Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Prophecy (1979.)

Prophecy, made in 1979 and directed by John Frankenheimmer, is one of the most overlooked and under rated horror movies of the closing end of the seventies. Written by David Setzler, of The Omen fame, it is part old school boys own adventure yarn and chillingly ecological thriller. Yes it is a monster movie but it also has many other qualities to justify my opening statement. I watched it again recently and feel it has aged better than more successful movies of that era and certainly many of the films that came after in the following decades.
              A giant logging and paper mill organisation are felling trees at an industrial almost apocalyptic  rate and are also pumping something nasty into the waters around their factory. Watch the scene where we are introduced to the scale of the operation as the music swells, as written by Leonard Rosenman in a Wagnerian fashion, and the camera sweeps up over a wide river jammed tightly with felled floating logs. Talk about your Dark Satanic Mills, this place is Mordor in the making. The locals are suffering badly, they are sick, stagger and fall down. exhibiting the kind of drunken characteristics that lead to their stereotyping as drunken natives. A Doctor Verne and his wife Maggie are sent to make an enviromental study that might produce a case for halting the deforestation and pollution but there are many hurdles to be over come. Not least being the resistance from the logging company and its manager, who turns a blind eye to the many evils the mass felling of trees obscures. The story takes place along the banks of the Androscoggin River, a location of staggering beauty with a lively river and a dense forest that seems to rise and fall along the broken spine of a mountain.
              The movie is so well shot and makes the most of the most ominous forest locations on screen. The same sort of atmosphere that surrounds the small town of Twin Peaks with its mass of Douglas Firs swaying hauntingly in a wind with origins not of this world. In a forest that size you could believe in the existence of elder Indian spirits or even Big Foot.
              There is certainly something large roaming this forest with claws and teeth to match. John Frankenheimer directed this movie and managed to draw great performances from his tight cast which included Robert Foxworth, Talia Shire and Armand Assante. The film takes us from the heart of a rat infested ghetto in the bowels of New York tenements and back out into the wilds in the blink of an eye. "Rats gotta live too" says a corrupt and heartless tenement landlord when confronted by the mother of a child who has been subjected to rat bites. Actually they do,I suppose, but not on a diet of human children. Prophecy is a monster movie, to be sure, but it is a well crafted one with very real performances from all involved. Talia shire shines as Maggie, the mother to be who learns too late the terrible cost to be paid for us allowing the world we live on to be poisoned. While Armand Assante, youthful and blindingly handsome, radiates noble gravitas. Robert Foxworth plays a career best as the troubled doctor who desperately seeks a solution to a problem he knows the whole world shares in  but also is a man who's determination to solve the problems of the wider world blinds him to the problems closer to home.There are even a few memorable jump scares and action scenes specially during a nerve wracking night time journey through the forest where monsters dwell.
               Dark forests late on a windy night. They are a stage for the stuff of nightmares.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Return Of The Vampire.

Came across this wee 1943 gem quite by accident and what a pleasant surprise it proved to be. Bela Lugosi stars as vampire Armand Tesla ( What a great name. Almost as cool as Bela Lugosi. ) in a decades crossing yarn detailing two encounters with this arch vampire by the aristocratic Lady Jane..
At the end of that first encounter Armand Tesla is staked but revived twenty four years later when a German bombing raid over England sets in motion a chain of events which lead to him rising from the dead once more. Or rather returning to a state of being undead.
             Both times the vampire is served by a werewolf slave who saunters about their graveyard dwelling with a surprising degree of casuality. it is almost endearing were he not a psycho werewolf hybrid. Lycanthropy like this is usually best affected by Lon Chaney Jnr. himself in a Universal stylee. in the period between the two vampire encounters the world has moved on and got many shades darker. the Second World War is raging and no one knows for sure who will win althoigh every one knows for sure who must not win. In comparison to the threat of Hitler and his henchmen the notion of vampirism fades almost to timidity. Bela is charming as ever, part Murder Legendre, of White Zombie, part Dracula. he revels in his sly cruelty
             Lady Jane as played by Freida Inescourt is given much to do in this 1943 picture, playing the same woman at two different stages of her life. When a journal detailing the staking of Tesla makes its way into the hands of the police there is a very real possibility she will face criminal charges for her actions. They hanged one for such things back in the day. Lady Jane is very much the Van Helsing figure in this story and she carries it well.It is she who keeps her head when the bodies start to turn up and it is she who comes up with a way to counter this threat from beyond the grave. She is brave and strong willed and yet remains compassionate, even for her enemies. The plight of the werewolf slaves touches her and aids a surprising resolution. Audiences for this movie m its day must have sat in darkened movie theaters appreciating what a thoroughly modern conceit it is to move the story of the vampire into the present day. The passing decades since have off course turned the whole exercise into a period piece. A well formed nicely packaged one all the same. It is quite telling that in the story the idea of one of the cast having relocated to England after escaping from a Nazi concentration camp is an all too believable one, a chillingly plausible one at that. Demonstrating how difficult it was for fantastic unreal horror to hold its own in the terrifying stakes against real world horrors. It is one of the reasons we dream I suppose. Even when those dreams are bad ones.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Fug And A beast.

                                                                (From my sketchbook.)
                                                                        Meet Fug.
                                                        And one of Fug's main predators.

A Tingle In A Haunted House High On A Hill.

What A double-bill, both starring vincent Price, both directed by William Castle, both released in 1959. Oddly, or perhaps not so,in both films Vincent  Price is married to a no good vamp who is either trying to murder him or is destined to be murdered by him. Since both films sprang from the imagination of Mister Castle one might imagine he had some serious trust issues when it came to relationships with women, as most of his femme fatales slinked around in treacherous hues.
            Actually William Castle puts in an appearance as himself, providing a wonderful introduction to The Tingler. He is signposting one of his extraordinary gimmicks; "Perceptol!", which involved a device hooked to some movie theater chairs, that would activate in time to on screen events causing more than a few unexpected tingles of terror. The Tingler of the title is a spine dwelling millipede like creature produced from the darkest recesses of the Id and held at bay only by our ability to scream when terrified. The warning is well woven into the script and vincent Price gives it his all. I love that quality Vincent Price has, the ability to simply don a white lab coat in order to become a great humanitarian doctor in search of answers to better mankind and benefit all.Yet in the same movie he threatens his wife with a pistol at close range, prolonging her agony and fear as he smiles and twists his head amusingly in order to wring every ounce of fear that he can from the situation. it is so in keeping with this odd gem of horror movie making which deals with some uncomfortable themes. It has an odd looking cast too. The married couple especially, the mute lady and her homocidely polite husband. The whole film has an odd disjointed from reality feel about even when watching with thoroughly modern eyes, how it must have felt in 1959 can only be speculated at now. it must have felt like sleep walking into William Castle's dream world. yet despite the terrors it also has a cosy fifties Americana feel to it, even with this nightmarish millipede creeping around beneath the actors and the viewers chairs, with the sound of a thumping heart beat acting as a signature tune for it.
           House On Haunted Hill was a huge hit in its day and one of the movies that Vincent Price is best remembered by the general Joes for. In it half a dozen people are invited for an overnight stay in a haunted house for which they will each receive $10,000 dollars. If by the next morning they are still alive or sane enough to collect. The exteriors of the haunted house were shot at an actual location, one Ennis House which was designed by famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, which is slightly at odds with the baroque nature of the various furnishings and indoor decor used on the sound stages for interior shooting. It also has a fantastic opening musical theme ,written by Richard Kayne and Richard Loring, which plays as those invited to spend the night at the haunted house wander around the grounds, perhaps wondering if the money they will be paid is enough to risk their very soul for.
It has a classic jump scare pretty early on as one of the guests explores the basement area of the house. Completely oblivious to the idea it is probably not a good idea to wander around the darkened basement of a house with a fiendish reputation.
            Then again, they may not know they are a character in a haunted house movie.
            I suppose none of us are sure which genre of movie we are stumbling through as we stare at the cracked mirror of our subjective realities.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

The Man Who Cheated Death.

You may not be familiar with this movie byt if you have enjoyed Oscar wilde's Picture Of Dorian Graythen you might also enjoy this purple hued slice of Victorian Melodrama. the story of how one man's attempt to cheat the tides of time leads to madness and murder, oh the hubris of it all. Anton Diffring is Dr. George Bonnet who skirts untouched by the passing decades by transplanting glands from the bodies of his murder victims into his own body. It is only a cheat though and death constantly dogs his steps as he dodges a truly gruesome end as the parried years manifest in a split second should the supply of glands be denied. It is as much his terror of that fearful end which drives him on as much as his desire for an unnaturally long life.
             His mentor professor Ludwig Weiss has come back into his life to warn him that enough is enough and an end must come but the great man's former pupil is not ready to listen. A very youthful and debonair Christopher Lee plays his unwilling accomplice black mailed into helping him for fear of the young lady he hopes to protect. Arnold Marle plays Professor Weiss and introduces a dash of wild haired Euro eccentricity. I remember mister Merle from a memorable turn as the chief Llama of the monastry on the mountain in Val Lewton's Hammer movie The Abominable Snowman. He is quite a character. Great eyes and an expressive voice imbued with ancient wisdom.
              This is not the most action packed of movies and I am not even sure why that should be a consideration. It is dialogue driven with a crushed velvet quality. a lovely wee Victorian Gothic treat to wile away a winter evening for those who enjoy their prose a hazy shade of purple.


Wednesday, 17 January 2018

The Mummy's Shroud.

Was snowed in last night but I barely noticed as I was cloaked beneath the shroud of the lost Pharaoh Kah-T0-Bey. Had never seen this one before. Made by Hammer Films in 1967 and starring Andre Morell and Michael Ripper as the wonderfully named Longbarrow (The ancestral family name of The Doctor's lineage being The Prydonian House Of Lungbarrow.) There is also a fantastic turn in it by the legendary Roger Delgado as the shady protector of the Boy Pharaoh's tomb who snarls and spits swarthy curses like the demonically possessed. Or at the very least, religiously possessed.
              As always Andre Morell slips beneath the skin of his character and brings much gravitas and a learned quality to his adventurous explorer and tomb raider. Micheal Ripper always delivers no matter how small the role and he looks great in this one as Longbarrow. a forerunner to Indiana Jones's friend Marcus.
             The Mummy in this movie is a vengeful gaurdian protecting the tomb of The Boy Pharaoh and boy is he vengeful. This is no Howard Carter creeping sickness. This is a shambling undead and unforgiving shade bent on living up to his promised curse. He actually dispatches one of the unfortunate trespassers using photographic acid, burning his victim alive. He even crushes one of their heads in his bare hands, his rank old crusty millennia old hands. I wont say which victim..
                ...In order to preserve some sense of suspense and jeopardy.
                 I think this was one of four mummy themed movies made by Hammer Films. The next one being Blood From The Mummy's Tomb which brought this unconnected series to a close around the beginning of the seventies.
                 Hammer produced a wide range of differently themed horror movies in their time and in so doing they created a fantastic back catalogue of nightmares that continue to quicken the pulse and chill the blood. The house Of Hammer was more than an idea, it was, and is, a place.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

The Man And The Snake.

Found this wonderful adaption of an Ambrose Bierce short story while ghost hopping on Youtube.  Someone had uploaded this haunting little tale of a man who is confronted by and taken over by a snake which wills him to a terrible fate. It was made in 1972 and starred John Frazer and Andre Morell , it was directed by Sture Rydman for Jocelyn Films (Who were also responsible for that ghostly gem The Return, another story by Ambrose Bierce.)
              In this story a young teacher visiting the home of one of his pupils is given a tour of a "snakery", a hot house where some very dangerous snakes are kept as pets and for study. John Frazer plays the teacher, a very engaging , likeable, fellow with Andre Morell (Mu favorite Quatermass!) playing Doctor Druring, keeper of the "snakery." There is even an appearance by Damaris Hayman, Ms Hawthorne of Devils End herself, at the dinner table scene. This is a pleasantly atmospheric tale, its execution a great example of British film making with the character acting on display reminding the viewer of an age when this type of story telling felt utterly authentic and real. Even the soundtrack is so very charming, in much the same way as the one for The Return also was.
               This story, like the other, has a short running time and yet there is much in it that will deserve and reward a revisit.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Invasion. (1966)

One of my Christmas treats this year was a copy of this movie INVASION. distributed by Network(Boy, they have some amazing stuff in their back catalogue.) I was intrigued by it after a having a conversation about the Doctor Who writer Robert Holmes. The chap I was speaking to mentioned that Robert Holmes had incorporated elements of his story for the movie into his script for Spearhead From Space. The Doctor Who story he wrote which introduced The Third Doctor Jon Pertwee as well as recurring bad race The Autons. I was intrigued enough to put it onto a wants list for Olde Saint Nick.Glad I did too. its a lovely wee late night treat.
               It is very atmospheric. Mostly set in a rural hospital surrounded by leafy forests in which a crashed alien craft is discovered by a very UNIT-like set of troops. A mysterious figure is taken to the hospital after it is run down by accident by a swinging couple(Its an odd and very British mix of science fiction and kitchen sink drama.) Various medical tests reveal the patient to have unearthly origins and before too long the hospital is further isolated by a force field set up by the alien figures who are in pursuit of the patient who is no innocent visitor from beyond the stars.
              British character actor Edward Judd plays the over worked melancholy doctor who discovers their patient is not all they appeared to be to begin with. (The odd plastic/rubber outfit worn by him is a dead giveaway.) Edward Judd had a good line in world weary seen it all before types and his character is a ferocious smoker. He practically chews the smoke from his cigarette. Shocking bad habit for a medical man. One would think he would know better.
              Cheekily enough I also saw some other shared themes from a much later Doctor Who story. Smith And Jones, which introduced the lovely Martha Jones to the many worlds of Doctor Who. When the Judoon transport the hospital where Martha is an intern to the surface of The Moon in order to isolate it so they may track down their alien quarry.It is much the same as the technique favored by the aliens in INVASION. Although the Judoon win hands down when it comes to visually representing how an alien life form might appear. The aliens in INVASION are basically just Asian people in futuristic jump suits, like the hench men of Dr No.
                No one I have spoke to since watching the movie remember it but they are all familiar with the themes. It is so often the way with some of these wee obscure and quite forgotten gems...

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Pharos The Egyptian.

Really enjoyed The Beetle by Richard Marsh and yet I could not shake the feeling after completing it that I had somehow read it before or else something incredibly like  The themes, the atmosphere, the sheer Victorianna and sense of upright daring-do, all terribly familiar. It was as though an ancient Egyptian scarab beetle were fluttering about my head trying to remind me of a life lived before..No, thats too strong. I just felt i had read something a long time ago that felt it may have sprang from the same pen. So I went looking in the old book room and before too long I found the very thing; Pharos The Egyptian by Guy Boothby.
               I read this book way back in the eighties. While I was staying in a house in Portumna, Galway. I found it among a pile of books by Walter Machen and old school books. It is a Victorian supernatural mystery, off course, about a long lived and wickedly cruel Egyptian called Pharos who is actually a mage from ancient times surviving using lost magics of that era. As i suggested, it feels as though it may have slipped from the same pen but is in fact a great wee novel in its own right. Utterly of its time and completely entertaining for that very reason. It also has a few pulp themed illustrations which add to its beguiling quality of swarthy supernaturalism. Guy Boothby was a best selling and hugely prolific writer in his day. His most infamous creation being the criminal occult mastermind Doctor Nikola who sought to create a potion that would lead not only to immortality but could also reanimate the dead. He was hell bent on ruling the world although I think he never quite considered the massive headache and stress bucket such a goal would become if Successful. Guy Boothby died a young man, only thirty eight when he was carried away by pneumonia, dying at his home. Sad.
              Dust off your smoking jacket, check out your study windows are bolted shut against the howling wind and rain outside, throw another log on the fire, uncork a nice Merlot, put your feet up and prepare to be to speak.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The Beetle.

Came across a copy of the book The Beetle by Richard Marsh in a visit to an Oxfam bookstore. It is a book I have been keeping an eye open for since first hearing of it being mentioned during a documentary on the life of the writer Robert Aickman I watched a couple of years back. I think Marsh was a distant past relative of Aickman, which just goes to show the truth of Conan Doyle's statement about how art in the blood can take the most curious forms. The book was published in 1897, the same year as Dracula, and in its day actually sold better than Stoker's classic horror novel. I fear it quite forgotten about these days as I have not seen it mentioned anywhere else. Some things last all the ages while others do not.
           I am enjoying it. It is quite barmy. A swarthy Victorian supernatural melodrama all purple hues and quirkily humorous prose. Oh yes, there is a sense of humor at play among the various beastly and ghastly situations that beset the upright British sensibilities that abound and a cigar and port imbiding old boys club eccentricity about it. Like a tale emerging from the recesses of the comfortable familiarity of an old red leather armchair in a swathe of hand rolled Turkish cigar smoke. A tale almost too terrible to tell, or so it keeps warning us. They should release a talking book version with The League of Gentlemen cast performing it. Respectfully off course. I mean it as a compliment.
              It is quite a weird read. The story involves a group of crusty upper echelon Victorians and their travails surrounding  Egyptian scarab chicanery,where a shape shifting Egyptian Supernatural entity seeks revenge on and upcoming Member Of Parliament, cloaked in the cultural prejudices and misunderstandings of the day. Politicians are upright and virtuous, foreigners are shady and shifty and ladies always stand by their men no matter how trivial they are treated.
              I do love the idea that in Germany this book was called Der Skarabus...
              Now that really sounds like Victorian Melodrama to get ones teeth into. Dracula Be Damned!

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Angel Of War.

This one caught me quite off guard. Which is to say I had no time to put a stoney face in place , nor no reason to either I suppose, while sitting drawing, listening to it. I had got to the story Angel Of War and at some point I stopped scribbling, as I sat at my drawing table, and drifted completely into the narrative, the performances. Just incredible. it all come together and I found myself utterly moved and engaged by this story by writer Roy Gil. Almost embarrassed to admit it but at some point a big wet tear fell..Do not really want to admit it but it has never happened to me listening to an audio drama before. Yes,it is one of my favorite art forms but on the very best of days I never felt as lost in the audio realm in quite this way.
             The world of the trenches in WW! has always had quite a haunting effect on me. From novels and poetry and music inspired by this monstrous conflict I have always found it the very cauldron of lost humanity. Just looking at photographs can set me off. I have always felt kinship with the shell shocked. Maybe growing up in Ardoyne during the particular years I did I got to see the best and worst of humanity. Not that I am effecting a comparison with life in trenches and life on Etna Drive, that would be lunacy.
              Its a wonderful production. The writing, the acting, the wall of sounds and music that throw shapes upon the canvas of the listeners imagination.
              The stories in this series assume Dorian Gray was real, that his terrible story was true.
              Stories such as this make me believe in that truth.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Heroic Foreshadowing.

I do not know if I ever mentioned it but way back, yes I know it seems too soon to talk like this but years are years, during the first season of Peter Capaldi's era as The Doctor, there was that season long mystery with regard to the identity of Missy. Just who was she?Actually I thought I had it sussed. Old clever boots me. I thought it would turn out that Missy was Romanna , an evil version of The Doctor's best friend. A damaged and war-traumatised version of Romanna twisted by the terrible events of that horrific conflict. Hurt but redeemable under the influence of of her own best friend to remind her off better times and happier days. Watching Shada and Lalla Ward's star turn brought it back to mind. Perhaps you too can see why when you check out these two pictures.
           I was wrong off course. I frequently am. My theories are nearly always well off. Missy was The Master, in a worthy piece of foreshadowing that like so many Conan Doyle resolutions seems so obvious now. Therein lies the genius I suppose...

A Little Later Than Originally Intended..

It would have been Douglas Adam's final hurrah as writer and producer on Doctor Who before he struck out for fame and fortune in the wider world. possibly pursuing an entirely holistic approach to fame with such properties as Hitch-Hikers,Dirk Gently and a myriad brilliant ideas to difficult to peg down.It is true he experienced a series of mixed fortunes but who does not in pursuit of their dreams. Shada was famously derailed by a strike at the BBC. A situation that seemed so very much a part of daily existence back then with trade union activism so much a part of every working man and woman's life. I doubt there is a Doctor Who fan anywhere in this world of space and time enough who is not familiar with the footage of The Doctor and Romanna on a punt on a river in Oxford. The very picture of two wayward Galifreyan children.Oddly, for a story that was never completed and thus never transmitted, those images have become so iconic and representative of that era. just look at Lalla Ward in this story, the foreshadowing that eventually brought us Missy and hugely influenced, I believe, the very next incarnation of The Doctor.
            Romanna so deserved the medal The Doctor pinned on her pretty frock, with her fine new red berried bonnet and that heroic joyful smile with a cheeky salute. Oh happy days.
            You know, Old Chronotis himself was a real delight. A very worthy foil for The Doctor and Romanna, you could see why he and those two would become chums. If that story had been finished as intended and been transmitted over a six week period all those years ago it would have had so many years to bed down into established continuity. I believe it would not have been the last we saw of Old Chronotis either.The Doctor may even have left a variation on K9 to keep him company in his December years. Maybe all this happened in some parallel plain. Where Tom Baker is still The Doctor...
             And speaking of that. What about that endearing coda of a newly filmed piece at the very tail end of the tale.Tom Baker as he is now as The Doctor as he was when, and Lalla Ward as she is now on the other side of that door. Revisiting a console room I never expected to see again and two old chums at ease with each other. As I said before, Happy Days.