5 More Days To Halloween

Standard

Continuing the countdown of my favourite 11 horror films.

#5 “Jaws” (1975)

jaws_xlg

My Mother and Father went to see ‘Jaws’ at the cinema on it’s initial release in 1975. I was a big movie buff, even at the age of 7, and every time that they would go to the cinema I would ask them to buy me a programme or if there were no programmes of the film they were seeing then a copy of (and I might be mis-remembering the name) ‘Film Review’ magazine. Upon their return from watching ‘Jaws’, which my parents raved about, I was presented with a copy of the programme.

Steven-Spielberg-Jaws-561674

I still have it (it’s quite tatty now) but with the rave reviews from my parents, the fascination I had (and still have) in sharks, along with the great pictures inside the programme I knew it was a film I just had to see. My parents had other ideas though. I was too young, they said, and in retrospect they were right.

However, this did not stop me from badgering them at every opportunity and when the film was re-released about two years later my Mother agreed to take me to see it. Suffice to say I made it up to the part where Ben Gardner’s head pops out the bottom of the boat and no further. From that point on I sat myself on the floor and refused to look at the screen. My Mother, who had paid good money to take me, allowed me to sit there for the next ninety minutes, terrified by the sounds coming from the screen, whilst she finished watching the film. I don’t blame her. I would have done the same.

Several years later and with a brand new blu ray copy of the film in hand I decided to screen it for my eight year old Son. We closed the curtains, turned down the lights, pumped up the amplifier and settled down. He was engrossed. Sure, he jumped when Ben’s head floated out of the hole in the boat, but he still had the guts to carry on. Perhaps I was just more sensitive as a kid. He thoroughly enjoyed it and I think it’s a film that will never get old.

6 More Days To Halloween

Standard

Continuing the countdown of my favourite 11 horror films.

#6 “The Exorcist” (1973)

The-Exorcist_poster (1)

It’s a fact, this is the scariest film I have ever seen. And the books pretty darn scary too.

When I was 12, and into horror books and films in a big way, I was banned from reading William Peter Blatty’s novel ‘The Exorcist’ by my Mother. When I asked why my Mother told me because it was filled with bad language…And that it was far too scary for someone so young as me. Of course I took this as a challenge. I surreptitiously bought a copy from my local bookshop with my saved up pocket money and read the book during break times at school never taking the novel home in case my Mother found it and confiscated it. I read that bad boy in three fright filled days, often sitting on the school’s playing field in bright sunshine. My Mother was right. It scared the shit out of me. When I was done I took the book and buried it in a graveyard thinking that if I interred it on consecrated ground then it couldn’t hurt me. I was wrong. It haunted me for years.

A few years later and my home film collection was large. I had over 300 VHS tapes, mainly copies that I had made myself by hooking up two VCRs. The lady who ran our local video shop would often allow me to borrow the covers of the tapes and I would take these a short distance to the library where I would photocopy the covers (in black and white) so I had a decent reproduction for my own video library. I rented ‘The Exorcist’ and overnight made myself a copy of the pre certificated Warner Brothers tape. The next morning I took the completed tape, put it in the box with the photocopied cover, and never, ever watched it. The only tape I ever did that with, such was the power of the book.

Years later, when I had my first DVD player (this would be around 1997) I bought a region 1 copy of ‘The Exorcist’. I thought I was finally ready to watch it but just to be on the safe side I invited six other people round to watch it with me. And it still scared the shit out of me.

These days I have a blu ray of the film but I still won’t watch it alone. Even watching the documentaries on the disc freak me out and if I’m reading a book about horror films and I come across a still of Reagan in her possessed state then I turn that page over damn quickly, believe me. Strange behaviour for a 46 year old married man with a Son? Nah, just sensible precaution. It gives me the shivers just thinking about it. I think we all have things that freak us out, it’s only natural, and especially if those fears were ingrained during our early, informative years. I’m not scared of snakes, spiders, flying or even dying but I am scared of Friedkin and Blatty’s ‘The Exorcist’ and that’s why it’s on the list.

7 More Days To Halloween

Standard

Continuing the countdown of my favourite 11 horror films

#7 “Re-Animator” (1985)

re_animator_poster_01

I was sixteen when ‘Re-Animator’ was first released. Living in the UK (as I still do) my first encounter with this outrageous film was via the Vestron (I think) VHS tape which was cut quite severely. Even so, there was still enough left in (just) that the film had an immediate impression on me. Down the years I have bought this film on VHS, Laserdisc, several different DVD editions (my favourite being the one with the hypodermic needle/pen included) and now on Blu Ray via Second Sight in the UK (in steel book no less).

This edition from Second Sight (completely uncut) no only contains great picture and sound but also includes the ‘integral’ version of the film with scenes filmed for the TV version spliced back into the main film making it quite different from the version we know and love.

Of course, being a horny teenager, the film appealed to me via the delightful Barbara Crampton who spends a good portion of the film in the buff. What’s not to like! (She’s also great in ‘From Beyond’ for mostly the same reasons.).

Of course the film is mostly remembered for the severed head of Dr Hill giving, well, head to Crampton’s character but the superb gore effects, most notably the bone saw through the chest, are show stoppers.

I’ll always have massive affection for this film. Not only did it step over the boundary of what we had ever seen before in a horror film but it did it with style and wit to boot!

8 More Days To Halloween

Standard

Continuing the countdown of my favourite horror films.

#8 Dawn of the Dead

dawn_of_dead_poster_04

I first saw this on a pre-certificate VHS tape from Intervision. Of course in those days the tape was cut but there was still enough gore to keep me satisfied. This was not my first interaction with the film however. A year or two before i got to see it I had read the novelisation of the film by George A Romero and Susanna Sparrow. Below is a picture of the novel I owned (and still do own in fact).

Samsung

The late seventies and early eighties was a great time to be a horror fan and 1978 was a particularly good year with films such as ‘Halloween’, ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’, ‘Blue Sunshine’, ‘Piranha’, ‘Damien: Omen II’, and of course ‘Dawn of the Dead’ all making their bow.

Nowadays I am too over familiar with the film having watched it at least twenty times. It’s power to shock has dissipated and that’s a real shame because I still remember reeling from the movie after the first time I watched it. The last time I truly felt like I was experiencing something new from the film was when watching Arrow Video’s superb blu ray release of the film.

Dawn of the Dead Blu-Ray2d1000

Sadly this version is now out of print but I think it’s worth paying for it on the second hand market. I’ve seen this edition going for £50 and that’s a decent price to pay for such a great film and a great package. It’s still a great film and by far the best of all the Romero zombie films in my opinion and whilst the 2004 re-make is a good effort nothing surpasses the Romero original.

So Romero finally makes the list but not for the last time. He will make one more appearance here before the 31st of October and it’s probably not the film you’re thinking of.

Stay tuned in for future blogs in the coming days to find out which one it is.

9 More Days To Halloween

Standard

Continuing the countdown of my favourite 11 horror films.

#9 ‘Suspiria’ (1977)

suspiria_poster_03

I first saw the poster for ‘Suspiria’ (the one pictured above) whilst in Central London with my parents. I was but a wee slip of a lad (around 9 or 10) but the horror bug had already bitten me with viewings of the classic Universal horror series on BBC 2 and in print through The Pan Book of Horror Stories. The tagline on the poster, ‘The most frightening thing you will ever see!’, was as good as a dare to a young whippersnapper like me but, alas, it would be several years until I got the chance.

When the chance finally did come it was in the early 1980’s and on VHS. The Thorn EMI tape was certainly not the best way to see, and possibly more importantly hear, the film but even so I was entranced. I can’t say that it was the most frightening thing I had ever seen but it was certainly one of the most stylish. It’s this film that began my love affair with the films of Dario Argento, a love affair that continues still to this very day. Hey! I even liked ‘Gaillo’! (although the same cannot be said for ‘Mother of Tears’ and the awful ‘Argento’s Dracula’).

To me ‘Suspiria’ has always been like a fairy tale. I suppose it helped that I first saw the movie at a young age when such things as fairy tales still had a faint resonance in my young mind. The swirling colours of the film still hypnotise me, the pounding Goblin score still excites me, and I’ve always had a soft spot for Jessica Harper (although I prefer her in De Palma’s ‘Phantom of the Paradise’.)

Whilst Nouveaux Pictures region B blu ray release is not perfect it’s the best I’ve ever seen it and the sound on the disc is superb. Whilst I love ‘Suspiria’ deeply it’s not my favourite Argento film. That film will be listed on this site in the coming days. Can you guess which one it might be?

‘The Incredible Melting Man’ Arrow Blu Ray review.

Standard

incredible 002

The Film

‘The Incredible Melting Man’ (1977) 86 minutes

Dir/Wr: William Sachs

Cast: Alex Rebar, Burr DeBenning, Myron Healey, Michael Alldredge, Ann Sweeny.

During a space flight to Saturn Steve West (Rebar) is exposed to radiation causing his skin to melt. Upon his return to Earth West feels compelled to commit murders and eat the flesh of his victims in order to survive.

Ok, lets get this out in the open nice and early. ‘The Incredible Melting Man’ is not a particularly good film, and that’s being kind. The acting is amateurish, both the direction and writing (Sachs) are sub standard, and the pace of the film is plodding to say the least. However, what saves the film on at least one level is Rick Baker’s special effects. Whilst not of the massively high standard Baker’s work would go on to be, it is still gruesome fun to watch Steve West melt. I won’t say the film doesn’t have it’s charms but they are all very low rent. Watch this late on a Friday night with plenty of beer and vino and a pizza or two and you’ll find it an enjoyable experience but not for the reasons I imagine the crew thought you would.

Video.

I’m amazed at how good this looks. My only other experience of this film is via Vipco’s DVD that was released in 2003 and this blu ray blows it out of the water. The picture is crisp and clear especially in the daylight scenes. I seriously doubt that this movie has ever looked as good as it does on the disc from Arrow.

Audio.

The original 2.0 mono soundtrack. Nothing spectacular but more than serviceable.

The Extras.

An audio commentary with writer/director Sachs kicks off the package. I almost bet he can’t believe that over 35 years later he would be sitting down a recording a commentary on this film. It’s interesting enough. Sachs insists that the film originally was going to be a pastiche of the 1950’s horror/comedy comics but his wranglings with the money men, who wanted a straight horror movie, are documented here.

Next up is the Super 8 digest version of the film. In the late 60’s/early 70’s these super 8 digests of films were the thing to have. Before VHS this was the only way to see a film in your own home. I desperately wanted a projector and some films to go with it (no point having just the projector and no films!) but they were very expensive. Having this digest version on the disc is a wonder to behold. I’m almost tempted to say ‘don’t watch the full film, watch this instead’. Kudos to Arrow for including it.

Following that is a 20 minute interview with Sachs and effects artist Rick Baker. If you have already listened to the commentary then nothing here will be new to you from Sachs but it’s interesting to listen to Baker who is genuinely amazed that anyone wants to hear about this film at all!

A short interview with make up effects artist Greg Cannom follows. The package is rounded out with an image gallery, the original theatrical trailer and a lovely collector’s booklet with new writing on the film and a lovely piece on the Super 8 digests. As usual the sleeve is reversible. I do have to say that the sleeve that I have featured at the top of this post is absolutely gorgeous. Gary Pullin has produced one of the best covers I have ever seen for any DVD or Blu Ray release, not just from Arrow, from anywhere! I would love an A1 poster of this to become available (hint, hint Arrow).

Overall.

In a way it’s a shame that the actual film is so poor because everything else in this release from Arrow is top class. Great picture, superb extras, and a cover to die for. So for those reasons I recommend it.

2/5 The Film

5/5 The Arrow package.

10 More Days To Halloween

Standard

Counting down my top 11 horror films.

#10 The Evil Dead (1982)

Evil-Dead-Poster1

No real surprises here. I first saw this on Palace Video’s cut VHS tape in the early 1980’s as a 13 year old. Having been brought up on the likes of the Universal horror series and the Hammer Horror films this came as a bit of a surprise let me tell you. I wasn’t totally unprepared going in. I had seen pictures and read coverage about the film in Fangoria but nothing quite prepared me for the ‘in your face’ power of the film. The acting is surprisingly good as are the effects, especially when considering the (almost non-existent) budget. Despite a glossy re-make and two direct sequels the original still tops them all in my opinion. And that poster is just fucking gorgeous.

11 More Days To Halloween

Standard

With a mere eleven more days until Halloween I will be listing my favourite eleven horror films. I’m not saying these are the best eleven horror movies ever. If you want that kind of list then there are plenty out there, but instead my personal eleven favourites.

Over the years the list changes, usually in a subtle way, but these eleven films will always remain within shouting distance. These will be brief posts just saying why I love the movie. I’m sure most of the eleven will have been seen by 99.9% of you so I won’t go into great lengths about the film. You might just notice that all of the films come within a 10 year period. It was during those ten years that I discovered horror and the films on the list made me the horror fan that I am today.

So without any further ado…

#11

‘Don’t Look Now’. (1973)

don't_look_now_b1_us1sh

I sat down to watch this as a thirteen year old already hardened by the likes of the ‘Friday The 13th’ movies and ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’. I can’t say I was overly keen at the time but I had bought it on VHS because I had read a review praising the movie in a gore magazine. The film does not bludgeon you like so many horror films of the 70’s and 80’s. Instead it creeps up on you slowly and draws you in. I remember watching it for the first time and despite nothing particularly horrifying happening I can recall pausing the film twice just to get up and walk around as the film was unnerving me so much. Nothing prepared me for the finale and to say that it sent shivers down my back and made me jump about two feet in the air would be an understatement to say the least.

I’ve been to Venice once but this film, whenever I watch it, always makes me want to return. Preferably in the late Autumn. A superb film, with a great cast and superbly directed. Resonates even more now since my Son was born and still has the power to scare the shit out of me every single time.

Forgotten Horror #6

Standard

casting

#6 Casting The Runes

Director: Lawrence Gordon Clark

Cast: Jan Francis, Iain Cuthbertson, Bernard Gallagher

Released 1979 Running time 48 mins

M R James’ story ‘Casting The Runes’ had previously been filmed, to some acclaim, as ‘Night of the Demon’ (‘Curse of the Demon’ in the United States of America) in 1957. Directed by Jacques Tourneur the film was a success has has become much vaunted in recent history by the likes of Martin Scorcese who lists the film as one of the 11 scariest films of all time.

This version was produced by Yorkshire Television in the late 1970’s and runs for roughly half the time that Tourneur’s version did. Although not as polished as the earlier film it’s still a good production. Perhaps because of the time length allowed (it featured in an hour long slot as the ‘Play for the Day’, with 12 minutes allocated for adverts) the piece moves along briskly with nary a lull in the whole programme. Jan Francis plays Prudence Dunning, a television producer/director who airs a documentary debunking all things spiritual including a small section on a man called Karswell who does not take too kindly to this.

The story is probably very familiar to most people reading this and it follows M J James story relatively closely whilst bringing it into the modern world. There are one or two mis-steps in the production, chiefly the large, patently fake, yellow spider that lay beneath the bed clothes of Ms Dunning and Cuthbertson’s awful american accent as Karswell. Why they just could not have had him as British and be done with it is beyond me.

Overall though it’s a worthwhile production of an excellent story. I watched this on the Network DVD which is a region 2 release from 2007. It also included a short story based on M R James’ story ‘Mr Humphreys and his Inheritance’, a short 20 minute film produced for use in schools as a method of teaching children about the usage of music in films. Also included on the DVD is the biopic of M R James called ‘A Pleasant Terror’ which is a dramatised and runs for 60 minutes.

A good package and well worth seeking out if you have never seen this version of James’ classic horror tale.

3/5

The Golden Ages of the Horror Film part I

Standard

dracula

To my mind there have been three great ‘golden ages’ of the horror film. I will be addressing all three ages in three  articles and at the end of each giving you a list of my top ten films from each ‘age’. The first of these ‘ages’ is 1931-1946

Although the genre of the horror film can be traced back as far as the late 18th century it’s generally recognised that the first horror films were the likes of ‘Nosferatu’, ‘The Golem’ and ‘The Cabinet of Dr Caligari’. I personally consider this films and others like it to be the forerunners to the first ‘golden age’ of the horror film.

For me the first ‘golden age’ started in 1931 with the release of ‘Dracula’ starring Bela Lugosi and directed by Tod Browning. The film was such a hit for Universal Studios that the studio would become synonymous with the horror and monster movie, a legend that continues to this day. Universal quickly followed up on the success of ‘Dracula’ with ‘Frankenstein’ starring Boris Karloff and directed by James Whale. Both films were tremendously successful, so much so, that other studios sat up and took notice and started to produce horror films of their own. 1932 was a banner year for the horror film with titles such as ‘Freaks’, ‘Island of the Lost Souls’, ‘The Mummy’, ‘Murders in the Rue Morgue’, ‘The Old Dark House, ‘Vampyr’ and ‘White Zombie’. The success of these films would make household names of their stars and directors.

Universal would return to the well of the successes of their stable and often rinse, lather and repeat over and over again by producing (often inferior) sequels to their hits. ‘The Mummy’ series of films would suffer in this respect with each sequel being an inferior copy of the film that proceeded it. The sequels that followed ‘Dracula’ were of better fare initially with the classy ‘Dracula’s Daughter’ (where Dracula himself does not actually feature) but then dipping in quality with ‘The Son Of Dracula’. The best sequels were reserved for the ‘Frankenstein’ films. ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ has often been cited as the best of the collection, whilst I have a soft spot for ‘The Son of Frankenstein’ in that it was one of the first horror films I ever saw on a late night double bill screened by the BBC in the late 1970’s. The last of these films produced by Universal, ‘The House of Dracula’ and ‘The House of Frankenstein’ are as fun as they are goofy but being the perfect fodder for a 9 year old just getting into horror movies. And of course who could possibly resist the lure of ‘Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man’ with that terrific poster!

Poster - Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man_08

Whilst Universal Studios may have seem to have dominated the horror scene during the first ‘golden age’ of horror films there were notable successes from other studios. MGM studios produced some excellent horror films during this period, most notably ‘The Mark Of The Vampire’, ‘The Devil Doll’ and ‘Mad Love’. Warner Brothers, more noted for it’s gangster pictures, also released some fine horror films. ‘Doctor X’, ‘Mystery of the Wax Museum’ (1933), and ‘The Beast With Five Fingers’ (this last one being a particular favourite of mine).

That brief fifteen year period saw horror become in vogue and then drop out again almost as quickly as the public lost their taste for screen horror as the real horrors of the second World War quickly became apparent. Horror films would initially be replaced by musicals and comedies and then in the 1950’s by science fiction films as the Cold War set in and fears over atomic bombs took over. For awhile though horror reigned supreme and would again in the late 1950’s as a small British studio would re-invent what Universal had started.

My top ten horror films of ‘The First Golden Age of Horror’

(in chronological order)

freaks

murders-in-the-rue-morgue-poster.preview

the-old-dark-house-movie-poster-1932-1020143314

bride

the raven

son

wolf

cat-people-vintage-movie-poster-hires-www.freevintageposters.com_

220px-The-Seventh-Victim-poster

the_beast_with_five_fingers

Feel free to leave your own top ten in the comments section if you wish and do seek out those on my top ten if you have not seen them yet. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.