Tuesday 16 April 2024



aka Schlaf
Directed by Michael Venus
Germany 2020
Arrow Blu Ray Zone B

Warning: Some slight spoilers here.

Schlaf, or Sleep, was a blind buy for me. It’s a film I think I might have possibly gotten a chance to see at the cinema back in 2020 if it hadn’t been for the coronavirus. I don’t remember this one getting any kind of release in UK cinemas but the people at Arrow have released the movie on Blu Ray and, judging completely by the beautiful slipcase cover art and a nice, intriguing plot summary (such as it is... I’m not sure plot is the applicable word for this movie), I thought I’d take a punt on it. And I’m glad I did as I got two things from it. First up, I really liked it and will probably watch it again sometime in the hope of unearthing more clues as to what really is happening in the movie.

And, the other thing was, well, as is probably now apparent, I have no idea how the various puzzle pieces fit together into a cohesive whole. In fact, having slept on it overnight and realising the age of the hotel owners don’t necessarily match up to what I perceived to be the film’s timeline, it made even less sense on reflection.  But, then again, I’m not sure I’m supposed to be able to glean all of its answers anyway.

The story is about Marlene, played by Sandra Hüller and her daughter Mona, played by Gro Swantje Kohlhof and, Mona’s prime relationship to her mother is one of carer, as Marlene has strange psychological issues which are manifesting themselves to her every night in the form of dreams about a specific hotel and the three men she sees suicide there. In fact, she filled countless journals with sketches of the things she sees in this hotel every night. But then, she finds the hotel in a travel brochure and, without her daughter’s knowledge, goes to the village of Stainbach to stay in the hotel and try and get some answers. She knows she’s onto something because photos of the three men are in the lobby of the hotel. And then, in her dream like state overnight, something happens to her in her room and she’s taken to the local hospital in a stupor.

Mona moves herself into the hotel to be near her sick mother but, it isn’t long before she starts entering a world of dreams and also seeing visions of the three men who killed themselves in the distant past, as she walks around areas of the hotel. And that’s really all I want to say about the story itself... partially because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who’s not seen the film and partially because anything else I say about it from hereon in would only be my personal interpretation, including the mental baggage I’ve brought to my viewing experience of the movie... and that may or may not turn out to be a helpful interpretation of events.

Right from the start of this beautiful looking movie, the director tries to wrong-foot the audience by taking us into perceived realities which turn out to be false. For instance, the film opens with mother and daughter playing Jenga but, on the second go in after the first topple, something very... well... un-Jenga like happens in the game and you realise you were just witnessing the mother’s dream. Or was it her dream? This is one of those movies where it’s very quickly established that any visual information you are given is not necessarily to be trusted so, any attempt to second guess where the story is going not only becomes impossible but it also becomes totally irrelevant.

There are elements brought in which weave a spell... the introduction of a group of people trying to bring back some form of Nazism (one assumes, there isn’t a swastika in sight) and also a witch who later becomes a succubus who may or may not be Mona’s grandmother (I’m plumping for, yes she is, despite the apparent age of the male hotel owner... I guess it could just about match up with things we are shown) and so there’s a persistent kind of folk horror element to the movie too, which is obviously set in a place which brings memories and dreams of the past washing up into the present... and a quite lethal succubus who lives on and can control people through those memories and visions, from what I could make out.

The film is beautifully shot and, as you might imagine, the cinematography helps set up a dream like atmosphere... as does the writing when it shows waking dream after waking dream with the dreamer unsure if they’ve actually awoken yet or trapped in another dream. Certainly, some characters are going on parallel adventures simultaneously in different perceived experiences, it seemed to me.

It would be a huge and obvious cliché to say that the film, with it’s woodland hotel setting and its vaguely surreal imagery and editing reminded me of Twin Peaks but, I think it has to be said that there’s a certain commonality between the two. And, no, I’m not saying this director is anything like David Lynch but there is a certain overlap, perhaps, in some of the themes and the way the more surrealistic imagery is introduced into the film... sometimes creeping up on the audience unexpectedly and, at other times, suddenly jumping out quite out of the blue with no subtlety whatsoever. I think fans of the former will probably enjoy this movie more, is perhaps the point I am trying to make here.

Coupled with a subtle score and some elegant mise en scene, there’s also a very strong cast of actors but a special shout out to Gro Swantje Kohlhof’s portrayal of Mona, who plays the character in a very downbeat, muffled kind of way for a lot of the film and so, in one scene where she takes on the personality of someone else (I don’t want to say too much here for fear of spoilers), you realise just how brilliant she is in this, due to the contrast of the sudden personality shift which is quite a moment to watch. But, yeah, everyone is good in this and everyone is so great at maintaining the idea that there is something amiss in the village of Stainbach.

And I am pleased I bought this one because Sleep, if you haven’t figured it out by now, is certainly a movie I would recommend. It does have various clues scattered throughout the film which do give a semblance of bits of a jigsaw I often found easy to put together... and sometimes not. I will go back and revisit these clues at some point although I suspect, just like Ben Wheatley’s Kill List, the audience is not necessarily intended to join all the dots or, maybe a better analogy is build up a complete, correct picture from the puzzle pieces scattered throughout the film... a carved wooden boar, a ‘five way’ sex scene which may be a metaphor for the protagonist’s mother’s origin being enacted by her (or may not), spiked drinks for Nazis and so on.

I’ve not ploughed through the extras yet but, it’s Arrow and they’ve provided some nice stuff with this including a booklet of essays, a poster and, among the various disc extras, we get to sample the brilliance of Alexandra Heller-Nicholas on one of the visual essays. So, yeah, there’s a lot going on with this release and, like I said, I'm glad I picked this one up while the limited edition version is still about. Check this one out for sure.

Monday 15 April 2024

The Complete Adventures Of The Domino Lady

Blonde Heat

The Complete Adventures
Of The Domino Lady

by Lars Anderson
Altus Press
ISBN 9781618273581

“Adventure was her meat and danger her dessert.”
Black Legion - Saucy Romantic Adventures

There seems to be some divergence of opinion as to the identity and, indeed, the existence of a writer named Lars Anderson. Wikipedia reports that it’s a publishers house name (just like Kenneth Robeson was a Street And Smith house name for the Doc Savage and The Avenger stories... although the primary writer behind the Doc Savage stories was really Lester Dent) but, according to Tom Johnson’s afterword in this very tome, he says that Will Murray (who wrote a lot of the modern Doc Savage adventures I’ve been reviewing on this site... again under the house name Kenneth Robeson) has verified that Lars Anderson was an actual person.

I’d like to know more but, whichever is the case, this collection from Altus Press, The Complete Adventures Of The Domino Lady, reprints the six stories he (or perhaps they) wrote for two publications in 1936. The first five of these stories, published that year, comprising The Domino Lady Collects, The Domino Lady Doubles Back, The Domino Lady’s Handicap, Emeralds Abroad and Black Legion all appeared in issues of that year’s Saucy Romantic Adventures while the sixth and final story, The Domino Lady’s Double, appeared in Mystery Adventure Magazine.

Now, after reading pulps by Lester Dent, who I think is a much better writer than Maxwell Grant (house name for Walter B. GIbson, who wrote The Shadow stories), I think I was somewhat spoiled by the former’s brilliant writing style because, I’ll be honest, it took me a few stories in of this collection to get into the character or, more specifically, the way she is written.

Nothing wrong as a character per se... to avenge the murder of her Irish politician father, wealthy socialite Ellen Patrick dons the guise of The Domino Lady, which includes a black domino mask, a completely superfluous cloak and her automatic pistol... basically becoming a Robin Hood style figure, stealing from rich, corrupt politicians and mobsters to give to needy charities, getting people out of blackmail threats and the like, wanted by both the police and the underworld. But she’s written... and this may well have been a publisher’s stipulation, since she was appearing in Saucy Romantic Adventures, after all... like she’s almost in a soft porn parody. I mean, how many times do I have to read about her ‘kissable shoulders’ and her shapely, somewhat peripatetic bosoms as a description of her character in every tale?

Having said that, I did eventually get used to the sex hugging style of the descriptions and did find the stories interesting, especially for the reason that they are almost a microcosm for exactly the sorts of stories you would get in various 1930s or 1940s feature film runs of characters thrown up on the silver screen. So, in six short stories you get the blackmail photographs plot, the ‘withdraw your winner of a racehorse from the race if you know what’s good for you’ plot, the heist on a luxury sea cruise plot, the corrupt politicians and power mongers syndicate plot and even a ‘framed for murder by a Domino Lady double’ plot. And these are exactly the kinds of tales you would see on a long run of films about such characters as The Saint or The Falcon or, well, take your pick.

But, they are peppered throughout with such succulent but cringeworthy bits of purple prose like “Ellen was breathing fast, her glorious bosom tossing beneath the scanty bodice of her gown.” or “The tall sleuth’s masterful arms went around her palpitant figure and his seeking lips found the damp grotto of her warm mouth.” which, okay, had me chuckling quite a lot in places. Having said that, though, I did warm to both the character and the writing style by the end of this short run and it’s a shame there were only six short stories about the character. Or so I thought...

In another classic case of opening a can of worms, it seems that this character I’d never heard of until I read The Complete Adventures Of The Domino Lady is now more popular than ever and lots of new short stories (where she teams up with the likes of Sherlock Holmes and The Phantom) and various comics are now published contemporaneously about the character. So, yeah, I think I’m going to have to take a punt sometime next year and buy up a couple of tomes of her new stories and see what’s been done with the character in recent times, I think. I  can only hope that phrases referencing her kissable curves and throbbing bosom are as prevalent in the new writings as they were in the originals.

Sunday 14 April 2024

Civil War

Road To Washington -
No Crosby, No Hope

Civil War
Directed by Alex Garland
USA/UK 2024
UK Theatrical Cut

Civil War is the latest movie both written and directed by Alex Garland. I actually find him a bit hit and miss in both professions, truth be told. The ones that fall into both those categories which were more hits with me were the TV show Devs (reviewed by me here) and, to an extent, his movie Men (reviewed here). This new movie, set in the very near future, is about an ongoing civil war in the USA, where the states of California and Texas team up against everyone else in an attempt to take over the country.

This story follows a seasoned ace photo-journalist called Lee (played by Kirsten Dunst) and her journalistic partner Joel (played by Wagner Moura) as they go on a 400 plus mile road trip across a war torn USA towards Washington, to try and get one last interview with the President (played fleetingly by Nick Offerman) before the combined forces of the two opposing states steamroller through and kill him (with no intent of taking any prisoners). Aiding and abetting them... or rather just tagging along for the ride but becoming seriously involved in the action... are seasoned journalist Sammy (played by Stephen McKinley Henderson) and ‘shutterbug trying to get experience in war photojournalism’ Jessie (played Cailee Spaeny).

The film is absolutely exquisite and I’ll go ahead now and say that this is easily Alex Garland’s best work ever. It’s a sometimes reflective, often chaotic and definitely violent, intense and suspenseful road movie that doesn’t itself stop to take any prisoners along the way. Now, a lot of critics have taken the tack that the film, seen through the lens of the ladies and gentlemen of the press, doesn’t make any judgement calls or take political sides (I believe Garland chose those two unlikely allied states to detract from drawing a political message)... except for one of my favourite reviewers, who said the film is indeed political. Well, I don’t know who is right about that because, as long time readers will know by now, I don’t have a political bone in my body and so probably wouldn’t recognise any points being made. That said, I certainly didn’t think the movie was trying to pontificate for any one political alignment and the take away messages I took home from it don’t, I suspect, fall into any such camp.

I took away two things. Firstly, the message I always take from any film... people shouldn’t make war or go around killing each other. Behaving like that is just crazy outside the confines of mass cultural art and entertainment. 

 But the key thing the film seems to play around with for me... and it’s another old cliché of a point but it sits right with me, is this. What kind of human being are you if you stop to take pictures of the violence and injustice going on around you and don’t put the camera down and try to help out instead? The question is none too subtly explored in this film and Kirsten Dunst’s character, who seems to be secretly haunted by this herself, certainly addresses the issue head-on in a conversation she has with Jessie at one point. Her answer is that you’re there to document and let other people make the judgements and Lee and Jessie certainly come to a conclusion with their individual grasp of that context at the end of the movie. To say anything more about that matter would be to spoil the ending but, to that end, there are also certainly characters in the movie who, in the parlance of Star Trek, are definitely ‘red shirts’.

And the film is shot really well, edited really well and has brilliant sound design. I mean, sure, all the sound cliches are in there such as using upbeat or trivial songs juxtaposed to the horrors of a situation to highlight them... or the old chestnut of letting the music take over to the point where that’s all there is on the soundtrack, before it suddenly drops out and the artillery and explosions of the situation rush in to give a shot in the arm to the audience. But, clichés become that because they work really well and Garland and his colleagues use them to great advantage here.

Lastly, I have to say a word about the acting performances in this. Everybody is absolutely great but special shout outs go to both Cailee Spaeny (who you are in fear for throughout the entire movie) and Kirsten Dunst (turning in what might be the greatest performance of her entire career to date, as far as I’m concerned). There’s also a short but pretty scary and intense sequence featuring Kirsten’s real life spouse Jesse Plemons, which is almost unbearable to watch... a snippet of it can be seen on the trailer.  

And that’s me done with Civil War, I think. This seems to me, from this opening end of the lifespan of the film, to be a stone cold classic which I’ll snap up on Blu Ray when the time comes and, it’s good to see this before a real civil war breaks out in either the USA or the UK anytime soon (or both, as both countries seem to be just around the corner from that, it seems to me). Definitley worth a look if you want a suspenseful time at the cinema.

Tuesday 9 April 2024

Dracula Prince Of Darkness

Fresh Prince
Of Hell, Keir

Dracula Prince Of Darkness
UK 1966
Directed by Terence Fisher
Hammer/Studio Canal Blu Ray Zone B

I’ve never known why there’s no comma in the title of this movie but I’ve left it as it is for this review. Perhaps, if you are some kind of royalty in the world of vampires, there’s no need to bother with trifling grammar... but it’s a bit of a bizarre ommission, it has to be said.

Anyway... Dracula Prince Of Darkness is the third of Hammer’s classic Dracula film series... although only the second to have Dracula in it as an actual character. As such, the film starts with a nicely framed flashback to the climactic showdown between Christopher Lee’s Dracula and Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing in the first movie... framed as a kind of diamond shape and with streaming mist behind the diamond... an interesting choice which looks like something that would have been done on the old flashback in a theatrical serial of the 1930s. So it’s a bit of a mistake to say that Peter Cushing is not in this movie... he certainly is as one of his key scenes from Dracula (aka Horror Of Dracula, reviewed here) is played at the start.

In a scene made to set up the Van Helsing substitute of the movie... a wonderful, jolly priest called Father Shandor, played by future Professor Quatermass Andrew Keir... Shandor stops a superstitious bunch from committing the blasphemy of staking a local, recently deceased young lady, reminding them (and us) that there’s been no vampirism since the death of Dracula, ten years prior (more dates to totally sink the idea of timeline continuity within this series of films).

We then cut to two English couples, related by brothers, travelling around the area, consisting of the younger brother and his wife, played by Francis Matthews and Suzan Farmer... and the slightly older couple played by Charles 'Bud' Tingwell (from the Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple movies) and Barbara Shelley (who would also star opposite Keir in Quatermass And The Pit... reviewed by me here). Pretty soon though, the English travellers find themselves in trouble and staying as guests of Dracula’s former butler Klove (played by Philip Latham... who looks a little in this like a sinister version of Riff Raff from The Rocky Horror Show and its subsequent movie adaptation... I wonder if Richard O’ Brien had this character in mind in terms of the look?).

There’s a much less throwaway version of a Dracula resurrection scene in this, as Klove hangs Tingwell’s character upside down over a big coffin where he scatters Dracula’s ashes (he was melted by sunlight in the first film... although why Van Helsing never did something with the ashes is beyond me). He then slits the guys throat and, in this uncut restoration, there really is quite a lot of blood (bordering on Japanese arterial spray proportions) which mixes with the ashes and, in a long drawn out sequence of resulting mist and overlapping dissolves, revives Christopher Lee’s iconic take on the Count. Vampiric shenanigans ensue with the surviving younger couple fleeing to Father Shandor’s monastery where they are pursued by Dracula and his new vampire lady, Barbara Shelley.

And it’s a pretty good movie with some beautiful photography and direction from Terence Fisher, who uses some roaming camera for some sequences, such as an extended night time tour around the corridors of Castle Dracula which is almost like the ‘killer POV’ shots you would find happening later on, in a lot of US slasher films of the 1980s. Although the camerawork is in no way jerky, it’s very fluid and very controlled as it roves around the sets and actors. He does some nice things with colour too. A lot of the sets of the castle at night are lit up with blues but every now and again he will highlight something with a patch of bright red... such as a strip of curtains or a picture which is somehow bathed in red for no logical reason but looks great. Also, there’s a wonderful scene in Dracula’s coffin room where the light from a stained glass window is replicated and lit large as the lighting on a wall behind the actors in the reverse shot... with big blocks of different coloured shapes splashed against the background. It’s a bit like a slightly more pastel palette version of what Mario Bava might have done and it works really well.

The actors are all pretty good and we even have Thorley Walters turning up as this film’s equivalent of Stoker’s Renfield character, called Ludwig. Renfield was curiously absent from Hammer’s earlier Dracula movies but Ludwig pretty much does all the same things, including eating a pot of freshly caught flies at one point. Christopher Lee, famously, has no lines of dialogue in this movie... just goes about hissing at things and pointing. He allegedly announced he’d refused to speak the lines because the script was so bad but there have been several conflicting stories over the years as to why Lee has no lines in this... I suspect Lee’s version certainly has some elements of truth in it but how it played out exactly seems lost to time. I will say that, although Dracula is spread out into various sections of the movie, I would be surprised if Christopher Lee’s actual footage in the movie plays out for much more than five minutes. Probably his death scene under the ice of a moat in the castle, which somehow has running water under it and which looks truly awful in terms of the fake ice, has the most sustained footage of him (and this scene almost drowned Lee’s stuntman for real, from what I’ve read). He’s a definite presence in it though and the way he portrays him in this allows his facial expressions and physical skills to come more to the fore.

Dracula Prince Of Darkness ends, like many of the Hammer movies of this period of the 1960s, with a distinct lack of epilogue in terms of the wellbeing of the characters. Dracula is dead... again... and the credits run over his frozen features without fanfare or a real sense of resolution. It’s a mood which Hammer similarly employed for their third Quatermass adaptation, although the TV serial of Quatermass And The Pit (which I reviewed here) had a very long epilogue, from what I recall. Either way, this one is definitely an improvement over The Brides Of Dracula (reviewed here) and one of the better Hammer films of this, quite rich period in the company’s history, as far as I’m concerned. Definitely worth a look.

Monday 8 April 2024


J Arthur

Directed by Paul King
USA/UKCanada 2023
Warner Brothers Blu Ray Zone B

As I write these words, Wonka is still just about in the UK top ten cinema attractions, even though I watched it on its official Blu Ray release. Which is no mean feat after over three months in the charts... it would be fair to say that the film has somewhat surpassed any expectations the studio had of it, I should think.

Now, I hated the film Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory and didn’t think much better of Tim Burton’s Charlie And The Chocolate Factory either, for that matter (although the score was nice on that one). The reason being that I loved both of Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka books as a kid... Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and Charlie And The Great Glass Elevator (which carries on directly from the end of the first book, where Wonka, Charlie and the others burst through the roof of the factory in the elevator and go into adventures in outer space).

Now, I bought Wonka, sight unseen, because I thought it would be a nice family movie to watch over Easter, what with its implied chocolaty theme and, truth be told, I didn’t hate it. True, the moustached and bearded Wonka of the books is still, bizarrely, clean shaven in this film but, at least the film-makers had an excuse for that this time around, seeing as it is a prequel to the original story and Wonka is a much younger chap. I think I am forgiving it a lot because I don’t have to compare it to the original literature on this one. However, buying it for Easter was a mistake because, as it turns out, I was the only one in the household who didn’t think it was pretty terrible.

Now, there are things wrong with it and I think the real problem is nothing to do with the actors... Timothée Chalamet, Olivia Colman, Calah Lane, Sally Hawkins and co are all great but I think the writing, in terms of the story, is possibly at fault here. To explain... the characterisation of a young Wonka seems to me, certainly in terms of his dialogue and thought processes, absolutely spot on. But, the story seems to kind of let things down and we have a film which, to my mind, starts off strong with some good ideas and some acceptably agreeable musical numbers... which then kind of gets weaker and weaker until it kind of fizzles out, for the most part, towards the end.

Chalamet and Hugh Grant (as one of... and indeed all of... the Oompa Loompas) are great, they carry the movie somewhat in places (even though Grant is barely in it) and the songs and score by Joby Talbot (of pop group The Divine Comedy... who I remember seeing as an unknown support act to the great Voice Of The Beehive in Kentish Town in the 1980s) is pretty good. It’s ‘blended’ both in scoring and the flat out restaging of two of the songs from the Gene Wilder film... Imagination and the Oompa Loompa Song but, that actually works quite well and gives certain sections of the movie a charming lift.

But there were times in the whole thing where I did, I confess, find myself quite bored and certainly wondering how it could be making anything like the staggering box office it has because, I would never have guessed children would have sat still for this for large amounts of time.

It looks nice though with some impressively ornate set pieces and a sense of scale which, I suspect, comes off rather better in the cinema than it does for home viewing (which, ironically, is always going to be how the film is remembered). So, yeah, there was much head scratching in this household as to why it’s been so successful but, it’s definitely a big hit with people and so I guess yet another version of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, by way of a sequel (and thus rendering the references to the Gene Wilder movie redundant), can’t be far away. Wonka is not a big hit with me but, I am glad that it’s doing so well, for sure, because it’s obviously found it audience. So that’s alright then... I don’t have to ever watch it again.

Sunday 7 April 2024

The First Omen

Carlita Sway

The First Omen
Directed by Arkasha Stevenson
USA/Italy/UK/Canada/Serbia 2024
20th Century Fox
UK Theatrical Cut

Warning: Spoilers from 6am on the 6th day of the 6th month.

I don’t know. Like a London Transport bus, you wait ages for a decent nuncentric exploitation/horror movie to play at your local cinema and then two come along at once. The First Omen is a prequel that, I’m pretty sure nobody was crying out for but, what took me by surprise is that it almost gives the slightly superior Immaculate from last month (reviewed here) a run for its money and, while not nearly as good as the original movie The Omen (reviewed along with the sequels and reboot here), it’s still pretty great and is certainly, as far as I’m concerned, far better than any of those sequels and the unneccessary remake, for sure.

Okay, the film starts weirdly as the 20th century Studios logo comes up (except we all know it’s really 20th Century Fox, right?) but it’s the extended version of their fanfare, composed in 1953 by Alfred Newman to indicate that a picture is in the Cinemascope aspect ratio. However, this film is released in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio so, yeah, that popped me out of things right away... I hate it when the music is used incorrectly like that.

However, after that slight misstep, we are introduced to Father Brennan, the character who we know must survive to be in the original film, The Omen. And we understand this is him for a couple of great visual reasons. First up, they’ve made Ralph Ineson, the actor playing the role, look very much like Patrick Troughton (who played the part in the original movie). This one is set in 1971, the same year as the prologue to that movie and a few years before the main action of the original starts so, yeah, they do this quite well. But even before you catch a proper glimpse of the actor, they’re looking down at him from a POV of high up from a church, reminding you of just what happens to that character in The Omen and visually echoing/foreshadowing that sequence in the original where he gets impaled by the metal rod falling from the church steeple.

And, regarding this scene, you certainly know you’re in Omen territory right away because, a precariously hoisted piece of religious art is being clumsily raised up the rickety scaffold of the church and, like the premise of Lemony Snicket’s series of unfortunate events, you know that various, unexpected ‘accidents’ will be dangled in front of you just before they happen and, this is no exception. He goes into the church to talk to a throw away character played by Charles Dance and, you just know that something bad is going to happen when they both go and stand outside, just under where the builders are working.

And then we begin the main action properly... and we’re very much in similar territory to Immaculate in that it involves a young American coming to Rome to become a nun. She is played, quite brilliantly, by Nell Tiger Free, welcomed to the country by a cardinal played by Bill Nighy and is befriended by her new, ‘hedonistic before she takes her vows’ room mate Luz, played by Maria Caballero. Add to this cast the wonderful Sonia Braga (so good in Aquarius, reviewed here) and we have a movie which sings along doing all the right things.

Now, it’s not perfect... there are some clunky things about it. For instance, there’s a red herring of a character called Carlita (played by... well I don’t know... okay IMDB, explain to me what the two actresses listed as Carlita Picture Double means please?) and, while this character certainly features the familiar mark of the beast in a great hiding place, it seemed pretty obvious to me from the start (and quite badly telegraphed, literally by the formulaic visual shorthand that modern American movies tend to fall back on) just who the real mother of Damian from the original trilogy would turn out to be.

The other clunky thing about the movie is the whole extended ending of the film, which I suspect might well have been revised after the original cut. A fake feeling ‘rescue scene’ is added with a typical modern movie ‘have your cake and eat it’ epilogue. And while it’s necessary to see that, ‘oh yeah, Father Brennan did survive after all’ moment (because you can’t lead into the original films without him, once his presence here is established), the film also manages to set up the possibility of a sequel to this one independent from the original trilogy. Which, I have to admit, I quite like the idea of because, well, I really didn’t expect this movie to be so good.

Oh, and about the final line of the movie... it’s really ‘cringe’ as the kids would say. You remember the truly appalling bit at the end of that last, Fantastic 4 movie (reviewed here), where the kids are coming up with a name and realise there are four of them and they are quite fantastic (yeah, I wince even as I type)... well, given the events that preceded this sequence and the fact that the birth of a certain antichrist is accompanied by the score leaning full-on into a souped up arrangement of Jerry Goldsmith’s original opening titles to The Omen... did we really need a final bit of business where Father Brennan says to someone, something along the lines of... “They’ve even given him a name. Damien.” Yeah, really... would never have twigged that one, mate!

But despite these stupid sequences, the movie is absolutely riveting and, yeah, let’s talk about that score for a minute... and that sound design. Mark Korven’s score for the movie is absolutely brilliant, just what the film needs and certainly has a foothold in the 1971 setting of the story... and when he finally brings Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic melody... that works pretty well like it goes hand in hand with what else is going on with the music. And the sound design is really impressive too, with some nice ‘sound standing in for other sounds’ kinds of moments, a little similar to the music replaces scream scene I talked about in my review of Immaculate. Alas, as far as the score goes, there’s no proper CD release once again (the only Omen film not to have one, to date... I have the other five) and some wiley company needs to rectify that sorry state of affairs soon because I would love to give this one a listen.

So, yeah, The First Omen is really well made, has some great acting performances (spoiler... Nell Tiger Free’s breaking waters sequence rivals Claire Sweeney’s birth scene in Immaculate), brings the horror and is just genuinely, despite the clunky bits, a pretty cool film. And now I know what someone on Twitter meant when they said there’s a full on Isabelle Adjani Possession moment in this (reviewed by me here). This one’s an immediate Blu Ray pick up for me when it gets released and, yeah, I think most fans of the original series of movies (it kinda ignores the uncalled for reboot) should embrace this one. 

Monday 1 April 2024

The House Of Fear

Pipped At The Post

The House Of Fear
Directed by Roy William Neill
USA 1945
Universal Blu Ray Zone B

Inspired rather loosely by Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure Of The Five Orange Pips, The House Of Fear is the tenth of the fourteen Sherlock Holmes featuring Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as his loyal friend Doctor Watson. It also bizarrely, given the circumstances of the story, features Dennis Hoey returning as Inspector Lestrade but, since there’s only one scene near the start of the picture which features Holmes’ 221B Baker Street address, this is the second (I think, by my count) of the films to not include a brief appearance by Mary Gordon as housekeeper Mrs. Hudson.

It starts off, somewhat unusually, on a longish sequence with a voice over narrative setting the scene about a group of men living in a large house in Scotland who are each, night after night, getting delivered an envelope containing a steadily supply of diminishing orange pips as a forewarning of their horrible death in the next few hours. Each body is found mutilated beyond recognition, due to some grisly fate but identifiable due to a personal item or feature of the body (which immediately put me on my guard not to trust any one of these corpses... I won’t spoil the ending for you here though),

It then turns out this narrative set up is actually being spoken by an insurance agent at 221B Baker Street, as he has been telling Holmes and Watson the tale and calls them in to investigate. They arrive just as a third murder has been committed and they set about investigating, both in the house and the local village in this fun filled movie which, again, showcases all that’s best with these particular Holmes movies.

Being as it’s Universal, everything is lit by longtime director of the series Roy William Neill in that crisp but sinister looking, shadowy style which helped make their monster movies such a hit. Indeed, Neill directed the first of the monster mash ups, Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman (reviewed here) for Universal a few years earlier (if you look closely near the end, you may be able to spot the wolf man’s cane). He even uses a nice Dutch angle at one point, as Holmes and Lestrade descend a staircase into a smugglers cave near the end of the movie.

There is a definite budget conscious re-use of sets and model shots etc on this one. For instance, the house in long shot is the old ruined church establishing shot from Sherlock Holmes And The Voice Of Terror (reviewed here), which makes no sense and doesn't tie in with the interior of the house (which I think is from at least one of the others). And the village and the pub sets will also absolutely feel like old friends to watchers of these Holmes films by this point too.

There are some clunky but fun parts here too, of course. I mean, why would Holmes call on Scotland Yard to come and give him aid when he’s in Scotland, when the local constabulary would surely do just as well? And why, in this case, would it be the always ineffective Inspector Lestrade who they send to help him. Not that I mind of course, Dennis Hoey was very much part of the team by this point and watching him bounce off the two principal leads is great fun. He also a nicely silly line in this when, in his confusion, he utters, “Suffering cats! What’s going on here.” Although, this is nowhere near as silly an exclamation as when Dr. Watson, true to form after he and Holmes are nearly flattened by a particularly nasty boulder pushed off a cliff at them, cries out, “Great Scott Holmes! That was meant for us!”

Other than this though, apart from a woman sporting the double bun style of hair which was popularised again by Carrie Fisher in the first Star Wars movie in 1977... and the novelty of the ending which I won’t reveal to you here (although you may well begin to suspect the final solution long before it’s revealed), The House Of Fear is another brilliant piece of classic mystery movie entertainment which I could revisit year after year if I didn’t have so many other movies to watch. So a short review for a short but sweet movie in this wonderful series of Holmes movies. Four more now to revisit. 

Sunday 31 March 2024

The Good Virus

All The World’s
A Phage

The Good Virus - The Untold Story of Phages: The Most Abundant Life Forms on Earth and What They Can Do For Us
by Tom Ireland
Hodder And Stoughton
ISBN 9781529365245

Just a quick shout out to a book I received on my birthday, back in January. For me, this is this year’s ‘beginning of the year’ candidate for a science based book, something out of my comfort zone, to mix in with all the film and fiction. The Good Virus, subtitled The Untold Story of Phages: The Most Abundant Life Forms on Earth and What They Can Do For Us highlights the history of what will soon be a commonly known (one hopes) crucial element in helping our species survive the next step in our seemingly evolutionary suicide.

Now, I only briefly came across phages in Star Trek... my memory is pointing me to the movie Star Trek Insurrection but it could maybe also be one of the few Voyager episodes I’ve seen. The reality is, there are literally gazillions of these viral life forms (we’re at the stage where we can now all agree a virus is a life form, yes?) to every piece of bacteria on our bodies... of which there are also gazillions. Indeed, I believe there are millions, if not billions of these phages within a 1mm area of a human's tissue (and anything else in the world for that matter) so, if you do the maths you come up with the kind of numbers that someone like me can’t even picture... so the claim in the subtitle about the abundance of this life form on the planet is pretty definitive (at least until we can see things even smaller than the beyond microscopic phages).

Phage is short for bacteriophage and it’s basically ‘a good virus’ because it can treat and cure many seemingly incurable diseases and conditions where antibiotics are failing. Except... the technology didn’t develop or survive most places because of the political unrest in the majority of the world and one of the only countries for a good long while where any research was being done around phages at all was Georgia, in Russia (where, if you are desperate enough... many are... and can afford it, you can make the trek and get yourself cured of ailments outside the range of western medicines).

The writer, Tom Ireland, is pretty good with his words and writes the book in a friendly, indeed, intriguing way to both put over the importance of these little critters (the classic versions out of the billions on billions of species already catalogued look just like the lunar landers used on the moon, enough so that the author believes the design of which was inspired by the image of a phage) and tell the story of phages in a way that is understandable even to an ignorant layman like myself. This is what good writing is about folks... something which is also in abundance in this specific tome.

Written during the coronavirus lockdown, Ireland hooks the reader by starting a little late in the story with the siege of Stalingrad in 1942, where a scientist and her colleagues were swiping nazi corpses away into the night to enable her to engineer cholera resistant drugs for the Russian troops. He then takes us back to where it all started (in terms of mankind’s awareness of phages) to the two people in two different countries who more or less simultaneously first discovered that something too small to see with the naked eye was eating away at the bacteria on certain plates in their respective laboratories.

He talks about various uses as an almost miracle cure medicine, the involvement of Stalin and the Russian people who refused the Western ideas which included the later discovery of penicillin and antibiotics... patriotically continuing to advance phage science instead... and all manner of political and scientific non acceptance and upheavals, not least from the various drug agencies who fail to recognise and authorise bacteriophages as a legitimate pursuit, for a variety of reasons made clear in this book. Although, while it certainly mentions the ‘cost and profits’ factor in the development of a fluid technology which has to be customised to each individual patient... it doesn’t go as far as to highlight the fact that our various governments don’t want us to live any longer and be free from many life threatening diseases (pension pots, overpopulation, keeping their little empires into manageable sizes etc).

However, there is more research being done on this now more than ever before in the history of the planet and there are certainly many lights at the end of the tunnel in terms of the medical implications of these creatures (which are more known about than I thought... of the many phage related things you can buy on ebay, you can even get a soft toy plushie of a cute and fairly accurate looking phage) and that’s good because, there damn well needs to be.

For years now we have been listening to scientists telling us that antibiotics will fail due to bacterial resistance any year now (and as this book points out, some bacteria are now even resistant to various disinfectants) but the author emphasises that we’re in the eleventh hour now folks. And our only way out, it would seem, is to embrace the humble phage and find a way forward for our species before we are waking up to news headlines (fairly soon by the sound of it) where hundreds of thousands of people are dying evey month or so.

The book doesn’t just focus on the medicinal properties of phages, though. It also looks at other ways the various species can and have already helped us in many breakthroughs in life (such as CRISPR, look it up). And this is all very good and vital but, of course, if we don’t continue to properly research these things (which takes loads of cash, of course) then we are certainly in dire straits and will be plunged back into the dark ages, medicinally speaking.

As I said, the book is really well written and also very humorous it has to be said. And any writer who compares certain kinds of bacteriophages to the miniaturised submarine in the 1966 movie Fantastic Voyage has got to be a good guy. Now, I can’t possibly sum up the breadth of what this writer has managed to research and put together here but I can say I would definitely advise picking this tome up and finding out about what phages are now, before you’re left playing catch up as they infiltrate the popular media in years to come. So, yeah, The Good Virus - The Untold Story of Phages: The Most Abundant Life Forms on Earth and What They Can Do For Us is a big recommendation from me and it may even change the way you think about life on this planet.

Saturday 30 March 2024

Godzilla X Kong - The New Empire

Peanuts Gal For
Monkey Magic

Godzilla X Kong -
The New Empire

Directed by Adam Wingard
USA 2024
Warner Brothers
UK Theatrical Cut

Warning: Mild spoilers.

Last week I went to the cinema to see Ghostbusters - Frozen Empire (reviewed here) in which a centuries long imprisoned creature is released and aims to turn the Earth into a new ice age. This week I saw Godzilla X Kong - The New Empire which, apart from having a superfluous X that makes it the most ridiculous and childish title for a Godzilla movie ever, deals with a centuries long imprisoned creature who is released back into the mix with his followers and big ice creature, with the intent of conquering the Earth by turning it into a new ice age. I bet the makers of this one were pretty miffed that the new Ghostbusters had a better title that they could have used themselves.

This one is, by my counts, the fifth in the sequence of the US Monsterverse franchise, comprising Godzilla (reviewed here), Kong - Skull Island (reviewed here), Godzilla King Of The Monsters (reviewed here), Godzilla VS Kong (reviewed here) and now this one. Not to mention the relatively recent Monarch TV series, which I haven’t got around to watching as yet. It carries over three characters from the previous movie, as played by the great Rebecca Hall reprising the role of the main scientist, the extremely cool Kaylee Hottle as her deaf/mute adopted Skull Island daughter and Brian Tyree Henry, providing comic relief as the vlogger who was helping out Millie Bobby Brown in the last movie.

And, not only is this installment in the franchise way better in most respects than Godzilla VS Kong, it’s also a very fun watch and I really rather enjoyed it. Now, given the critical and commercial success of the Academy Award winning Japanese movie Godzilla Minus One (reviewed here ) a few months ago, I was fully expecting to be able to say that the aforementioned movie was way better than this one. And... yeah okay, I am saying that... no comparison. I’d take a film like that one over this any day of the week. However, you have to remember that you really can’t cant compare the two. Godzilla Minus One is very much a serious film similar in tone to the original 1954 Gojira movie (reviewed here) and uses Godzilla as a surrogate for the post survivor trauma of the ‘failed’ kamikaze pilot who is the film’s main protagonist. It’s carrying a lot of weight and it does it beautifully.

In contrast to that, Godzilla X Kong - The New Empire is very much in the style of the fun, mid 1960s to mid 1970s Toho Godzilla ‘monster romp’ movies... and as a lover of both kinds, I am quite happy with what the US filmmakers are able to achieve here, to be honest. It’s a different flavour of Godzilla but they are doing a much better job of that kind of brief here.

Now, the movie almost totally takes place in the Hollow Earth world discovered in the last film, asides from a few sequences where Godzilla and Kong manage to wreck part of Egypt and Brazil between them. And also one memorable moment where the movie’s other main protagonist, a monster veterinarian played by Dan Stevens, extracts Kong’s infected tooth with his helicopter and gives him a new, super duper tooth. Also, after a sequence where Kong suffers from frostbite in his right arm, due to reasons I won’t disclose, he cures it and gives him a new armoured glove so he can punch things better. So yay!

Also, Kaylee Hottle’s character ends up fulfilling the same role as The Peanuts did in the original Mothra films from the 1960s. She is the new human envoy to Mothra and she wakes her up to help out when Kong is trying to lure Godzilla into lending a hand in tackling their bigger problem. It’s nice stuff but, alas, she doesn’t sing the famous Mothra song... which would have been a nice touch.

And was that a shop sign depicting Gamera I saw for a second before Godzilla smashed through it? I’m pretty sure that’s what I saw... can anyone else confirm in the comments?

And it’s a film filled with good action, much better acting than you would expect and a fun storyline. My only real criticism is that the score by Antonio Di Lorio and Tom Holkenborg is bereft of any of the iconic Godzilla themes from the Toho series and, just fails miserably on that level. Every time you are expecting there to be a big Ifukube moment, the score does something which seems, I dunno, like a melody falling just short of the original to evade copyright payments. Which is a shame because, even the great Godzilla Minus One, which had a far superior score to this one, recognised the value in popping in Ifukube’s melodies into certain scenes. And to add insult to injury, the score to this one seems to be unavailable on a proper CD (which is a first for the films, it would be the only live action Godzilla theatrical release without CD representation to date). Shame on Watertower Records for not releasing it in the only physical format that real music lovers want. I hate this backwards decade, ignoring the essential physical media releases which should accompany these films.

Apart from the ‘knock off’ sounding scoring though, Godzilla X Kong - The New Empire was way more entertaining than I was expecting it to be and, if you liked Kong VS Godzilla (I kinda didn’t think it was all that), then you should definitely love this one. Don’t expect to be seeing the same kind of story substance present in Godzilla Minus One though... two very different kinds of films.

Friday 29 March 2024

Crippled Avengers

People With Physical
Disabilities Assemble

Crippled Avengers
Return Of The
Five Deadly Venoms

aka Can que
Hong Kong 1978
Directed by Cheh Chang
Shaw Brothers/Celestial Pictures
Arrow Blu Ray Zone B

Okay, so this one’s quite fun. Crippled Avengers is the 10th of the 12 films featured in Arrow’s generous but costly ShawScope Volume One Blu Ray box set and, for a while in the US, it was released under the title Return Of The Five Deadly Venoms and marketed as a sequel to The Five Venoms (reviewed by me here). All I can say to that is... there’s absolutely no story connection with the former film at all. The only minor bit of glue attempting to hold that marketing campaign gimmick together is that five of the lead actors here also starred in the former movie.

This film deals with Kuan Tai Chen as Black Tiger Dao Tian-Du and it’s hard to tell if you should be rooting for his character or not. At the start of the film, three avenging heroes seeking justice for some misdeed come to slay him at Black Tiger Manor but, initially settle for cutting the legs off his wife (killing her in the process) and chopping the arms off his young son. If Dao Tian-Du wasn’t completely evil then, he certainly is after dispatching the three with his martial arts skills. Over a period of years he creates and finally perfects special iron arms for his now grown son, which are bizarrely flexible in their science defying way and can also shoot darts out the fingers. Hey, he can even shoot the fists out on extenders and so his son is, somewhat, turned into Inspector Gadget. Except, he’s a ‘deadly martial arts, angry at the world Gadget’ who, with his father, hold the local district under a reign of fear, as they render any challengers and upstarts who try to deal with them, pretty useless, crippling them so they have to live with their horrible disability the way that... well let’s call him Iron Arms... had to live with no arms.

So, long story short, various upstarts who make up the four title heroes of this film, all come a cropper at the hands of this iron handed son. One is rendered blind when he has his eyes poked out by those steely digits in a sequence where, unless Arrow are being dishonest with the uncut status of these works, the director inserts a half a second or so of red to try and enhance the impact of the moment, much like Hitchcock had a bunch of red frame cut into the villain’s suicide scene in Spellbound. Another one is rendered deaf and mute while a third has his legs chopped off. A fourth one, a stranger who tries to avenge these three, has his head partially crushed and is left, with his martial arts skills in tact but, yeah, pretty much a complete idiot as he mentally regresses to childish ways. The three others manage to get him back to his master in another region and then all four are trained up in the ways of Kung Fu for three years, so they can go back and exact revenge on Dao Tian-Du, his son and his gang of skilled kung fu experts.

So, for example, the blinded man learns how to extend his other senses such as hearing and, in essence, becomes a lethal, blind martial artist, just like the hero of all those Zatoichi movies. And flexible iron legs are made for the legless man, as he becomes an expert in various acrobatic moves such as jumping through small steel rings and weaponising them like a lethal hula hoop.

And, yeah, it all leads to the inevitable showdown with various factions of the main villains’ men in some spectacular displays of kung fu fighting which, despite the US marketing, make this a much more watchable and entertaining movie than The Five Venoms, for sure. One of the villains even has a weapon called a ‘meteor hammer’ which, in actual fact, is just a big metal ball on a chain and it’s obviously the influence on the weapon of choice for Gogo Yubari’s character in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume One.

With one of the avenging heroes acting like a complete childish idiot and the mute/deaf guy being very enthusiastic and acting like a kung fu version of Harpo Marx... or at least Nick Cravat... the film is full of characters just fooling around and performing zany but, admirably energetic and skilled, acrobatics. This is mixed with some fairly ballet-like but brutal kung fu scenes which arent afraid to ramp up the goriness at certain points. And all matched with the director’s penchant for fast zooms to hone in on details and what looks like some fairly overly used, recycled but still pretty effective sets.

There seems to be a bit of needle drop in terms of the score and there are certainly some De Wolf library cues at any rate, three of which are included on the second of Arrow’s bonus soundtrack CD compilation discs bundled in with this lovely presentation box. And, really, there’s not much more to say about Crippled Avengers other than, I had a pretty good time with this one and it’s certainly one of the better and more physically spectacular of the films included in this set.

Tuesday 26 March 2024

Ghostbusters - Frozen Empire

Icing With Death

Frozen Empire

Directed by Gil Kenan
USA/Canada 2024
Columbia Pictures
UK Theatrical Cut

It’s funny... my personal experience with the Ghostbusters franchise has always been a bit of a hit and miss affair. I got caught up in it back in 1984 starting with the song... I bought the 12 inch version of the single (the first record I bought with sung lyrics on it, I think... I was always a soundtrack kid) and quite liked the movie when I saw it the same year on its first cinema release. I didn’t think it was great but... it was okay and I have a lot of affection for it. Not so the sequel, which I remember being appalling. Then, after a gap of more than a couple of decades, the female led reboot was... pretty well made and well acted but, somehow almost completely unfunny (I thought... save for a few great one liners spoken by Chris Hemsworth).

So when Ghostbusters Afterlife came out, during the pandemic I think, I was not invested in it and even waited a fair few months before seeing it. And it was absolutely great. Pitch perfect. In fact, I think it’s easily my favourite Ghostbusters movie to date. However, I couldn’t see how they’d make a credible sequel to that one and so, when Ghostbusters - Frozen Empire rolled around, although I saw it at the cinema on opening weekend, I really wasnt expecting much from it. Especially after hearing Mark Kermode’s damning review of the film.

So I’m pleased to say that this one wasn’t nearly as much of a mess as I thought it would be and, again, I actually quite enjoyed it, to be honest.

For this one, the clan of Spengler descendants return, now relocated to New York in the old Ghostbusters firehouse. So we have the Spenglers next generation of Ghostbusters played by Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard (the Stranger Things kid) and the always incredible Mckenna Grace as Phoebe Spengler, the one most like her grandad (played by the late Harold Ramis in the first two movies). We also have Paul Rudd back and the original team as presented by Dan Akroyd, Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson and Annie Potts... plus a few other faces from the old days. Plus some of the other new characters from the previous film who have united with the old gang to work in a kind of Ghostbusters technical centre (they’re like Q section in the James Bond movies)... and a couple of welcome guest stars in the form of Patton Oswalt and the always reliable Kumail Nanijani.

There’s certainly a lot going on but I never got lost and I think, rather than the mess that some critics are presenting it to be, all the story beats from different strands of the movie are nicely interlocking and make sense by the end of the picture. Even to the point where it telegraphs itself in one early scene... as soon as you see a particularly cool ghost character played by Emily Alyn Lind and she gets out a book of matches which holds a single match, you just know how it’s all going to fit in with the denouement of the movie, especially when Nanijani’s character is more fleshed out from around the mid point of the story.

It’s got some nice action beats and a pretty good score by Dario Marianelli, which also uses one of Elmer Bernstein’s main themes from the first film and, sticks to his orchestration style for a lot of the rest of it, I’m pleased to say. I’m also pleased to say that there looks like there will be a proper CD release of the score in a few weeks and so that will be an instant purchase.

Although the film isn’t quite as emotionally engaging as Afterlife, it comes pretty close and I have to say that I am pleased to see that, even without the CGI resurrected spirit of Harold Ramis (although there’s a nice set up to that happening before the rug is pulled out from both the audience and one of the characters), the sequel does pretty well with what it’s got and, honestly, I would be happy if they just kept on making them now.

A couple of odd things I’ll just mention... not really bad things at all, just odd. One is that one of the new characters both looks like and also seems to be playing his character, as a young, mid-1960s Michael Caine, for some reason. I mean... what? It’s like Harry Palmer joined the Ghostbusters! Not knocking it... it’s fun but, why?

Secondly, there is an obvious lesbian attraction between Phoebe Spengler and one of the main ghost characters in the movie, so much so that she temporarily separates her spirit from her body in order to spend some time with her. But it’s really well played between the two characters and... obviously there but, never once specifically mentioned as even existing... it’s like the film wants to ‘almost but not quite’ highlight it and pull back from it at the same time. I suspect there was a slightly different cut of the movie which maybe got buried for commercial reasons... that would be my guess, anyway.

Thirdly, there’s a big set up about all the old ghosts escaping from their holding chamber and returning and we see a shot of them going past the Statue Of Liberty but, not once does the statue get animated in a ghostly manner as I’m sure it did in one of the past movies. It’s almost like the studio deliberately set it up as a visual echo and then... just dropped it for whatever reason (budgetary restrictions or bad CGI would be my best guesses on that).

Also, the climactic showdown at the end of the movie... seems a little smaller than you would expect after everything that’s come before it, I thought. Although, it still works pretty well and it doesn’t really detract from the movie either, I reckon. So there you go, I quite liked Ghostbusters Frozen Empire and I think its very lucky that the movie didn’t shift tonally too much from the last outing. If you liked the previous movie then you’ll probably like this one too.

Monday 25 March 2024

Doctor Who - The Time Meddler

Fair To Meddling

Doctor Who
The Time Meddler

Airdate: 3 July - 24th July 1965
BBC  Region B Blu Ray
Four Episodes

Just a very brief review of the last story in the second season of Doctor Who, The Time Meddler... one which I’ve always wanted to see. Okay, so following on from the events of the previous story, The Chase (reviewed by me here), The Doctor (William Hartnell) and Vicki (Maureen O’Brien) are discussing the departure of Ian and Barbara from the crew of the TARDIS, only to find that Peter Purves’ character, Steven, made it out of harms way by, somehow (let’s not get into it), stowing himself away. Actually the chemistry between him, Maureen O’Brien and Bill Hartnell, thanks to a script that really works well, is excellent and I’m surprised this team is not better remembered. But then, I believe a large proportion of the stories in the next few seasons are lost to time so, perhaps that’s why.

Anyway, the TARDIS lands in Anglo Saxon England in 1066 but, their movements are being watched by a mysterious monk, played by famous British comedian (and Carry On film regular) Peter Butterworth. Vicki and Steven soon find themselves separated from The Doctor (of course, that’s how these dramas work) and it’s all shenanigans befriending the locals and trying to dodge a Viking invasion scouting party. But, something’s not right because, why was the monk checking his wrist as though looking for a watch? A watch that Steven finds later in the episode. Not to mention the church is lit with a simple flick of a switch. And are there really a lot of monks in that Abbey... no, it’s a recording playing on Peter Butterworth’s gramophone. Wait, what?

As the story suggests, the monk, or The Meddling Monk as he came to be known, is someone who is deliberately interfering in time. It’s mentioned that his anti-gravitational lifts helped build Stonehenge, for instance. ‘The why’ is of no concern to The Doctor, who shuns the idea but ‘the how’ is very simple. At the end of the third episode, Vicki and Steven follow an incongruous cable leading into a door in the side of a big tomb... they go through and it reveals they are standing in another TARDIS! The Monk’s TARDIS, a much later type and improved model with, obviously, a chameleon circuit that is not stuck as a 1960s Police Box. Although the show hadn’t yet come up with the idea of Gallifrey and the Timelords yet, The Doctor acknowledges that The Monk is from the same race of people as he. My thinking is that he’s a much more benignly mischievous prototype for The Master character who was created for the show against the third incarnation of The Doctor. In fact, The Meddling Monk was the show’s first recurring ‘villain’, in that he was in a couple of episodes of the next year’s 12 part story The Dalek Master Plan... although all but two episodes exist (I think I might have seen one of The Meddling Monk episodes of that on a compilation DVD of incomplete Doctor Who serials, a couple of decades ago).

And there’s not too much more to be said about this other than, perhaps, that the backdrop skies on some of the ‘studio as exterior location’ shots are much better than previous attempts. And there are a bizarre couple of shots of close up, bloodless but nonetheless intense stabbings which were not in the copy of the episode found in Nigeria (and presumably redubbed with the original audio recordings) because they were cut. I’ve not yet watched the documentary on this one to see how the BBC managed to restore them for this release but, for a children’s programme, even in less ‘nanny state’ times, it’s pretty intense. You feel those ‘trick theatrical blades’ go in.

The end titles are also pretty remarkable on the last episode, where the BBC have superimposed white, posterised faces of the three main characters over a starry background. The show had not yet got to the stage where The Doctor’s face appeared in the opening titles so, I guess this closing title was Hartnell’s one time where he was represented in a graphic form during a credits sequence.

And, yeah, The Time Meddler is not a bad story... I kinda enjoyed it and, it packs a lot into the four episodes, for sure. Apparently, a good time was had by all during the shoot, with Butterworth milking the cast and crew for laughs between takes. It’s a nice way to end the second series, for sure.

Sunday 24 March 2024

Late Night With The Devil

The AI Is
In The Detail

Late Night With The Devil
Directed by Cameron and Colin Cairnes
Australia/United Arab Emirates
2023 Shudder
UK Cinema Print

Warning: Some slight spoilers waiting to possess you.

Well this is pretty good but, before I get into the review proper, I want to address an issue with Late Night With The Devil which has caused a bit of a furore on Twitter the past week or so. The film has TV chanel card style intertitles throughout to signal ‘commercial breaks’ and other things which were designed by AI. Now, they don’t last very long and they’re kind of incidental so... I doubt they’ll spoil the enjoyment of the film for anyone who doesn’t know how that artwork originated. However, I can completely understand why people want to boycott this movie. It’s still taken away a job from at least one human and, frankly, the creative realm (and the political realm, for that matter) is not where AI should be used, no matter how responsibly. Stick to using it as a tool to help with medical breakthroughs etc... don’t let it anywhere near art, would be my take on this. I don’t care whether it fools you or not. I don’t care whether it’s soulless or not (it is). It’s basically wrong... stop it already.

Right, having said that, this is a really great film. Set in 1977, it focuses on an unctuous late night TV show host, Jack Delroy, brilliantly played with gusto by David Dastmalchian (who was also brilliant as Polka Dot Man in The Suicide Squad... reviewed here). In a last ditch ‘save the show’ ratings bid, he asks various guest onto a special Halloween edition of the show dealing with the occult.

The film, we are told, during an extended introduction sequence narrated by the voice of the great Michael Ironside, is the original master tape of the show (along with the behind the scenes sections during the various commercial interruptions). The way this format is presented on the picture is the actual TV broadcast sections are in colour in a 4:3 aspect ratio and the ‘cameras rolling behind the scenes while the commercials play’ are in widescreen black and white. Which is nice visual shorthand and works really well.

Now, if you’re thinking this sounds like a modern day equivalent of the brilliant 1992 British TV broadcast Ghostwatch (reviewed here) then, yeah, you’d be dead right (even though the writers haven’t mentioned it in anything I’ve read about it but, honestly, I can’t believe that wasn’t the majority of the inspiration here). And, without having the trick of appearing as an actual live broadcast on TV to spark the nationwide panic which I remember from when people just happened to tune into it at the time, then it seems, on the surface, like this is kind of a bad idea of a movie attempt. But... you’d be wrong. This movie is actually quite special and I am definitely going to pick up the Blu Ray (if it’s around by Halloween) to show my folks later in the year (that’s the plan, anyway).

Okay, so among the guests on this edition are psychic Christou (played wonderfully by Fayssal Bazzi), the conjurer turned professional debunker (played by Ian Bliss), plus young satanic cult survivor Lily D’Abo (played absolutely brilliantly by Ingrid Torelli, giving a really unsettling performance of a character who knows exactly which camera is on her at any given moment) and her psychiatrist/therapist/guardian Dr. June Ross-Mitchell (played by Laura Gordon). Things go disturbingly wrong for Christou the psychic early on in the show and then the debunker sets himself up as, pretty much the ‘human’ villain of the piece. Then we have the doctor, who is pressured into allowing Lily to ‘let out’ the demonic spirit, Mr. Wriggles, to the audience briefly. And then things go very wrong indeed.

And that’s both the blessing and the curse of this particular film. It’s great when  all hell breaks loose in the TV studio (and presumably into the TV audiences homes... just as it did in Ghostwatch) with the film makers really going for it with the various gore effects and disturbing images. It’s great but... there’s a point where it should have stopped (at the first ‘technical problems’ card) because the impact of the sequence when ‘Mr. Wriggles’ returns to the studio, is absolutely brilliant and ‘good horror’. The creature manifested reminded me a lot of one of the original theatrical posters which were put out for Dario Argento’s early 1970’s giallo Four Flies On Grey Velvet (reviewed here) which was also, presumably, the ‘inspiration’ for the theatrical poster for Berberian Sound Studio (reviewed here) but neither of those films, to my memory, had any such manifestation of a certain ‘splitting headache’ person on screen and, frankly, the way they picture what Lily becomes the second time she is channelling her possessor is... pretty incredible.

Now, I think the film goes on too long because, after this scene which was the perfect ending, there is another extended sequence of fragments of horror which, I think, just detracted too much from the power of what preceded it. But, it’s still pretty good and I’m happy to buy into certain moments on it, even though the way Jack Delroy ends up on stage is pretty obviously telegraphed.

And that’s all there is to it other than to say, I suspect one of the musical compositions by one or other of the co-composers, Roscoe James Irwin or Glenn Richards, sounds suspiciously like it was inspired by the Scorpio killer theme from the original Dirty Harry (review coming soon). It’s good stuff though and would love it if a CD release was produced. And there are a lot of other visual and script nods to things like The Exorcist too so, I really have no problem with the legacy of the scoring, either.

And that’s all I have to say about Late Night With The Devil, I think. An almost perfect entry that, just about, makes its way into the subgenre of horror known as ‘found footage’. I really loved it and can’t wait to show other people the movie at some point. Cracking stuff.

Thursday 21 March 2024

14 Years Of NUTS4R2

Lockdown Memories

14th Anniversary Blog Post

When this post goes live, it will be exactly 14 years since I started this blog, initially because I was feeling a lack of connection with certain other elements of my life (who or what will remain nameless here but... some things never change). It’s also, however, two days short of being the 4th anniversary of what was, for many people of my generation, a very unusual, seemingly quite unbelievable and surreal event in our lives... the first UK Government lockdown in response to the deadly Coronavirus outbreak which was whittling down various countries populations.

Now I’m not here to argue that Coronavirus wasn’t a terrible thing. So many people died and the worldwide response to the disaster was fairly tragic and badly thought out... destroying or changing people’s lives forever. I know some people take the view that the UK government were having to deal with something they were unprepared for (and that’s a different can of worms to begin with, lots of warnings by scientists for decades and an underwhelmingly slow and ill conceived response to the situation did not help) but, I personally can’t let the government off the hook so easily. For almost the entirety of the first year of lockdown (and I say this as someone who has never before taken an interest in politics), I just assumed the people in power were a sad combination of naivety and stupidity and couldn’t work out what they were doing there. Then, slowly, it dawned that these were all corrupt idiots who were not interested in helping people at all and were just in it to make money. They are criminals, for sure, there’s no getting around that.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I wanted to say a few words about the actual positive aspects of lockdown... because I think they are important and I think our government has not learned anything from the situation or, most likely, just want to ignore the benefits to the majority of people. What a surprise eh?

Now don’t get me wrong. I know a certain amount of the population, presumably those suffering from severe extroverted personalities, found lockdown hard. I know some friends had some problems with their youngsters which intrigued me because, when I was a kid, I wanted nothing more than to not have to go to school and certainly not have to socialise with other people. But some people didn’t reap the same benefits of the lockdown lifestyle that others did and I think it’s worth remembering those unexpected perks because I reckon 80% of the UK population could still be better off from them if the UK government wasn’t so greedy and corrupt (and it’s certainly not just the UK government, for sure).

Okay, so for me, lockdown had so many benefits... and for my blog too, it has to be said.

I have elderly parents and that meant that, working from home, I could keep and eye on them and come running if either of them got into trouble. Something I can’t do again now with a two buses or more (depending on traffic) journey home. It goes without saying that I was saving thousands of pounds by not travelling to work, of course. Not to mention clawing back two to three hours a day for myself when I would normally be travelling. And I was getting through roughly a week’s work in a day by not being at the office... so could respond quicker to any emergencies that came up in a quick and efficient manner. Which was handy for people.

And there were the health benefits too. A colleague of mine said that she’d never been fitter than during the lockdown and I have to agree. The extra time saved meant I had time to go out for a 20 minute walk every night, straight after work. I was borderline diabetic when I went into lockdown... within a year I was completely out of it again. Now I’m back in the office my diabetes and other health issues are worse than they’ve ever been. And I get barely a half an hour a night which I can positively call ‘my own time’ on a week day.

But lastly and perhaps more relevantly in regards to this blog, being in lockdown meant I had time to watch movies after work and then write about them. Because there was more money saved, I ordered expensive box sets from Severin in America and the Al Adamson - The Masterpiece Collection box set (start here with that one) really captured my imagination and reignited my love of film. As a result, I still have well over 200 written reviews backlogged and waiting to be tweaked and published. I got through a lot of movies in that travel time and I felt inspired and uplifted to be exploring cinema again... more than I’d felt in a while.

So those, I think, for the record... were my main takeaways from lockdown. And my conclusion is... everyone who is capable of working from home should be... never mind the stupid government edicts and the businesses who want us all to suffer in an office again. If these entities were truly about looking after the people and treating them right, then many of us would be allowed to work from home and, to boot, the climate crisis may not be hanging around our necks so much either. Remember going out in lockdown for a walk and being confronted with no cars on the roads... just fresher air. The less cars on the road (because people are capable of working from home) means less pollution and other benefits. It’s a win/win but, unfortunately, the members of parliament just want to make the economy work for them, so they can continue lining their own pockets with the benefits of other people’s misery. Or, at least, that’s the way it seems to me.

Anyway, those are my memories and take aways from lockdown and, as always, that just leaves me to say ‘thank you for reading’ my anniversary post. Especially to those who have been with me all 14 years to date.