Brad Moon Rising: A Long Evening With Lost Souls

I See The Brad Moon Arising
I See Trouble On The Rise…

“The door was opening again. The seer does not like to dwell upon what he saw entering the room… The sound of cries – faint, as if coming out of a vast distance – but, even so, infinitely appalling, reached the ear…” – M.R. James. 

Good evening, dearest Oneironauts!

Gracious, there are fewer of you than ever this year…

Very well, we have reached another All Hallows’ Eve – there is more to fear than carved pumpkins, my dear…

In this faire land o’ olde Albion, there dwells an abundance of apparitions to chill anyone’s blood: 

From the gaunt cavaliers who pass through solid walls

To the ladies in white who glide through opulent halls; 

From the sprites and wights o’ wooded dells 

To the ragged children who fell into long-forgotten wells…   

You join me at Pluckley, in Southern England, reputed to be the most haunted village in the country. At the last count there were thir13en ghosts, but recently, locals have reported a few new apparitions. 

We shall begin the tour at the top end of town.

Park Wood used to be an extensive forest, stretching off to the north. A colonel hanged himself here, but before the area was cut back to become grazing land, he could still be seen from time to time, wandering among the trees…

The area has become better known as the Screaming Woods – no doubt other restless spirits lurk therein… 

Continue down the road until we reach Dicky Buss’s Lane. Shortly after the First World War, a schoolmaster – who, perhaps, could no longer take the torment of lingering shellshock – hanged himself from a laurel tree that once stood in the road.

What a mournful place – it’s best not to linger here lest we catch sight of that phantom master swinging in the breeze…

 

Still she stands aglow before me,
Pale and tender, warm and rare.
Still, she runs through meadows laughing,
Locked in memory, slumber’s snare.

Why I come here every season,
driven by the ghost of dread,
I cannot in truth you answer,
‘Less ’tis guilt I’m blindly led” – Bruce Jones.  

A short distance to the east, we arrive at the Church of St Nicholas.

Ghosts normally haunt the place of death. A graveyard seems the natural place to expect supernatural activity, but this is not the case. Generally. 

This parish, however, offers the exception. There she is! We can catch a glimpse of the Red Lady; the beautiful Lady Dering carries a red rose as she drifts majestically amongst the tombstones, wearing the same sumptuous gown as on that day so grim. Her body was placed in seven lead coffins, one inside the other, then put into an oak casket and laid in a vault under the church. 

But to rest? 

Surely you jest!

For nine centuries ‘pon this ground she has shone.

Certainly she will remain, long after the church has gone!

Some distance down the southern road, at a house called Greystones, the grounds are frequented by a phantom monk; and yet further down this very road, stands a house known as Rose Court. 

It is four o’ the clock in the afternoon; the Lady of Rose Court appears, sitting by the bay window – she looks so forlorn. She died many years ago – at 4pm – by drinking the juices of crushed poisonous berries, looking out of that window, towards Greystones; not surprising, then, to discover that she can often be seen with the monk.

It is so quiet here in this thrice-cursed hamlet, on this day of all days.

Eerily quiet. 

Too quiet.

Only the ghastly sound of my heavy boots trudging down this country lane breaks the unnatural silence.

Nobody comes out to meet and greet me. 

Nobody dares…

“My life’s turning pages, I see a promised day
Watchmen never age here, they just sleep in vain
Drowning people stare here, they don’t care to call
I rebury the pages, Cthulhu calls

You’ll see, you’ll see her when she starts to form
You’ll see, you’ll see her when she starts to call” – Carl McCoy. 

Near a house called the The Pinnock lie the ruins of an old mill. The black form of a miller’s ghost has been seen, but only during thunderstorms. 

The clock lopes to half past five.

Night descends much earlier now that Winter has arrived…

The clouds above look as menacing as e’er,

Yet it seems we’ll be spared any autumnal downpour, let alone any peal o’ thunder.  

So no phantom miller will pay 

Us a visit this day. 

Further down the southern lane on the way to Maltman’s Hill, the hoofquake of four phantom horses and the clatter of the coach it draws can only be heard on the darkest of nights. 

A short stroll westwards to the outskirts of the village, and we arrive at a crossroads, named – appropriately enough – Fright Corner.  

Take a closer look.

Under the crossroads sign sits “Maggie,” the little old gypsy woman, wrapped in a tattered shawl and smoking a pipe. Burned to death – presumably for witchcraft – and yet she remains on this spot, staring at me intensely, flashing her toothless grin; honestly, it’s at times like these when yours truly wishes he was NOT so ridiculously good-looking…

Just yards away – my least favourite ghost story – a notorious dandy highwayman was ambushed by a local mob, run through with a sword, and speared to the hollow oak tree that still dominates this spot. The grisly scene is re-enacted on the last day of every month. Every year. Every century… 

His name?

Oh, YOU KNOW his name. All too well. 

What can we say about him? 

Bold and badass, dashing and devil-may-care – sound familiar…? 

Things that go bumptious in the night…?

An unnatural chill sweeps through Fright Corner. Way above, e’er-billowing clouds scud past the brilliant half moon. Returning my gaze to the road, Maggie has already vanished; she remembers what transpires anon…

Always on time – ne’er fail – these wretched coves!

The gang of dark shapes emerge from the field yonder – each misbegotten soul brandishing his own blade, devilish hearts brimming with the fury of murderous intent.  

For this is the spot where Kismet decreed,

That the worst shall come to pass by such a frightful deed.  

For this is where I met my end. In deceit and gore, 

Countless times before… …

“Silently we went round and round,
And through each hollow mind
The memory of dreadful things
Rushed like a dreadful wind,
And Horror stalked before each man,
And Terror crept behind” – Oscar Wilde.

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Interface 2037 Ready For Inquiry: What’s The Story Mother?

Loving The Alien? This Time, No Means NO!

“…A story that is basically just a mixture of The Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Thing from Outer Space… [Ridley Scott’s] combination of space fiction and horror story is no great shakes as a work of art. Artifice, however, it has in profusion.” – Derek Malcolm.

“A transmission? Out here? …Human?” 

“Unknown…”

Apologies if you swung by expecting a Review of Alien Covenant.

But really – it’s a swizz of the first water; a pointless celebration of the Alien franchise’s Greatest Hits. Wasting my time in a cinema for something like this can usually incite me to rant no end, but after a particularly trying fortnight – both physically and mentally – yours truly has been unable to write anything remotely readable.

Here, on a good day, you would be able to learn how completely unnecessary this rehash really is. How it adds nothing new; judging by the lacklustre trailer, the script sounds unremarkable, and – like Prometheus, which frustrated more than frightened audiences – attempts at character development are nil, considering how expendable WE KNOW this crew are…

And to think that after enjoying the first two Alien movies, this adventurer genuinely craved more sequelsha!

How times – and attitudes – have changed. After two more dodgy sequels, the divisive Prometheus and now Alien Covenant, one of the most interesting movie franchises has become one of the most tedious…

“I did have one odd nightmare once. I dreamt I was visiting some friends in a Vermont farmhouse and the alien came out of the chimney. Suddenly I was dreaming about my own life. You would think it would only happen in space… but if you start to dream like this, it puts a whole different reality to it” –  Sigourney Weaver.

There is another anguished reason why Alien Covenant proves to be so bothersome.

Where, oh where, is Sigourney Weaver?!

Just two years ago, it all seemed fine an’ dandy. The actress most synonymous with this franchise was itching to return and wrap up Ellen Ripley’s story one last time. It would have been the Alien 3 we deserved; Michael Biehn was also lined up to reprise the role of Corporal Hicks from Aliens. The director of Chappie and District 9 was set to helm (incidentally a move not welcomed in this camp).

But by the time the Covenant trailer appeared earlier this year, the head-scratching began. We saw what looked like an inferior rehash of the 1979 masterpiece, and Katherine Waterston “playing” the female protagonist.

Okay, Waterston, but no Weaver?!

Such an intriguing movie project – allowed to languish in development-hell – is officially cancelled in favour of… this?!

In online forums, no one can hear Brad scream…

Don’t care that Covenant garnered more at the box office in its first week than Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, and retains a respectable score on Rotten Tomatoes, this is NOT the package that any of us expected.

Great Scott! What is Ridley doing?! 

Cannot believe that he is responsible for such a run-o’-the-Hollywood-mill exercise…

“We had gone through various sketches… they seemed to be of scaly bodies… or huge blobs… There was no elegance to them, no lethalness. What emerged – Giger’s designs… definitely not of this world…” – Ridley Scott.

Alien Covenant is the first Alien film since the passing of H. R. Giger.

With each new underwhelming entry to this franchise, the extraordinary terror instilled by Giger’s original chilling, biomechanoid design is gradually diminished. Moreover, in attempting – and failing! – to adequately explain the backstory surrounding such notable features as the derelict spaceship and the Space Jockey of LV426, their mystique is irreparably eroded.

Just contemplating the faults and inanities of Alien Covenant and what could have been – makes me feel more ill.

You wonder: why couldn’t they change the alien design, themes, names, et al – produce something completely different for a change?

Surely, such a fresh premise would be preferable than having yet another reboot/prequel foisted upon us? Ah! Sllly Brad; business is business, of course  jeez, how could we forget that?

Unfortunately – like other unwanted cultural dross floating around us @ the mo – we cannot exactly blow this thing out the goddamn air-lock.

So, Mother, what can we do?

INTERFACE 2037 READY FOR INQUIRY

REQUEST EVALUATION OF CURRENT PROCEDURES TO TERMINATE ALIEN COVENANT

UNABLE TO COMPUTE

AVAILABLE DATA INSUFFICIENT

Nuts…

 

Does Alien Covenant at least offer anything as sublime as this on its Soundtrack?

Thought not… 

“Final Report of the commercial starship Nostromo, Third Officer reporting.

“The other members of the crew – Kane, Lambert, Parker, Brett, Ash, and Captain Dallas – are dead.

“Cargo and ship destroyed.

“I should reach the frontier in about six weeks. With a little luck, the network will pick me up.

“This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off…”

 

“Stop Your Grinnin’ And Drop Your Linen!”: 30 Years Of ALIENS

There are some places in the universe you don’t go alone…

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“Get away from her, YOU BITCH!” – Ellen Ripley.

“Desolate. Black. Silent. Boundless. This is deep space.

“A scorched speck of technology called Narcissus drifts silently through the void on a non-stop course to nowhere. A monstrous shadow engulfs it. Beams of light flash on from above, criss-crossing the hull. Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley and a cat named Jones, last surviving members of the commercial starship Nostromo have been found…”

Is it really thirty years since ALIENS was released this day in the US in 1986?(!) It wasn’t until my birthday the following year that ALIENS received its first viewing (on my well-worn VCR, of course). At school, earlier that year, returning to class after a memorably rain-drenched lunch hour, it was thrilling – if a tad frustrating – to see that our teacher(!) and some of the other lads were watching ALIENS, thennewly-released on video.

Trust me to walk in during one of the more exciting bits: Ripley squashing one of the creatures under the wheels of the APC. Everyone there knew that this was Brad’s sorta movie, so why wasn’t that dweeb there to watch with them?!

(Ha, that’ll teach me to go study in the library…)

Yeah… but why did this SF movie buff NOT watch this at the cinema?!

The SF rollercoaster ride that Roger Ebert described as “painfully and unremittingly intense” would not be released until the following 29 August when it reached the unsuspecting UK. With a Cert-15 looming ominously over it, there was NO WAY yours truly would have been allowed to get in and gawp at it…

“That’s it, man. Game over, man. Game over! What the fuck are we gonna do now? What are we gonna do?!”

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“All right, sweethearts, what are you waiting for? Breakfast in bed? Another glorious day in the Corps! A day in the Marine Corps is like a day on the farm. Every meal’s a banquet! Every paycheck a fortune! Every formation a parade! I love the Corps!” – Sergeant Apone.

“From his console, Hudson cries out triumphantly: “Found ’em!” He looks at the cluster of blue dots clumped tightly in one area of the screen. “Sub-level C, under the south tower. Looks like a goddamn town meeting.”

The main reason why ALIENS has held up so well over the last three decades is due to the outstanding achievements of its script and vision, both realised by James Cameron.

Creating a sequel worthy of Ridley Scott’s marvelously claustrophobic: ALIEN seemed like an impossible challenge, but this turned out to be the biggest success story of ’86, outgrossing its predecessor and garnering 7 Oscar nominations (it won Best Visual Effects). Cameron has stated in numerous interviews how ALIEN is his fave film. While retaining that original’s scary tone, he imbued his follow-up with unrelenting thrills and suspense.

The title was the writer/director’s idea: “It’s funny… I read an interview with [Dan O’Bannon, screenwriter of ALIEN] that said he was typing away one night at 4:00am, and he was writing:

“The Alien did this; the Alien did that,” and he realized that the word: “Alien” stood out on the page. It was very much like that for me on this film. I was writing away and it was: “Aliens this and Aliens that,” and it was just right. It was succinct; it had all the power of the first title, and it implied the plurality of the threat. It also implied, of course, that it’s a sequel.” 

And from the very beginning, he had conceptualised it primarily as Ripley’s story, with Weaver very much in mind to reprise her first major movie role.

But the actress had still not signed up.

So, Cameron would easily have allowed the studios to offer the role to another actress?

“No!” the director remarked. “Never, never, never!”

aliens-(1986)-large-picture

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Private Hudson: “Hey Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man? 

Private Vasquez: “No. Have you?”

“Hicks climbs onto a file cabinet and raises a ceiling panel, shining his flashlight inside. The crawlspace is a sickly, gut-wrenching mass of squirming, moist aliens clawing their way forward. Hicks leaps off and fires at the ceiling which bursts, raining aliens. Newt screams. Hudson and Vasquez open fire.”

With the sequel, some extension of H. R. Giger’s original nightmarish design was called for.

The Alien Queen was the stupendous result, designed by the movie’s main effects guru: Stan Winston, with Cameron: “I did the artwork, and he did the physical sculptural work. We tried to be consistent with Giger’s motifs, but not necessarily enslaved to them.”

(H. R. Giger was otherwise engaged at the time on Poltergeist II).

Crucially, rather than just a “thing,” the Alien Queen was viewed as a character, hence Ripley’s anguished dialogue towards it, and the extent the FX team went to make the audience accept that “she” was anything but a “7 foot tall actor in a suit.”

In the classic climactic confrontation, Ripley goes up against the Alien Queen in a Powerloader (after all, she has got a Level 6 rating) – one exo-skeleton versus another.

“Both Ripley and I have changed as time has gone on,” Sigourney Weaver observed. “I feel quite at home in this kind of action picture, oddly enough – because I guess I cut my teeth on it.”

And to think when she started production in 1979, and Giger’s design was yet to be unveiled, she remarked:

“For all I knew, the creature was this big blob of yellow Jello running around…” 

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“We’d better get back, ’cause it’ll be dark soon, and they mostly come at night… mostly” – Newt.

“Ripley runs back the way she came. Aliens are coming at them from everywhere. She runs into a side corridor and enters a macabre room filled with eggs. A piercing shriek fills the chamber. Ripley whirls around and sees the most terrifying thing she has ever laid eyes on…”

One reviewer at the time remarked how ALIENS gave Sigourney Weaver “new emotional dimensions to explore.”

The addition of Newt – a lone, female survivor against the xenomorph menace; essentially a pint-sized version of Ripley – offered an emotional – predominantly feminine – subtext usually quite rare in mainstream SF. It allowed Ripley the chance to resurrect her maternal instincts; after having been “lost” for 57 years, she woke up only to find that she’d lost her own daughter just the year previously.

“She’s not the earnest young ensign she was when she went into space the first time,” Sigourney Weaver commented at the time. It was: “a real joy to return to Ripley with a whole different set of conditions… but I feel she has changed, so utterly, by what happens to her early in ALIENS… She is still a strong character.”

Bizarrely: “This is the first film where I’ve been surrounded by a large number of people who actually have less acting experience than I do.”

A possible sequel had been discussed since 1979, but after Weaver was gobsmacked by The Terminator, she knew that Cameron’s draft would be the only one to actually work.

“Exec producers [Gordon Carroll, David Giler and Walter Hill] are friends of mine anyway, and we would get together over dinner and laugh about the sequel,” she said. “One scenario was that they would open Ripley’s little space-pod tomb – and she would dissolve into dust.

“No need for Sigourney!”

This is a monumental masterpiece; it is a personal favourite.

This was the overnight rental chosen to celebrate my 14th birthday.

This was the Saturday night TV matinee enjoyed the day after learning that a well-deserved BA degree was heading my way.

Heck yeah, here’s to the next thirty years!

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 “Not bad for a human…” – Bishop.

“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… 

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!

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. 

Horrormeister: Christopher Lee (1922-2015)

Sir Christopher Lee died last Sunday aged 93. 

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“When you toy with the dark side of the soul, imagination comes into the forefront. You can enjoy it more and communicate that joy to the audience. And I really do love what I do” – Christopher Lee.

The actor best known for creating the definitive Count Dracula in cinema passed away on Sunday. He was 93. A monolithic figure – at 6 ft 5 in – with a deep yet majestic voice and a killer scowl, Christopher Frank Carandini Lee was made to play villains of the highest order.

After the end of the Second World War, a diplomatic career seemed to be in order, but it wasn’t to be; instead, he turned to acting. In a career spanning 70 years, he put in a formidable 250 roles. 

So it is rather perplexing to learn that he made an uninspiring debut in the Gothic romance: Corridor of Mirrors (1947) followed by a decade of minor roles…

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“Christopher is an extraordinarily clever man, who possesses enormous talents… A dear, charming man with a great sense of humour…” – Peter Cushing.

It turned out to be Hammer Studios which gave him his big break. In The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) he played the mute, shambling creation of Dr. Victor Frankenstein who was played malevolently by Peter Cushing. It would be the third time that the two thesps would share the screen.

Across 35 years, Lee and Cushing appeared in 22 phenomenal movies together, mostly horror, although both icons preferred their unbeatable portfolio to be described as macabre. Not surprisingly, they forged a strong and enduring friendship.

While Lee had been unhappy with the limited possibilities to express his talents as Frankenstein’s Monster, he needn’t have worried for too long. Their next movie together the following year turned out to be one of the top British horror classics of all time: Dracula (1958).

They also worked on Amicus (another British horror movie studio) productions together, of which Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965) (see above) was particularly good. 

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“I have always admired his talents. He has done some magnificent work in the gothic genre. His Dracula has never been surpassed – and I doubt if it ever will be. He is a great raconteur… He is also a very fine singer… He is what he is, and that is what makes him Christopher Lee” – Michael Carreras. 

 

In 20 years with Hammer Studios, Lee created a fiendish gallery of infamous characters, ranging from the Mummy, Rasputin and Fu Manchu. 

One of the most engrossing – not to mention exciting – films in Lee’s substantial macabre repertoire was The Devil Rides Out (1968), in which he played the Duc de Richleau, who must call on his esoteric knowledge of the occult to prevent the son of an old friend from joining a satanic cult. This British horror classic stands as one of his finest performances as he portrayed – in a welcome change – one of the good guys.

He was the only actor to have played both Sherlock Holmes and his wiser brother Mycroft (in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1971), as well as Sir Henry Baskerville in Hammer’s version of The Hound of the Baskervilles.

In later years, he would cite Lord Summerisle, the chieftain of a Pagan community on an isolated Hebridean island in the classic: The Wicker Man (1973) as his personal favourite performance.

His turn as the triple-nippled assassin-for-hire: Francisco Scaramanga in The Man With The Golden Gun (1974) was inspired casting – despite the fact that he was related to 007 creator Ian Fleming (who had considered Lee to originally play Bond!) – as he brought a sophisticated touch to a franchise that had begun to lose its way somewhat. 

We could be here all night trying to select one, or a few, clips best representing what Lee could do. No doubt you have uploaded your own exceptional Hammer scenes, but here, instead, this subtle yet menacing scene – one of my personal faves – perfectly demonstrates one of the best villains. Ever. 

 

“It’s terribly sad when you lose an old friend, and Christopher Lee was one of my oldest. We first met in 1948” – Sir Roger Moore. 

In recent years, Lee’s career went through a stunning renaissance. First, he was cast as the duplicitous wizard of Isengard: Saruman in The Lord of The Rings. The only member of the cast to have met JRR Tolkien, he was tipped by the author to play Gandalf! Originally to have appeared in all instalments of the trilogy, he was astonished to discover that all his scenes had been cut from the concluding epic: The Return of the King.

Bizarrely, he was cast as Count Dooku, a Sith Lord in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of The Clones, reprising the role for Episode III only to meet an early demise.

In October 2009, Lee was knighted “for his services to drama and charity.” “I don’t know if any other actor of my age has received one…” he said, standing outside Buckingham Palace. “Perhaps they thought it best to give it to me before it’s too late.”

 

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Christopher Frank Carandini Lee

27 May 1922 – 7 June 2015.