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)

CAUTION: THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS!!

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.

HELLRAISER 2022 IS AVAILABLE TO WATCH IN THE USA ON HULU.



Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Review: More Doctor Who Targets to Tickle Your Fancy

Ask any Doctor Who fan about the Target Books and you will most probably receive an outpouring of love and appreciation for a long-running range which has kept the Doctor's adventures in print form since 1973!

And they're still coming! BBC Studios through the Ebury imprint, recently released four more paperbacks under the Target banner ... all novelising recent or older adventures of the Doctor.

First up, there's two titles credited to David Fisher, who died in 2018. These are actually taken from audio versions of the stories that he penned in 2011 and 2012. The original Target novelisations were by Terrance Dicks, who adapted Fisher's scripts, and so these are Fisher's own take on the adventures he wrote. They have apparently been slightly tweaked for the printed format, but present two adventures for the fourth Doctor, as played by Tom Baker.

'The Androids of Tara' is a double-trouble romp, loosely based on The Prisoner of Zenda, where the Doctor and Romana arrive on the planet Tara looking for a segment of the Key to Time, and get themselves involved in robot shenanigans as Romana is the spitting image of the planet's Princess Strella.

'The Stones of Blood' is a somewhat different kettle of fish, where, looking for another segment of the Key, the time-travelling twosome become embroiled first in an adventure on Earth where blood-drinking rocks turn out to be accomplices of an alien criminal who is posing as a mythical being ... and then to a spacecraft trapped in hyperspace whereon two justice machines, the Megara, are pondering on where their prisoner has gone, and decide to put the Doctor on trial for releasing her!

They're both great romps with lots of surprises in store ... 

Moving slightly more up to date, and James Moran contributes a novelisation of his scripts for 'The Fires of Pompeii' in which the tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and companion Donna Noble, head back to Italy on the day that Vesuvius is due to erupt, and discover alien beings hiding in the hot underground tunnels, and a sect of apparently psychic seers who have unexplained powers.

Finally, Rona Munro, the only author to have straddled both classic and new Doctor Who brings us a novelisation of her twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) story 'The Eaters of Light'. This sees the Doctor, Bill and Nardole travel back to second century Scotland to encounter a lost legion of Roman soldiers, and an alien creature from another dimension ...


I suppose if the books have a theme at all, it's one of visiting the past ... but as with all the Doctor Who novelisations, these are great fun, and especially with the latter two, where the actual televised adventures were only around 45 minutes long, they slightly expand on the material and provide more background to the characters.


Audio readings of the four adventures are also available, with Clare Corbett reading 'The Fires of Pompeii' and Rebecca Benson (who played Kar in the televised story) reading 'The Eaters of Light'. Also, ebook versions of all four titles are available.

Monday, September 05, 2022

The Stranger in Our Bed - Available in the UK!

My amazing wife's debut thriller is finally available to watch in the UK from today (Sept 5th) ...

Prepare for Britain’s answer to 'Gone Girl'. Feeling trapped in her controlling marriage to wealthy husband Tom (Ben Lloyd-Hughes, 'Industry', 'Sanditon'), Charlotte Carlisle (Emily Berrington, 'Humans') begins an affair with another man, who one day mysteriously disappears without a trace. Behind her husband’s back, she secretly begins an investigation into the disappearance, teaming up with her lover’s sister Becki (Terri Dwyer, 'Hollyoaks') to uncover the truth behind what happened. It quickly becomes clear that nothing is at it seems, and after becoming witnesses to a murder, the two become entangled in a dark and twisted game of cat-and-mouse. With her life on the line, Charlotte must uncover what’s really going on – before it’s too late.

Also starring Andi Osho ('Shazam!', 'Good Omens S2', 'The Sandman'), Bart Edwards ('The Witcher'), Joseph Marcell ('Fresh Prince of Bel Air', 'Doctor Who') and Nina Wadia ('Bend It Like Beckham', 'The Sandman').

Directed by Giles Alderson ('Knights of Camelot', 'World of Darkness') and produced by Terri Dwyer for Buffalo Dragon, based on the best-selling book by Samantha Lee Howe.

The film is available on all digital platforms (including: Sky, iTunes, Amazon, Google, Xbox, Virgin Media, Rakuten) ... There's a lot of them about, so here links to a few of them ... but it might also be available elsewhere. We don't think it's legitimately available for free anywhere ...

There is no UK DVD/BluRay physical release at this time, but there is a USA DVD (which is USA Region 1 - so normal UK players can't play it) available here: https://www.amazon.com/Stranger-Our-Bed.../dp/B09WJCZZMB

And the brilliant soundtrack by Ian Arber is also available for download here: UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/music/player/albums/B0BCXDVKZN

The original novel is available from HarperCollins One More Chapter (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stranger-Our-Bed.../dp/0008374589)

If you watch the film and enjoy it, then PLEASE consider leaving a rating or a review on IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt13661368/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

But please don't leave a 10* review no matter how much you loved it as these appear to generally be seen as a red flag and are not taken seriously 🙁

Sunday, August 28, 2022

The Curse of the Double Exposure

 Back in the olden days, when television was watched once and then you moved onto something new, there was no concept of being able to watch something again. Unless the BBC or ITV decided to repeat a show, you had one chance to watch it and that was all.  There were no video machines, and so the best you could do was to make an audio recording of a favourite show so you could listen to it again ... but a second best was to take photographs of the television screen.

I was doing both! From around 1974 I was recording DOCTOR WHO on audio each week. My dad had a decent reel to reel setup and he also had the technical knowhow to wire the system into the gubbins from the back of an old television and allow for direct recordings to be made of the tv sound. Some people had to hold a microphone up to the television and insist that everyone in the room be quiet ... but I had no such worries.

Then, from around 1975 I started to get into photography. and by 1976 I was out interviewing Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke for my fanzine. and then in 1977 it was fanzines all the way!! And the first DOCTOR WHO convention in August 1977 paved the way for more photographs and better kit!

Thus I started to dabble in taking pictures from the television set. And it wasn't as easy as it looked! First of all, of course, you had no idea whether what you were taking was actually coming out. A roll of film had to be completed and then sent off or taken to the chemists to be developed and only then did you know if it had worked or not.

Trial and error revealed that you need to slow the shutter speed down. Television (or at least good old 625 line television) is not comprised of a single image. There is a pattern of dots/lines and these refresh themselves every so often, so in order to get a photo of the whole image, your shutter speed needed to be slower than the speed it took the image to refresh.

Also, I discovered that a camera with a SLR system was better - you could actually see the image you were taking through the eyepiece.

Because you had to slow the shutter speed, you also needed a tripod to ensure that the camera was steady, otherwise blurred shots would result. And sometimes, you'd get some photos which were double exposed as you pressed the shutter when you saw a good image, but at that second it changed to a different image ... and you ended up with both on your film!

A recently discovered a load of 'failed' double image pictures from DOCTOR WHO and realised that today, with digital cameras and computers, there was no need to use a camera/tripod/film any more. Any image you want can be taken direct from a video file with a Screen Capture ... and of course you would NEVER get a double image this way - unless the director had done a fast cross fade so there was actually two images on screen at the same time.

So I thought, before I bin them, I'd record these images here. All taken with my SLR camera, on a tripod, poised in front of DOCTOR WHO being shown live on the television ...

I've probably got more somewhere ... so enjoy ... the accidental fruits of the lost art of taking pics of a live television transmission!











Sunday, August 21, 2022

Review: Late Night Horror: The Corpse Can't Play (1968/2022)

Being something of a horror buff, I'm always interested when something new appears ... and so I was fascinated when I saw online that the archive television preservation organisation Kaleidoscope were releasing an episode of a TV horror series previously unknown to me ... Late Night Horror. This was a 6 episode series, made in colour (very early for that) for the BBC in 1968, and then repeated once in 1970. All the series was lost (due to the BBC's policy of wiping tapes and destroying material which was felt to have no further commercial value) but a single episode was discovered in a private collection back in the 1980s, but then vanished into another collection, only to emerge again in 2016, where Kaleidoscope bought it, and restored it.

Now they have released it, along with a short book looking at the history of the show, and it's a fascinating glimpse of this series.

Continuing the theme of the restoration, what was recovered was a black and white film print, but technology and some brilliant minds have managed to use colour information recorded on the frames of the print to regenerate and recreate the colour ... add many, many hours of manual work retouching and repairing faults on the print, and you have something which could be transmitted again today - it's actually quite incredible!

The episode which has been recovered is called 'The Corpse Can't Play', written by John Burke, and is a neat little vignette set at a kids' party where the adults prepare sandwiches and cake while the kids run riot around the house, shouting and screaming and pushing and shoving. A latecomer is 'Simon' who brings the best present, but who is then tormented by the birthday boy ... and the ultimate results are quite horrific.

I enjoyed seeing it a lot, and it actually brought back vague memories of the tale. I would have been 7 years old in 1968 so I doubt I saw it then, and nor in 1970 ... but perhaps I am remembering the story from a print appearance - several of those adapted saw light in The Pan Book of Horror Stories and the original story, 'Party Games', was in The Sixth Pan book of Horror Stories (1965) ... so maybe that's where I know it from ... not sure.

The package from Kaleidoscope is available here: https://www.tvbrain.info/shop/books/late-night-horror

This includes a DVD of the production (plus a feature on the restoration and a rather nice trailer for the series featuring Valentine Dyall as 'the Man in Black') and the book.

While the book is a welcome addition, they really need to pay more attention to the layout which is very sloppy and brings the whole thing down a notch in my opinion. I think, personally, I would have preferred a presentation in a DVD case, with the DVD there, and the book sized to fit inside the case too ... But that's me being mega-picky.

As a piece of historic television, this presentation is to be applauded, and I hope that other horror series could be found and restored to this quality ... Well worth a look if you're interested in television horror!


Here's the titles for the show ... in black and white and from a BBC Radiophonic Workshop demo reel. The music is by Dick Mills and appeared on the BBC LP Out of this World.


Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Review: Shark Bait (2022)



I love a good monster film ... and sometimes I think we don't get enough of them ... but this example falls back on a tried and tested trope: Sharks! Yes, those much-maligned denizens of the sea, who have a habit of being caught in tornados - or sharkenados - or terrorising innocent humans in everything from Jaws onwards.

Perhaps my favourite shark-menace film of recent years is The Shallows in which Blake Lively finds herself trapped on some rapidly submerging tidal rocks off a deserted beach as a highly intelligent shark attempts to snack on her ... and common with many of these films, the shark shows more intelligence than the humans it's trying to eat ... however with Lively, it might have met its match!

Which brings us to Shark Bait (called Jetski on IMDB, presumably an alternate title) ... another teens in trouble romp, where a group of dysfunctional kids on spring break - Nat (Holly Earl), Tom (Jack Trueman), Milly (Catherine Hannay), Tyler (Malachi Pullar-Latchman) and Greg (Thomas Flynn) - all with their own neuroses and sleeping with each other and angst and so on, head out to sea on a couple of stolen jet skis only to accidentally crash them into each other, leaving them all huddled on one ski, which of course won't now start. And one of them has broken their leg ... bleeding into the water ...

Cue the shark!

And that's more or less it. The kids are pretty hopeless and daft and you don't really care that much about them as they get picked off one by one by this shark ... the gore effects are realistic and nasty, and the water turns red on several occasions ...

Of course we have a Final Girl (I think she's Nat, but I could be wrong) who manages to outwit the shark, gets the jet ski mended and operational again, and heads to shore on some deserted beach somewhere - it's not clear where she ends up - but ol' sharkie is still out to get her ... even jamming itself between shallow rocks in an attempt to deprive her of her legs ... it's something of a daft scenario, and just how hungry must this shark be? It's already eaten four of her friends! Maybe it wanted some brains ... the one thing missing in this film.

Overall I found this to be a fun, but improbable, film. It's one where you have to leave your critical faculties at the door and just enjoy it - probably with some beer and friends. It's nicely made and the effects are excellent. The shark looks/seems real and it provides a tangible threat to the imperilled teens. Just don't expect anything more than a succession of deaths!

The only real issue is that shark attack films are very common ... and it's therefore hard to produce something which really stands out (as The Shallows managed). 

SHARK BAIT is released on digital platforms and DVD from 6 June 2022

SYNOPSIS: A group of spring-breakers enjoying a weekend in Mexico. After a big night of partying on the beach until dawn, the friends steal a couple of jet skis and take them out to sea, but end up in a horrific head-on collision. The group finds itself stranded miles from land and struggling with a badly injured friend. With no clear way home and predators circling in the choppy waters below, the true horror begins…