Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Whiteout Vampires

Three films for this blog today ... two of them vampire movies, and a third which stars the same person as one of the previous two ... don't say this blog is never thought out.

First off then, the latest in the Underworld saga, being Underworld Awakening. I think I need to draw a veil over the third film in the franchise which was poor and unengaging, and we all knew the plot anyway as it was the backstory to films one and two ... and it didn't have Kate Beckensale in it as well which was a major minus point.

Film four picks up where film two ended, with our vampire heroine Seline (Beckinsale) being kidnapped and kept - literally - on ice. It's not long before she is rescued and determines to find out what happened to her lover ... in the meantime she seems to have picked up a daughter, the first true hybrid of Vampire and Lycan ... and of course all sides are interested in that.

The film suffers from the lack of a good male lead to counter Beckensale, and in particular a good Lycan ... it is interesting to see Kristen Holden-Ried from the TV Series Lost Girl playing a Lycan werewolf here, given that he plays the same monster on television. Overall it's a great adventure, full of lovely visuals and great performances. I think this is in part due to the 3D in which it was made. Even though we watch in 2D, the additional depth that the director is looking for in his shots results in a more imaginative use of the camera, and some lovely set pieces.

I enjoyed the film a lot, and I'm sure we'll revisit it soon.

Next up is something of a lost treasure. I was unable to find a copy of The Keep on DVD to buy but a friend had an off-air copy recorded when it was shown on television, so I was able to revisit it. It's based on a tremendous F Paul Wilson novel of the same name, and directed by Michael Mann, better known for pop videos and adverts. The cast is brilliant, with Ian McKellen and Gabriel Byrne playing put-upon doctor and German officer. The plot is fairly original for this type of film: a platoon of German Nazi officers decide to occupy an old Keep in Rumania, not realising that the place is a trap for an ancient vampire which is being held there. The creature is set loose when one of the crosses keeping it in check is removed, and it then starts to kill the soldiers, gaining strength and solidarity with each murder, while beguiling the doctor with promises if he will help it escape ...

It's an eerie and evocative film thanks to Mann's superb camerawork, and there's one sequence where the vampire is depicted as a swirling creature made of smoke and fire which defies belief - that this was made in  1983 is incredible, the effect is brilliant and I've not seen anything quite like it since.

It's let down by some poor plotting towards the end, and perhaps a lack of sympathy when a second Nazi officer arrives and starts murdering the innocent village people (not the pop group) to try and uncover the identity of the killer ... and then there's a Highlander-like 'one' - a mysterious stranger who arrives to stop the vampire from emerging ... Not bad, but ultimately a little puzzling. However it is a great film, and well worth seeking out. It's all apparently available on YouTube if you can put up with seeing a whole film in that format.

Finally, a 2009 thriller called Whiteout, starring Kate Beckinsale. Here she hangs up her vampire PVC and becomes a US Marshal investigating some killings in Antarctica. The film is a pretty straightforward whodunnit, where, in good old Agatha Christie style, the possible suspects are all killed off one by one.

In style it's a little like 30 Days of Night but without the vampires, or John Carpenter's The Thing but without the monster. As such it falls a little flat, as it needed something more than a man with an ice pick as a villain. But it's an entertaining watch, and some of the cinematography is very good.

The settings are nice, and there's a great sequence where they find something buried beneath the ice (see the similarities to The Thing) but it turns out to be a crashed plane.

Personally I wouldn't want to be out in all that ice and snow ... watching the film makes you chilly indeed.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Crowds and Cosplay

Back from the massive London Comic Con at the weekend and just about recovering. Boy it was big. On the Saturday we were told that they had reached the fire limit for the venue and so it was one in, one out. And that meant 50,000 people were trapped inside the massive warehouse which was one of the Excel Halls. The adjoining hall was taken up with the queue ...

The crowds!
Sam Stone and I were guests of Lady Elsie and Major Tinker from the Victorian Steampunk Society, and they kindly gave over one of their tables for us to sell some books. Their own tables were heaving with all manner of brilliant trinkets and baubles, all steampunked of course. If you're interested, have a look at for more information.

As Saturday got busier and busier, the sheer number of people in costumes started to become overwhelming. I would say that perhaps 75% of the people who attended came in some sort of costume, from a cardboard box (I'm not joking) to some of the most imaginative and sophisticated costuming you could get, every aspect was represented. Most I had no idea about as it was all coming from Manga and Anime and comics, but some I recognised, like two girls dressed as Alice from the American McGee Alice computer games, others dressed as members of Ouran High School Host Club, and folks from Silent Hill, Batman, Doctor Who, Spiderman ... and as I say, just about everything in between.

Fantastic cosplay as Harley Quinn
It was totally groovy to see the excellent Chris Stone and his lovely lady Stephanie there again. Steph was wearing her very sexy Black Cat outfit, while Chris was totally perfect as Austin Powers. They certainly got a lot of photographs taken of them ... Shagadelic baby ... yeah!!

Amidst the throng it was good to see some independent films being showcased. I'm looking forward to seeing Noel Clarke's new science fiction film Storage 24, and it was good to see Noel there again promoting the title. Another which looks great is Iron Sky, another science fiction yarn in which Earth is invaded by Nazis from the Moon ... when I get to see these I'll add some reviews here.

We managed to chat a little to a few of the guests. Sam and I are enjoying watching Grimm at the moment, so it was good to see the star of that show, David Giuntoli there. Another nice chap was Raphael Sbarge from a show called Once Upon A Time. We need to find that and watch it! The cast of a new Cbeebies drama called Young Dracula were there as well - something else to watch out for. And cult favourite Elvira made an appearance and was every bit as stunning and charming in real life!  Danny DeVito was there promoting his new film The Lorax (in which he voices the title character) but the film company were in security overdrive and the best I got was a glimpse of the top of his head and a few photos when he did a limited signing (120 posters for the lucky people who got the white wristbands!)

Sam with Honey Sempai from Orun High
School's Host Club
Among the games on display was a cool thing called Lollipop Chainsaw, which had zombie cheerleaders roaming the halls ... they gave me a foam chainsaw and a lollipop! There was also a game called Dead or Alive 5 which looked fun - I signed the sig board they were building and got an 'I'm a Fighter' badge as a reward. Always nice to get free stuff. A new Transformers online game was being promoted, as well as an Aliens Colonial Marines game which was for Adults only.

Overall my impression was that the place was stuffed to the gills with teenagers having fun. All dressing up and enjoying themselves. The predominant fandom was perhaps cosplay, and within that, anything went. Manga and Anime ruled, and games came second, with television and film trailing a little. Books ... well books were nowhere to be seen. I suspect that most attendees were hooked on books with pictures ... and so books with words that made pictures in your brain were not really top of anyones agenda. Which is a great shame.

The event was superb fun though, and very well attended. There were panels and signings taking place the whole time, and lots to see and do. I don't envy everyone all the queuing to get in though! My thanks to Bryan Cooney for his kindness to us, and for a fabulous event!

Here's some more pics!

Danny DeVito
A very cute kitteh

I've no idea whatsoever who these people were

American McGee's Alice cosplay

Sunday, May 06, 2012

R.I.P. Blast from the Past

Many, many years ago, when I was knee high to a Judoon, me and my friend from school, David Butterworth, made a whole pile of films together on super 8mm. We were the classic do-it-yourselfers, making all the sets, costumes, props, visual effects, lighting, camerawork, editing and titles ourselves. This would have been 1975 through to about 1977 ...

The results were placed in boxes and put in cupboards as super 8mm film gave way to VHS and camcorders, and then to digital and SD cards ... projectors long since vanished. But we were very proud of our films. So proud in fact, that one of them we sent off to Blue Peter, and got a very nice letter back from the office, saying how good they thought they were, but they couldn't feature us on the show. I did get a Blue Peter Badge though, that I still have to this day!

We did clay animation, using plasticine, obviously inspired by Morph (which was at the time on Vision On if my memory serves), we made an animated picture film, inspired by the Tod Browning film Freaks which had not seen, but which had beguiled us through the pages of several books on horror films. One summer we built our own Dalek and that then starred in several films, in which an android battled with the Dalek in the streets of sunny Tolworth ...

There were also a couple of horror shorts, both inspired by films we had, and indeed hadn't seen at that time. The sequence is all blurry to me now - I just can't remember - but at around the same time we had joined the Gothique Film Society in London, and among the films we saw there were DeathLine and perhaps even Freaks. I know we saw The Texas ChainSaw Massacre at some point, and Alien had a big impact back then as well.

Recently, I unearthed the box that all these films were kept in, and was overjoyed as I'd not seen them for perhaps 30 years and thought that maybe my friend David had taken the original copies - and unfortunately I lost touch with him many years ago and have no idea where he is now - even a Facebook search has not found him. 

At the same time, my brother was talking about getting a load of family 8mm films (showing things like the oil from the Torrey Canyon disaster on the beaches of Cornwall in 1967, as well as myself and brothers and sister as kids in the garden, on the beach, at Butlins and so on) converted to DVD, so I took the opportunity to get my own films transferred as well.

Thus for the first time in 30 years or so, I have been able to revisit them.

Here is the first I have tidied up. I cleaned up the edits a little, removing jump frames, and added some music which unnervingly fits it very well indeed.

Here, then, is R.I.P.

Here's some notes on the film for the interested:

It all started with the shots in the graveyard. I woke up one day and it was very foggy out, so I grabbed the camera and rode my bike down to Surbiton Cemetery. There I walked through the gravestones filming. It was very creepy, and I was pleased with the results, so we decided to make a film which could use them.

The hand bursting through the earth was David B's but I can't remember how we did the effect now. The shots of the zombie (whateveritis) approaching the house were filmed in Fire Bell Alley in Surbiton. There was a row of abandoned houses there, and I had noted them before as being a possible place to film. So one evening I took the camera up there and filmed the sequence. There is no front door on the house as they were all decrepit.

The sequence in the house was filmed at David B's house and was the rising stairs to an attic room.

The final effect, with the eye falling out, worked really well. I can't remember which of us came up with the idea, but we used half an eggshell as the 'socket', and an egg yoke as the eyeball. Thus when David tipped his head to the side, the 'eye' would fall out in a suitably gross manner.

Overall I'm very proud of R.I.P. I think it still stands up pretty well as a short film, and several people have commented how the grainy and marked super 8mm film makes it look more effective.

If I can get more of my old films cleaned up, then I'll post them as well so that people can enjoy them. They're not masterpieces, but a piece of my childhood that I'm happy to have back again.