“A Naked American Man Stole My Balloons…”

Possibly The Most Entertaining Horror Film Ever Made… 

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“I will not be threatened by a walking meatloaf!” – David Kessler. 

For me, there is no horror movie more shocking, more deliriously funny, more exhilarating than An American Werewolf In London. 

Having gained considerable success with the riotous comedy: Animal House (1978), John Landis unleashed “a different kind of animal” in 1981. People went into Landis’ next feature expecting something just as hilarious. Many walked out, clearly not prepared for the gory and grisly drama that would unfold.

The UK TV premiere came (very late at night, of course) in 1984. It was shown not long after we had bought our very first VCR. After much pleading, my father agreed to stay up and tape it for me. The morning after, watching it avidly, a strange, spine-tingling sensation soon gripped me and held my attention throughout all 97 minutes of it.

One thing for sure: there would be many repeat viewings.

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“I mean, look around. Isn’t this a fun place?”

The film’s opening shot features the Yorkshire moors at dawn. Over a montage of such serene vistas, the first of three versions of Blue Moon (by Bobby Vinton) is played. Actually, in his original script, Landis wanted Moonshadow by Cat Stevens, but Yusuf Islam wouldn’t budge. 

After hitching a ride in the back of a farmer’s truck, backpackers: David Kessler (David Naughton) and Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne) arrive at East Proctor, supposedly in Yorkshire, Northern England, but the location photography was done in Powys, Wales. Especially love the gentle piano score by Elmer Bernstein as they find a traditional little pub called: The Slaughtered Lamb. These exterior shots were taken outside a private house in Crickadarn, a village in Powys. 

“Those sheep shit on my pack…” 

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“‘Ere, Gladys! Tom! Did you hear the one about the crashing plane?”  

The “nice-looking group” inside the warm and cosy Slaughtered Lamb just happens to include some of the most recognisable character actors in the British film industry at that time.

That’s Brian Glover (the warden from Alien 3), the chess player telling that Alamo joke; his opponent is Rick Mayall, a well-loved TV comedy actor; David Schofield (a scheming senator in Gladiator), a disturbed darts player; and there’s even Pat Roach (who challenged Indiana Jones to a bare-knuckle fight in Raiders of the Lost Ark that very same year). These interior shots were filmed inside The Black Swan, at Martyr’s Green, in Surrey. 

“Excuse me, but what’s that star on the wall for?” 

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“You made me miss! I’ve never missed that board before…” 

This is certainly going to go down as the highlight of David Schofield’s career. No action, no gore: just a genuinely chilling moment. Still gets me three decades later. 

Taking drastic leave from The Slaughtered Lamb, after Jack dropped that bombshell, it’s back to the moors they (inexplicably) go.

As they trudge away, the heavens open. Love the way they’re bawling Italian opera without a care in the world…

“Then murder it is! It’s in God’s hands now…”

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“Ah shit! What is it?!” 

Feel the tension as we cut back to The Slaughtered Lamb and the frightened expressions on the locals’ faces as the distant cry of the werewolf is clearly audible.

“You hear that?” “I heard nothing!”

Of course, the two boys have to stop in the middle of the cold, dark and wet moorland to reassure themselves that there are no coyotes in England… 

With every viewing, the gradual loudness of the wolf’s howls is unsettling – fantastic sound effects and a skilful upsurge in suspense as the boys have nowhere to run.

And then! The howl comes (from offscreen) directly in front of them! In their panic, David slips, Jack leans in to help, and suddenly, the beast attacks. Jack is mauled to death; the wolf is shot down by the villagerswho arrived a minute too late. Before passing out, David turns to look at the beast, only to find a dead man lying beside him…

“Maybe that pentangle was for something supernatural…”

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“Mr. Kessler, try not to excite yourself!”

Here you go: yet another reason why An American Werewolf In London is well-cherished – especially among my generation.

Confused and disorientated in a London hospital, David receives a visit by a Mr. Collins from the American Embassy. As soon as you hear the voice you realise: yes! That’s Bert from Sesame Street! Miss Piggy (who actually has a cameo during a dream sequence – how freaky is that?) and of course: Yoda from the Star Wars saga. 

Up until then, Frank Oz had been an anonymous, yet amazing, puppeteer and voice artist, but to see him here:

one couldn’t help but get excited!

“These dumbass kids, they never appreciate anything you do for ’em…” 

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“I’ll send someone in to keep you company…” 

Holy shit! 

Just as you are convinced that this is five-star fare, Landis (and Baker) crank it up to an even more awesome level. Having suffered a few dream sequences already, David drifts off into his most terrifying yet: at home, his siblings are watching The Muppet Show; there’s frantic knocking at the door… 

Get this: a band of Nazi ghouls wielding sub-machine guns shoot up and burn down his home, slaughter his family (even kicking Kermit – the fiends!) then kill him. Will never forget how exhilarating it was watching this scene for the first time all those years ago; reckon the tape was rewound twice to savour each delicious, unbelievable frame! 

At such a young age, this was by far the most mind-blowing sight these wide, disbelieving eyes had ever seen! It remains one of my all-time goosebump moments. As this sequence was sooo cool, it gets two pics. 

And – hey! – we haven’t even got to David’s transformation yet…

“That’s Punch and Judy – they’ve always been violent.”

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“Can I have a piece of toast?”  

With every viewing, the first view of the undead Goodman boy never fails to astound. The make-up applied to Griffin Dunne here by Rick Baker is sensational, but would this scene be outstanding if it did not begin with that absurd line?

This is a pivotal intervention as Jack explains how he died “an unnatural death and now walk the Earth in limbo until the werewolf curse is lifted.” 

“Shut up!”

“The wolf’s bloodline must be severed; the last remaining werewolf must be destroyed… It’s you, David!” 

This is my kinda drama!

It’s kinda creepy how Jack just carries on as he did before, talking about that girl he fancied, only this time complaining about the insipid company of the undead.

“You ever talked to a corpse? It’s boring!” 

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“I didn’t mean to call you a meatloaf, Jack.” 

Amazing how Nurse Price takes David back to her place – which just happens to be:

64 Coleherne Road, 

South Kensington, 

Greater London. 

– where he receives even better treatment. You simply can’t get that kind of care on the NHS nowadays…

Actually, Dad pressed Pause when the shower scene came on. He let me sit through the gore, but Van Morrison was strictly off-limits… 

Another visit from Jackhe is decomposing rapidly; after taking a quick butcher’s at the nurse’s pad, he sits down to repeat much of what he said earlier, although more desperately this time.

This is where my deep admiration for Creedence Clearwater Revival came from. In that far-off pre-internet era it took years to find out who did that killer song: Bad Moon Rising.

“I’m still not hungry…” 

At last, the full moon; David burns up.

Naughton admitted later that the transformation scene took a whole week to accomplish, with approximately ten hours a day applying make-up, five hours on set, and three hours just to remove it! The Academy honoured Rick Baker’s stupendous contribution to this film, with the inaugural Award for Best Make-up.  

In any other werewolf movie, an ominous (and ultimately forgettable) score would have heralded the coming of the lycanthrope, but here, it’s the highly unexpected choice of Sam Cooke’s Blue Moon. This arrangement is not supposed to work, but somehow, surreally, it does. 

Could not proceed without putting up this scene. In addition to gasping at the ingenuity of the effects, listen to those bloodcurdling sound effects, enhancing what turns out to be a credible and undeniably excruciating transformation. 

Modern CGI be damned… 

Especially dig the nice touch at 2:04, just to remind you that –yes – this dramatic scene takes place in somebody else’s living room…

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“I can assure you I don’t find this the least bit amusing… I shall report this!”  

The first victims: the unfortunate couple – Harry and Judith – arrive at Sean’s place:

The Pryors

East Heath Road, 

Hampstead. 

Then there are the three tramps; Tower Bridge is clearly visible in the background.

The sixth and final murder: Gerald Bringsley in the London Underground holds a particular personal fascination. A regular user of the “Tube” whenever in the capital, it’s always a great thrill to follow the same route through Tottenham Court Road station where a horror legend was made. To see for yourself, take the Northbound Northern Line service (not the Central Line), disembark at Tottenham Court Road and make sure to take the middle Exit. 

Amusing how Gerald could buy chocolate from a confectionary machine on the platform – another privilege denied to us now.

“Oh, Good Lord!”

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“I’m genuinely pleased to see you…” 

David wakes up naked in London Zoo. 

How he manages to get back to Alex’s flat involves a string of hilarious set-pieces, including my all-time favourite line from any horror movie – why not make it the title of this Post?

When Alex tries to bring David back to the hospital, they hail a taxi (on Wilton Crescent, Belgravia).And yes, the driver is played by none other than Alan Ford (best-known as Brick Top from Snatch).

There then follows a very bizarre scene: Jack beckons David over to a porn cinema in Piccadilly to meet his victims. Fresh and still blood-spattered, they each offer ways on how David can take his own life, thus breaking them from the curse.

Jack – in another finely-detailed make-up job – is now a gruesome cadaver, but still keen to help.

“Do you mind? The man’s a friend of mine!” 

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“There’s been a disturbance in Piccadilly…”

The climax involves the chaos as David runs amok once more. The above behind-the-scenes pic could not be resisted. To perfect the sequence in which the police inspector gets his head bitten off, Rick Baker literally had to operate one of his model wolf heads himself.

The director’s cameo is very difficult to spot. Landis is the bearded man who is hit by a car and thrown through a plate glass window.

The end comes far too hurriedly. Always bewildering how Alex doesn’t get shot accidentally; there’s plenty of police marksmen in that dark alley, and she’s standing just yards in front of them…

“What do you mean: how did he look? I’m an orderly, not a bleeding psychiatrist; I push things around!”

Over thirty years later, An American Werewolf In London remains a unique and original feat of film-making – still scary and spellbinding, but has never failed to enthrall… and split my sides. 

The  current crop of horror directors – who consistently fail to create anything half as clever and creepy as this – should be forced to study the ways in which this masterpiece came to be, and succeeded on so many levels. 

How best to describe it?

Is it a zany outing with truly horrific moments:

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…or a horror movie with the most unexpected comedic moments?

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“Hello David!”

Final Thought: To think that studio execs wanted Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi to play the two leads.

The Blues Brothers: as backpackers?! Come off it… 

A naked Aykroyd scampering around London Zoo?! That would have been truly horrific… 

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Happy Halloween!

Beware the moon… and stick to the road… 

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Galaxies Of Terror: Where SF Collides With Horror

It’s Always Midnight In Space…  

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“The fundamental premise remains the same: What lies in wait in the darkness of space?” – Space.com

Often, the realm of science fiction delves into wondrous and inventive imagery, but when you consider the darkness and dread that lurks “in the coldest regions of space,” the potential to unleash the most unutterable terrors becomes boundless (budget-permitting of course).

With Halloween fast approaching like a relentless Imperial Star Destroyer, and elements of horror spliced into SF as long as motion pictures have existed, the results can turn out to be truly horrendous.

Instead of making contact, alien monsters would much rather feast on astronaut flesh; drain the lifeforce from living humans; or reanimate dead humans. Nudity is just as bountiful as gore; distress signals and fog machines are commonplace; and if you should ever stumble upon the work of Roger Corman, for pity’s sake, DO NOT HESITATE to make the jump to light-speed…  

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“I stole the giant skeleton from Planet of the Vampires… It struck me as evocative. It had this curious mixture that you can get in these Italian films of spectacularly good production design…” – Dan O’Bannon. 

In Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires (1965) original Italian title: Terrore Nello Spazio, two spaceships: the Argos and Galliot respond to a distress signal from a previously unchartered planet. On landing, for no apparent reason, the crew of the Argos attack each other. After overcoming this malevolent psychosis, they quickly find out that – oh no! – the same madness gripped the Galliot’s crew but nobody survived.

It’s not long before their buried bodies rise up and stalk the Argos crew. There then follows a tense and unsettling fight for survival. What Planet of the Vampires lacks in production values, it piles on skilfully eerie atmospherics, evoking a dark and lonely feel to its overall look.

The title is quite erroneous. The alien entities that rise from the newly-prepared graves are not vampires; they’re not bloodsuckers; and they certainly do not talk with Eastern European accents. Planet of the Strange Entities That Exist On A Different Vibratory Frequency And Possess Dead Bodies” would have made a more accurate title. On this godforsaken world, the fog-machine is working on spooky overdrive. 

At first glance, it looks so different from its ’60s contemporaries, but then you realise what an obvious influence on numerous subsequent sci-fi/horrors it is. Possibly the most (in)famous of all such outings: Ridley Scott’s second-best film: Alien shares so many similarities in both tone and imagery. The “space jockey” – one of this 1979 classic’s most iconic images – was lifted from what Bava portrayed originally.

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“Forget the story, ’cause there isn’t one, but see it for the gory bits and marvelous gutsy make-up. Yech!” – Time Out.   

Galaxy of Terror (1981) aka Mindwarp also appears to be a rehash of Planet of the Vampires with its premise of the crew of one spacecraft haunted – oh no! – by projections of their own deepest fears materialized by an ancient alien pyramid. This, by the way, is the one featuring a young, pre-Freddy Krueger Robert Englund, and Erin Moran (Joanie from Happy Days). 

Honestly, it is difficult to tell the difference between this and the following year’s Forbidden World. James Cameron is credited as a production assistant; the less said about its notorious worm-rape scene the better… 

Nothing could prepare you for Mutant aka Forbidden World (1982) – another bargain basement bomber from Roger Corman. In a research lab on the remote planet of Xarbia, a genetic experiment is developed which – oh no! – goes berserk and hunts the scientists down one by one.

Talk about cheap…

Within a few minutes, you realise that the same set from Galaxy of Terror is being (re)used, and – presumably to immediately catch the viewer’s attention – an unnecessary laser battle is inserted… using effects footage directly pilfered from Corman’s cult space opera: Battle Beyond the Stars.

Incredibly, this lab boasts not one, but two, “ridiculously hot” scientists who spend much of their screentime scantily clad or completely starkers. As this is 1982, the soundtrack consists of shrill synths; and the sheer tackiness of the mutant itself is offset by filming it mostly in semi-darkness.

Still, on the plus-side, it does feature SAM-104, the android pilot who is one of the more distinctive characters of ’80s cult SF.

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“Lifeforce is a pretty curious specimen in its own right. Its sci-fi/horror concept is epic in scale and metaphysical reach, but the casting is catchpenny…” – Parallax View.  

Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce (1985) – based on the novel: The Space Vampires by Colin Wilson – turned out to be a really infuriating watch. The opening is actually quite impressive: a rousing score by Henry Mancini sets the scene for some rather spectacular imagery: the HMS Churchill shuttle, on a mission to study Halley’s Comet – traditionally considered to be a harbinger of doom – detects, in the coma of the comet, a derelict, artificial structure: 150 miles long. Inside, a search party discover dozens of desiccated giant bats and three naked humanoids: two male and one female. 

But – oh no! – they have to take the bodies back to Earth. As this is a British sci-fi/horror movie, the terrible trio “awake” in the European Space Research Centre in London. The males are obliterated, but the female wanders off into the night. The capital is quickly reduced into one bat-shit bonkers zombiefest. Preposterous!

Talk about amateurish effects: those lifeforceless “corpses” could have done with a tad more convincing animation. And the “actors” appear to have graduated from the Mindwarp School of Acting… 

“Approach with caution.”

So, best not to splice these two genres together – results can invariably turn out to be… disastrous. 

*

And, if that wasn’t scary enough, try this on Saturday night… if you dare!

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NIGHT OF THE DAMON!

CHILLS! He can’t remember who he is!

SPILLS! He beats up anybody and everybody who gets in his way!

THRILLS! He absolutely will not stop until he’s got whatever he wants… whatever that is…

*

Only joking. 

For Halloween this year, my favourite horror movie will be dusted down, replayed and reviewed on Saturday.

Can you guess what it is? 

Here’s a couple of clues: it was not made in the last thirty years (obviously!)

And it doesn’t feature any fog machines… 

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Sweet dreams!

Luke And Brad: The Two Dreamers Who Had To Unlearn What They Have Learned.

Kylo Ren Is NOT Luke Skywalker. Luke Skywalker Is NOT Kylo Ren.

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“Luke’s just not a farmer, Owen. He has too much of his father in him” – Aunt Beru.  

When Luke Skywalker trudged wearily out of his uncle’s igloo in the desert and gazed longingly at the binary sunset, a new icon of SF cinema was made. Moreover, seeing the blond mop and the snazzy pyjamas, it was like seeing my reflection on the big screen; this hero was certainly someone to relate to, and root for.

No matter what that scruffy-lookin’ nerfherder boasted about blasters, me and Luke gobbled up everything we could find about hokey religions and ancient weapons. And yes, many times this lil cake-guzzling perisher stared at the sunset, dreaming about escaping to better far-off places…

Now, while the mass frenzy surrounds the Return of Han Solo, my concerns automatically lie with Luke. With a more substantial teaser trailer for Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens hitting the internet big time earlier this week, how did Mark Hamill feel about returning to his legendary role after all this time? 

“You know, the security is just crazy,” he remarked incredulously. “When we made the original films, you had the odd reporter hanging around the studio, bribing people to give them stories. Now, do I really have to wear this robe and this hood… to go from the trailer to the soundstage?

“They said: “Yeah, there’s drones.” Seriously! There’s drones flying over the studio trying to get pictures of whatever they can.” 

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“Told you, I did. Reckless is he!” – Yoda. 

A long time ago in a school playground far far away – perhaps because of his gleaming blond hair – Brad would always be chosen to play Luke. Even the other kids could feel the bond between us both. So, blasting stormtroopers? Learning the ways of the force? Taking on the Empire all by meself?! 

Nah…

Half a dozen boys would argue – or fight – over who would play Han Solo, so we never got anywhere. Honestly, the Death Star would have cleared the planet and blown us into smithereens before we knew who was who. A fine Rebel “Alliance” we turned out to be: sheesh!

Both of us had fathers who were legends in their own right.

Luke was led to believe that his father was “a navigator on a spice freighter.”

My father certainly was a mechanic on several planes in the RAF.

“He was the best star pilot in the galaxy.”  

You bet! Still proudly keep his flight gear hanging up in my wardrobe back at my UK base.

“And he was a good friend.”  

Sure was. Took me to watch the original trilogy at the cinema; we often quoted the best lines to each other before he could speak no more… 

Now, me an’ Luke have come so far – fatherless and fearless – and through so much. Most people haven’t got the fuggiest idea what’s happened to Luke in the thirty years since the Battle of Endor; most people couldn’t give a fugg what’s happened to me in the thirty years since reading comics during school hours.

Sure, Luke ended up far far away from Tatooine; this blogger ended up far far away from Taunton.

The Force may have been strong with us once, but our fortunes since leave a lot to be desired. After not hearing anything from him for some considerable time, naturally the anxiety became almost unbearable.    

So it was an absolute joy for me – after all these years – to hear Luke narrating the second trailer, but just before the anticipation grew, rumours spread that he will hardly figure in Episode VII. Suspicions were confirmed last week, when the official movie poster was released. Obviously, his absence from this publicity was the first point everyone noticed.

“I have a very bad feeling about this…”

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“It was certainly unexpected… I thought if they did a third trilogy, we wouldn’t be involved. It is really about the new generation of characters. We are just there to lend our support and grow contractually obligated beards” – Mark Hamill. 

Now, what of these rumours swirling around the internet about Luke having turned to the Dark Side – that Luke and this new villain: Kylo Ren are one and the same? 

Well, no. Absolutely not. 

For a start, we have seen the pic of Adam Driver, sans mask, from the Vanity Fair spread a few months back. Luke had constructed his own lightsabre by Episode VI – even impressing his old man with it. So he would not have produced something as crude as Ren’s jagged crossguard sabre.

During the making of Return of the Jedi, Mark Hamill pitched the possibility of Luke turning to the Dark Side. The idea was swiftly shot down by George [Lucas]. Again, in 2005, on a TV talk show called: Dinner For Five – with J.J. Abrams as one of the other guests! – Hamill discussed the idea once more:

“As an actor, that would be more fun to play. I just thought that’s the way it was going… the pivotal moment. I’ll have to come back, but I’ll have Han Solo in my crosshairs and I’ll be about to kill him or about to kill the princess…” 

Now that would cause a great disturbance…

Whatever his screen-time in Episode VII, Luke should feature strongly, even driving the plot. And his (father’s) lightsabre would appear to constitute an important element of these proceedings. Essentially, the premise here might be: The Search For Luke Skywalker, implying a self-imposed exile of some kind. Whatever fate has befallen Luke, it is likely that this Kylo Ren is directly responsible. 

No matter what lousy opportunities have tripped me up in recent years is nothing compared to what my ol’ buddy Luke seems to have suffered. We’ve only got another eight weeks until we can all find out what happened to the farmboy who destroyed a Death Star.

What will Luke have in store for us come 18 December? Will Brad publish a positive review?

One thing you cannot underestimate about him and me:

You’ll find that we’re full of surprises… 

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“Luke Skywalker… Now, that’s a name I’ve not heard in a long time. A long time…” 

Where We’re Going, They Don’t Have Flying Cars, Doc!

Well, Bless My Flux Capacitor! It’s October 21 2015 Already – Welcome To The Future, Marty!

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“Wait a minute, Doc, what are you talking about? What happens to us in the future? Will we become assholes or something?” – Marty McFly.

Great Scott!

October 21? 2015?! “You mean we’re in the future?!” 

At last, Marty McFly, who is the “only kid ever to get into trouble before he is born,” has arrived today on this date – to sort out his kids. 

Back To The Future, released 30 years ago, is a fine sci-fi adventure, held together by Marty McFly and Doc Brown’s great buddy-repartee – once you get past the heavy premise of his Mum falling in love with him and not George McFly,

Back To The Future II, on the other hand, is a sequel that failed to impress me back then. After finding 2015 too heavy to handle, Marty must travel back to 1955 again to prevent the chaos of an alternate 1985… without interfering with his first trip. So, it’s needlessly complicated, and too heavy to sit through

Even in November 1989, when Back To The Future II was released, there was no way to predict what 2015 would bring. So it really doesn’t come as any surprise what the visual futurists managed to come up with. Rather than pine for the lack of hoverboards – which thousands of other bloggers will be doing today anyway – let’s take a look and see what the ’80s perception of 2015 brought us.

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“The encounter could create a time paradox, the results of which could cause a chain reaction that would unravel the very fabric of the space time continuum, and destroy the entire universe…!” – Dr. Emmett Brown.  

When 1985 McFly wanders bewildered around 2015 Hill Valley one of the more intriguing revelations is Jaws 19 (directed by Max Spielberg, Stephen’s son, born in 1985) at the Holomax. Holographic movies may be imminent, according to the latest science sources, but there is greater sophistication of 3-D technology in movie-making now than ever before.

People dispose of their garbage on the back seat and still – incredibly – along the dashboard, but not in a Mr. Fusion energy converter. Doc’s rejuvenation clinic is not far off from all the botox injections and chemical gubbins that proliferate nowadays. You do realise, of course, that plot device was put in so that Christopher Lloyd could complete Parts II and III without spending so much time and angst in the make-up chair…

Yes, nostalgia for the 80s is quite prevalent now, so having the Cafe 80s in Hill Valley is spot on; and – get thisCharles Gherardi plays “Ayatollah Khomeini Video Waiter.” Swell. 

Actually, there was one horrendous moment which thirty years cannot erase from my memory. The doorbell rings. Marlene McFly comes stomping down the stairs and we see that “she” is played by… Michael J. Fox! Holy flux!!

That’s heavy enough for anyone to choke on their hydrated pizza… 

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“Now look, just take it easy and you’ll be fine, and be careful in the future” – Officer Reese.

Before you criticize the ridiculous get-up of Biff Tannen and his gang, this blogger can actually report – quite sobre, but with dread – to have seen any number of morons dressed like this… and in several countries too. 

The wall of multiple channels on a large widescreen TV and video-conferencing (Skype!) look eerily familiar, and it’s amazing to see how preoccupied Marty Jr is with his hi-tech specs. No handheld phone gadgetry, although in one scene, one character campaigning to restore Hill Valley’s clock tower seems to be holding a tablet. But making a call on an AT&T payphone? In 2015?! Ha! Remarkably, the worldwide web only made its debut in the same year as the release of Back To The Future II! 

Interestingly enough, among Part II’s DVD extras, the Director: Robert Zemeckis tells how he did not want the sequel to take place in the future as any movie set at a future date always ends up “mis-predicted.” No doubt, he had envisaged hordes of bloggers on this very day nitpicking all the stuff that Part II got wrong… 

Personally, the original Back To The Future works perfectly well as a standalone film. It didn’t need a sequel; the final scene – setting the premise for one – works perfectly well as a joke. These, funnily enough, were also the exact opinions of Robert Zemeckis. 

As the Doc said: “Your future is whatever you make it, so make the best of it.” 

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The future starts right here: 

And that’s 1 Challenge down – 4 to go. 😉

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Synchronize your watches! The future’s coming back…

Yeah, today also marks another Anniversary – it’s two years(!) since the very first Bradscribe Post wandered tentatively out into the big wide blogosphere. 

To find out how it all began, you can view it here: 

A BIG THANK YOU to Followers old and new for ALL your support along the way, and hey, here’s to even bigger and better awesomeness in the – ahem – future.

Cheers!

H. P. Lovecraft And The Cthulhu Influences On Modern SF And Horror

Where Space Ends, Hell Begins… 

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“Lovecraft creates dark and sometimes horrific scenarios which, in their tense and gothic style, can seem like the visions of a madman. The formless entity dominates his work, an impalpable threat which lies beneath everything he wrote…” –  The SF Source Book. 

With Halloween just about a fortnight away, the focus shifts inevitably from SF to horror. One fine way to execute a clean transition between the two is to select one of the main masters of the macabre: Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937) who – through his twisted scribblings – managed to encompass both genres. Surely, you may think, his distorted visions were too dark and twisted to nestle satisfactorily within the boundaries of SF?

Nevertheless, there are good reasons for Lovecraft’s work to be included unquestionably into the realm of science fiction. Primarily, a considerable proportion of those “unspeakable entities” that languished amidst “his cluttered prose” were not so much demons but aliens. Moreover, he was one of the first authors to write and describe alien beings. Outside of the Cthulhu Mythos, he certainly wrote more genuine science fiction. 

The most striking examples include: In the Walls Of Eryx, set on Venus, reimagined as a jungle planet; and tales of unorthodox scientific experiments: From Beyond (made into a movie in 1986) and Cool Air (which deserves big screen treatment). A significant proportion of his short stories were published in Weird Tales, a predominantly SF magazine of the 1920s and 30s; The Shadow Out Of Time was first published in the June 1936 issue of Astounding Stories, then the most prestigious science fiction magazine available. 

Despite undesirable accusations of muddled prose and complicated storytelling, Lovecraft remains one of my favourite 20th century authors. Ironically, his complicated style is distinctive and had such a profound effect on me, helping to conjure some of my own fictional nightmares.

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“[Universal] were blown away by the visual presentation, they openly admitted to loving the screenplay, saying it was dead on… I do not want ‘Mountains’  to be bloody, I do not want it to be crass, but I do want it to be as intense as possible” – Guillermo del Toro. 

Guillermo del Toro is one of the most talented film-makers working today. It is no secret that, just a few years ago, the Spanish director should have made his own grandiose cinematic version of Lovecraft’s At The Mountains Of Madness.

In this novella (first published in 1931 and serialized in Astounding Stories in 1936), the geologist William Dyer – a professor from Miskatonic University – “writes to disclose hitherto unknown and closely kept secrets in the hope that he can deter a planned and much publicized scientific expedition to Antarctica.” Allegedly, his previous expedition unearthed “fantastic and horrific ruins (including strange fossils of unheard-of creatures and carved stones tens of millions of years old)” and “a dangerous secret of the City of the Old Ones that lay beyond a range of mountains taller than the Himalayas.” 

Problem is, this encouraging project has been festering in development-hell for far too long. No matter how awesome his pre-production designs were – they invariably are – the prospect of a Producer tag for James Cameron and top-billing for Tom Cruise (?!) were too off-putting. Apparently he was just one week away from commencing production of At The Mountains in 2011 when Universal pulled the plug “due to budget issues.”  

However, del Toro would not be perturbed for long; he resurrected his dormant plans for his Lovecraft project in 2013.

“I’m going to try it one more time,” he said in one recent interview. “Once more into the dark abyss. We’re going to do a big presentation of the project again… and see if any [studio’s] interested.”

(Unfortunately)… “Tom [Cruise] is still attachedHe’s been such a great ally of the project.” 

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“In the coldest regions of space, the monstrous entities Ogdru Jahad – the Seven Gods of Chaos – slumber in their crystal prison, waiting to reclaim Earth… and burn the heavens” – De Vermis Mysteriis, Page 87. 

A quick glance at modern strands of science fiction and horror – be it literature, movies or comics – it doesn’t take long to find the influence of the Cthulhu Mythos. 

The most notable is the Hellboy comic, created by Mike Mignola in 1993. Developed into one of the stranger – and better – of the recent crop of comic book movies, directed by (what a surprise) Guillermo del Toro in 2004, the titular hell-spawned hero (played by the ever-reliable Ron Perlman) has to battle with not only Rasputin the “Mad Monk,” but the Ogdru Jahad, the most blatant nod to Lovecraft you’ll get in a mainstream comic book movie.

Lovecraft’s work may not seem best suited to the medium of comics, but in the ever-capable talented hands of the artistic genius: Berni(e) Wrightson, it works wonders. A number of Lovecraft’s stories were adapted brilliantly by Wrightson and published in Creepy Magazine during the ’70s.

In 1971, he did a splendid job on the aforementioned Cool Air, which came into my collection a decade later when Eclipse Comics compiled Wrightson’s best horror strips (in added colour!) in Berni Wrightson: Master Of The Macabre.

This – the third page – is a fine example of Wrightson’s style:  

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The seventh and final page is a creepy classic single splash and will be saved for a forthcoming Post!

Have just discovered this (below) online; how long will it take to track this particular issue down? 

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A portrait of H. P. Lovecraft by Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy.
A portrait of H. P. Lovecraft by Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy.

And, come on, if we’re going to end this Post with Hellboy gifs, might as well have the one with that dastardly mute puppet, the “freak in the gas mask”: Karl Ruprecht Kroenen (“Hitler’s top assassin and Head of the Nazi Cthulhu Society”) performing his ubercool blade-twirling trick inside Manhattan’s Metropolitan Art Museum.  

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“What horrible will could keep such a creature as this alive?” – Professor Trevor Broom. 

“A Princess Of Mars,” And Other Classic Comics From The Red Planet.

Visions Of A Red Planet That Has Seen A Thousand Fictional Civilizations Rise And Fall.

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“If it entertains and is clean, it is good literature. If it forms the habit of reading, in people who might not read otherwise, it is the best literature” – Edgar Rice Burroughs. 

Like Mark Watney, the unfortunate astronaut stranded on Mars in this month’s sure-fire box-office hit, it is impossible for me to depart the Red Planet – at least, not yet. 

Having explored other movies to be set on our nearest celestial neighbour, this would be a good opportunity to explore a rich assortment of Martian visions that have adorned comic pages over the past few decades. 

It’s amazing how a red planet always teems with green aliens… 

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“That’s how The League Volume II begins, with the Martian landscape and Edwin Lester Arnold’s Gullivar Jones and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter, and though it’s not completely wordless, the word balloons are mostly in a Martian dialect that’s not translated on the page for us. Kevin O’Neill draws the heck out of it…” – tor.com 

The artist: Kevin O’Neill (best known for his stunning work on 2000AD’s Nemesis The Warlock), collaborated with writing legend: Alan Moore on an ambitious project in 1999 entitled: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, focussing on a band of famous characters from Victorian literature. 

Unbeknownst to me, a second volume of League adventures was published in 2002. It used H. G. Wells’ War Of The Worlds as the basis for a unique slant on the familiar Martian invasion of Earth theme. The opening few pages in which the dialogue is in Martian has just piqued my curiosity even further.

So be it: yet another tome to look out for this Christmas, methinks. 

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“There was one slight, desperate chance, [to] take… for Dejah Thoris; no man has lived who would not risk a thousand deaths for such as she” – John Carter.   

Resistance is futile.

Here is arguably the most popular fictional character associated with the Red Planet, or Barsoom as she calls it. Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, becomes the wife of  John Carter, a Virginian cavalry officer “mystically transported” to Mars.

From her introduction in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel: “A Princess Of Mars” in 1912 to her most recent appearance in Dynamite Comics, she has hardly worn anything more than a tiara, breast ornaments and some strategically-placed jewellery. Traditionally, the typical damsel who lies at the feet of the Earthman, the late ’70s Marvel Comics run portrayed her in a more feisty and fearsome light, showing her deft capabilities with both swords and blasters.

Thou shalt not underestimate a lass who has thwarted the Comics Code Authority as well as disposable alien adversaries for so long… 

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“Nonsense! I like Chocos, certainly. What is not to like?” – Martian Manhunter.

And then there is Martian Manhunter, a stalwart of DC Comics’ The Justice League. J’onn J’onzz hailed from what he called: “Ma’aleca’andra.” Created by writer Joseph Samachson and artist Joe Certa, this heavily-built and bald-headed green-skinned hero – the last surviving member of his race – made his debut in Detective Comics #225 “The Manhunter from Mars” in November 1955. 

My main introduction to this mighty emerald fella was in my all-time fave DC series – a  positively mind-blowing four-parter series from 1988 entitled: The Weird (this will receive its own forthcoming Post!) where the titular alien – newly arrived on Earth – proceeds to shove Martian Manhunter out of one comic panel and into the next. Not a wise move!

These days, he appears to have had a radical makeover; his humanoid physicality ditched for a suitably more imposing “Martian” look. Although now he runs the risk of being mistaken for Tars Tarkas: John Carter’s main Thark comrade.

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“Watchmen wasn’t about a bunch of slightly dark superheroes in a slightly dark version of our modern world. It was about the storytelling techniques, and… the range of what it was possible to do in comics” – Alan Moore. 

How can anyone discuss comic art in relation to Mars and not mention Watchmen? Written by the legendary Alan Moore, with art by the iconic Dave Gibbons, this superhero classic graces TIME magazine’s 100 Greatest Novels Of All Tine and rightly so. 

Dr. Manhattan, the Superman of the Alternate Earth of 1985, exiles himself on Mars after the (ultimately false) accusation that the “accident” in 1959 – vapourised inside the intrinsic field test chamber of his lab – is the direct cause of the cancer diagnosed in his closest work colleagues. He brings companion, Laurie Juspeczyk – the second Silk Spectre – to Mars to help him decide whether to continue intervening in Earthly matters. 

So, where else in this galaxy can a “posthuman god” go to contemplate his commitment to saving the human race?

…Or a superheroine to receive the revelation of who her real father is? 

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“A world grows up around me. Am I shaping it, or do its predetermined contours guide my hand? …Who makes the world?” – Dr. Manhattan.

Here are a few more examples of Martian comic art. The range of quality and quantity of comics connected to the fourth planet is staggering.

The mere handful selected for this Post alone demonstrates what an overwhelming inspiration the endless mysteries of Mars have been to generations of comic book creators.

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“Growing up, I think I went to Mars more often than Manhattan… a land of strange and savage beasts (Thoats! Tharks! Sandmice!), whispering winds, towering mountains… and crumbling porcelain cities where mystery and adventure lurked around every corner” – George RR Martin. 

Finally, rather than end this Post with a shameful gallery celebrating the form of Dejah Thoris, here, instead, are excerpts from a rather splendid classic strip from the September 1958 issue (no. 3) of Race For The Moon.  

This particular story was drawn – and most likely written – by another great comics legend: Jack Kirby. Interestingly, this “Face On Mars” predates the notorious oft-published photograph of the Face of Cydonia by 18 years. 

It’s best to let the sheer awesomeness of the following pages speak for themselves…

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“Get your ass to Mars!” 

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Cheers!

“In Your Face, Neil Armstrong!”: The Martian: A Review.

Help Is Only 140 Million Miles Away…

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THE LONE RANGER: “I wonder how the Cubs are doing?”

“Log Entry: Sol 6. I’m pretty much fucked – that’s my considered opinion. Fucked” – Mark Watney. 

There are three important facts you need to know about Ridley Scott’s latest sci-fi opus, based on the best-selling novel by Andy Weir.

The Martian offers a rollickingly good yarn on how to survive on our nearest neighbour in the solar system; also, the curse of woefully-underwhelming movies set on Mars as featured in a previous Post has – for the time being at any rate – been expunged; and thirdly – and perhaps most vital of all – this blogger would NOT be watching the movie alone! In a last-minute dramatic twist, Mrs. B noticed the seat next to me on the big-city-bound-bus was vacant. She bungled in and paid the extra fare. We were off to Mars together after all, and this blogger was already over the moon.    

Mrs. B loves Matt Damon; Mrs. B loves Matt Damon topless; Mrs. B loves botany. Yes, folks, my beloved has found THE PERFECT MOVIE. Watching Matt Damon – sorry, Mark Watney – fiddle with his seeds, Mrs. B pursed her lips in admiration. She leaned over, nudged me in the ribs and whispered: “I wanna go help him!” 

Should have known she was going to say that. Don’t mind Brad: he’ll be Terra-bound, blogging away, looking after the cat…

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THE SEEDS OF DOOM: “Hell yeah I’m a botanist! Fear my botany powers!”

“The Martian atmosphere is only 1% as thick as Earth’s, so a Mars wind of 100mph… would only have the dynamic force as a 10mph wind on Earth. You could fly a kite in it, but it wouldn’t knock you down” – Dr. Robert Zubrin. 

So, when Watney determines to “science the shit out of this, how accurate is The Martian’s science?

Or is it just shit?

The most glaring gaffe is the “fierce storm” – the integral plot device that causes Watney to be stranded on Mars in the first place. As the atmosphere of Mars is less dense than Earth’s, such a storm would be extremely unlikely – even Weir was quick – albeit reluctantly – to admit that.

One glowing review commended The Martian for being “one of the best thrillers of the year.” 

Thriller?

What makes this movie so enjoyable to watch is the natural charm and effervescence of its leading man. After the hilarious moment when he admits to being a botanist, and (too) confidently vlogs about how he will grow his own food, there is no reason for us to get anxious. No suspense, no dramatic tension, certainly no  “edge-of-the-seat” stuff here – in fact, his fight for survival becomes quite entertaining viewing. Amusingly, Watney’s concern seems mostly preoccupied with trying to cope with Commander Lewis’ deplorable taste in disco music!

“No, I absolutely will not turn the beat around!”

The biggest laugh of the movie comes when he experiments with making water by extracting hydrazine from the rocket fuel and burning hydrogen. He is – to use the hip parlance of our time – “pretty smokin'”; literally, the smoke is rising off poor Watney as he vlogs: “So… I blew myself up…”  

No prizes for guessing that my little lady gave out the biggest laugh when that accident blasted him across the auditorium in full glorious Dolby Stereo.   

THE SECRET GARDEN:
THE SECRET GARDEN: “My asshole is proving to be just as useful as my brain”

“Just so we’re clear, Mark Watney is who I want to be. He has all the qualities I like about myself…  Mark Watney isn’t afraid to fly” – Andy Weir. 

Having enjoyed the audiobook, certain classic lines have been omitted, but Drew Goddard has managed to take one engrossing book and write a rather special screenplay.

It should be mentioned that the second-best feature of this movie is the stunning location photography. Wadi Rum in Jordan makes for a superb Martian landscape. We watched in 3D format, which helped enhance our viewing pleasure immensely.

Personally, we could easily have done without any of the scenes back on Earth; none of the (underwritten as usual) NASA personnel had a fraction of Watney’s charisma anyway. At least one of us would have been satisfied with just Damon monologuing nonchalantly into his videocam for the entire 141 minutes.    

Apart from the incredible storm, please spare me the young socially awkward mathematician who has (successfully!) plotted the best gravity-assist trajectory to bring back Watney et al within agreeable parameters. 

The only other major gripe about this movie concerns the climax. Besides the uncertainties of getting Watney into orbit (in a coneless module?!), there is the highly improbable task of Ares III selecting the right course and velocity to catch him. The movie’s running time is fast running out, so the script simply cannot afford any more screw-ups, miraculously.  A typically treacly Hollywood ending spoils it a tad, but nevertheless, its place on the Top 10 of 2015 list is assured. 

Naturally, there are numerous nods to other movies: being stranded (Cast Away), trying to deal with the return to Earth (Apollo 13), struggling to grow food millions of miles from Earth (Silent Running) and even being separated millions of miles from Jessica Chastain (Interstellar).

Fortunately for Damon, it is a more wholesome slice of sci-fi than the bleak and foul-mouthed Elysium (not even Mrs. B fancied the idea of watching her fave star as a bald-headed cyborg); and for Scott, it is a (much) welcome return-to-form after the flawed Prometheus and misjudged Exodus. 

To sum up then, The Martian is one helluva one-guy-against-the-odds movie – an exhilarating cinematic experience which can – and certainly will in this household – be watched time and time again. 

And yes, it was fantastic to have nachos with the Special Cheezy Dip again.

Mr. and Mrs. B’s Verdict: 

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“Way to go, Iron Man!”