Thursday, November 12, 2020

Review: He Came From the Swamp: The William Grefe Collection (2020)

I'm possibly not alone in never actually having heard of William Grefe, which is a little odd as I am something of an aficionado of the sort of ultra-low budget films he made ... but looking at the titles in this new collection and retrospective of his work from Arrow, I suspect that these are a little lower than even I usually go.

Kicking off the four disk set of seven films is Grefe's first feature, a charming little piece called Sting of Death (1966).

To even start to understand these films, you need to understand also that there was a subculture in the sixties of films which involved 'beach parties'. In fact, beach parties seem to have been really popular for a time as there are quite a few films which feature them. Basically a group of pretty young men and woman all strip down to their bikinis and swim trunks and dance on a beach to music, throwing their arms and bodies around in jerky movements, a little like a spider with St Vitus' Dance. The films feature a lot of this ... so be warned.

The plot, if it can be called that, of Sting of Death is that people are being killed by poison which seems to be coming from a Portuguese Man of War jellyfish ... but it's deadly! Cue a deformed handyman at a hip pad owned by some scientist-types. He seems to be turning himself into a jellyfish man (mainly by putting an inflated plastic bag on his head) and killing the hip cats who have descended on the house for numerous beach parties. They are dancing on the boat as it arrives, then they dance on the jetty, then they dance around the pool ... and somehow our jellyfish man gets into the pool unseen, and kills a girl before getting out again, unseen.

Grefe wisely keeps his monster to shots of flippered feet and wet-suited legs for the most part, only revealing the whole horror of the jellyfish man towards the end ...

It's a turgid affair, not even enlivened by the many shots of gyrating bodies and girls bottoms.

The next film is Death Curse of Tartu (1966), and this touches on the obsession with cannibals and curses which seemed to be around at the time. Unfortunately it has even less of a plot than Sting of Death and seems to revolve around people running around in the Everglades, being chased by crocodiles, finding caves with sarcophagi in, and a living mummy which inexplicably changes into a native American of some sort before it ends. 

It's obvious that Grefe had access to one of those swamp-boat things with a big propeller on the back as it's used here as well in the next film, The Hooked Generation (1968). The attention span of watching these things is growing less with each entry. The Hooked Generation looks at drugs: usage and trafficking. We have a group of unsavoury characters who are trying to smuggle drugs, but one of their number is already high and the rest are pretty hopeless too. They evade the Everglades police, killing them in a shootout, and hideout somewhere, taking captive a young couple who saw them.

It's slow and talkie, but does show a slight narrative step up from Death Curse. Again, this is selling into the obsessions of the time, with a girl in a bikini in trouble, bad drug traffickers, and drug taking.

The next film is even worse! The Psychedelic Priest (which is actually called Electric Shades of Grey on the print) had, as explained in a documentary/interview on the disk, no script, and this is painfully obvious in the film which basically follows a priest who is given some acid, and who then trips and wanders through various music festivals which feature the worst music imaginable. He picks up a female hitch-hiker and she falls for him, but he decides to return to the Church. It's a slow, motiveless and boring slice of cinema, and all I can assume is that it went down well with drive-ins where the viewers were similarly indulging either in drugs or in each other - either way paying no attention to the film at all.


I note that it was made in 1971 but not released at the time. It's release came in 2001 on a direct-to-video label ... perhaps it should have remained unreleased and forgotten.

The Naked Zoo (1971) has a little more going for it. For a start it stars Rita Hayworth in the twilight of her career! The plot has had more work done on it this time, and the film follows a writer who seems to have no trouble getting the girls, but he seems to have a preference for the older lady and is having an affair with Hayworth. Her wheelchair-bound husband is killed in an engineered accident, and then the writer kills her too with a combination of drugs and shock treatment!  But who exactly is the young girl he is also dating ...?  The drug use/party culture is still strong here, but it's more focused and better made than the previous films, and the acting is likewise notched up a rung or two.

Mako: Jaws of Death (1976) is a creature feature, but here the sharks are the 'good' guys! The film is set against a backdrop of shark-hunters and exploitation, and follows a chap who has befriended the sharks and has a tooth necklace given to him by some 'shark god' ... he decides to do away with all those who threaten the sharks, which strangely includes an underwater performer at a local bar. The plot again is better here, and the underwater footage is pretty decent. This was apparently the first 'homage' to Jaws which hit cinema screens and in some ways is testament to the success of the Spielberg film.

The final film in the Collection is Whiskey Mountain (1977). This follows two men and their wives who decide to head off to somewhere called Whiskey Mountain. The film seems to be mostly a travelogue showing them riding their bikes and crossing rivers and so on, but eventually it settles down to them finding a shack and being captured by a group of drug smugglers. The men are tied up in a cave while the women are raped. The men escape and try to go after the druggies, but the local sheriff won't believe them ... and the film ends with one of the men and the two women lined up in the sights of the sheriff's gun as he hovers above them in a helicopter.

It's a strange beast, and unfortunately a pretty poor quality print as well, and it looks like it was made in the sixties rather than the seventies.

What is very interesting about this set, and now I've watched all the films, is that, strangely, it's the first, Sting of Death which now seems to have the most appeal. Yes the monster is dreadful, and yes, it's corny and fairly loose in its presentation, but at least it has a plot and is vaguely enjoyable in the sense that you can marvel and smile at the wetsuit-clad jellyfish man ... 

I enjoyed the extras which pepper the disks. The Curious Case of Dr. Traboh: Spook Show Extraordinaire  is a fascinating look at a very under-appreciated area of horror entertainment, the various live ghost and horror shows put on by theatres back in the 40s and 50s.

The documentary about Grefe is also interesting and illuminating, showing the lack of budget and issues which beset some of these low budget films, and how passing trends - go-go girls, bikers, sharks, cannibals - can be turned into films seemingly at the drop of a hat!

I also liked the little piece on Crown Distributors on the final disk - which is not mentioned in Arrow's PR.

As usual, Arrow have pushed the proverbial boat out with the visuals, packaging and production of this set, and it all looks stunning. I just hope that buyers coming to these films fresh aren't too disappointed by the no-budget thrills and spills that they contain.

DETAILS OF THE ARROW RELEASE:

Available now on the Arrow Video Channel: https://bit.ly/AVCUK

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS

  • Seven William Grefé films, all newly restored from the best surviving film elements: Sting of Death (1966), Death Curse of Tartu (1966), The Hooked Generation (1968), The Psychedelic Priest (1971), The Naked Zoo (1971), Mako: Jaws of Death (1976) and Whiskey Mountain (1977)
  • Brand new, extended version of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures’ definitive documentary They Came from the Swamp: The Films of William Grefé
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentations on 4 Blu-ray discs
  • Original uncompressed mono audio for all films
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Fully illustrated collector’s booklet featuring an extensive, never-before-published interview with William Grefé and a new foreword by the filmmaker
  • Reversible poster featuring newly commissioned artwork by The Twins of Evil
  • Reversible sleeves featuring newly commissioned artwork for each of the films by The Twins of Evil

STING OF DEATH (1966) + DEATH CURSE OF TARTU (1966)

  • Brand new introductions to the films by director William Grefé
  • Archival audio commentaries for both films with William Grefé and filmmaker Frank Henenlotter
  • Sting of Death: Beyond the Movie – Monsters a-Go Go! – a look into the history of rock 'n' roll monster movies with author/historian C. Courtney Joyner
  • The Curious Case of Dr. Traboh: Spook Show Extraordinaire – a ghoulish look into the early spook show days with monster maker Doug Hobart
  • Original Trailers
  • Still and Promotion Gallery

THE HOOKED GENERATION (1968) + THE PSYCHEDELIC PRIEST (1971)

  • Archival audio commentaries for both films with director William Grefé and filmmaker Frank Henenlotter
  • Hooked Generation behind-the-scenes footage
  • Hooked Generation Original Trailer
  • Still and Promotion Gallery

THE NAKED ZOO (1971) + MAKO: JAWS OF DEATH (1976)

  • William Grefé’s original Director’s Cut of Naked Zoo
  • Alternate Barry Mahon re-release cut of Naked Zoo
  • Original Mako: Jaws of Death Trailer and Promo
  • Still and Promotion Gallery

WHISKEY MOUNTAIN (1977) + THEY CAME FROM THE SWAMP: EXTENDED CUT (2020)

  • Whiskey Mountain Original Trailer
  • Still and Promotion Gallery
  • They Came from the Swamp: The Films of William Grefé – the definitive documentary presented for the first in High-Definition and in a brand new, extended cut

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Review: Doctor Who: The Monster Vault

2020's large format, full colour tome from BBC Books is called The Monster Vault ... but forgive me for a moment as it all seems very familiar.

It's a big book - 312 pages - with a £25 price tag ... but haven't we seen it all before? The content is an A-Z of the monsters and aliens that the Doctor has faced in the show. It's not complete in that it doesn't include absolutely everything, and it does not cover the 'reality' or 'behind the scenes' element except for a brief section at the back. For each entry there is the creatures' history as explained (mostly) on screen, with a couple of deviations from the facts we know into what the authors are making up and surmising - but unless you knew, you wouldn't know the difference as it's all presented as 'authoritative'.

For example, the first entry, for the Abzorbaloff, claims that the creature's entire body is in a constant state of suction ... I don't recall that from the TV episode ... Next up is Alpha Centaurians and there's talk of their home planet having an abundance of food and no predators, so the creatures developed politeness. This is pure conjecture ... and so the book goes on, mixing fact from the TV show with a large dollop of conjecture and extrapolation on the part of the authors.

But haven't we seen books about the monsters before? Indeed, there was Lesley Standring's Illustrated A-Z (1985); I myself wrote A Book of Monsters (1997) which focussed on the behind the scenes creation and development of them, again copiously illustrated. Then, for the new series, Justin Richards produced Monsters and Villains (2005), Aliens and Enemies (2006), Creatures and Demons (2007), The Ultimate Monster Guide (2009, updated 2010), Monster Miscellany (2011) and The Secret Lives of Monsters (2013). There was also 100 Scariest Monsters (2011). So a fair few books focussing on the monsters, using only the fictional material presented on television, and illustrated with lots of photographs.

The Monster Vault seems to be the latest in a never-ending stream of similar books from BBC Books. Indeed, it is illustrated with photographs, but each creature gets a rather nice full page 'visualisation' courtesy of Lee Johnson which often looks like a photograph or perhaps a collage of pictures - it's hard to tell what is a photograph and what is artwork.

I think if I'd not been aware of the plethora of similar titles over the years, this book would be quite impressive. It's beautifully produced and laid out, and has monsters galore to sate any appetite. It's also obviously aimed at the younger set, with nothing over and above the descriptions and potential background and pictures. There are some 'unanswered questions' dotted throughout. Like for example why the Chameleons kill people when they're 'high-minded'  - they do so using a slow moving laser, unsupervised. Which is a bit daft, a bit of a joke, and totally invented (though the sequence with the laser is decidedly strange in the story) - the text is included solely to 'explain' a rather weak plot point in the story in which they appear. This continues with somewhat strange 'explanations' of why a Draconian state room is coloured green, how Haemovores can shape metal with their hands, and why the Rutans lost interest in Earth as a planet of strategic importance.

The book covers the entirety of Doctor Who with entries for Sensorites and Monoids alongside Chameleons (2nd Doctor), Solonian Mutants (3rd), Ogri (4th), Tractators (5th), Vervoids (6th), Cheetah People (7th), Jagrafess (9th), Weeping Angels (10th), The Flesh (11th), the Teller (12th) and Zellin & Rakaya and Thijarans (13th) and many more besides. And of course the Daleks and Cybermen are here too.

Just as we think it's all over there's a very welcome final chapter looking at the behind the scenes elements. This again includes photos from all eras of monsters being created, worn, fitted ... there are design sketches and shots of them being built ... it's probably for me the best and most interesting ten pages in the book! 

Overall this is a smashing book, well produced and laid out, which will provide hours of interest for fans new to the show in discovering more about all the various creatures that the Doctor has battled over the years. 

Doctor Who: The Monster Vault
Written by Jonathan Morris and Penny CS Andrews
Illustrated by Lee Johnson (interior) and Ben Morris (cover)
Edited by Paul Lang
Published on 22 October 2020 by BBC Books, priced £25 ISBN 978-1-78594-533-5

Monday, October 19, 2020

Review: Color Out Of Space (2019)

I've long been a bit of a fan of H P Lovecraft - it's the ideas, the slow burn and of course the tentacle monsters that do it ... and while there have been some film adaptations of his work in the past (think of titles like Re-Animator, The Haunted Palace, Dagon and From Beyond) none of them have quite managed to capture the creeping horrors described in Lovecraft's fiction.

Color Out Of Space however manages to do just that, and it does it very well indeed. We are introduced to a dysfunctional family. Father Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage) lives in the backwoods somewhere in America, miles from civilization or anywhere else for that matter. His wife Theresa (Joley Richardson) tries to cope with their son Benny (Brendan Meyer) and their rebellious daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) as they grow up, not to mention the youngest son Jack (Julian Hilliard). Into their lives comes Ward Phillips (Elliot Knight), a hydrologist making a survey of the water in the area. He's attracted to Lavinia ...

Then, one night, a meteor crashes onto their land, leaving a crater and a red hot ball of something ... alien. Everyone is mystified, but soon strange red flowers start appearing, the grass turns red, and Jack sees a strange insect hatch from a jelly-like object down the well. 

From this point onwards, life for the Gardners changes. Their herd of alpacas gets frisky, Theresa cuts her fingers off while chopping carrots, and the dog runs off, to be found later on ... changed ...

But things can get worse ...

What I liked about Color Out of Space is the way it starts slowly, drawing you into this family, and then when the meteor arrives, you just know that it's not going to be good. The 'color' of the title seems to be a bright luminous pink/purple, and the idea here is that the meteor contains a creature of some sort which is this colour ... a sentient colour. But more that that, it's a sentient colour which likes to assimilate the humans ... so we have some tremendous Blob-like scenes of melting flesh and physical change, and also moments which are straight out of John Carpenter's The Thing of mutated dogs and a crazy mixed-up alpaca creature ... not to mention what happens to the people!

It's a bleak film in some respects as there seems no respite and no way for a backwoods farmer to even fight this alien menace ... but the film finds an ending, even if it's slightly underplayed and underexplained.

The film is a very enjoyable and entertaining watch, and Richard Stanley has worked wonders with the source material to deliver something which, even if not 100% faithful, feels like Lovecraft.  I particularly liked his use of practical effects throughout, augmented on occasion with some CGI (or perhaps animation). There was only one short shot which I would have preferred to be practical when it didn't appear to be so ... but I'm not telling you which it was as I'm trying to avoid spoilers here!

Well worth seeking out, and it provides something new and interesting for jaded horror fans to appreciate ... cosmic horror which is truly cosmic and horrifying!


Review: Dog Soldiers (2002)

Dog Soldiers first came out in 2002, and for 2020, there is a new cinema release coming out, all restored and looking amazing.

For those who have not seen it, it's something of a treat, being director Neil Marshall's first cinematic outing. The film, scripted, directed and edited by Marshall, follows a group of soldiers under the command of Wells (Sean Pertwee) as they take part in a training exercise in the Scottish Highlands. They find the commander of the group they are training against, Ryan (Liam Cunningham) wounded and his troop slaughtered by creatures unknown. They are rescued from the wilds by Megan (Emma Cleasby) who happens to be passing in her jeep, and she takes them to the only house in any range to try and get help. But it's deserted, the occupants missing. So the soldiers take up residence and patch up Wells who has had his guts ripped open by the attacking creatures.

Soon the house is under siege by a pack of ravening werewolves, and worse, the danger is also coming from within as Ryan also turns into one of their number.

The film is something of a masterclass in ratching up tension and excitement as it moves from what at first appears to be a 'soldiers on patrol' piece to a superior werewolf movie. Marshall keeps the action going, and a favourite sequence is when Wells and Cooper (Kevin McKidd) have to escape the werewolves by basically breaking through the walls and floors of the cottage to get away!

One minor disappointment is that there is no actual full transformation sequence, so if you're expecting effects on par with The Howling or An American Werewolf in London, then this is not the place to come. There are some contacts and fangs-type initial transformations though. The film is low budget but Marshall gets every penny on the screen, and it also benefits from some standout performances from Pertwee and McKidd.

The ending might be seen as a little predictable, but it all adds to the charm, and overall the film is a superb slice of horror of the sort we thought filmmakers had forgotten how to do!


RELEASE INFORMATION

Distributor: Vertigo Releasing
In Cinemas: 23rd October, 2020
Release date: 23rd October, 2020
Digital release: 12th October, 2020                                

Saturday, October 03, 2020

Review: Doctor Who Book: Time Lord Victorious: The Knight, the Fool and the Dead

It's been a bit of time since I've been sent some WHO stuff for review, but the last couple of weeks have seen some new items come in.

First up is the novel The Knight, The Fool and the Dead by Steve Cole. This is part of the whole Time Lord Victorious program which James Goss has overseen for the brand, and this is a novel published by Ebury. Well, I say a novel - it's more like a novella, or perhaps a long short story. It has 178 pages, is a small hardback with large text which is widely spaced out.

Indeed, it took me around an hour to read it - and the story is fast moving. There's a planet, Andalia, where some death-dealing creatures called Kotturuh invade and kill everyone. The tenth Doctor gets involved and with the help of an Ood called Brian (who seems to be placed out of time) saves a girl called Estinee who is using something called a Life Shroud ... and they chase off after the Kotturuh, eventually confronting them. There are apparently a lot of references in the book to other elements of the overall 'Victorious' plot and the show, but many of these unfortunately just passed me by. I did like a couple of flashback 'interludes' featuring the first and ninth Doctors, but it's unclear to some extent what they have to do with the rest of the narrative.

It isn't really Doctor Who as I remember watching it, though the tenth Doctor is nicely characterised, as it's all so simplified in terms of the writing level and the plot and ideas. I guess someone a lot younger than me would enjoy it, but I prefer a little more complexity. I would assume/guess there's around 30-33,000 words here which doesn't really give it space for the story to breathe.

The inclusion of a new mega-threat in the Kotturuh is okay, but Brian the Ood just seems silly, especially as he's inexplicably wearing a dinner suit ...  but then he seems to have been included for comic relief!

As this is all part of the bigger Time Lord Victorious project, perhaps it will all make more sense when we see how it all develops and unfolds, but given how hard Doctor Who merchandise is to find these days and how expensive it all is, I wonder if the young people that this seems obviously aimed at would have the patience or money to be able to get all the pieces of the puzzle ... there's a chart available with Doctor Who Magazine which explains all the elements and the timeline for their release and it includes LP records (who under the age of 30 has a record player these days) and even immersive theatre, CDs, action figures and display statues!

I hope it works. I hope it helps to revitalise the Doctor Who merchandise market as it seems fairly stagnant at the moment despite individuals and companies doing their best to produce what they hope might be popular.

I just wonder if this was the best way to start ... 

Review: Orphan Black

Every so often a series comes along which is so compelling, that it just drags you with it. We first caught Orphan Black on telly - I forget which channel. It might have even been on Netflix, though I don't think it was. We watched to the end and were enthralled throughout. So much so that for Christmas last year I got a well-priced Box Set of the series, and we have just finished watching it all again!

So what is Orphan Black? It's a thriller series, but one which takes as it's basis and background the ideas of clones and DNA and genetic manipulation and longevity. So there's Big Science involved, and mysterious organisations (the Dyad Institute and Neolution) and powerful men controlling these structures.

Into this world falls Sarah Manning. In the opening episode, Sarah is standing on a train platform waiting for her train. She's a bit of a rebel, a bit of an outlier of society. Down from her on the platform is another girl. She seems agitated, and when she turns to look at Sarah, she has the same features - she is Sarah's double. She places her bag on the platform and abruptly steps off in front of a train and is killed!

Sarah is shocked, but, ever the opportunist, she steals the girl's bag as she leaves. She discovers that the girl was Beth Childs, a policewoman ... and from this point Sarah's life is turned upside down. She learns that Beth was a clone, and that there are other clones too: blonde Helena is a twisted and insane version of herself; Alison Hendrix is a soccer mom living in a perfect home with a perfect husband, Donnie (Kristian Bruun), and two adopted kids; Cosima Niehaus is a science nerd, studying hard genetics and DNA to try and find a cure for the respiratory disease which threatens to kill her ...

All these characters clash together, along with Sarah's brother Felix (Jordan Gavaris) (they were both adopted by the same mother, called Mrs S (Maria Doyle Kennedy)) and discover that they are all part of a global conspiracy to control birth and genetics and sell it to the highest bidder.

So that's the basic set-up, and each season follows and develops the ideas and concepts and keeps opening the show up.

In season One Sarah assumes Beth's identity to try and find out more about her and discovers a hidden world of clones and corporate espionage. Someone is also killing the clones, one by one, and the race is on to find out who ... Sarah's daughter, Kira (Skyler Wexler), is also the focus of intense interest of Aldous Leekie (Matt Frewer) who runs Dyad as Sarah (and Helena) are the only clones who are fertile.

In Season Two we are introduced to clone Rachel Duncan, who is high up in Dyad, and Delphine (Evelyne Brochu), a Dyad scientist who works with, and falls in love with Cosima as they try to find a cure for her illness. Meanwhile Sarah is trying to stay alive while Alison is trying to lead a 'normal' life in the suburbs but ends up killing one of her 'perfect mom' rivals.

Season Three brings in the idea that as well as Sarah and her clones (termed Leda) there are also Male soldier clones (called Castor) (Ari Millen) and Sarah must discover what and why they exist. We meet another Leda clone, Krystal Goderich, and Cosima meets and falls for Shay (Ksenia Solo) who may or may not be another spy ...

Season Four fills in backstory with Beth investigating what is going on, and the discovery of Neolution's plan to implant tech worms in humans to harvest and control their DNA. Meanwhile Helena is being held captive, and the Neolution cult, headed by the aged P T Westmoreland (Stephen McHattie), has a base on an island where Cosima is being forced to conduct experiments ...

Season Five brings it all to a close, with Dyad and Neolution being attacked by the Clones ... but will there be a happy ending? Will Sarah and her sistres survive, and how will the world look in the aftermath.

I have deliberately tried to avoid spoilers in this brief rundown, and really the show is far more involved and engaging than it's possible to explain in a review. Furthermore, sharp eyes will have spotted that I have mentioned no actresses for Sarah and the clones. This is because they are all played by the same actress, Tatiana Maslany, who is simply a revelation and utterly the best thing about the show. Every one of her characters is different, from the way they dress, through their speech and even the way they move and react. You always know exactly which you are watching, and even when one clone has to pretend to be another (which happens a fair amount), Maslany manages to imbue her performance with aspects of both. It's a brilliant performance! And her depiction of the feral and unpredictable Helena is simply a joy. 

Furthermore, the direction and technical skill on display is immense as we often see several Clones together in the same shots, same scenes. The effect is flawless and you totally believe that these characters are separate and different and, indeed, are all together partying or talking or whatever. It's actually hard to believe that they are all the same actress, it's that good! There's little wonder she won the Primetime Emmy Award (2016), a TCA Award (2013), two Critics' Choice Awards (2013 and 2014), and five Canadian Screen Awards (2014–18).

Another pitch perfect element of the show is the title sequence and accompanying music. The music especially is so hauntingly memorable and builds beautifully over its short span, but this is enhanced by the visuals which encapsulate perfectly the themes of the show. There's DNA strands and separation of an egg, two 'Sarahs' split away from each other ... it's a magnificent piece of work in its own right. It is no surprise that Technicolor's Design team won an Applied Arts Award for the opening title design.

If you gather that I am a fan of the show, then you'd be right. Supporting Maslany in her multiple personas is a company of simply superb actors. Kudos to Jordan Gavaris as Felix, who manages to be the rock that Sarah clings to, while all the time being big brother to Alison and Cosima, while navigating his own sexuality through painting in the nude! He is a superb character, and very well played. Then there's Maria Doyle Kennedy as Mrs S, a towering performance of a mother who will do anything to protect her kids, even when she's more involved than she would like to admit. Kevin Hanchard plays Art Bell, Beth's partner in the police. He has a struggle to accept what's happening, but turns out to be a powerful ally. Even minor parts are cast and performed well, making the whole show one of the most watchable and enjoyable that I have ever seen.

If you get a chance to watch it, then do so. If you like spy thrillers, conspiracy shows, and action/adventure then I don't think you'll be disappointed.



For further reading there's a great piece on the show here: But Beware Spoilers!


I just found too this SDCC panel where the cast are challenged to perform against different clones with Maslany playing all of them!

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Moses and Men

I'm absolutely delighted that the lovely Mr Paul Finch has taken one of my stories for his latest Terror Tales collection, Terror Tales of the Home Counties.

Moreso as that's where I was born and grew up: Tolworth in Surrey, near to Surbiton and Kingston-Upon-Thames. It was nice to revisit some childhood memories for the story, and to also bring in some real places, locales and people ...

I decided to set the tale down by the Hogsmill River, which runs through Tolworth and Berrylands and on into Kingston where it joins the Thames. Just beside the A3 road - which is the main thoroughfare from London down to the South Coast, and which is claimed to be the UK's busiest stretch of non-motorway road - there is a patch of greenbelt alongside the river called the Elmbridge Open Space. The river also runs under the A3, and just beside there, as in my story, there is a small block of flats (https://www.instantstreetview.com/@51.388114,-0.270892,329.16h,8.1p,1z). The tunnel under the road is there too, as are the hideouts and fallen trees where my brother, Alan, and I used to go as kids. It was a different world back then, when there were not predatory pedophiles hanging around on every street corner to snatch you away, and when your pocket money could buy you a bag of chews and sweets to last a week - or at least it seemed that way. The view of the river from the A3 can be seen here:  https://www.instantstreetview.com/@51.388533,-0.270032,343.93h,-7.03p,1z.

To the mix of my story I also added a real life character, sadly now deceased, called Moses. And it is from him that the story gets its name. For I have realised Moses - a friendly chap, outrageously dressed, who was often to be seen in and around Kingston and New Malden, just chatting away to people - as a sort of unknown and unappreciated superhero!

To find out more you'll have to read the story!  It's in Terror Tales of the Home Counties, edited by Paul Finch and available from Telos Publishing Ltd - https://telos.co.uk/shop/horror-dark-fantasy-and-science-fiction/dark-endeavours/terror-tales-of-the-home-counties/

In the meantime, here's a pic of the locale:


And there's a nice piece all about the river here: https://www.londonslostrivers.com/hogsmill-river.html

And if you'd like to see the real Moses in action, here's a couple of videos:





Sunday, August 30, 2020

Review: The Tomb: Devil's Revenge (2000)

So ... we've got this script from the chap who wrote Star Trek: The Next Generation, Maurice Hurley, but on the available evidence, I wouldn't be shouting about it. It seems that Hurley died in 2015, so this script must have been knocking about for a bit. One can only wonder what happened to make William Shatner (yes, he of Captain Kirk fame) pick it up and say, 'Let's make this film!' but that seems to be about what happened.

It stars Shatner in a small-ish role as the father of our main protagonist, John, and he seems to be so permanently gritted teeth angry that there's nowhere for him to go when he needs to get really angry. He also has the best line in the film: 'Go back and find it (the relic) ... or I'll blow your brains all over that horse!'

The plot ... well ... the film has so many issues that I guess that plot is the least of them. There's a cave somewhere in America (I assume) and in this cave there's an ancient shrine (built from modern-ish bricks and mortar) and in the shrine is a relic - which looks like a carved statue (a relic is usually a piece of a saintly or important person rather than a stone statue), and protecting the relic are a bunch of demonic people with skull faces and large spears and blades, led by some alien demon creature thing with glowing red eyes which makes a sound like the Predator ...

The film is so uncertain that it reveals all its monsters in the opening minutes as the credits roll ... and then the same footage is repeated over and over as the film rolls ...

Anyway, into this cave (which seems to have many ways to approach it depending on how much time the director wants to spend in people getting there) comes archaeologist John, looking for the relic. Well one of his partners is killed by the demons (after falling down a very slight incline and breaking his ankle - it's just not believable) and John just escapes, but then driving back home to his wife (Jeri Ryan) he has a heart attack at the wheel and crashes the car into a tree (at about 1 mile an hour - it's the least convincing car accident I've ever seen).

He's rushed to hospital and Ryan joins him there where the doctors struggle to save his life while the operating theatre fills with demons watching and the like ...  He's saved, but then they go to get their kids from college and they're there kissing boys and trading drugs - you know, like you do at college - and they all leave as John has decided they're all going back to the cave to get the relic as John's dad (Shatner) has threatened to kill John if he doesn't - nice guy.  But then the demons show up and start slaughtering people at the college who John interacted with ...

But they didn't come for his wife ... or the doctors ... or his dad ... strange.

Anyway, they all head off back to the cave, and this time they need a boat to get there and it takes ages and ages ... they arrive only to be attacked by the demons again who kill everyone except John. Except they don't, and they let John leave with the relic which he destroys, and then Shat says they need to go back to the cave to rescue the family who are still there, so they do this, but are impeded by a group of people who were burying the guy who died at the start so the demons come and kill all those people ... the family is rescued from the cave but Shat blows it and himself up trapping all the demons underground ... or has he ... or is John still on the operating table ...

It's an absolute, unqualified mess of a film which makes no sense, has terrible performances from just about everyone (the only character I believed was the daughter (Ciara Hanna) who must have been wondering how she got involved in this total car crash of a film.) and really has no redeeming features at all.

In the end I was watching it more for the laughs as it got more and more ridiculous and things happened just because ... but it's not a film I want to watch again, and is so poor that everyone involved really ought to hang their heads in shame,

And then they come to release it and so are desperate, hence the fairly decent promo images and plot write up ...

It's a waste of time for everyone - the people who made it, who star in it and who watch it. Avoid like the plague!

Review: Upgrade (2018)

I caught Upgrade recently on Netflix (I think) and came away quite impressed. It's a well done film which covers some old ground, but managed to be just about original enough to get away with it.

The film follows Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green), and as the film opens, he's travelling in a self-drive car with his wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo). The car develops a fault and crashes, but then a group of men descend on them, kill Asha and injure Trace so he's paralysed from the neck down.

We then follow Trace as he tries to rebuild his life ... His client, Eron, has developed a computer chip called STEM which will give Trace back his movement, and so he has this implanted, but it soon becomes apparent that STEM has a life of it's own, and it speaks to Trace in his mind, encouraging him to take revenge on the men who did this to him.

The film then plays out a fairly standard 'revenge' plot, but it's the conclusions where it shines, with twists and turns you don't expect, and an ending which is as bleak as they come ... but you'll have to watch it to find out!

The use of near-future tech is great, and Marshall-Green does a tremendous job of acting as immoble, and also when his body is controlled by STEM and moving without his own control ...

It reminded me somewhat of the basics of Robocop but it goes off in its own directions, which is no bad thing!

Review: Sputnik (2000)


It's always good when something new crosses your path which is actually well made, intelligent, and gripping, and Sputnik is all three!
It's a Russian film (so it has subtitles) and it tells the story of a couple of cosmonauts who hit problems when returning from a mission. When their capsule crashes back on Earth, one of the astronauts is dead, and the other (Pyotr Fyodorov), while wounded, is okay. He's taken to secure premises for checks and observations and the scientists and doctors discover that he is not alone - there is some alien being inside his stomach, curled up and living there.


They realise that it emerges at night and so start tests to see what this thing is and what it wants. It seems to convey strength and healing to its host and so is some sort of parasite creature. It's also violent and vicious and attacks without warning.
The set up to the film may be a more benevolent take on Alien, but the ideas behind this film are sound, and the effects are excellent. The alien creature is achieved with CGI (I think) but it looks and moves like a real thing ... really creepy and well done.

I enjoyed the film a lot. The acting is good and the various subplots also work well - all linking in with the themes of love and loss and adoption which the various human characters are working through. All in all it's one of the better films I've seen of late and is well worth a watch.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Review: Warehouse 13

Every so often a show comes along which is a little more special and different from those that have gone before. Indeed, these often spawn imitators which use some of the ideas in a perhaps more cliched manner.

I can't remember when I first stumbled upon Warehouse 13 ... I remember seeing odd episodes  on the schedules, but not watching them, and I think I was aware that it was co-created by Jane Espenson who I knew from her work on Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

Eventually I think we stumbled across a repeat run and this time, it engaged and we watched the show right through, and loved it so much that I bought a DVD Box set of all the episodes to enjoy again ...

So what's it all about ... Like all the best shows it's curiously simple in concept. There is a vast warehouse, and this is Raiders of the Lost Ark type warehouse, but pretty much infinitely large. It's entrance is in what seems to be a quarry in South Dakota, but beyond the entrance, the Warehouse extends under the mountain range behind. Within this Warehouse are held 'artifacts', and each episode usually revolves around the use, retrieval or discovery of these objects. An artifact is created when the owner does something particularly special, artistic, creative, brave, cowardly or any other strong emotion. The object is then imbued with a 'power' which is related to that emotion or achievement. So there are artifacts which make you invisible, which can make you fly, can cause earthquakes, drain your energy, change your sex ... you name it, there's an artifact which can do it. If you're interested in a list of them all, then there's one here: https://warehouse13.fandom.com/wiki/List_of_Artifacts_and_Gadgets

What I particularly like is that they are all very imaginative in their construct, playing off the particular real-life characters and their achievements. For example, there's Lewis Carroll's looking glass - a large mirror which traps the insane 'Alice' behind it. It also seems to house an alternate dimension (you can play ping pong with yourself through it) but you can also swap places with the insane Alice who then can emerge, looking like you!

All these objects form the core of the show, and one thing I really like, is that all the way through it never really loses the 'episode by episode' format. I have talked about this in relation to other shows, where somewhere in season 2, they stop being about the stories, and start to become about their own internal logic and characters, which basically means that unless you've watched them all, then the episodes are unwatchable in isolation or out of order.

With Warehouse 13, yes as the seasons progress, there is more and more revealed about the Warehouse. That Number 13 is the current (and 13th) incarnation of it. That it can move about. That there are 'Regents' who monitor what's happening, and a single 'caretaker' in charge at any one time ... and there can only be one 'caretaker' at any time. There's plots involving H G Wells (who in this universe is a women, Helena, who gave all the ideas to her brother ...), saboteurs out to get the Artifacts, incursions by Knights Templars, and finally a plot to 'steal' the whole warehouse through various time travelling shenanigans.

As you can hopefully see, the series' concept and set up is wide enough to encompass tales set in any age, in any time, and with many interesting sidesteps along the way: there's a black and white episode; one which is a computer game;  one which features a past Warehouse, and even one which takes place in a Spanish Soap Opera!

Core to any great series is a good set of characters, and Warehouse 13 manages this seemingly effortlessly. In charge of the Warehouse is Artie (Saul Rubinek), an older man, gruff and shabby, but very smart. As the series starts, two new agents are recruited to join the Warehouse to help in the retrieval and cataloguing: these are Pete Latimer (Eddie McClintock) and Myka Bering (Joanne Kelly). Pete and Myka have a great will-they-won't-they relationship, and their interplay is always a pleasure to watch. They have a lot of fun!

Joining them slightly later on is Claudia Donovan (Allison Scagliotti), a younger girl with 'history' who is a hacking and computers expert.  I actually think Claudia is perhaps the best character, and Scagliotti plays her with such energy and verve ... she is the series' 'manic pixie dream girl'.

Later on there's another agent, Steve (Aaron Ashmore), who joins. Plus there's the 'caretaker' (CCH Pounder) who comes and goes as she does, and the Regents, of which Valda (Mark A Sheppard) is the most notable ... H G Wells (Jaime Murray) of course, and also significant guest roles for Anthony Head, Rene Auberjonois, Lindsey Wagner, Roger Rees, Kate Mulgrew, Jeri Ryan, and many other names familiar from other genre shows.

Overall the experience of watching is a hugely enjoyable one. I like the mix of drama with comedy, and the interplay between the characters is a delight. You come away with the impression that everyone had a great time making it, and this enjoyment spills over into the characters and onto the screen.

It's worth noting too, that the show does actually have a proper ending, even if the final episode feels a little 'tagged on' ... I guess we can forgive them for wanting to do that, as without the conclusions for all the characters, the whole thing might have felt a little empty. I particularly love the final scenes where Claudia ... but that would be telling!

If you've not seen it, then give it a try ... as I say, the structure is such that probably most episodes are accessible if you understand as much as I've tried to explain here, but as with all shows, if you can start from the beginning, then you'll get loads more out of it.