Monday 31 October 2022

The Girl With All The Gifts

From Bunkers
To Junkers

The Girl With
All The Gifts

by M. R. Carey
Orbit Books
ISBN: 9780356500157

This is a very short review to highlight the original novel The Girl With All The Gifts, by M. R. Carey. I hesitate to call it the source novel for the amazing movie of the same name, since Carey also wrote the screenplay to that iteration of it while simultaneously working on this novel. So the two parts... novel and movie... grew together as an organic whole, it seems to me. There are some slight differences to the both versions and, the novel certainly is more detailed in the way the story is told, obviously... but the film is very faithful to the novel, as one would expect with such a closely shared conception of ideas.

The Girl With All The Gifts deals with a post apocalyptic Earth where zombies... known to the protagonists in the book as ‘hungries’... and focuses on a group who study/educate/experiment with a group of child hungries who are, to quote a popular childrens song... not like the others. At some point, the cruel and clinical world in which the main hungry Melanie (who is the reader’s POV for they majority of the book), the one we most see the world view from but, not nearly as much as that point of view is dominant in the movie... escapes with her crush of a school teacher Miss Justineau, the cruel Dr. Caldwell and two military men... when the military base they inhabit is breached by ‘junkers’, using hungries almost as a weapon to gain entrance. The book then, like the film, becomes a ‘road’ novel about trying to survive and thrive in what’s left of England, primarily trying to get through London.

The junkers are feral humans uninfected with the fungal virus which has turned most of mankind into eating machines but they weren’t included in the movie version. I actually prefer the cinematic view of the story in terms of this element as it’s simpler and, to my mind, the junkers don’t seem to achieve too much in the story except in terms of just giving the main characters something else to be wary of and think about.

I’m not going to spoil the ending of this novel but it is explained early on about a real life fungal virus which infects insects such as ants called ophiocordyceps unilateralis... which sticks to certain species and then takes control of their brains before making them climb the nearest tree, so a small tree-like substance can grow out of their head to release more spores. It’s a frightening concept and one which is well and truly alive in the world as we know it already. What M. R. Carey has done is to be inspired by this fungus, to some extent.... saying what would happen if something like this was able to infect the human race. Again, without giving too much away, this really made me appreciate the wonderful ending of the movie (which is very much reiterated in the novel) in a whole new light.

Similarly, there’s an early reference to Salvador Dali’s famous painting Autumnal Cannibalism which really pushes the metaphor about the human race, the global chaos ensuing from the initial outbreak and the species’ future trajectory. It’s possibly a bit too ‘on the nose’ right now with the state of global politics both here in the UK and farther afield but I enjoyed the shout out and, yeah, it makes one think about just what the author is trying to say here.

Carey occasionally shifts the viewpoint away from Melanie at certain times but, as I said, it’s primarily about her and the way she experiences the world as a ten year old girl. How long she’s been a ten year old girl, however, is up for debate but she’s certainly, especially in the novel where you are able to share every character’s thoughts, way more intelligent for her years. So she grasps situations very quickly and this makes her a much more dangerous character, in some ways, than the possibility that if she’s not very guarded with her own self awareness, she may accidentally eat the people around her.

And, yeah, this is a short review but I’ve not got too much to say. If you want to know more, I would happily point you to the spoiler free review of the movie I wrote a few years ago (right here) and recommend a read or a watch of this magnificent tale, in any media you wish to visit it in. The Girl With All The Gifts is a truly wonderful and interesting book and, although I was put off by one character in one passage seeming to know something about which she (or any of the others) couldn’t possibly have knowledge of, I found myself fascinated by the use of the child’s viewpoint which the writer throws himself into here. I’ve just discovered that Carey has also written a prequel to this book, The Boy On The Bridge... so that one’s definitely going to have to be a future purchase for sure. Straight onto the Christmas list.

Sunday 30 October 2022

Halloween Frightfest 2022

For Your Fright Only

Halloween Fright Fest 2022
Sat 29th October - Sun 30th October 2022
Comprising Tripping The Dark Fantastic,
Gnomes, Freeze, Mad Heidi, Outpost,
On The Edge
and The Offering

Well, it’s good to be back at the Halloween edition of Fright Fest again. I attended a few films at the regular August edition of Fright Fest but I’ve always had a soft spot for the endurance experience of their Halloween movie marathons and this was my first post-lockdown attendance of that edition (but not post outbreak people, be careful out there). This one began at 10.45am on Saturday morning and finished a bit before 1am the next morning, so almost 15 hours of non-stop movies with just ten to twenty minutes between each Q&A with various of the cast and crew at the end of each movie until the next one. So, yeah, eke out those loo and snack breaks wisely, is always good advice.

This year's was a particularly strong line up and I’m not going to exhaust myself giving long reviews of each one... especially not after that N29 night bus ride a few hours ago. Instead, I’ll just do my usual with a few lines on each one, to give you a flavour of the event and films in question. All of the films shown were either World or UK premieres and so I’m hoping some, if not all, can be revisited on some kind of physical media at a later date. Also... and this has happened before to me with reviews... please be aware that at least a couple of the movies screened are still works in progress and haven’t had their final edit locked in yet.

Tripping The Dark Fantastic
Directed by L. G. White

Tripping The Dark Fantastic is a visual melange of concert footage and documentary talking heads (both contemporary and of their time) of a live show film composer Simon Boswell put on with his band a couple of years ago. His son is also in the band (and an excellent guitar player) and his lead vocalist Lola, who is also his wife, directed, edited and created the various graphic overlays and typographical assaults which are part of the DNA of this movie. It’s good stuff and it was nice hearing some of the stories behind some of Boswell’s key scores over the years, as well as getting to hear their live counterpart versions and hearing others talk about him. Guests in the film included Dario Argento, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Richard Stanley, Iggy Pop and Ewan McGregor.

Directed by Ruwan Suresh Heggelman

This six minute short depicted a woman out jogging in a forest getting attacked and recycled by a bunch of tiny gnomes. Quite gory with no dialogue and, once I’d seen it... it made perfect sense that this was more a calling card of a film (probably to help secure financing) and the director is hard at work on a feature length version... which I suspect will maybe start off with this six minute sequence, or a remake of that.

Directed by Charlie Steeds

Freeze is a tale of a bunch of sailors who travel to somewhere in the Arctic (I think... it was shot on location in Norway), to find a friend of the captain who went missing in the region a couple of years before. I won’t ruin the plot but it does involve fish people and one of the reasons I was looking forward to this one was because it sounded from the synopsis just like H. P. Lovecraft’s At The Mountains Of Madness and, indeed, there are certainly riffs of this which the director was obviously going for as that title is name checked in a line of dialogue... as is Dagon and, well, the ship piloted by the crew is called the Innsmouth so, yeah, of course it was going to be fish people. The film was entertaining and well acted but it seemed to me to be just a little over ambitious for its small budget, truth be told. Felt maybe a little more like 1980s era BBC Doctor Who or Blakes Seven than a horror epic but, still, quite fun.

Mad Heidi
Directed by Johannes Hartmann and Sandro Klopfstein

Mad Heidi was easily the darling of this year’s Fright Fest. Billed as the first Swissploitaiton movie, it took some great exploitation genres of the past such as blacksploitation, women in prison movies, revenge movies and blended it altogether into a cheesy romp of a fun filled time. Loads of action, gore and pinches of nudity. Sights to be seen such as death by cheese anal insertion, death by Toblerone bar and ‘ultra Swiss cheese’ induced zombie super soldiers. I sincerely hope this one gets a Blu Ray release sometime soon... not to be missed and easily one of the most fun filled films I’ve seen at Fright Fest, with some of the best audience reaction. A real crowd pleaser.

Directed by Joe Lo Truglio

Written and directed by comic actor Joe Lo Truglio and starring his wife Beth Dover as the film’s main protagonist, Outpost is an amazing tale about a woman suffering from the aftermath of domestic abuse from her ex-boyfriend. So she takes a volunteer job on the top of a mountain outpost, as a look out spotting forest fires, for the relative isolation the job offers her. But there’s more going on than the audience might at first realise and Dover’s incredible acting, coupled with a long, slow stealth reveal makes for a taut and, in my opinion, very commercially viable movie. I hope this one gets picked up for some proper distribution soon and that the director helms some more movies.

On The Edge
Directed by The Soska Sisters

On The Edge is the very new, surprise lock down film conceived, written, directed by and starring the Soska Sisters with Aramis Sartorio (aka porn star Tommy Pistol, who was truly great in this) as the lead protagonist. Sylvia Soska plays his wife and Jen Soska plays Mistress Satana... a dominatrix he hires for a 36 hour session but, is she merely a dominatrix or a version of the devil? This one had a completely different but equally interesting audience reaction to the earlier Mad Heidi. This one gets very ‘edge play’ intense and the audience were so caught up in it that, when the soundtrack gets low, you could almost have heard a pin drop. It’s got a welcome, underlying message of the curative properties of the BDSM lifestyle (especially within the world of BDSM as a profession and I can certainly relate to this message, although I’m not going to go into why here) but I wondered if certain aspects of the movie might possibly not be totally accepted by the BDSM community at large. In that, the introduction of alcohol, drugs and psychedelic states of mind (depending on your interpretation of certain scenes) might not necessarily be seen to embrace SSC or RACK to an extent.* Either way though, it makes for a great movie and another hit for the incredible Soska twins. I hope this one gets an uncut Blu Ray release for sure.

The Offering
Directed by Oliver Park

The last film of the evening, The Offering, was the one ‘old school’ chiller of the films shown at this year’s Halloween Fright Fest and, yeah, it was a really great entry dealing with a fractured father/son relationship in the Jewish community and a demonic entity intent on taking the unborn child of the son’s wife. This one had some nice scares and a good, creeping atmosphere to it. Also, some really nice special effects when he goat-faced demonic entity made appearances. A good one to end the night on I think.

So that’s me done with this year’s Halloween Fright Fest and, well, a good time was had by all, I suspect. I can’t wait until next year’s two Fright Fest blocks and am hoping to snag a few of these ones on Blu Ray at some point in the future. Thanks muchly to the organisers of the event, who always show the audience a terrific time and help make a caring, sharing community of horror movie fans.

*Safe Sane Consensual and Risk Aware Consensual Kink ways of playing.

Wednesday 26 October 2022

Spook Warfare

Kappa-nese Action

Spook Warfare
aka Yōkai daisensô
aka The Great Yōkai War
Japan 1968 Directed by Yoshiyuki Kuroda
Daiei Blu Ray Zone B
From Arrow’s Yōkai Monster Collection Blu Ray set

Spook Warfare, also known as The Great Yōkai War... which is also the name of the partial reboot of this movie made decades later... is the second film of the original Yōkai monsters trilogy, again from 1968 but with a different director. And it’s a very different feel to the first movie in that a) it’s much more focused as one story, rather than two different character factions trying to solve the same problem, as in the first film and b) it feels much more comical in its execution. This second thing is interesting because, like a few of the Godzilla films where child heroes are pitched in with magazines showing ‘page 3 girls’, the Yōkai monsters films seemed to be perceived by a modern Western audience, from what I can make out, as children’s films. Well, I don’t know about that...

Yes, the monsters in this are much more friendly and helpful to the innocent, human victims in the movie but, there’s quite a bit of eye gouging and splashes of blood thrown about in this one which logically tells me that the ‘child-friendly’ angle is a bit of a misconception. Indeed, the UK release of this one by Arrow, as part of their four film Blu Ray Yōkai Monster Collection, carries a 15 rating. So I feel somewhat confused that a modern reviewer on the IMDB (no, I couldn’t bring myself to read the whole review... and I generally don’t read other people’s reviews of a movie before writing my own for fear of being somehow ‘infected’ with their words and viewpoint, anyway) starts off the review saying that he is not the target audience, these are kids films.

Hey ho... anyway, this does have a somewhat lighter tone than the previous film and starts off when two archaeologists accidentally unleash an Ancient Babylonian demon, Daimon, who quickly makes his way to Edo Period Japan and bites a previously benevolent magistrate on the neck like a vampire. What this basically does is inject the magistrate with the demon, who carries on disguised as the magistrate.. but as the totally bad guy version of him (we know he’s bad straight away when he slices the family dog up with his samurai sword). He basically drinks the blood of his bewildered servants to keep himself going and also injects clone demons of himself, with equal powers, into some of them.

However a kappa, water spirit (not looking completely unlike the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles of a couple of decades later) who haunts the magistrates grounds, is ejected by the demon so he goes into the forest and rounds up as many of his Yōkai friends as he can to attack the demon. Well they take a couple of goes at it but, after most of them are accidentally trapped inside a bottle by a magical inscription, they call on even more Japanese apparitions to help them, when they are eventually freed. And they help the poor humans to defeat the Babylonian demon and his clones because, as they point out, they don’t want a foreign demon running around and causing evil chaos as it would give Japanese apparitions a bad name.

Many of the Yōkai monsters are back from the first film, including two of my favourites the Rokurokubi (telescopic neck woman) and Karakasa Obake (the playful, hopping on one leg, tongue dangling umbrella demon). Alas, the big, bear cyclops Tsuchikorobi is not in this one but, also absent is Kuchisake-onna, the giant headed incarnation of the slit-faced woman. I can see why she’s absent in this one though since, as I said, the film is much lighter and comedic tonally, so she might have been a little too sinister to include this time around.

There are no real striking shot compositions that I can particularly recall standing out but there is some nice, hand held and moving camera stuff when the buddhist monk who is trying to expel Daimon is shot in a much more dynamic fashion and lit with reds and oranges, presumably to add visual interest to what would be, otherwise, a pretty boring instance of a guy sitting down and chanting.

The film flows along in a much more coherent fashion that the previous entry in the series and you never once feel like the elements of this story could ever have been transposed with a standard chambara of the time, which was a problem with the previous one, which might just as well have been labelled Zatoichi VS The Demon or Sleepy Eyes Of Death Meets The Yōkai.

One of the highlights of this one would be a moment when, after Rokurokubi uses her growing neck to surround Daimon like a boa constrictor, I thought to myself, careful lady, he’ll tie a knot in your neck if you’re not careful. Sure enough, he does just this! Secondly, I finally got to see a real use for the Karakasa Obake, as a Yōkai new to this film (and who looks startlingly similar to some early sketches of the design for Yoda when The Empire Strikes Back was being made, if I’m not much mistaken) uses him as a proper, expanded umbrella to float up to the head of the giant version of Daimon so it can get close enough to stab him in the eye.

I have to say that, although this is not as quirky, in some ways, as the first film 100 Monsters (reviewed by me here) I think that overall I prefer this movie, although the constant engagement of the various Yōkai and, indeed, having them as the main, driving force of the movie tends to make them less special than when they were used more sparingly.

If you’re like me then this kind of cinematic genre is unmissable and I’d certainly recommend Spook Warfare to any scholar of 1960s Japanese cinema. It’s pretty entertaining and you even, thanks to Kappa, begin to feel almost emotionally attached to the various Yōkai and their plight. Once again, thanks to Arrow for putting out such a wonderful boxed edition of these movies.

Monday 24 October 2022

Doctor Who - The Power Of The Doctor


Doctor Who
The Power Of The Doctor

Airdate: 23rd October 2022

Warning: All the spoilers.

Well this one was a bit hit and miss.

I’ll start off by saying I quite enjoyed the new Doctor Who special The Power Of The Doctor (more so than anyone else in the house, that’s for sure) and thought it was fast paced and fairly entertaining for a feature length episode of the series. I don’t think it was too hard to understand in terms of story... some people seem a bit stumped by it. I think a lot of the stuff which people are asking questions about at the moment are dead ends rather than loose ends in the plot... they weren’t supposed to be that clever and you should just take things like the ‘significance’ of the missing paintings (there isn’t much, it would seem) at face value.

Now, a friend of mine told me today, an hour or so before I watched it, that none of the dangling plot ends everything has been building up to get resolved or answered in any way. And I found that hard to believe but, it’s true. Following on from the overreaching story arc from a couple of seasons ago... we still don’t know much about the Timeless Child and why The Master went a bit mad and burned down Gallifrey, it seems to me. Hints and clues were pointing to the fact that maybe The Master was just a different life-cycle identity of The Doctor, memory blocked versions of each other but... I guess we’ll never know now. That part of the story seems to have been forgotten and, I suspect, be dropped completely from future stories (as many unanswered plot threads have been over the last ten or more years of the show).

Similarly... the pregnant mother reunited with the father of her child from Flux was somehow highlighted in a way that made me assume we’d find out the child inside her womb was The Doctor (and by extension, The Master, if my theory was correct) but, yeah, even though her other half is present in this adventure, it’s not even mentioned. So... no, none of it really tied up anything, it has to be said and, the emotional sub plot of the ‘burgeoning romance’ of The Doctor (played brilliantly again by Jodie Whittaker) and Yas (played wonderfully by Mandip Gill) wasn’t even tackled at all.

But the story, such as it was, kept moving a pace and never really got boring... so there’s that.

There were some nice, if corny shout back jokes such as the Master/Doctor forced regeneration incarnation wearing Sylvester McCoy’s jumper (still got mine), Peter Davison’s stick of celery, Tom Baker’s scarf and playing Patrick Troughton’s recorder. And... well... The Master Dalek Plan anyone? Long term watchers of the show like myself may have chuckled lightly at that one, I guess (yeah, okay, so maybe I did, briefly).

And there were some nice surprises in it too. I mean, we knew from the trailers that Janet Fielding was back as fourth/fifth Doctor companion Tegan Jovanka and seventh Doctor companion Sophie Aldred was back as Ace and... they did very nicely back in their respective roles, for sure. It was great seeing them again. But there were more surprises too. John Bishop’s companion Dan’s quick exit from the show early on was unexpected, for sure. And... not so much surprises... were the return of David Bradley as the first Doctor (reprising his recreated role of William Hartnell’s original take on the Timelord), Peter Davison as the fifth Doctor, Colin Baker as the sixth Doctor, Sylvester McCoy as the seventh Doctor and Paul McGann as the eighth Doctor. Now, I know why they were all showing their age... but that wouldn’t happen to the Doctor since he doesn’t age, he regenerates. I was surprised they didn’t CGI them as younger versions of themselves, since they were a kind of post-regeneration guardian/illusion (take your pick).

More interesting surprises were Bradley Walsh as Jaz co-companion Graham, Katy Manning as third Doctor companion Jo Grant, Bonnie Langford as sixth/seventh Doctor companion Melanie Bush and William Russell as first Doctor companion Ian Chesterton... although I was disappointed as to how brief those last three companion cameos were.

The one thing which didn’t surprise me, however, was who Jodie Whittaker regenerated into at the end of the episode. We’ve been hearing David Tennant would be returning to the role in some capacity and a few weeks ago I said to at least one friend that I didn’t think Jodie would be regenerating into the new Doctor just yet. Either she would perish off screen or possibly regenerate back into Tennant and, well, at least one of those two theories was proven right I guess. So, yeah, we have a very bemused Doctor at the end of the story, wondering just why she has changed back into the tenth Doctor (or eleventh if you rightly count The War Doctor as number ten). Even so, just because I was expecting it, I wasn’t disappointed by it... it was kind of what I was hoping for, to be honest.

Another big surprise is that the episode didn’t look dirt cheap. The effects work was quite good with some interesting shots and visual compositions. The acting from everyone was superb. Yeah, the script was weak and perhaps Sacha Dhawan’s version of The Master was a little over the top and irritating but, that’s fine, he’s the villain. He’s supposed to be irritating. But Jodie really shone in the role again and I was grateful that she went out in a blaze of glory, so to speak.

That being said, I did find one shot in the thing very strange. When Yas picks up The Doctor’s damaged body, we get a quick shot of the ground where she had fallen. Well... there seems to be nothing extraordinary about the ground and my guess is it was originally supposed to have shown some CGI blood there, to show audiences the seriousness of The Doctor’s wounds. Instead, perhaps it was deemed there would be no pool of blood in a family show and so the blood was either removed or not added. I’m just guessing here but, either way, it seems strange to have a shot covering a small area of ground for a second or two, for sure.

Another thing that niggled was...  if The Master inhabiting the body of The Doctor transplanted his personality and attitude into The Doctor, instead of triggering a new personality, then does that mean that the forced regeneration from the second to the third Doctor at the end of The War Games also meant The Doctor’s personality was erased or sublimated? I wish the writers, especially when they are the show runners, would be more careful when it comes to putting new angles on Timelord history, to be honest.

And that’s me pretty much done with The Power Of The Doctor. It’s not the best swan song for an incarnation of The Doctor but it’s not the worst either. Overall, I really hated the Chibnall era of Doctor Who (but loved Jodie Whittaker in the role) and, although the scripts were better, I didn’t have much love for the Moffat era either. I really enjoyed the Russel T. Davies era on the show but, now that he’s come back and hinted at what the future has in store for the character, I can’t say I’m looking forward to his return either, if I’m being honest. In fact, I suspect that he’s only been brought back to stabilise the show and I reckon if he hadn’t taken the job to come back and rescue it, the show might have been cancelled at the end of Chibnall’s run. Still, as ever, we shall see what we shall see when The Doctor returns for his sixtieth anniversary show in November of 2023. Until then, I shall be slowly working my way through those Blu Ray legacy sets so... plenty more classic Doctor Who reviews will be going up before then.

Sunday 23 October 2022


Nomen Culture

USA 1983
Directed by Michael Dugan
Vinegar Syndrome Blu Ray Zone Zero

Back in the mid to late 1980s I picked up some very cheap VHS tapes while on holiday. You know the kind... I think they were ‘straight to video’ releases and they had distinctive, ‘cardboard only’ slipcases surrounding the tape. They could be had for pretty much the price of a few sticks of seaside rock and, one of the two titles I bought was Mausoleum, in what would have been a pan and scan format I would imagine. I say imagine because I never quite got around to watching it and it’s sat on a shelf, hidden away somewhere (I suspect it must be one of the tapes I kept because the slipcovers on those things were more like the one’s I’d seen people buying from America and not the standard, budget price style clamshells we usually bought our tapes in, in the UK).

Then, when I was listening to my first and, to date, only podcast from Shockwaves (I was going to download the whole lot but couldn’t find them all and then read why they were suddenly not doing them anymore*), in a special Severin edition, they briefly mentioned that Vinegar Syndrome had put out Mausoleum. So I waited patiently for the next Vinegar Syndrome sale (their half way to Black Friday sale, as it turns out) and ordered this along with another couple of their Blu Ray restorations.

So, yeah, I’ve waited well over three decades before finally getting to see it but at least I now was able to view it in a nice transfer and in its original aspect ratio. And, yeah, it really is that real McCoy of 1980s, consequence free horror movies that were churned out a lot those days, shot on a very cheap budget which, when you look at a lot of the ‘straight to DVD or stream’ micro budgeted films these days, was still far superior to what we have now.

After some nice credits using backdrops of the cemetery that houses the Mausoleum of the title, the film starts off with main protagonist/antagonist Susan, played initially in the opening scenes by Julie Christy Murray. She is attending the funeral of her mother and doesn’t want to go home with her aunt, she’d rather stay with her buried mum. She does a runner and the fluid camerawork following her soon gets into spooky, dutch angles as a mist appears and Susan hears her name being called. She is ‘siren called’ to her family mausoleum and the gate pops its explosive bolts, allowing her entry into the main tomb room, her face bathed in Bava-esque, bright green lighting. When a stranger goes in and tries to help her, a shadow in the tomb uses psychic powers on him. He runs outside and his brain explodes out of the top of his head. As Susan approaches the tomb it slides open and something demonic is unleashed. One can’t help feel that something is about to take control of her and, being as her family name is Nomed, you also can’t help but wonder when someone in her family is going to realise that their family name read backwards could inevitably spell trouble for them... but it turns out nobody in this movie is that smart, even by the end of the picture (and yeah, for the kind soul who wrote it in the ‘spoiler section’ of the IMDB trivia for this film... if you really think the audience isn’t going to cotton onto this within five minutes of the start of the picture, then you must think everyone in the audience is as severely mentally challenged as the characters in this movie).

And then, one quick edit and young Susan has grown up and is now played by former Playboy bunny Bobbie Bresee, an early to mid 1980s scream queen who really should have gotten a lot more parts than came her way, as far as I’m concerned. Apparently, she learned her demonic voice from Mercedes McCambridge (who voiced Linda Blair’s demon in The Exorcist) while shooting an episode of Charlie’s Angels with her. Susan is successfully married and her husband is played by former, four year old ‘World's Youngest Ordained Minister’ Marjoe Gortner, who you may remember as Caroline Munro’s companion in Star Crash (reviewed here).

And, with the aid of his psychiatrist friend Dr. Simon Andrews (played by Norman Burton, who was Diana Prince’s short lived boss at the start of the second series of Wonder Woman... or first series of The New Adventures Of Wonder Woman, as it technically was), they try to figure out why Susan’s been acting a bit weird of late. And that’s just the stuff they know about and it doesn’t include the strange interludes that the audience is privy to... such as seducing the gardener and having sex with him before killing him. Or when she levitates her aunt above the staircase and uses her demonic mind powers and glowing green eyes to pop her aunts rib cage out of her chest (the contact lenses Bresee had to wear damaged her eyes and made her blind for a while, a state in which she had to shoot her opening scenes). Or the plant delivery guy who she seduces into the house so she can make his head bleed all over before popping out his eye lid.

However, Simon can’t help but notice, when he uses hypnotic regression on her, that there’s a green eyed demon living inside her body and so he has to seek help from the Nomed Family journal about how to stop Susan’s demonship. I’m pretty sure her husband also cottons onto her split personality, however, when she similarly explodes open his rib cage and leaves him to bleed out in the bathtub. It’s all down to Simon to put a stop to her terrifying reign. Does he succeed? Well, I’m not saying because, you know, you might want to watch it.

The film is not particularly astounding in its use of cinematography but it certainly tries its best to be inventive and mostly its the budget which lets it down a little, I think. All I can say though is... well... I thoroughly enjoyed it. This was the kind of 1980s trash movie making which I’d forgotten all about and which you just don’t get these days. It’s fast paced, has a certain number of kills and nude scenes at the kind of frequency which would have kept even Roger Corman happy and... yeah... the no consequence, total acceptance of sudden supernatural forces at work with no real time to stop and contemplate the gravity of the situation for any of the characters.

And that’s really all I have to say on this one. The Vinegar Syndrome restoration job is about as good as you’re ever likely to see on a movie of this nature and they’re fast becoming one of my all time favourite labels... a pity US shipping to the UK is so expensive these days. Mausoleum gave me absolutely no surprises and it was everything I was expecting it to be... and it somehow hit the right spot with me for sure. Definitely the kind of film I’d screen in an all night horror marathon with a bunch of friends and as entertaining as I could hope for. Not something I’d recommend to everyone but if you have a penchant for low budget, 1980s horror films with a supernatural element (rather than one of those awful US slashers) then Mausoleum is a solid watch, for sure. Give this one some consideration. 

*I've now found them, thanks.

Tuesday 18 October 2022

100 Monsters

Yōkai In The Pack

100 Monsters
aka Yōkai hyaku monogatari
Japan 1968 Directed by Kimiyoshi Yasuda
Daiei Blu Ray Zone B
From Arrow’s Yōkai Monster
Collection Blu Ray set

100 Monsters is the first of a trilogy of films which are included as the first three films in Arrow’s recent, four movie Blu Ray set, the Yōkai Monster Collection. The set also includes the first of Takashi Miike’s two Yōkai Monster movies (I believe the second one premiered in Japan sometime in 2021). I’ve been wanting to see these for a while and, well, I won’t go into the story of how a relatively ‘easy to purchase’ new Ltd edition was a bit of a chore to get a hold of but, thanks to Arrow for finally putting these things out (I hope they’ll consider putting the Crimson Bat series of films out there at some point too... I really want to see them).

According to that modern font of all knowledge... Wikipedia (whether it’s accurate information or not)... the term Yōkai comes from various kanji which mean, between them, such terms as ‘attractive; calamity’ and ‘apparition; mystery; suspicious’. Which sums the spirit of this first film up as nicely as writer Kim Newman does on the accompanying featurette on the Yōkai, where he prefers the broader, catch all term of Monsters as a collective companion name as the various spirits, ancient advertising creatures and personifications of places or inanimate objects can be easily dealt with in such a manner.

The film itself is... well it’s certainly charming but it’s also quite strange. Not because of the off kilter, surrealistic inventiveness of the creatures themselves (reintroduced into Japanese culture from stories passed on down the years to a successful and popular manga writer) but because of the way the film seems to take a standard, corrupt official exploiting the downtrodden ‘little people’ for his own profit and gain cliché of a story... and then kind of grafting on the aforementioned Yōkai as the downfall of all the corrupt plans, bringing their own brand of retribution.

So, very briefly, the village shrine and tenement building is about to be torn down by the local corrupt official with the support of his equally treacherous and rich friends. To get what he wants, he entraps the local landlord and even, eventually, ends up murdering him when he finds he has the means to buy himself back out of an arrangement whereby the tenement would be demolished... also nefariously plotting to take the landlord’s daughter as his own slave in the process. However, a government spy is causing hell for him to stop this. Parallel to this, some of the villagers are from the society of 100 Monsters, who tell stories of their own first and second hand experiences with Yōkai and who burn out a candle in ritual to ensure the spirit does not visit them after the telling of the story. Their leader tells the stories to the bad guys at a ‘pay off’ party for the villanous central deed but none of the bad guys can be bothered to participate in the ‘cleansing ritual’ afterwards. Thus, the various Yōkai manifestations in the film come after the villains to thwart their plans and reward them with their just and sometimes terminal deserts.

So, yeah, it’s the kind of plot you would see in, say, a regularly Zatoichi movie (and director Kimiyoshi Yasuda was no stranger to the Zatoichi movies, having directed several of them and even some of the Zatoichi TV series episodes)... but with added monsters/vengeful spirits grafted onto the story where the lone avenger of a movie of this type would traditionally take on all the bad guys and, more often than not, beat them on their own turf. There is, indeed, such a character in this, the government spy... but his resistance plot as he tries to help the surviving tenants is kept completely separate from the Yōkai and the two factions fighting off the evil oppressors are kept completely oblivious to the existence of the other.... with the ‘good humans’ benefitting from the Yōkai justice when everything just seems to fall apart for the villains of the piece.

The strength and, indeed, charm, of the film is definitely the various shapes and forms that the Yōkai monsters take. I had four favourites from this one. Firstly, the giant head manifestation of the Kuchisake-onna or Slit Mouthed Woman (think, giant Black Dahlia head lady, maybe?) who is very much a malevolent spirit and who seems to be making herself known again in various manifestations in the ‘J-Horror’ scene in recent years (I need to get into those movies... if I can find any).

Another great one is the Rokurokubi, who is a lady with a kind of telescopic, Mr. Fantastic style neck, who looks truly fiendish as her snake like neck with her head on the end terrorises those humans who have an encounter with her. Thirdly, the Tsuchikorobi, who is basically like a big hairy bigfoot cyclops creature who can ‘tractor beam’ a person into it’s paws by the use of some kind of mental telepathy.

An fourthly, my absolute favourite and almost a comic relief monster... the Karakasa Obake, who is basically an umbrella demon with a single eye and a big, lolly licker of a tongue that dances about on one leg and befriends the ‘mentally challenged’ young son of the prime bad guy. I’m looking forward to seeing more of him in the next one and his first appearance in this is quite startling... especially for a 1968 movie. The young man is painting line drawings of him all over some screens and one of them comes to animated life, jumping down and dancing around as a line drawing before switching to a more realistic puppet version of the character, while Chumei Watanabe’s comical scoring for this creature plays addictively in the background as it dances around (Watanabe is still composing scores for films, it seems, despite being born in 1925).

Asides from this, the film is fairly well made with the director and cinematographer making great use of blocked areas thrown up by the verticals... which can be a common but effective choice in Japanese films set in the Edo period, where the paper screen walls often throw up big, rectangular blocks which can be used to delineate the space on screen. Indeed, there is some use of dead areas of close ups of wall screens in certain places where the screen is pulled open to show a slit of a vertical rectangle with one or other character’s head in close up peering through. This is an aesthetic which actually has a great narrative pay off later in the film, when the bad guy slides open a screen door to be confronted with a giant head manifestation of the slit-mouther woman taking up the whole area beyond the screens.

And that’s me done with this one but, thanks to Arrow’s new limited edition set, I’m just getting started on the Yōkai Monsters, I’m glad to say. 100 Monsters is a nice introduction to some of the monstrous characters but, looking at the accompanying documentary, there’s a lot more good stuff to come so, yeah, I’ll get back to you very soon with the review of the next one in the series, for sure.

Monday 17 October 2022

Ms. Marvel

Candid Kamala

Ms. Marvel
USA June - July 2022
Six episodes

Okay, so Ms. Marvel is yet another of these Disney Marvel TV shows, which I am really finding a bit hit and miss but, really not as miss as the Star Wars shows they are really screwing up with. And, I’m happy to report, that Ms. Marvel, both the show and the character, are a delightful addition to the current crop of Marvel TV shows... definitely one of the better ones they’ve produced so far, for sure.

Now, this is not the Ms. Marvel I know... or knew. I remember when Ms. Marvel was announced as a new comic book when I was a kid... it was around the same time, or maybe just before, they announced the Spider-Woman comic and it seemed like a big thing for Marvel to be trying to create more female super-hero characters, back in the late 1970s. The fact that it was considered by many to be a specific attempt to reach a female target audience (hey... anyone remember Dazzler?) really says much about the times we were living in those days. And there were already plenty of female superheroes and villains around by then anyway, put out by most of the main comic book companies but, still, it seemed like a very definite audience grab at the time. However, Ms. Marvel in those days was the version of her known as Carol Danvers, who many people will know got promoted to being yet another incarnation of Captain Marvel, a little ahead of when her movie came out (reviewed by me here). So this show isn’t based on that Ms. Marvel.

This one is actually based on the fourth character to inherit the mantle of Ms. Marvel in the comics, namely Kamala Khan, played here by Iman Vellani (I’ll get back to this actress in a minute). This makes her, as the Marvel comics, the first Muslim superhero. And, although the general storyline is a little weak in places... which I kinda expect with ‘origin’ stories anyway (that’s why I always wish film and TV franchises wouldn’t start off with such a thing)... it’s actually got a lot going for it.

For a start, it’s very colourful throughout... the art department do some great stuff here. Also, it’s got a very fresh feeling, almost 1960s temperament to it in terms of using visual expressionism and experimentation to elabourate on some of the action... such as texts from one character to another appearing as writing, written in various scripts on various objects on a set... or drawings or graffiti in the background coming to life in animated form to help illustrate the points being put forward by somebody, to add weight to their words. It’s a nice approach and it helps the story, such as it is, zip along at a mostly hasty pace, which keeps thing fresh and, hooray, never as boring as certain other of the Marvel shows at certain points.

And the big and completely unexpected trump card, at least as far as I was concerned, is Marvel’s secret weapon here... the actress playing the main lead, aka Iman Vellani. I say surprising because this is her first ever role and, frankly, there’s no messing here, she knocks it out of the park right from the word go with her truly bubbly personality and extremely expressive eyes. For a 20 year old actress in her first part, let alone such a big part, she really does do wonders and I’m now looking forward to her teaming up with Carol Danver’s Captain Marvel in next year’s feature film The Marvels, for sure (with that in mind, make sure you stick around for the mid end credits scene at the end of the last episode here, if you want to see Brie Larson back in action). This actress needs more roles offered to her fast, in my opinion.

I do have a couple of things which disappointed a little so, I guess I might as well mention them. Okay, so yay for her being the first Muslim superhero represented on screen and all that but the whole religion of the character seems to be highlighted at every opportunity. I don’t see that many Christian or Catholic (for example) movies or shows doing that unless they are deliberately meant to be highlighting that element of the story. I’ve got nothing against it but it does seem rather rammed down everyone’s throats here a little, I thought.

Secondly, she has a support group, all of whom know who she is and they’re ready to help her. I’ve noticed that a lot of superhero shows over the past ten years or so have gone down this route and, honestly, why can’t we go back to having a lone superhero just doing her/his own thing rather than all the ‘guy in the chair’ characters that seem to be everywhere nowadays. Even Superman somehow has Lois Lane in on the act and helping out lately... what the heck? It just seems a little bit of an overdone cliché at this point, to be honest but, hey, them’s the breaks I guess.

All in all though, I thought Ms. Marvel was one of the more fun and refreshing shows put out by ‘Disney branded Marvel’ and I’m looking forward to hopefully seeing the absolutely ‘marvel-lous’ Iman Vellani strutting her stuff on the big screen MCU sometime soon. I’m not quite sure why this particular show has got lower ratings and a negative reputation compared to the others but... don’t believe it! This show is well worth a watch. More like this please.

Sunday 16 October 2022

You Won't Be Alone

The Witches
Of Eat, Spit

You Won't Be Alone
United Kingdom/Serbia/Australia 2022
Directed by Goran Stolevski
Focus Features

Warning: Some slight spoilerage.

You Won’t Be Alone received it’s official UK premiere at this years London Film Festival. It’s a really nice slice of folk horror set in Macedonia in the 19th Century and it would have made a nice addition to Severin’s All The Haunts Be Ours box set, it has to be said. The film stars many great actresses such as Alice Englert (from Ginger And Rosa, reviewed here), Anamaria Marinca, Sara Klimoska with, due to the constantly shifting nature of identity in the story, some of them taking on dual roles, such as the absolutely marvellous Noomi Rapace, who puts in an extra special turn here... I’ll get to her in a minute.

The film tells of a witch living near a small farming community, who comes to claim a mother’s daughter on pretty much the day she is born. The mother strikes a bargain that she will only give her offspring up to live with the witch when she reaches 16 and the witch marks her, removing her power of speech. The mother tries to cheat the witch by hiding her daughter in a sacred cave, isolated from her community, for the next 16 years but, somewhat predictably, the witch still claims her prize and uses her last ‘witch spit’ to seal a wound she gives the girl, bestowing special witchy powers on her, also. However, her ‘apprentice’ angers her and she abandons her to life among the normal humans and watches from the wings, waiting to see how long it will take before the humans will rip her apart. And that’s all I’m telling you of the story... you’ll have to see how the pair of witches fair.

The film starts very strongly, in an unusual 1.44:1 aspect ratio, with a shot of a cat eating something in the foreground of a beautiful landscape, before we suddenly take the cats eye view for the camera as she rushes to a hovel where the new child is living... jumping back into a third person view. I was somewhat puzzled by this choice at first (and it’s not the only time the camera does this) but since the film is put together using occasional, still and static shots interspersed into sections with both fluid camerawork and almost brutal, in your face, hand held camera stuff... it doesn’t feel so out of place as to knock you out of the story. And it makes more sense when you realise it’s the form a witch is taking in certain scenes and used to indicate that in a visual manner without showing the witch transforming... a tactic used throughout the length of the movie although, in one shot where a witch transforms into a dog, it’s done in camera and looks amazing. It also reminded me of similar cat POV style shots used in another classic tale involving witches potions... Morgiana (reviewed here).

There’s a brilliant moment early in the film where you see just how the young girl with newly bestowed powers transforms, which is quite eerie and striking... pulling out the internal organs of someone (or something in the case of the animals) she has just killed, ripping a hole out of her torso and then shoving the organs into her own body to essentially turn into a doppelganger of that person. The film then proceeds to follow the girl as she takes on new identities throughout the movie... man, woman and animal... in order to silently hoodwink the humans around her and try to fit in. So the film becomes almost a ‘fish out of water’ comedy in some ways... but with no humour in it, just stripped back to the point where the lack of fitting in is seen as some kind of unhinged mental condition on occasion.

Which brings me to the wonderful Noomi Rapace who, in the role of a young mother killed and replaced by the girl, tries to fit in with the community in such ways that actually give the film a sense of lurking dread and strangeness. There’s one sequence in particular where she’s imitating the women-folk of the community by laughing joyously on cue and then dropping back to a straight, emotionless face before attempting it again a number of times, which really makes the blood grow cold.

All this plus the poetic voice over narrative of the young witch, combined with some heavy and unhurried musical statements with long pauses between lines, makes for a really nice combination and singles You Won’t Be Alone out as one of the more interesting and rewarding examples of folk horror cinema for a while. It’s a slow burn of a feature with some amazing, stand out moments which punctuate the pacing and it kind of gets under your skin as you watch. Definitely a strong recommendation from me and I’d urge fans of unusual cinema to check this one out as soon as the opportunity arises.

Tuesday 11 October 2022

Emily The Criminal

Shade N’ Fraud

Emily The Criminal
USA 2022
Directed by John Patton Ford
Low Spark Films

Warning: Some small spoilers contained herein.

Okay, this one’s going to be a fairly short review, I think... but hopefully a sweet one. I’ve only seen three movies with Aubrey Plaza before this one, which played as part of this year’s London Film Festival... Scott Pilgrim Versus The World (which I honestly don’t remember her being in... I need to take another look at that one, I guess... reviewed here), Ned Rifle (by the great Hal Hartley, playing a key character mentioned in the first film of his Henry Fool trilogy but who we finally get to see in that third installment, reviewed here) and Ingrid Goes West (reviewed here). So, yeah, I don’t know her from much but she’s pretty amazing. Not just in terms of being a great actress with a real grasp of comedy but also because she has a wonderfully expressive face that sticks in the mind. So, if she’s involved in a film project and I’m actually fortunate to see it advertised, I’ll gravitate to it at some point.

Her newish film where she plays the title role, Emily The Criminal, is not a comic movie in the slightest... but she’s still knocking it out of the park with this one. Here, Aubrey plays the titular Emily, trapped in a system whereby she can’t get out of debt for her student loan and with a prior conviction for aggravated assault involving an ex-boyfriend, which makes it very difficult for her to get anything more than a very basic food delivery job. So, sunk in poverty, a colleague does her a favour by giving her a number and she becomes a ‘dummy shopper’. I’d not heard of the term before but basically she gets involved in a small gang working a credit card fraud racket, where she and a few others buy expensive goods on newly forged credit cards with stolen information and then bring it back to the guy running the operation, for a small amount of cash but which is quite a lot compared to what she’s normally earning. The first job gets her $200 and then the second, bigger job, gets her $2000... and so it goes.

Now, the guy running this particular scam, along with his brother, is called Youcef played, again quite brilliantly, by Theo Rossi. Emily and Youcef bond and then, before they end up romantically involved, just to complicate things... Youcef shows her how to run her own credit card scam. Shenanigans occur and things get tough and fairly gritty. As I said, this is Plaza playing it totally straight and also playing a very interesting character who, whenever she’s put in a position where she’s vulnerable, overcomes her fears on the turn of a dime and confronts them... whether that’s armed with a pepper spray, a taser or even a Stanley knife.

And that’s as much as I’m saying about the plot but, the film is fraught with peril (to quote a Scorcese character) and the writer/director really pours on the suspense by using lots of handheld camera during a lot of the sequences, which both gives it a kind of fly on the wall, voyeuristic, documentary feel but also indicates the chaos of Emily’s world and kind of, at least I thought, gives us a metaphorical glimpse of that character’s inner turmoil.

It’s also a film which mixes and matches tonal shifts from the odd, beautiful moments of life to the really horrendous parts... but, because of the chaotic style imparted by the way the movie is shot and edited... it really gets away with mixing all those clashing moods together quite smartly. Which in itself adds layers to the emotional complexity of the piece. This is a very simple set up and follow through, not complicated in any way, so the building tensions are created by both the fantastic performances (which I’m definitely used to from Plaza) and the way in which the footage is presented.

And that’s really me done on this one already... I did say it was going to be a short one this time. Emily The Criminal is suspenseful, down to Earth and finishes at a place which just wouldn’t have been allowed as a story outcome in a film released, say, sixty years ago, for sure. And the fact that you somehow sympathise mainly with a character who, perhaps, doesn’t make the best or most moral choices but shows a steely determination to get to where she needs to be, puts you in a position to accept the ending of the movie a little better. So, yeah... Plaza, Rossi and John Patton Ford all do a great job here and this is one I’ll definitely recommend to people, for sure.

Monday 10 October 2022

Scarred For Life Volume One - The 1970s

Charley Says...

Scarred For Life
Volume One - The 1970s

by Stephen Brotherstone & Dave Lawrence
Lonely Water Books
ISBN: Not listed

Subtitled Growing Up In The Dark Side Of The Decade... as it is, Scarred For Life Volume One: The 1970s is a fun, fond and infectious look at a lot of the really dark stuff which was either aimed at or consumed by kids growing up in that turbulent decade. Stuff which various companies and manufacturers just wouldn’t get away with in these days of bizarrely woke tolerances and youngsters who are, as one of the writers comments, wrapped in cotton wool. For anyone who was lucky to grow up in this decade (I was born in 1968 so am certainly able to appreciate most of the stuff covered by this tome), it’s a real rush of nostalgia accompanied by, in some cases (and certainly in terms of at least one of the authors of this tome... who seemed to me perhaps a little over sensitive as a child, perhaps), a few nightmarish moments that some of us would maybe like to not have wrenched back into the light of day after our defensive minds had promptly buried them away.

At 740 pages of text that must be set in something less than an 8pt font, it’s certainly value for money. I do have a few design issues with the volume and, I’ll surely bring those up later (not my job to sugar coat some of the obvious problems) but, in all honesty, those niggles with the text pale into insignificance when faced with the absolute brilliance of the majority of the content and, as importantly for a book like this, the fantastic, conversational writing style employed to talk about these subjects here.

So what does the book cover? Well everything and anything about seventies culture and it’s a diverse bag. Following a guest introduction, we have a prologue looking at the 1960s, attempting to explain how that decade ushered in the attitudes and values of the 1970s. Then the book is split into various topics, all split into further subsections of specific sections dealing with examples of these. For instance, the first 300 plus pages are devoted to TV shows and, like everything else in the book, this will bring back a lot of memories for some and, in my case, even prove somewhat enlightening as to the whole ‘did I really see that or did my worst nightmare make it up’ nature of some of the dark delights on offer... aka forced down the throat... of kids in that particular decade.

So all the usual suspects you might expect in a tome of this nature are present and correct... stuff like Sapphire And Steel, The Omega Factor, The Stone Tapes, Quatermass IV, Love Thy Neighbour, The Black And White Minstrel Show, The Tomorrow People, Horror Top Trumps, Public Information Films (including the absolutely brilliant Charley Says... amongst many traumatic ones), Guy N Smith novels, the Haunted House board game (watch out for that bloody Whammy Ball), British comics like Action, 2000AD & Starlord, sweets, crisps and ice cream such as Bones, Fangs, the Dracula Ice Lolly (which had red jelly as a surrogate for blood when you bit into it, remember?) and even the nation’s obsession with all things paranormal such as UFOs, alien encounters, ghosts, spoon benders and that whole Erich Von Däniken thing.

There’s also a lot of stuff I wasn’t expecting to remember such as a fake documentary show which I’d forgotten had put the absolute wind up me called Alternative 3, the cliffhanger ending of an episode of Armchair Theatre (which introduced sleuth Jemima Shore to the Black Nun) and Fumunchews. And this barely covers it, folks! This is a hefty tome crammed full of text and a few pictures to illustrate the majority of the sections. Like I said, you get a lot of bang for your buck here.

For me, it was two TV shows that are now identified and which have stayed with me all these years, that made reading this thing worthwhile. I’ve already forgotten the first again but it’s not a show I need to revisit... but I remembered it features a time travelling ghost story where a German sniper’s bullet nearly put paid to one of the kids, pulled out of the way just in time for it to once again penetrate the grandfather clock at the time it’s been stuck at all these years since. It was nice somebody else remembered that one. But the big one for me was a piece of television that really made me sit up and pause in the most horrible way... and you have to remember this was a kids show. It was a certain incident that took place in what was one of my favourite shows at the time, The Tomorrow People. I remember this happening and, even now that I have watched the moment again on You Tube after having the episode title correctly identified for me here, I still can’t believe they let this happen, in all its gory detail, on a kids show broadcast around late afternoon, just after school had finished.

The moment in question was where a young teenage girl, who had budding psychokinetic and telepathic powers (like all the titular people of tomorrow) dies in a most horrible way... she has had a time bomb implanted into her head and as the lead kid tries to save her, she realises it’s too late, throws him to the ground and jumps out through the glass of a window in a hospital, a couple of stories up. By which point the time bomb in her head has been triggered and we see her burst into flame on the way down, basically exploding right in front of all our ‘young kiddies’ eyes. It was one of two moments which really stayed with me as a kid (the other being the climactic death scene in Bonnie And Clyde). So I’m very grateful for this volume for reintroducing me to this horrifying moment so I know I didn’t make it up. It really was that horrible so, yeah, that made my day.

And yeah, the list is endless of the many things the authors have dredged up here... although I wish they’d also covered, in their section about music, Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds concept album (The Red Weed theme brought the chills to every kid I knew). There are, however, a couple of things which bothered me about the book...mainly to do with the design.

Although some sections are double columned, most of them are not and the text goes straight across the page like it would on a regular paperback. But it’s a very hard thing for a human to be able to read in that fashion if the print is as small as what’s been used here. Design tenets like ‘length of line’, eye flick and so on come into play and there are only a certain amount of words a line that a person can comfortably cope with before it just becomes too much of a hassle. So what I’m saying is... you really have to want to read this thing if your subconscious brain is going to persist with this venture. Also, a friendly note to those who don’t think to account for the ratio of the size of the type to the length of a line... if you double column a long piece of text, nine times out of ten it will take up much less room on a page than if you keep it to single lines like this. Try it out if you don’t believe me. The page count could have either been less or, you know, the point size could have come up if it was double columned.

The other thing which really niggled me is the constant references to other articles in the volume. Yes, a very useful reference but not when, as in 90% of it, the page numbers it points to are... ‘xx’. Yep, somebody has forgotten, I would guess, to go back and fill in all the references and just left a temporary xx in and gone straight to print from that. I don’t know if this has been put right in future print runs as I bought this tome a while ago now bit, yeah, that was more than a little annoying, it has to be said.

Those issues aside though, I’d have to say I would recommend this well written, fun and exciting tome wholeheartedly. if you want to grab a copy, the place to go for it is here and you can also order Volume 2 - Television In The 80s here which I will be cracking open myself sometime in the next few months. I can recommend Scarred For Life Volume One - The 1970s enough for people of a certain age and I am certainly looking forward to following up with both the second volume and, hopefully soon, ordering the third in the ongoing series when it becomes available. Definitely worth a look. An entertaining and, dare I say it... educational, enlightening read. Expecially when it comes to girls leaping out of windows and exploding, for sure.

Sunday 9 October 2022

The Falcon's Adventure


Final Flight

The Falcon's Adventure
USA 1946
Directed by William Berke
RKO/Warner Archive DVD Region 1

The Falcon’s Adventure was the character’s swan song from the famous series, in as much as it’s the last of these particular movies based on the adventures of The Falcon, although certain websites might say otherwise and, if any of them do, I’ll point out why they’re wrong at the tail end of this review.

So, the thirteenth story in the series sees Tom Conway return as the titular character, alias Tom Lawrence. This was Conway’s tenth Falcon movie, after taking over halfway through the fourth film in the series, when his fictional brother Gay Lawrence, played by Conway’s real life brother George Sanders, was killed. So Tom became much more familiar in the public eye as the face of The Falcon, for sure.

This one is a plot involving an attempted kidnap of a woman, Louisa Braganza (played by Madge Meredith, more on her later) as just one of many attempts to wrestle free the secret formula invented by her uncle to manufacture industrial diamonds. As he and Goldie try to help her, The Falcon and his faithful sidekick are hindered and chased by the police, for both the murder of her uncle and also the murder of her uncle’s genuine customer for the formula. It’s up to them to stay two steps ahead of the law, protect Louisa and bring the criminals to justice. All in a couple of days work for The Falcon, of course.

It’s the usual romp full of wit, charm, mystery solving and action and, frankly, as entertaining as the best of them. The actors are all pretty good and this time around we have an actor returning too. I mentioned in my review of the previous movie in the series, The Falcon’s Alibi (reviewed here), that the faithful Goldie Locke character had been replaced once again by yet another actor, this time one without much personality for the role. Well, I guess the producers must have been of the same mind because Edward Brophy (aka Timothy Mouse in Dumbo), who had once played Goldie in The Falcon In San Francisco (reviewed here) returns to the role here and he certainly brings a lot more over the top and much needed humour back to the role.

There are a couple of other ‘items of interest’ in this one too. A little way into the Falcon’s misadventure, he has to come to the aid of a second damsel in distress on a long train journey. Turns out it was a ploy to wrestle the diamond formula away from The Falcon but, luckily, he had planned for just such an attempt and he sleeps through the trap... helped along by gas pumped through his sleeping carriage’s door... safe in the knowledge that he’s already substituted the envelope containing the formula with a fake, while the real one is in the safe hands of the conductor. I, on the other hand, was completely taken in by this attempt so, yeah, that was a nice surprise.

The other thing that’s interesting about this movie is a couple of the director’s segues in and out of a scene. The film opens with an establishing shot which the camera then pulls back from so that we can see that it’s merely a photograph being held up (kinda unnaturally but it makes the shot work) by Goldie as he and the Falcon pack their bags for yet another vacation they are destined not to take. It’s a nice piece of film syntax shenanigans and it’s kinda repeated in reverse later when The Falcon is handed a business card with a photograph of the alligator farm in Miami that the two intend to visit. The camera moves in on the photo and before we know it, it’s the establishing shot for the next scene... which is again pretty cool and a nice, visually sophisticated way of doing things.

Now I said I’d get to actress Madge Meredith so here it is. Shortly after the release of this and her next movie, Meredith was wrongfully convicted and jailed for four years in her involvement in a kidnapping case involving her agent. It was later overturned and her imprisonment cited as a mockery of the legal system, the rest of her short career playing out as supporting roles in television shows. So, maybe she would have gone far without the false conviction and may be not... we’ll never know.

And finally, this 13th film was indeed The Falcon’s last adventure, despite what you might read about there being 16 films in the series. Or at least, the last adventure for the character of Tom Lawrence. The rights to the name The Falcon were sold to another film company who made three more Falcon movies but, although on their credits they still cite Michael Arlen, the writer of the short story on which this character was based, those three films and also the subsequent 1950s TV show, The Adventures Of The Falcon, are all featuring an entirely different character, Michael Waring, based on the writings of a guy called Drexel Drake. Despite the Arlen erroneous credit, there really is no relationship between those films, the TV show... and the run of 13 Falcon films that RKO produced in the 1940s.

So in conclusion to both this review and my series of reviews of these films, I will say that The Falcon’s Adventure is yet another cracking, light hearted mystery romp which is to be recommended by lovers of the genre and that the film series did indeed, as was intended, give The Saint films (which you can also find reviewed on this blog), a run for their money. All thirteen of these films can be purchased on two muti disc DVD sets from Warner Archives in the US. Definitely worth checking out if you are in the mood for some light and frothy entertainment of an evening.

Wednesday 5 October 2022

The Tunnel

Tunnel Vision

The Tunnel
Australia 2011
Directed by Carlo Ledesma
Arrow DVD Region 2

The Tunnel was one of those ‘postage ballast’ movies I bought. By that, I mean, it’s one of those films you find for less than £2 on Amazon to make up their bizarre £20 limit so you qualify for free postage. I mean, rather than pay a couple of quid just for stupid shipping, might as well make that cash work for you, right? So I have a number of movies in my wish list on Amazon which I like the look off, which only cost a very small amount, for just such occasions when they arise and... this was one of them.

It’s a ‘found footage’ style horror film about a news reporter called Natasha (played by Bel Deliá) and her reluctant colleagues Peter (Andy Rodoreda), their cameraman Steve (Steve Davis) and their sound guy Tangles (Luke Arnold). She is investigating a story about a labyrinth of tunnels under Sydney that the government had planned to use to recycle water but then, suddenly changed their minds. Homeless people who were said to have been sleeping there had gone missing, all denied by a government that refuses to talk about the situation, declining access to the tunnels to anyone. So, of course, our intrepid heroes go into the tunnels to make a report and try and find out what the truth of the situation is for their news network.

The film starts off in a possibly clichéd way (nowadays) with a sound recording and transcript of two of the characters calling the emergency services in a huge amount of distress and then, much to my annoyance at first, goes into a standard credits sequence with music playing in the background. It then continues with interview footage of two of the ‘survivors’ of the story talking to the camera, intercut with the footage from their two camera sources as they set up the background info and then proceed into the tunnels, breaking into an alternative entrance after the people at the train station above refuse them access. And, yes, there is an underscore on the footage so... okay, it has the trappings of an ‘impartial’ documentary and the scoring is quite effective but, I kinda wish they hadn’t gone that route.

Near the start of the movie the characters set up certain things to excuse some of the ‘logic impairment’ moments you get with most found footage style movies. So, due to the cameraman not trusting Natasha, he says he decided he would film everything from when they broke into the tunnels, just to cover himself and absolve responsibility as future evidence if it came to it. I still think it’s unlikely, after what happens later... and you know just the kinds of things which are going to happen, of course... that they would still be worrying about recording themselves but, hey, they at least make a stab at it here. There’s even a demonstration that one of the cameras is waterproof so, yeah, you know just where that camera is going later on.

Another thing which was a little problematic for me... and I really tried not to compare it to this film but... it does feel like it’s been influenced by The Blair Witch Project to some extent. For example the use of two different camera sources with two distinct looks to them so you can tell them apart and, also, the female lead being perceived as responsible for everyone’s troubles. There’s even a moment, like in the former film, where she has her own camera turned on her as she is verbally pummelled into taking some responsibility for her actions.

Like a few of the newer found footage movies these days, the film uses other visual sources too, asides from the interview excerpts which cut in between certain scenes. So you’ll get surveillance camera footage also edited into the ‘documentary’ at certain points.

Now, it has to be said, I am making the derivative nature of the film sound like a negative but, in fact, I actually had a good time with this. A couple of the jump scares worked well and the tension is almost unbearable in some places so, yeah, I do have criticisms but, all in all I’d say this is a pretty good entry into the ‘found footage/docu horror’ genre and fans of those will surely get a kick out of the movie. I wasn’t too sure about the ‘almost exploitation’ moment when they actually found an excuse for Natasha to take her top off at one point... much as I like that kind of thing it felt really out of place here. All in all, though, I rather liked this one and would be interested in seeing what this director got up to next. The Tunnel may not be the best of the sub-genre but it’s certainly well put together and I was pleased to see this one. Definitely worth a look.

Monday 3 October 2022

Station Eleven

Terminal Act

Station Eleven
by Emily St. John Mandel
Pan Macmillan
ISBN: 9781447268963

A few months ago I was absolutely bowled over by a new TV miniseries which I watched twice. It was a ten episode show called Station Eleven (reviewed here) and, by the time I was through it the first time, I realised I would have to read the original source novel, which was written by a writer I’d never heard of called Emily St. John Mandel.

And now I have and... well, for starters, it’s great.

I think sometimes it depends what iteration of a piece of art you are exposed to first as to which version you respond to better. I have a Twitter friend (thanks Laura) who said she preferred the book and I suspect, although I may be wrong, that she read the book before seeing the TV show, which was not developed or worked on by the author but by a fellow writer and friend of hers, from what I can understand. As for me... I think I’m just about coming down to preferring the TV show myself but, to be honest, it’s a really hard call. There are major differences between the two... and also many more similarities... but both are carrying the same kind of spirit within their respective media.

I’m not going to go over the basic plot again but it takes place before, during and after a pandemic of Georgian Flu has wiped out the majority of life on Earth and we get scenes of a whole bunch of characters from different times in their lives, their stories slowly developing as they brush against times and places important to other characters, to build an overreaching story arc, of sorts. The novel is split into nine sections - those being 1. The Theatre, 2. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 3. I Prefer You With A Crown, 4. The Starship, 5. Toronto, 6. The Airplanes, 7. The Terminal, 8. The Prophet and 9. Station Eleven... each of these subsections being split into various chapters which generally take on one or two of the characters at a time.

And I think this is a case of the TV show expanding things or taking different directions from the novel in pursuit of a ten episode adaptation and actually improving them... while at other times missing some other specific story beats, which it could perhaps have done with.

For instance, the novel starts off with exactly the same scene as the TV show, with Arthur Leander dying of a heart attack on stage and Jeevan jumping up from the audience to try and save him... also trying to comfort the younger version of Kristen, the same day that the Georgia Flu hits the city. However, unlike the TV show where Jeevan and Kirsten are bonded by the experience and the two of them start off and spend the first year or two in the apartment with Jeevan’s brother, Frank... here they part ways for good. Kirsten can’t remember in the book just how she survived the first year of the pandemic. And Jeevan holes up with Frank and has other experiences separate to hers.

So there is no amateur play adaptation of the graphic novel Station Eleven in the book, put on by Kirsten, Jeevan and Frank as there is in the show. Indeed, Station Eleven is actually a deluxe comic book of two separate issues in the novel (I’m imagining one of those square bound format style graphic novels which were all the rage in the mid-1980s now, like Batman - The Cult or Blood - A Tale). Someone on the internet said that Jeevan is a far less important character in the book than in the show but, I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. He’s just a slightly different character and he does, in fact, touch other’s live (both in negative and positive ways), even if nobody remembers his name. For example, in a newspaper article from the time of the death of Leander, he’s mentioned as ‘a member of the audience’ and everyone post pandemic who reads that surviving newspaper article years later can vaguely remember him.

And he does survive in the book as he does in the show, although we are not treated to that brilliant sequence where he’s helping about 15 to 20 women give birth on the same night in a makeshift hospital upcycled from an old, abandoned supermarket. One the other hand, we do see how he once, quite negatively, touches Miranda’s life in this... on the night that she decides she needs to divorce Arthur Leander, when we become acquainted with one of the professions Jeevan has worked in over the years.

And I knew I was in the hands of a really great writer from very early on in that, Mandel really makes you feel the emotional resonance of the characters by the phrases and choices of words she uses to put across their moments. For instance, there’s a scene in the first section where she could have just said a specific character started to cry... instead, she says this, “The lights over the sea blurred and became a string of overlapping halos.” which is frankly a much better way of getting your message across, I think.

Another thing she does, to keep a sense of continuity going over the rapid ping ponging from different time shifts, is to introduce the occasional themed section, inserted into the narrative as a juxtaposition with whatever character you happen to be following at the time. So, for instance, one of these devices is an interview that Kirsten gives to a brand new, amateur newspaper in one of the new post-pandemic communities, fifteen years after the outbreak of the Georgia Flu. And, later, it makes its way into the airport to Clark (who is a lot thinner and clean shaven compared to the wonderful actor who brought him to life in the TV show) and his Museum Of Civilisation. And it’s from this article that he recognises that Kirsten is someone who would remember Arthur Leander (because, unlike the TV show, they’ve never actually met pre-pandemic).

And, yeah, I don’t think I want to say much more about the original version of Station Eleven other than... The Prophet is, amazingly, a lot less sympathetic a character than in the TV show and that another certain key character, who is visited an antagonistic, violent death in the TV version, is afforded a much more peaceful, ‘TV network unfriendly’, deliberate overdose of sleeping pills here. If you liked the TV show, then I’m pretty certain you’ll want to give this one a go... if you haven’t, well you may want to read this version first and figure out for yourself which bits have been improved and which bits have been left out, to the detriment of the show (whole characters are wiped out in the TV show while others are given more prominence, for example). Both are great and all I can say about the novel, really, is that it’s truly wonderful stuff and I’ll definitely be pursuing some of this writer’s other novels, for sure.