Sunday, February 07, 2016

Review: The Spider (Edderkoppen)


The six hour-long episodes of the Danish TV serial The Spider (original title Edderkoppen) were released as an English-subtitled two-disc DVD set in the UK last summer, fifteen years after their original broadcast, as part of Arrow Films’ “Nordic Noir” strand of crime dramas. Unlike more famous Danish shows such as Borgen and The Killing (with which it shares a number of principal cast members), The Spider is not a contemporary thriller but a period piece, set in 1949, a time when Denmark was still suffering the after-effects of the Second World War, with many everyday items still subject to rationing. The central character, Bjarne Madsen (Jakob Cedergren), is an idealistic rookie journalist on a left-wing newspaper, who becomes preoccupied with investigating a local ring of black marketeers presided over by the ruthless Svend Aage Hjalmar (Bjarne Henriksen) – “the Spider” at the centre of this web of crime. Bjarne is aided by veteran crime reporter H C Vissing (Bent Vejding), who takes him under his wing, but they find their enquiries obstructed at every turn by corrupt police officers, who are in the pay of Hjalmar.

Partly based on true events, the story is set against the background of a nation struggling to come to terms with its wartime past, when some people joined the resistance to oppose the Nazi occupying force, while others became despised collaborators, creating tension within local communities and even individual families, as shown when Bjarne’s cocky collaborator brother Ole (Lars Mikkelsen) – curiously named after the series’ creator, director and main writer Ole Christian Madsen – returns from a period of effective exile in New York with a wad of cash, intending to set up a jazz club.

This is a very well-made serial, with strong central performances, high production values and good direction, creating a very authentic-seeming period atmosphere. Unfortunately, it is really let down by its scripting. The characters are clich├ęd and one-dimensional, the situations hackneyed and predictable, and the plotting disjointed and implausible. The end result is that, although The Spider has an interesting setting and an intriguing premise and is very pleasing to look at, sitting through all six episodes becomes really rather a trial.

Arrow Films’ DVD presentation of the serial is a bare-bones one, too, with no extras whatsoever. So, overall, this is sadly not a release I can recommend.


Stephen James Walker

Review: Five Dolls For an August Moon (1970)

So this is a Mario Bava film, and one that I'd never heard of. The director is famed of course, and rightly so, for such masterworks as Black Sunday, but it seems that somewhere after that he lost his mojo.

I have no idea why this film is called Five Dolls for an August Moon. There are no dolls in the film, and no moon either, and it may or may not be set in August. What it seems to be is a sort of rip-off of Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians, or And Then There Were None, in that there are ten people, five men and five women, on an island, and that they get killed off one by one ... no-one seems to know who the killer is, not least of all the viewer, and to be honest the film is so talky and slow that the viewer actually ceases to care much ... And when we get to the end, it doesn't make sense anyway, with people seemingly vanishing when the police arrive and then reappearing again ... and the police search the house - by which they go to the top of the stairs and without moving a foot further, or calling out, or checking any of the rooms, declare that the place is deserted. It's all very strange.

One of the woman is a sort of 'observer' type character and runs around outside in a short dress or fetching pair of jeans, acting strange, hiding clothes in rocks, eating seafood straight from the water ... that sort of thing. The others are a strange mix of poorly acted Italian stock, looking as though they have just wandered in from whichever Italian Soap Opera was popular at the time ... It's all spinning beds and girls in knickers ... very soft porn stuff.  There is one nice death reveal - where a load of glass balls tumble down a staircase and roll along a passage to a bathroom, falling in the bath where one of the girls seems to have slit her wrists because she can't take it any longer ... I know how she felt!

And the music! Oh my. It sounds as though it's all been played on a Bontempi organ and is dreadful. There's a meat locker in the house (inexplicable) and for some reason all the dead bodies get wrapped in plastic and hung in there.

While I can applaud Arrow for seeking out, cleaning up and issuing all these strange films in high quality Blu-Ray format, it's a shame when the subject matter is as poor as this.

There is an interesting and informative documentary on the disc (apparently from around 2000) where Mark Kermode explores the life and work of Bava. Of particular interest were the parallels between Bava's Planet of the Vampires and Scott's Alien ... where it seems that if Ridley Scott hadn't seen Bava's work, then the writers certainly had ... there are a lot of parallels.

So overall, it's a lovely transfer, clean pictures, incomprehensible film and dreadful music ... Probably unmissable for the Bava completist!

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
  • Optional English and Italian soundtracks presented in original uncompressed mono PCM audio
  • Optional isolated Music and Effects track
  • Optional English subtitles for the Italian audio and English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English audio
  • Audio commentary by Mario Bava’s biographer Tim Lucas
  • Mario Bava: Maestro of the Macabre – a documentary profile of the director, hosted by Mark Kermode and featuring interviews with Joe Dante, John Carpenter and Tim Burton
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
  • Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Glenn Kenny and a new essay by Adrian Smith on the Fancey family and their efforts to bring international exploitation titles, including Five Dolls for an August Moon, to a UK audience during the 60s, 70s and 80s

  • Friday, January 15, 2016

    New Magazines

    I'm a sucker for magazines. I love the real world-ness of them ... a sense of permanence that the good old world of PDFs and Websites can't replicate. This is why I still have stacks of old and loved magazines ... copies of House of Hammer, Monster Mag, Fangoria, The Monster Times and many more ... And now there's more to add!

    I'd seen mention of this new magazine called Zombie! online but hadn't heard a thing about it ... but when I saw a copy in the local Smith's I had to grab it. For a start it has a glow in the dark cover!  When I was a kid I loved glow in the dark things ... from the Aurora Monster Model Kits to silly plastic skeletons you could get in Christmas crackers, I loved all things which glowed. I even tried to find some glow in the dark paint to paint some stuff with but failed! I don't think they made it at the time!

    Anyway, Zombie!  has a cracking cover courtesy of Oliver Frey who used to do all the covers for the old Fear magazine - I told you I loved the mags - and his gory, stylised work is perfect for this magazine which, as the title suggests, is about all things Zombie.  So we get a Zombie Survival Guide, a Cultural History of Zombies, 21 Zombie Movies to watch before you die, reviews of zombie related stuff, feature on The Walking Dead, interview with Oliver Frey, games reviews, zombie tattoos, zombie comics, and finally a short piece with author Darren Shan about his Zom-B series of novels ... all in all it's a packed read, and has a snappy, modern, jumpy layout with lots of boxouts of information and imagery ... Really well designed and fascinating to flip through.

    I have no idea whether it will last, whether there is enough zombie news, reviews and features to fill a monthly (at least I think it's monthly - I can't find any information!) magazine.  But I wish them well! From the first issue, it's a very promising start.

    To grab a copy, head to:
    http://www.get-zombie.today/

    The other magazine offering is far more sedate. From its perfect and stylish black and white cover, The Mummy is a mag all about that creature, but more specifically about the 1932 Universal film. This is one of a series of publications from the amazing Nige Burton and team, and is a top quality printed work, with beautifully reproduced photographs. The care that has gone into it is evident, and it shows. They kindly sent me a copy for review.

    Each edition focusses on one film, and here we have the Boris Karloff version of the Mummy ...so we have background details on the film, biogs of all the main players from both in front of and behind the camera, Mummy merchandise is covered, as are the sequels of declining quality, everything illustrated with stills and posters and lobby cards ... a beautiful appreciation of the film.

    For more information about Nige's series of magazines and special publications, please head to:
    https://www.facebook.com/classicmonstersofthemovies
    http://www.classic-monsters.com/shop/

    Thursday, December 31, 2015

    2015 Overview

    Linzi Gold and Alan Glass
    2015 ... here's some thoughts ... It started with some good news for Sam’s daughter Linzi … we met by accident with a friend of a friend, the ex-drummer with The Marmalade, Alan Whitehead, who, it turned out, was acting as a music agent. He heard Linzi singing, loved her, and signed her up!  He introduced her to a brilliant producer/musician called Alan Glass, and on 1st Jan, Linzi Gold had an initial meeting with Alan Glass, and work started on creating her music. Under the guidance of Alan Glass, she has now created lyrics and melody for eight tracks, and has recorded a video for one of them (‘Killing Kiss’). She has two more tracks to record, and then we can put them all together in a debut album next year …

    She parted company with Alan Whitehead mid-year, but is continuing to work with Alan Glass to complete the album.

    Some of her tracks can be found on YouTube, and on SoundCloud – just search for Linzi Gold in each case to find them. We also have an EP available for sale, and a DVD of the video – check her webpage at www.linzigold.com for details of how to order them.

    Sam with John Barrowman
    February and we were again off to LA for the annual Gallifrey Doctor Who convention – a week of friends and parties and drinking basically. As usual we had a brilliant time, and met up again with friends like Chase Masterson, and Dean Haglund (who was on the verge of moving to Australia!). Unfortunately despite everyone’s best efforts, we weren’t able to get to meet with Clive Barker again – the week we were there, people at Clive’s place fell ill with throat infections and were called out to other cities on business … so we couldn’t make it happen. We’ll try again in 2016!

    One highlight of the visit was that David finally got to see the Baxter Building – a distinctive place in Downtown LA, which was used in the film Blade Runner, as well as being the main location for the ‘Demon With a Glass Hand’ episode of the sixties series The Outer Limits. It’s an amazing place! (see howeswho.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/the-bradbury-building.html for pics!)

    David with Jason Connery
    After the news last year that we had a new kitty in the form of Jinx, sad news in March, as on the 10th, she was hit by a car on the road out front and killed instantly. We were distraught. We have decided not to get another cat as it’s not fair – that road is so dangerous and cars go down it at 90 miles an hour (even though it’s a little country lane). Even next door’s cat was killed on it, in the same way, a few months later.

    We had a busy first part of the year with events in Pwllheli, Peterborough, Lincoln, London, EasterCon in London, and Wales Comic Con in Wrexham. All seemed great, and we were visiting a friend down in South Wales when the world turned on its head.

    It was Sunday 3 May, and we were heading to Cardiff to see the Doctor Who Exhibition there, when David started to feel ill. A couple of miles further on, we stopped at a service station just inside Wales, and David basically collapsed. It turned out he was having a massive heart attack, and so was rushed by ambulance to Cardiff University Hospital, where he was emergency-stented and his life saved.

    David was in hospital for a week, and then Sam brought him home … and so the next six months were devoted to getting better and stronger and recovering from the attack. Of course all events and travel had to be cancelled, David was earning no money from working, and so we resorted to living off what money we had saved.

    David, Sam and Patricia record the 'Zombie Special' edition
    of THE STONE TAPES
    Thankfully David has pulled through and is now back to being hale and hearty once more. He’s on medication for life now, but as this keeps him alive, we don’t mind too much.

    In the middle of all this, we also recorded Linzi’s music video, and Sam recorded the first of her monthly radio shows on SirenFM, Lincoln University’s Community Radio station. It’s a genre chat show, covering music and books and films and television and is called THE STONE TAPES after the old seventies Nigel Kneale play, The Stone Tape. It seemed suitable. We have recorded 8 editions so far, and they have all been great fun indeed.

    If you want to listen, then they are all stored as downloadable Podcasts and can be found here:
    David’s first event post-Heart Attack was in July, at HorrorCon in Rotherham, which was an excellently organized affair with some great guests.

    Sam with Gunner Hansen
    We met the lovely Gunner Hansen there, who played the original Leatherface in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and he was a nice man. We were saddened to hear that he had died later in the year.

    The big event of the year was of course our Wedding. Planned since last year, it finally happened in October, and was as fun and laughter-filled as we could have hoped for … We wanted it to be all about family and friends, and we hope we achieved that.

    It was also ‘Steampunk’ which meant dressing up … and the array of outfits was superb: From Uncle Brian’s ‘Ozzy Osbourne’ to corsets and Victorian Ladies aplenty, top hats and tails, and beautiful dresses and glamorous people. We had an absolute ball, and the photos reflect all the fun and laughter we had on the day.

    I've put a pile of pictures on this blog here: howeswho.blogspot.co.uk/2015/12/wedding-pictures.html

    After the wedding, we didn’t head off immediately on honeymoon … the reason being that we had been invited to two USA conventions: Long Island Who, and Chicago TARDIS; which were two weeks apart. So we planned to head over to both, and to use the week in between for a honeymoon break. So that’s what we did, and spent an amazing time in Las Vegas …

    David with some friends in Las Vegas
    Sam in Vegas
    We didn’t gamble, but watched, and when we did decide to spend $20 on the machines, we stopped when we had won $38 and came out ahead! We’re not daft!

    At the tail end of the year, David also released another book!  This is a selection of his reviews of Doctor Who on television, and covered all of the Chris Eccleston and David Tennant years. He called it Then and Now as it represented all the reviews as published at the time, together with additional notes and comments on a re-watch this year. The book has been very warmly received, and David hopes to do a follow up volume when Peter Capaldi eventually leaves the role ...

    Copies are available from Amazon as follows:

    UK: www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1518776000/ref=s9_simh_gw_p14_d0_i1?pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_s=desktop-1&pf_rd_r=0Q1DAMX857R3W6DK9CHD&pf_rd_t=36701&pf_rd_p=577048407&pf_rd_i=desktop

    USA: www.amazon.com/Then-Now-Doctor-Who-Review/dp/1518776000/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1451578674&sr=8-1&keywords=then+and+now+howe

    SAM’S WRITING

    2015, and Sam finally managed to find an agent who could represent her. This is a smashing lady called Hazel Latus, who we have met with and have high hopes of working with on all manner of projects.

    The books Sam has had out this year (2015) are as follows:

    VAMPIRE GENE REPRINTS: Sam sold the rights to her popular Vampire Gene series of novels to Telos, and they have all been reissued with smart new covers …

    The next edition, JADED JEWEL, is due for release in 2016.
    JINX TOWN: This is a post-apocalyptic novel involving alien invasion, death and disaster … It’s a great read and had some brilliant reviews.

    KAT OF GREEN TENTACLES: This was another in Sam’s brilliant Steampunk Adventure series. This time it’s Anne of Green Gables mixed with the Fae and a Cthulhuian monster in the basement …

    All those are from Telos here: www.telos.co.uk

    SHORT STORIES: Not such a good year for these due to David’s heart attack, but one that Sam did manage to complete was ‘Sabellaed’, a tribute to the author Tanith Lee who passed away this year, which was printed in an anthology called Night’s Nieces edited by Storm Constantine and published by Immanion Press. Copies available here: www.immanion-press.com/info/book.asp?id=483&referer=Hp

    Another piece which finally saw light this year was the first piece for the audio publishers Big Finish, when 'Freya' appeared as part of Series Four of their Confessions of Dorian Gray series. This can be ordered here: www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/the-confessions-of-dorian-gray-series-04-1195

    A further Kat Lightfoot story was written as a special Wedding favour for our guests. We published it as a short chapbook and it featured our wedding, and the guests, as Kat battles the forces of evil around us … great fun! We still have a couple of copies available for sale if anyone's interested: www.sam-stone.blogspot.co.uk/p/sam-stone-merchandise.html

    TELOS PUBLISHING

    Despite the health issues, we’ve managed to keep things moving forward at Telos, with 29 new titles coming out, plus Kindle and new POD editions of many other titles on top.

    We have lots of Romance titles there now, for those who like that, as well as more horror and non-fiction titles.

    For full details, check out our website at www.telos.co.uk.

    IN SUMMARY

    On balance, 2015 contained some superb highs – the wedding – and some dramatic lows – David’s heart attack. Overall it was good, with lots of love and laughter, but we’re hoping for a healthier 2016, with lots more fun and friends and events and good news.

    Wedding Pictures

    Here's some pics from Sam and my wedding in October 2015 :)