Thursday, June 01, 2023

Review: Run Sweetheart Run (2020)

We found this thriller on Prime, and decided to give it a go ... and were very pleasantly surprised.  It's an effective 'chase' thriller wherein Cherie (Ella Balinska), a young mother, agrees to go on a date with a client of the law firm she works for ... as she is preparing though, her period starts, and she is out of tampons, so has to extemporise.

Initially, this focus on her period and the blood seemed out of place and, well, icky ... but it actually has a lot to do with the action that follows. The man Cherie meets is Ethan (Pilou Asbæk), and while he seems kind and nice and fun to be with, he's actually something of an unpredictable maniac who dogs hate ... Cherie runs from him, not realise that he's actually some sort of supernatural demon who has scented her blood and so can find her wherever she goes.

Thus she runs ... and the film occasionally puts up a large red RUN on the screen each time she needs to get out of there ... shades of the Werewolf Break in The Beast Must Die!  But each time, Ethan turns up to slaughter whoever might be with or helping Cherie!  It's a great action concept and the film handles it really well. You never quite know when he might appear or who might get killed ...

Eventually she finds some help, but I'm not going to go there as it's worth enjoying the film for yourself.

The blood and gore is well done, and the sense of threat and terror is ratcheted up as the film progresses. Cherie is a good heroine, strong and capable, but she finds herself being tried by the supernaturally strong and unkillable Ethan. At times he reminded me of 'the Shape' in John Carpenter's Halloween and subsequent films ... a strong, mostly silent, stalker who is out to get you!

Run Sweetheart Run was directed by Shana Feste from a screenplay by Feste, Keith Josef Adkins and Kellee Terrell, and is another great slice of horror from Blumhouse Studios, who seem to be cornering the market these days in great horror thrillers.  Well worth checking out.



Sunday, May 07, 2023

Review: Freaky (2020)

Freaky, is, probably because filmmakers have no imagination, a riff on the Freaky Friday film - ie it's a bodyswap.  But this is a little more imaginative in that here, the teenaged victim swaps with the serial killer!

It all kicks off in a very familiar style, no real surprise as it's a Blumhouse film, and they tend to know their horror. So there's a killer, the Butcher, who targets teens at a prom, who comes back every so often to kill again ... and we're stalking a girl, killing her boyfriend ... it even has the Halloween style masked killer who cocks his head to the side to inspect a kill ...

But then we leap forward, and it's the turn of another group of teens to try and escape the killings ... but the killer uses an ancient sacrificial blade called la Dola and this causes his victim, Millie (Kathryn Newton) to swap with the Butcher (Vince Vaughn) ... The bulk of the film then follows 'Millie' as the Butcher reinvents her as a hot chick, out to find kids to kill, and 'The Butcher' as Millie tries to come to terms with what has happened and to recruit her friends to help her stop the killings!

There are some neat gore effects, but nothing too nasty or dwelt upon which I appreciated ... however the murder methods are quite nasty - cut in half on a wood saw, a meat hook in the eye ... The performances too are excellent, with kudos especially to Newton and Vaughn who seem to be having a great time, and who manage to make the volte face idea work.

The love of horror continues into the character names. Millie's boyfriend is called Booker Strode (no doubt after Laurie Strode from Halloween), and Millie's second name is Kessler (taken from David in An American Werewolf in London?). The film was inspired by the writer, Michael Kennedy, seeing Happy Death Day and liking the mix of slasher film with Groundhog Day (and that film and it's sequel are Highly recommended!). Thus Freaky is directed by the same man: Christopher Landon.

Well worth 90 minutes of your time, if you like horror with an 80s vibe but which manages to do something new and interesting, then this should be right up your street.

Friday, May 05, 2023

Review: Bloodshot (2020)

This Vin Diesel film is new on Prime and new to me ... it's a science fiction tale, but starts as though it's a straight thriller.

Diesel plays a soldier, Ray Garrison, out in combat, and he ends up kidnapped by the bad guy, who then kills his wife in order to try and make him talk ... but Diesel knows nothing so gets shot in the head for his trouble ...

But then, we discover that Diesel's body has been taken for scientific research and he's been given a hefty dose of nanobots which have repaired his body, and which make him superstrong and almost unstoppable ...

So what does he do? He heads off to find the guy who killed his wife to extract his revenge ...

To say more would be to spoil the film and to give away some of the twists ... needless to say it's not straighforward! It is, however, a hugely enjoyable action thriller of the type that Diesel does really well ... if you remember him in the excellent Pitch Black and XXX then this is more of the same!

The film also stars Talulah Riley as his wife Gina, and Eiza González as KT. The main protagonist is Guy Pierce as Dr Emil Harting, but there are strong performances from Sam Heughan and Lamorne Morris as well.

A very enjoyable evening's entertainment!  Recommended!

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

Review: Doctor Who LPs from Demon

Demon Music Group started out as Demon Records, a British record label, founded in 1980 by former United Artists A&R executive Andrew Lauder and Jake Riviera (aka Andrew Jakeman), and also, possibly, Elvis Costello! In 1998, Demon was acquired by Crimson Productions and the record label was merged with its Westside Records operation. The date that BBC Studios acquired Demon Records/Crimson Records and their subsidiaries and labels is not recorded. 

As well as Doctor Who they also release many other items and specialise in the reissues of catalogue titles, with a focus on the various Record Store Days each year where many rare items are re-issued on vinyl specifically for sale at participating stores.

The Demon Records/BBC Doctor Who initiative came from Ben Stanley, Product Manager at Demon Records; their first Doctor Who release came in 2016 when they produced a new vinyl edition of the 'Genesis of the Daleks' adaptation (first issued in October 1979) for the April Record Store Day that year. They also put out 'The Tomb of the Cybermen' and 'City of Death' before Oink Creative and Michael Stevens came on board in 2019 to create a revamped look for 'The Daleks’ Master Plan' soundtrack release. 

As the years have gone by, the Doctor Who releases have become more elaborate and complex. From initial reissues of some of the single- and double-LP historic Doctor Who recordings, they moved into releasing LPs of the Doctor Who soundtracks in 2018 ... and have since augmented the range with some reissues of Big Finish's Doctor Who audios on LP as exclusives to certain retail stores.

The disks themselves are very nicely produced and packaged, and as the range has expanded, so various variants have been introduced. The soundtrack LP covers have been created by various artists at Oink Creative, including (but not limited to) Tom Fournier, Sam Goddard, John Conlon and Louise Barden. The packaging design is by Oink, based on art direction by Michael Stevens; Michael gives the team a detailed brief on each release and supplies photo assets, story detail, sleeve text and suggestions for key elements to illustrate. Michael and Oink decide the vinyl colours and effects between them and he then gives each one a story-appropriate name. 

The pressing plant they use for the LPs is a dab hand at creating all manner of different effects on the disks, which Michael names with suitably 'Who-ish' descriptions for the releases: 'Skaro swirl', 'Tibetan blizzard' and 'Animus splatter' among them ... and these are usually special releases exclusive to the online retailer Amazon.

Most of the Doctor Who soundtrack releases are re-issues of audio previously released on CD, with an overlaid narration from one of the actors from the show, but the release of  'The Web Planet' had not been previously made available and featured an all new narration from Maureen O'Brien. A CD release was subsequently made available the following year.

Looking at the most recent releases, and we have two soundtracks. One is a boxed set of three LPs covering 'The Sensorites', and the other is a two LP release covering 'The Celestial Toymaker'. Each 25 minute episode of the original show takes one LP side, so the number of LPs is dictated by the number of episodes. And the packaging too, to some extent, though the releases have settled into something of a 'format'. There is a box or gatefold case with stunning new artwork on the front, and then each LP has it's own slipcase with a standard design on one side (colour themed to whatever the colour palette of the release is), and the other containing the cast and credits details for that episode. The outer sleeves within the box sets also have imagery on each side which, when placed together, makes up a larger picture.

'The Sensorites' also comes with an embossed, frameable art print of the cover artwork and the Sense-Sphere blue marble vinyl LPs are presented in individual pockets which, when placed in order, reveal a double-sided composite illustration, again of the cover artwork. An accompanying booklet supplies cast and credits, and inner bags feature complete episode billings. It's an impressive package!

'The Celestial Toymaker' comes on red (king) and blue (queen) coloured LPs and is in a more simple gatefold packaging with inner bags.

If it's sheer luxury you want though, then the two LP boxed set releases of two of Paul Magrs' audio series for AudioGo really push the boat out.

Hornet's Nest and Demon Quest were two 2009 and 2010 five-part audio releases featuring Tom Baker as the Doctor, but strangely having adventures in England while living in a cottage with his housekeeper, Mrs Wibbsey. There is a third series of adventures called Serpent Crest, coming on 23 May 2023! The stories were typically Doctor Who, and Baker effortlessly fell back into his classic portrayal ... but here even more eccentric if that's possible!

For these special LP releases Demon Records have really gone the extra mile!  

For Hornet's Nest, the set comes with an exclusive, frameable portrait of the Fourth Doctor - every copy of which has been individually signed by Tom Baker himself. There's an impressive, die-cut removable outer sleeve housing a hornet-adorned lidded box, inside which are ten individual, alternating yellow and black vinyl LPs, within exquisitely illustrated LP sleeves featuring full cast and credits for each story. Also included is The Doctor’s Journal, a large 16-page full colour booklet detailing the Time Lord’s notes and illustrations from his battles against the hornets.

Demon Quest also has ten LP records, alternating red and black, each one containing one episode of the series. Every copy of the vinyl edition includes an exclusive, frameable portrait of the Fourth Doctor, again hand signed by Tom Baker himself. There's an intricately die-cut, removable outer sleeve revealing a demonic lidded box, inside which are ten individual illustrated LP sleeves featuring full cast and credits for each of the five stories. The Time Lord’s encounters with the mysterious demon are detailed in The Doctor’s Journal, a large 16-page full-colour booklet featuring notes and illustrations from this epic pursuit through time.

Each are superbly produced and are in themselves true works of art. Sadly the cost reflects this - they're not cheap, each retailing for around £190 each! But some outlets have them discounted ... so shop around! As a very special present for the Doctor Who fan in your life, they're probably hard to beat!

Coming for Record Store Day 2023 (22 April) is another Demon release, this time of stories in part from The Amazing Worlds of Doctor Who hardback book, published in 1976 through a special promotion with TyPhoo teabags. The promotion included 12 collectible photo-cards given away with the boxes of tea, and a poster onto which they could be mounted.

This 2023 audio edition includes 'The Sinister Sponge' (also in The Doctor Who Annual 1976, previously released on CD on The Sinister Sponge and Other Stories (2019)), 'The Vampires Of Crellium' (original to The Amazing World of Doctor Who), 'On The Slippery Trail' (original to The Amazing World of Doctor Who) and 'The Mission' (also in The Doctor Who Annual 1976). There are two stories not contained in the book The Amazing World of Doctor Who: 'A New Life' (from The Doctor Who Annual 1978) and 'Avast There' (from The Doctor Who Annual 1976). The release also contains audio adaptations of two comic stories: 'The Psychic Jungle' and 'Neuronic Nightmare' (both also in The Doctor Who Annual 1976). 

Dan Starkey (Strax), Louise Jameson (Leela) and Geoffrey Beevers (The Master) read these weird and wacky stories. Published in Doctor Who's 60th anniversary year, the 140g clear vinyl LPs are presented in a gatefold sleeve with illustrated inner bags. Chris Achilleos' iconic artwork for the original book provides a stunning front and back cover to the LP release.

Tom Baker signs copies of the Demon Quest print

The May 2023 Serpent Crest release follows the pattern of the two earlier box sets. This time the colour theme is green and black, and there's the usual quality booklet, art print personally signed by Tom Baker, ten LP records (alternating black and green) and artwork adorning the whole package. This time the slipcase has 'serpent scale' cutouts in the outer box and the whole package just screams 'luxury'.

Author Paul Magrs with his copy of the Serpent Crest LPs

Here's a quick checklist of all the Doctor Who LPs that Demon Records have released so far ...

Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks 16/04/2016 DEMREC160

Doctor Who and the Pescatons (Victor Pemberton) / Doctor Who Sound Effects No 19 22/04/2017 DEMREC202

Doctor Who: City of Death 21/04/2018 green vinyl DEMREC254

Doctor Who: The Tomb of the Cybermen 21/04/2018 silver vinyl DEMREC253

Doctor Who: Cold Vengeance (Matt Fitton) 19/10/2018 DEMREC327

Doctor Who: Galaxy 4 13/04/2019 2x180g splatter vinyl DEMWHOLP001

Doctor Who: Destiny of the Daleks 13/04/2019 2x180g splatter vinyl DEMWHOLP002

Doctor Who: The Daleks' Master Plan 15/02/2019 6x180g translucent blue vinyl. DEMWHOBOX001

Doctor Who: The Daleks' Master Plan (Amazon) 15/02/2019 6x180g translucent 'splatter' vinyl. DEMWHOBOX001X

Doctor Who: The Creeping Death (Roy Gill) 24/05/2019 DEMREC433

Doctor Who: Wave of Destruction (Justin Richards) 02/08/2019 'ocean swirl' vinyl. DEMREC453

Doctor Who: The Evil of the Daleks 19/07/2019 translucent red vinyl. DEMWHOBOX002

Doctor Who: The Evil of the Daleks (Amazon) 19/07/2019 'Skaro swirl' vinyl. DEMWHOBOX002X

Doctor Who: Death and the Queen (James Goss) 06/09/2019 DEMREC370

Doctor Who: The Abominable Snowmen 27/09/2019 3x180g white vinyl DEMWHOBOX003

Doctor Who: The Abominable Snowmen (Amazon) 27/09/2019 3x180g 'Tibetan blizzard' vinyl DEMWHOBOX003X

Doctor Who: Max Warp (Jonathan Morris) 15/11/2019 DEMREC554

Doctor Who: The Web Planet 13/12/2019 180g pink vinyl. DEMWHOBOX004

Doctor Who: The Web Planet (Amazon) 13/12/2019 180g 'Animus splatter' vinyl. DEMWHOBOX004X

Doctor Who: The Paradise of Death & The Ghosts of N-Space (Barry Letts) 28/02/2020 3x180g blue vinyl & 3x180g yellow vinyl DEMWHOBOX005

Doctor Who: The Paradise of Death & The Ghosts of N-Space (Barry Letts) (Amazon) 28/02/2020 3x180g space world splatter vinyl and 3x180g spectral splatter vinyl DEMWHOBOX005X

Doctor Who: The Underwater Menace 06/07/2020 180g 'volcanic eruption' vinyl. DEMWHOLP004X

Doctor Who: The Massacre 29/08/2020 'Parisian blaze' vinyl DEMWHOLP003

Doctor Who: Marco Polo 11/09/2020 sandstorm vinyl DEMWHOBOX006X

Doctor Who: Time Lord Victorious: The Minds of Magnox (Darren Jones) 04/12/2020 DEMWHOLP005

Doctor Who: The Edge of Time (Richard Wilkinson) 22/01/2021 140g red and purple vinyl DEMREC713

Doctor Who: Horror of Fang Rock 19/02/2021 140g Rutan blob green vinyl DEMWHOLP006

Doctor Who: The Ice Warriors 04/06/2021 molten ice vinyl DEMWHOBOX007

Dalek Terror 12/06/2021 2x140g 'extermination splatter' vinyl DEMWHOLP007

Doctor Who: The Myth Makers 27/08/2021 'Trojan sunset' vinyl DEMWHOLP008

Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet 18/03/2022 'sky demon' splatter vinyl DEMWHOLP009

Doctor Who: Dead Air (James Goss) 23/04/2022 2x140g soundwave green vinyl. DEMWHOLP010

Doctor Who: Hornet's Nest: The Complete Series 06/05/2022 10x140g alternating yellow and black vinyl DEMWHOBOX009

Doctor Who: The Sensorites 22/07/2022 3x140g Sense-Sphere blue marble vinyl. DEMWHOBOX008

Doctor Who: The Celestial Toymaker 30/09/2022 2x140g king and queen (red and blue) vinyl DEMWHOLP011

Doctor Who: Demon Quest: The Complete Series 02/12/2022 10x140g alternating red and black vinyl DEMWHOBOX010

The Amazing World of Doctor Who 22/04/2023 2x140g red and orange vinyl REF: DEMWHOLP012

Doctor Who: Serpent Crest: The Complete Series 26/05/2023 10x140g alternating green and black vinyl DEMWHOBOX011

Saturday, December 03, 2022

Review: New DOCTOR WHO books Christmas 2022: A Short History of Everyone; The Official 60th Anniversary Annual 2023; Origin Stories

It's been a little time since I've had a chance to chat about some new Doctor Who titles, so it's been a pleasure to look at these three titles, all of which appeared recently ...

First up is Doctor Who: A Short History of Everyone. This is actually material compiled from three earlier titles published by Penguin: How To Be A Timelord; The Companion's Companion and A History Of Humankind; but the material has been reworked with additional illustration and 'jottings' to bring it up to date and relevant for the 13th Doctor.

It's a strange book really: it's aimed at the younger market, so the layout is all handwritten text with notes scribbled in the margins, faux post-it-notes scattered about ... as though the Doctor has compiled all this information together in one place, complete with photos and drawings and sketches and so on, and it's just been printed! There's sections 'written' by Ace, and Grace Holloway and UNIT and Susan and so on ... All as though the Doctor has kept a scrapbook of everything as they wander through their adventures. And it's all very 'talking down', with quips and jokes and all aimed at ... maybe a 6 year old?

But there is a fondness about it ... it's busy and interesting to look at, quite diverting ... it's just all so young-aimed. I suppose in a way the show with the 13th Doctor was aimed far younger than the 12th or previous Doctors. The storytelling onscreen was simpler and the moral dilemmas more straightforward and in-your-face, so possibly this is where they were trying to pitch this book ...

As an introduction to Doctor Who for a young fan, it's pretty good, though lacking much in the way of meat. It is excellently designed and structured though, and the authors (Craig Donaghy and Justin Richards) have done a great job in trying to cover as many bases as they can. As always with these books, there's a focus on 'modern Who' ie post 2005, but there's a fair amount of Classic Who represented too with information on past Doctors and companions, as well as a handful of monsters who have not (so far) reappeared in the new series: Haemovores, Sil, Krynoid, Axons, Jagaroth and so on.

All in all, a nice little book which should be diverting for any young fan!

Next up is Doctor Who: The Official 60th Anniversary Annual 2023. Over the years the Doctor Who Annual has undergone various transformations. From being predominantly fiction-based for most of the Classic Series, to now being a photo/latest series-based book in line with the majority of Doctor Who publishing in the 2000s.

For the 60th Anniversary volume, writer and designer Paul Lang has pulled together as much as the 62 pages allow ... And again this is all written for younger readers ... using slang and trying to be flippant and funny all the time. Some of it works, but there's a part of me that really hankers for the adult-written but accessible factual texts of the past ... I guess the Annual is not the place to be looking for that!

There a history of the Doctor here, Daleks, Companions, Weapons ... that some items are missing is covered in that the 13th Doctor had her memory wiped ... so this is only the stuff she can remember ... it's fiction posing as fact posing as fiction ... very Meta!

We have Sontarans, Sea Devils, Swarm and Azure ... Karvanista ... foes of the Flux ... some puzzles and quizzes, a drawing challenge ... There's even a short story here by Jasbinder Bilan - 'Clara Oswald and the Enchanted Forest' (which is actually from the book Origin Stories! Nice piece of PR there!)

The Annual has always been traditionally the Christmas stocking present for kids, and this volume continues the tradition. Like the Short History, it's busy and there's a lot crammed in ... plenty to read and look at on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, some activities to do, a story to read ...  

As a celebration of 60 years, Annual-style, it's good, and Lang covers all the main bases. It's also gone up in price by £1 - the first price rise since 2009 - 13 years! Which is not bad going.

Finally for this selection, Doctor Who: Origin Stories. This is a collection of ten short stories (and an Epilogue) featuring the lives of some of the Doctor's companions before they met the Doctor ... Two of them have been written by the actresses who played the companion: Sophie Aldred contributes an Ace story, and Katy Manning pens a Jo story. It's also good to see credit and acknowledgement being given to the creators and copyright owners of several of the characters and elements used within the stories.

The 'Ace' story, 'Chemistry', kicks things off, and it's a tale of Ace at school where she invents Nitro9 and blows up the Chemistry Lab ... but the Doctor is there too as a chemistry teacher who helps her ... and then the Head turns into a monster and the Doctor saves her ... 

It's nicely written, but I'm not a great fan of narratives where the Doctor inserts his/herself into the past lives of companions before they met him ... that would do all sorts of harm to the timestreams as well as screwing up in-show continuity (just look at Clara!)! Sadly this meant that several of the stories in this book were not for me.

'My Daddy Fights Monsters' by Dave Rudden is a tale of young Kate Lethbridge-Stewart and an encounter with an alien 'Assessor' observing the Earth and trying to find more out about the Doctor ... At least the Doctor isn't in this one ... it's OK ... a little simple ... but something that could conceivably have happened in Kate's past.

The next story 'The Myriapod Mutiny' is by Emma Norry and features Yas and Ryan, again at school and again facing some alien incursion ... and the Doctor makes an appearance too ... but it's OK as their memories are wiped at the end ...

Then there's a Davros story by Temi Oh, a Sarah Jane Smith tale from Mark Griffiths in which she meets the fourth Doctor but then forgets all about it at the end, a second tale from Dave Rudden has Vastra telling a story of her early life to Jenny, Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé writes about Martha Jones who meets the Doctor and then forgets all about it, Nikita Gill's story features Amy Pond and Rory, Jasbinder Bilan tackles Clara (who again meets the Doctor and then forgets all about it), and finally Katy Manning spins a tale of Jo Jones (nee Grant). This is more of a memoir - various little excerpts from her life - and she meets a time traveller ... but it's Iris Wildthyme from Paul Magrs' books and audios rather than the Doctor ... and then finally the Epilogue where we get another story from Dave Rudden which features the Master/Missy.

Overall this is an uneven and disappointing selection. Too many of the tales rely on a past, and then forgotten, meeting with the Doctor, and for many of these companion characters, part of the point of them appearing in the show was that their past lives were uneventful and lacking meaning: a meaning that travelling with the Doctor gave them. Maybe because it's aimed at the 5-10 year old reader this sort of repetition is okay ... the young fan just waiting and anticipating in each case for the Doctor to appear ... 

Conceptually a book focussing on stories of what happened to the companions before they met and travelled with the Doctor was perhaps always going to be a struggle ... either there is no story there, or they had already met (and forgotten) all manner of alien monsters and nasties, and of course the Doctor was there to put things right. It does have a beautifully composed cover though - sadly uncredited in the book.

Thursday, November 03, 2022

Review: Doctor Who and the Daleks (2022)

Every so often a Doctor Who item comes along that when you first year about it, you scratch your head and wonder why ...  This was my reaction when I heard about this new edition of Doctor Who and an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks (as it was originally called) being released by BBC books. It's a large format hardback illustrated by Robert Hack, one of the artists whose work has been seen on trading cards and in the Doctor Who comics and graphic novels ... he's also a fine fellow in real life!

So I wondered how they could make this work ... what a strange choice of something to release ... a book that has been in print almost non-stop since it's first release in 1965 ...

And yesterday I got a review copy.

And wow!

Sometimes a book just gets everything right, and this is one of those times. The size is sort of mid-way between a large format A4 sort of size, and the smaller Royal size that some hardback fiction is released at. But the slightly squarer format really works.

Probably my only complaint is that title. They have called it Doctor Who and the Daleks ... I would have preferred the original and more nostalgic Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks ... but that's just being picky.

The book contains the text from the 2011 reissue of the novelisation by BBC Books in their 'Target' imprint ... but this time, for reasons best known to them, they omit to credit Justin Richards for the 'Changing Face' and 'About the Authors' texts, and Steve Tribe for the 'Between the Lines' section. There's also nothing about Robert in the book itself (he does get a mention on the back cover flap though). It would have been nice to have seen an afterword piece from him on his work, the unused cover ideas and so on ... Neil Gaiman does get a credit for his superb and nostalgic introduction though ... which sets the scene nicely for the story to follow.

The real beauty of the book kicks in on the first page, as we are treated to the first of the many illustrations of a car on a foggy Barnes Common being driven by Ian Chesterton. This reminds us that this is David Whitaker's superb novelisation, which differs in some respects from the televised story ... like Neil, I have memories of the Barnes Common opening, the car accident, and the strange man with the everlasting matches ... and it's all here ...

Robert's illustrations take you into the story and present scenes as we move through ... it's all here ... mutations in the swamps ... Dalek mutants ... Thals being exterminated ... Ian climbing inside the Dalek casing ... and, finally, the incredible glass Dalek itself!  All rendered in gorgeous illustration which leap off the page.

If this was an experiment, then it really worked well! The book is beautiful to look at, and the story is one of the very best from the Doctor Who Novelisation range.

At £30 the book is not cheap, but I'm assuming that you can probably find it for less if you search - at the time of writing Amazon have it for £19.99 which is pretty good!

As a gift to give to a new fan of the show, it's pretty perfect ... and for us old nostalgists, it brings back lots of smashing memories ...

Top marks to BBC Books for this one ... and maybe we'll see more stories adapted into this format in the future!

Doctor Who and the Daleks is published in hardback by BBC Books (an imprint of Ebury Publishing). 3 November 2022, £30.00

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Review: Hellraiser (2022)


I'm a massive fan of Clive Barker and his work ... from the moment those first Books of Blood were published I was hooked on his imagery and sheer imaginative skill in spinning tales.

One of his first novellas was called 'The Hellbound Heart', and Clive adapted it himself into the screenplay for his debut directorial feature, a little horror film called Hellraiser way back in 1987 ... and the rest is history.

That original story laid the background and the groundwork for the Hellraiser mythos. That there were mysterious puzzle boxes scattered over the Earth, which could be obtained for a price ... Those who sought them were looking for the ultimate pleasure, the borderline between pleasure and pain, and the boxes promised this. However in truth, the boxes summoned demons from Hell, travellers in the paths of ecstasy and torment called Cenobites, who had used and scarified their own bodies in pursuit of the ultimate in sensation. They were masochists and sadists who offered the ultimate in pleasure, but at a cost. And opening the box summoned them ... and they would then take their victim with them when they returned.

The story followed Kirsty, who discovered that her stepfather Frank had been taken by the Cenobites, but that he was now trying to return to the world using her stepmother Julia to procure victims and blood to feed his revival. Frank will let nothing stop him, even taking his own brother's skin as part of his attempt to outwit the Cenobites.

In the story, it is really Frank and Julia who are the monsters, and yet it was the Cenobites, led by the regal priest, colloquially termed 'Pinhead' as his head was covered in pins, hammered into his skull in a geometric design, who grasped the imagination. A new cabal of original monsters, poised to take you to the edge of sensation, and then beyond into a hell of their own devising.

That original film is a masterpiece of imagery and horror. Nothing quite like it had been seen before, and it spawned two direct-ish sequels (Hellbound: Hellraiser II and Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth), and then a plethora of franchise spin-offs which steadily descended into the dreadful as the studio tried to make the ideas work for them. Sadly some of the scripts started life as non-Hellraiser projects and were then co-opted to try and make them work ... and it showed!

Now, in 2022, we have another Hellraiser ... and this is billed as just Hellraiser again, reportedly rebooting and restarting the franchise once more. Unfortunately, it doesn't really do that, and it's so distant from the plot of 'The Hellbound Heart' that it might as well have been assigned number 11 in the series!

The new production is very much a film of two halves. The first half feels like another of those random horrors where the Hellraiser mythos has been added to try and sell the script. A girl, Riley (Odessa A'zion), is a recovering addict (a trait which could have been used as part of the plot but isn't) living with her gay brother Matt (Brandon Flynn), his boyfriend Colin (Adam Faison) and a roommate Nora (Aoife Hinds). Riley and her boyfriend Trevor (Drew Starkey) randomly break into a storage warehouse and find a puzzle box. Riley opens the box which makes a blade emerge, but she manages not to get cut by it. This summons the Cenobites who want her to choose another as a sacrifice ... Matt ends up being cut by the blade and is taken to Hell.

Riley and Trevor track down the warehouse to a man named Roland Voight (Goran Višnjić), who we saw in a prologue sacrificing another innocent kid to the Cenobites. They head to his abandoned house which has been set up with protective gratings in a very 'puzzle box' like configuration (though this idea seems to be abandoned/forgotten and they act just like normal protective gratings).

Riley finds Voight's notebooks and finds out the history behind the box and the Cenobites ... noting that victims need to be pricked by the blades for them to be taken!

This sets everything up for the endgame where the humans take refuge in the house while the Cenobites attack from outside ... and this second half of the film feels much more like a Hellraiser film ...

I don't want to give too much away, as there are some lovely visuals in the film. There are new Cenobites to 'enjoy' too, which continue the idea that these people have done these things to themselves in order to feel pain/pleasure ... however there is a rather nasty undercurrent of torture porn where the kids are taken and basically tortured by the Cenobites, and they never asked or wanted this to happen at all - they didn't even open the box! ... it's somewhat at odds with the themes of the original novella and film.

The Priest (Jamie Clayton), better known as 'Pinhead', here has been reimagined as female, but with a deep voice which gives for an interesting impact, and the character works well - providing a still point in all the horror and torment for some discussion of what motivates the creatures to do what they do ...

What is sadly lost for the most part is that people seek out the boxes for that ultimate pleasure. Who can forget the scene in the original Hellraiser where Frank in Larry's skin is literally pulled apart by chains ... and before which he licks his lips in pleasure and utters the classic line 'Jesus wept!' at the sheer overload of pleasure in what is happening to him.

In this new film, the Frank/Larry role is taken by Voight, who has a Cenobotic torture instrument attached to him which plays with his nerves, taking him to the brink of pleasure/pain every few minutes. He is after the ultimate experience, and indeed by the end of the film, he has achieved his desire.

So this new Hellraiser is an uneasy mix of unrelated teen stuff, mixed with a pot pourrie of ideas harvested from the first and second Hellraiser films. It misses out on the main theme of pleasure/pain in favour of making the Cenobites more generic monsters who will chase you and kill you (or in the case of the Chatterer, gnaw you to death!) which is a great shame and somewhat cheapens their initial concept and origin.

There's a really nice central idea with the puzzle box where it takes a variety of configurations and each means something different ... this could have been the central core of the film, perhaps where Riley has to outwit a different Cenobite each time, each geared towards providing a specifically 'Hell' themed interpretation of what the pleasure/pain/sensation divide was. It's a shame that the idea of the house also being a box was not developed, but then the house does seem a little like that in 13 Ghosts as it is ... so perhaps it was for the best.

Overall I felt that this was something of a missed opportunity. Pinhead arrives far too late on the scene, but the new look and styling works. The other Cenobites (Jason Liles as the Chatterer - aside from 'Pinhead' the only returning creature from the original films, Yinka Olorunnife as the Weeper, Zachary Hing as the Asphyx, Selina Lo as the Gasp, and Vukasin Jovanovic as the Masque) are interesting, though in some cases it's hard to see quite what has been 'done' to them which somewhat reduces their impact. They have names in the credits but there's little in the film to understand which is which and why they are called that. I loved the 'room re-configuration' effects which were very well done as the portal to hell opens to allow the Cenobites ingress. When the back of a moving van undergoes the same process, this was exactly the sort of imaginative reworking which was needed.

The new film reuses some of Christopher Young's melodies and scores for the first two films. A strange choice I felt, but it works even if it highlights how great Young's work was compared with the new compositions for this film.

Ultimately it's the lack of an actual plot which holds this new version back. There's a lot of stuff happens, and it's overcomplex, but there seems little narratively to hold it all together. The idea that the box needs to take the blood of the next 'victim', willing or not, and whether human or not, is a new one, and the film should have made more of the rich mythos that it was mining rather than trying to insert new themes into the mix.

Not bad as a horror film, but disappointing as a Hellraiser reboot.