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RetView #34 – Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)

Title: Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors

Year of Release: 1965

Director: Freddie Francis

Length: 98 mins

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Neil McCallum, Alan Freeman, Max Adrian, Ann Bell, Donald Sutherland, Roy Castle.

dr terrors house of horrors

I love a good anthology film. It’s like getting four stories (or in this case, five) for the price of one. This little gem, not to be confused with the unrelated Dr. Terror and his Gallery of Horrors (1967), was the first in a series of horror omnibuses made by the Shepperton Studios-based Amicus Productions between 1965 and 1974.  Later, more accomplished efforts included The House that Dripped Blood (1970), Tales from the Crypt (1972) and the outstanding Vault of Horror (1973). One of the company’s founders, American Milton Subotsky, also wrote the screenplay for Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, among other things, and later in his career went on to work on several Stephen King adaptations, notably Maximum Overdrive (1986) and Sometimes They Come Back (1991).

Five men board a train at a London station and are joined by a mysterious sixth, the enigmatic and, quite frankly, scary as fuck Dr. Schreck (Cushing). The name, he helpfully explains, is German for ‘terror,’ like that’s going to make anyone feel better. Dr. Schreck then whips out a deck of tarot cards, which he calls his ‘house of horrors,’ and proceeds to reveal the destiny of each of the travellers in turn. Again, not creepy at all. By this time, you are beginning to think that this dude is an absolute riot at parties. The preamble provides the backdrop and framework in which to tell five separate stories, all connected by the aforementioned scenario.

Werewolf: The title kinda gives this one away, except it doesn’t really, if you know what I mean. The narrative follows Jim Dawson (McCallum) who returns to his ancestral home on a remote Scottish island where he finds himself embroiled in the culmination of a family curse and a centuries-old feud. This isn’t quite as straight-forward as it sounds, and the twisty ending is really quite clever.

Creeping Vine: Bill Rogers (Freeman) and his wife (Bell) return from holiday to find a creepy (boom!) vine growing in the garden. Soon, the vine develops a life of its own, along with a killer instinct. This one could almost be lifted straight from a vintage edition of Tales from the Crypt.

Voodoo: Biff Bailey (Castle) is a jobbing musician who accepts a gig in the West Indies where he stumbles across a voodoo ceremony. He memorizes the tune they are playing, and despite being warned, goes back to London and plays it, thereby unwittingly unleashing all manner of fuckery. Plagiarism is not cool, kids. ‘Probably’ based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich who, ironically enough given the subject matter, is uncredited.

Disembodied Hand: This one is, ahem, hands down the grisliest, and probably the best, story of the lot. It follows the misadventures of pompous art critic Franklyn Marsh (Lee) who falls victim to karma after causing a tortured artist to lose his hand.

Vampire: Dr. Bob Carroll (Sutherland) returns to the states with his new French bride. Back home, a spate of killings occurs, which seem to have been carried out by a vampire. Bob’s friend (Adrian), convinces him that his pretty new wife is responsible for the murders and Bob kills her. However, as he is being led away by the police, the friend says to himself that the city isn’t big enough for two doctors, or two vampires, and turns into a bat. The bastard.

As you can see, all the stories have twists, and this tradition is continued within the wraparound story, as in the end it is revealed that all five men were already dead, having copped it when the train they boarded crashed, and Dr. Schreck was actually death himself. Wow, right?

As they did in The Hound of the Baskervilles, and just about every other film they ever appeared in together, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, the horror film equivalent of Starsky and Hutch, put in a couple of truly memorable performances. In fact, the entire cast excels. A special mention should also go to the director Freddie Francis, who achieved most of his success as a cinematographer, winning two Academy Awards and working on classics such as The Elephant Man (1980), Dune (1984) and Cape Fear (1991). All this natural talent, combined with the overall tongue-in-cheek approach and clever, quirky writing, makes Dr. Terror’s House of Horror a worthy addition to any horror collection.

Trivia Corner:

Jazz musician Acker Bilk was originally cast to play the part of Biff Bailey, but he suffered a heart attack and was replaced by Roy Castle, later of Record Breakers fame, in his theatrical movie debut.


RetView #33 – The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

Title: The Serpent and the Rainbow

Year of Release: 1988

Director: Wes Craven

Length: 98 mins

Starring: Bill Pullman, Cathy Tyson, Zakes Mokae, Paul Winfield, Brent Jennings

serpent_and_the_rainbow

We’re all familiar with brain-eating movie zombies like the ones immortalized in Night of the Living Dead, Train to Busan, and 28 Days Later, to name but a few. But what about real zombies?

“Wait up,” I hear you say. “Real zombies?”

Yup. This Wes Craven masterclass in terror is based on a non-fiction book by American anthropologist and researcher Wade Davis, who investigated Haitian voodoo at length before concluding that the process of ‘making zombies’ was rooted in reality. But alas, it has more to do with the ingestion of poisons and hallucinogenic plants than voodoo, hexes and black magic. The right concoction lowers the victim’s vital signs and metabolic rate to such an extent that they appear to be dead. They are then buried, only to be revived later using a different cocktail of drugs. By that time, they usually suffer some form of brain damage. If they have any memory of their ‘past life’ left at all, they believe that their soul has been stolen. As a case study, the book examined in depth the famous case of Clairvius Narcissi, a Haitian man who was supposedly placed into an induced coma by local witchdoctors as a punishment, before being ‘brought back from the dead’ and strolling back into his village years later.

Of course, his claims were later called into question, as were some of Davis’s conclusions, and all this is quite difficult to corroborate as Narcissi died again in 1964 and, as far as anyone knows, stayed dead that time. All we have left is a very strange, far-fetched story, along with the investigative efforts of Wade Davis. Davis is portrayed in the film (and re-named Dennis Allan) by Bill Pullman, who is approached by a pharmaceutical company and given the task of researching the real-life zombification of a man called Christophe (Clairvius Narcisse in disguise) and more importantly, securing a sample of the drug allegedly used in the zombie-making process. Given funding, he heads to Haiti. When he arrives, he finds the country in the grip of a revolution (inconvenient), and despite having an ally in the form of Marielle (Tyson), soon meets opposition from both the locals and what passes for the authorities who are keen to keep their secrets under wraps. Allan is kidnapped, tortured, stabbed in the balls, and given a stern warning by witch doctor extraordinaire Dargent Paytraud (Mokae). But when he still refuses to leave the country, he is framed for murder and just manages to get his sample before being bungled onto a plane bound for America. However, his nightmare is only just beginning.

Nightmares and hallucinations are a key element of the Serpent and the Rainbow. I usually find dream sequences in books and movies boring and somewhat redundant, but here they are so terrifying and immersive you can’t fail to be sucked in, even when you know you are in the middle of a(nother) dream sequence. The film has aged remarkably well compared to most eighties outings. A post-Spaceballs Pullman turns in an impressive all-round performance, and is well supported by Cathy Tyson in her pre-Emmerdale days. There’s barely a trace of a scouse accent, despite being brought up in Liverpool and suffering the ignominy of being married to Craig Charles. Zakes Mokae also deserves a mention as he is thoroughly menacing as Pullman’s nemesis.

Much of the movie was shot on location in Haiti (Or at least it was until it got too hairy and production was moved to the Dominican Republic) giving it an authentic feel, which is reinforced by spliced TV footage featuring the dictator ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier being ousted. In a favourable review, the film critic Roger Ebert said. “In most voodoo movies, voodoo itself is taken only as a backdrop, a gimmick. This movie seems to know something about voodoo and treats it seriously as a religion, a way of life, and an occult circle that does possess secrets unexplored by modern medicine.”

Ultimately, it’s the fascinating subject matter that sets The Serpent and the Rainbow apart from its peers. Perhaps what it does most effectively, much the same as movies like Ringu and Turistas, is remind us that beyond the sanctity of our comfort zones lies a crazy, crazy world.

Trivia Corner:

Unlike most of his other movies the original cut was three hours long, but Craven thought this too long and talky. It was eventually cut down to 98 minutes.


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.

Alien-intro_3064438b

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.

 


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

night of the living dead

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.

 

 


2019 in Review

It’s that time of year again…

Another one ‘in the books,’ so to speak. And time for another quick review.

2019 kicked off in a high gear for me. In January I finally finished the final edits of my novella Tethered and started punting it around carefully selected publishers, and placed drabbles in 100-Word Horrors volumes 2 and 3, to follow-up my appearance in the first volume.

Saunders for the hattrick.

I also finished compiling X: Omnibus, a collection of all three of my short story collections to date, plus some other odds and ends. I’d already commissioned a cover from the sublime Greg Chapman, but even though most of the stories have been published before in various places, many of them still needed a bit of spit and polish. That process complete, I then had to format both the paperback and ebook versions and set about the task of marketing the sucker. I try to do a couple of guest posts at horror blogs and sites around every release. I find it beneficial, as well as fun. Most notably, this time around I popped up on Kendall Reviews discussing why I write horror.

In the first quarter of the year I had a couple of ‘quiet horror’ stories accepted into anthologies. Specifically, Down the Road appeared in a two-volume anthology on Smoking Pen Press entitled Vampires, Zombies & Ghosts, and Where a Town Once Stood was included in the Corona Book of Horror Stories. Obviously, I couldn’t stay ‘quiet’ for long and indulged my wild side in Trigger Warning: Body Horror from Madness Heart Press which included my surrealist skit Revenge of the Toothfish. Tiny Little Vampires was in a similar vein, and that was published by Tell Tale Press and elsewhere, The Bell showed up in Dark Moments.

With seven (count ’em!) new short stories being published, 2019 was probably my most successful ever calendar year in fiction. I also wrote seven or eight more shorts of various lengths and made a start on a new novel about a P.I. (Paranormal Investigator) and his cat I’ve been planning for a long time. For the most part, my fiction has taken a slightly surreal turn. There have been disembodied fingers poking through plugholes, giant cockroaches, and assassins with supernatural abilities. Still, most of the time, I’ve been living in China and writing non-fiction under a pseudonym. There are a lot of good reasons why I use a pseudonym when I write about my adventures and misadventures in the Middle Kingdom, which I won’t go into here. Let’s just say what happens in China is often best left in China, and written about by some other dude with a fake name. But it’s no big secret. If you want to know who this guy is, PM me and I’ll probably tell you, as long as you’re not the thought police.

*Nervous grin.*

I’m quite excited about this coming year. My RetView series of blog posts where I re-visit classic horror movies is picking up more readers and going from strength to strength, the latest installment of my X series of short fiction (imaginatively entitled X4. I like to keep things simple) is set to drop soon, and I’ve already had a couple of stories accepted into anthologies penciled in for 2020 releases. Hopefully, I’ll also have some new material which I’ve been working on for a while out in the second half of the year, so watch this space!

Thanks for reading.

2018 in Review.


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 #27 – Title: The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

Title: The Hound of the Baskervilles

Year of Release: 1959

Director: Terence Fisher

Length: 87 mins

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Andre Morell, John Le Mesurier, Francis de Wolff

The-Hound-of-the-Baskervilles-1959-poster-1

Sit down and buckle up for the second Hammer Horror film in my RetView series, following the trailblazing Witchfinder General. There have been numerous other adaptations of the Hound of the Baskervilles. But even over half a century later, none are as critically acclaimed as this version of the classic gothic horror. Why? Because few cinematic partnerships make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up in quite the same way was Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee do. The quintessential British duo starred together in dozens of films, and became as synonymous with each other as tea and biscuits. Director Terence Fisher (who also directed Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein,The Mummy, and The Two Faces of Dr. Jeckyll, among ,any others) also deserves credit for his efforts. Add to the mix the fact that this was the first Hound of the Baskervilles adaptation ever to be filmed in colour, and you have a perfect storm of superlative talent, excellent source material, and groundbreaking technological advances which may go some way to explaining this particular film’s cultural impact and enduring popularity.

Given that The Hound of the Baskervilles is one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s best-loved Sherlock Holmes novels first published in serial form in the Strand magazine in 1901-02, the plot itself should require little introduction or explanation. But for those unfamiliar with it, it concerns a Dr Mortimer (de Wolff) who asks Sherlock (Cushing) and his intrepid sidekick Watson (Morell) to investigate the death of his friend Sir Charles Baskerville, who he believes was killed by a huge, bloodthirsty dog prevalent in a family course. Furthermore, he believes the new owner of Baskerville hall, Sir Henry (Lee), is next in line. These fears are confounded when he loses his shoe and a tarantula attacks him. Really. And Dr Watson is assigned to ‘look after’ Sir Henry until Sherlock is good and ready to hook up with them. My favourite character in the whole film is the butler, Barrymore (Le Mesurier, from Dad’s Army). Unfortunately he isn’t there when Watson falls into some quicksand near Baskerville Hall, as you do, but luckily a man named Stapleton and his daughter Cecile are there to save the venerable doctor.

That night, Watson sees a strange light on the moors and goes to investigate with Sir Henry, but after seeing a mysterious figure and hearing the mournful howl of a hound, their escapade is cut short when Sir Henry is taken ill. That mysterious figure is later revealed to be Sherlock himself, who arrived at Baskerville Hall ‘a few hours’ after Dr Watson. For some bizarre reason that is never explained, the enigmatic and eccentric detective then chose to sleep rough, rather than announce his presence. After Sherlock stops acting out, he solves the mystery pretty quickly. The ghostly, mythical Hound of the Baskervilles is a mutt with a mask (at least in the book he is painted with phosphorous paint so he glows in the dark) who is kept in an abandoned mine shaft by Stapleton and his daughter, who turn out to be illegitimate descendants of the original Sir Baskerville and stand to inherit a fortune if the rest of the Baskervilles die.

Motive enough for murder?

You bet.

The climax sees Watson shoot Stapleton, who is then attacked by his own mask-wearing dog. Watson shoots that, too, just for good measure, and Cecile falls into the quick sand (you’d think she’d know where it was by now) and dies a horrible death.

This version of The Hound of the Baskervilles is so well loved that it is one of a very select few to achieve a faultless 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The book is also considered one of Conan Doyle’s best. It was Sherlock Holmes’ first outing in eight years, since his apparent death in The Final Problem, though it is set two years before the events in that story. The inspiration for The Hound of the Baskervilles is believed to have come from the ferocious black dogs of English folklore. Stories concerning these mysterious, red-eyed creatures are widespread and the entity is known by numerous names, the most popular being Black shuck. Devil Dog (not to be confused with hell hounds) is a convenient group name, and they are usually considered to be harbingers of death.

Trivia corner

The Baskerville Hall set is the same set that was used for Dracula (1958). The Hound of the Baskervilles also borrowed some music (composed by James Bernard) from the same film.

 


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

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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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