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 ...

Going Underground

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

Bubba Ho-Tep

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.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Return of the Blinky Angels

This was what we were waiting for! Steven Moffat in full flow with a great little horror tale which just builds and builds. To be honest, this episode wiped the floor with the others. The standard suddenly jumped up a notch, and everyone seemed to be well into their stride with it all. Of course, the Weeping Angels were one of the success stories of earlier years - a genuinely original monster which was creepy and scary into the bargain. I wasn't sure though about bringing River Song back into it. I liked her in the Library story, and of course she was always a cert to return, but it all seemed a little bit like 'the best of Steven Moffat' - all we were missing was a kid wandering about in a gasmask, and a clockwork robot to make it complete. The episode was so full of good bits that it's hard to single one out. I loved the take on The Ring, with the Angel coming for Amy through the TV screen ... the idea of Amy maybe being 'infected' by the Angel was interesting, but perhaps an idea too far as this never happened in 'Blink' - are we to assume that poor Sally and her boyfriend are now 'infected' as well? The sets were amazing, and the filming in Clearwell caves superlative. I loved the way that the story kept unfolding: so it's one angel that's a threat, no, it's hundreds of them ... I even spotted the anomoly before they did on telly, wondering why all the statues had one head when their creators apparently had two. The reviving angels were brilliantly realised. Zombielike in their visage and slow approach, they certainly gave me the willies! I'm not sure what giving the Angels a voice achieved though - other than referencing the Vashta Nerada in 'Silence in the Library', with poor skeletal Dave forever wondering who put out the lights. Why did the Angel want to talk with the Doctor anyway? To scare him? But why? Then there's the whole River Song question ... who is she? Seems the Bishop knows (and what a wonderfully realised idea of having a Bishop with Clerics as the armed forces. Wonderful! So she might be the Doctor's wife? Sam thought that maybe she was actually the Doctor himself ... interesting idea and I'm not 100% certain that this is entirely disproved by whatever evidence we have been presented with so far. Parts of the episode reminded me of the Resident Evil game and film - having to go through a maze to get to a control centre, while being attacked on all sides by a zombie-like enemy. Not a bad thing to copy if that was the idea. But we shall see tonight how it all pans out, and I really hope and pray that it doesn't drop the ball as so many other two parters have done over the last few years. After a cracking first episode, we need a brilliant conclusion! Can't wait to see if it delivers.