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.


Monday, June 29, 2020

Review: Zombie For Sale

Such fun! Zombie For Sale is a 2019 horror comedy from South Korea directed and written by Lee Min-Jae which encompasses all that is crazy about this genre.

Jjong-Bi (Jung Ga-Ram) escapes from an underground experimentation lab and is basically a zombie, shambling about and chasing people (slowly). He encounters the daughter, Min-Gul (Nam-gil Kim), of the Park family who run a garage and make their living overcharging for repairs to cars which hit spikes on a road which they have placed there.

They lock the zombie in one of their sheds, and he's happy eating cabbages with tomato sauce on. But then the father, Man-Deok (Park In-Hwan), gets bitten, but as a result his hair regrows and he gets younger! Thus all the old folk in the town want to get bitten, and do, and they too regain their youth.

However, of course there's a price, and soon they all resort to zombieism and there's a full scale zombie apocalypse happening. Min-Gul and Jjong-Bi are having a sort of relationship though and he's trying to protect her from the ravening hoards ...

Then Jjong-Bi gets bitten himself by the zombies, and turns fully human again - thus is the solution found. Man-Deok, the original one who was bitten, never turned into a zombie - he went on holiday to Hawaii - but returns and has to bite all the zombies to turn them back human again.

It is a crazy film, but it all works and pulls you along with it. The action is fast and furious, and you tend to forget that it's subtitled. As Zombie entries go, I really enjoyed it. The make-up and effects are nicely done, and there's even a cute homage/mention of Train to Busan in there too ...

Recommended to all connoisseurs of brain-munching horror.

ARROW SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
  • High-Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Original uncompressed Stereo and 5.1 DTS-HD MA options
  • Newly-translated English subtitles
  • Brand new audio commentary with filmmakers and critics Sam Ashurst and Dan Martin
  • Q&A with director Lee Min-jae from a 2019 screening at Asian Pop-Up Cinema in Chicago, moderated by film critic and author Darcy Paquet
  • Eat Together, Kill Together: The Family-in-Peril Comedy - brand new video essay by critic and producer Pierce Conran exploring Korea's unique social satires
  • Making-Of Featurette
  • Behind-the-Scenes footage
  • Original Trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by Mike Lee-Graham
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Josh Hurtado


Review: The Game


The Game is a 1997 film directed by David Fincher, and made after his major success, Se7en. It's a shame in a way that directors get 'type cast' in the sense that through most of The Game you're waiting for some big revelation or shock moment to occur, as in Se7en  with the man who died of starvation or the 'what's in the box' question, but it never really happens. M Night Shyamalan suffers from the same problem, that following The Sixth Sense everyone expected all his films to have the same 'shock surprise' ending.

But on to The Game. It stars Michael Douglas as Nicholas Van Orton, a wealthy investment banker-type, who is given by his brother Conrad (Sean Penn) a voucher for an experience called 'The Game' - basically a company which will constantly surprise you and make your life 'interesting'.  So as he is basically bored with pretty much everything, he visits their offices, fills in all the paperwork, and waits ...

Then things start to happen. A waitress (Deborah Kara Unger) spills drink all over him in a restaurant and he gets a message to not let her go, so he follows her. They are then followed by gunmen and a chase ensues ... and so on ...

The film then progresses on this basis, with Nicholas being involved in all manner of escapades, resulting in him trying to find the company again to get them to stop - but they have vanished. He also realises that the man he saw was an actor and so he tries to track them down. The film ends in a climactic rooftop battle and ... but I don't want to spoil it ...

The problem with the film is that it contains way too many coincidences (or plot holes). Things 'set up' by the company for Nicholas to stumble over are such that all it needed was him to make one different decision about something - which direction to go in etc - and none of it would work - the ending is perhaps most at fault for this ...

Overall the film seems somewhat slow and leaden by today's standards. Douglas seems to phone in his performance for some of it, but overall, and given that he is - I think - literally in every scene - does pretty well. He manages to display the slow burn from ennui to broken insanity with effective believability, and indeed, it's as much a showcase for his talent as it is for Fincher.

Overall this is an interesting film, and probably well overdue a reissue from Arrow, which comes with the customary slew of extras.


TWO-DISC LIMITED DELUXE EDITION CONTENTS
  • Limited to only 3,000 units
  • Deluxe packaging including a 200-page hardback book housed in a rigid slipcase, illustrated with newly commissioned artwork by Corey Brickley
  • 200-page book exclusive to this edition includes a newly-commissioned full-length monograph by Bilge Ebiri, and selected archive materials, including an American Cinematographer article from 1997, a 2004 interview with Harris Savides by Alexander Ballinger, and the chapter on the film from Dark Eye: The Films of David Fincher by James Swallow
  • Arrow Academy Blu-ray including new bonus features and UK home video premiere of director-approved 2K restoration
  • Universal Special Edition DVD featuring archive extras with cast and crew
DISC ONE – BLU-RAY
  • 2K restoration from the original negative by The Criterion Collection supervised and approved by director David Fincher and cinematographer Harris Savides
  • High Definition Blu-ray™ (1080p) presentation
  • Original 5.1 & 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Isolated Music & Effects track
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • New audio commentary by critic and programmer Nick Pinkerton
  • Fool's Week: Developing The Game, a newly filmed interview with co-writer John Brancato
  • Men On The Chessboard: The Hidden Pleasures of The Game, a new visual essay by critic Neil Young
  • Archive promotional interview with star Michael Douglas from 1997
  • Alternatively-framed 4:3 version prepared for home video (SD only), with new introduction discussing Fincher’s use of the Super 35 shooting format
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Teaser trailer
  • Image gallery
DISC TWO – DVD
  • Standard definition DVD (PAL) presentation
  • 5.1 Dolby Digital audio
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Audio commentary with director David Fincher, actor Michael Douglas, screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris, director of photography Harris Savides, production designer Jeffrey Beecroft and visual effects supervisor Kevin Haug
  • Behind The Scenes featurettes - Dog Chase, The Taxi, Christine’s House, The Fall (with optional commentary by Fincher, Douglas, Savides, Beecroft and Haug)
  • On Location featurettes – Exterior Parking Lot: Blue Screen Shot, Exterior Fioli Mansion: Father’s Death, Interior CRS Lobby and Offices, Interior Fioli Mansion: Vandalism, Exterior Mexican Cemetary (with optional commentary by Fincher, Savides, Beecroft and Haug)
  • Theatrical trailer (with optional commentary by Fincher)
  • Teaser trailer
  • Teaser trailer CGI test footage (with optional commentary by designer/animator Richard Baily)
  • Alternate ending
  • Production design and storyboard galleries

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Review: Dream Demon



Dream Demon is an odd film. It’s a little like watching a sequence of outtakes from a Nightmare on Elm Street film, but with any logic removed. The fact that the music sometimes echoes some of Nightmare’s score adds to this sense that you’re watching something from somewhere else.

The plot … if the film has a plot … is confused. It follows a young girl Diana (played by a young and very wooden Jemma Redgrave) who is in a troubled relationship. She seems to fall into a dream world every time she falls asleep or looks in a mirror and everything becomes twisted and strange. There’s some good action from Jimmy Nail as a reporter and Timothy Spaull as a twisted photographer (who becomes even more grotesque as the film progresses). Diana is helped by her friend Jenny (Kathleen Wilhoite) who she drags into her dreams with her.

That’s about all I got. It’s a bit like someone was a massive fan of Freddie Krueger and wanted to make a Nightmare on Elm Street film but couldn’t, and so did it anyway, shaving any direct references off in  the process. It’s a fun film in some respects and the effects are decent, but the story tries to go for the more thoughtful and highbrow and just ends up confusing.

Arrow video have a new blu-ray of this available, and as usual it comes with a host of extras, interviews and features … It’s a fairly respected slice of 80s British horror, so it’s good to see it available once more.


SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
  • Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative, supervised and approved by director Harley Cokeliss
  • Director’s Cut and Original Theatrical Version
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Original uncompressed stereo audio
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Brand new scene-select audio commentary with director Harley Cokeliss and producer Paul Webster
  • Newly-filmed interview with director Harley Cokeliss
  • Newly-filmed interview with producer Paul Webster
  • Newly-filmed interview with actress Jemma Redgrave
  • Newly-filmed interview with actor Mark Greenstreet
  • Newly-filmed interview with actor Nickolas Grace
  • Newly-filmed interview with actress Annabelle Lanyon
  • Newly-filmed interview with composer Bill Nelson
  • Foundations of Nightmare: The Making of Dream Demon - contemporary documentary taking a look behind the scenes of the production of Dream Demon, featuring on-set interviews with director Harley Cokeliss, producer Paul Webster, actors Timothy Spall, Jemma Redgrave, Kathleen Wilhoite, composer Bill Nelson and many more
  • Image Galleries
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by Christopher Shy
FIRST PRESSING ONLY! - Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Anne Billson, author of the Dream Demon novelisation, and director Harley Cokeliss - Reversible poster featuring exclusive newly-commissioned artwork by Christopher Shy

Review: Bloodtide



This is a 1982 film from director Richard Jefferies and written and produced by Nico Mastorakis. The cast seems quite impressive, with James Earl Jones and Jose Ferrer, but the plot and the realization of the monster lets the film down bigtime.

Sherry (Mary Louise Weller) and Neil Grice (Martin Kove) arrive on a Greek island ostensibly searching for treasure but Neil’s sister Madeline (Deborah Shelton) is there as well as a convent of Nuns, and a mystery where young virgins are sacrificed to some monster which lives under the water. It’s all very slow and confusing, though very nicely shot. As the film rumbles on, the girls all strip off for the obligatory topless scenes, and start to be killed by the very rubbery monster in the sea. The whole thing comes to a conclusion with the monster’s cave/lair being blown up, and then the monster is blown up.

I feel that Jefferies realized that his monster was poor and so keeps it well in the shadows, only revealing it in very brief shots … but even this brevity shows it as being simply awful! All in all, the film succeeds only in the gorgeous cinematography, and is one of those films which is just about bad enough to be good … but only just as it commits the worst sin of being boring.

The new Arrow Video release comes with a couple of extras: a new interview with the producer/writer and a commentary track, plus a couple of trailers. Probably only for committed fans of early eighties horror fare.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Review: Star Maidens

I'd never seen Star Maidens before ... odd probably ... but I recently nabbed a DVD set of all the episodes for a peruse.

It's a strange beast indeed. First of all, the title is something of a misnomer ... it was made in 1976, and I guess that women in power was a bit of a 'thing' then ... so the basic idea is that there's this planet called Medusa which is ruled by women. The men are kept as slaves and breeding stock ... and thus is life there. In fact, life seems to consist of wandering aimlessly around a sort of three-level complex as that's all we see.

The planet of Medusa is inexplicable blown out of orbit of it's sun and off into space, where it ends up close to Uranus (stop giggling at the back) from where it can send ships to and from Earth. The closest the two get is 1.6 billion miles (2.6 billion kilometers), and based on 'normal' speeds, the Voyager 2 spacecraft was launched on Aug 20, 1977 and it reached Uranus on Jan 24 1986. So, Voyager 2 took almost nine and a half years to reach Uranus. But we need to gloss over this for the sake of our sanity.

The basic plot of the series is that two Medusian men, Adam (Pierre Brice) and Shem (Gareth Thomas), steal a ship and escape to Earth where they hide out. Meanwhile two humans, Dr Rudi Schmidt (Christian Quadflieg) and his assistant Liz (Lisa Harrow) are taken to Medusa.  Henceforth the episodes flip between Earth-bound stories involving Adam and Shem, and Medusian-based ones involving the humans in the alien environment.

To be honest, the Medusian-based ones are much better. The Earthbound stories feel like very low budget affairs, perhaps poor relations to much better series like Ace of Wands and The Tomorrow People. But those on the alien planet have some thought and concept behind them, even if it all gets a little samey.

I was surprised to see Ian Stuart Black writing a large number of episodes (you may know him from his Doctor Who work on 'The Savages', 'The War Machines' or 'The Macra Terror'), and also Freddie Francis directing (the same guy who earlier directed films like Doctor Terror's House of Horrors and Dracula has Risen from the Grave!).

Despite this, the show struggles but never really rises above mediocre. There's none of the panache and sheer narrative and production excellence which made Doctor Who or Ace of Wands sing at the time. I wonder if it's because it's a German co-production, and that there was some behind the scenes conflict as to what sort of show the various companies wanted to make. Is this a comedy or serious SF, a kid's show, or something a little more intellectual ... the show veers between all of these with no real answer.

The cast should be great, with Gareth Thomas a couple of years away from his defining role as Blake in Blake's 7, Judy Geeson as Fulvia, Adam's Mistress, and bond girl Dawn Addams as Clara, the Medusian leader ... there's even a cameo from Alfie Bass (playing the caretaker of a Castle) of all people!  But there's also some German actors who seem less comfortable with the material ... and the overall impression is of something of a mess.

It's a shame as conceptually, the show echoes Space 1999, and has touches of Blake's 7 and The Tomorrow People ... The visual effects were done at Bray - home to the Anderson shows, and the quality of the miniature work is excellent as a result.

The stories are okay, but patchy, and even the final episode which introduces an enemy for the Medusians called simply 'the Enemy' - some creature whose face and head we never see, but who has three fingers Sontaran-like, and who seems to be controlled by some computer thing - fails to really resolve anything, and yet sets up for perhaps more stories and adventures to come ... but it was not to be!

As a science fiction curio from the seventies, it's worth checking Star Maidens out ... a fun series which is better than you expect it to be, without being truly outstanding.

And, astonishingly, and assuming they're not clever fakes, there seem to have been some Star Maidens action figures/dolls released!  Amazing!  I also noted some jigsaws and an Annual too ...

Friday, April 10, 2020

Review: Lost Girl

We've just finished a mammoth rewatch of the TV series Lost Girl ... and if you've never seen it, then you are missing something of a treat.

The show follows the fortunes of a succubus called Bo Dennis (Anna Silk). As we start, Bo doesn't really know who she is, and this is the basis for the entire run: her trying to find out. If you want to watch with no spoilers, then perhaps it's best not to read this piece right now ... as it's hard to talk about the show and its twists and turns without revealing some of the surprises along the way.

Bo befriends a human called Kenzie (Ksenia Solo), and Kenzie is the one you really fall in love with. Solo has a very naturalistic acting style, and you're left wondering how much of Kenzie's asides, face pulling and just attitude was scripted, and which came from the actress. She's the archetypal manic pixie dream girl - something common to many films and TV shows - but she works and is very watchable.

There's also a shape-shifter wolf called Dyson (Kris Holden-Ried) and if you're watching it thinking ... hold on, I've seen him as a werewolf in something else ... then you have as he played a similar part in Underworld: Awakening.

These unlikely characters come together in a neutral bar run by Trick (Rick Howland) and as the series progresses, we learn a lot more about Trick and who and what he is. I really liked him as a character, and Howland is simply superb in the role.

The background to the 'world' in which Lost Girl is set is that there are two 'clans' of Fey present on the Earth, Light and Dark. As might be expected, the Light Fey tend to be kind and nice and use their powers to help humanity, whereas the Dark Fay are nasty and evil and up to all sorts of scheming and nonsense ... The issue is that Bo is neither. She is Unaligned, as she never chose a 'side' and so is able to act apart from all the bickering and malice which both sides get up to when they get together.

The show develops as a series of stand-alone episodes for the most part, with each episode seeing Bo and Kenzie getting involved in some investigation, or helping a fey or a human with whatever issue arises. But there is also a background thread of Bo finding out more about herself.

Bo needs to feed on humans or other fey in order to heal herself, but usually she kills the humans she feeds off, so Fey is always better. She's also bisexual, so it makes no odds to her who she sleeps with and feeds off ... though she is also quite capable of loving and having sex with a partner and not feeding off them.

Into the picture as the series progresses comes, first, Lauren (Zoie Palmer), a human doctor who is, first, working for the leader of the Light Fey - colloquially called the Ash - but who then moves to work for the leader of the Dark - called the Morrigan. The battles between the Ash and the Morrigan form a lot of the series plot arcs, and the electing of new candidates to those roles also forms a significant part of the series.

Bo falls in love with Lauren, much to Dyson's chagrin, but then Dyson also gives up his love for Bo in exchange for the ability to defeat Aife at the end of Season 1, from a character called the Norn. Later on, Bo also falls for a Valkyrie called Tamsin (Rachel Skarsten) who becomes significant in later seasons.

Season two focuses on a battle against a Fey called the Garuda (Raoul Trujillo); season three explores a character called 'The Wanderer' and Bo's relationship with them. Season four sees Bo taken by the Wanderer, and a group of powerful fey called the Una-mens seeking to take ultimate power. Season five focuses on Bo's relationship with her father, Hades (Eric Roberts) leading to a somewhat climactic conclusion!

Overall the series is complex and very watchable, with some great performances and characters, neat ideas of different Fey and their powers, and a fair dose of attractive women and men for everyone to get a little hot under the collar about. The final season is a little disappointing compared with the earlier ones, as it seems to struggle to find stories to tell, and contains a fair few which wander off into more esoteric and whimsical territory. There's also a significant dip mid-way through when Kenzie leaves (although she comes back later, she loses the Goth look, and her personality and snarky quips with it, which is a great shame).





Friday, March 20, 2020

Doctor Who: The Faceless Ones - Animation 'Easter Eggs'

As I'm sitting at home in 'social isolation' due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, the release of the new animation of the Doctor Who story 'The Faceless Ones' came at the right time!

But what a lot of little 'Easter Eggs' the animators have taken upon themselves to add to the completed imagery - none of which were in the original story!

I actually found these somewhat distracting from watching the production - which on the whole is a pretty good effort, even though the animation style and approach grates with me. I like the story and the last three episodes are excellent.

But anyway, here's a list of the things which I spotted, including a couple of deviations from the televised story ... In fact there's quite a lot of these as comparison with the two existing episodes proves - the original direction and camerawork is stylish and varied, whereas the animation (out of necessity I guess) tends to be more flat and basic. We lose Sam Brigg's outrageous hat for a start!

40
Samantha Briggs' crazy hat!

I also noticed that all the Policemen seem to be clones and look identical to each other. Another cost-saving measure for the animation I assume.

Anyway, here's all the added extras I spotted ... if anyone spots any more then let me know and I'll update the list!

Episode One

We see images of the Roger Delgado and the Sacha Dhawan Masters on the noticeboard as the Police leave the station.

There's also a poster for WATERFIELD ANTIQUES on the board (This references the next story EVIL OF THE DALEKS, wherein Edward Waterfield owns an antiques shop). I'm not sure why the police would have this on their information board mind you ...

There's also a large poster for a Variety Night but I can't see any DOCTOR WHO connection with that - it's vaguely TALONS OF WENG-CHIANG-y but obviously totally the wrong year!

The name LEATHERMAN is prominent on the lorry which removes the TARDIS from the runway. This was not in the original episode, and indeed is incorrect as LEATHERMAN is the name on the lorry which removes the TARDIS from Gatwick at the start of EVIL OF THE DALEKS ... *This* lorry is just moving it off the runway, so not the same lorry!

In the hangar where the chap is killed with the raygun we have cans of HICKMAN'S Anti-Freeze, Oil and Merlot(?) and in the office there's a file with HICKMAN'S ORDERS on it (presumably referencing ex-DWM editor and cover designer CLAYTON HICKMAN)

There's also McNally's tins of something on the shelves in the office (presumably named after one of the animators who I noticed had the same name on the credits)

There's a brand name on the side of the monitor used to track the aircraft: CONDON LTD (this references well known fan Paul Condon who died in 2019)

The name the postcard is to be delivered to is ALLAN WALSH (presumably referencing the fan of the same name)

There's an advert for INTERNATIONAL ELECTROMATICS seen (referencing the story THE INVASION)



Episode Two

On the newspaper that Jamie and the Doctor are reading, there's an advert for BARNEY'S ELECTRICALS and their ROUGH AND TUMBLE machine (this references the scene the animators cut from the animation of THE MACRA TERROR of just the same device)

Also on the Newspaper we have MARINUS PADLOCKS (referencing the story THE KEYS OF MARINUS - I see what they did there)

There's also an advert for OLD SMUGGLERS WHISKY (slightly obscure but this could be referencing the story THE SMUGGLERS? Not sure where the Whisky comes in though - the available evidence suggests that the Smugglers were smuggling Rum, though there's nothing in the dialogue to suggest what the drink is!)

The newspaper they read at the airport is the Mill Hill Times, where Troughton used to live and where there's a theatre named after him...

The RADIO TIMES edition on sale in the shop behind the Doctor and Jamie is actually the one for just before when this story was transmitted, not the one for when it is set! Here's some covers:

Issue 2264, 30 March 1967
This cover is the one seen in the animation and is from 30 March 1967, the week before Episode One of 'The Faceless Ones' was transmitted (8/4/67)

Image result for radio times cover grand national 1967
Radio Times cover for the first week of 'The Faceless Ones' TX



Radio Times for July 23-29 - most likely the edition on sale on July 20 1966 when 'The Faceless Ones' is set.

Radio Times for 16-22 July. 'The Faceless Ones' takes place on July 20 so this edition would be the one on sale the previous week.

'WAR MACHINES DEFEATED' is the headline on the newspaper on the Commandant's desk - interesting ... At the end of the story, Ben states that it's July 20 - the day it all started ... here's what Jon Preddle determined in his amazing work of Doctor Who Chronology, TIMELINK: 'In order to reconcile The Faceless Ones' dates with the dates in The War Machines, it is necessary to're-interpret' Sir Charles' comment [about C-Day or Computer Day]. It is more likely that he got the date wrong than the day of the week, so we can accept that "Monday" is correct, but that "July the Sixteenth" is wrong. On the basis that 1966 is the correct year, we can make C-Day to be "next Monday", July the Eighteenth. The story therefore starts four days prior to C-Day, 14 July. The duration is three consecutive days plus the day when the TARDIS leaves London. As given in The Faceless Ones, that day is 20 July, so a further four days passes between WOTAN's destruction and the Doctor's departure.'

The dates are all a little strange anyway. On the Chameleon Tours desk there's a little calendar thing which says SATURDAY ... so presumably it's a Saturday?  Except that July 20 was a WEDNESDAY ... so maybe three days are meant to pass between the activity in the airport at the desk, and the end of the story?  I'm not sure that can be accounted for by what we see on screen ...

Here's what Jon Preddle assessed in TIMELINK: 'In the final scene at the hangar in The Faceless Ones, the date "July the Twentieth, 1966" is given by the Doctor (presumably his "12 hours" airport pass has the date on it). In The Evil Of The Daleks it is stated that the TARDIS was stolen from the hangar at "3 o'clock" (the time appears on Bob Hall's time sheet: "Police Tel Box. Collection: 3 o'clock"). In Ep4 of The Faceless Ones the Chameleon Tours flight to Rome is at "1530 hours", i.e. 3.30 pm. Therefore these two events are on two separate days: the final scene of The Faceless Ones and the start of The Evil Of The Daleks are set on 20 July 1966, with the bulk of The Faceless Ones therefore taking place on 19 July 1966. Ben and Polly realise that 20 July 1966 is the very same day in which they first entered the TARDIS (see The War Machines).'

Maybe that SATURDAY date thing on the check in desk has not been updated then ...

The eyechart which is used to check the Chameleon Conversion has BADWOLF and BIGRON spelt back-to-front.  (BAD WOLF is the 'key phrase' from Doctor Who season 1 in 2005; and BIG RON was a character in EASTENDERS used as part of a fundraising effort around the charity skit DIMENSIONS IN TIME. Viewers were encouraged to call in on a pay telephone line to vote for one of two EastEnders characters to help the Doctor. In the competition, between Big Ron and Mandy Salter, Mandy won with 53% of the vote.)

In the airport there's an advert for HIBBERT PLASTICS (referencing SPEARHEAD FROM SPACE and the plastics factory). Hibbert was the Production Manager of the factory, called AUTO-PLASTICS by the time of 'Spearhead from Space' and it's debatable whether he was actually the owner as well. There's no evidence to suggest this. Perhaps HIBBERT PLASTICS was a company run by Hibbert which was taken over by AUTO-PLASTICS and Hibbert given a Production Manager job as a result ...

In the airport there's also an advert claiming LESS MUCK, LESS DEVASTATION, LESS DEATH - which is for GLOBAL CHEMICALS, the company polluting the Welsh mines in THE GREEN DEATH. The phrase echoes something said by Professor Jones in that story: 'Muck and devastation' which he possibly used if the company was using this as it's catchphrase in advertising.


Episode Three

There's another newspaper stuffed on a table with a news report about the War Machines and a photograph of William Hartnell as the Doctor.


Episode Four

There's an error here in that the Doctor picks up two white Chameleon arm sheaths but has a black and a white one when he's in the control room later.


Episode Five

The Chameleon Nurse Pinto has a WHITE control sheath on her arm when it should be BLACK (the original humans have WHITE on their arms, the Chameleons have the BLACK ones on their arms), and her original also has a WHITE one on her arm when the body is found.


Episode Six

There's an advert in the airport for MAGPIE ELECTRICALS (this was featured in the story THE IDIOT'S LANTERN)

When we see the Police emerge from the station again, the image of the Sacha Dhawan Master has been replaced with one of the Meddling Monk (from the story THE TIME MEDDLER) not quite sure how there can be a photo of the Monk - cameras weren't invented at the time he appeared in the show!