Friday, 30 October 2009

Halloween? Bollocks.

Well, it looks like it’s that time again… the leaves are falling from the trees, the Government’s mucking about with the clocks again using those shady Scottish farmers as their scapegoats, and Tesco’s is full of pumpkins. Yup, it’s Halloween, which means I’m getting besieged by researchers from BBC and Five news desperate to interview someone, anyone, yes that geek with the horror films website will do, about horror.
But my problem is that Halloween isn’t really up my alley. It’s just too… well, too American, if I’m honest. And yes, I’m aware that it’s a Celtic tradition which originated in the UK etc. But Halloween as we know it today is all Trick or Treat. It’s something we used to do, forgot about, let the Americans have, then got all excited when they let us have it back. Like Ricky Gervais.
There is also the very simple fact that the stuff I know about – the British Horror Film – doesn’t really have any connection with Halloween. I have racked my brains trying to come up with a name of a British film which features October 31st as its main plot device, and I honestly can’t think of one. So frankly, as an “expert discussing Halloween” I’d be about as much use as Anton DuBecque giving advice on how to keep a career in the media. Or Jordan giving advice on how to live a quiet and dignified life away from the media spotlight. Or (insert hilarious topical reference here). In other words, not much use at all.
My earliest memories of Halloween as a young boy growing up in Staffordshire was that we “didn’t really do it”, but Charlie Brown did, with tales of dressing up as ghosts, bullying people into giving you sweets, and the “Great Pumpkin”. As time has gone on, this part of American culture has inveigled its way into our culture as something we seem to put up with more than actively enjoy, but it has definitely kept its American roots. So when we dress up for Halloween, we dress up as Boris Karloff as (Universal’s) Frankenstein’s Monster, Bela Lugosi as (Universal’s) Dracula, the Scream bloke, Michael Myers, Leatherface, Freddy Kreuger, Jason Vorhees… all those strangely cuddly serial killers American cinema has given us over the years. No-one ever really takes up the British horror baton when working out a Halloween costume… and with good reason. We don’t really “do” family friendly, instantly recognisable, psychotic icons in British cinema. I can only think of two. One is Pinhead from the Anglo-US goreathon Hellraiser (British writer, filmed here, someone re-dubbed everyone with American accents therefore making it quite un-British), and the other is Alex from A Clockwork Orange (which I mention because Bart Simpson once dressed up as this character in a Halloween episode of The Simpsons, but let’s face it, it is still a reference few people would actually get, and who wants to wander around their estate looking like Liza Minelli in Cabaret wearing a white boiler suit and enormous codpiece? Also, Alex in A Clockwork Orange is a devious teenage tramp-beating rapist, and pretending to be that kind of character in today’s “broken Britain” can only really lead to trouble).
Are there any examples we could use from the large pantheon of British horrors? Well, Hammer gave us some iconic monsters, but they had basically nicked them all from American cinema, so they’re out. You could don a big fuzzy wig, mustard roll-neck sweater and tweed jacket and go as Christopher Lee in The Wicker Man, remembering to set fire to a passing policeman as you go from door to door. Or, ladies – why not borrow dad’s chamois leather and go as Raquel Welch in One Million Years BC? Oh, go on. Please. There’s Ingrid Pitt in Countess Dracula (although people might mistake your costume for The Queen Of Hearts from Alice In Wonderland, rather spoiling the idea), or an undead biker from Psychomania (although you really need a bike to pull this one off). Or how about asking your mate who works at Comet if you can borrow his work uniform, carry a cricket bat and pretend to be Shaun from Shaun of the Dead? Actually, that’s not a bad idea. He might be a bit annoyed when he sees the ketchup you’ve splashed all over it though (“You’ve got red on you…”).
Or you could just not turn up at all and pretend to be the terrifying invisible force from The Haunting. But perhaps that’s just the kind of thing I’d do, miserable party-pooper that I am.
As usual, I have digressed. I said at the beginning that there wasn’t really any reference in British horror to Halloween, but I was lying. There has been one genuine example, and it was so terrifying that it was only ever shown once, led to a huge outcry in the media, and even, allegedly, one suicide. And that groundbreaking, pant-pooping televisual experience was something called Ghostwatch.
In these days of Most Haunted taking over the telly for the entire week (week!) before Halloween, you young ‘uns might be surprised to here that it was parodied, surpassed and forever eclipsed years before it actually appeared. Back in 1992, in fact.
Ghostwatch was shown by the BBC on Halloween night as a “live” event, hosted by proper TV personalities. The premise was simple – they would present live from a supposedly haunted house, and record what happened there. But this being a “mockumentary” (as opposed to the grounded scientific fact-based modern example of Most Haunted, ho-ho) what starts off as a simple tale of fake poltergeists and naughty children becomes something much more sinister, as the crew discover there is a genuinely terrifying force at work in the house and surrounding area.
I saw Ghostwatch on its original transmission as a supposedly worldly-wise 22 year old, and even though I knew it was a drama, it absolutely scared the bejesus out of me and has burned images onto my brain I will never completely remove. Unlike 99 per cent of the UK population, I have also seen it since – in 2002 the BFI brought Ghostwatch out on DVD, I got it as a Christmas present that year (cheers, love) and I still find it hard to watch. It is a deeply unsettling experience.
Also, for anyone who enjoys the dubious delights of Most Haunted (and who doesn’t?), there are some interesting parallels between the two shows. Ex Blue Peter presenter doing all the hard work? Check. (Yvette Fielding now, but back then it was the much more attractive proposition of a young Sarah Greene). Ineffectual husband of said star lurking in the background? Check. (Insert tasteless joke about Mike Smith’s helicopter here). Faded chat show host doing all the links? Check. (Michael Parkinson in Ghostwatch, and Paul Ross on Most Haunted. Well, his brother’s a faded chat show host, so that counts). Sadly, Most Haunted doesn’t appear to have room on its cast list for a former Red Dwarf star, but Ghostwatch did – its roving reporter was a far too perky Craig Charles.
Ghostwatch also makes use of all the technology available at the time – CCTV, portable cameras, motion detectors, temperature sensors … erm, that’s it. But you get the idea.
But Ghostwatch is a drama, and Most Haunted (allegedly) isn’t, so where Ghostwatch scores over its successor is that things happen. And those things are terrifying. The children in the house claim to be haunted by a ghost called “Pipes” who lurks behind their bedroom curtains, (so called because he makes a knocking sound on the house’s central heating system), and we do eventually get to see him… in a series of almost subliminal shots. The word “Pipes” still terrifies me to this day.
Scary noises can be heard getting louder and louder, and by the end at least one much-loved children’s television star is brutally killed and it looks like the entire nation is about to be taken over through their TV screens. All very Quatermass, and essential viewing for anyone with a love of genuinely scary TV.
I don’t want to give too much away, but if you do get to see it, keep an eye on the crowd behind Craig Charles, the corner of the bedroom by the curtains, and the understairs cupboard. And try not to kick the cat afterwards.
Now then, I’m off to switch the lights off and hide behind the sofa so the trick-or-treaters can’t see me. We don’t do Halloween. Christmas, that’s when we indulge in scary films in this country!

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Colin - what a corker

Here's a review I done for a film wot's good...

In these days of spiralling budgets and ridiculous special effects coming together to produce films which are often much less than the sum of their parts, it’s good to find out about a production making the headlines for exactly the opposite reasons. Colin, the zombie brainchild of director Marc Price, has become a cause celebre recently amongst the national newspapers because of its tiny budget. Did I say tiny? I meant miniscule. Did I say miniscule? I meant… a word that describes something much smaller than “miniscule”.

Colin’s budget was ridiculous – a reported £45, which simply can’t be entirely accurate. Marc reckons that all he bought during the film’s lengthy gestation period was a packet on biscuits and a crowbar – everything else was begged or borrowed – old cameras were used to film it, people worked for free, blood and special effects were concocted in his mum’s kitchen, guerrilla film-making tactics were used to film in locations they probably weren’t supposed to be in.

The usual result of such a cottage industry approach is there for all to see on screen – a shoddy mess of a thing, with bad performances, rotten effects and a “we made it up as we want along” script. But these are usually films which cost thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, more than Colin. So in a way, you come to it prepared to cut it a fair amount of slack. So what if there’s a boom mike visible at the top of the screen? Who cares if the lead stumbled over their lines, or an extra wandered in during a big speech, saw they were filming and backed away again? You’re happy to ignore these little things, cos the entire film cost less to make than a pair of cheap shoes.

However, if you’re expecting a charmingly shoddy production, you’re going to be disappointed. There are no boom mikes in shot, no awkward silences, no unintentional laughs. It is quite simply unbelievable that what you sit and watch cost so little.

Colin shares a certain amount of its look and feel with the much-lauded-but-now-in-danger-of-being-somewhat-over-exposed-on-digital-telly “zombie rom com” Shaun Of The Dead, as Britain wakes up to find out it has been taken over by a bunch of shuffling cadavers seemingly straight from Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead. But that’s about it for the Shaun comparisons, because whereas the bigger budgeted film was a perfectly pitched blend of laughs and chills, the lighter moments in Colin are few and far between. In fact, the only one comes right at the very beginning, when the titular hero is attacked in his kitchen by one of the undead, and tries to beat it off with a wooden spoon, which immediately snaps. That’s it. In a way, it almost wrong-foots you, because on seeing this your mind immediately thinks “recognisable suburban setting, dead bloke with sharp teeth, hopeless hero, comedy implement – it’s a comedy, a-la that thing with that bloke out of Spaced in it! Hurrah!”

But it isn’t. Despite succeeding in stabbing his assailant to double death, Colin realises he now has another bite to add to the nasty gash he has already showed us in his forearm – and as we all know, that means the writing is on the wall. The next minute he’s dead, then he’s up again, complete with puzzled look on his ashen face.

He makes his way out onto the London streets, and the rest of the film follows him as he gets used to his new life. But before you switch off, thinking this is some kind of touchy-feely “it’s a hard life being undead” character study, think again. Yes, our Colin is a sympathetic character in as much as there may be a spark of humanity resting somewhere behind those dead eyes, but this isn’t a film about him as much as about the things he sees on his travels – half-eaten humans watching in helpless agony as they are eaten alive, teenage gangs ignoring the dangers and attacking these new easy to mug targets, families torn in two, people setting up doomed projects to make money from the disaster… even dodgy men using undead women for some decidedly unsavoury activities.

These little vignettes play out as Colin shuffles from place to place, finding out what he must eat to survive and how he must act to get it. On the way we learn more about our hero, who simply wandered onto the screen at the beginning clutching a bloody (as in caked in blood) hammer. How did he get the gash on his arm? Who is that blonde girl who seems intent on saving him? Is he beyond salvation, or can these supposedly mindless creatures remember what it was like to be alive, and re-learn what it is to be human?

As you can probably tell, Colin isn’t just some ham-fisted attempt to remake Dawn Of The Dead on a budget (and believe me, I’ve seen a few of them) – it’s an intelligent, troubling and moving film which genuinely takes the genre and shoves it on a bit.

It’s also nicely made – sometimes to an amazing degree.

Scenes are linked with arty close-ups of flickering lights, for much of the film there is no dialogue, the soundtrack punctuated by distant car alarms and gunfire (apparently created by Marc wandering outside on bonfire night to tape some fireworks – it works brilliantly). And if you’re thinking there won’t be any effects in such a cheap film, you’d be wrong – there’s plenty of horribly realistic gore for those so inclined. Even more astonishingly, there are at least three set-piece zombie attack scenes which wouldn’t look out of place in a film like 28 Days Later. Yes, it really is that good.

Because of its episodic nature, the film never outstays its welcome, and it also means that Marc and his willing army of pretend zombies have the opportunity to experiment a bit. Scenes that stick in the mind long after the film has finished include some cellar-bound zombie sexpots with their eyes gouged out, a student party with some hungry gatecrashers, and, on a quieter note, a simply superb scene which explains the current situation on the streets of London cheaply and effectively as someone uses old newspapers with lurid headlines to cover up the windows of their house.

Everyone will get the chance to see Colin when it opens in UK cinemas in October – and I can’t recommend it highly enough. For anyone who has an interest in horror as a genre, film making on a budget or simply a love of good cinema, it’s a must-see. But take a hanky, cos the ending could have you in tears.

The only other thing I must add is I cannot wait to see what Mr Price can do with a decent budget… say, £450 next time?

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Arise, Sir Chris

No, not me... although it would be nice to get something for all the help I've given the British film industry (ahem).
No, it's perennial misery-guts Chris Lee who's been given a knighthood. Apparently, he's made a few films. Although I (like everyone else) assumed he already was a Sir. Christopher, I salute you anyway. Well done. Now, how about making another Dracula film?

Here's the BBC article:

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Expose soundtrack released

Can't remember much about the music, to be honest (just a lot of grunting and groaning, oh, and shotguns) but thought I ought to let you know that the soundtrack for 70s sleazeathon (and let us not forget, Britain's only homegrown video nasty) Expose is now available. Never really saw it with Miss Richmond, to be honest, but Linda Hayden, that's a different story.

Here's the gen...


This exciting Vocalion release brings together the original soundtracks from three classic 1970s British soft-core sex films, each of which starred 1970s glamour-puss Fiona Richmond, the then girlfriend of self-proclaimed King of Soho, Paul Raymond. This X-rated trilogy was directed by library music legend James Clarke, the man responsible for some of the finest – and funkiest – compositions in the catalogues of publishers such as KPM, Amphonic Music and Bruton Music. The disc kicks off with James’s beautiful, colourful score for 1977’s ‘Hardcore’, which purported to tell the lascivious life story of Fiona Richmond. The music ranges from the most exquisite romantic orchestral material (Tale of Two Girls, Tricky Hand) to Fender Rhodes-laden jazzy funk (Heavy Keyboard, Fruity and On Stage), all performed by a star-studded line-up of British session musicians including Barry Morgan (drums), Herbie Flowers (bass guitar), Steve Gray (keyboards) and Tristan Fry (percussion). The disc is completed by various cues from Steve Gray’s hauntingly beautiful score for 1975’s ‘Exposé’, which also starred Udo Kier and Linda Hayden, and a suite of music drawn from James Clarke’s lush, orchestral score for 1977’s ‘Let’s Get Laid!’, which paired Fiona Richmond with sex comedy star Robin Askwith.

This is the first time that any of this music has been commercially released, and all of it has been expertly remastered from the original analogue stereo tapes, for that trademark Vocalion crystal-clear sound. The accompanying booklet contains fascinating liner notes by James Clarke, as well as rare unseen photographs and original promotional material connected with the films.

Conducted by Syd Dale, Music composed and arranged by James Kenelm Clarke, except* 
Recorded at CTS Studio No.2, Wembley, England, 25 October 1976

Girl in the Picture
Tight for Time
Norfolk Pastorale
Heavy Keyboard
Bicycle Girl
Open Tourer
Tale of Two Girls
Showbizz Town
On Stage – Part One
Typewriter Tune
Photoplay – Part One
Photoplay – Part Two
Tricky Hand
Driving Home
Stately Style
Train Time
Home Again 
Beautiful View
Off in a Hurry
Fiona Butterfly* (James Montgomery; Graham Hurley arr James Kenelm Clarke), James Montgomery (vocal)
Home Again - Alternative take, not used in film
Fiona’s Theme (1) - Not used in film 
Fiona’s Theme (2) - Not used in film

Music composed and arranged by Steve Gray
Recorded at KPM Studios, London, England, 8 September 1975

House of Straw - Short version
House of Straw
House of Straw - Reprise
Suzanne Comes Back - Short version
Suzanne Comes Back
Drinks on the Terrace

Conducted by Johnny Pearson, Music composed and arranged by James Kenelm Clarke, except** 
Recorded at CTS Studio No.2, Wembley, England, 30 June 1977

The Tension Mounts
You Turn My Legs to Water band version** (Steve Gray; Michael Robson)
You Turn My Legs to Water piano solo** (Steve Gray; Michael Robson)

On Stage – Part Two (James Kenelm Clarke) Barry Morgan’s drum solo from “Hardcore”

CDSML 8450

More info available here

Sunday, 26 April 2009


Those cheeky chappies responsible for Evil Aliens (a film I've not seen yet but that is on my reviewing pile) are about to unleash the above on an unsuspecting public.
Looks like it might be a larf (considering the larf free zone the similar sounding Lesbian Vampire Killers was, that would be no bad thing).

Vince (Stephen Graham) is handling his divorce badly.  He’s depressed. Gone to pieces.  But his mates aren’t giving up on him.  Struggling with their own women troubles, they drag him off for an ultimate lads drinking weekend in the country. Arriving in the village of Moodley where the women outnumber the men 3:1, the boys find themselves holidaying in a village overrun by psychotic, homicidal Zombirds with a thirst for male flesh!
The cast includes BAFTA winner Noel Clarke (Adulthood,  Kidulthood), Danny Dyer (The Football Factory, Severance), Stephen Graham (The Damned United, This Is England), Lee Ingleby (Place of Execution), Emil Marwa (East is East), Keith-Lee Castle (Young Dracula) and Neil Maskell (Rise of the Footsoldier, The Football Factory).

Thursday, 5 March 2009

BHF allumni get "Shrieking Sixties" publishing deal

Blimey, it's all about books this week, isn't it?
Thought I ought to mention that Darrell Buxton, that prince among men and all-round good egg, has been pulling together reviews of 60s BHFs from contributors to the site's message board, and he's only managed to get a publishing deal! Yes, there may even be some reviews by my good self in there, which would be nice (previously I've only managed a few passing comments in that "Vault Of Horror" book, or whatever it was called).
Called "The Shrieking 60s", it'll be a companion piece to FAB Press's rather good (but now quite old) book about the 70s, "10 Years Of Terror" (although not affiliated in any way with that tome). Good news, eh?

New BHF book on its way

The third anthology in the much-vaunted (by me, anyway) BHF Books Of Horror will be with us soon. Ish.
As a taster, here's the cover, provided, as ever, by the massively talented artist Paul Mudie.

BHF books contributor releases own anthology

Daniel McGachey, one of the top authors who regularly contributes to the BHF books of horror, has managed to snag himself a proper publishing deal.

He writes to say:

I just wanted to let you know that "They That Dwell..." and "The Shadow in the Stacks" from the first two BHF Books are to be reprinted soon as part of my first (hopefully not last) collection, "They That Dwell in Dark Places", from Dark Regions Press. This is to feature my previously published stories, from the BHF Books, Black Books and Filthy Creations magazine, plus a selection of new stories written specifically for the volume.

Naturally I'm hugely excited about this, but I was asked to keep quiet about it till the stories were ready. Now I've just seen it announced on the Dark Regions website, so I thought it would only be a courtesy to let you know, since it was a huge boost to have those stories published in the BHF Books.

The books will, of course, be mentioned in the book as the original place of publication for those two stories, and in the short biog piece I'm currently putting off writing.

I'm extremely chuffed about this - Dan's work is absolutely brilliant and I'm glad it's getting an airing beyond the limited range of the (admittedly brilliant) BHF Books. Here's hoping he becomes a household name...

You can find out more here:

Lesbian Vampire Killers reanimate Showaddywaddy shock

The next big thing on the Brit horror horizon will be Lesbian Vampire Killers, and the soundtrack album is already out. Featuring tracks like "Run, you bellends!", it sounds like an absolute hoot.
Anyway, here's the press release:


Well known for her lyrical style and penchant for melody, composer Debbie Wiseman has written soundtracks for countless television shows and an increasing number of films - Haunted, Flood, Middletown, Wilde, The Lighthouse, Warriors, Tom’s Midnight Garden and Arsène Lupin. In 2004 Debbie Wiseman was awarded the MBE for her services to the film industry, recognising her as one of the UK’s leading score writers. 

The soundtrack features The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, The Crouch End Festival Chorus and million selling classical singer Hayley Westenra with whom Debbie collaborated on Flood.

Includes Showaddywaddy’s 1976 chart topper Under The Moon Of Love. Lesbian Vampire Killers is released in the UK on March 20th 2009.

About the film: BAFTA award winning comedy duo James Corden and Matthew Holden (Gavin & Stacey) escape to Wales for a weekend of debauchery only to find themselves in a village where all the women have been enslaved by a lesbian vampire curse.

Twisted Nerve gets another airing

Just in case you're not completely sick of it after Kill Bill resurrected the infectiously tuneless theme to Twisted Nerve, it's now available on another CD, this time with other cult movie themes.

Silva Screen Records is releasing CULT CUTS - Music From The Modern Cinema compilation on 9th March 2009.

From LALO SCHIFRIN'S supremely jazzy BULLITT score to HOWARD SHORE'S resonant theme to THE DEPARTED, CULT CUTS is an impressive 18 track compilation of the very best landmark film music which has inspired score composers over the last forty years.

Highlights include two powerful themes from KILL BILL, BERNARD HERRMANN'S spooky TWISTED NERVE and TOMOYASU HOTEI'S scintillating BATTLE WITHOUT HONOR OR HUMANITY.

Lee-ve it out, mate

You'll all be pleased to know, I'm sure, that there's a new article by me up on the Sci Fi channel's website. It's about my old mucker Chris Lee, and I've been remarkably nice about the old guy.
You can see it here:

Hammer shop to close

As probably yet another victim of that darn credit crunch, the Hammer Shop is shutting down - so this could be your last chance to get hold of those poker chips featuring Christopher Lee you've always wanted.
Sally Dickson said: "Just a note to thank all our customers over the past 3 years. The Hammer Films Shop is closing down on March 30th 2009. Please do check our Sale items!"
The shop can be found here: