Sunday, July 23, 2017

Review: Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2017)

Oh dear. As life-long fans of the original Resident Evil films, this is one franchise which seems to have gotten worse and worse as the films progressed ... To be fair, it's often the way this sort of thing goes, and the number of film series where the second film tops the first can probably be counted on one hand ...

Resident Evil started life as a computer game in the era when graphics and sound started to hold sway, and the computer could present a realistic mileau for the player to kill as many zombies as they could while creeping through a deserted house ... it was an early success for the genre, and of course spawned a film starring Milla Jovovich as the heroine, Alice, joining forces with a bunch of soldier to descend into The Hive, a secret underground base beneath Racoon City, which has experienced the release of the T-Virus, which in turn has turned everyone down there into bloodthirsty zombies - including the dogs!  It's a simple premise, and one which has spun off through several films, making variations on the T-Virus infected humans, creating clones of Alice, bigger and more violent enemies, and ultimately brought the world to its knees in a zombie-infested, flying-monster-inhabited America ...

And now there's apparently the final entry in the series ... and it's awful.  For a start the film is so dark that it makes Batman look like it was shot on a sunny day ... we had to adjust the settings on the television to even begin to hope to make out what was happening. And then there's the editing. I'm actually surprised at director Paul WS Anderson (who also happens to be Jovovich's husband) as he has a good pedigree and has made some great films that we love (Event Horizon, AVP, the original Resident Evil). Here, however, in the action sequences there seems to be a cut every quarter of a second or so.  Sure it's fast and furious, but as a viewer you have no idea at all what is going on, who is where, where anyone or anything is in relation to each other ... it's just a seemingly random succession of fast moving CGI images which leave you feeling sick with motion sickness rather than caught up in the action. Really poorly done. There's also the return of Ali Larter's character, Claire Redfield, who still can't close her mouth ... and a host of bloodthirsty monsters ...
When you see this poster, you start to realise what
they are selling this film on ... and it's not the plot!

There's a good film waiting to be made here - Alice's return to the Hive to try and destroy the monsters once and for all, with a final stand-off with the computer, the Red Queen and all that she represents, but this isn't it.

The film even relies on the best and most imaginative sequence from the first film, the corridor of lasers, for part of the climactic battle ... there is a paucity of ideas here which makes this feel like a sort of 'best of' the rest of the films, but done so badly, that you really just want to go and watch the original films again ...

I feel that even if you are a fan of the games, then this might just leave you cold.




Review: Pulse (2001)

I first saw Pulse, or to give it it's Japanese name, Kairo, some years back and quite enjoyed it ... and with a new Blu-Ray release from Arrow now available, it's time to revisit it.

The idea is typical of the other Japanese horrors that I have seen, and that you are probably familiar with too. Films like Ringu (The RingJu-On: The Grudge (The Grudge) and Dark Water all present variations on hauntings which impact on the lives and sanity of those who, sometimes completely inadvertently, get in the way. In Pulse, it's to do with ghosts invading the human realm, causing those who see them to become distant and eventually to kill themselves, or to bleed into the walls, leaving black stains behind. I'm not quite sure what the title has to do with any of this as there is no 'pulse' of any kind referenced in the film.

There are two stories running in parallel. One follows Michi (Kumiko Asô), Junko (Kurume Arisaka), Yabe (Masatoshi Matsuo) and Taguchi (Kenji Mizuhashi) who work at a flower shop in the city ... first Taguchi, then Yabe vanish, leaving Junko and Michi to try to figure out what is going on, with rooms sealed with red tape, horrific deaths and ultimately Junko herself being caught and killed by the phenomenon.

The other story follows Ryosuke (Haruhiko Katô), an internet geek, who seeks help from Harue (Koyuki), an IT teacher, to try and understand a strange website which his computer keeps showing him. Eventually Harue commits suicide, and Ryosuke joins up with Michi to get away from the city with a small number of survivors of whatever this plague/disaster really is.

As films go, it's quite hard to follow and understand. If you had difficulty with Ju-On: The Grudge, then this is even more obtuse, but the visuals and unfolding sense of dread make it all worthwhile. There's an underlying idea that 'death was eternal loneliness', and that those people who encounter the ghosts cut themselves off and eventually become just an unwanted stain on the wall ... It's a cruel film in that regard, and the bleakness works very well indeed.

Well worth a watch if you like intelligent Japanese horror, and you're up for not having everything handed to you on a plate ...

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

  • High Definition digital transfer
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
  • Original 2.0 audio
  • New optional English subtitle translation
  • Broken Circuits: a new video interview with writer/director Kiyoshi Kurosawa
  • Creepy Images: a new video interview with cinematographer Junichiro Hayashi
  • The Horror of Isolation: a new video appreciation featuring Adam Wingard & Simon Barrett (Blair Witch, You’re Next)
  • Original ‘Making of’ documentary, plus four archive behind-the-scenes featurettes
  • Premiere footage from the Cannes Film Festival
  • Cast and crew introductions from opening day screenings in Tokyo
  • Trailers and TV Spots
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tommy Pocket
 

FIRST PRESSING ONLY:Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Chuck Stephens

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Review: The Circle (2017)

The Circle is a film for our time. Very like the incredible Black Mirror series in it's treatment of modern technologies taken to their logical conclusions, it plays out a scenario where a Facebook-like internet site has taken everyone by storm ... but the people behind it aren't perhaps as squeaky clean as they might like to be seen as.

The site is 'The Circle' and you have friends on there and communicate and engage with them. Mae Holland (Emma Watson) is recruited to work at The Circle's HQ by her pal Annie (Karen Gillan) and quickly finds that just working a 9 to 5 isn;t enough. She is also expected to participate in Circle evening and weekend activities - all voluntary of course - and to post everything to the Social Media ... Eventually she starts to become more popular than Annie and is invited into the 'inner circle' where CEO Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) rules the roost.

Mae comes up with more ideas for them, and eventually decides to 'go transparant' in that every aspect of her life is transmitted live to everyone around the world: that's everything including her bank accounts, private emails, letters ... everything.  She is soon the internet golden girl and a sensation ... But there's something lurking in the underbelly of the company ... and perhaps Mae is the one to uncover it ...

Overall this is a very enjoyable film, which draws you in.  The familiarity of the whole Facebook/Circle set up is part of it, as we can see exactly what the film depicts happening today, and can postulate, along with Mae, where this might lead.  There's also the idea of hidden corruption at the top here, again something which the people of Earth are becoming increasingly aware of: actions taken for the good of the few, not the many.

The acting is excellent, though Emma Watson's Mae seems at time a little too trained and self confident with it all. Hanks is also tremendous as the CEO, and Gillan seems to just play the same character as she did on Doctor Who ... perhaps this was a 'no acting required' role for her though.

Well worth a watch on Netflix as it's a very thought provoking scenario which really stays with you.

Review: The Visit (2015)

The Visit is an interesting little film which I suppose falls in the 'found footage' subgenre. A couple of kids are making a documentary film and so record everything ... In order to facilitate their mother getting back with their father, they go to stay with their grandparents, who they have never met ...

On arrival though, the grandparents seem somewhat ... unstable ... Pop Pop seems to go loopy during rhe day, soiling nappies and keeping them in a shed, while grandmother goes insane at night, stalking about in the nude and scratching at the walls ...

The kids try to make sense of it all, but as this is a M Night Shyamalan film, it's in the last act that we find out what's really going on - and if you've been paying close attention, it's not too hard to figure out - and the film ends with the mother racing to rescue them ...

Overall it's actually pretty good. The performances of all the leads are excellent, and the young kid's rapping aside, it's an enjoyable watch. Strangely for a director of Shyamalan's cachet it feels like a mega-low budget affair, with limited locations, a small cast, and not even much in the way of effects.

It has a very slow start and build up, but this sort of pays off towards the end ... even if you have guessed what's going on ...

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Review: Titan's DOCTOR WHO Comics ranges - June/July 2017

Titan Comics have been going great guns with their Doctor Who comics lines, with new stories, series, Doctors and specials arriving, it seems, every other week!  I have been sent a selection of the comics, and so here goes with a 'point in time' review of each of the ranges ...

The Twelfth Doctor - Ghost Stories - Part 3


Written by George Mann, art by Dannis Calero.  The cover also credits Dijjo Lima but there's nothing in the comic to explain what he/she did! (Previous issues credit them as colourist)

Ghost Stories is a four part special which follows on from the 2016 Christmas Special episode of Doctor Who, 'The Return of Doctor Mysterio'.  The Doctor in his Capaldi guise has teamed up with Grant (the superhero) and Lucy (the human) to find three more of the strange crystals which gave Grant his power ...

Now Grant has lost his powers, and he and the Doctor have been captured but the third missing crystal has been suppressing Grant's powers and subjugating the populace leaving some robotic brains in charge - all a little like an episode of 'The Keys of Marinus' to be honest - then, escaping from there, the Doctor runs into some Sycorax. Grant challenges them ... and while he fights, Lucy and her daughter Jennifer go to try and find the final stone ...

The art is nice and the story flows and there's a dual narrative: Lucy is telling us the story in small caption boxes while the action and dialogue takes place simultaneously. Oh, and the Sycorax remember the Doctor from his encounter with them in 'The Christmas Invasion' - maybe they weren't all blown to pieces after all.

Looking back at the first two issues, the art in #1 (by Ivan Rodriguez) is spectacular and this style continues in issue 2 (by Pasquale Qualano) but just before the end of issue 2, the art suffers a massive backwards step and becomes blocky and simplified, and this simplified style continues through issue 3. I much prefer the more complex visuals.


The Twelfth Doctor - Year Three - Issue 3.3, 3.4, 3.5


Written by George Mann, art by Mariano Laclaustra, colourists are Carlos Cabrera and Hernan Cabrera.

We're again in the middle of an adventure ... something to do with seaweed husks attacking the Doctor and companion Hattie.  The husks look more like green yeti than anything else ... and they attack a house and then capture and take the Doctor away under the water ...

This is a pretty exciting tale with lots of action, and the companion, Hattie, is a bald-headed, biker-jacket-wearing badass who is prone to psychic assault!  Interesting!

The final part of the story comes in issue 3.4: the green yeti were being sent by a trapped spacecraft under the sea which the Doctor and Hattie free with the power of punk music! I know ... very comic-land :)  But the underwater imagery and panel development are spectacular here. Really great artwork and storytelling without words.

Issue 3.5 starts a new story by Richard Dinnick, with art by Brian Williamson and colours by Hi-Fi. We're back in TV land as the twelfth Doctor is travelling with Bill Potts. A band of Vikings capture the Doctor and Bill. The Doctor realises that the Vikings saw a spacecraft land and so joins them to investigate ... and it's the Ice Warriors!!  And while it's not totally clear from this opening episode, it looks like it might be the Flood from Mars ('Waters of Mars') come to Earth too ...  Exciting stuff.

The art is great, and the Warriors are very nicely rendered, as are all the incidentals. A very nicely told opener.


The Eleventh Doctor - Year Three - Issue 3.5

Written by James Peaty, art by I N J Culbard, colours by Triona Farrell.

I think we're part way through a story here, though this issue appears to be a self contained adventure, and travelling with the eleventh Doctor is a girl called Alice, and a creature called the Sapling (a crystalline tree person), who seems to have been evil in earlier instalments, but who has now turned good.

The Doctor and Alice investigate something called The Devil's Eye, and encounter rampaging Ood ... it's a spaceship on the edge of a black hole (all seems very familiar). The reason is that a chap from Friends of the Ood has tried to free the creatures, but in doing so has driven them insane ... It's down to the Doctor to solve the problem with some gadgetry, and return all the Ood to the Oodsphere so they can sing their song.

The art is fairly simplistic and the page design somewhat standard ... I think I prefer the more imaginative page and panel designs, and certainly the more complex art.


The Tenth Doctor - Year Three - Issues 3.5, 3.6

Issue 3.5 contains an 'interlude' written by James Peaty, art by Warren Pleece, and colours by Hi-Fi.

Here, the tenth Doctor is travelling with Gabby and her best friend Cindy ... The story involves the Doctor arriving on Earth and finding a transdimensional octopus thing there ... he and Gabby go to the help of someone in trouble and find themselves involved with The Reach, aliens trying to get home ... and to do so they need the Doctor's heart. so they take Gabby from him, take him to a room where Martha is dying, to Donna's house, and to the Powell Estate (where Rose lived), all to get the Doctor to despair - the emotion being what the Reach needs.But of course there's more to it than that!

The art is nice, busy without being too complex, and the aliens are nicely considered too.

Issue 3.6 starts a new story by Nick Abadzis, art by Giorgia Sposito and colours by Arianna Florean.

The story picks up, I assume, at the end of the issue before last, with Cindy dead but leaving loads of clones of her behind. Sutekh (or an Osiran anyway) seems to be inexplicably there as well ... It's a puzzling tale ... with excepts from Gabby's diary interspersed, and the Doctor heads for some alien planet where he meets up with his 12th incarnation who warns him obliquely about events to come. Meanwhile back on Earth, something happens to Gabby ...

Not sure about this one to be honest. Perhaps it's just the setting up of the story, but nothing actually seems to happen.  Sorry. It has potential though!


Ninth Doctor - Ongoing Adventures - Issue 13

Written by Cavan Scott, art by Cris Bolson, colours by Marco Lesko

The Doctor is with Rose Tyler and a UNIT nurse named Tara. Captain Jack also appears in the mix and this story is all about him!

We follow Jack's past as a Time Agent, killing people, stealing ... the Terileptils are referenced, and there's an image of the Moxx of Balhoon. He kills a chap called Zloy Volk who would have invented free time travel for everyone and realises he's been set up ... there's a panel with John Hart.  And then he's adventuring with the Doctor and Rose ... and sees Volk alive on a different plant and follows him ... only to meet himself about to assassinate Volk ... The episode ends with Jack shooting Jack!

It's an exciting story, nicely put together and intriguing. The art has a lot of detail in it which makes it good for just admiring the panels.  I'm not quite sure why Cover A has the Empty Child and a Slitheen on it though - in fact, generally, the covers of all the Titan comics don't seem to bear any relationship to the stories being told inside.


Overall this is a nice batch of alternative Doctor Who stories. The acid test is whether they feel like adventures for these Doctors, and for the most part I'd say yes they do.  The one which doesn't so much is the eleventh Doctor one, but then he's a tricky character to capture.

The art is pretty good overall, and the covers are all imaginative and eye-catching.

But there are so many of them!  At $3.99 an issue, and with each issue having 3 or 4 variant covers available, collecting these is a hobby which would get very expensive very quickly! Also, they're only technically available in the USA, and so in the UK you have to reply on specialist stores to get them - and the UK prices in Forbidden Planet are around £2.65 each which is actually cheaper than the USA price at the current currency conversion rate. If you're patient however, there are collected editions being issued by Titan in paperback and hardback.







Saturday, July 01, 2017

Review: The Void (2017)

The Void is one of a great tradition of horror films which manage to excite and thrill as well as to present spectacle in their effects. That it is a low budget creation of two people is largely unnoticeable as it rattles along at a nice pace, and even manages to make some sort of sense at the end!

It’s got a Lovecraftian vibe running through it as tentacle monsters burst from the bodies of the dead and terrorise a small group of survivors who are trapped in a hospital by a large group human (at least we assume they are humans) worshippers of these creatures from the Void, all dressed in white robes and with a black triangle on their faces.

The effects are amazing. According to the extras, they wanted practical effects for the most part, and these lend the film a very real edge as everything is actually there. There’s also a feeling of John Carpenter’s The Thing, and Silent Hill in the designs and concepts on show, and the whole thing is just drenched in blood and ichor as well.

For the plot, it’s really humans vs tentacles as the creatures emerge from the dead and cause havoc. There’s also a couple of humans with dubious backgrounds, arguments, cops, and even a crispy charred high priest character who reminded me of Nix from Clive Barker’s Lord of Illusions.  It’s a riot of chases and blood and imagination which leaves you breathless. It’s such fun!

Highly recommended.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Review: House: The Complete Collection

House is an interesting little set of horror films, all produced by Sean S Cunningham who found fame with his Friday The Thirteenth franchise. They’re the sort of low budget, often gonzo style of filmmaking which sadly would not happen today (unless a producer had a vast budget and wasn’t afraid to spend it).

The series starts well with House, in which a writer, Roger Cobb (William Katt), separated from his wife as their son had gone missing while at the house, decides to live in the house owned by his recently deceased aunt. Strange events start to happen, culminating in Cobb being pulled through a bathroom cabinet mirror into a strange hinterland wherein his son is trapped ... he rescues him and escapes as the house burns to the ground.

The film is fun and irreverent in many ways, with some good ideas and effects to keep the shocks coming ... you can see, as with nearly every film which goes to spawn sequels, why it did so.

House II however is a mess. It seems to have nothing to do with the first film, being far more of a comedy into which a zombie old timer is thrust, as well as a search for a crystal skull, and John Ratzenberger as a ‘part time adventurer’ who heads off through a time portal ...

This installment fell flat for me. Trying to straddle comedy and horror is a fine art, and this film failed.

House III however is much better, even if it has even less to do with any sort of series continuity. It’s actually very similar to another film called Shocker (released the same year). Lance Henrickson plays a cop who put bad guy Max (Brion James) into custody, but as the killer faces the electric chair, he seems to survive it, transported into the electric grid and inhabiting Henrickson’s family’s house – eventually intending to kill them all!

For this one, I’d say forget the House tagline (which doesn’t appear on the uncut USA print on the disk – it’s just called The Horror Show) and enjoy the film!  There’s some great effects courtesy of Howard Berger, Robert Kurtzman and Greg Nicotero, a great performance from Henrickson, and James plays bad guy Max to perfection. Very enjoyable.

And finally there’s House IV, another film which seems to have become confused as to why it’s part of this series ... It stars William Katt (from the first film) but as a man who gets killed in a car accident which also cripples his daughter. His wife decides to stay in his old house, which is haunted by ghosts. An old Native American spiritual guide  says that there’s a ‘seal’ in the basement which is keeping the spirits trapped ... At about the half way point, the film tips on its axis and becomes a comedy where Burke, Katt’s brother, wants to sell the house to diminutive gangster ... There’s random effects like a shower of blood and a talking pizza, but ultimately the film falls flat as it really doesn’t know what it wants to be. The ending where Katt’s ‘spirit’ heads off into the sky to become a star is just awful.

If you’re a fan of these films then you’ll snap up this set. As always Arrow have added a host of extras, including audio commentaries, documentaries, stills and other items of interest.

Directed: Steve Miner (House, 1986); Ethan Wiley (House II, 1987); James Isaac (House III, 1989); Lewis Abernathy (House IV, 1992)

Created: Sean S Cunningham; Screenplay: Ethan Wiley (House, House II); Allyn Warner (as Alan Smithee) & Leslie Bohem (House III); Geoff Miller & Deirdre Higgins (House IV)

Arrow DVD (Released 27 March 2017)


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Review: Regeneration Art By Andrew Skilleter

I've been sent a second of Who Dares' art portfolios for review, and this time it contains the work of Andrew Skilleter.

The theme is obvious from the title: with many pieces of Doctor Who art to choose from, Andrew has gone for six pieces which cover the Regeneration stories.  So we have The Tenth Planet, Planet of the Spiders, Logopolis, Castrovalva, The Caves of Androzani and The Twin Dilemma. All the art (except The Tenth Planet) was originally used on the BBC VHS Cassette releases of the stories in question.

Making this portfolio more special, for each of the finished pieces, which are presented on a nice thick paper stock, there is also the initial submission sketch, produced to show the BBC what the finished piece might look like. These are printed on a thinner parchment paper. One of the nice things about seeing initial sketches is to see what changed between them and the finished art. It's a shame in a way that every one of these are pretty much exactly the same ... Nothing significant changed at all.

Along with the paintings there's a little booklet with some notes about the artist and the paintings, and in the signed edition, an A5 limitation sheet signed by the artist.

As with the Evilution print set, a lot of work has gone into the design and presentation of this, and if you appreciate Doctor Who artwork, then this will probably be a must-have!

One oddity is that the back of the folder it states 'Paintings (c) 2017 Colin Howard' ... of course they're not, they're by Andrew Skilleter, and the copyright dates would be whenever the paintings had already been done, a detail that is included on each print.

Available from: http://www.who-dares.co.uk/shop/regeneration-art-by-andrew-skilleter/

For full disclosure, I have written the introduction to a future portfolio, and this one was supplied to me for review purposes.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Review: The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970)

Dario Argento is one of the most important names in Italian giallo cinema and some of his films are classics of the genre. This new release from Arrow gives everyone the chance to see where he started, with a crime giallo which is as stylish and convoluted as one might expect from Argento.

The plot is based on a Fredric Brown novel called The Screaming Mimi, and follows an American writer, Sam (Tony Musante) who witnesses a stabbing in an art gallery. The assailant escapes, and the victim, wife of the gallery owner Monica (Eva Renzi), is only injured. There is a serial killer at large, picking off women in Rome, and the police are interested in this latest attempt. The film then follows Sam as his girlfriend Julia (Suzie Kendall) is attached, and he himself receives death threats, until the mystery is unveiled at the end ...

As with Argento’s later films Deep Red and Suspiria, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage plays on reflections and brilliantly set up visuals. There are touches of genius here as we see things in plain view which turn out to be misdirections. There’s a smashing art deco staircase which echoes Suspiria’s scenic design, and the murders are a panoply of close ups and terror. Even the score, from Ennio Moricone, echoes future films with human sounds mixed in with the disjointed jazz tempos as the killer chases their victims.

It’s a hugely enjoyable film, with a plot that makes sense, and good performances from all concerned. It’s actually hard to believe that it’s Argento’s directorial debut, it’s that accomplished.

As usual on the Arrow release there are interviews with all the major players, including a new discussion with Argento himself on the film, and a very insightful narrative from critic Kat Ellinger.

Directed: Dario Argento

Writer: Dario Argento

Arrow DVD released 19 June 2017



Review: Doctor Who Memorabilia (Paul Berry)

Being the voracious collector that I am, when I spotted this new book from Paul Berry being mentioned on various Doctor Who sites, I had to pick up a copy. Unlike several other Doctor Who merchandise-based endeavors, I had nothing whatsoever to do with this one, and so came to it completely fresh. The book doesn't even reference any of my own previous books or works on the subject (which I thought a little strange, as something like this really cannot exist in a vacuum, or perhaps it can?) although a copy of Doctor Who: The Sixties is shown along with other factual books, so I was interested to see what approach the title took.

Getting the most obvious thing out the way immediately, this is not and is not intended to be, a comprehensive guide to Doctor Who memorabilia and collectibles ... if anything it's a sort of 'starter' book, breaking the subject down into categories and then presenting pictures and a narrative to some of the items released in those categories over the years. Thus we have Books; Toys, Models and Games; Audio Visual; Comics and Magazines; Sound; Cards; and Collectors' Items. Thus the book doesn't touch on things like Clothing or Confectionery, Computer items or Sundries (Posters, Stationary Items, Postcards, Mail Items etc) ... but then with only 96 pages to play with, something had to give somewhere.

The text provides a basic overview of each of the areas chosen, and explains that the book really only covers up to the end of 2004, so just before everything exploded when the show returned in 2005. This would seem to be a sensible cutting off point, but perhaps disappointing for anyone coming to the book in the light of the new series, only to find that it doesn't cover what has been released for later Doctors. To be fair, there are some more recently released items pictured, like a bust, a WETA statue and some of the Character Options figures - but these are all releases of characters from the first eight Doctors' eras ... there is nothing from the ninth Doctor onwards.

The text is straightforward and charts the notable releases through the years in each category. I didn't notice any major errors, but there are a few little blips For example, mention of 'a one-armed Davros' from Dapol as being inaccurate ... it was the two-armed Davros which was the incorrect one. The Magazines section claims eight different titles being published at the time of publication but seems to list six: Doctor Who Adventures (stopped in June 2017 - they were not to know this one!); Battles in Time  (stopped in May 2009); Monster Invasion (stopped in April 2013); Doctor Who Insider (stopped in October 2012); Doctor Who DVD Files (stopped in October 2014) and The Doctor Who Figurine Collection (still ongoing) ... The actual current magazines being published in 2017 are: Doctor Who Magazine (and also The Essential Doctor Who range and the Special Edition range also from Panini); Doctor Who Adventures (though this stopped in June 2017 - this month's is the last!); The Doctor Who Figurine Collection; and of course all the different ranges from Titan Comics. There's 3rd, 4th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th Doctor ranges, but also other things like the Summer Specials and so on, but we can perhaps call those 'one-shots'. So that's something like 12 different ranges being currently published!

In the Audio section, Berry claims that a 7" release of the Doctor Who theme was the first piece of bona fide merchandise ... I hope he means the Eric Winstone cover which was released in January 1964, with the Radiophonic Workshop's version following in February of that year? Unfortunately bona fide isn't defined ... but I think I'm right in saying that neither of these releases were licensed by the BBC as they didn't own the music - Warner Chappell have always owned and control the rights to it. Indeed, whether something is licensed by the BBC or not is not really a means to define what is 'valid' in terms of Doctor Who merchandise anyway ... several things have been licensed by their legal owners, who happen not to be the BBC, and this in no way diminishes their validity as a genuine collectible, and other things don't even need a license to be done in the first place - indeed this very book states that it is 'unofficial'. As I say, the book doesn't talk about or define this element at all, which is probably wise.

The section on Cards talks about the BBC's 'character cards' being sold and sent out by the Doctor Who office at the BBC during the eighties, but doesn't point out that these cards had been available since the sixties for all manner of TV shows, and indeed Hartnell, Russell, Ford and Hill had them available. These may well be the actual first examples of Doctor Who merchandise as the images on those for the initial TARDIS crew are all taken from the first story. Unfortunately no actual release date for them is known.

In the Collectors' Items section, it's notable that the Robert Harrop statues are not mentioned - these are primarily of characters from the classic series, and started production in 2015, so it's strange that they're omitted.

Overall this is a really smashing little book, providing a concise overview of Doctor Who collectibles. It's puzzling why the main title calls it a guide to 'Memorabilia' as this usually refers to props,scripts, autographs and other unique items rather than mass-produced ephemera, but this is a minor point.

The reproduction is good, if a little heavy on the colour side, and the book is nicely printed and bound. All in all, if your starting out collecting and want something to guide you a little through the classic series items, then this is a good starting point.

DOCTOR WHO MEMORABILIA
By Paul Berry
£14.99 Amberley Publishing

Monday, June 19, 2017

Review: Brain Damage (1988)

Frank Henenlotter is well known to horror fans as the director and writer of Basket Case and Frankenhooker, both somewhat gonzo looks at aspects of the horror genre. In Brain Damage, his third feature (and released after Basket Case) he continues his love affair with animation and strange creatures and presents a talking, quipping creation which looks a little like an eel, except it has eyes and a mouth and a head which looks like a tiny brain. This little fellah was being kept in a bath by a couple of senior citizens until it escapes and finds solace in the home of Brian (Rick Hearst), a somewhat hopeless lad who cannot win at anything. So this creature, called Aylmer, attaches itself to Brian’s brain stem and feeds him a narcotic substance so that Brian will continue to supply fresh brains for Aylmer to feed on.

It’s another crazy film, and whether you enjoy it or not will depend on your penchant for Henenlotter’s other films ... So if fairly obviously animated monsters are your thing, and very 80s plotting and acting, and a denouement which doesn’t wholly make sense ... then you may love this. I found it somewhat hard going, but then I also wasn’t a great fan of Basket Case and its sequels.

One plus point is Aylmer’s voice – provided by John Zacherley, one of the USA’s ‘horror hosts’ – and this works well, the gore effects are also nicely done ... but overall ... As I say, perhaps something of an acquired taste.

Directed: Frank Henenlotter

Writer: Frank Henenlotter

Arrow DVD released 8 May 2017


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Review: Caltiki The Immortal Monster (1959)

Sometimes a black and white film can surprise you ... and such it is with Caltiki The Immortal Monster. In some respects this is a reworking of The Blob (1958) and X The Unknown (1956), as it features a flesh-eating amorphous blob which goes on the rampage. Here, it’s an ancient Mayan god called Caltiki which rises from an underground pool when an archaeologist called Max (Gérard Herter) falls onto the creature trying to get some gold (a supreme moment of daftness) and it attaches itself to his arm. The lead archaeologist, Professor Fielding (John Merivale) cuts a bit of the monster off trying to rescue his friend and takes it back to the USA where it grows when subjected to radiation. As time passes, the creature (a single celled organism apparently) splits itself into multiple copies and they go on the rampage until the army stops them with fire.

What’s great about the film is that the effects, by Mario Bava, are pretty gruesome and impressive, with a face eaten away by acid, an arm reduced to a skeleton, and the blob-things themselves growing and moving at impressive rate. There’s a lot of model-work in the film too, something only revealed by flames being the wrong scale, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

There’s even a bit of sexy dancing for the dads, where the dancer has a torn off skirt and flashes her knickers far more often than an American film would usually allow at this time.

Overall it’s a superior example of the Italian horror/science fiction film, even if it rips off the ‘hungry blob’ movies mentioned above.  I also felt that perhaps Island of Terror (1966) had been ‘inspired’ a little, with its radiation-created blob monsters.

Directed: Ricardo Freda, Mario Bava

Story by: Philip Just

Arrow DVD Released 10 April 2017



Saturday, June 17, 2017

Review: Pieces (1982)

Pieces is a crazy little Spanish horror film, dubbed into English, and containing so much randomness that trying to make sense of it is hopeless. It is, however, charming in its insanity, and if you like eighties slasher fare, then this is certainly one to add to the list!

The director went on to make Slugs, which is a far superior film, but in Pieces he cuts his teeth on the horror film, and manages to come up with something that is original whilst also being very derivative.

We open with a kid called Timmy doing a jigsaw ... except it’s a jigsaw of a nudie lady. Timmy’s mother arrives and is cross, taking the jigsaw from him and soundly telling him off. So Timmy does what any normal kid would: he gets an axe and chops his mum up into pieces. Flash forward forty years, and a masked and mysterious person is putting together the same jigsaw ... but before he completes each piece, he heads out with his chainsaw, and cuts a young, female, co-ed into pieces, taking away the part that corresponds with the next piece of his jigsaw ... he then completes that part of the puzzle, and moves to the next girl ... and the next ...

It’s a familiar concept perhaps, but I wonder in 1982 how original this was. Is there an earlier film which riffs on this idea? Sometimes we can forget that films which seem derivative today, were actually the first to do certain things.

The film therefore trots along at a pace, throwing up potential suspects as to who the killer actually is, with police who haven’t a clue, college girls who strip off at the least provocation, and even a random kung-fu dude who appears in one scene, never to be heard from again! And the acting ... oh the acting ... there’s so much scenery chewing and ham here that the filmmakers could have dined out for months. But as with this type of film, it seems not to matter ... what matters is the fun you can have with some buddies and some beer, counting the corpses as they pile up.

As usual the Arrow release is chock full of extras, as well as a CD of the incidental music, which primarily comes from CAM (Creazioni Artistiche Musicali), an Italian Music Library service. The main theme is particularly good, sounding like Goblin crossed with A Nightmare on Elm Street!

This Special Edition release also contains: two versions of the feature: Pieces, the US theatrical version; and Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche, the original uncensored director’s cut, presented in Spanish with original score by Librado Pastor; alternate re-score by composer Umberto; collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Michael Gingold; soundtrack CD featuring the entire original score; limited edition 180 gram 12” vinyl of the original score; and finally a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle replica!

Directed: J Piquer Simon

Written: Dick Randall, John Shadow

Arrow DVD/Blu-Ray Special Edition. Released: 27 March 2017

Review: Evilution: The Conceptual Art of Chris Thompson

I've always been a sucker for artwork! Whether it be art books, prints, posters ... book covers, film posters ... the art always draws me in. Unfortunately to reproduce it well, and to do it justice requires some outlay, as I know only too well from Telos Publishing's forays into that area!

Enter Matt Doe and Andrew Skilleter, who together have revived Skilleter's 'Who Dares' company from the 1980s, and are now publishing a variety of items which showcase artwork. They did a new calendar featuring Andrew's art last year, and now have embarked on a new venture: limited edition art portfolios. And they're not all about Skilleter's work!

Just sent for review is Evilution: Variations on a Theme: The Conceptual Art of Chris Thompson. I was not aware of Thompson's art before, but I had seen the beautiful stained glass Dalek which adorned the cover of one of Big Finish's audio releases. Part of the confusion is perhaps that there is also a Chris Thomson who is an actor and does unofficial Who audios ... and Chris Thompson was a BBC designer on Evil of the Daleks in the sixties ... and there's even a Chris Thompson who works at Titan as their Brand Manager for the Who comics they produce ... so it's easy to get confused!

This Chris Thompson is an artist who was working for Jamie Anderson, son of Gerry, on some of the Anderson spin off material, and it was Jamie who directed the Big Finish Audio and got Chris in to do the cover ...

After that, it seems that Chris decided that Daleks were good to create, and so went off on various tangents to bring us 'what-ifs' of five other Dalek potentials, all based around different designs, materials, and concepts which were in force in the periods he was working with.  Thus Dalekzarkov postulates if the Daleks had been designed a few years earlier, and takes inspiration from Forbidden Planet and the Flash Gordon serials ... Dalekyuri is a what if the Russians designed a Dalek ... Dalekvinci postulates a casing created by Leonardo daVinci ... while Daleksan is a Japanese themed casing ...

All the images are reproduced on top quality A4 stock, and as a nice extra, there's a Dalekstainly image reproduced on tracing paper as well, so that light can come through it. I like that touch.

As well as the six prints, there's a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist, and a smashing little booklet which explains and guides you through all the artwork.

It all comes enclosed in a lovely A4 thick card folder, and the whole package reeks of quality, from the choice of materials to the foil stamping on the certificate.  Strangely, the cover, booklet and certificate all call it 'The Conceptual Art ...' but on the prints themselves, it says 'The Concept Art ...'.

The only gulp factor might be the cost, but as I said, to do something like this at a low quantity costs a lot per unit.  Thus the 'Artists' Limited Edition' costs £69.95 (this brings you everything I have discussed, including signed limitation certificate) and is limited to 50 numbered copies.  And the 'Collectors' Limited Edition' omits the signed limitation certificate and costs £49.95. This is limited to 100 copies.

Who Dares have plans for further Portfolios featuring different artists ... and I assume as long as they can sell them, they will keep producing them ...

For more details and to buy copies; http://www.who-dares.co.uk/shop/chris-thompson/

For full disclosure, I have written the introduction to a future portfolio, and this one was supplied to me for review purposes.