Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Christopher Gullo: The Films of Donald Pleasence

Christopher Gullo is a good buddy of mine and somewhere up there in the world's Top 10 of Peter Cushing Fans. Ever since the late 1990s we've been communicating about the Gentle Man of Horrors. in 2004 he published In All Sincerity, Peter Cushing, a wonderful overview of the actor's life and career as told to Chris by many of Cushing's co-stars, friends and colleagues. (Incidentally I only just noticed now that there is also a cheap Kindle version of that book available that at $3.39 is quite a steal.)

He has now finished his next oeuvre dedicated to the wonderful Donald Pleasence, an actor who for some reason totally beyond me has so far never received the biographical treatment he so well deserved.

Chris is now closing that gap and in conjunction with Bear Manor Media will soon release The Films of Donald Pleasence.

Please find below some additional info about the release:

Mention the words "horror star" and certain names immediately spring to mind-- Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Vincent Price. But another, lesser-known name was also heavily involved in numerous horror and science-fiction films-- Donald Pleasence. Featuring a distinctive look, memorable voice, and a serious approach to his roles, Pleasence shined brightly in many genre favorites. Whether as a maniacal body snatcher in The Flesh and the Fiends, a surgical assassin in Fantastic Voyage, the arch-villain of 007 in You Only Live Twice, a sarcastic inspector in Raw Meat, or his career-defining role as the heroic Dr. Loomis in Halloween, Donald Pleasence proved himself to be a top performer in the fantastical genres of horror and science-fiction. The Films of Donald Pleasence includes a full biography, tributes from Pleasence’s friends and coworkers, reviews of all his films, and a rare photo gallery in the first-ever book devoted to the man who became a genre favorite to countless fans.
To learn about this or other BearManor Media titles, please visit our website at www.bearmanormedia.com.
ISBN: 1-59393-212-X
Format: Softcover; 6” x 9”; 316 pages
Price: $21.95
Available also through Ingram and amazon.com
About the Author: Christopher Gullo is a history teacher and a life-long fan of genre films who resides in Long Island, NY with his wife Beth and son Anthony. His first book was In All Sincerity...Peter Cushing and he still runs the Peter Cushing Association on Facebook. In addition, Christopher has contributed to various books, magazines, and DVDs.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

John Hamilton: X-Cert

Let's see...

We have books on Hammer. Lots of them.

We have an excellent overview over Amicus courtesy of Little Shoppe of Horrors #20 and a controversial Dark Side publication Amicus: The Studio That Dripped Blood. The original author did an Allan Smithee and removed his name but say what you like about the contents this is still beautifully illustrated.

In recent years we also got Beasts in the Cellar: The Exploitation Film Career of Tony Tenser to focus on Tigon Productions. (I haven't read this yet but according to all the people whose opinions I value, this has my name on it.)

So what is left in terms of a more specialised approach to Classic British Horror?

Ah yes, an overview over the independent UK Horror movies of the time.

John Hamilton, author of Beasts in the Cellar, has now taken on the task of filling that gap on the book shelf.

X-Cert - The British Independent Horror Film: 1951 – 1970 does exactly what it says on the tin.

Published by Hemlock this volume will be instantly familiar to those who have previously read Bruce Hallenbeck's recent Hammer books. It features the same size and style of artwork and is richly illustrated, mainly in black & white but also with a separate 8-page coloured spread.

Given the complexities of film financing and international co-production deals at the time Hamilton mentions in his introduction the difficulties in coming up with a definitive list of what constitutes a) a British, b) an Independent and c) a Horror film and freely admits that his list is probably subject to debate. As such I am not even going to bother arguing which films should or should not have been included and am just enjoying his chronological overview of all the films from Mother Riley Meets the Vampire to The Corpse/Crucible of Horror.

Each of his entries is rich in historical detail and intelligent critique and low on synopsis just as it should be.

As this book primarily focuses on x-certified “adults only” movies of the time we get a good overview over the changing mores, involvements with the censor and political legislation with regards to film productions during those two decades.

Hamilton also manages to place the various cinematic talents in their respective career paths:

For one we have the usual genre stalwarts, often on a break from Hammer, such as Terence Fisher, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff, Anton Diffring or Michael Gough.

Even more interesting, however, are those that are on either end of their career spans: a young Sidney J Furie directing Dr Blood's Coffin or helping to supervise the making of Devil Doll; a mature Joan Crawford going Berserk! for Trog.

For some like Michael Powell producing a film like Peeping Tom would put an end to an illustrious career. For others like Bryant Halliday (Devil Doll, Curse of the Voodoo, The Projected Man) these films were practically the sole reason that they still feature somewhere in the footnotes of cinematic history.

The book is full with details about short-term production companies such as Planet, Gala or Eros Film Distributors some of which were only ever set up for one film to avail of a government deal, then were disbanded or re-formed under a different name to ensure that they would again be eligible for the very same State sponsorship.

If there is one single name that comes up time and again providing something of a narrative throughout the two decades' worth of indie film history it is that of  Richard Gordon. He was single handedly responsible for the largest bulk of the movies in this book. Having established a friendship with him over the years, the author then rounds up this tome with a very personal and heartfelt remembrance of this multi-talented business- and showman who – outside of the Great Three Studios – did most to provide the British public with their share of chills and thrills.

If there is anything major that this book could be criticised for it is mainly by sins of omission. I personally would have loved to see the topic extended to the 1970s, a decade that probably proved to be the most fascinating for British Independent Horror films with the likes of Pete Walker, Norman J Warren or Mike Raven around.

A little birdy has, however, told me that a possible follow-up volume may be on the horizon at some point in the future which will no doubt make a great companion piece to this edition.

X-Cert is available both through sellers at Amazon US and UK as well as through Hemlock's own website.

Hammer hosts YouTube Channel

For the last month Hammer Films have started hosting their own YouTube channel. It's well worth checking out as on top of clips, trailers and previews it also features the following full-length Hammer movies each of which also has a separate introduction by Hammer historians Robert Simpson and Marcus Hearn.

Hammer also appears to have Man Bait/The Last Page made available though apparently not for Ireland where I live as all access is blocked.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Wayne Kinsey/Gordon Thomson: Hammer Locations

If anyone ever needs a definition of what constitutes a niche market book, point them to Wayne Kinsey's and Gordon Thomson's new publication about the Hammer Locations.

This is definitely not anything for the casual Hammer or Horror Fan but for the die-hard fanatics who live and breathe Hammer and need to know every last detail about the productions.

And then go to visit their locations.

For anyone within that target niche Hammer Locations is an excellent, richly illustrated travel guide with in-depth descriptions of the areas the Hammer Horrors were filmed in and detailled maps and instructions on how to get there.

Being one of a small number of Hammer-focused authors, Wayne Kinsey hardly needs an introduction to readers of this blog. His partner-in-crime for this tome is Gordon Thomson, a runner, assistant editor and sound recordist for a wide of range of shows with vast contacts in the industry to help him identify even some of the more obscure locations.

Initially the book was meant to be just one chapter in Kinsey's previous book about Hammer Films – The Unsung Heroes but when that chapter started growing within an already massive manuscript, the publisher Tomahawk Press opted for a separate volume. Alas, the recession and declining specialised book sales ultimately prevented Tomahawk from adding it to their own portfolio, leaving Wayne no choice but to set up his own publishing house, Peveril Publishing, where this book is now exclusively available from. So don't even bother checking the likes of Amazon & Co.

It is clearly a sign of the progress made in the self publishing industry that an individual can now produce a volume that at no point ever indicates that it doesn't have the weight of a professional publisher behind it. This book is meticulously researched, fantastically bound and printed and sumptiously illustrated in both colour and black & white. This is clearly NOT a “vanity publication” but a thoroughly professional one that just happens to be produced privately as its topic is otherwise too obscure for any of the regular players in the field.

The initial chapters introduce us to the most commonly associated Hammer locations, Black Park and Bray. We get a general overview over those including a suggested walkthrough for anyone visiting those for the first time and with limited time on their hands.

Following that we are treated to in-depth discussions of all the locations for the main UK based Hammer  Horror, Fantasy and Sci Fi films. Contemporary photos and screen grabs of the movies are compared side-by-side with current pictures of the locations as they look now. Some of the places have barely changed at all, others have irrevocably been altered.

The amount of information available on those locations is simply staggering. I think that it is safe to say that if the authors haven't managed to identify a place, hardly anyone after them ever will.

As thorough as the text is, space-wise it is far outweighed by the photographic material on hand which is actually a good thing if like me you aren't living anywhere near those places. Even couch travellers will be able to get great enjoyment out of comparing the sites then and now.

Though Hammer Locations primarily focuses on the UK shooting sites for the company's genre movies, we also get shorter entries about their comedies and foreign locations with a separate chapter for Irish-based Ardmore Studios and Powerscourt which I would have loved to have had along with me when I visited the area a decade or so ago.

I know that the first couple of readers have already successfully used the book for their own excursions into Hammer. And rumour has it that next year there may just be an organised guided tour event. (Yes, please.)

So what is stopping you from purchasing this?

Ah yes, one thing that may bring your planned purchase to a screeching halt is the price.

The base cover price is £25 (£5 more if you purchase an additional 2 DVDs with the photos taken for the book) but depending on where in the world you live up to £22.25 needs to be added for postage and packaging which means that either way you look at it this book won't come cheap.

The p&p, however, is what it is and anyone who has ever looked into the printing costs for such a beautiful volume will know that this doesn't come cheap. Hammer Locations regardless of its total price tag is not going to be a major money maker and Wayne will count himself lucky if he ends up  breaking even.

So foresake a night on the town, save a £1 a day, drop hints with your loved ones about future birthday or Christmas gifts but treat yourself to something special if that book sounds like it may appeal to you.

And then start saving early for the next books that Peveril Publishing is aiming to release over the next year or two.