Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The Return of STARBURST Magazine! Back in print 2012

For the past 8 or so months, I have been writing a column for the online version of Starburst Magazine, the longest running Sci-fi/Horror/genre/cult magazine in the world. The magazine, started by the legendary Dez Skinn in 1978 as a Sci-Fi version of his Hammer House of Horror title, and did very well for many years, until it changed hands several times, eventually disappearing altogether.
2011 saw the return of the title, as an online magazine, run by enthusiastic fans of the genre, rather than 'money men' The success of the free to read online version - in which my column, Horror Obscura, appeared from day one - has prompted the return of the magazine to the newstands, the first available issue will be number 374, in February 2012. You can get subscribtions from here and it's highly recommeded that you do, since the first few issues will be a very limited print run, and thus highly collectable.

And to top the deal, my column will be a regular feature in that printed issue!

Thank you all for your support and hope you enjoy the magazine when it hits the stands!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Retro review: The Crime of Doctor Hallet (1938) rare Universal drama

Out in the Sumatran Jungle, Doctor Paul Hallet (Ralph Bellamy) and his chemist assistant, Jack Murray (William Gargan) are working to try and find a cure for red fever. They are sent a new assistant, Park Avenue Doctor Philip Saunders (John King) by their US sponsors, and Hallet takes a dislike to him (an off hand comment about where they studied seals his contempt), putting him to work cleaning test tubes and looking after cleaning up the test monkeys. When one of the baby monkeys accidentally cuts its self and drips blood on a slide containing live culture, Saunders finds that it's blood kills the disease cells. Hallet is not interested in anything he says, so Saunders conducts his own experiments while Hallet and Murray continue theirs.

After his test monkeys respond well to his serum, Saunders rushes to tell Hallet, only to find that he has found his own cure. Bowing to Hallet's expertise he keeps his mouth shut at his own discovery and, wanting to have some kind of involvement in the breakthrough subjects himself to the red fever virus, so Hallet can use his serum to cure him. As Saunders lies in a delirious state, and Hallet's test monkeys have died, he tells him of his own findings, and points him in the direction of his notes. Saunders dies, and to make matters worse for Hallet, the funding for the research has been pulled, and they are ordered to come home.

Dejected, and feeling guilty about Saunders' death, he reads his notes, believes his serum could work, and finds $4,000 in traveller's cheques. He decides to pose as Saunders, and announce the death of Doctor Hallet, and uses the money to carry on and vows to credit Saunders for any discovery.
Things become complicated when a new assistant, the beautiful Dr Mary Reynolds (Josephine Hutchinson) is sent along and believes Hallet to be Saunders, but like the real Saunders when he arrived, Hallet has little time for the new assistant.

Meanwhile, Saunders' wife (Barbara Read), a socialite with only her own intentions in mind is considering divorcing him, until she reads that his discovery could earn him a Nobel prize. Smelling money and fame, she decides to give the (dead remember) doctor another chance, and hops on a plane to the island.
Claire arrives, and the secret and deception are out of the bag. Will she do as she threatens and prosecute Hallet for Saunders' murder and forgery of the traveller's cheques or will the sudden attack of red fever save Hallet's neck?

A rare drama from Universal Studios, made just before the second wave of their classic monsters series, and starring some great names who would go on and appear in them. Bellamy, of course is the most famous and would later have parts in The Wolf Man (1941) and The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) as well as the classic screwball comedy, His Girl Friday (1940) and was still working up until his death in 1991, with a great turn in Trading Places (1983). Hutchinson appeared as Elsa von Frankenstein in Son of Frankenstein (1939) and Barbara Read had been in another great Universal B-movie mystery, The Man Who Cried Wolf (1937).
While there are no real horror elements, and for his faults, Hallet's intentions are all for the best, the drama is still good enough to keep you interested, and at about 65mins it doesn't drag. 6 out of 10

Friday, 2 December 2011

Chillerama (2011)

It's the last night of the old Kaufman drive in, and as a final bow, they are putting on a bill of rare and unseen horror films. Well, that's the best way of linking the trio of mini movies you get here. The linking story (directed by Joe Lynch) begins with Floyd (Miles Dougal) digging up his ex-wife for a bit of necro fun, only for her to wake from her eternal slumber and give him a nasty bite on the scotum "You bitch! You bit off my bean bag!!" Left ball-less and oozing a neon goo, Floyd heads to his job at the drive in. Trouble is, everywhere he goes, and everything he touches gets infected with the goo. But, enough of that for now, as Cecil B. Kaufman (Richard Riehle) is ready to roll our first feature...

"Wadzilla" Directed by Adam (Detroit Rock City) Rifkin, this 50s atomic monster spoof stars Ray (Twin Peaks) Wise as Doctor Weems who has a revolutionary cure for a low sperm count. His test subject, Miles (Rifkin) takes the drug, but the out come is not what they had hoped for. Instead of an increased sperm count, Miles now produces one enormous sperm, which is out of control and on the loose. This section sets the tone perfectly, a lot of fun with lots of gross out jokes and retro style bad SFX. Part Godzilla, part Fiend Without A Face and part American Pie. Plus Eric Roberts as General Bukkake, you know you're gonna love it!

"I Was A Teenage Werebear", by Tim Sullivan follows, and is a throw back to the 60s beach movies. It's even a musical, dammit! Ricky (Sean Paul Lockhart, infamous for being under age when he appeared in gay porn films!) is a clean cut, college kid who is distracted by the leather clad bad boys, led by Talon (Anton Troy). Turns out Talon and his gang are Werebears, homosexual predators who are out to pay back those who haven't accepted them. The wonderful Lin Shaye pops up for a second time (she plays a hobo lady in Wadzilla) as the gypsy Nurse Maleva, who gives Ricky advice and recites an old saying that might be a little familiar.. well sort of..
"Even a boy who thinks he's straight, yet shaves his balls by night, may become a werebear when the hormones age, and the latent urge takes flight"
The thing with this section is it doesn't resort to making fun of the gays and playing it camp, despite them being the 'monsters', it actually handles the whole 'coming to terms with your sexuality' bit well. It did remind me, however that I must watch "Curse Of The Queerwolf" sometime soon...
Next up, after another linking thread with the neon goo spreading like wild fire and seeming turning everyone into mindless zombies.. "The Diary Of Anne Frankenstein". Adam (Hatchet) Green's contribution is a black and white, German language historical piece. Well, almost. The language and the subtitles become more and more madcap as the film goes on, but for the best, and it's a complete riot. Anne has found a book that belong to her Grandfather, who just so happened to be the mad scientist Frankenstein! "That is why we had to shorten our name.."

Hitler (Joel David Moore) finds the family, and the book and sets about creating a creature that will help him in his conquest. The monster (Kane Hodder) has a very Hasidic look, however, and refuses to kill for the Fuhrer. Taking a leaf from the Mel Brooks school of offensive film making, Green manages to make an hilarious section, even if we've seen most of the gags done before. (stunt men change colour, subtitles don't match the dialogue, the monster even passes around the side of the sets like they used to do in It's Garry Shadling's Show). Very entertaining though.
Just as we are about to be 'treated' to our next feature, Deathecation, directed and introduced by the mythical Fernando Phagabeefy (which may be for the best, since this movie is said to make the audience simultaneously open their bowels), the theatre is over run with zombies, all frantically copulating with what ever they can find. Can our heroes escape?

Chillerama is a film I've been looking forward to for a while, being a fan of Creepshow and the Amicus films,  and fortunately it didn't disappoint. Much more of a comedy than horror (we don't really care if our heroes escape) and full of OTT splatter effects, it's kind of like The Kentucky Fried Creepshow, if you like. Packed full of in-jokes ("what would Simon Pegg do?") and quick, throw away gags that will make you want to watch it all over again. So a success, then? Well, partly. I can imagine you could re-watch it in a boozy group many times, but if you're a lone viewer, you may fast forward to your favourite bits after you've seen it once. That said, it is very funny and is full of the kind of loving pastiches that horror geeks will love.
At least it wasn't a complete let down like The Theatre Bizarre was. Boy, was that a sorry mess!
Hopefully Chillerama will be unleashed  in the UK soon, until then, import the DVD/Blu ray - If you don't mind getting dirty and sticky - you won't regret it!
8 out of 10

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Retro review: Goodbye Gemini (1970)

Jacki and Julian are twins, who have been sent to live in London by their father in Mexico. Almost as soon as they get to the house they are to stay at they have playfully orchestrated the death of the house keeper to have full run of the house. This sinister act is treated as a game to the two, who are very insular and childish. Jacki (Judy Geeson) and Julian (Martin Potter) then set out to the London nightlife, along with their confidant and companion, a stuffed bear called Agamenmon. (the source novel was Ask Agamemnon by Jenni Hall).

At a seedy strip joint (where they have strippers with a certain something extra, shall we say) the giggling naive twins catch the attention of Clive (Alexis Kanner), a socialite who is more talk than substance. He takes the twins to a party organised by art dealer (Terry Scully), where they catch the attention of a politician James Harrington-Smith (the legendary Sir Michael Redgrave) and camp lounge lizard art collector, David (the no less legendary Freddie Jones). The party scene dialogue is straight out of Oscar Wilde "no holes barred in SW3" David tells James.

Everywhere the twins go, they turn heads and their close, borderline incestuous relationship makes an impression. When a rough bookie (Mike Pratt, from Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)) turns up looking for Clive, it becomes apparent their new friend is not the man he makes out to be. Clive and his friend, Denise (Marian Diamond) are becoming almost permanent residents at the twin's house, and Julian sees their constant company as a threat to the their little bubble.
When Jacki rejects Julian's amorous advances, and desire to be alone together, Clive takes Julian out, getting him drunk and to a hotel where he provides two 'women' for Julian, who, he soon finds out - like the strippers - have a little extra.
Clive uses photos of this shameful night to try and blackmail Julian into giving him the £400 he owes the bookie for his gambling debt. Horrified by Clive's plans, Denise tells Jacki so that Julian would not have to pay. Still shamed by his night of sodomy, Julian has other plans.
Together, the twins plot to do away with Clive. It's after this event, Jacki loses all grip on reality and disappears into the night, only to be picked up by the passing Smith. Her nightmare is only just beginning.

A strange and for a long time rarely seen, but incredibly well made film, Goodbye Gemini is not betrayed by it's dated swinging London setting, Largely due to the wonderful cinematography of Geoffrey Unsworth (2001, Zardoz, Superman The Movie), who sets up some amazing angles and gives it a very stylish look. The soundtrack stands out (by Christopher Gunning, who also did Hands Of The Ripper), despite being full of 60s psychedelic types songs, For once, they don't detract or date the film, but enhance it. The themes and settings are quite frank, even by today's standards, and you can imagine if this was done now there would be more shown and played out rather than left ambiguous and suggested. The seedy world in which Clive and his friends (and indeed, the 'hero' politician) hang out in are not the usual places, leaning more to the homosexual side rather than that more commonly seen in films of the time, which is a bold move, but feels perfectly right for the surreal world the twins have made for themselves and pitched perfectly, without resorting to pastiche.

It's also very well directed by Alan Gibson, who had just made Crescendo for Hammer, and would later make the last two Christopher Lee Dracula movies for them (as well as a couple of episodes of the House of Horror TV series). The producer, Peter Snell is the CEO of British Lion, who later produced The Wicker Man.
Keep an eye out for Brian Wilde (Night Of The Demon, and more famously, Porridge and Last Of The Summer Wine) as the taxi driver and an underused Peter Jeffrey once again playing a police inspector, which he would of course do wonderfully in the two Dr Phibes films. Star Martin Potter had been in Fellini's Satyricon (1969) and would later pop up in a couple of genre films, Norman J. Warren's Satan's Slaves (1976) and Cruel Passion (aka Justine - 1977).

The only niggle that can be found is that, on occasion, the image of the DVD release suffers from some colour 'fringing', giving it almost a look of watching a 3D film without glasses. These sections don't last too long and are not too off putting, but a shame as it's such a great release.
8 out of 10.