Welcome to the homepage for author and publisher David J Howe. I'm the author and co-author of numerous books about the TV Show "Doctor Who", as well as being a freelance writer and Editorial Director of Telos Publishing Ltd.
If you'd like to comment on any of my musings, then just click on the 'comments' word under the post, and then on the 'Post a Comment' line under the post on the next screen.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
I Bid You Welcome
When out looking for Christmas presents recently I stumbled across a Dracula triple bill DVD in Asda of all places. This is one of the previously released Universal Collection, but here is was £5 ... so I snapped it up. The collection contains the original Universal Dracula with Bela Lugosi, the 1931 Spanish version of the same film, then two other films: Dracula's Daughter and House of Dracula. I'd not seen the latter three at all, and so we were set for a few evenings entertainment. In reverse order, House of Dracula is a curious beast. Not quite a horror film but also not quite a comedy - that would come later when Abbot and Costello got in on the scene. But the set-up is distinctly farcical. Count Dracula visits a Professor to try and find a 'cure' for his vampirism, and the Professor and his beautiful hunchbacked nurse set about helping him. Then Larry Talbot arrives seeking a cure for his lycanthropy, and, when it's not forthcoming, jumps off the cliff into the sea ... the Professor goes down the cliff and they find a cave wherein lies the Frankenstein monster ... as well as some sort of fungal spores which will cure Talbot. Dracula is however trying to trick the professor and passes some of his blood into the human, so the Professor turns, Jekyll and Hyde-like into a human/vampire hybrid ... Honestly if you submitted this as a plot for a film or book then you'd be laughed out of the office ... It's all very hokey, but all played straight, and this helps matters. The cast are all pretty good and make the most of the ludicruous script, and the whole thing is entertaining in its own way. Dracula's Daughter is pretty dire though. Lacking the real thing, the plot is about Dracula's daughter and her attempt to ressurect her father ... it's slow and tedious and has comic characters inserted for no good reason. Not the best thing I've ever seen by a long shot. Then we come to the two Draculas. I'd always been told that the Spanish version was superior to the American one, but I beg to differ. The Lugosi version is far far better, with more atmosphere and character. That Lugosi was very comfortable in the role of the count is obvious, and he takes it all very seriously, wheras in the Spanish version, Carlos Villarias is something of a ham, playing it much like generations would spoof the character later on - all expressions and raised cloak. It is interesting to compare the two versions though as they both used the same script and were filmed on the same sets - but with different actors and directors, the end results are quite different. I preferred Dracula's appearance from his coffin in the Spanish version - wreathed in smoke and mist, but the general settings are better in the American one. I think that perhaps the cinematography just has the edge in the Spanish, but Tod Browning is a better director with more interesting ideas as to how it should all come together ... it's a fascinating exercise and I'm aware of only one other film which has two versions, both from the same script - though in this case filmed on entirely different sets. This is Psycho, where the 1960 Hitchcock version is reportedly vastly superior to the colour 1998 Gus van Sant version.
Saturday, December 04, 2010
Doctor Who Live!
Interesting idea ... hire some stadium-sized venues and then put on a Doctor Who extravaganza with Monsters and everything ... Hmmm. When they announced Doctor Who Live, I, probably like everyone else, was quite excited. Sounded like fun and something different. I'd seen the play The Ultimate Adventure which was OK - a fun little diversion - but this promised to be bigger and better. So we got tickets to the Manchester News Arena, and the day arrived. When we got there, the place was packed with people all buying merchandise from the stalls around the outside corridor. It's always a little sad that these events seem to thrive more on how much money they can extract from your wallets than on word of mouth. So lots of stuff was being bought. Aside from the items produced specifically for the event (a glossy brochure, T Shirts, Mugs and the like) they were also hawking old Top Trumps card sets and other things which presumably had been sitting in boxes somewhere unsold and unloved. We had good seats - in Section C right down the front. So we settled down to see what might happen. The first slight surprise was that the place was not full. There were lots of empty seats around, but there was enough of a crowd for it to feel full of anticipation. There were lots of kids in Fezs and in David Tennant-like suits. I love seeing that :) When Doctor Who transcends fandom and everyone is dressing up. And so the show started. Live music from the band was excellent, and Nigel Planer comes on stage as Vorgenson, a showman who has a captured selection of monsters in his Mini-scope-like device. Yes, it's a riff on the old Pertwee story 'Carnival of Monsters'. Nice idea, but it got tired very quickly. Planer would talk a bit, then announce a monster, they appeared at the back of the auditorium and stomped around a bit, before going on stage and back into the machine. We saw some Silurians, Ood, Judoon, Scarecrows, Clockwork Robots, Vampire girls, Cybermen ... and all did pretty much the same thing. There was a faintly amusing bit of business where a stooge in the crowd is taking pictures and the Cybermen take him on stage and 'convert' him ... but anyone not in the immediate area would have had trouble seeing what was going on. All this monster stomping activity was interspersed with some clips from the show set to music ... hmmm ... if I'd wanted to watch some clips on video, then I could do that at home without spending £45 to sit in an Arena. The first half came to a close, and we stretched our legs and watched people buying ice creams for inflated prices. Then it was part two ... More of the same. A lengthy video thing about Amy Pond, the Doctor on a video screen ... I thought this was Doctor Who Live! But the Doctor wasn't there! What a disappointment. I held out hope to the end that Matt Smith might bound from the TARDIS in the flesh, but no. He remained a distant video image throughout. The only live aspect was the music, and the two actors who spoke - Nigel Planer and Nick Briggs as Churchill. Briggs was wonderful. A brilliant performance. He was obviously having a great time. But Planer seemed out of sorts - going through the motions. In the second half, some of the audience cottoned on that this should be a little like a Panto and so booed and hissed Planer when he appeared. But this was too little too late. The script was pretty dire, and where it should have been obvious that this was a Panto with audience participation required, the script did not allow for that interaction to happen. Even a somewhat forced element of the Doctor wanting the audience to shout something out when he called ... it was all practiced, but then never happened ... disappointing. There was a sequence with the Weeping Angels which was pretty neat - soldiers coming in from the back to investigate and then all being whisked away by the Angels. Nicely done on stage with lighting effects hiding the transformations and vanishings. The climax of course featured the Daleks - the large, chunky wheely-bin-like Tellytubby Daleks, and they looked pretty good on stage, trundling about barking orders. The Doctor saves the day from his video hideout, and a White Dalek floated around on a pretty well hidden crane arm. Then it was all over. Ultimately, Doctor Who Live did not live up to the hype. It had a basic script, pared down to the minimum to make it as cheap as possible to stage. Two speaking cast members, and a crew of maybe 8 or 10 others who played all the monsters. There was too much video footage and music - this was not billed as a Proms event, so why try and highlight that? - and not enough innovation and variance in the script in terms of how the Monsters were used. Nigel Planer seemed to walk through the whole thing and lacked any real conviction as a villain, and overall the fact that the Doctor was not live and in person at an event billed as 'Doctor Who Live' was really inexcusable. We enjoyed it, don't get me wrong, but at £45 a ticket, we expected perhaps a little more than just an extended, animated exhibition of monsters, accompanied by music and big-screen videos.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
New Book on Digital
Readers with a long memory may recall that in 1997 I did a book with BBC Books called A Book of Monsters ... a rather lavish illustrated tome all about the monsters in the Classic series of Doctor Who. Well, flash forward a few years, and I get a letter from BBC Books telling me that they'd like to reprint it. Fantastic news! But when I call them to discuss what they want to do, it seems that it's all a mistake. They don't want to reprint it at all ... in fact they don't want to do anything with it! So I arranged to reclaim my rights in the written material, and, having got that back, decided that rather than just have it sit on my hard drive, I might as well make it available for people to get hold of. So I have put it up on a variety of digital formats for anyone interested to buy. I've called it Doctor Who Monsters: A Bestiary 1963 - 1996 to try and make it obvious that it doesn't cover the new series at all. I was always very proud of the book, the text is a great look at how the monsters were conceived and developed, and contains interview quotes with just about everyone who played a part in the process, from the writers to the designers to the actors who played them. The digital edition is just the text from the previous book - there is no new content, and none of the illustrations - but I felt that there are probably a few new fans out there who might like to find out about how it was all done 'in the old days' :) Here's some links as to where to find the various editions. There are supposed to be basic PDF type ones as well, but they don't seem to have gone live yet. I'll add them in here when they do: Kindle USA - http://www.amazon.com/Doctor-Who-Monsters-Bestiary-ebook/dp/B004CLYOD2/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=A7B2F8DUJ88VZ&s=digital-text&qid=1290357389&sr=1-2 Kindle UK - http://www.amazon.co.uk/Doctor-Who-Monsters-Classic-Bestiary/dp/B004CLYOD2 iPhone App - http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/doctor-who-monsters/id403204578?mt=8 iPad App - http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/doctor-who-monsters-hd/id401640251?mt=8
Sunday, October 24, 2010
30 Days and 13 Hours
Watched a couple of new films of late, so some thoughts ... I really enjoyed the original 30 Days of Night film ... a great idea, simple, and yet effective. If you've not seen it, it's basically about a town in Alaska which, every year, experiences a month of night as the sun doesn't rise there. When this happens, the town effectively closes - everyone leaves or settles in for a month indoors. But on this year, the town is targetted as the hunting ground for a pack of shark-like vampires who swoop in and kill anyone and anything in their path. Now there's a sequel to the first film, called Dark Days, and it takes a different tack. The surviving woman from the first film (played by Melissa George there, and by Kiele Sanchez here) travels the country warning people about the Vampires. She meets up with a group of hunters and they start seeking the creatures out. They eventually discover that they are planning an attack on another Alaskan town, and so get on board the ship with the vampires in order to try and stop them. It's more character driven than the first film, and is interested in itself, although I found it slow. The vampires are placed in the background here which is a shame, and you don't really get to see them except as killing machines. There's a queen vampire controlling everyone, and she comes over like Alice Krige as the Borg Queen in that Trek movie, and a policeman Renfield who wants to be a vampire ... The film very much ticks all the boxes of everything that we have seen before and does nothing new. It introduces the idea that the crispy vampires that have been burnt in the sun can be revived with blood - which actually makes a nonsense of the first film where the lead Vampire's girl is crisped, and he kills her with the words 'That which can be broken must be broken'. If all it needed was blood to restore her, then why kill her? I'd probably only give this 5 out of 10 ... The other film is called 13 Hrs, apparently from the producers of Dog Soldiers ... well they really shouldn't have bothered. It's another werewolf flick, but so vastly inferior to Neil Marshall's epic, that it doesn't really bear comparison. A girl, Sarah, returns home to find a group of her friends drinking and smoking pot. They are a disparate bunch: Emily, who is sleeping with Sarah's ex-boyfriend apparently to get back at her, a younger brother, and a couple of other lads, one of whom is I think her other brother. They are so generic that I can't actually remember who was who or what their names were. Anyway, they inexplicably find themselves trapped in the family home with a werewolf on the rampage. The creature kills Simon McCorkindale in a very short cameo appearance in what might have been his last film, and then hunts and chases the kids all over the house, through secret passages and up into the attic. Along the way they argue and bicker and disagree ... one by one being polished off. The denoument is very predictable indeed, and the werewolf effects are terrible. The editing is also awful, rendering fight scenes impossible to follow as the cutting is too quick - one second shots of what's happening all cut together does not make for excitement, it makes for bemusement on the part of the viewer who has no idea what's happening. The dialogue is also risible, with some dreadful lines being delivered dreadfully. Overall the script is not good. Even the title, 13 Hrs is not explained - apparently it's how long they have to survive in the house ... but nothing is made of this in the script. A shame that a british horror film should turn out so poorly, but there you go. Basically actors off of Hollyoaks and Lads Mags (Gemma Atkinson, take a bow), My Family (that's you Gabriel Thomson) and Harry Potter (stand up Tom Felton) do not make for an endearing film when the script is as bad as this one. Just gets a 4 out of 10 from me. For a great werewolf experience, I suggest you check out the aforementioned Dog Soldiers, or Ginger Snaps, or even the reliable classics The Howling or An American Werewolf in London. They knew how to do it properly.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Hot Tub Time Machine
Chose this film from Blockbusters because a) it's a comedy and we were in the mood for something a little lighter, and b) it's got time travel, which suggested something a little different. It's actually a very ordinary film. I don't think I laughed at all throughout, and the situations were very predictable and staid. Just what you might expect a generic 'lads' film to be like after it's been filted through 200 studio executives, all having their own crack at the scripting. Far superior is Doghouse - similar initial idea of a bunch of pussy-whipped losers heading off for a holiday, but far better in execution (and it has zombies in, which is always a winner). About the best bit in it is when one of the young ladies comes racing into a room dressed in a skin tight ski outfit - she certainly has a nice figure! But the promise of anything more is non-existant. The humour is, if anything, down at the Porkies level, with projectile vomiting and removing faeces-covered keys from a dog's bottom being just two examples of the gross-out factor in the film. Completely out of place and unnecessary really. The time travel element is very lightly used. Basically the hot tub gets some 'Hi Energy' drink poured in it and transports our leads back in time. Then there's some slight interest in that one ends up being the father of the youngest in the group, and a running gag about how a bellhop loses an arm ... but it's all very predictable. A shame as the basic idea - a back to the eighties type of vibe - is not bad. They should have ditched the crude gross-out humour and gone for some good belly laughs instead ...
Monday, September 27, 2010
Sometimes life throws stuff at you ... again and again and again. I'm aware that I've not blogged as yet on the ending of that Matt Smith season of Who. Not talked about Sherlock. Not mused on the new merchandise which has come out. Not discussed FantasyCon, nor told you about all the films I've been watching on DVD ... or the old Telly shows I picked up from Network DVD ... and probably lots lots more. The reason. Life. And having too much to fit into the days. I seem to have been living in a whirlwind of late - travelling hither and thither, visiting friends, going to conventions and events, working, more working ... So a few highlights! At FantasyCon, the annual convention for the British Fantasy Society, I was humbled to win the British Fantasy Award for Best Small Press! So taken aback was I, that I stumbled through my words on stage, welling up, and barely got away intact! It was amazing for Telos to win in our 10th year of operation, and on the Telos site blog, there's a piece about it all in more detail. Check out www.telos.co.uk for that. I also managed to leave FantasyCon as Chair of the BFS! Not sure how that happened - I volunteered! Must be mad ... but there's some great things that the Society can achieve, and I hope I can help them do that ... we shall see. Visit www.britishfantasysociety.org for more info on the Society. My partner Sam has been doing very well indeed with the launch of her third novel, called Demon Dance, it's a vampire tale with a difference. Time travelling vampires! There's a thing. She's a great writer and I urge you all to check out her books, starting with Killing Kiss (which as well as a paperback from www.murkydepths.com, is also available as a download for Kindle, iPhone, iPad and a variety of digital editions from places like W H Smiths and other online stores). Telos has just released several very cool titles, including a guide to the last days of Tennant (End of Ten) plus horror from Graham Masterton (The Djinn) and an amazing crime noir novel by Graham with William S Burroughs! Not often that Burroughs has a new work in print these days as he died in 1997 ... but Telos has one! Seek out Rules of Duel if you're intrigued, and like a shot of sixties paranoia fiction about authority and private investigators and surrealiarity in Burroughs' expected style. It's a book which challenges the reader, but which really delivers in a poetic and insidious way if you persist. All available from www.telos.co.uk. We also have pretty much wrapped on Wiped! a new guide to all those frustratingly missing Doctor Who episodes. It's a fascinating tome of tables and discovery ... really enjoyable and informative. I'm proud to be publishing it! That should hit the mailboxes and shops in maybe 3 or 4 weeks time, depending on how long it takes to print. I know I keep saying that I'll blog more ... and honestly ... I mean to. I have no idea how Neil Gaiman does it! The man's a genius, and yet has time to write witty and erudite blogs every week! I guess it's organisation and routine ... I tend not to have either of those (well I do, or nothing would get done ... I mean that blogging tends to fall to the bottom of my things to do list all the time). Until I can find an hour or so to share some thoughts of new films, DVDs, and to get those comments about the Pandorica opening down on here ... be seein' you.
Sunday, July 04, 2010
The Descent Part 2
The Descent was one of the best and most original horror films of recent years. Superbly written and directed by Neil Marshall after his success with werewolf-fest Dog Soldiers, it took a group of female spelunkers into some caves and pitted them against each other, as well as an army of underground monsters. The film was notable for its ending which, depending on which version you saw, allowed the main female protagonist to escape, or otherwise. Now we have 'Part Two', which is another way of saying that we're returning to the same well (or cave) for more underground shennanigans with monsters. This time Neil Marshall has had little to do with it - despite the Exec Producer credit - and it is all but a retread of the first film. The lone survivor has been taken to hospital where she is asked about her friends by a couple of police officers. Rescue workers have found an abandoned mineshaft down into the caves, and so they decide to take the silent, traumatised girl with them! This is really a leap to far. There is no way that anyone would allow her to undergo this in her condition, but assuming we accept that, the two police officers and a handful of caving experts descend into the darkness once more in order to find the other girls. Of course they get lost, trapped by a rockfall and are once again prey to the bat-like human nightcrawlers which live down there. The film succeeds despite itself but only because the premise of the original is strong enough to take a remake. One by one the humans are slaughtered again, and have to crawl through horrifically tight spaces and underground rivers to survive. Once again the girls are pitted against each other. Once again the crawlers attack and are beaten off. Once again you have to stay silent to survive. If you are claustrophobic, then you won't like this film any more than the first one - it's nightmarish from that angle. But there are plenty of shock moments, gore as the crawlers are despatched, and surprises along the way. It's not quite as good as the original, but it's not a bad sequel as sequels go. It's main failing is that it really doesn't try and do anything new with the material.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Doctor Who and the Lesbian Vampire Killers
Lesbian Vampire Killers is a film which I got out on Blu-Ray when it first came out, and recently I picked up a cheap DVD of it to keep. It's also a film which is not as funny as it should be, but on second viewing, a lot better than I thought it originally was. The plot is great: two stoners, Fletch (James Corden) and Jimmy (Matthew Horne) decide to head for a holiday in England as Jimmy has just been dumped by his cheating girlfriend again. They wind up in the village of Cragwich which has been cursed by Carmilla the Vampire (Silvia Colloca) such that all women there will become lesbian vampires on their 18th birthday. The lads join up with a group of girls on an archaeological field trip from Scandinavia, and end up battling them as they all (bar Lotte for some reason) become lesbian vampires. Paul McGann plays a vicar out to destroy the curse before his daughter succumbs, and there's lashings of decapitations and fangs and boobs along the way. It's a fun film for a beery evening in, and had me laughing out loud on a few occasions. The whole thing is pitched at a comic book level, such that head movements are accompanied by 'swoosh' sounds, and the vampires pose seductively all the time while wreathed in mist, their hair blowing in the breeze. The effects are superb for what was presumably a low budget film. There is no blood as the vampires seem to be filled with a gooey milky substance which splatters everywhere, and no-one is safe from the curse - even Jimmy's ex-girlfriend is turned - except for the virginal Lotte (MyAnna Buring - who played Scooti Manista in the Doctor Who episode 'The Impossible Planet') who manages to survive the film to fight another day. Corden plays a sex-and-beer obsessed lout, cowardly and self-obsessed who feels he has landed in heaven initially, and then bumbles through the film quipping and joking like a poor man's Jack Black. Horne ends up the hero with a penis-handled sword, and even gets the girl at the conclusion - all the other girls amusingly remain lesbians leaving Corden with no-one to love. The film bombed at the box office, probably because it cannot really live up to the hype it was given at the time, but as an enjoyable piece of Brit-horror it's not at all bad. James Corden seems to be flavour of the year at the moment - he's got some sort of World Cup football program on, and is even number 1 in the charts with a remake of the old Tears for Fears song 'Shout', alongside rapper Dizzee Rascal, as well, and was even in the recent episode of Doctor Who, 'The Lodger'. I enjoyed the episode a lot, but unfortunately it all went wrong at the end. There's a lovely build up which puts the Doctor trapped on Earth as the TARDIS cannot materialise due to a time distortion, leaving poor Amy trapped on board (and able to take a holiday as she's not really in the episode that much). The Doctor discovers the source of the time disturbance to be the upper floor of a flat owned by Craig (Corden), and so rents a spare room there to investigate, trying to appear human in the process and mostly failing. Meanwhile, strangers off the street are lured into the upper flat by a variety of characters, and then screaming and flashing lights ensue. There's also a mysterious stain on the ceiling of Craig's flat which is getting bigger and bigger. Typically, Craig's 'girlfriend', Sophie (Daisy Haggard) is a girl from work but they've never told each other their feelings, and so there's an awkwardness about their relationship which neither seems able to correct ... The problem with the story comes in the revelations at the end. The early part is great - Matt Smith is brilliant as an alien trying to be human, with a quirky edge to everything he does. There's some great visual gags and dialogue here, and Smith and Corden bounce off each other well. But the ultimate problem is that there's nothing in the upstairs flat except some sort of alien machine which is trying to find a pilot to go home (in fact, there's no upstairs flat at all - it's a perception distortion). So the machine is intending to try out everyone on the planet with a holographic lure. The Doctor seems suitable, but he works out that everyone chosen so far wanted to escape, but that Craig doesn't. Why doesn't he? Because he loves Daisy. Craig and Daisy proclaim their love for each other, and the ship destroys itself. What? The 'love conquers all' theme was very poorly used here, and with no monster/alien to fight, the ending was very anti-climactic after what had gone before. I was wondering during the episode whether whatever it was in the attic was using the humans to build something - an idea slightly reminiscent of the story 'Frontios' where the Tractators used human body parts to power their drilling machine - but this wasn't the case either. Other commentators have said they like that there was no CGI monster ... but I agree and disagree ... I would have loved to have seen an honest to goodness prosthetic creature there ... doing something nasty with the humans that the Doctor has to try and stop. Maybe they were using the episode to save money or something as well before next week's climax with the opening of the Pandorica - whatever that means.
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Return to House on Haunted Hill
It's always a surprise when a sequel turns out to be good fun in its own right, and this one, a sequel to 1999's House on Haunted Hill, which was in turn a remake of the 1959 original, is not at all bad. First off, however, it really has little to do with the original film, aside from featuring the same house, and a similar collection of ghostly inhabitants. This time, there's an idol hidden somewhere in the house which is trapping all the spirits there. The idol is the focus for a disparate group of people to assemble at the clifftop mansion, and go in search of the object. The film is somewhat confused in terms of all the different characters, and I couldn't hope to try and explain it without help ... so here's what Wikipedia says about the basic set up:
Ariel Wolfe is the sister of Sara Wolfe, a survivor of an massacre some years ago in the sanatorium known as the "Vannacutt Psychiatric Institute for the Criminally Insane", which was overseen long ago by the sadistic psychiatrist Dr. Vannacutt. Sara claims that ghosts had killed all those who entered the building, but no one believes her. When Sara commits suicide, Ariel tries to find out why. A diary of Dr. Vannacutt leads Ariel to the cruel past of the Institute. She and her friend Paul are then kidnapped by an unscrupulous dealer, Desmond, who knows a lot about Sara and Vannacutt's Institute. While meeting Desmond and his crew, Ariel realises Sara didn't kill herself, Desmond killed her. Ariel is required to help Desmond to find a precious artifact, a figurine of the demon Baphomet. The artifact in question being said to be hidden somewhere inside of the Institute. While Ariel, Desmond and four of Desmond's accomplices walk into the building, Paul and one accomplice are told to wait outside. Inside, Ariel and her kidnappers meet Dr. Richard Hammer (a university professor) and his assistants, Kyle and Michelle. Desmond used to be a student of Richard's and they begin arguing about the idol. While bickering, it comes out that Michelle is Desmond's new lover, who seduced Richard only to gain information about the sanatorium and the Baphomet idol.The film is enjoyable as something you can watch and appreciate the GCI effects, inventive deaths, and general ghostly mayhem as it all careers to the ending. The characters are also quite interesting: the two girls are pretty good to look at, Amanda Righetti (Ariel) seems to get wet quite a lot and Cerina Vincent (Michelle) has an amazing chest. There's even Andrew Lee Potts off of Primeval in there - with an American accent - and lots of guns. Another thing I liked was that on the Blu-Ray version, there are nine places in the narrative where you can choose what the characters do, leading to different scenes, characters dying at different points, all leading to - it seems - one of four different endings for the film. The disk also includes the Director's cut - which I assume is the one which Wikipedia's synopsis details (here). I didn't watch that, but chose to experiment with the interactive film, leading to some degree of fun, as the film really does play out differently if you choose different options. I liked the way in particular that, at one point, if Ariel goes for the map, all the cast are killed in gunfire immediately afterwards and the film ends about half an hour early! Some would be cruel and suggest you take that option to shorten the misery, but I did genuinely enjoy the film, and will watch the Director's cut at some point to see what was actually in that version. As I say, as sequels go, it's a good way to spend an evening and quite diverting. There's even some lesbian zombies, and a nurse ghoul who seems to be straight out of Silent Hill (though nowhere near as creepy as those rubber-clad ghoulies). Sometimes a horror film doesn't have to pretend to be high art, and is just there to be drawn along with, laughed at, and in this case, interactively adjusted.
Friday, June 11, 2010
The Doctor and Vincent
What an interesting little story. I was pleased to see that the second 'guest writer' slot in this season came up with something which felt a little more like Doctor Who than the earlier Dream Lord one. Richard Curtis of course has a great track record, but this could have resulted in something starring Hugh Grant and Rene Zelwegger, involving a romantic intrigue, missed opportunities, and of course a wedding ... but instead we got a Scottish Vincent Van Gogh fighting an invisible chicken. That's a little unfair perhaps, as the monster was apparently more based around the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, but the head was very chicken-like, and the fact that it was invisible and made sort of squarking noises made me imagine something like a giant Big Bird-like creature off of Sesame Street. Van Gogh, however, was something of a revelation. Completely brilliantly played by Tony Curren, he was totally believable. From the moment he first appeared, looking exactly like the Dutch artist, he held the screen. I loved his interactions with Amy and the Doctor, sympathised for his depression, and cheered him on in the gallery at the end. Curren nailed it completely. I even loved his question to Amy, asking if she came from Holland too as she had the same accent as he! Obviously the TARDIS translation circuits are a little fritzed, making Dutch sound like Scottish in translation. The flow of the story was gentle, but nicely paced, and the whole invisible chicken thing was a bit of a red herring really (lots of animals in this blog). The meat of the episode was the final ten minutes which had me crying both times I watched it ... moving and respectful, brilliantly acted, superbly paced and played ... it's testament to what Doctor Who can do given the right material. Bill Nighy's cameo was equally excellent ... perfectly pitched by the actor, and totally believable. In fact there wasn't anything really duff about the episode at all ... except for the chicken perhaps. Even the music was bearable! One thing I did puzzle over: right at the start, we see a cornfield and Van Gogh painting it, with a trail left by an invisible monster wending through. We are then told that this was one of the last pictures that Van Gogh painted before his death? But then the Doctor and Amy go back to a year before his death and kill the monster ... yet the painting still has the monster trail in it at the end ... but the monster was dead by this point, so why did Van Gogh paint it like that? As I say, not really important, but it confused me. Overall though, a lovely episode, touching all the right nerves. Next week we have that James Cordon off of Gavin and Stacy in a house. Personally I don't really get why he is so flavour of the year at the moment ... but we shall see how he fares.
Tuesday, June 08, 2010
Battle Royale and Phone
Two more slices of J-Horror today ... and a couple of films which I had heard about but not managed to catch up with. Battle Royale is a sort of Lord of the Flies meets I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here ... with just about every weapon you can imagine. The back story is quite nice: the kids of today are so unruly and disrespectful that the only way to try and deal with them is to pick a class at random, ship them all off to a deserted island, and then let them kill each other. At the end of three days, whoever is the sole survivor returns home. And if there is no sole survivor, then all the survivors are killed by exploding necklets which each kid wears. The latest class arrives, and the events are apparently being orchestrated by an ex-teacher of theirs, Kitano, who they tormented. There are 40 kids in total, and unfortunately having so many makes the film drag somewhat. There is not really enough time to get to know them before they are being slaughtered by their classmates either on purpose, or by accident. The set pieces are quite nice, with kids being killed by crossbow, hanging, scythe, revolver, tazer gun, poison ... the list is endless, but the film soon starts to get a little repetative as kid after kid makes his or her maker. I won't reveal the ending here as there is a twist, and it's quite nice - I didn't see it coming even if those I was watching with did. Apparently there are sequels to this outing which are dire and should be steered clear of ... which sounds like a good warning to me. The other film is Phone (or Pon), which is a very effective piece indeed. A girl, Ji-won, brilliantly played by Ji-won Ha, finds her mobile phone being called by a mysterious number which cannot be traced. Others who listen to the calls seem to be driven mad by them, and the girl has to try and work out what is happening, and what the connection between the victims is. Best of the lot is the young daughter (Yeong-ju) of a married couple, Ho-jeong and her husband Chang-hoon, who gets posessed by whatever is haunting the phone and ends up throwing herself down a flight of stairs. The young actress, Seo-woo Eun, is simply brilliant and playing the possession, and she is genuinely creepy in a way, perhaps, that Linda Blair was in The Exorcist many years earlier. The explanations, when they come, are all good, and make sense, and the ultimate revelation of who is behind it all is very nicely hidden and revealed. Again, I didn't guess ... and the revelations of what had actually happened are good and gruesome. This is one of the better films of its type, up there with Ringu and the original Ju-On (The Grudge). The sequels are never as good, and the inevitable American remakes often lose the plot and the horror in their translation. But Phone is excellent, and well worth seeking out.
Tuesday, June 01, 2010
It's not often that a vampire film comes along which makes me sit up and be impressed ... well Daybreakers is such a film. I'd bought it on a whim, really, despite seeing some so-so reviews around, but it's actually a really neat little thriller which turns the whole vampire/human thing around on its head and has some interesting things to say along the way. It's 2019, and vampirism has taken over the world to the extent that there are now very few humans left alive, and those that remain are living as hunted men. The vampires have taken over all facets of worldly life, building their own cars and houses with daylight warning sensors, blackout windows (they drive by seeing outside the car via TV screens) and the like. There are human 'blood banks' in which living humans are plugged in, Matrix-like, to provide a blood supply for the vampires, which they take with their coffee from Starbucks-like stalls at the railway stations and on the streets. But the blood is running out, and the vampires are getting desperate. They need to develop an artificial version fast or they will rapidly age and turn into crazed monsters without human sustenance. One of the doctors investigating this helps a group of humans, and is sympathetic to them. He discovers that one of their number used to be a vampire but is now human again ... there is a 'cure' for the vampire condition which offers another way out of the dilemma ... but the vampires in charge rather like being vampires. The film plays out a little like The Matrix (but nothing like 28 Days Later which the blurb would have you believe), with plenty of action adventure along the way, and some really neat vampire effects. The aged and blood crazed creatures that the vamps turn into are very well realised, and the accompanying documentary (which is excellent in itself) explains that vampires look like humans because they drink human blood ... so what would they look like if they drank vampire blood? The acting is really top notch with Sam Neill playing the vampire leader with suave coolness, and Willem Dafoe turning in a brilliant performance as the vampire-turned-human, with Ethan Hawke as the doctor looking for a solution. They really hold the film together and force you to take it all seriously, presenting some scary and terrifying moments in amongst the excitement, like when a group of starved, monstrough vampires are dragged into the light in chains, only to immediately burst into flame and distintegrate into ash as they go. I won't give away the ending and eventual solution to the problem here as it's pretty cool in its own right, and is worth watching the film for. I had a great time watching it, and appreciated all the details which made it original and compelling. It's certainly a film I'll want to watch again.
Monday, May 31, 2010
Managed to pick up a Blu-Ray of the 1982 film Creepshow while in NYC recently, and watched it the other night. I remembered it as being pretty good, and overall I still feel the same about it. The release has a really good picture - sharp and good colours which helped immensely, and the stories were all good and creepy. For those not in the know, it was written by Stephen King and directed by George A Romero, and there is a certain zombie slant to the stories presented. First up is the wrap-around tale wherein a boy (played by Stephen King's real life son, Joe, now a horror novelist in his own right) has his copy of Creepshow magazine confiscated and thrown in the rubbish bin by his dad - who is somewhat against horror stories. I guess this is irony. Then we get our first glimpse of the brilliant EC-Comics inspired decayed corpse at the boy's window ... and we're off into the first story. 'Father's Day' is a lovely short piece about an aged father who was boorish by day, murdered by his daughter, and who now comes back from the grave on the seventh anniversary of his death to get his own cake. The zombie is brilliant, all decaying flesh and earth and worms ... with a cracked, horrific voice to boot. No wonder everyone who sees him screams! Next up is 'The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill' in which King himself plays a country hick who sees a meteorite fall in his field. He touches it, and starts to grow green plantlife on his fingers. The stuff spreads and soon his mouth, face and body is covered. He ends by killing himself with a shotgun as the greenery spreads across his farm, and onwards across America. King is brilliant in this, playing the hick with sympathy, and the spreading growth is pretty horrific. The third story, 'Something to Tide You Over', is a wonderful little tale of revenge and retribution. Leslie Neilson (yes, he from the Naked Gun and Airplane films) plays a man whose wife has been seeing another. So he buries both her and her lover on the beach up to their necks and waits for the tide to come in. This is horrific and creepy as the man can see his lover being drowned on a television set helpfully provided by Neilson. Once dead, the sodden corpses then return to haunt and kill Neilson. 'The Crate' is perhaps the weakest tale, if only because the monster is a little too much like a man-in-a-suit. A college professor sees the chance to do away with his nagging wife by letting a hungry creature in a crate devour her ... the effects are good, and the acting excellent, but it's totally let down by the monster. The final segment is 'They're Creeping Up On You' wherein a Howard Hughes-like recluse finds his sterile apartment overrun with cockroaches ... they take over and end up spilling from his screaming cadaver! Pretty good considering there is no CGI here to generate the bugs, and that they were all wrangled on set! The film ends back with the boy and his dad ... and it's lucky that the boy sent off for a voodoo doll from the magazine as it means he can now take out his anger on his hapless father. Overall it's an enjoyable film, if a little long, and the zombies are brilliant. I mentioned the 'Fathers Day' one above, but the two corpses in 'Something to Tide You Over' are equally excellent, squelching water as they walk, and leaking seawater when they are hit with bullets. Lovely stuff. Somewhere I still have the comic book adaptation of Creepshow ...
The mid-season Doctor Who two-parter has not fared that well in previous years. The silly Sontaran thing was pretty dire, and the Daleks in New York scenario was disappointing to the extreme. So it's good to see that the tide has been turned, and the recent two-part adventure ('The Hungry Earth'/'Cold Blood') was exciting and well executed. I loved the first episode in particular. The setting up of the problem was nicely handled, and the idea of people being sucked below the ground very well achieved. It was scary and creepy, and I could imagine more than one child nervously asking their Mum or Dad if Amy was OK after she was taken. In a way, the opening was reminiscent of 'The Green Death' with the Welsh accents and setting, and the mining idea, also 'Inferno' with the concept of drilling deep into the earth. But of course it was really 'Doctor Who and the Silurians' which was being riffed on, with the underground reptiles being disturbed by the drilling and deciding to wage war on the humans. The idea of the humans setting up electronic surveillance all over the town in 9 minutes was ludicrous. I didn't see why that shouldn't all have been done in advance - after all, they have set up this massive mining operation there, it could have been a deserted village to start with - or cleared of people - and surveillance set up to keep unwanted intruders away. But then the kid gets taken ... and we meet the alien being. But it's a she (how can a reptile, cold blooded, and egg laying, have mammary glands?) and her alien face is a mask ... and she speaks perfect English! And she doesn't even have a third eye ... how disappointing. The make-up was brilliant though - certainly the best reptile effect I can remember seeing anywhere (puts the new series of V to shame as well). But if these are meant to be Silurians, then you might as well take the defining characteristics - the hooting electronic voice, the third eye - and use them for the re-mix. It's a little like making the Cybermen not be silver or robotic, or having Daleks with legs ... if you're not going to use the essence of the original, then why bother to even say they're the same thing. Seemed rather pointless to me. Anyway, getting over the creature's perfect white teeth, the beings want a war, and so the Doctor has to try and stop them. In a nod to the original, there's of course two factions - one warlike, and one peaceful, and the Doctor has to try and calm things down. Except that idiot woman on the surface kills their hostage and nearly provokes the war until Stephen Moore (he of the Marvin voice) sends all the reptiles back to their cells to be frozen again. It's a shame that they didn't make use of the tonal device from the original story - it could so easily have been the thing that Amy steals to open the bracelets holding her captive ... also on the doors and other elements ... again, if you're going to bring back old monsters, then why not use some of the memorable aspects of them? What was with the venom-tongue? I didn't get that. It seemed to add nothing to the plot - surely Mrs Kumar ('pull my finger!') was always going to want to stay down there and fix everything with a pipe cleaner, a bottle of bleach, and a small aubergine? The father too ... nothing more for him on the surface anyway. He could have had cancer or any human illness for the plot to work ... I suppose the whiplash tongue was a nice CGI effect, and also gave another nod to the original source story - the idea of the reptiles wiping out the humans with an infection. And after the story had played out, some interesting revelations. I was not expecting Rory to die. Not at all. Very nicely done by all concerned. And Karen Gilan deserves a Bafta for her performance as she struggles not to forget him, only to lose at the end. Very well played, and the first time this season that I have been moved to tears. Then the Doctor shoves his hand in the crack and pulls out ... a shattered piece of the TARDIS ... interesting indeed, and very portentious for what is to come. The series is shaping up nicely, though many of the episodes are on the high good side rather than on the spectactular (like 'Blink' or 'Family of Blood'/'Human Nature'). Maybe there are more revelations to come ... and I think with the final episodes concerning the Pandorica, I guess we have more River Song to look forward to as well ...
Vampires and Bumps
You can never say that Doctor Who doesn't present a diverse selection of treats for a Saturday night. Over the last few weeks we've seen alien vampire creatures in Venice, Amy Pond getting pregnant and old lady killers, and underground monsters intent on destroying mankind! Never a dull moment. THE VAMPIRES OF VENICE I loved the title and concept of this from the start. Being a massive horror fan, I have always advocated that Doctor Who works well when it's being scary, which is why most of Steven Moffat's previous stories were so well received: spooky gasmasked kids, tick tock clockwork robots, blinky angel statues, walking skeletons and something nasty hiding in the darkness ... all tap into buried fears. So to see vampires back on Who was a treat indeed. Such a shame then that they turned out not to be vampires at all, but alien fish creatures ... who would have thought. The lead up to the revelation of them being space-lobsters was great - the creepy white girls were beautiful and stunning in their pale vampire-ness and the teeth were really well done. The setting was magnificent - never has Venice been so well captured for a show. And the fact that it wasn't Venice at all makes it all the more impressive. The characters were great, from the incredible vampire queen played by Helen McCrory - one of the best supporting characters of the season I feel, to Karen Gilan and Arthur Darvill (Amy and Rory) turning in superb characterisations, the whole ensemble did the production proud. Except that they were space-shrimp and not vampires ... I wonder why they felt the need to go that extra step. Why can't proper vampires be part of the Doctor Who universe - we saw them in 'State of Decay' of course, and they were creepy and well done there as well ... but to have some modern variants would have been so cool. Instead we get a lot of guff about their planet and wormholes, and the whole thing ends with a Deux ex Machina that Russell T Davies would have been proud of, as the Doctor resolves the problem by climbing up a tower (shades of 'Daleks in Manhattan') and turning off a switch to stop the storm. It was all very like 'The Shakespeare Code' as well with an alien-induced storm at the end bringing monsters through a portal to attack the earth ... or 'Planet of the Dead' which used a similar idea ... All a shame really, as the ideas underpinning it were brilliant. I loved Amy getting bitten, and would liked to have seen more of that aspect - dealing with turning into a vampire. Indeed, the Doctor having a vampire companion would have been very neat, giving the whole series a bit of a twist and a kick. But we had space-lobsters. Never mind. AMY'S CHOICE An intriguing episode, and in retrospect, probably exactly what we should have expected from a writer new to Who and probably unfamiliar with all the backstory and history, and what could really be done with the concept. It played with the idea that the Doctor has an 'evil' twin - which could well have been the original pitch when Simon Nye was asked for ideas for the show - except that the 'twin' looks nothing like the Doctor, and styles himself as the Dream Lord for the TARDIS travellers, presenting them with two dilemmas to resolve, one of which is apparently real. The dilemmas were hardly breathtaking, though the village full of alien-infected old people was nice and original. Certainly preferable to the 'Inside the Spaceship' plot of the TARDIS falling into a sun (albeit an ice sun here, leading to some very nice frozen effects on the TARDIS interior and on the actors). The village set-up was effective, and the idea of Amy being pregnant plausable, if played for laughs. (I was disconcerted to see Doctor Who Adventures pointing out to young readers all the insults thrown at Amy for being in the family way - nice way to encourage casual cruelty around the weight gain that accompanies pregnancy. 'Chubs' indeed!) So the Dream Lord taunts the TARDIS crew, and tries to force Amy to choose ... and she chooses the reality in which Rory (poor Rory) doesn't die. But then we discover that both realities are a dream, and all caused by some psycic pollen (!) ... a shame as it was a nice idea. Are we supposed to think that this diminuitive Dream Lord, played magnificently by Toby Jones, is some alter-ego incarnation of the Doctor? Is it the Valeyard? I suspect that will keep the theorists busy for years! Overall it was an OK story, a little simplistic and stand-alone, and especially after all the stuff about the Crack in earlier episodes, a little incongruous. I'm really liking Amy though. Karen Gilan is really coming into her own, and acting her little socks off. Wonderful stuff. Rory is OK, but improving episode on episode. And the Doctor ... well Matt Smith has nailed the part completely ... now who was that guy before him?
Saturday, May 08, 2010
The Living Dead Returns
Return of the Living Dead III is perhaps the best 'third film in a series' going. Considering that the second one was so bad that I don't even have it in my DVD collection, that's saying something. What is so great about this film, is that it takes an idea promoted in the first film - that of humans being turned into Zombies - and takes it another step forward: if you knew that a gas existed which could bring the dead back to life, and you have a gorgeous teenage girlfriend who breaks her neck in a bike accident ... then wouldn't you be tempted? But then how would your girlfriend feel about that and how would you cope. The film presents this dilemma admirably, and the stand out star is Mindy Clarke (currently apprearing in The Vampire Diaries) as Julie, who goes from horny-go-getter teenaged totty to undead brain-craving monster over the course of the film. She is brilliant. Depicting all the emotions and needs and lusts of her condition along the way. She discovers that pain can dull the hunger that she feels, and so starts to fetishise her body with pins and nails and shards of broken glass, until she ends up looking like some sort of incredible Hellraiser demon, all ripped fishnet stockings, pierced and scarified body, and hungry eyes. That she is a good looking girl certainly works in the favour of the film, and her journey forms the core of the narrative. Along the way we also meet a bunch of hispanics who take offence to the boyfriend, Curt (J Trevor Edmond), after an accidental jostle, and spend the film hunting him down to punish him - somewhat singleminded behaviour perhaps, but in line with what has been depicted in the past about this sort of retribution (I'm thinking of films like Assault on Precinct 13 for example). That all of them are turned into blood-crazed zombies by the end is perhaps just deserts for their actions. However along the way, the innocent also suffer, and a homeless man calling himself 'Riverman' (Basil Wallace) also becomes a victim, despite being about the only sympathetic character that Julie and Curt meet. The film ends about 10 minutes after perhaps it should have, with the army people experimenting on the captured zombies, resulting in Riverman turning out to be the zombie with a heart after all. The creatures are all pretty neat, and I loved the one seen early on which rips its bones out of its flesh in order to get at its victims ... all nice ideas and well presented. So, this one gets a big thumbs up from me, especially for Mindy Clarke's performance, which is truly excellent.
Forest of the Angels
Having now watched the second part of the latest Doctor Who adventure, 'Flesh and Stone', I'm really not sure what to make of it. Don't get me wrong, as usual I loved the experience of watching it. The episode was exciting and visual and had some great moments, but the plot seemed to be for a different story from that of the first episode. Wheras the first took us on a fine journey of discovery, opening up vistas for us: there is one Angel on a spaceship, which then crashes; River Song wants the Doctor to help her out to destroy the Angel along with a band of Religous-themed soldiers (Bishop and the Clerics sounds like a pop group to me); Amy gets herself into a bit of bother with the Angel which has obviously seen The Ring too often and ends up with something in her eye ('There's something on your back!'); and the whole thing ends up with everyone trapped in a vast maze of the dead, surrounded on all sides by statues which are all angels, all slowly coming to life and heading after our trapped heroes. But then part two ... it's a sort of chase through the spaceship which has a rather neat forest in it. Angels chasing the Soldiers ... Amy starts to count down for no real reason - 'To scare her' says Angel Bob ... well that's useful. The Angels are regenerating by absorbing the power from the ship ... but then there's the crack from Amy's room there again, apparently unmaking everything which gets close ... Amy has to shut her eyes and spend the episode wandering the forest and trying to avoid the Angels which assume she can still see ... lots of nice padding, but no real progression. Then there's a pile of stuff about the crack, about an explosion in Amy's time which ripped reality open, River Song being under arrest by the Soldiers for killing someone - and the implication is that maybe she killed the Doctor in her past; the Doctor's future. Kind of interesting and thought provoking if true - River knows how the Doctor dies, and the Doctor knows how River dies ... and they're each living their lives in a reverse order of meeting each other. I was however disappointed at the Doctor losing his temper with River Song. Not a very Doctorly way to behave I felt. It was all very enjoyable visually. The sets were magnificent, and the forest beautiful in a Red Riding Hood fairy tale way. There were some great performances from all the cast - especially impressive was Father Octavian as the believer-soldier who gives up his life without angst and moralising about it - and the Angels were as creepy as ever, though not nearly as goosebump-inducing as the terrifying part-formed creatures in the earlier episode. I am wondering what the title has to do with the episode. 'Flesh and Stone' is a great title, and I wondered earlier if Amy was perhaps going to turn into an Angel, which would have been cool ... but no. Also, why didn't the Angels kill people the same way as before, by sending them into the past? The one that grabbed the Doctor didn't do that, nor did the one which caught Father Octavian. And while we're talking about the Angels, as there were so many of them, how could they move except in total darkness, as another Angel would always be looking at them? One solution out of the dilemma in the corridor near the start would have been for the soldiers to move all the angels into a circle so they were looking at each other ... but no-one onscreen thought of that. And as they all went into the crack at the end, does this mean that the Angels now no longer exist at all, in past, present and future? What does that mean for poor Sally Sparrow? I wasn't convinced by Amy wanting to get intimate with the Doctor at the very end. It was out of place for the episode, and indeed the series, and smacked too much of trying to be shocking perhaps for the sake of it. I had hoped we'd seen the end of the kitchen sink drama approach of previous years, and this element wasn't welcome by me. But there's obviously something going on ... the reason why Amy - indeed everyone - cannot remember recent Dalek and Cyberman invasions ... and what the significance of Amy's wedding day is. Overall the season is shaping up nicely, and tonight we have some Vampires to contend with ...
Friday, May 07, 2010
Return of the Land of the Living Dead
A couple of interesting Zombie films were on the agenda this week ... George Romero's Land of the Dead, and Return of the Living Dead from Dan O'Bannon. Land of the Dead is a peculiar thing, a Zombie movie which doesn't feel like one. It comes over more like some sort of vigilante film than anything else. The world has become infested with Zombies, and they stand around trying to recapture their lost humanity by continuing to do what they did before ... shopping, serving customers and so on ... while in a protected enclave, the last of humanity lives in a high rise development with its own shopping mall and every convenience you could imagine. However the owner of the complex, Kaufman, played by a fairly laid back Dennis Hopper, needs to get food and supplies in from somewhere so he has hired Cholo, played by John Leguizamo, to get the supplies for him. There follows a fairly predictable path, as a special 'supplies truck' is stolen by Cholo when Kaufman cuts him off after he has delivered the goods, and it's up to a small group of humans led by Riley (Simon Baker), and which include reformed prostitute/dancer Slack (Asia Argento), to retrieve the truck ... The film is most interesting for the zombies though, in particular 'Big Daddy' played by Eugene Clark who turns in a movie-stealing performance as a hulking brute who seems to have more intelligence than most - working out how to use a gun and other implements as weapons. The other zombies are mostly defined by their old jobs: a butcher, a cheerleader, a Salvation Army band member; and they follow 'Big Daddy's lead in attacking the complex and killing everyone inside. The film ends with zombies and surviving humans going their own way in a sort of 'live and let live' approach to the menace. I can't say it's a great film, but it has its moments and is never dull. The other film is a favourite of mine and I never get tired of revisiting it. Return of the Living Dead is a straight zombie film which is a sequel of sorts to Night of the Living Dead. Some zombies from that outbreak have been canned up by the Army, and accidentally delivered to a medical supplies centre where they have stayed for years and years before worker Burt (Clu Gallagher) decides to show newby Freddie (Thom Mathews) what is in the basement. Cue the escape of gases which overcome Burt and Freddie, and which bring all the organic objects in the supply warehouse to life. In a great sequence we see a split dog (a dog mounted and cut down the middle, nose to tail, to show all the internal organs) whining, and butterflies flapping in a cabinet. Then a cadaver comes alive and runs amok before it's pinned to the ground with a small pickaxe. This still doesn't kill it and so they then cut it into pieces and take them over to the local morturary run by Ernie (Don Calfa) who destroys them in the incinerator, causing poisoned rain to fall over the nearby cemetary where a group of stoner mates of Freddies are partying. Next thing they know, the dead are coming back to life ... It's a wonderful fun film, and the leads play it straight, the laughs coming out of the situations rather than any overt comedy. I love the Tar Man zombie in the cellar - one of the best zombies ever committed to film - and the idea of the things being able to run and reason is very nicely handled. The 'Send more Paramedics' line deserves especial mention of course, as does the idea of Ernie and Freddie literally turning into zombies as we watch, and without dying in between. The production design by William Stout is exemplary, and the zombies are brilliant as a result. The old woman one which is captured and pinned to the table is a case in point. Her backbone writhing and weeping fluids as she explains that the creatures want brains to eat to ease the pain of being dead is a neat twist, and lends a little sympathy to the creatures. The stoner crew are amazing ... what a bunch. And what on earth Freddy's girlfriend - who is a 'nice girl' - is doing with the likes of Trash (Linnea Quigley) who strips off faster than you can blink and dances on a tomb before being got by the zombies, is anyone's guess. I have to also point out that the two main leads here are called Ernie and Burt ... something of an homage to Sesame Street perhaps? Definitely worth a watch, it's one of the gems of zombie cinema.
Sunday, May 02, 2010
Sometimes films pass you by for no reason at all. Bubba Ho-Tep is one such. I am a massive fan of the Phantasm films and thought that Beastmaster from the same director was pretty cool as well, so I have no idea why I didn't catch up with this gem sooner ... The premise of the film is somewhat strange: Elvis Presley is alive and well and living in a rest home suffering from a fractured pelvis and an infected pecker. Seems that The King swapped places with an Elvis tribute act many years ago, and it was the tribute act (Sebastian Haff) who allegedly died on the loo with cheeseburger in hand, while the real King continued to perform as Haff until he broke his pelvis in a fall from a stage, and went into a coma. Also in the rest home is John F Kennedy - not dead at all from a bullet taken in November 1963, but living as a black man (he was dyed!) with a sack of sand in his skull. There are a series of deaths at the home, and Elvis and JFK realise that there's an ancient Egyptian soul-sucking mummy on the loose, and only they can bring him down before he sucks their souls right out of their own ass-holes! It's a mind bending concept, but the direction and performances are so spot on that it is nothing but enjoyable. Bruce Campbell as Elvis is a revelation. He is spot on as the aged crooner, with his mannerisms and voice down pat. It's a brilliant performance, and a shame that it didn't garner more widespread acclaim at the time. Ossie Davis as JFK is also superb - delivering the revelation that they dyed him black with a straight face. The whole thing is played completely straight and this enhances the film. It's a fun romp through horror, played by folks who know just how to pitch it all. The effects veer from the slightly naff - the scenes with the giant scarab bug reminded me a lot of the similarly naff giant fly sequences from Phantasm - to the superb - Bubba Ho-Tep's appearances in the rest home are creepy and well developed. He's one scary mummy! I really appreciated the conceit of the hierogyphic graffiti on the toilet wall, and also that when Ho-Tep spoke, you saw the pictograms appear from is mouth before they are translated on screen - the images match what is said as well, and these alone are very funny. I'd recommend this film to anyone who hasn't seen it. It contains enough surreal touchpoints for people who are not that into horror, while the frightening elements are enough to keep a horror fan happy as well. Very enjoyable indeed.
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