Saturday, 29 January 2011

ZOMBIE CREEPING FLESH (1980) (aka VIRUS etc)

It starts out like a science fiction disaster movie when an accident at a 'Synthetic nourishment' facility in the third world sends a cloud of toxic gas into the air. Naturally, this gas is able to turn people into flesh-craving zombies. Pfft, those pesky scientists and their mischief.

Then it suddenly becomes a siege movie with cops and a hostage situation at some posh house (apparently the American consulate somewhere or other). I'm already lost by this point. The dub is awful ("When did you start worrying about our balls, daddy?" WTF?) but some early gore scenes kept my eyes on the screen.


The siege scenes look like test footage from The A-Team, which is just odd, and not helped by the sheer cheese of the soundtrack. Next it goes kinda melodramatic and domestic, and twenty minutes in you start craving flesh yourself, just hoping something will happen. Luckily, it starts to kick off five minutes later, with characters being taken over by the gas and people starting to cop for nasty zombie attacks. Well, I say zombies, but these are more extras in party makeup than hideous undead ghouls.

Essentially a knock-off of Zombie Flesh Eaters, just with soldiers instead, the film doesn't seem to know what to do with itself. Zombies, cannibals, voodoo, bastardized science,they're all here.

Vincent Dawn's direction is flat and uninspired, as is the script and the look of the film. An odd facet of the film is the fact that most of the characters seem pretty nonplussed about the carnage around them or the oncoming zombie apocalypse. There are some strong makeup effects and some suitably gruesome gore, but the sadly the film just comes across as inept, plodding and tiresome. One for the completists.

Diary: Craving Video Nasties

There's something taunting me on the shelves of my local HMV, namely the Video Nasties box set ("Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide")containing the Jake West documentary about that fascinating era in the genre's history. Along with the documentary it contains trailers for all of the 72 films on the 'banned' list of video nasties, new intro pieces and a ton of other stuff.

It taunts me from its shelf prison, its price sticker yelling "You can't afford me until payday", and its over seems to glow with gaudy delights. That's something I really miss about horror films, actually. That brilliant cover art that would entice you with promises of all manner of twisted treats.

The films behind the classic examples of tacky big-box art seldom lived up to the joys of the art, but those images were an art form in their own right. I miss painted art and battered old VHS tapes full of gore. I am, quite clearly, a sad old geek. Thus, I shall calm my nerves with some retail therapy after payday, and that DVD box set will be mine. Oh yes, it will be mine. The minx.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Wolverine and Jubilee 1 (Marvel Comics)

What? You don't buy a couple of X-men comics and suddenly you've lost the plot again. The teaming of Wolverine and Jubilee was always a brilliant thing back in the day (I'm talking about the run of Wolverine issues in the 90s where the two of them were on their own against all manner of bad guys), and when I heard about a new mini featuring the two of them together, I was thrilled.

The cover of issue 1 features Wolvie and Jubes exactly as they were in their halcyon days, so imagine my reaction when I read the issue and discovered... not much. Instead of the classic- style fun the cover suggests, we get an introspective and downbeat issue following Jubilee trying to come to terms with being a vampire now. Wait... what? *Sigh*. Reeeeeaaaally fed up of vampires now.

Apparently there's been some big vamp story that has completely passed me by (Vampires, just the mention of them, will now make me actively avoid pretty much anything as there is *nothing* new to say about them- no matter how much people may say otherwise). The art and script are serviceable, but it doesn't have enough to warrant a miniseries.

It's not a comic, it's a therapy session. What's worse, it's a therapy session bogged down by a huge amount of reader-alienating continuity. Get Jubilee cured and get her powers back, cut her hair, get her a yellow coat again, and stop dressing Wolverine like the movie version. If we get Jubilee back the way she was by the end of the series, I'll be thrilled. If not, I'll be thinking twice about buying any X-books again for a long time. This is a missed opportunity behind a fantastic cover.

The Beyond (1981)


The middle chapter of Lucio Fulci's 'Dead' trilogy (which began with 'City of The Living Dead' and ended with 'House By The Cemetary'), The Beyond is quite rightly seen as something of a masterpiece. This is an accurate description, but the film is possibly enjoyed at its best when you've already seen it a couple of times. If you go into the film cold, then you'll have no idea what's going on, with scenes apparently occurring at random thanks to the delights of its non-linear structure.

That said, it is a feast of gore and atmosphere, which carries a genuinely unsettling ambience by the halfway mark. It loses its straightforward narrative and instead becomes a deliciously weird series of set pieces. A face melted by acid. A man devoured by tarantulas. Zombies. Carnage. It's fantastic, but possibly only to those who already have a taste for horror films of that particular era, and are aware of what Fulci's film has in store.

Fulci is an acquired taste, but once you have sampled him, you really can feast on The Beyond. The surreal mayhem on-screen is kicked off by the killing of a suspected warlock in 1927, at the Seven Doors Hotel, an incident which opens one of the seven gates of hell. A young woman inherits the hotel decades later, but once work begins to renovate the place, the gateway is activated, and here come the zombies, an unnerving ghost of a blind girl, the chilling and infamous wasteland scenes and all of the above-mentioned chaos.

Sounds simple, right? Not so. This is about as far as the plot goes before everything goes to hell and you're trapped in a frightening symphony of a film, packed with unforgettable sequences and imagery, and a structure that doesn't give the viewer an easy ride at all.

The cast, headed up by David Warbeck and Catriona MaColl, is of varying quality, with the Italian cast's painfully dubbed lines frequently making you cringe. David and Catriona are great in the film though, their performances increasingly frantic as their characters (and indeed the audience) try to stick with what's going on.

The final moments of the film are stunning in their power, the chilling atmosphere and surreal visuals reaching a very powerful and haunting climax. The experience is one that fans of classic Italian horror will ever forget. While not to everyone's taste, The Beyond is undeniably a milestone in horror cinema, a masterpiece from the intriguing figure of Lucio Fulci and a genuinely essential addition to your horror collection.


Sunday, 23 January 2011

Hunter Prey (2010)

I'd seen this on the shelves a few times, and was curious about the rather retro sci-fi cover that told of the delights hidden within. Always up for some old school science fiction and in need of entertainment for a train journey, I rented the flick from iTunes and discovered a little gem of a film that has a few issues, but is on the whole great.

Made on a shoestring budget, Hunter Prey makes great use of locations to create a convincing alien landscape rather than CGI or sets. It's a simple tale told well, following a group of alien soldiers on the trail of another fugitive alien who has crash landed on a barren wasteland of a planet.

Using minimal background CG effects, the arid locations are remarkably effective as an alien world, and you can't help but feel sorry for the cast members who had to wear heavy prosthetic makeup as well as heavy costumes in such a hot locale. The costumes and props have been aged nicely and look practical rather than hokey, which helps to suspend disbelief, and the dynamics between characters also help keep your eye on the action rather than the lack of budget or big set pieces.

The whole film is essentially an 80 minute chase sequence, yet it largely manages to maintain the viewer's interest. There are a couple of moments when you kinda wish it would hurry up, but they are in the minority. The film ends up following a similar thread to that of the classic Dennis Quaid/Louis Gossett Jr film ENEMY MINE, with the two main characters forced into an uneasy understanding.

The film is stylistically reminiscent of the original STAR WARS, especially with the soldiers' costumes looking like a cross between Stormtroopers and Boba Fett, but also in terms of cinematography (luxurious wide shots, silhouettes and suchlike). It's not heavy on dialogue, and the ending is rather unsatisfying, but as low budget science fiction goes, this is a mini masterpiece.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

City of the Living Dead (1980)

I've been on a Lucio Fulci binge lately. There's a certain atmosphere to his horror output that is hard to pinpoint and even harder to turn away from once you're hooked. While Fulci may have wanted to make other stuff than horror in his latter years (after the early portion of his career was spent making dramas, westerns, giallo and more), it's films such as City of the Living Dead (and indeed Zombie Flesh Eaters) for which he is most fondly remembered. This flick was part of his unofficial 'Dead' trilogy along with House By The Cemetary and The Beyond, and much like that latter film demonstrates just how potent his direction could be when he was on a roll.

Then again, to a lot of people, this film is also ponderous, nonsensical and almost comedic in some places. Each to their own, really. It's true that as a film, City of the Living Dead is slow paced instead of an all-out bloodbath, but it's impossible to deny that it contains some of the most notorious moments in horror cinema. These include several heads being ripped open, the notorious drill-through-the-head scene and the even more notorious gut-vomiting sequence.

The story is basic- a priest commits suicide and in doing so opens one of the gates of hell. Things kick off when a seance goes awry, leaving one of the gathering dead... sort of. She awakens after being buried and is dug out in a truly gripping (if improbable) scene. This odd occurrence paves the way for... not a lot for much of the film. Zombies, teleporting ghouls, weird visions and ultraviolence are mixed in with the awful acting and clunky script. It does take forever to get going, but once it does, then the atmosphere is deliciously unnerving and tense.

As with many of Fulci's horror films, the plot and linear storytelling are eschewed in favour of delirious, dreamlike set pieces, leaving the viewer either hypnotized or scratching their heads. The films ends rather abruptly and in an unsatisfying manner. It just kind of stops, rather than having any explanation for what happens onscreen. This is unlike The Beyond, which Fulci would bring viewers a year later.

Those faults aside, City Of The Living Dead is an essential viewing experience for any fan of Fulci or Italian horror movies, and the Arrow Video DVD or Blu-Ray package is frankly brilliant. This excellent 30th anniversary set includes a beautiful transfer of the movie itself along with hours of fascinating extra features, a double-sided artwork poster, six postcards and an interesting essay booklet. While there are cheaper versions of the film out there, this has to be the most comprehensive package around.

It may not be perfect, and there are better films that Fulci made in his horror period, City of the Living Dead remains a fascinating look at a much-loved and much-missed era of horror cinema. It's a little trashy and a little tacky, but it delivers the goods in spades once the pace picks up, and is an essential addition to the serious horror fan's collection.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Aenigma (1987)

One of Lucio Fulci's less-famous films, Aenigma is far from a waste of 90 minutes. A prank on a girl, Cathy, goes awry, and she is hit by a car. While in a coma, Cathy finds that she can influence the outside world psychically, and sets about taking out horrific revenge upon the people who played the prank on her by inhabiting the body of a new girl at their school.

With shades of Carrie, Scanners, Nightmares In A Damaged Brain and more, Aenigma also feels a little like Dario Argento's legendary Suspiria (or indeed Phenomena) in terms of tone and setting. The dub and dialogue are lousy, but Fulci's films are always easier to watch if you're prepared for that in the first place.

Compared to the flicks he's more known for, Aenigma may seem a little slow, but it has its fair share of scares and plenty of atmosphere once it starts to pick up its pace. The gore of Fulci's other works is largely absent, replaced instead by bizarre set pieces such as - seriously - death by snails.

As the film continues, it gets weirder (weirder than death by snails? Yeah), as the girl in the coma falls in love, via the girl she has possessed, with the doctor that is caring for the girl in the coma. What? No, it's okay. I didn't get it at first either.

At its core, this is a revenge film, and has some suitably inventive psychic attacks on show, but the surreal nature of it will turn some viewers off. That is, out of the viewers that stick with the film despite the awful script and the atrocious dubbing job. Personally I enjoyed it. It's a nice slice of supernatural horror from a master of the genre whose powers were fading a little by the time his career arrived at this project.

The cast are fair to middling, with the striking presence of Lara Naszinsky being the finest piece of the puzzle in every way. There's a mad cleaning woman, a pointless cameo from Fulci himself and a suitably 80s synth/rock score, so something for everyone, really. There are no zombies and no extreme gore, which does set it apart from other Fulci films such as The Beyond or House By The Cemetary, but Fulci wasn't a one-trick director, no matter what some might say.

Aenigma has some very striking visuals (the scenes with Cathy in a coma, strapped to a machine, her head bloody and her skin deathly, are unnerving and brilliantly shot) and a chilling enough premise, but it's not hardcore enough for the splatter crowd and not polished enough for a supernatural audience. That said, tosh like this appeals to geeks like me very much indeed, even if it makes little sense and is so very silly.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

TRAILER TREASURES: THE KINDRED (1987)

This one still eludes me. I remember this trailer fondly from my days haunting the old upstairs room at Metro Video in Sheffield, the walls lined with gaudy horror movies and cheap sci-fi in equally colourful boxes. You could get two rentals for a quid from that room, i.e. the mad old films that nobody else would watch.

The trailer for The Kindred was on the start of a bunch of horror flicks I rented from there, and it always looked either like utter genius or some weird fever-dream. The trailer is filled with mayhem, which of course will be spread out over the film, but as a snapshot of everything that made 80s horror so fun, it's ideal.

I feel a trip to ebay coming on.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

BAD DREAMS (1988)

Sad as it may seem, I've wanted to see this film for about eighteen years. I saw the trailer in about '92 on the front of some horror video I shouldn't have been watching at that age (about 14), and thought it looked just my sort of thing. That trailer stuck with me for years, but I never got around to seeing the film itself.

I always feared it wouldn't live up to the trailer. Sadly this is a problem with most films right now- the trailers look brilliant, while the films are a let-down. I was browsing YouTube for old movie trailers and this came up, and thus I decided I should finally see it. A big-box VHS copy was quickly found on eBay, and at long last Bad Dreams was added to my collection.

The story begins with Alice, a young girl who is part of a mad cult, is blown clear of the explosion that kills the whole group. She spends 13 years in a coma, and awakens as an adult, trapped in a psychiatric ward. Before long, she is suffering visions of the horrifically burned ghost of the cult's leader, who died in the fire. This in turn leads to the other inmates being picked off one by one in increasingly brutal ways by the sickening apparition, but is it really him, or the inmates themselves?

It plays very much like A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, a comparison even further cemented by the lead role being played by Elm Street 3's Jennifer Rubin, but it has more depth, more of a creepy atmosphere and characters who are rather more disturbed.

The visions of the cult leader, Harris (played under very crispy makeup by Richard Lynch) are unsettling, and the use of alternating shots of him as a regular person and as the horribly burned apparition add atmosphere and genuine shocks when they happen.

Rubin is superb as the disturbed and frightened Alice, and her descent into madness is performed with some subtlety. The back-story of the cult (Unity Fields) is nicely handled and acts as a thread binding the whole plot together. It's rather more intelligent than your average 80s horror fare, and thanks to that added dimension of unsettling atmosphere, coupled with the grisly visuals, great cast, snappy direction and edit, Bad Dreams is far from a bad film. In fact, it's a dream come true.

HELLMAN: REIGN OF DEATH (aka GUARDIAN OF THE REALM) (2004)

An above-average cast, some very ambitious action sequences and a lot of ideas make this urban- fantasy indie flick more entertaining than it should be. It's cheap, shot on digital video, filled with unknowns and about as cheesy as it gets, but it has a great deal of charm. Basically a Greatest Hits package of everything in the Urban Fantasy genre, this fun little film tells the story of two paranormal enforcement badasses and the agency they work for going to war against a bunch of demons.

There are many similarities with Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Charmed and the novels of everyone from Laurel K. Hamilton to Jim Butcher, which makes for a film that is certainly rather different to most indie attempts at fantasy/horror. The makers of the film evidently went to great lengths to make it as exciting and entertaining as possible, bringing us essentially Buffy with more gore, violence and sex.

It harkens back to a more adventurous era of independent horror, while also paying homage to the recent mass of interest in the urban fantasy genre. The acting is poor to decent, the effects are cheap and cheerful (but very well executed) and the script is very comic-bookish, but there are worse ways to spend 90 minutes.

Demons, vampires, werewolves, martial arts, blood, cool weapons, a villainess basically dressed as Witchblade and an attractive cast all add up to some good, silly fun. It's a shame this didn't have a bigger budget, as this is exactly the sort of Urban Fantasy that should be getting all the interest instead of tosh like Twilight.

(But why the stupid UK retitling? The original title is just fine!)

Monday, 10 January 2011

Spider-Girl 2 (Marvel Comics)

The latest incarnation of the Spider-Girl series (How many is this now?) continues at the same level of quality as issue 1, which is most pleasant. The internal monologues continue to be shown as tweets from The_Spider_Girl, which may get old soon, but still works for this issue. After the first issue's cliffhanger, the first half of this month's instalment is all-action, but there is ample time set aside for some pretty deep character scenes too, mainly coming to terms with the events of the first issue.

Something I love about this comic so far is that it isn't bogged down by being chained to the larger Marvel universe. It exists in its own little world, with the rest of the overly complicated Marvel universe happening somewhere off-screen.

The Fantastic Four are once again present for much of the comic, but it is Spider-Girl herself that shines through as the star of the piece. It's packed with story and holds the attention, but it remains to be seen just how long this latest retread of the Spider-Girl character can hold the attention of the mass audience. I hope it's a good long while, as there is some great work being offered from the creative team behind this pleasantly humble and unassuming title.

Echo 27 (Abstract Studio)

Terry Moore continues to impress with this beautifully crafted black and white series. The alloy continues to grow over Julie, whilst her friends have their own issues to work through. The final pages are shocking, and give a good sense of the danger to come.

While there isn't a great deal physically happening in this issue, there's plenty going on between the characters themselves while they're stuck in Alaska. Revelations cause yet more tension between the group, and despite the fact that there's nothing that matches the superb diner scene in the previous issue, this is still a satisfying and intriguing read. Terry Moore's art is gorgeous as ever, and his script is picking up pace. A consistent title from one of the industry's masters.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Diary: NERD RAGE RISING

While out exploring a part of the city myself and my lady haven't been before, we discovered a second hand bookshop that seemed tailor made for us. While my girl went off in search of classics and thrillers, I was glued to the SF section waiting for something to leap out and grab me. Nothing did until my lady passed by and pointed out the bottom shelf of the section, and then went on her way again.

It was as though the heavens had opened as I looked down and my eyes fell upon a huge row of classic SF pulp magazines, all of which dated from over forty years ago. There were gorgeous and ancient copies of Astounding Science Fiction, Analog, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, If, venture and more. I swear I was almost shaking as I went through the row of printed delights.

I picked them up, examined each one carefully, and let out little shocked gasps as I realized I held in my hands the first printings of some of the greatest moments in Science Fiction history. The artwork was gaudy and painted, the titles tantalizing, the author names awe-inspiring. Asimov. Heinlein. Simak. Anderson. Clarke. Pohl, and many more.

I already have a sizeable collection of these pulp magazines from decades before my birth, but I can never have enough of them. sadly my budget today limited me to just three of the magazines, which were damn hard to choose. I went over to the counter and prepared to pay, and that's when I heard the voice.

"How much are those science fiction ones?"

I screamed silently. What?! They're all MINE, you heathen!!!

An assistant informed the man that they were all priced individually, and thus he began to rummage through the delights that ARE CLEARLY MINE, BUT WHICH I AM YET TO PURCHASE. I was horrified. How dare he go through those magazines? How dare he?! Surely he can't appreciate their majesty as much as I do. Oh yeah, I was on one. My girlfriend was beside me and saw the look of horror on my face. She's used to it, but it was when I actually let out a little growl that she nudged me.

"Hey," she said in a hushed tone.

"What?"

"I heard that. Stop staring at him."

"But... they're mine!"

She sighed, and I realized how mad I sounded. The red haze only faded when the filthy animal that was touching the precious things left the shop empty handed. A small victory yes, but a victory nonetheless. Never come between me and pulps, for I will clearly make an odd noise and seem quite mad in public.

Oops.

Friday, 7 January 2011

IRON MAN MARK V 1:6 SCALE FIGURE - SIDESHOW COLLECTIBLES

Iron Man Mark V - Iron Man2 - 1/6th Scale figure

Oh man, yeah. While Iron Man 2 wasn't as action packed as the first movie, it did have plenty of brilliant moments. The infamous 'Suitcase' scene, in which Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr)'s red/silver suitcase transforms into a set of Iron Man armour, has stuck in the collective nerd consciousness like glue.

Watching the suit attach itself to Stark, and the subsequent badassery, was one of the best moments in any Marvel movie made thus far. The 'suitcase suit' has thus become highly regarded by fans, and now Sideshow are advertising an incredible looking 1:6 scale figure for release at the back end of this year.

Standing twelve inches tall and fully poseable, the Iron Man Mark V figure aslo features LED eyes and Arc Light, interchangeable 'damaged' armour and limbs and more. Check it out over at the Sideshow site now, and get those orders in early as this one's gonna go fast!

TRON LEGACY (2010)

So 28 long years after the original TRON movie was originally released into the collective geek consciousness, the sequel has finally arrived. Has it been worth a lifetime's wait? The original film holds a very special place in the hearts and minds of millions of SF geeks the world over, with its groundbreaking visuals and surreal storyline. Now Disney have created a massive-budget spectacular with the very latest moviemaking technology in the hope of finally getting a hit out of the TRON property. Fans like myself finally get to show new viewers what all the fuss is about... or do we?

The film succeeds on more levels than it fails, and far from being terrible, it is absolutely wonderful to behold. The visuals are breathtaking, the sounndtrack (By French dance duo Daft Punk) is remarkably well crafted to fit in with the onscreen action and the CG effects wonderfully intergrated with the live elements, but it's not quite the astonishing film that it could be. The reason for this lies squarely with what feels like an underdeveloped script.



Jeff Bridges puts in two very impressive performances as both Kevin Flynn and Clu, while Garret Hedlund and Olivia Wilde aren't given a great deal to work with. Hedlund and Wilde, as Sam Flynn and Quorra, are well cast and put in an admirable performance, but the material itself isn't all that it could have been. This is a shame, as with some better dialogue and some more depth to the characters (other than Bridges/Flynn), Tron Legacy could possibly have been one of the greatest science fiction films ever made.

One particular plot-thread that is very compelling and fully realized is that of the reunion of father and son Kevin and Sam Flynn is nicely handled, and latches you onto the characters well. The special effects for the film are beautiful to look at, and the kinetic cinematography is awe-inspiring, but I'm thinking that perhaps they made it a little too perfect. One of the strengths of the visuals that the original TRON was their simplicity.

Technology aside, the visual impact of those stark, cold digital worlds in the first film were dreamlike and almost magical. In this sequel they seem too refined, too detailed and too real. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but in the context of the TRON story it sort of defeats the purpose of the digital world. The scenes amidst the arena in the digital world are stunning in their imagination and execution, but you do need more that action. You need to care. Niggles aside, TRON LEGACY is entertaining, breathtakingly beautiful to the eye and boasts a superb soundtrack, so while it lacks character depth, it does provide an excellent way to spend a couple of hours.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Triangle (2009)

There's something different to Triangle, which can be attributed to the cast, the script, the direction and the fact that rather than an being an American film, it is an Australian/British production. While the characters are American, it is both thematically and aesthetically very different to much US-born fare. Starring former Aussie soap actress/major film talent Melissa George (who never seems to age at all), it mixes the horror and thriller genres together in an effectively tense trapped-on-a-boat flick.

Jess (George), a young woman with a troubled life and past is taken on a boat trip with a few friends. A bizarre storm arrives and their boat is overturned, but salvation appears in the form of a seemingly deserted ocean liner. They jump aboard, and soon find that the ship may not be all that it seems. Jess has the oddest feeling she's been there before, and the feeling of deja vu keeps on growing as the minutes tick by.
Of course, before long, they find they're not alone, and a deadly game of cat-and-mouse begins. The thing is, this is no ordinary stalk-and-slash movie. It's much more complicated than that. Waaaaay more complicated.

In fact, if you check online, you'll see quite quickly that a bunch of people had no idea what was going on in the movie. Me? Just about. An ingenious time-loop tale, it plays like a mix of a Twilight Zone episode, Dead Calm, LOST and (oddly) I Know What You Did Last Summer.
The story may be confusing, but there is a definite atmosphere to Triangle that makes it hard to look away from. The premise is frightening, and some taut direction coupled with a crisp edit keeps the tension mounting. Melissa George is excellent in the lead role, and she really deserves top billing more often.

The first act seems to be setting you up for a by-the-numbers stalker yarn, but once you discover Jess is trapped in a certain series of events, the film becomes a nightmare, claustrophobic, unsettling and great to watch. It's a film that can garner one of two reactions in those who enjoy it.
Rather like The Sixth Sense, once you've seen it you know the twists, so you'll either never watch it again or you'll love to revisit it and take in the details you may have missed first time round. There isn't a huge amount of dialogue, the story unfolding through reaction and movement more than tons of exposition, which works in the film's favour as a nightmarish experience akin to a cyclic anxiety dream. It's not for the easily unnerved, but to me it's a marvellously crafted piece of chilling cinema.



Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Diary: The Search Is On

Whoops. A free morning today quickly became the first moments of a new quest to find weird films and TV. Of course, it would be easy for me to find stuff on eBay or Amazon or via iTunes, but that eliminates the really fun part of being a geek obssessive like me- the actual search.

While the internet has improved my life in pretty much every way, it has robbed sad gits like me the joy of the hunt for the things we want. I favour second hand shops, charity shops and market stalls with old films on them. Or newsagents that have had some old b-movies on big-box VHS lying around for years. Or independent rental places that are getting rid of old stock.

I like to discover the booty for myself, see it waiting for me on a shelf or a rack, begging me to rescue it from its dreary days surrounded by people that don't understand its charms. Yes, I am anthropomorphizing plastic and magnetic tape, and I should stop.

I guess this is where I really am turning into an old snob. As wwith my other obssession (books- in particular classic SF novels and collections), I like to search out the gems for myself rather than letting a search engine do it.

I remember days as a teenager, when I would catch a glimpse of some cheapo horror film or SF flick, and the sense of wonder surrounding those films. I think it was something to do with knowing full well that those tapes had little chance of finding their way to me in the Yorkshire city I was in.

Those films, be they American, European or Asian, held so much magic in their gaudy cover art and their badly worded adverts that they seemed like dreams printed upon glossy paper. Now those things are easy to come by, and I have to get my kicks another way.

So if you see me rummaging in your local charity shop, light glinting off my head as I hurtle towards the battered old videos, don't even think about reaching for the tape with the zombies on the cover. Trust me.

Diary: The Magic Of Visionaries

"Visionaries- knights of the magical light! Visionaries- with magical powers they fight!" Thus went one of the cheesiest and most bombastic theme tunes that the 1980s ever brought us. It's weird, I could have sworn there were more episodes of this singularly odd cartoon made, but that's probably just my wizened old mind playing tricks on me. The visionaries cartoon series, much like most other series at the time, was nothing but a giant toy advert, but we didn't care at the time, did we?

Plot and character could go hang as long as we got to see the Spectral Knights doing cool stuff with their magic powers. The action figures themselves were nothing special, but it was the holographic chest plates and accessories that made them so magical for a while.

The TV incarnation of the Visionaries toy range is an odd thing to rewatch now, as seeing it again as an adult brings home the fact that it's populated with Transformers voice actors, stories dafter than Masters of the Universe ever got (which is open to debate) and a bunch of characters from the 'let's touch all the bases' school of thought.

I'm being a little harsh there I suppose, but I'm a fan of the show and the toys and as such I'm allowed to be a bit cruel. The series is set in the far future, after a cataclysm has wiped out all electricity and technology. The world has reverted to being populated by knights and superstition, and when a wizard offers two factions of knights magical powers and magic staffs, the Visionaries are born. Magical mayhem ensues.

The thing that gets me about the show now, as with various other series from around the same time, is just how inept the bad guys are at doing anything whatsoever. It gets to the point where you kinda feel like you're watching the good guys just sweeping up behind the villains as they cackle and drop their toys all over the place.

Visionaries is kinda hard to get hold of now on DVD, but well worth adding to your collection if you get the chance. The adventures of the Spectral Knights, led by the heroic Leoric, as they face off against the bumbling hordes of the Darkling Lords and their leader Darkstorm, are silly, loud and loads of fun. Perfect.

Each character is given a magical power relevant to their own personality, as well as the ability to transform into a totem animal when the situation calls for it. This made for some exciting action sequences as well as some all-too-convenient solutions to the problems of each episode, but hey, when you're a kid and watching magic knights kicking the crap out of each other with their amazing powers, who gives a toss about quality?

Sunday, 2 January 2011

NIGHTBREED (1990)

Based on Clive Barker's novel Cabal, and directed by them man himself, Nightbreed always held a certain magic for me. There's something both enchanting and frightening about the idea of Midian and the various freaks that populate it, but the real terror of the piece definitely comes from the humans, in particular David Cronenberg as psycho doctor Decker.

I first became aware of the film when reading Fangoria and Gorezone (the US horror mag, not the UK soft porn mag pretending to be about films). There was a feature on the various makeups being utilized in Nightbreed, and the creativity and breadth of dark wonder in those images had me hooked. I had to see this thing.

Craig Scheffer plays the lead character of Boone, who will become the Cabal character upon joining the Nightbreed. He's serviceable in the part, but it's Cronenberg who steals the show as the villain of the piece. In fact, the whole cast are solid, which helps bring the unnerving atmosphere of the story to powerful life. The film has its detractors due to some of the less successful special effects (such as the Berserkers), but it is still an effective and compelling horror film with a deeply bizarre supernatural feel to it. You get a sense that things are going to be nuts early on in the film, when hospital patient Narcisse rips off his own scalp onscreen in order to reveal his 'True Face'.

The plot is archetypal Barker, which is always a wonderful thing to behold. Boone is convinced he's going crazy, and is persuaded by his doctor (Cronenberg) that he is responsible for a string of Murders. Via subliminal suggestion he brings the mythical town of Midian, a hidden colony of supernatural monsters, into Boone's consciousness, so that he himself may gain entry to it and gain the dark powers of the creatures that lay hidden there. Boone does indeed gain entry to Midian, and discovers his true self- Cabal.

The Cabal makeup is awesome and unsettling, although the transformations are rather dated now. The creatures that populate Midian were stunning to me when I first saw the film, and they still hold a great deal of power now. This is down to both the ingenuity of the makeup and the performances of the cast, who really got caught up in the characters for the film and thus are much more convincing.

As the film progresses and we get to see hicks being butchered, the war between Decker and Boone/Cabal and get towards the chaotic climax, the film takes on a surreal atmosphere that sticks with the viewer. It's not the perfect adaptation of the novel that it could have been, but Nightbreed still succeeds as a fine film, despite the limited budget and the stretched effects. Without today's digital effects slapped all over it, Nightbreed looks a great deal more convincing as it is, rather than the over-polished flick it would be nowadays.

Barker's direction is of a high standard, but there are few scenes that personally I've never been a fan of. However, the film remains a special gem to me as a fan of fantastical cinema, and indeed of Barker's work. Would I like to see it remade? No. It wouldn't be as chaotic or beautifully weird.

Nightbreed may not be the perfect version of the Cabal story, but it is the perfect Nightbreed. Does that make sense? I hope so. The final moments feel truly apocalyptic, leaving you trapped in a nightmare, in the best possible way.

Nightbreed may well have been a failure cash-wise upon its release, but it has a legion of fans the world over who hold it in high regard. Maybe we can see something in Midian that we crave ourselves. That sense of belonging, despite the quirks and oddities that make us who we are. Maybe we all just want to feel like we belong. Nightbreed will always have a place in my collection, and Midian will always been lurking in the list of places I wish I could visit. Mr.
Barker, I thank you.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

A Brand New Year To Get Square Eyes

Hey. A new year has begun and in preparation for my forthcoming continued adventures as a devout genre addict, I've decided to make some real plans for the place. The movie reviews will continue in earnest, but as regular readers will have noticed, comic book and TV reviews are creeping in too. This will continue, and there will be many more 'Diary' entries too. I want to make this site a bit more personal. I feel that the best pieces on here are the ones that are kinda autobiographical, such as the Nemesis movies piece which still gets a ton of traffic.

Books will start to play a part in the place too, with occasional reviews and anecdotes. Over the past year this site has gone from being a hobby to being something that means a great deal to me as a fan and as a writer. As you can see above, the site has a new logo for 2011, and there will be a few other tweaks too.

The trailer posts will return, along with more collectibles, cartoons and whatever else seeps from the open sore that is my brain. Mmm.

My quest to find weird and wonderful films on DVD and VHS will continue throughout the year, and I'll cover them all right here. I do this because I love doing it, talking about these films, even the awful ones. Bad films are like fresh air to me- essential to my well-being. So yeah, here's to a new year of geeking out over stuff full of gore, explosions, zombies, spaceships and people with lasers. I still can't get enough. Hence the name of the place, really...

Your humble Genre Addict,
Andrew