Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Review: Classic Monsters of the Movies Magazine

When I was a lad, there seemed to be literally hundreds of monster movie magazines. Titles like Famous Monsters, Monster Mag, House of HammerStarburst, and Shivers, not to mention the classic books by Denis Gifford and Alan Frank ... but these days the pickings are much slimmer. We still have Starburst of course, and The Dark Side, but one of the best, Fear, tried a comeback which didn't work ... and there's not much else.

Thank goodness for Nige Burton and his Classic Monsters of the Movies magazine! I first discovered this gem a few years back when Nige and myself both had trader stands at a HorrorCon (Sheffield I think it was), and I was immediately taken by the magazine.

First of all, the covers. Now magazines, like books, can survive or fail on their covers. Indeed one of the late lamented Fear's main selling points were the beautiful Oliver Frey covers which graced every issue. Now Classic Monsters has discovered the talented pen of Daniel Horne, and his simply jaw dropping portraits grace every issue. I am reminded of the great Basil Gogos and his portraits which graced covers of Famous Monsters, and Daniel's work has a class and a beauty which elevate this magazine.

Once past the cover though, and Nige assembles a fascinating collection of film analyses, character profiles, reviews and actor and director profiles covering everything from the early days of F W Murnau's Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari to more modern fare of Pet Sematary and Hammer's output.

That's what I love about the mag, that it's not afraid to mix the old with the new. In an edition which features Michael Myers from Halloween on the cover, Nige explains that some people complain if they cover anything after around 1950 ... well I would suggest that this is just short sighted on the part of the complainer! If you're going to cover Classic Monsters, then there are modern classics too ... and the beauty of covering them all is that it brings younger aficionados into the fold as well as those who love the classic black and white films.

It's a beautifully printed and presented magazine, chock full of photographs which have been cleaned up and which sparkle like new. Indeed, the picture content is second to none - gorgeous photographs from old black and white (and colour) films which really show off all the detail and care that went into the original make-ups and productions.

But it's not all films! There are features on collecting and nostalgia too, so if you ever owned a glow in the dark Aurora Monster model kit, or poured over a copy of Denis Gifford's A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, then the magazine is for you ...

I so strongly recommend it to you ... Nige is doing an amazing thing and it deserves supporting ... so go and buy a copy today - or better still get a subscription! You won't regret it!

For more information, visit http://www.classicmonstersofthemovies.com/



Monday, July 22, 2019

Review: Resurrection of the Daleks Novelisation

Way back in the dim and distant past, when Target novelisations were being produced monthly, and there was much excitement about every one, allegedly Terry Nation's agents decreed that if any of the eighties Dalek stories were to be novelised, then they wanted a hefty percentage of the royalty, leaving the actual writer who had done all the work, very little indeed.

Thus it was that Eric Saward, writer of the two eighties Dalek stories Resurrection of the Daleks and Revelation of the Daleks, decided that he didn't like those terms and so declined to write the books, or to allow anyone else to write them either. So they languished un-novelised (apart from a fan-produced version) until 2019.

With the whole business of Doctor Who publishing turned on its head, and the BBC looking for more and more ways to publish books  so Saward finally found a deal he was happy with, and finally the novelisations of the last two stories to be novelised are being published.

I got Resurrection of the Daleks the other week. The BBC, in their infinite wisdom, have done them as un-matching editions which look unlike all the other Doctor Who books available.

Thus we get a small hardbacked book, with a black, silver and red cover with the smallest Dalek in the centre ...

And the writing ... well ... To be honest I might have read a worse written book, but it's hard to think of one. The writing style is odd. It's sort of third person totally uninterested. As the plot unfolds with scant regard to characterisation or detail, so the reader is kept at a distance from all the action. Oh there are lots of bits added: references to the spaceship Vipod Mor and to Tinclavic and Terileptils (all created by Saward for the series and spin offs) to the extent that you start to wonder if the Doctor has ever encountered any aliens aside from the Terileptils. But all this feels forced and unnecessary. There's a tagged on ending with Tegan feeling like a superwoman, heading off on a barge, watched by the two policemen ... But even this feels empty. 

The descriptions are clunky and poor. There's one moment which made me splutter on my tea! Had I really just read that Tegan took a stool from her room into the TARDIS console room? The TARDIS apparently has in it an Explosion Emotion Chamber ... and a robot chef called Ooba-Doa! There's elements which have no relation to the narrative, and there are characters which just drift through without ever actually making any impression on you at all.

And then there's the Daleks. Never have I seen them worse characterised than here. If you didn't know what they looked like or how they spoke, then you would never know from reading this book. They scream, they ooze, they get cross ... what they don't do is behave like Daleks!

Davros fares little better. It's such a shame that such a long-awaited book turns out to be so poor in almost every respect.

Later in the year we have the second Dalek story to look forward to: Remembrance of the Daleks, which was enlivened on television by Graeme Harper's inspired direction ... I can only wonder what the book will be like.

Monday, May 06, 2019

Target Legacy: Writing DAEMOS RISING

Way back in the dim and distant past I was a massive fan of the Target Doctor Who novelisations ... I joined the Target Book Club to get advance information about them, I was sent cover proofs and cherished them ... eventually I got advance copies which was wonderful ... and of course ultimately I wrote a book all about them called The Target Book. Never has a range of books been more influential and iconic.

One thing I always wanted to do was actually write one! However that opportunity was never to be. Even though I knew the final editors working on the ranges, and was even being published by them, and was acting as proof reader on several titles ... I was never asked to pen one. Again, back in the day, I wrote my own novelisation of Image of the Fendahl. I remember listening to the audio I had recorded over and over in order to get the dialogue just right ... I probably even have my text somewhere! I think I even sent it to Terrance Dicks - having no clue as to how things worked - to see if he thought it might be usable ... of course it wasn't going to stand a cat's chance in hell ... but I was young and keen.

So it gives me such immense pleasure to announce that I have finally written a novelisation ... and moreover it's a novelisation of something I wrote which was made into a proper film that you can buy on DVD from Amazon and watch and everything ...

Daemos Rising was as most things tend to be, a labour of love, and I am eternally grateful to Keith Barnfather for allowing me to play with the toys for that production. Of course it's not just Keith I have to thank, as Marc Platt created the characters of Kate Lethbridge-Stewart and Douglas Cavendish, and the Daemons on Doctor Who were created by Barry Letts and Robert Sloman, and the whole Time Hunter idea and concept was co-created with Stephen James Walker for Telos, and that spun off of a Doctor Who  Novella by Daniel O'Mahony called 'The Cabinet of Light', and then the final book in that series, 'Child of Time' was written by myself and George Mann ... so you can see what a fractured, complex and interesting these ideas have in their birth, gestation and eventual realisation.

For the novelisation, I have taken what we presented on screen in the film of Daemos Rising and enhanced it with additional material which, given the budget, could not be seen on screen at all ... There's the back story of the Ghost and his companion for a start, and the machinations of the Sodality in the future, as well as the real plans and intentions of the Daemons ... such a lot to cram into a novelisation.

But I think I've done it all justice, and the book works in the way I wanted it to.

It's such a thrill and a rush to take something written for the screen and to interpret it for prose ... lots of things change, motivations become clearer, and missing scenes and other helpful elements can be injected at the appropriate places.  I hope readers really enjoy it, and start to appreciate what we all collectively saw the story of the Daemons as being ... from their debut in a 1971 Doctor Who adventure, through Daemos Rising, through my story for the White Witch of Devil's End anthology series, and ultimately to the Time Hunter novel 'Child of Time' ... Hopefully people will seek these things out, watch/read them in order, and have as much fun as we did ...

***
‘In the void between time the devils waited … patiently … to be summoned again … to pass judgement on the Earth …’

KATE LETHBRIDGE-STEWART is summoned by an old friend, Douglas Cavendish, to help him with a problem he has with ghosts and voices in his head. But when Kate arrives, she finds more than she expected. Aided by a time-traveller from the future, Kate must outwit both the ancient race of Daemons, and the Sodality, a human cult-like organisation from the future, which is intent on gaining control over time.

Daemos Rising is based on, and expands upon, the Reeltime Pictures drama production Daemos Rising originally released in 2004 and available from www.timetraveltv.com. It also spins off from the 1971 BBC Doctor Who adventure ‘The Daemons’, and is a prequel to the Telos Publishing Time Hunter novella ‘Child of Time’. All characters used with permission. This book has not been licensed or approved by the BBC or any of its affiliates.

The special edition is an A-format paperback release, sized and designed to fit in with the Target Doctor Who novelisations. It features a retro-art cover by Andrew-Mark Thompson, and includes an 8 page full colour section of photographs from the making of Daemos Rising in 2004.


Daemos Rising is written by David J Howe, noted Doctor Who collector and historian who wrote the original script for the film.

***

'Daemos Rising' the film is available from Amazon.
Or on physical media or to stream from https://timetraveltv.com/programme/300
'Daemos Rising' the novelisation is available to order here: https://telos.co.uk/shop/horror-dark-fantasy-and-science-fiction/telos-originals/daemos-rising-special/

'White Witch of Devil's End' is available from Amazon.
Or on physical media or to stream from https://timetraveltv.com/programme/431
'The Daemons of Devil's End' the novelisation is available to order here: https://telos.co.uk/shop/horror-dark-fantasy-and-science-fiction/telos-originals/the-daemons-of-devils-end-special/

'Child of Time' is available on Audio: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Child-Time-Hunter-George-Mann/dp/1906263213/
'Child of Time' is available to buy as an e-book from Amazon:
UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Child-Time-Hunter-Book-10-ebook/dp/B06XFDHBX8/
USA: https://www.amazon.com/Child-Time-Hunter-Book-10-ebook/dp/B06XFDHBX8/

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Review: Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)

It's a little difficult to know what to make of Anna and the Apocalypse. It's a zombie film ... but it's also a musical! And for me the two elements just don't mesh together.

Anna is at university/college with her friends when the zombie apocalypse hits. She manages to survive it by breaking into song every five minutes or so and staging impromptu dance numbers and songs with everyone else on screen. It's a little like High School Musical with zombies, or episodes of My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend but with a lot more musical numbers.

The zombie plot and action is actually ok with some nice effects and decent scares, but the musical element intrudes to the extent that you just want them to get on with it! Oh, and it's also set at Christmas ... so it's a Christmas Zombie Apocalypse Musical ...

It's got an excellent cast with Ella Hunt as Anna taking the centre stage and knocking it out the park with her singing, acting and dancing. There's also Paul Kaye as the creepy University Head Mr Savage, and Mark Benton as Anna's dad, Tony.

There's a nicely staged Jocks vs Zombies fight scene, lots of chases, and lots of singing and dancing.

I suppose it depends what you like!  If you are a fan of High School Musical and Zombie mayhem then this will be right up your street. If, like me, you find the singing and dancing a little tedious, then perhaps not.

3/5 on this one!

Cast
Ella Hunt as Anna Shepherd
Malcolm Cumming as John, Anna's best friend
Sarah Swire as Steph
Christopher Leveaux as Chris
Ben Wiggins as Nick
Marli Siu as Lisa
Mark Benton as Tony Shepherd
Paul Kaye as Arthur Savage
Calum Cormack as Santa Claus
Euan Bennet as Jake
Sean Connor as Graham
Janet Lawson as Mrs. Hinzmann
Kirsty Strain as Ms. Wright
Ella Jarvis as Katie
David Friel as Paramedic


Saturday, April 13, 2019

Review: Scared Stiff (1987)

It must be tricky trying to name an eighties horror film ... so many of them just try too hard and for every cult classic there's a host of wannabes waiting in the wings ... Scared Stiff is an interesting one. For one thing the title seems a complete misnomer until the very end. A better title might be Bored Rigid, but that might be doing this film a disservice as it does have some elements to commend it.

The basic plot is simple: A couple move into a house which was once where an evil Plantation owner lived with his slaves, his wife and child. The slaves revolted and summoned a demon which possessed the Plantation owner causing him to lock his wife and child in a casket in the attic.

Flash forward to present day, and our eighties couple: David Young (Andrew Stevens), apparently a psychiatric doctor, and his girlfriend Kate (Mary Page Keller), a singer who is making a pop video, and who happened to be David's patient up to a year ago, move into the house with her son Jason (Joshua Segal). Cue all manner of nasty happenings as the ghosts from the past are coming to get them ...

They find a boarded up staircase to the attic in the kid's room, wherein is the casket. Jason finds the key while playing and the bodies are discovered. And also a handiman hangs himself from a rope by the house, not to be discovered for days. Did noone wonder where he was or even look at the outside of the house? He eventually crashes through a window as David goes full on possession and Kate and Jason find themselves in an otherworldly realm of moving pianos and smoke and doors as David/the Demon tries to kill them until Jason joins two halves of a totem together and banishes him ...

It's all a bit confused at the end as before the demon is destroyed he seems to give birth to another demon from within him ... then there's eighties early CGI light effects and Kate is left a catatonic wreck, being visited by Jason. I guess she was scared stiff ...

Overall the film plays well, the soundtrack is passable, but it's slow ... so slow ... lots of talking and normal everyday stuff before the possession shenanigans kick in. The cinematography is good though, and the film looks great in this new transfer.

Interesting that the original script was written by Mark Frost, slightly before his Twin Peaks fame, but coming after The Six Million Dollar Man, Hill Street Blues and The Equaliser ... However in the Making-Of documentary, they explain that Frost's original screenplay was changed around a lot before it became the final film ... and one wonders if the original might have been so much better than the something of a pot pourri of ideas that got to the screen.

Again, kudos to Arrow for digging up another eighties horror that I'd never heard of let alone seen ...

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• Brand new 2K restoration from original film elements
• Original uncompressed Stereo audio
• English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• Brand new audio commentary with director Richard Friedman, producer Dan Bacaner and film historian Robert Ehlinger
• Mansion of the Doomed: The Making of Scared Stiff – brand new documentary featuring interviews with Richard Friedman, Dan Bacaner, Robert Ehlinger, actors Andrew Stevens and Joshua Segal, special effects supervisor Tyler Smith and special effects assistants Jerry Macaluso and Barry Anderson
• Brand new interview with composer Billy Barber
• Image Gallery
• Original Theatrical Trailer
• Limited edition slipcase featuring original Graham Humphreys artwork
• Reversible sleeve featuring two original artwork options

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Fully illustrated collector’s booklet with new writing on the film by James Oliver

Director: Richard Friedman
Cast: Andrew Stevens, Mary Page Keller, Joshua Segal

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Review: Terraformars (2016)

What to make of this new science fiction film from Takashi Miike ... First of all, it's based on a Manga series of the same name, and I think this shows in the structure of the piece. Although there is a loose plot, it's pretty simple, which means that the film should stand and fall on its characters, however they are many, and hard to get attached to.

If one took a film similar in idea: Alien, then you hopefully see what I mean about the characters needing to be three dimensional. In Alien, a group of humans arrive on a planet only to find that it is home to a life form which wants to wipe them out. Moreover, one of their number is actually planning to bring said life form back to Earth ... and as such Terra Formars plays out in similar fashion, but without the three dimensional characters or the cool monster at its heart.

What I can see in Terra Formars are echoes of a great many films/TV, all of which did this sort of thing much better. There's Alien as mentioned, but also Blade Runner (the opening could almost be from that film), Starship Troopers with the idea of humans trying to wipe bugs from the face of a planet, there's Transformers and Power Rangers in the strange idea that in order for the humans here to succeed, they must be able to change themselves via injections of some mystery DNA potion into hybrid bugs themselves ... thus we have a chap who can blow flames from his mouth, a girl who can extrude silk, another girl who can implant 'herself' into the brains of others to control them, and a chap with giant hornet stings on his hands ... plus many others.

The idea is that Mars was pre-populated with lichen and with cockroaches, and over years the roaches have developed intelligence and to walk on two legs, and to be seven or eight feet tall!  Thus a group of hand picked humans (criminals mostly it seems) are sent to clear them out.

There's a fair bit of misogyny in the film as most of the female characters are summarily beheaded by the roaches without a thought, while the male characters battle on. There's no mourning, just moving on with the action, and while some of the male characters are killed, it all seems a soulless process. All driven by some fashionista back on Earth who has an ulterior motive which, again, I can't recall what it was ...

There's also a peculiarity that often the film looks and feels like it's an animation (an Anime of the Manga) and I think this is as a result of the extensive CGI which is used. Everything from backgrounds to spaceships to the roaches, to the transformation of the humans ... nothing seems actually 'real' here. It looks as though the human cast have also been airbrushed and treated to make them seem more 'animated'.

This is not a great film, and it suffers from a degree of slowness in the earlier stages, and then repetition in the later acts. The characters are instantly generic and forgettable (I didn't come away with the name of a single one of them), and, just as with Power Rangers/Transformers once you have seen the transformation into a hybrid the first time, it starts to drag with each successive time: a collage of the real insect and information about its particular 'powers' against CGI of the film character growing antennae or mantis-arms or whatever.

Ultimately, I came away wondering what I had just watched, and I'm unfortunately unlikely to want to revisit it.

2/5

Distributor: Arrow Video
Release date: 1st April, 2019                                


SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• High-Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original uncompressed Stereo and 5.1 DTS-HD MA options
• Newly-translated English subtitles
• The Making of Terra Formars - feature-length documentary on the film’s production featuring a host of cast and crew interviews and behind-the-scenes footage
• Extended cast interviews
• Footage from the 2016 Japanese premiere
• Outtakes
• Image Gallery
• Theatrical and teaser trailers
• Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork options

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Fully illustrated collector’s booklet with new writing on the film by Tom Mes

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Review: Lifechanger (2018)

Lifechanger is an interesting film. While it basically follows the same character, this character is a shapeshifter and can take on the form of other people. But in order to do so, it needs to kill the person it is replicating, leaving them a sort of mummified husk.

It's a simple idea, and yet I don't think I've seen it done in film before. Years ago, Stephen Gallagher wrote a novel about a shapeshifting killer called Valley of Lights, but that's about it!

Written and directed by Justin McConnell, it follows the character of 'Drew' who narrates the film, and follows the shapeshifter through a variety of personas. What I really liked here was that it's a film with several 'lead' characters in that their appearance (and sex) changes as the film progresses. There's a real sense of loss too as each character dies to allow 'Drew' to continue living, and as each body he takes starts to decay and fall apart after a short time, there's a lot of body-hopping to be done.

There's also a romance element in that 'Drew' loves a girl called Julia, and his body hopping eventually leads him to a temporary happiness with her ... but there's a twist and ultimately he cannot take her body when his own starts to decay, and so he decides to die this time - allowing his body to crumble away. But instead of this happening it becomes a sort of cocoon, and out of this comes an old man. Now whether this is meant to be Drew as he really is, or a different variation on the shapeshifter is unknown, and the film ends on a slightly unsatisfactory note as a result. A little more explanation in the final scenes would have been appreciated.

Overall though it's a good and solid film, with a lot of good ideas and some great practical effects too. Well worth a look.

4/5