Archive for the Film Category

Classic Horror Campaign

Posted in Film on August 4, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

You see the accompanying photo to this piece? To a certain generation of TV viewers (of which I’m a part), it brings back happy memories. Saturday nights during the 70s and 80s were a great time for fans of classic horror films, as here in the UK, BBC2 would screen a double-bill of oldies but goodies from the likes of Hammer, RKO Studios and Universal. Just like the two depicted on the cover of Radio Times shown here, Jacques Tourneur’s 1957 masterpiece of psychological horror Night of the Demon (with Dana Andrews and Peggy Cummins), coupled with Freddie Francis’ The Ghoul (1975), starring the ever reliable and very gentlemanly Peter Cushing.

Those Saturday night double-features are long gone, replaced by brain-numbing late-night fare.  I’m happy to report, however, that they certainly have not been forgotten. In fact, the Bring Classic Horror Back to Television Alliance are one such group of people who would very much like to see these films make a return to British screens. Films like Bride of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula, To The Devil a Daughter, and The Wolfman, films starring the likes of Sir Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, Peter Cushing , Lon Chaney Jnr, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, would be given an airing, as well all those glorious obscurities that very few people ever hear of, let alone get to see. Many of the films are entirely reminiscent of a different age, and hark back to a time when atmosphere and implication were far more important than being shown everything, when filmgoers were required to use their imaginations to fill in the gaps.

So, to that end, the Bring Classic Horror Back to Television Alliance have set up a campaign to persuade the BBC to return those halcyon days to our screens and have set up various online outlets to promote it, such as a blog, a Facebook page, and even a petition that people can sign. Plenty of support for the cause has already been forthcoming, from people such as Emily Booth (Pervirella), Eileen Daly (Pervirella, Razor Blade Smile), Andy Nyman (Dead Set) and Reece Shearsmith (The League of Gentleman), as well as the National Horror Festival of Wales and others. There’s plenty of promotion online too.

If you would like to see these wonderful films make a welcome return to our TV schedules on a late Saturday night, the kind of films that, when you were younger, you would hide behind the sofa at the scary bits, then do your part by signing the online petition and adding your voice to the campaign. Also, spread the word about it to your friends and virtual acquaintances. If you would like to transform your Saturday evenings from ones of endlessly banal gameshows or tired old dramas or voyeuristic reality TV programmes into ones of fevered anticipation of the thrills and shivers to come, then get on to making your views and demands known.

DO IT NOW!!!

Online petition can be found here.

Bring Classic Horror Back to Television Alliance Facebook page is here.

The Alliance’s blog can be accessed here.

The Art of “Unsee”-ing

Posted in Film, Guest-blog on July 31, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Mark West, horror writer and a regular commenter here (as well as the contributor of the very first guest-blog on these pages), posted the following some time ago on his own blog, Strange Tales. I thought it appropriate in light of the last two blogs I’ve written (Why Horror? & Why Cheap isn’t so Cheerful…). As usual, I would like to hear from other people on this topic, so please leave your comments!!

—()—

I write horror, so I obviously enjoy the genre and I take a lot of enjoyment from it as a consumer – reading and films and some glorious soundtracks – and, in general, I don’t like censorship. I understand its importance, of course, because I have a little boy who’s almost five and very inquisitive and would love to read Daddy’s Fangoria. He knows about horror, because I’ve told him things that I’ve read and seen in a way that he might understand, but he’s never watched anything scary nor have I read anything particularly scary. He needs to be protected, but I’m an adult and I don’t want other adults telling me what I should and shouldn’t watch. So I have a little dilemma on that area.

I tend to self-censor, based on the concept that you can’t “unsee” something. I love horror in all its form – having said that, I’m not a big fan of the ‘torture-porn’ sub-genre, because I think it’s lazy and nasty to no purpose and Eli Roth is a rubbish film-maker – but I’m also very aware that it’s not real. Stephen King once wrote about the zipper on the monsters back and though we don’t get that so much anymore, I can tell latex and most people can spot CGI without too much trouble at all. Horror is about taking you away – certainly, it points you at things you find uncomfortable and, especially with books, prods at it until either you or the character breaks – and in films, it’s make-believe. It can scare you, often it can terrify you, a lot of the time it’ll make you groan with its ineptness but at the end of the day, the actors washed themselves off, Rick Baker packed away his make-up bag and everyone went home.

“Unsee”-ing is much harder if what you’re watching is actually happening and to real people. When I was at school, I loved history in the 5th year because it was ‘modern’ and focussed from about 1939 onwards. I vividly remember one Spring afternoon when sat in the little AV theatre at Montsaye and watched Stevens’ colour footage of the liberation of Auschwitz and I can still see the bulldozer and its terrible load. For VietNam, the images of Kim Phuc running and the Vietnamese man being executed are still lodged there, as is the footage of the burning monks (which makes the Rage Against The Machine album difficult for me to look at ). I feel uncomfortable watching this stuff because – and I must stress, our history teacher wasn’t trying to entertain us – it’s real people, whose lives are threatened or irrevocably altered or ended by the act I’m watching.

Later, two incidents I saw on the news stuck with me too. I was watching the BBC 9 o’clock news with the folks and there was a report from South Africa which, at the time, was still heavily in the grip of apartheid. The footage was in a football stadium and showed a fat black man, wearing a white shirt, running from one side to the other (ie, towards the camera). As he ran, people stepped in his way and he tried to run around them and I assumed they were punching him, but as he got closer to the camera, I noticed his shirt was changing colour. And that the men who were punching him had knives in their hands.

Later still (in 1988), my Mum & I were watching the lunchtime news and saw live the awful moment when those SAS officers drove into the path of a Republican funeral. I remember watching the crowd swarm around their car and the taxi that blocked their escape route, before the feed died and I was able to process how awful it would be to be in that situation. Real people, real problems, with literally life-and-death decisions to be made.

Those things weren’t entertainment, dreamed up and written or filmed for my enjoyment, they were real-life. And I can’t unsee them (and some of them have been in my head for more than a quarter of a century).

What’s prompted this was a discussion I had on Facebook with my friends Gary McMahon and Chris Teague. There’s a new film about called “A Serbian Film” and if you don’t like the idea or concept of extreme cinema, you have already read too much and I would advise you against further investigations. I first heard about this film a couple of months ago and as someone who believes that art should push against the envelope, I read up on the story – the précis and some early reviews – and I’ve decided it’s not for me. There’s one particular sequence that, as a father, I don’t think I could ever tolerate and it’s the inability to “unsee” that pushes me to make that decision – I can’t have that kind of imagery on my mind for the next 25 plus years. Chris is not going to watch it, but Gary is still torn, though he knows that in doing so, he might inflict something awful upon himself.

The ironic thing is, for all our discussion and my comments about censorship above, I can’t see the film getting any kind of major release – there aren’t too many companies who’d be willing to touch something that extreme and those that would don’t have the logistics to get it out to a wide audience. Do I think it should have been made? I’m not sure of the motives, but it certainly doesn’t read as exploitation for the sake of it so yes, if they’re making a point, they shouldn’t be stopped. But will I ever watch it? No. What I can see in my mind from what I’ve read is bad enough, I don’t want to be able to see the images.

So can you watch things that you know will frighten you to the core, even knowing that you’ll never be able to “unsee” them?

—()—

What Mark is saying here ties in neatly to the central thesis of Thursday’s blog – the idea that humanity itself is far crueller and more violent than any “make-believe” story or film could ever be. Plus, we have the capacity, as thinking adults, to be able to decide for ourselves what it is we watch or read, and how far along the road we want to travel. Like Mark, I have a problem with censorship (and also recognise that it’s a double-edged sword), and that I firmly believe in the right of every individual to determine for themselves whether they want to watch a particularly violent film, or choose instead to something completely innocuous. No-one should dictate what it’s ‘safe’ to read or see to anybody, bearing in mind, of course, Mark’s very pertinent remarks about protecting children. The latter is a very essential responsibility. It’s very likely, however, that this debate will stretch on and on, and will never find a satisfastory resolution.

Many thanks to Mark for permission to reproduce this!!

Ray Harryhausen

Posted in Film on June 30, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

You see the monster in the picture? Does it look familiar? It should do. Many of you will have seen it countless times on TV reruns; some of you may even have been lucky enough to have seen the Cyclops in the film it features in, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), in the cinema when it came out. It was the creation of the master of stop-motion animation, Ray Harryhausen, an art that he made singularly his own. And yesterday was the maestro’s 90th birthday, a fact that I only discovered late in the day (and yes, I do live in my own bubble most of the time, isolated from and inoculated against the world around me).

Stop-motion animation was the technique film-makers used to make their monstrous creations live before the advent of CGI and all that flashy, shiny, smooth and almost too-realistic nonsense came on the scene. At its simplest, an actual physical model of the monster would be made in latex, built over an articulated wire armature and each movement would be painstakingly animated millimetre-by-millimetre, frame-by-frame against a back-projection of the already-filmed live-action scene. Each sequence would take months to complete. During the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s and even up until the 1970s it was the main method of animating and integrating monsters for actors to fight or for bringing fantasy creatures to life in live-action films.

Ray Harryhausen, born in 1920, was inspired to enter the field by the pioneer stop-motion animator Willis O’Brien, after seeing his work in the King Kong films. From that moment Harryhausen experimented with the technique, refining and perfecting it. He gained his first job on George Pal’s Puppetoons shorts, then was employed by the Army Motion Picture Unit during WW2. His first ‘real’ job was when the very man who had inspired him, Willis O’Brien, hired him as an assistant animator on his film Mighty Joe Young (1949), which went on to win an Oscar for Visual Effects.

His career burgeoned from then on, starting with The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) and going all the way through to The Clash of the Titans (1981), via such memorable films as 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957), the Sinbad series, (7th Voyage [1958], The Golden Voyage of Sinbad [1974] and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger [1977]), Jason and the Argonauts (1963), One Million Years BC (1966), and The Valley of Gwangi (1969). Titans was the last film where he was actively involved in the creation of the effects sequences, but his involvement with the industry that he gave so much to has continued in other capacities since then.

The bottom line is, though, that like many others of my generation and earlier, his work in those films opened up a whole new world of wonder and imagination. In that sense, just like his mentor O’Brien, he was a pioneer. Yes, in comparison to today’s whizz-bang computer-generated special-effects and animated films, his monsters and the way they move appear primitive and shaky. But to me, THAT is part of their appeal – the fact that even though we know that they’re only 12″ high models they still have a distinct life of their own, that they appear to move under their own steam. Even more pertinently, they have character, completely identifiable ones at that. I remember, for instance, when watching Jason and the Argonauts for the first time, that I felt genuinely sorry for Talos, the giant living statue, when his ‘life’ drained away in the way it did. (He also scared me rigid when, after the hero enters the plinth he rested on, he slowly turns his head…). And who can forget the Children of the Hydra sequence in the 7th Voyage of Sinbad, when armed skeletons emerge from the ground subsequent to the slain monster’s teeth being scattered on it. Absolutely terrifying!!

But my particular favourite scene is the Kali sequence from the second Sinbad film, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. A pre-Dr. Who Tom Baker plays the role of Koura, who, when cornered by Sinbad (John Philip Law – better known as Pygar, the angel, in Barbarella [1968]), sorcerously causes a statue of the six-armed goddess to become a sword-wielding death-machine. An incredibly nail-biting sequence of fantasy cinema, Sinbad’s demise is only averted when Kali is pushed off a platform to shatter on the floor below. (The film also features ‘scream-queen’ Caroline Munro, the darling of Hammer movie buffs, and a pre-The Professionals Martin Shaw as Rachid. Another, more trivial, aside: I have always wanted a Kali tattoo, probably partly inspired by watching that scene. I still want one, just need to find some space in amongst the other tattoos…)

The thing is, the magic of Harryhausen’s creations have always stayed with me (as they have with many others) no matter how long ago I saw the films. I like CGI as much as the present generation of cinema-goers do (as long as they’re not at the expense of the story – unfortunately all-too frequent these days), but, however shaky some may consider the creatures and monsters inhabiting Harryhausen’s worlds are, they will always, ALWAYS, stand head and shoulders above the efforts of today’s effects masters.

So, all it remains for me to do is to end this piece with these words:

HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY, RAY!! MAY YOU CONTINUE TO HAVE GOOD HEALTH AND THAT YOU HAVE MANY MORE YEARS AHEAD OF YOU YET!! MOST OF ALL, THOUGH, THANKS FOR ALL YOUR INCREDIBLE CINEMATIC MAGIC AND THE INSPIRATION THAT HAS FLOWED FROM IT!

Dennis Hopper (1936 – 2010)

Posted in Film, General Musings on May 29, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

So today, we have the sad news that one of the world’s most iconic actors, Denis Hopper, has died as a result of complications arising from prostate cancer. Most film-buffs will know him from two landmark films – Easy Rider, the counter-culture road road movie directed by and starring Hopper himself, and Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola‘s take on Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness.

However, my particular favourite role of his is the one he played in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 as the chainsaw-wielding cop Lefty. I was always convinced that he was more deranged than Leatherface in that one. In fact, it would be true to say that he specialised in playing outsiders, those who, in one way or another, were beyond the pale, those who were looking in and laughing at those of us who willingly participate in the farce called society.

But that isn’t why I am writing this blog: the reason I am is the general perception that we are losing too many of the good this year. It’s true that so far we have said goodbye to Pete Steele (Type-O Negative), Paul Gray (Slipknot bassist), Ronnie James Dio (rock singer), Gary Coleman (actor – Diff’rent Strokes), Frank Frazetta (artist) to name but a few – but this is probably true of any year. Plus, I genuinely believe that the term ‘celebrity’ is slowly passing into disuse, or will be in about a decade  – celebrity has no currency or value in this age of instant stardom and TV shows for talentless no-hopers. Lena Horne’s death, in particular, speaks of the passing of the age of true glamour, where the actors and actresses of the “Golden Age” of Hollywood had more presence and style in their little fingers than any amount of wannabes of the present. In which case, we should not only mourn those who have passed, but that which they represented – ‘fame’ earned the hard way, through sheer hard work and determination, putting in long hours and bothering as many people as they could collar to get them to listen, and grabbing any and all chances when they were offered.

And so another one slips into the past tense, where the word ‘are’ is replaced with ‘were’ – but at least Mr Hopper deserved to be eulogised as the giant of his field that he was – how many of today’s ‘stars’ will be similarly, deservedly lionised.

So, Dennis, keep on riding into that golden sunset – RIP