Friday, October 30, 2015

Writing Then and Now

I was shocked when I realised that I'd not actually written and released a book since 2011, when my horror fiction collection talespinning came out from Telos.  Time has a way of getting away from you ...

I have suggested a few titles to the BBC over the years, but unfortunately they seem to be running something of a closed shop at the moment, and anything coming in from 'outside' seems of no interest to them ... which is saddening ... but it also means that trying to do something good and cool with images and artwork is way out of the scope of an independent press - it all costs a lot to clear and to print, and then sales can be very hard to come by too - it's like a game of roulette ... you might succeed, but all the odds are all stacked against you.

Then, in May this year (which is 2015) I had an unexpected and massive heart attack, which brought me literally down to earth. I couldn't work, I couldn't really do much at all except recover. And that meant sitting around a lot and doing very little except watch television and watch the grass growing in the garden.

So, in an attempt to alleviate boredom, I decided to re-watch some Doctor Whos ... I started with Hartnell, and worked my way through the first season before getting a little restless ... there's not many monsters there you see, and the historicals have never been to my taste ... so I then skipped to all the available Troughtons and loved seeing those again ... and then I wondered whether to continue with Pertwee or move to something else.

I then considered that I had reviewed all the NuWho episodes from 2005 onwards on my Blog, and that here was a great opportunity to watch them all again, and to see if I agreed with what I had said at the time ... and what a great idea for a book!  Something which looked at Who as it was transmitted, and then was re-evaluated based on a current viewing. So that's what I did.

Starting with 'Rose' with Christopher Eccleston, I re-watched them, in order, and took in some of the special mini-episodes as well if they seemed relevant to the overall television 'story' of the show.

It was fascinating to see how the series developed, year on year, with Doctors and Companions coming and going ... Interesting to see how the Soap Opera elements which were prevalent at the start, lessened, and how the story arc idea, strong at first, again lessened.

The first volume of reviews, which I decided to call Then and Now, goes up to the end of the David Tennant era, as that seemed to be a good cutting off point. Plus, the book was getting too long!

I am currently up to the start of Peter Capaldi with my re-watch, and it's again been interesting to see overall what an impact Steven Moffat has had on the show during the Matt Smith years, with the narrative coherence slowly dropping away, and continuity, event and introspection taking the place of actual plot and adventure. Not that I see this as a good thing ... for me, the plot and 'adventures in time and space' and monsters have always been the prime focus of the show ... and the inner lives of the Doctor and his companions don't interest me ... but there you go.

I'm still enjoying the show, and like the occasional flashes of brilliance that it shows. I wish it could be more coherent and more consistent, but for that I suspect we need another sea change in the running of the show, bringing in fresh ideas and eyes to carry it forward.

For the moment, as I write this, we are in the middle of Capaldi's second season ... and I'm wondering if my opinions of these episodes will change between viewing them now, and then re-watching them in a few months time ... We shall see!

Then and Now can be bought from Amazon:

UK: BUY FROM AMAZON UK

USA: BUY FROM AMAZON USA

I should also have copies at various events I'm attending around the world ... so please come and catch me at one of them if you want a signed edition!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Review: Madman (1982)

I have to confess that I had never heard of or seen this film before ... and now thanks to Arrow, I can rectify this. It's fairly obvious from the very start where this film's antecedents lie. It opens with a group around a camp fire, telling ghost stories ... and it's very like the opening to John Carpenter's The Fog (1980)... They talk about there being the ghost of a killer in a creepy house nearby who will appear if you say his name too loud and he will then come and chop you to pieces with his axe ... and that of course is exactly what happens. It's a bunch of kids too, all at a summer camp ... and of course this brings Friday The 13th (1980) to mind as well.  Add to this a sort-of supernatural, unknown killer who cannot be killed himself, and you also have John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) as well ...

So that's pretty much what you get here. The killer is Mad Man Murz, hence the title, and he's a hulking, brute of a man with the strength of over three men! He also has claws and hairy feet and swings an axe like there's no tomorrow.

The rest of the cast are basically forgettable cannon fodder, and of course have sex with each other and get chased and slaughtered. Mad Man Murz is keeping the bodies in the cellar (Psycho (1960)) of course, and we see a line of them from skeletal to most recent - he's been at this for some time! This is reminiscent of scenes in Death Line (AKA Raw Meat 1972), and he also hangs one girl up on a hook which goes right through her chest (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)) ... it's like the film makers decided to take their favourite bits from a whole host of 1970s and 1980s slasher horror films, and make a film of their own which included it all. The only thing missing are vampires and the living dead/zombies ...

On the plus side, it looks fabulous and is very nicely directed and shot. On the minus it's slow and drags interminably in places. There's a hilarious spa bath sequence which seems to go on forever where a boy and a girl sort of chase each other around the edge of the water ...

Another plus for me was the music, which, given the inspiration to the whole thing, you won't be surprised sounds like something John Carpenter might have come up with ... and typical of films of the time, there are no explanations. Why is Murz haunting this summer camp with his axe, where are the police, and how is he seemingly getting away with all this?

There are a host of extras here too, but I get the feeling coming away from it all that this might be the only film of worth that the writer/directors actually made, and that they are still hanging onto it, looking to do a remake or something ... Much better to take all that learning and make new things!  But checking IMDB this seems to be the only film ever directed by Joe Giannone, who died in 2006, It's also Gary Sales' only writing credit (for the story, with Giannone, and Giannone also wrote the screenplay), though he at least has gone on to be First AD on many other films.

Overall it's an interesting slice of 80's slasher film. Heavily influenced by other films around it, and very derivative. For a night out with beer though, it's probably a good fun film to enjoy with others.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:
  • Brand new 4K transfer from the original camera negative
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
  • Original Mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
  • Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Audio commentary with director Joe Giannone, Madman stars Paul Ehlers and Tony Fish and producer Gary Sales
  • Audio Commentary by The Hysteria Continues
  • The Legend Still Lives! Thirty Years of Madman – a feature-length retrospective documentary on the slasher classic including interviews with various cast and crew
  • Madman: Alive at 35 – Sales, Ehlers and star Tom Candela look back at the making of Madman, 35 years after it was filmed
  • The Early Career of Gary Sales – the Madman producer discusses his career in the film industry
  • Convention interviews with Sales and Ehlers
  • Music Inspired by Madman – a selection of songs inspired by themovie, including the track ‘Escape From Hellview’ from former CKY frontman Deron Miller
  • In Memoriam – producer Sales pays tribute to the some of the film’s late cast and crew, including director Giannone and actor Tony Fish
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • TV Spots
  • Stills & Artwork Gallery with commentary by Sales
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic James Oliver, illustrated with original archive stills and posters
  • Review: Doctor Who Impossible Worlds

    One of the great things about Doctor Who these days is that it is popular enough to sustain the sort of lavish, large format art book which, as a publisher, I can only dream of producing.  And this year, the must have book for Christmas is Stephen Nicholas and Mike Tucker's Impossible Worlds.

    The book is indeed a lavish art book, but it really needs to be seen to be appreciated fully. What impressed me first was the lovely cut-out hexagon on the cover, through which the front endpaper can be seen, printed with the TARDIS console. This sort of paper engineering costs a fortune, and the heavy stock of the cover is also of great quality ...

    But onto the book itself. Stephen Nicholas has been the supervising art director for Doctor Who since the show returned in 2005, and so has access to an incredible array of designs and artwork for the show, each depicting the development of ideas, monsters, sets and spaceships which have then appeared in all their glory. Mike Tucker runs a company called The Model Unit, which specialises in detailed model work for film and television - and some of their work is so good that you would never know or realise that it was a model in the first place!  Together they have split the book into sections, each looking at a different aspect of the show: The TARDIS interior, Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, other Monsters, Tools and Devices, and alien planets; and in each case, there is a brief look at some of the elements from the classic series (*Disclosure here as I helped with sourcing some of the sketches and designs which are shown*) followed by a more comprehensive and detailed look at how the new series dealt with the elements.

    Thus we get gorgeous sketches and artwork of Daleks of every persuasion, showing their internals and externals, ideas for  how they open,  what variant weaponry they should have, including Davros, Emperors, Supremes, Genesis Ark, Control Rooms ... it's an impressive feat and is repeated with the Cybermen, where some of the early abandoned designs are just nightmarish ...

    It's a brilliant book to flip through, to soak up the talent behind the props ... the ideas which didn't make it ...  Personally I'm really fond of an artist called Alex Fort, whose designs never seem to make it to screen, but are the most original and artistic perhaps of them all. His Cybermen and Silurians are inspired ... maybe one day we'll see some of his visions on screen.

    Oh, and if all that wasn't enough, there's a folder in the back containing several full colour art prints of some of the designs - incuding of the Zygon Control Room (or something) from the yet to be transmitted episodes on television ... lovely stuff!

    At £35, the book might seem expensive, but it's far more worthwhile than many of the aimed-at-kids picture books which are also being produced at a rate of knotts. Plus, if you shop around you might find it cheaper, or, next year, as with many of the other books released on the show, it might appear in a cheaper edition in W H Smith or The Works, or from The Book People ...

    Top marks from me for this, then. A brilliant look at the art and concept design behind the show, highlighting just why Doctor Who is consistently one of the best looking shows on television.

    And you can listen to Mike Tucker talking about the book, on Sam Stone's THE STONE TAPES Podcast here: http://southsidebroadcasting.podbean.com/e/the-stone-tapes-vol-5/

    Tuesday, October 27, 2015

    Review: Doctor Who: The Underwater Menace (1967)

    And so it comes to pass that every one of the known-to-exist Doctor Who episodes - with perhaps the sole exception of The Web of Fear Episode 3, which seemed to exist when Phil Morris discovered them, but which had strangely vanished when the episodes were eventually returned - has been released on DVD.

    I lost count a long time ago as to how many DVDs there have been, but as far as I can tell, the first DVD to be released was The Five Doctors in November 1999 (not counting a could-be-dodgy DVD of the TV Movie which was available from Fox Video in Japan in 1996) and now, in October 2015, 16 years later, we have the final release. Of course, we thought we'd reached the end some time back anyway, but then Phil Morris discovered all six episodes of Enemy of the World and five of the six episodes of The Web of Fear, and those were also released ...

    A fishy tale!
    But what of The Underwater Menace ... it's not the best loved Doctor Who adventure, and it's easy to see why. Pat Troughton is still settling into the role of the Doctor (this was his third story in the role) and there are occasional flashes of the brilliance that his Doctor will come to embody. Frazer Hines' Jamie is also sidelined, this being because he joined the cast as a late decision, and so he had to somehow be shoe-horned into this story and the next (The Moonbase) before he really started to come into his own ... The main problem though are the guest actors, who are almost uniformly awful. In particular Joseph Furst as Professor Zaroff, who chews the scenery and  does his best, but the script doesn't really support him. Likewise the High Priest Lolem comes over as a very camp Christopher Biggins-type character as played by Peter Stephens (interesting that he also played Cyril in The Celestial Toymaker story), and poor Colin Jeavons as Damon has the most crazy eyebrows to contend with. Rounding out the ineffectual is Noel Johnson as King Thous, who doesn't really get to do much. There's also P G Stephens and Paul Anil as a likely couple of chancers, Catherine Howe as an Atlantean girl, as well as fish people ... it's a story with aspirations way beyond what could possibly be done on Doctor Who's budget at the time ... but at least it tried, and it does all make sense ...

    'Nozzink in se Verld ken stop me now!'
    The DVD extras include a Making-Of documentary where several people involved in the show recount their memories, and also, inexplicably, present-day writer Robert Shearman is also on hand ... not sure why he's there as he seems to hate the production, but there you go ... There's also the existing two censor cuts from Australia for parts 1 and 4, and those still-missing episodes are represented by a soundtrack accompanied by some of the Tele-snaps taken from the show by John Cura on transmission ... Personally I prefer these to the animations, far better to get the sense of the actual production.

    Overall it's lovely to have this disk to round out the collection ... and it's interesting to note that it includes episode 2, recovered in December 2011, which was the last existing episode which had never recieved any DVD release ... so we're complete!
    Phil Morris ... it's over to you :)