pound. Despite it having the Ron Perlman 'seal of quality'. And despite the direction being handled by Marcus 'Pathfinder' Nispel and Conan himself being played by the muscle-bound wooden dolt who was Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones. And even despite the decision to film it in 3D, ensuring that any number of action scenes will, to the 2D viewer, lack any logic, common sense or believability. None of these things were a challenge to me, although Philippa's reticence to watch it given my previous months of declaring my belief that it will be utter rubbish certainly was. She relented and in the event it wasn't rubbish, in fact the first half was really encouraging, despite the 'You killed my faaaaather...' hook. The father in this case being Ron Perlman. Who will literally be in absolutely anything. I should point out here, once again, that there is never any expicit mention in any Robert E Howard story of Conan's father, let alone the manner of his death. What we do know is that Conan was a formidable fighter, even as a youth, and an acknowledged, respected and battle hardened warrior by fifteen. In this respect this film gets Conan the character right from the offing. Our introduction to young Conan sees him brutally dispatch a number of villains in a breathless and exhilirating display of prowess. At this point, very early in the movie, my hopes for the film soared. I even forgave the death of Perlman/villain introduction and, once I saw Jason Momoa as grown Conan for the first time I was pleasantly surprised. He looks good, muscled yet lean and athletic, has an engaging manner and raw charisma, and is believable as a shrewd operator. All the things a good Conan should be and the polar opposite in many ways from what we have seen before. This Conan has already had adventures, is a seasoned sailor and leader of men and has a set of pirate buddies to fall back on. Great stuff. Unfortunately things steadily begin to fall apart thereafter. The villain is appropriately villainous but lacks any real believability in his motives and his crazy magic, once implemented, seems to do precisely nothing. Rose McGowan's turn as his bizarre, witchy daughter has more substance but she is sparsely used and eventually falls as a foil for Conan's love interest, a female monk whose name and general value to the story I have managed to forget already. There are some fun fights here and there, although the violence never lives up to the promise and sheer viscerality of the first half hour, and the overall look of the film is rather attractive, if somewhat generically fantastic. Sadly, in the third act it becomes largely a dark, cave-bound affair and the final confrontation between Conan and his father-killing nemesis is a big disappointment, concentrating as it does on exploiting the 3D gimmick rather than a suitable, cinematic climax to what began as a fairly epic and bloody affair. The sooner 3D just fucks off the better cinema will be.

In conclusion then Conan the Barbarian succumbs to the same pitfalls of previous adaptations, but it does manage to be its own film. It is not a remake of Milius's Conan and, in Jason Momoa, manages to create a likeable Conan character that is as close to the Howard original as we have yet seen, but it is not all the way there. As a hard core Howard fan I am not nearly as disappointed as I expected to be and there are signs that, should another installment get made, this franchise could go some way to really doing justice to Howard's vision.

Monday, 12 March 2012

From the archives: Halloweens 4 & 5

Here is another old, old review. At the time Rob Zombie had just burst onto the horror scene with his muddled but entertaining House of 1000 Corpses. His zenith, The Devil's Rejects was a couple of years down the line, meaning that his rapid decline to the nadir of his output, the hackneyed and distastefully lascivious Halloween remake, was still some years away.
There are certain conceits in american movies that I truly adore. One is that of the avenging posse of drunken, shotgun wielding , blue collar 50 year-olds in pickup trucks. Another is the cheating boyfriend whom seeks redemption through heroic action only to get his skull crushed. All of which brings me nicely around to this review of Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers. In actual fact I'm going to review Halloween 5 too as I watched them back to back this evening (about nine years ago) and they are perfect examples of how sequels can contribute to and detract from a series. For irst up is no 4, which is actually the third Michael Myers movie as Halloween 3 was some weird departure that had bugger all to do with the the first two.


Ten years have passed since Michael Myers was consumed in flames, along with his arch-enemy Dr.
Loomis . Naturally the  loopy killer survived and is being transferred between secure hospitals the day before Halloween. Dr. Loomis isn't happy, and not only because he is sporting some fetching scarrage.  Myers kills his escorts and is off back to Haddonfield to do serious injury to anyone unfortunate enough to get between him and his niece (daughter of the now dead Laurie Strode) Jamie.
Chaos ensues and many people die, so no surprises there then. What IS surprising however is just how good this film is. Danielle Harris is great for such a young actor effectively having to replace Jamie Lee Curtis as the main protagonist and Donald Pleasance is characteristically enthusiastic in his portayal of the battered and almost crippled Dr. Loomis, never forgetting for a moment to signal pain in his movements and exasperated fatigue in his face.
The photography is crisp and the foreground and background are equally well regarded by the camera and other than the 1.85:1 aspect ratio director Dwight Little crafted a worthy homage to Carpenter's style. POV shots are not used gratuitously and enhance the tension, and the relative lack of gore is adequately compensated for by the movie's effectiveness as a thriller. Alan Howarth's music is low key and efficient and the first instance of only sparing usage of the Halloween theme punctuates a moment of recognition between Loomis and Myers at a dust blown gas station, and when it kicked in it genuinely gave me goose bumps. In fact the movie's greatest strength is in its ties to the original; the theme, Donald Pleasance and the eponymous villain, the familiar, signature  Carpenteropening titles, and a lack of the gratuitous nudity which is all too common in the rest of the slasher genre. This is far from a simple copycat however and the familiarity does not breed contempt, largely thanks to the characterisation of the stricken town of Haddonfield. The aforementioned pick-up posse are well drawn and contribute to the picture of Haddonfield as a scarred town with a traumatic past. The film moves with a sharp pace and builds to a surprising conclusion that reprises one of the key scenes from the original Halloween and is sold beautifully by Donald Pleasance.

In conclusion this is a good example of how, if you're thematically consistent with the original and respect those things that made it a classic then you don't need to reinvent the wheel. When confronted by Myers a plucky victim warns, 'Don't try that Halloween shit with me!' and that's what the audience say, only half meaning it but hoping 'that Halloween shit' will still work, and in this case it does. I actually preferred this to Halloween 2, the neat ending being especially satisfying but, as we well know, any original twist introduced in a sequel can be easily demolished and devalued by subsequent episodes, which brings me nicely on to Halloween 5: The Revenge Of Michael Myers.


There is one great scene in this installment. The sight Of Dr. Loomis laying into Michael with a 2x4 is particularly satisfying, but not even Pleasance's delirious penultimate turn as Loomis can save this ill-considered sequel from utter mediocrity. The chilling uncertainty of the previous climax is swept away as that scene is 'ret-conned' in a fashion all too common in uninspired sequels.
Obviously Michael is up and about again but this time the crux of the plot is that he and Jamie have a psychic link. Yawn. All the things that identified 4 as a respectful and carefully crafted sequel are absent. The music is intrusive and the Halloween theme is battered senseless to the point of having no meaning (despite the score being by Alan Howarth), even lowering itself to the depths of comedy whistles and honks to accompany a slightly goofy pair of policemen. The director uses POV like it's going out of fashion, thereby eliminating any tension as you almost always know where Michael (in his new, slightly rubbish mask) is. The psychic link storyline gives the director an excuse to throw in a 'Nightmare On Elm Street' style dream/reality crossover to no purpose whatsoever. The cleverly constructed 'Traumatised Haddonfield' characters are conspicuously absent, replaced with hugely annoying teenagers who run around waving knives dressed as Michael Myers and DON'T get turned into human colanders by  nervous policemen with good memories. The only positives are that the performances from Pleasance and the one year older Danielle Harris are first rate and there is an attempt to introduce a new direction for the series.
The new direction takes the form of a mysterious stranger (you know he's mysterious as he wears a long black coat and a hat) with a tattoo on his wrist matching one (which has miraculously appeared) on Michael's wrist. This is not expanded upon until part VI (and when it is it is predictably crap).
In conclusion then...

[The Good] Halloween 4

[The Bad] Halloween 5

Friday, 9 March 2012

From the archives: Children of the Living Dead

The curious thing about blogging is that I feel under pressure to come up with a new post all the time. Unfortunately I only have one thing to really vent spleen about at the moment and I haven't yet formulated my thoughts about the issue so here is a 10 year old crap film review from the Stimpson archives:

Children Of The Living Dead

Where to start with this movie...

I'll start with John Russo.

He was credited as co-creator of the seminal sixties horror film 'Night Of The Living Dead' and, following his spat with Night director Romero in the early seventies, it was decided that he could keep the rights to 'The Living Dead' as a title, and off he went and wrote the frankly appalling novel 'Return Of The Living Dead' (which I actually own and, gods help me, have read). Russo's own script based upon the same novel was later adapted into a great film by Dan O'Bannon who sensibly threw out 90% of Russo's script and started afresh, although Russo still has producer and storyline credit. Meanwhile Romero knocked out some great movies, continuing the saga of the Dead rising to inherit the Earth, and proving that he was the talented one. (Note from 2012: Romero also went on to make Land, Diary and Survival of the Dead, meaning that in retrospect he is now responsible for as many excrutiatingly shit zombie films as good ones, and fully two more than Russo himself. Bummer.) Eager to flog his pony a few miles further down the dirt road Russo eventually returned to the original source of his fame for a reprehensible re-cut of 'Night' complete with new score, new scenes and Bill Hinzman reprising his role as 'graveyard zombie'. If you've seen this then you have a good idea of the total amateurs Russo is hanging with but hey, you ain't seen nothing yet!
If you thought 'Dawn' and 'Day' were the official sequels then you're wrong. We were ALL wrong because in black and white on the back of the DVD case 'Children Of The Living Dead' proudly proclaims itself the rightful sequel!
Anyhoo I stuck it in the player and LO... BEHOLD the GREAT SAVINI! It's true, the first ten minutes is purely Tom Savini versus the walking dead in a field. And a barn. And what a load of crap. It looks like a fan movie, no sync-sound, Savini lines are ADR'd over choppy edits to cover the fact that there was no dialogue whilst shooting the scenes. I guess they thought the tension and drama would override the need for dialogue, until they noticed there was no tension or drama. Savini looks and sounds embarrassed to be there but he gives it a valiant go anyway, even getting out the line 'Hey.. you know they're not attracted to children!' Hallelujah, they may be undead but at least they're not paedophiles! This begs the question as to how the little girl in Night ever got bitten, perhaps they mistook her for a 42 year old trucker. I don't know about you lot but if you said to me 'there's this movie right and the first ten minutes is Savini getting it on with a load of zombies' I'd think, "I HAVE TO SEE THIS MOVIE." If you agree then save yourself the effort and stick a fork in each eye instead. Even better watch 'Slugs' which is hilariously incompetent, rather than just dogshit on a pole.

Q. Can you tell me where to find a diner that serves breakfast? (Asked by our hero of old man at motel)
A.What's that you say? You want to find a miner with a black vest? (old man)

The old man is deaf you see. Thus I provide an example of the rank stupidity of this movie.

I've already touched upon how crappy it looks, sounds and generally is but before I offer any conclusions I wish to address a bugbear.

Day for night filming has been a well used method throughout the history of cinema but when it's badly utilised it's just really really bad. Anyone who saw 'The 4400' will know what I'm talking about. 'Children Of The Living Dead' is right up there with the Timothy Hines 'War Of The Worlds' for taking day for night to a new and wholly pointless level of mediocrity. (Note from 2012: I may be the only person who survived the Hines version as I suspect every other unfortunate who took the plunge may well have eaten their own head in disgust. If this is the case I apologise unreservedly for the obscurity of the reference. well, to the two and a half people that are even reading this of course.) In every other scene the upper third of the screen is so dark that it feels like your ultra-cool sunglasses which you always have perched on the top of your head just keep slipping down and ruining the movie.

Time for another great line. One subplot of the movie is that a greedy company hired to move a graveyard down the road is so cheap and cynical that they decide to remove the headstones, dig up the coffins and move them twenty feet to a large trench. (You'd think a slightly smarter cynical company would just move the headstones and not even bother digging up the coffins but that would have denied the opportunity to slip in the gem that you're about to read.)
Whilst moving a coffin it breaks open and.... it's empty!
Work guy consults a piece of paper and says 'According to the sitemap there should be a body in this coffin...'

One more bit of nitpicking before I give a brief outline of the plot, the foley work is beyond poor. Boots on straw sounds like tap shoes on floorboards.

The Plot:
The original outbreak chronicled by 'Night Of The Living Dead' was contained, the movie opens in the closing stages of the extermination of a more localised outbreak in a small town in Pennsylvania where ex-deputy turned survivalist Hughs (Savini sporting a natty hairdo) is doing his Rambo thing while his cowardly ex-partner avoids any trouble by sitting in his car saying randomly to no-one in particular 'Nothing going on here!' He actually says that without moving his lips too!
Finally he meets up with Hughs and they go to clear out a barn which, unbeknownst to our heroes, is occupied by the zombie of Abbot Hayes, evil dead rapist and murderer. For some reason some kids are hiding out there and our first major plot point is highlighted, 'Zombies don't go for kids!' Hmmmm. Let'spaper over this and move on, long story short, kids rescued, Abbot Hayes does for poor Hughs and we skip forward 14 years.
14 years pass.
14 years and Abbot Hayes is still in the barn.
The barn that had the kids in.
The kids that zombies don't 'go for!'
Cue those very same kids, now looking like teenagers and riding a VW van on their way to a gig.
Abbot Hayes steps in front of their van and...



Yes they drive off a cliff into a randomly placed quarry and they all die.

(Note from 2012: At this stage I should perhaps apologise to the person reading this who doesn't know who Cliff Richard is. And of course anyone offended by the idea of a jeebus-member.)

At their funeral zombie Hayes goes round their coffins and gives them all a bite, apparently turning them into his private little gang of teen zombies! Why? I neither know, nor care.

So that is the setup. Hayes has his children, even though they're not children any more. Or something. The film skips another year and we get the graveyard/contractor subplot, a mini romance and the movie hurtles towards its stunning climax... a siege at a diner. I'm not even going to go into the colossally stupid, continuity gaff filled battle but as I was watching it I laughed. I had a positive response which almost made me think I wasn't robbed after all... almost. In actual fact I was robbed, this movie is a festering turd on the backside of one of the (once) greatest movie sequences of all time. It's a sceptic anal wart. But I think everyone should see it.

[The Good]
Tom Savini's hair.

[The Bad]
Everything else.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

It's the internet stupid

T'interweb, and by extension social media is a wonderful thing. Facebook in particluar has tremendous utility value when it comes to meeting folks and getting utterly mullered. Like text messages before it, the ability to co-ordinate disparate groups and individuals in order to successfully meet in The Whalebone for some of their splendid Neck Oil, and perhaps a pickled egg, has consigned to the shredder the old memories of sitting in a boozer in the 80s and wondering what everyone else was up to whilst sobbing into a pint of sloppy 70 pence mild at the sheer, numbing isolation of life as a man in the high suicide risk factor age group of 18-35 in Thatcher's Bloody Britain.

Unfortunately, like all good things, Facebook and the like have inevitable drawbacks. Amongst the worst are the ubiquitous posts that make an irritatingly illogical statement about some stranger's political/moral/ethical/mind-numbingly-fucking-irrelevant beliefs before adding 'Re-post this if you agree.'

In the early infancy of Facebook there were also the posts regarding a syphillitic, blind, quadriplegic baby girl from Grantham who would get vital self-esteem saving surgery if a million people reposted. Fortunately enough annoyed users idiot-slapped the re-posters enough times that the message sank in to their thick, porridgy, retrogressive brains and they appear to have vanished, at least from my pages.

Not so the urban myths.

A while ago I had the fairly chirpy story of an air hostess whom, when faced with a bigoted passenger complaining about sitting next to a ginger or gay biker or something, turned the tables in hilarious fashion by being very nice to the target of said bigot's complaints. Oh how delicious, and brave a stand on her part, such action was to the 73 tits who read it without thinking that it sounded too bloody twee to be true. Of course 30 seconds and the power of google reveals that it was not true at all but was an internet myth that originated in South Africa and has been doing the rounds for years in one form or another. In a way this particular post is harmelss enough, after all it reflected an agreeable sentiment. Unfortunately the same goes for a much more problematic breed of 'viral' internet myth.

Today came a post by someone on my friends list, under the title 'this is disgraceful', that purported to be a scanned image of a letter (comprising lots of angry capital letters) sent to an MP demanding investigation into why the Great British Pensioner is undervalued by the Deparment for Work and Pensions to the tune of around minus 300% in comparison to, and I quote, 'IMMIGRANTS/REFUGEES LIVING IN BRITAIN'.

Cue the subsequent outpourings of disgust at the state of Britain...

'it's what this pathetic country has come too'


'weak,weak we used to be called great...not anymore'

and not forgetting

'tell me about it. they gettin more in benefits than i get paid'

Naturally, to anyone with an even slightly inquisitve brain, this letter seemed rather suspiciously to be a stinking pile of bullshit. And it is, as evidenced by just 30 seconds  of effort and a bit of google power. This is deeply annoying and the kind of thing that is seriously irksome, to the point in fact that it suggests, nay DEMANDS that the original poster should be condemned to a life of emotional pain and ignominy via a carefully considered sentence only fitting to the crime... the Facebook 'unfriend'. For a split second I did consider this may be an over-reaction, but no. This kind of spurious, ignorant ersatz patriotism and rabble-rousing is nauseating, and such a cynical and utterly fictitious diatribe can only 'go viral' if some witless chimpanzee not only buys it, but spreads it around like so much disease-ridden guana.

So Ian Hollis, you're an idiot. Get the fuck off my list.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Vice - A Big Night Out in Hull

This is a great gallery of pictures that reminds me why I rarely go into Hull city centre on a Saturday night. It's fine to sit in Pave and declare that the article is unfair to Hull but the fact that any newcomer will check out the city centre and find the social equivalent of the slow readers group is a sad indictment of council policy. The city centre has been dying for years and is much like the CBD of any other small run down northern city or town on a Saturday night. All have areas of vibrancy and slightly more salubrious venues but to outsiders these towns are not defined by such, but by their city/town centres. Blame the council, not Mr Breen, for fucking up the quayside and marina development plans and ensuring that the only drinking holes that can survive in the city centre do so by pursuing the lowest common denominators in terms of both clientele and promotions. Additionally there are plenty of people around, most of East Hull in fact, who have a completely different view of what constitutes a good night out to the Princes/Newland Ave goer, and while this Vice article may be designed to bring out the smirking, sanctimonious arsehole in its average reader (the 'cool kids' perhaps), most of the people photographed would be happy to own it, tag it on facebook and stick it in their family album as a memento of a brilliant night out. Who's to say they are wrong? Incidentally the free newspaper Hull Advertiser many years ago had a Big Night Out section much like this one and the results were much the same.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Ah Pook the Destroyer - The Silver Key

Album review:
Ah Pook the Destroyer - The Silver Key

I happened upon this well crafted and rewarding Lovecraftian concept album after hearing a glowing review on a Call of Cthulhu/RPG themed podcast. Naturally I took this praise with a healthy dose of salt as RPG podcasts are not necessarily the most reliable form of musical criticism but in this case the geeks were spot on.
Ah Pook the Destroyer is essentially an adaptation of Lovecraft's final (if memory serves) Randolph Carter story, the tale of a man seeking to restore something lost to him as he grew older and more 'scientific' in focus. I won't spoil the story but it is definitely one of Lovecraft's more poignant and possibly personal stories, and as such is perfectly suited to such an evocative and mellow suite of music as is presented here.
The mixture of narration and soft vocals intertwine lovingly with the progressive rock stylings of the principal musicians to create an experience that bears little comparison with most modern 'prog rock' and it has little in common with the traditional giants of the genre like Yes, Rush or even the more contemporary holders of the mantle Muse. The Silver Key, if anything, sounds like an hypnotic blend of elements ranging from early Moody Blues epic Days of Future Passed, the choicest cuts of The Alan Parsons Project and King Crimson, and the magnificent soundtrack album to The Virgin Suicides by the super-versatile and restless french experimenters Air. It is necessary to point out after these comparisons that the album is not a self-absorbed, pretentious exercise in self-indulgence but a cohesive collection of tracks that feature not only evocative soundscapes but catchy hooks, great musicianship and well-balanced production.
For lovers of Lovecraft this should be an essential buy as it is easily as vital and refreshing as any host of Lovecraft inspired movie/comic-book/audio play adaptations and for fans of progressive rock Ah Pook the Destroyer has something genuinely rewarding to offer.

If you fit the above criteria then for the paltry price you owe it to yourself to check it out here.