Category Archives: Reviews

The Alarm – Stream (Hurricane of Change) (review)

The Alarm were bothering the charts long before the triumphant one-two combination of Equals and Sigma. Between 1987 and 1989 they released a trio of seminal albums beginning with Eye of the Hurricane and ending with Change, with the live mini-album Electric Folklore sandwiched in between. The late eighties were turbulent times, not just for the band, who despite arguably being at their commercial and creative peak were beginning to be torn apart by internal politics and squabbling, but also in a wider social context. This was the aftermath of the Miner’s strikes, and when the Berlin Wall fell shortly afterwards it catapulted Europe and the rest of the world into a period of seismic change. While all this was going on, lead singer Mike Peters travelled extensively through his homeland of Wales in a bid to rediscover his roots. During that period of intense retrospection he wrote extensively, many of the lyrics eventually being incorporated into the songs which appeared on the original albums while others fell by the wayside and still others remained unfinished or in some cases even unwritten.

Though it was their third official release (fourth if you count the debut EP) the original Eye of the Hurricane was the first Alarm record I ever bought, and I soon busied myself filling out my collection. The fact that I ended up with some of that collection on vinyl, some on cassette, and some on CD was perhaps indicative of the uncertainty of the times. The thing that resonated with me most wasn’t the anthemic, fist-pumping choruses or impassioned musicianship, though those things definitely played a part, but more the lyrics. In a landscape consisting mostly of Bon Jovi and Guns N Roses clones, it was refreshing to hear someone singing about the place where I was from, and about the things that mattered to me, especially at that stage in my life. I was 13 or 14, and things are especially confusing then. You begin to ask questions and seek meaning, and it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that the Alarm’s music helped me find answers to some of those questions.

Thirty years later, Peters has revisited that period and put all the material in a modern context, recently commenting:

I have always thought of these three albums as an Alarm trilogy. A lot happened to the band and the world, during the writing and recording sessions from 1987-1990. As one decade bled into another, the themes of response and resolve to contend with uncertain times are running through the core of each and every album. Played together, these songs tell their own story and, with the tumultuous times Europe and the USA can expect to face in the coming months and years, are still as relevant today as when they were first written.”

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The original tracks have been re-recorded or even re-imagined, those unfinished or unwritten songs have finally been laid down, and the whole thing adapted into a sprawling double album called Hurricane of Change tied together with segments of poetry and spoken-word narratives. Mike Peters has adopted a similar approach in recent years with re-recordings of earlier Alarm albums Declaration and Strength which, though critically and commercially well received, split much of the fanbase with some appreciating the new interpretations and others maintaining that the original recordings should be left as they are. My stance has always been firmly in the former camp. I enjoy hearing different versions of my favourite songs. Always have. Remixes, remasters, covers, demos, acoustic or live versions, bring them on. Music, like life, is always progressing and evolving whether we like it or not. If your favourite flavour ice cream is strawberry, it doesn’t mean you can’t also enjoy the occasional scoop of mint choc chip as well. Besides, the hardcore traditionalists will always have the original recordings by the original line-up. It’s not like anyone is forcing them to surrender their record collection at gunpoint.

This is an ambitious project, told in chronological order with the emotive autobiographical spoken-word parts delivered by Peters, with a supporting cast of members including his wife Jules, and other members of the band, all adding depth and a theatrical quality that was missing from the originals. Most of the re-imagined songs, slower-paced and piano-heavy, bear little relation to the original versions. Rain in the Summertime and Rescue Me, two of the band’s biggest hits, are virtually unrecognisable. Of the new songs, for me Ghosts of Rebecca and The Ballad of Randolph Turpin stand out both lyrically and sonically dealing, as they do, with folk heroes and uprisings, and really do sound at home in this setting. The first disc (dubbed Downstream) presents the Eye of the Hurricane album, where the new songs serve as missing pieces. The second disc (Upstream) is comprised of tracks originally found on the Change album, including Where a Town Once Stood which I tactfully re-purposed as the title of one of my stories recently, as well as a few b-sides recorded around the same time and another new song, A New Day. The whole package makes a worthy addition to any Alarm fan’s collection, serving to put the original albums in context and take the songs down a different, lyrically-focused route where there is more of an impetus on mood, atmosphere, and storytelling rather than eighties radio-friendly pomp.

Watch the official trailer for Hurricane of Change HERE.

Peters describes the recording process thus:

“By looking at the lyrics afresh, I have now been able to fully realise what I was grasping for as a songwriter and lyricist in 1987-1989. Back then, my confidence had been blunted by a difficult creative process, and I had always privately felt that there was a lot more left to be discovered within the original body of music. With these new recordings, I have been able to realise a torrent of new possibilities and emotions and, in turn, draw them out of the very same songs. By recording Hurricane of Change in this new way, I feel that I have been able to liberate my original lyrical vision and re-present the music in a way that I believe, is just as relevant, if not more vital than ever before.”

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Go HERE for merchandise, tickets, and Alarm/Mike Peters recordings.

 


Brothers in Arms at 35

“Carefully crafted instead of raucous, pretty rather than booming, and occasionally affecting, the record is beautifully produced, with Mark Knopfler’s terrific guitar work catching the best light.”

Rolling Stone

F

Brothers in Arms, the fifth studio album by English rock royalty Dire Straits was released 35 years ago this week, which probably makes it older than most of the people reading this. If you do remember it, you are no doubt feeling old as fuck right now.

You’re welcome.

Brothers in Arms was an instant phenomena, hitting number one in 12 countries (though weirdly, it didn’t even crack the top 100 in France) and holding the top slot in the UK for an incredible 14 consecutive weeks, where it became the first album to ever be certified 10 x platinum. It also became the first CD to sell over a million copies, and is still the eighth best-selling album in British chart history. Even considering how the music industry has evolved, you just don’t get numbers like that these days. The album not only represented the pinnacle of the band’s career, but is now recognized as one of the defining albums of the era.

For his guest appearance on the single Money for Nothing, Sting recycled the vocal harmony from his band The Police’s hit Don’t Stand so Close to Me. Despite containing what is often referred to as homophobic lyrics, the song became the band’s signature tune and biggest ever hit, reaching the top 40 in 15 countries, even France. Money for Nothing was one of five singles released from the album in the UK, along with the title track, So Far Away, Your Latest Trick, and the disco-enthused Walk of Life, which peaked at number two and became the band’s fourth gold single. While the singles were strong, and carried Brothers in Arms a long way, it has to be said that the rest of the album is filler at best. Only the melancholy Why Worry is worth repeated listens. It’s a mystery to me that with so many great songs in their arsenal, they chose to start most of the gigs on that tour with Ride Across the River, a nondescript mid-tempo plodder buried on side two. This suggests that far from being a truly classic album, Brothers in Arms was more a happy coincidence, benefiting enormously from a convergence of outside factors like the emergence of MTV, the arrival compact disc, and the implementation of CGI technology. In my opinion, previous albums Making Movies (1980) and Love Over Gold (1982) outstrip Brothers in Arms both in terms of songwriting and musicianship, if not commercial success.

Many of the songs on Brothers in Arms had to be edited to enable them to fit on vinyl, which can only comfortably accommodate 23-minutes or so per side before the sound quality is severely compromised. Hence the total running time of the original vinyl version is 47:21, while the full length of the album as heard on CD, cassette and later double-vinyl versions, was a much more indulgent 55:07. When I heard the album again on MP3 years later, it was like discovering a whole new set of songs.

However, despite the album’s epic achievements which will forever guarantee it a place in rock history, there was a considerable downside.

Not only was its runaway success impossible to replicate, but it transformed Dire Straits into a different beast. No longer were they considered the rootsy, innovative, blues-based outfit that gave us Sultans of Swing, Lady Writer and Private Investigations. Despite being suddenly elevated to Springsteen and Madonna-esque heights of megastardom, after 1985, the very name Dire Straits became a by-word for boring, middle-of-the-road dad rock, epitomized by Mark Knopfler himself. Never really what you would call a looker, the reluctant frontman was nudging forty by then, and trying desperately to keep abreast of the fast-moving MTV generation by literally rolling up the sleeves of his jacket and sporting a neon-coloured headband. Cringe. Still, it was the eighties, and the entire decade was one big fashion crime.

There were also other, less obvious difficulties during the recording process which suggest that all was not well within the camp. According to a later interview with producer Neil Dorfsman, the performance of Welsh drummer and permanent band member Terry Williams was deemed unsuitable, and his parts later re-recorded by a session musician though Williams retains a credit on the album liner notes and played on the resulting world tour. Interestingly, the recording process was carried out against a backdrop of conflict and sacrifice with many of the lyrics influenced by the Falklands War. The emotive title itself came from something Knopfler’s father said about Russian and Argentinian soldiers having similar ideologies and hence being, “brothers in arms.”

Yeah, Dire Straits were never the same after Brothers in Arms. Apart from the customary slew of compilations, they didn’t release anything of note until 1991’s sub-par On Every Street, which proved to be the final nail in the coffin. That particular offering is now only talked about in hushed tones.

Maybe they were never really cut out for superstardom.

B


RetView #32 – Alien (1979)

Title: Alien

Year of Release: 1979

Director: Ridley Scott

Length: 117 mins

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt, Harry Dean Stanton, Veronoca Cartwright, Yaphet Kotto, Ian Holm.

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Stone cold classics don’t come much colder or more classic than Alien. Widely regarded as one of the best films ever made despite being produced on a comparatively small budget, it was a smash hit and a critical success, even winning a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Visual effects, along with numerous other accolades. Every aspect of the film has been scrutinized and invariably come to be revered, even the above poster. However, had it not been for the unprecedented success of Star Wars, the film would probably never have been made. Eager to capitalize, 20th Century Fox rushed to produce a movie in a similar vein. Alien was shot in just 14 weeks in the second half of 1978, primarily at Shepperton Studios, and Bray Studios in Berkshire, where many Hammer Horror films were made before the site was redeveloped into luxury apartments.

Alien follows the crew of the commercial space tug Nostromo in the year 2122, which is returning to earth with its seven crew members in an induced hyper sleep. Upon detecting a distress signal from nearby a Moon, the ship’s computer, Mother, awakens them and they send a search party out to investigate. On the mission, one of their number, Executive Officer Kane (Hurt) is attacked by an alien creature which attaches itself to his face (hence the name ‘facehugger).’ Kane is taken back to the Nostromo where, some time later, he wakes with seemingly no ill effects. That is, until the crew are all sharing a meal and the iconic chest bursting scene goes down. That’s enough to put anyone off their food. Now beginning to realize that the Nostromo has been infiltrated by a killer alien entity, the surviving crew set out to seek and destroy the now fully-grown, and scary as fuck, transgressor who, of course, picks them off one by one. As if this isn’t bad enough, Ripley (Weaver), now in command as ship’s captain Dallas (Skerritt) is one of the first to bite the dust, is attacked by another crew member, Ash (Hulme) who is then revealed to be an android with a pre-programmed agenda which is vastly at odds with the rest of the crew. And common sense. The whole thing climaxes in sole survivor Ripley destroying the Nostromo, taking Jones the resident cat, and escaping in a mini shuttle. Until she’s called upon to go back to work in the 1986 sequel, imaginatively titled Aliens.

In the years since its release, one of the most interesting aspects explored by critics is the film’s supposed sexual overtones. The adult xenomorph bristles with sexual imagery and a sex scene between Ripley and Dallas was scripted (though never filmed) to illustrate how crewmembers dealt with long periods of abstinence. Several critics have compared the fecehugger’s exploits with male rape, and Dan O’Bannon, who wrote the original screenplay under the working title ‘Star Beast’, has said that the chestburster scene is a metaphor for the male fear of penetration, and that the oral invasion of Kane by the facehugger functions as payback for the many horror films in which sexually vulnerable women are attacked by male monsters. This would seem to be in keeping with the rest of the movie, which contrary to the (then) norm, boasts a strong female lead in Sigourney Weaver who would go on to star in The Year of Living Dangerously, Ghostbusters, Working Girl and a host (sorry!) of others. Even the Alien is female. To go one step further, it has been suggested that Alien is a movie ALL about rape, as the driving force behind the antagonist is reproduction by non-consensual means.

Alien certainly struck a nerve, perhaps tapping into the late-seventies zeitgeist which encouraged people to ask fundamental existential questions such as what is, and what could be. Alien was an unprecedented success, raking in an estimated $104 to $203 million from a measly $11 million budget and spawning three direct sequels, as well as a series of crossovers with the Predator franchise. In 2003 when 20th Century Fox released the Alien Quadrilogy DVD box, which included the original Alien plus the three sequels, it was decided that the box should also include alternate versions of all four films. The alternate version of Alien, labelled the ‘Director’s Cut,’ has been re-edited to restore several deleted scenes (such as one where, during her escape from the Nostromo, Ripley discovers Dallas and Brett cocooned) but omits several others meaning the Director’s Cut is actually shorter than the original. Scott explained, “The traditional definition of the term ‘Director’s Cut’ suggests the restoration of a director’s original vision, free of any creative limitations. Such is not the case with Alien: The Director’s Cut. It is a completely different beast.”

Trivia Corner

The newly-dead facehugger that Ash autopsies was created using shellfish, oysters, and a sheep kidney, while the ‘egg tube’ section is actually a piece of sheep intestine and the ‘slime’ used on the aliens was K.Y. Jelly.

 


Green Day – Father of All (review)

Or Father of all Motherfuckers, to use its full, needlessly sweary title. This review, like the album itself, is going to be short. With its ten tracks amounting to a total of less than 26 minutes running time, in my view it barely qualifies as an album. And that’s not the only mildly confusing thing about this release. The truth is, after the swaggering pomp of Revolution Radio (2016) and the epic God’s Favourite Band compilation (2017), I expected more. With Father of All, Green Day appear to be going backwards, or at best treading water while they channel the spirit of nineties-era Prince. There are some decent tunes here, the best among them probably being the singles Oh Yeah, and Meet me on the Roof and there’s an impressive array of musical styles on show ranging from glam all the way over to motown.

Possibly the closest things to classic-era GD are I was a Teenage Teenager and Sugar Youth, and Junkies on a High also deserves a mention if only for the poignant lyrics which hint at much-loved rockers not with us anymore. But sadly, most of the other cuts fall flat, the most cringeworthy being Stab You in the Heart which is a blatant rip-off of Hippy Hippy Shake. For me, the whole thing lacks depth and substance. It’s no Dookie, or even an American Idiot. In an interview with the Sun newspaper to promote the album, Billy Joe Armstrong explains, “This record represents the time we are in now. It’s got the shortest attention span and there’s a lot of chaos.”

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In that context, the album makes a bit more sense but you can’t help feeling a bit sorry for Green Day. There can be no denying they are in a weird place right now. In a concerted effort to avoid being pigeonholed, in their storied career they’ve gone from snot-nosed punk upstarts to angry political activists to pop rock icons brandishing saccharine sweet sing-alongs. I’m not sure where Father of All fits into this. It’s not exactly a new direction, but it’s surprising enough to have you scratching your head on the first listen. Both Kerrang! And The Telegraph gave it four out of five stars, while the Independent gave it a measly two, saying, “The onslaught of frenzied energy comes at the expense of innovation.”

It’s difficult to argue with that verdict. While Green Day deserve credit for always doing what they want, rather than taking the easy route and doing what was expected of them, it’s unlikely that their 13th album will be the one that defines them or even stands out amongst their now considerable body of work. If you’re on the hunt for new music you’d be better off checking out the recent releases by Bouncing Souls or Dangerous Summer.  All that said, Father of All does get better on repeated listens and GD might still prove me wrong.

It wouldn’t be the first time.


RetView #31 – Christine (1982)

Title: Christine

Year of Release: 1983

Director: John Carpenter

Length: 110 mins

Starring: Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Harry Dean Stanton, Robert Prosky, Kelly Preston

 

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A major reason behind this series of posts is to look at movies that had an impact on my childhood and adolescence not just from a whimsical, rose-tinted view, but through the cold, hard, unimpressed eyes of an adult to ascertain how the films stand up and how my perceptions have changed. From that perspective Christine, the second Stephen King adaptation I have looked at following Thinner, is perfect fodder. I was in my early teens when I first read the book, which was released the same year as the film (unusual in itself, as the journey from publication to silver screen is usually a lot longer) and I think I saw the movie around the same time. Both are shot-through with nostalgia, and though set in the late 1970’s, feel as if they could have been placed in a much earlier time. This is perhaps a result of Christine’s radio being permanently tuned into 1950’s, the era she was manufactured (or ‘born’) rock n’ roll. In many ways, both the book and the movie also capture the angst and confusion of being a teenager, which often goes hand-in-hand with the thrills and naked optimism. All of which is testament to King’s sublime storytelling. Something else that comes through loud and clear is how intrinsic cars and driving is to American teen culture. It’s probably important to most teenagers, wherever they are from. Obviously, cars represent freedom. But they mean so much more in America.

It’s unlikely that any of this would be so prevalent had it not been for the direction of John Carpenter, who had been exploring the horror/suspense genre ever since 1978’s classic Halloween, most impressively on The Fog (1980), Escape from New York (1981) and the Thing (1982), a run he continued with Christine. His trademark sinister musical score, on this occasion cut with rock n’ roll classics, is a permanent reminder of his involvement, but his influence is immediately apparent during the opening credits, which roll over the sound of a throbbing engine. Overall, Carpenter brings a kind of savage warmth to proceedings, which is surprising as in later interviews he said the film was more of a ‘job’ than a personal project.

The plot is simple enough, but when you think about it most great plots are. Things are usually only complicated by sprawling, convoluted storylines which you have to concentrate so hard on following, everything else falls by the wayside. Arnold ‘Arnie’ Cunningham (Gordon) is an unpopular and socially awkward teenager living in the (fictional) town of Rockbridge, California. He has only one friend, Dennis (Stockwell). However, things begin to change when he purchases a beaten-up 1958 Plymouth convertible named ‘Christine’ from a used car dealer. He invests all his time and money in the car, and slowly develops a new image, that of a 1950’s greaser, to go with it. He even lands his first girlfriend, Leigh Cabot (Paul). But then things turn ugly. Arnie isn’t the boy he used to be. These days he’s an arrogant dickhead, and when Leigh almost chokes on a hamburger whilst sitting in his prized car, his friend Dennis does some investigating. He discovers that Christine has a long history of death and tragedy tied her. But that can’t be right. It’s only a car. Isn’t it? Dennis’ worst fears are confirmed when, after an altercation, Christine begins to hint down a group of local bullies. As the violence escalates, Arnie is sucked further and further into his now-murderous alter-ego. Is there any way back for him?

As ever, the thing that stands out most in both the book and the film version of Christine is the characterization. You actually feel for the characters, and despite many of the film cast being novices (an attempt, you feel, to portray the fresh innocence of youth) the acting is impressive right across the board. Word is that the role of Arnie was originally offered to Kevin Bacon, who declined it to take his career-defining role in Footloose, which came out the following year. The exception to the novice rule is the casting of grizzled veterans Harry Dean Stanton and Robert Prosky, who are superb as Detective Junkins and Darnell respectively. Producer Richard Kobritz had first been introduced to the work of Stephen King through his involvement on the ‘Salem’s Lot TV mini-series, and in the aftermath of that project was presented with several other novels King wanted to adapt for the screen. Among these novels were Cujo and, of course, Christine.

Trivia Corner

Because only 5,303 1958 Plymouth Fury’s were ever made, by the time filming began in April 1983 they were in short supply. Carpenter decided to place ads seeking two other Plymouth models, the Belvedere and the Savoy, and eventually got hold of 24 of them in various states of disrepair. These were then used to build a total of 17 versions of the Fury.

 


RetView #30 – Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Title: Night of the Living Dead

Year of Release: 1968

Director: George A. Romero

Length: 96 mins

Starring: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Marilyn Eastman, Karl Hardman, Russell Streiner, Kyra Schon

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Few films have had anything like the same impact on the horror genre as Night of the Living Dead. It was the brainchild of New Yorker George A. Romero who, until then, been involved mainly in producing short films and TV commercials. In his late-twenties, he and a group of friends (many of whom appear in the film) decided to form a company called Image Ten Productions, Night of the Living Dead being one of their first projects.

According to Romero, the story was inspired by the post-apocalyptic Richard Matheson novel I am Legend, about vampire-like creatures roaming the earth after a plague, and was designed to capitalize on the film industry’s ‘thirst for the bizarre.’ Produced on a shoestring, the film had an original budget of just $6000, raised by the ten members of the newly-formed production company, before additional funding was found to stretch the budget to $114,000. It became an instant drive-in hit, and soon recouped over 250 times its budget. However, Romero himself saw little of this, thanks to his lack of industry knowledge regarding distribution deals.

The plot follows a brother and sister, Barbra (O’Dea) and Johnny (Streiner), who travel to Pennsylvania to visit their father’s grave. In the cemetery, they are attacked by a ghoulish stranger. He makes short work of poor Johnny, and chases Barbra on foot. The understandably shaken woman makes her way to a nearby remote farmhouse where she is attacked again (not her day) before being rescued by Ben (Jones) who fights off the assailants and takes Barbra inside the farmhouse. The pragmatic Ben then sets about boarding up the doors and windows, while Barbra has a not-so-quiet meltdown in the corner. They then discover a family hiding out in the cellar and are joined by a teenaged couple who turn up seeking refuge after hearing an emergency call about a series of brutal murders, and the cast is complete.

But not for long.

As you’ve probably guessed, the zombie hordes spend the rest of the movie trying to break into the farmhouse and picking off the small gaggle of survivors one-by-one. Obviously, that’s a drastic oversimplification, but you get the drift. As things develop, the horror gradually, and terrifyingly, shifts from those on the outside trying to get in, to those already inside, not least the daughter, Karen (Schon) who has been bitten by a ghoul (Romero’s original name for what we now know as zombies) and spends most of the film in a catatonic state. Until the end, and if you’ve ever seen a zombie movie before, you can probably guess what happens then. This is the mechanism that poses many of the questions which make the final third of the film so effective. To what lengths would you go to save a loved one? Where would you draw the line? And what do you do when you realize that innocence and beauty mask a ruthless monster? And you’re stuck with it? As Jones says in one of the most memorable lines of the film, “It must be tough for a kid when her old man is this stupid. Now go and be boss down there [in the cellar]. I’m boss up here.”

Add to the mix a satisfyingly gory, ruinous climax and a twist ending and you have a piece of cinematic history. That said, I imagine modern audiences, raised on the sequels and rip-off’s, might be a touch disappointed with what they find here. This is the archetypal indie movie; raw, gritty, and about as far from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood as it’s possible to get. That, for me, is part of its strength. It might seem predictable now, but only because you’ve seen the best parts replicated so many times in other places from likes of Shock Waves and Train to Busan to the Walking Dead. Imagine seeing this back in 1968, when the Vietnam War was still raging and the American political landscape was still struggling to come to terms with the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. The latter, forever associated with the civil rights movement, makes the casting of Duane Jones as Ben even more interesting. At that time, it was highly unusual to see a black male lead dominating a cast of white folk. While some saw the choice as controversial, Romero distanced himself from any controversy by maintaining that Jones ‘simply gave the best audition.’ Jones’ performance is certainly remarkable, and it’s a surprise to me that he didn’t go on to greater things. That could be because he was also a director and teacher, and maybe that was where his true passions lay. Tragically, he died from a cardiac arrest on July 22nd 1988 at the age of just 51. It is also worth noting that Night of the Living Dead was released at the height of the Space Race between America and the Soviet Union which was still very high in the public consciousness, and various allusions are made to Venus probes and radiation as being possible causes of the zombie apocalypse.

Despite its being heavily criticized upon its release for allegedly being exploitative and excessively gory, Night of the Living Dead quickly garnered critical acclaim and became a much-loved horror classic, birthing many of the familiar horror tropes we still see today. Its success led to five sequels between 1978 and 2000, all directed by Romero (along with two remakes and scores of imitations) and it was eventually selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry, as a film deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Trivia Corner:

In the scene where the zombies are eating bodies in the burned-out truck, they were actually eating roasted ham covered in chocolate sauce, which was used as a substitute for blood. This was obviously only possible because the film was shot in black and white. Elsewhere, entrails used in the film were donated by one of the actors who owned a chain of butcher shops.

 

 


RetView #29 – Turistas (2006)

Title: Turista (Paradise Lost)

Year of Release: 2006

Director: John Stockwell

Length: 95 minutes (uncut)

Starring: Josh Duhamel, Melissa George, Olivia Wilde, Desmond Askew, Max Brown

Turistas

A lot of horror movies play on mankind’s basic fear of the unknown. Some do it with more flair and panache than others, and manage to tick another box by catering to the kind of inherent xenophobia seemingly prevalent in the vast majority of cinema goers. Foreigners bad! Anything can happen over there! Ain’t you done heard the stories? This is why such classics as Severance, Hostel, Train to Busan and any number of Japanese offeringsJapanese offerings end up being so revered by western audiences. Not only do they exploit our dove-tailing fears of foreigners and the unknown, but they also provide a welcome splash of the weird and exotic, the colourful and vibrant. If we’re lucky. In any case, we can console ourselves with the fact that you won’t find any of that stuff over ‘ere, mate. This effectively creates a welcome sense of distance and separation between you and your horror. It makes the whole thing not only more believable but more enjoyable, because it’s never going to happen to you. Is it?

Turistas (Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian for ‘Tourist,’ in case you couldn’t work it out) follows the adventures of a group of hip young American backpackers trekking through Brazil. As soon as the premise is established, you know bad shit is soon going to befall them. The only question is, what kind of bad shit are we talking about? It all becomes a bit more clear a few minutes in when their coach crashes and they hook up with a couple of wise-cracking English blokes (Askew and Brown) and an Australian girl (George). Together, the newly-expanded group of wayward thrill-seekers find a beach bar and proceed to get wasted. They mix with the locals and much cavorting and hilarity ensues, until they all wake up the next morning and find they’re drinks were spiked and they’ve all been robbed (bloody foreigners!). With no phones, no money, and very little hope, they start walking. They soon find themselves in a tiny village, but incur the wrath of the locals when they chase down a kid they see sporting one of their baseball hats. An ally called Kiko, who may or may not be on the level, takes pity on them and whisks them away to a safe house deep in the jungle. Whether he has their best interests at heart or not is rendered immaterial when he dives into a river and bangs his head, knocking himself unconscious. The turistas carry him to the ‘safe house,’ which is deserted, but not for long, as pretty soon some crackhead hoodlums arrive by helicopter. Chief among them is a power-mad physician who proceeds to drug the unfortunate travellers (again), strap them to beds or lock them in cages, and extract their organs one-by-one to sell on the black market. The trip of a lifetime to Brazil then turns into a horrifying battle for survival.

On its release, Turistas (re-named Paradise Lost in the UK, Ireland and France) was met with mixed reviews. Fangoria magazine claimed it was, “Better and scarier than Hostel,” while the New York Times dismissed it as, “Plain stupid.” Being filmed on location in Brazil means it is visually breathtaking, and there is some stunning underwater photography on show. Gore hounds will be happy with the surgery scenes in the unrated version, which leave little to the imagination and are definitely not for the squeamish. According to IMBD, these scenes were performed by an actual surgeon for authenticity. Most of the sequence was cut for the theatrical release, as was an earlier eye-gouging scene.

Turistas uk edition

Interestingly, Turistas was largely boycotted in Brazil because of the negative image it portrays of the country, and star Josh Duhamel, who later found a home in the Transformer films, was coerced into offering the Brazilian government and people a grovelling apology during a subsequent appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Perhaps owing to the mixed reviews and the associated controversy, Turistas was only a modest box office success, bringing in a reported $14.7 million from a budget of $10 million. But don’t let the figures sway you, this is a cut above average.

Trivia Corner:

Desmond Askew (who plays Finn) first shot to fame as a naughty schoolboy in the promo video for Wham’s 1983 hit single Bad Boys. Sticking with the same theme, he later starred in legendary British school drama Grange Hill.


RetView #28 – The Terror (1963)

Title: The Terror

Year of Release: 1963

Director: Roger Corman

Length: 82 mins

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Boris Karloff, Sandra Knight, Dick Miller, Jonathan Haze

the terror

The story goes that when production wrapped on The Raven, eager to capitalize on the burgeoning horror genre, director and producer Roger Corman (who achieved fame adapting the stories of Edgar Allan Poe for cinema) wanted to utilize some leftover sets before they were destroyed. Star Boris Karloff was still contracted for a further three days, so Corman struck a deal which amounted to a paying him a small sum of money along with a deferred payment of $15,000 should the new project go on to make more than $150,000. He then enlisted the help of a young Jack Nicholson, who had also just finished working on The Raven and was busy climbing the rungs of the Hollywood ladder, commissioned Leo Gordon to write a very basic script, and a movie was born.

The Terror was filmed on such a shoe-string budget and incorporated such a liberal attitude that Corman often looked to enroll ‘guest’ directors while he was doing other things. Francis Ford Coppola lent his hand to some scenes, and a 26-year old Jack Nicholson virtually directed himself. He plays Andre Duvalier, a French soldier who, in 1806, becomes lost in the Confederation of the Rhine (an amalgamation of client states belonging to the First French Empire created after the Battle of Austerlitz). On the brink of exhaustion, he is saved by a beautiful maiden by the name of Helene (Knight) who shows him where he can find fresh drinking water. Duvalier then has a fight with a bird and almost drowns in the sea. When he comes around, he finds himself in a cabin in the forest being tended to by a weird old lady who might very well be a witch. Helene isn’t there, but the feisty bird he rumbled with earlier is, which is probably all the guy needed. Thoroughly freaked, he sneaks out in the dead of night and heads off into the forest where he meets up with Helene again. This time, in a roundabout way, she leads him to a creepy old castle where he runs into Baron Von Leppe (Karloff) and his henchman, Stefan (Miller). Seeing her portrait on the wall, Duvalier asks about the girl, only to be told the portrait isn’t anyone called Helene at all, but his wife, Ilsa, who he had murdered some years previously when he caught her cheating with a yokel. Even that doesn’t phase Duvalier who loudly proclaims, “With all due respect Baron, for a ghost she’s a very active young woman!” That night, he looks out of the window to see Helene/Ilsa walking in the grounds, and goes out to find her. By this time, I couldn’t help wondering if there was anything a French soldier wouldn’t do to get his end away. He flat-out refuses to leave the castle, and sets about trying to solve the mystery, which only deepens when a disembodied voice leads him to the crypt. Nothing good ever happens in crypts in films. Or in real life, I imagine. Don’t go in the crypt. Does he go in the crypt? I think you know the answer to that. He can’t fucking wait to get in that crypt.

Though much-maligned, and often completely overlooked, for me the Terror stands out for many reasons. Firstly, the ingenuity and sheer resourcefulness of Corman, who pulled out every stop to get the thing done. He saw an opportunity and followed it through, and deserves bucket loads of credit for that. It was a very DIY punk thing to do. Apparently, he never did pay Karloff that promised $15,000, because, he claims, the movie never made the stipulated $150,000. Despite the weak script, much of which was probably written on the hoof or at least partially improvised, the dovetailing performances of Karloff and Nicholson, two screen legends, are remarkable. Finally, the gothic setting is absolutely gorgeous. That castle is straight out of a dream, or a nightmare, the numerous neglected rooms full of dusty trinkets and secret passages act as fitting visual metaphors for the Baron’s moral decay and worsening mental state.

Since someone forgot to include a copyright notice in the credits, today, the original version of the film is in the public domain. To navigate this problem, in the early 1990’s, Corman enlisted Dick Miller to reprise his role and shoot new scenes to frame the action from the original movie, which is then presented in flashback. This extended the running time to 91 minutes. To make matters even more confusing, depending on where it was released, the Terror was alternatively known as The Haunting, The Castle of Terror, and Lady of the Shadows. Given the options, The Terror is probably the most uninspired title they could have gone with. If this film was an object, it would be one of those weird little dusty ornaments you find in an elderly relatives house after they die. Totally worthless in a practical sense, but never-the-less curious, bizarre and not without charm.

Trivia Corner:

The uniform worn by Jack Nicholson was previously worn by Marlon Brando when he played Napoleon Bonaparte in the 1954 epic Desiree.


RetView #26 – Quarantine 2: Terminal (2011)

Title: Quarantine 2: Terminal

Year of Release: 2011

Director: John Pogue

Length: 86 minutes

Starring: Mercedes Mason, Josh Cooke, Mattie Liptak, Ignacio Serrichio, Bre Blair, Noree Victoria

quarantine2_01

Before we start, let’s clear up the inevitable confusion. Quarantine 2: Terminal is the sequel to Quarantine, which was the 2008 English-language remake of Spanish masterpiece REC (2007). REC also had a sequel. Three sequels, in fact. REC 2 (2009), REC 3: Genesis (2012) and REC 4: Apocalypse (2014). Quarantine 2 is none of those, and follows a totally different story arc. Geddit?

Good.

Unlike any other zombie flick, Quarantine 2: Terminal, written and directed by John Pogue (who had previously picked up writing credits on Ghost Ship and the 2002 remake of Rollerball) takes place on a commercial plane and later at a quarantined airport. In fact, you could argue that it isn’t even a zombie flick. These are the Infected, rather than the walking dead brand of zombie previously encountered in movies like 28 Days Later.

It is suggested through passengers listening to news reports that the events play out concurrently as those depicted in the first Quarantine film. It starts off as a typical domestic flight. But I guess they all do, until something happens to make them less typical. Things take a sinister turn when one of the passengers, Ralph, starts frothing at the mouth, throws up all over the place, freaks out and tries to storm the cockpit. Then, in a final flourish, bites half the face off one of the flight attendants before being forcibly restrained. Definitely not what you expect or want from your in-flight entertainment. Ralph has been bitten by a hamster, which in actual fact is a disease-carrying lab rat which has been brought onto the plane by teacher Henry (Cooke) for his students.

No spoilers here, but there’s something deeply suspicious about Henry and all is revealed in due course. Disobeying orders, the pilot radios for assistance and lands the plane at the nearest airport where the passengers disembark and encounter lowly baggage-handler Ed (Serrichio) while the pilots stay on the plane to look after Ralph, who is proving to be quite a handful. As is the rat, who duly escapes the plane and proceeds to make full use of his newfound freedom. Flight attendant Jenny (Mason) bravely attempts to takes charge of the situation, but her plans spiral out of control when a bunch of military types with hazmat suits and machine guns appear, and aren’t overly friendly. They try to administer drugs to the group, which later transpire to be experimental antidotes to the rabies-like virus which is apparently being spread through bites. With Ed’s help, the survivors soon realize that the only means of escape is via an old disused tunnel. If they can find it before the infected, or the military, find them.

Quarantine 2: Terminal, apart from the genius play on words of the title, succeeds mainly because it carries over the same brand of claustrophobic terror and general believability so perfectly executed in both the original Quarantine and [REC]. Things are so tight, it could have been filmed in a cupboard. Bonus points have to go to the makers for attempting to do something different with the franchise, rather than simply taking their cues from the original REC films. Like the first Quarantine, the sequel is notable for its complete lack of musical score, which adds to the eeriness of it all.

Despite being a straight-to-DVD release by Sony Pictures, Quarantine 2: Terminal was well received by critics and at the time of writing boasts an 86% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, far above the average for this kind of film. The website Horror Freak News said in its review, “Expectations were low for this sequel to a remake, but the film pleasantly surprises. The gore is great, the characters elicit some caring about what happens to them, and the resolutions to a few lingering mysteries from REC/Quarantine are quite welcomed.”

I concur.

Trivia Corner:

This is Mercedes Mason’s first role in a zombie outbreak production. It wouldn’t be her last, as she would later have a similar role from 2015 in Fear the Walking Dead. Ironically, the webisodes Fear the Walking Dead: Flight 462 also centered on a zombie outbreak aboard a commercial passenger plane.


Feeder – Tallulah (review)

My introduction to Feeder came on 31st December 1999 at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, at an event headlined by the Manic Street Preachers. Coming at the height of both the Britpop and Cool Cymru movements, it was billed as Manic Millennium and at the time was the biggest indoor music event ever. It was also Y2K, the night the world was supposed to end. It didn’t. In fact, nothing happened. But we didn’t know that at the time, and the tension-edged excitement and we really did party like it was 1999. There were several other bands on the bill that night; Shack, Super Furry Animals, as well as a spoken-word slot from Nicky Wire’s poet brother Patrick Jones, but even though they played a severely truncated set, Feeder stole the show for me. The energy they emitted during Insomnia and the raw emotion of High were definite highlights. I was hooked. Most of the material came from then-current album Yesterday Went Too Soon, but they didn’t really make it big until a couple of years later when Buck Rogers became a massive hit and exposed them to a whole new fanbase. Then came the usual array of ups and downs experienced by most bands who stick around for twenty-plus years, before their current resurgence saw them claim their rightful spot near the top of the rock tree, and near the top of the charts.

So, here we are.

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Always prolific, Tallulah is Feeder’s tenth album proper, not including compilations, EPs and Arrow, the album of new material released as part of 2017’s ‘Best Of’ collection. Their longevity is impressive, despite never being on a major label and benefiting from the associated financial clout. First single Fear of Flying, written through the eyes of a female rock star waiting for the bubble to burst, could almost be autobiographical. As you might expect, Fear of Flying is one of the standout tracks on what is undoubtedly a very strong album. Elsewhere, the lyrics touch on such themes as living in the social media age, nostalgia, growing old and the constant pursuit of happiness. In interviews, songwriter, guitarist and frontman Grant Nicholas has said opener and second single Youth deals, in part, with mental health and the 2002 suicide of former drummer Jon Lee which reduced the trio to a duo, something he is still coming to terms with. These sentiments might seem slightly at odds with the jangly, upbeat tempo, but the weighty lyrics tell the story. Elsewhere, as with the title track, Kite, and especially Guillotine, things are a bit more introspective and subdued. Truth be told, Feeder are at their best when treading the middle ground, as they do on Blue Sky Blue (which was reputedly written for Liam Gallacher because let’s be honest, he needs the help) and the radio-friendly Shapes and Sounds. The weirdest and downright heaviest track (and, conversely, the longest) here is the crunching Kyoto, which sounds as if the band are trying to recapture their Swim/Polythene period.

Like most albums, there are a few tracks on Tallulah which pass by without saying or doing much, but to offset this there are several hidden gems. Rodeo calls to mind earlier single Idaho, and the utterly brilliant Windmills could grace any Feeder album. For the traditionalists, all the usual influences are there (Smashing Pumpkins, Pixies, Husker Du) and in that sense Feeder stay loyal to their roots and the spiky indie guitar sound that made them famous. However, some tracks are more Foo Fighters or Tom Petty, and there is very a progressive feel to many of the tracks. All in all, this is a great collection, and a definite contender for album of the year, even if it the title makes it sound like a homage to a Thai ladyboy.

Tallulah is available now, and is an absolute bargain at £5 for the digital download.


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