Saturday, January 31, 2009

Stephanie Beacham stars in Coronation Street

Needless to say I missed the news when it first came out, but Stephanie Beacham can now be seen as Ken Barlow's love interest in Coronation Street. Not too sure if I care about Beacham too much to actually openly watch it, but I am sure enough people will have this on telly everywhere I go so that I can experience her role while still keeping up the aura of snobby aloofness that generally comes up together with my raised eyebrow anytime I am confronted with The Street.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Wrestler/My Bloody Valentine

As part of the 999 Challenge I promised I’d watch 9 movies in the cinema and blog about them this year, even if there were no connections to Hammer.

So I thought I’d go off to a good start and managed to catch two that I would both whole heartedly recommend (even though none of them are flawless).

The Wrestler

Must admit I always liked Mickey Rourke right from the start and had watched pretty much all his 80s stuff when it first came out and then, like so many others, thought he’d gone off his game when he turned to pro-boxing, however, over the last couple of years realised that rather than to be questioned about this (and some other decisions he made), he should be lauded for simply sticking to his guns and doing what he wanted to do, living his life according to his own rules. Really, how many people can seriously claim to do so?

Whereas most reviewers name Sin City as the comeback point in his career, I re-discovered him a few years earlier when to my utmost surprise I noticed that it was his character who beat Enrique Iglesias to a pulp in the video to the obnoxious Hero single. And who could forget his appearance in Robert Rodriguez’ excellent Once Upon a Time in Mexico, a film that is chockfull with eccentric characters, none more so than Mickey Rourke with his handful of small designer dogs.

Rourke, the former pretty boy, now has a physique that is as rugged as the Grand Canyon and a voice that could give Batman a run for his money and his Wrestler is a character in the tradition of the good old classic American anti-heroes, a Hemingway type of character who does what he has to do regardless of the outcome for himself. It is refreshing to see a US production that does not revel in “winning” but for a change again just focuses on “doing” and being true to yourself. Too much time over the years has been spent on feel good movies that celebrate physical victory and ignoring the fact that sometimes those deemed “losers” (oh, how I hate that word) make much more interesting characters in a story.

His portrayal as Randy “The Ram” Robinson is clearly auto-biographical and the speech he holds towards the end of the film has definitely been written with Rourke in mind and I wouldn’t be surprised if he hadn’t even had a say in it himself.

Rourke’s performance is mammoth and quite rightly deserved an Oscar nomination. In actual fact the film *is* his performance and would be nothing without him. If one thing can be said in criticism it is that, though I was always very much immersed in his performance, I was never all that much immersed in the rest of the movie.

Marisa Tomei is in this one, too, and she also received an Oscar nomination as the aging stripper Rourke is involved with. Aging stripper? Hell, it wasn’t all that long ago that she was the Next Big Thing to watch out for. Damn, I am feeling old. This is also a career high for Tomei who has never before shown herself so revealing, both physically (niiiiiiiicccceeee) and emotionally.

My Bloody Valentine 3-D

The original My Bloody Valentine had eluded me up until the end of last year when I finally saw it. It soon became one of my favourite slasher movies of all times (OK, admittedly not a genre I am all too fond of to start with) with its unusual settings and memorable characters, original murder pieces starting with the fetishistic scene of the first killing and it had me hooked right until the final credits with this really amazing quasi-folk song about the killings.

As for 3-D movies I always wanted to immerse myself more in them, but the only one I ever caught in a theatre was Comin’ at Ya! and five minutes in the entire audience demanded their money back as the effects weren’t working properly.

So given my low regards for remakes in general and the less than stellar history I had with cinematic 3-D effects I wasn’t too sure what to expect and kept my expectations low, but – Boy! – did I enjoy this one!!!

I can’t recall the last time I had such unadulterated fun with my clothes on. This was definitely one of the most entertaining nights in a cinema in ages. If you have even the slightest inkling of seeing this, make sure you do so before it leaves the theatres as this is something that must be seen on a big screen and unless you have one hell of a home cinema you are not going to enjoy this properly. The 3-D effects are fantastic, not just when they haul things at you (there is one particular, ahem, jaw dropping scene), but more so even when confronted with the claustrophobic environment of the mines. In the middle part it drags a small little bit, but overall it is a rollercoaster ride of a movie and even includes an over the top nude scene, the type that hasn’t been done in a mainstream movie since the 80s.

Without revealing too much it needs to be said, however, that there is one particular plot development that redefines “audience cheat” and is the one sore point in an otherwise fab production. This is especially annoying as it would have taken very little to correct this. No idea, what made them drop the ball when they were previously doing such a great job.

Interestingly enough this is one film where the trailer does NOT give away the best moments or effects.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hammer and Beyond blog nominated for Total Film's annual blog awards

I am more than happy (nay, ecstatic) to report that this blog has just been nominated for TOTAL FILM's annual film blog awards in the horror category. TOTAL FILM is one of the UK's leading film magazines, so this is quite an important nomination for this little blog of mine and I really can't urge you enough to please go and vote for me.

Just click on this link and use the polling feature. It will only take a minute, but will make the world of difference to me.

Let's show the world that there is still a good bit of interest around for the classic Hammer productions!!!!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Golden Compass (2007)

I have never read any of Philip Pullman’s books, but apparently these Fantasy books have a very anti-religious message at its core and the film has been criticised for watering this message down quite a notch. No idea how much this does indeed come across in the books, but there are still more than enough anti-religious and anti-authoritarian stances in this production. In actual fact if there is one thing this film can be accused of is that this is way too preachy. I got no problem with the overall message, but anytime something gets explained (and there are lots of those situations around!) we are confronted with over the top, heavy duty, let’s-make-sure-even-the-biggest-dunce-in-the-theatre-understands-this symbolism. This is not an allegory, but a frigging preachy sermon that just won’t stop. If the books equally hit you over the head with those more than obvious messages, then I doubt I’d ever feel the need to read them.

Truth be told: I am probably not the right person to judge this kind of production. Twee Fantasy epics with annoying kids in a CGI environment aren’t exactly my favourite genre, and I doubt that I’d have ever given The Golden Compass a chance if it wasn’t for the fact that Christopher Lee was in it.

Mr Lee’s part is, however, minute. He appears for just about a minute or two spouting some threatening plan to rid the world of children’s independent spirits or some such and then is never seen again. What did surprise me was, however, that Hammer star Edward De Souza could also be seen in the same scene, alas without any dialogue whatsoever and a look that seems to ask where his next drink could be found.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Man Bait/The Last Page (1951)

Man Bait is one of those Hammer Noirs that had much more effective and lurid titles in the States than for their British releases. In the UK it was more widely known under the more obscure title The Last Page that was in a way referring to the fact that this film had a very unusual setting placed primarily within the confines of a second hand book store.

Based on a play by thriller writer James Hadley Chase this film focuses on a blackmail attempt gone wrong, leading towards a murder chase against the innocent manager of the store.

It is a fast paced and entertaining production directed by Terence Fisher in his first assignment for Hammer so in that regards this is indeed a key film for the production company. It is also of importance as it brought Hammer’s James Carreras together with Robert Lippert, thus ensuring a lengthy relationship that helped see the release of their films in the US.

The actual plot is more than convoluted and forced (SPOILER ALERTS): We are expected to believe that shop assistant Ruby Bruce (Diana Dors) is so naïve to make a date with a guy who she catches stealing a book (Peter Reynolds). When she accidentally rips her blouse on a shelf and then very very briefly snatches a quick innocent kiss from her boss (John Harman) we are then to believe that she does not find it the slightest bit weird that her new boyfriend (who she had hardly exchanged ten words with) demands she blackmail the boss. The boss of course does not fire her or bring her to the attention of the police as he threatens. Nay, not even when his frail wife dies of shock when receiving a letter about the non-incident does he do what anyone with half a brain would do and instead fires more than the demanded sum at the Dors character. Even worse, when she accidentally gets killed herself (I told you this was getting convoluted), he doesn’t simply relate everything to the police but instead goes running for no apparent reason bringing all suspicions on himself.

At one time this film saw its release as part of a Double Feature with Bad Blonde. Strangely enough Diana Dors was presented as a new “introducing” actress, yet already had been in film for about five years with a dozen movies to her record. It was, however, this production that established her name in the US. Dors would later re-appear for Hammer in Children of the Full Moon, an episode for the TV Show Hammer House of Horror. Quite interesting to see that she was therefore associated with Hammer’s earliest productions as well as with their last ones, though never with their classic phase.

Phil Leakey provided the Make up; Jimmy Sangster is again listed as the Assistant Director.

In short: Forced plot, but fast and entertaining and at least of important historical value for Hammer.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Prehistoric Women (1966)

Slave Girls aka Prehistoric Women (1966) is one of the Hammer films with the absolutely worst reputation ever. Not only is it not getting a lot of love from snotty nosed regular critics, it also gets little respect from the general Fandom and during 1994’s Fanex convention was even voted the Worst Hammer movie ever.

Now I gotta admit that I often enjoy Hammer films with dodgy reputations and even go as far as saying that Lost Continent is a genuinely underrated classic that deserves a better rep. And though I wouldn’t go as far as saying that Prehistoric Women is genuinely good, I do have to admit that I found it thoroughly enjoyable on a shlocky level. There’s more than enough that this film has to offer to warrant giving this a chance.

Prehistoric Women is the longer US cut of the movie that was released in the UK under the title Slave Girls and not only recycles the fur bikinis from the previous year’s One Million Years B.C., it also recycles story lines and concepts from other productions such as Martine Beswicke’s cat fight from From Russia With Love, the idea of having the queen of a long lost tribe fall in love with a contemporary male from Hammer’s own She or the dubious imperialistic attitude towards native tribes from just about any Tarzan flick.

All of this makes for a strangely familiar, yet entertaining hodge podge of ideas. I couldn’t help but be mesmerised by the very blatant symbolism of the infamous white rhino’s horns (see Beswicke caressing it and you get it easily, see the male lead doing likewise and lift a knowing eye brow) or the obviously phallic shape of the demon’s nose (or whatever he is meant to be) regularly lurking in the jungle. Listen in amazement at hero Michael Latimer’s equal rights for men and women speech! Listen to the haunting tunes and dances of the natives (well, white ladies in fur coats) and try and get the melodies out of your head before you go bonkers! Laugh out loud at the dodgy back screen projections that make some extras behind Latimer look like 9 foot giants!

Yes, it is bad, but it is also strangely entertaining and best viewed with a six pack of your favourite brew.

Let’s not forget that one of the main reasons (nay, *the* reason) for this picture was to show scores of lovely ladies with little clothing. And if you’re only remotely interested in Hammer Glamour, this is the film for you. Martine Beswicke was born for this kind of role and displays an amazing screen presence and athleticism. One of the main (ahem) revelations for me was Edina Ronay as one of the blonde haired slave rebels and love interest for the hero. Ronay later became a popular fashion designer who is still quite popular amongst the fashionistas and even has a portrait of hers displayed in London’s National Portrait Gallery.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Hammer Glamour Tribute on YouTube

I just discovered this very nicely done 6-part tribute to the Hammer Ladies on YouTube!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Hammer Films: A Life In Pictures

Den of Geek had kindly donated a review copy of Wayne Kinsey's new book Hammer Films: A Life In Pictures to me, so needless to say I owed them the review, but now that it has been up on their site for more than three weeks they have kindly given me permission to also reprint it for my own blog. So here it goes:
Does the World really need another book about Hammer movies?

Since the mid-1990s hardly a year has gone by without the release of at least one publication dedicated to the history of Britain’s most influential horror film studio. We had gloriously produced general overviews (Marcus Hearn/Alan Barnes: The Hammer Story), extensive film by film reviews of every single Hammer film production since The Public Life of Henry the Ninth from 1935 (Tom Johnson/Deborah DelVecchio: Hammer Films – An Exhaustive Filmography), two very in depth tomes about the production and release history (Wayne Kinsey’s Hammer Films – The Bray Studio Years and its follow up The Elstree Studio Years) and an accountant’s view of the company’s history (Denis “Will I ever write a book about films I actually like?” Meikle: A History of Horror – The Rise and Fall of the House of Hammer).

And these are just the good ones. On top of that there are a number of others, some good, some bad and very few plain ugly. And let’s not forget some truly excellent Hammer magazines, most notably Little Shoppe of Horrors and the now defunct Dark Terrors. [And of course Wayne Kinsey's very own The House That Hammer Built! Can't believe I forgot to mention this in my original review.]

So is there really a need to release yet another book about a studio that, though highly important, has become more of a niche interest with a very dedicated, but ultimately small number of raving fans?

Tomahawk’s new publication Hammer Films – A Life in Pictures is officially attributed to Hammer scribe Wayne Kinsey, though his actual text really plays second fiddle to this book’s ultimate raison d’être, a huge collection of ultra rare photos that Kinsey had unearthed during his research in the British Film Institute.

Hundreds of those negatives had for decades been safely stored away in the BFI’s archives, though it took a year of Kinsey’s research to identify their value and to properly attribute them to the films and the talent involved in their production. A small number of those images had subsequently been exhibited at the BFI South Bank, but it is safe to say that the vast bulk of those photos have never been seen up to the release of this book.

The majority of those are black and white pictures, though the book also has 16 pages of coloured prints. Apart from simply being able to see some very rare pictures of Hammer productions, there are another two reasons why this book should prove fascinating for every Hammer - but also general Brit Horror - Fan.

First of all it is important to notice that every film production was invariably accompanied by a photographer who captured the atmosphere on set. In contrast to most other books about the studio, this means that its famous horror movies are not the only genres that are covered here. Instead the book focuses equally on all the different types of projects that Hammer was involved in and therefore covers Hammer Noir as well as the Frankenstein, Dracula and general Horror films and also its forays into Science Fiction, Psychological Thrillers, Drama, War, Fantasy, Comedy and Swashbuckler productions. Very few other books have ever given equal coverage to all those genres when dealing with its subject.

Secondly, it is quite obvious that a large number of those images were not necessarily intended for publicity purposes, so even though we have a good number of glamour shots or star photography, we also have a very large chunk of on set photography giving us all a good idea of Hammer as a truly “working” production company.

It was fascinating watching the crews at work and play. I had previously heard about the accident that caused the ship to capsize during the filming of The Devil Ship Pirates, though now was able to actually view what happened. Amazing to see how some utterly crazy and dangerous stunts were filmed. (Not a good idea to really have a noose around your neck while you’re sitting on a bolting horse.) And nothing demonstrates the joviality and camaraderie on set better than a tombstone saying “Alfred Hitchcock R.I.P” designed for ex-Hitchcock Blonde Joan Fontaine during The Witches’ shooting.

All in all, this is a gorgeous piece of cinema history, an absolute Must Have for everyone only remotely interested in the history of Hammer or Brit Horror in general and, as this is strictly limited to 2500 copies, something you may want to quickly arrange as a Christmas present for either yourself or your loved ones.

Happy New Year!!!

Happy New Year to all my readers. As you know 2009 will mark the year where I attempt to view 9 movies from 9 categories and blog about those. I have changed two of the categories to make them fall more in line with the typical posts for this blog:
1. 9 Hammer Movies
2. 9 Movies directed by Hammer directors (non-Hammer)
3. 9 Movies starring Hammer actors (non-Hammer)
4. 9 Movies starring Hammer actresses (non-Hammer)
5. 9 Movies that I haven't seen before starring non-Hammer Horror icons (such as Vincent Price, Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff)
6. 9 Rivals of Hammer (Movies from Amicus or Tigon, 1960s and 70s Brit Horror in general)
7. 9 Mario Bava movies
8. 9 Giallos
9. 9 Movies to be watched in the cinema (i.e. 5 more than I managed this year, sad I know)
We also have another four blogs that are willing to give this a shot. It would be great to have at least 9 blogs in total involved in this exercise, so if there's anyone out there who is interested in participating, please let me know. It is not too late to join yet and a number of the other 999 Challengers have also opted to not just limit this to films only.

Avalard's 999 Challenge has already hit the ground running with two posts on the first day of the New Year dedicated to Twilight and Nightmare Before Christmas 3D. The relevant 9 challenges for Robert are:
1. 9 different interpretations of Sherlock Holmes
2. 9 instalments of "Avalard's Box of Obfuscation" podcast (if I don't add this, I'm worried I might get lazy as the new year starts...)
3. 9 novels (considerably more than I manage most years!)
4. 9 Hitchcock films (need to work my way through the acres of dvds I've got cluttering the office)
5. 9 films at the cinema (I see plenty, but I never write about them!)
6. 9 Michael Caine films
7. 9 classic Britcom television series (only 1 episode of each!)
8. 9 British horror films
9. 9 episodes of the Avengers (at least one from each year of the original 60s run)
Doug from Divine Exploitation will focus on:
1. 9 Jess Franco Films I haven't seen
2. 9 films with people from Franco films that he didn't direct.
3. 9 zombie films I haven't seen
4. 9 minicomics.
5. 9 movies in the 50 pack I bought last year and and still haven't gotten around to watching.
6. 9 novelizations of movies. (The movie had to come first.)
7. 9 non fiction books dealing exclusively with film in some fashion.
8. 9 viewings of the film A Virgin Among The Living Dead with a write up of each time and what I may have missed each time.
9. 9 exploitation films made before 1950
Comic Artist Extraordinaire and all round nice guy Neal Vokes from That's All, Vokes will concentrate on:

1- 9 western films (but only ones from the 90s-1990 to 1999- to keep a theme going here-westerns were virtually non existent by then-should be a challenge-lol )
2- 9 horror films (the same goes for these and the next couple film genres-this helps keep me more focused i think-besides, i haven't bothered with a whole lot of "new" films in the horror/comedy/sci fi/foreign genre-should be enlightening)
3- 9 comedies (same)
4- 9 Sci Fi films (same)
5- 9 foreign films (same)
6- 9 TV series on dvd (I'll keep it to one episode per show to be realistic -
i have at least nine box sets of various shows sitting amongst my dvd collection)
7- 9 books (i have more than nine on my "to read" shelf already-and just added more this Xmas!)
8- 9 albums/cds (again i want to try to listen to bands i haven't before-or at least paid little attention to-also between 1990 to 1999)
9- 9 chapters of a comic strip (i borrowed this idea from fellow blogger Davy Z) I'm not sure about what yet-something i haven't done before, i think-maybe semi autobiographical in nature?
as soon as i've picked the exact films,etc that will be on the list I'll update the entry...;o)
And last not least my buddy Davy Z from Tomb It May Concern (just love the name of this blog!) will accept the challenge with the following categories;
1) 9 Jess Franco films that I have already viewed more than twice. (Every time I revisit a Franco after a few years-and several other films-they tend to inform each other. I'm going to revisit some favorites and see what has changed.)
2) 9 Videogames that are not First Person Shooters. (I play a lot of shooters and love the genre-so it is time to go for something different. RPG, Racing, Casual gaming...we'll see what pops up.)
3) 9 complete runs of horror comics produced between 2001 and 2009. (I have had a lot of trouble connecting to many recent comics-but with some searching, I bet I could locate nine series that would be interesting. For my purposes, mini-series are going to count as one, though I won't cheap out and simply read a bunch of 30 Days Of Night books. The art might make my eyes bleed if I did.)
4) 9 British Horror films. (I'm fairly weak on my britsploitation knowledge. This won't change that fact at all, but may shovel a little sand in to the tide of my ignorance.)
5) 9 Eurospy films that I have not seen. (So many to catch up with, this should be easy!)
6) 9 Peplum Films. (I have a 50 pack that is only 1/3 watched!)
7) 9 Spaghetti Westerns (There are dozens piled up in my backlog)
8) 9 Guy N. Smith novels
9) I'm wondering if actually creating a work of fiction in 9 parts would count. I'll ask those involved and see if it does. If so, then I'll post a 9 part story in 2009. If not...I'm sure I can find something else!
Again, there's ample room for more bloggers to join us. It should be a very fun, productive and focused year for us all. :-)