Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Vincent Price Presents

I love comics. I really do! But over the last couple of years I have gradually pruned down my regular subscriptions at my local comic store to a bare minimum. Gone are the Daredevils and Captain Americas that have accompanied me for practically all my life. Can’t get too bothered about Batman these days. And even my beloved Spiderman has got the chop after One More Day too many, though I do still hold on to Ultimate Spiderman and felt that the Spidergirl comics should never have been cancelled.

I am really sick of endless relaunches and retcons and am amazed about how little story there is to read these days for an ever more extortionate cover price (especially given the inflated $-to-€ ratio charged in this neck of the woods). Whatever happened to the time when each comic (including the letters pages that are now as rare as a decent script) could keep me entertained for half an hour? These days a visit to the loo often lasts longer than a cover to cover read.

So when I finally come across a comic series that I really could get into, it annoys me endlessly when it is nigh impossible to subscribe to locally.

I recently came across issue #4 of Vincent Price Presents, an older entry in Bluewater Comics' Vincent Price related series.

Judging from this one edition Price in this series acts as the narrator at the beginning and end of a short piece of horror fiction. The Price segments are drawn in a kind of photorealistic style by Joel Robinson, the story proper in a more contemporary comic book style by Giovanni Timpano and featuring a main character who appears reminiscent (though not entirely spitting image) of Price.

This edition features a new take on the old Bluebeard tale, focussing on the initiation rites designed by an older member of the Bluebeard family for his young son. That rite of passage also features a mechanical dog somewhat out of place in the Gothic atmosphere of the tale.

Though I can’t say that the twist had me really stunned (remember: there are always twists in these kinds of comics), I did enjoy reading the comic and definitely would love to read more of them.

Only trouble is that not a lot of comic dealers seem to be carrying those, at least not here in Ireland, so online orders are a Must. The publishers also have an Ebay store that appears to be the most convenient way to purchase some of the past issues.

This is probably a very niche market idea. Let’s face it: Vincent Price’s name may still carry a lot of weight amongst classic horror fans, but who amongst the young comic readers of today really is a classic horror fan? (Then again, *are* there actually still young readers out there? Can’t remember the last time I saw a kid reading a comic.)

Anyone wanting to support this kind of project would probably also be well advised to drop the title of this series next time they visit a comic store. It’s only through this kind of awareness that the shops will actually order new series such as these.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Interview with Shane Briant, Hammer star and author of WORST NIGHTMARES

Shane Briant’s new novel WORST NIGHTMARES has just been released this week and Shane has kindly agreed to participate in a bit of Q&A for our blog.

Shane has of course featured in four of Hammer’s most interesting 1970s movies (Demons of the Mind, Straight on till Morning, Captain Kronos and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell), and has remained very active on screen, TV and stage. In actual fact if you are based in the UK/Ireland look out for the new Vauxhall ad with him in it.

I am always very curious to learn more about what happened to our favourite Hammer actors once they stopped working for the studio, so ever since I first heard about him being a writer a couple of years ago I wanted to find out more about this lesser known part of his career. Now that I know that one of his past novels features a 10-year old hitman for the Mafia you can bet I’ll be on the lookout for his earlier novels! (Incidentally a plot summary I just discovered demonstrates that the Internet/Murder angle is one that Briant seems to have been fascinated with even before Worst Nightmares.)

Shane is now based in Australia and will soon go on a whirlwind tour of American book stores to promote his new work. So check out your local listings to see if you can even meet up with him in person. (And if you do, don’t forget to take a photo and share it with us!)

Hi Shane, your new novel, Worst Nightmares, has just been released. Can you tell us a little bit about it? What was the inspiration for the plot?

I’ve always been fascinated by the amount of trust, and lack of fear, people have chatting away to the world at large on the Internet. They share their most intimate secrets, their fears and aspirations – even their sexual preferences. They appear to have no thought about any demons that might be lurking in Cyber-Space. There have been many instances of people being tracked down and raped and/or murdered by contacts on the Net, yet because they initially chat on a computer they have no fear. Nor caution. So I came up with the Dream Healer’s website. “Tell me your nightmares and I shall give you peace.” Yeah, right. Eternal peace in the most horrific way – their nightmares amped up 100 times! That was the idea. Then I used that as a secondary plot in a novel about a man that makes one error of judgment and it creates a tragic domino effect that destroys his life.

Tell us a little bit about your own dreams and nightmares?

I have VERY vivid dreams. In them everything is amped up. So a visit to Venice (Italy) is an explosion of colour and activity. As if the real thing wasn’t huge enough. My nightmares used to be about plane crashes. Now they are more like ‘the end of the world’. I can see invaders in huge space ships in the sky and people are running. I know this is it! I always ask myself, ‘Am I dreaming?’ I pinch myself and don’t wake up. Quite often I dream Wendy is fed up with me and says she’s leaving me. This is the worst one!

Given that the plot is very much featuring a menacing Internet presence I thought it was somewhat ironic that the first question you asked me when I started touching base with you was what Twitter was about as you were “just getting started when it comes to the Internet”. Given the novel’s subject matter I’d have thought you were an old Internet pro. Can it really be that you are just getting into it? How was the research like in that regard?

Twitter is odd. As a writer I find it hard to ‘Twit’. Only a few words? And who the heck am I talking to? Who’s actually reading and is interested? Mmmm. But I can easily grasp the magnitude of research on the Net. I no longer have to trawl the bars and brothels of Valetta to know what it’s like in Malta’s ‘Gut’ and what’s being served ‘de jour’. Often quite grizzy. But it’s gloriously vicarious. And getting back in touch with people I haven’t seen for ages. And never missing a good news story – just look it up. I’ve been an Internet devotee since it’s inception really but I find it difficult to wrap my head around Twitter – that’s all!

I believe a sequel to Worst Nightmares is already written. Can you tell us a bit more about this?

OOOOO! I LOVED writing this one. It gave me soooo much pleasure. It was FUN! Sometimes I worry that I am becoming one of my characters. How can one have so much fun writing about such grizzy things? Well, it’s because it’s fiction! And I can let my VERY dark houmor run amok! The sequel takes over where the first book leaves off. It’s an uber-scary ride from Malibu to Paris and back to Los Angeles. So many twists and turns I should have a contest – ‘Tell me what’s going to happen next and win a hundred bucks!’ Difficult to organize that one, but it’d be fun.

Worst Nightmares is being promoted as your debut novel, though I understand that you have previously published five novels in Australia. Were they in a similar style? What can you tell us about them?

The promotion is really to debut my breaking into the HUGE American market. That’s so exciting for me. “If you can make it here…” as the song goes. Back in Australia I’ve had five others published. First (‘The Webber Agenda’) was cold war espionage. Second (‘The Chasen Catalyst’) about drugs and the diplomatic bag. Third (‘Hitkids’) about a ten year old contract killer for the Mafia. Fourth, (‘Bite of the Lotus’) a saga about world wide money-laundering and the American Presidential campaign. The fifth (‘Graphic’) was about crime wars in Sydney.

Looking back at your life starting off as a law student in Dublin, becoming an actor on screen and stage as well as a writer, how would you summarise your career? Did you ever follow a “career plan”? What are your proudest achievements? Is there anything you wish you’d have done differently? Or anything you wanted to do but haven’t done yet?

I’ve been so very lucky. I started working as a pro in Dublin Ireland while still at University. Then I was in a play that was a huge hit at the Dublin Theatre Festival (‘Children of the Wolf’) and transferred to London’s West End. I was nominated for the Critic’s Award for Best Newcomer that year. Then I was contracted to Hammer Films for 4 pictures. Then I got a huge break and was cast as Dorian Gray in the re-make in Hollywood. I don’t regret much. Maybe I should have stuck around in Hollywood after Dorian Gray and made serious money. But I was young and wanted to get back to the B.B.C. and do more serious work. ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ and ‘The Naked Civil Servant’ and a theatre production of ‘Equus’ in which I played Dysart (and David Wenham played the boy) are probably my best work. It’s not always the most remembered work that makes one proud. What do I want to do from now on? See Worst Nightmares made into a movie. Then keep writing and become an established thriller writer around the world. Then travel and share any money I make around. I don’t need much and there are a million blind kids in India alone. $50 gives each one sight. (Fred Hollowes Foundation)

You appeared in four Hammer movies: Demons of the Mind, Straight on till Morning, Captain Kronos and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell. How did you get involved with Hammer? What are your memories of those productions and the stars you were working with?

The writer of the West End play I was in had just written ‘Straight on till Morning’. Michael Carerras (head of Hammer Films) had just seen ‘Children of the Wolf.’ Michael C wanted me, but Michael Peacok (the writer) didn’t – he wanted someone more ‘famous’. Anyway, I got the role and Carerras thought it a good idea to sign me up for 4 pictures. So I started work at Elstree and had a ball, working with some of the best actors in England. Peter Cushing was a real pro and a lovely gentle man. A perfectionist. Gillian Hills was scrumptuous but never looked in my direction. Shame. Paul Jones was a fun guy. Rita Tushingham was a real sweetheart and we became greats pals. But you know what they say about distance? I haven't spoken to her in 20 years. Maddie Smith was adorable. Nicest person I met at Hammer. As was the lovely Virginia Wetherell, married to my best pal at the time, the late Ralphie Bates.

You probably were born to play Dorian Gray. Did you have a special affinity for The Picture of Dorian Gray, especially since you must have been very familiar with the works of Oscar Wilde from your time in Dublin. (Incidentally, do you regularly return back to Ireland?) What was it like working with Dan Curtis?

The Dorian script was splendid, if at times not the same as Wilde’s book. I had an absolute ball. The director Glenn Jordan (multi-award winner) is still my favourite director. Nigel Davenport was a wickedly marvelous friend to have there. ALL the cast went on to do great things and all, barring me, made millions of dollars. Over the years I’ve been back to Ireland, but not as often as I would have liked. I made a TV Movie of the Week called ‘The Flame is Love’ for CBS. Tim Dalton was the baddie and, for once, I was not brain-damaged. Linda Purl (daughter of Lucille Ball) was the ingenue. Appalling movie, but we had the best fun. Tim took one look at my hotel room when he arrived in Dublin and, thining it was bigger than his, had it moved into his suite. It was the same size, it goes without saying, but he was a much bigger star!

Hawk the Slayer and Lady Chatterley’s Lover are both productions that may also be of interest for readers of this blog. Any comments about those two films?

It was a real blast to play Palance’s son! Dream come true to play the cruel son of the cruelest character around in films? On the first day we broke for lunch and I casually enquired if Jack if he was going to the executive restaurant for lunch. He replied; “Why, do you want me to buy you lunch?” I didn’t know what to say, but thinking he might be lonely I replied: ‘Do you have any friends here at Pinewood?’ He drilled me with another look and replied: “Why….do you want to meet my friends?” At heart, needless to say, he was a softee. I miss the guy. I also once had the privilege of working with Newman. He was the most generous actor I ever worked with. When he died I cried buckets. The only time I felt this way when an actor passed awy. He was the best.

Thank you very much, Shane, for answering all those questions. I definitely wish you all the greatest success with your Worst Nightmares. It’s been an equally fun and disturbing read that managed to keep me up for half the night.

Whooppee! That was my aim!!!!!!!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Demons of the Mind

Today's the day that Shane Briant's new novel WORST NIGHTMARES is officially going to be released. I have been on a little Briant trip over the last couple of days and amongst others watched Demons of the Mind. My good buddy Ade Salmon at one stage had written a review on one of the discussion groups we frequent and kindly allowed me publish it on my Hammer Glamour pages. Here's what he had to say about this movie:

Demons of the Mind casts a heady brew of incest and murder across an evocitive gothic landscape. Two grown up children, Elizabeth (Gillian Hills) and Emil (Shane Briant), are effectively imprisoned in their mittle euro mansion by their raving father Baron Zorn - played enthusiastically (much slicing of much HAM) - by Robert Hardy. The Creeping Flesh’s escaped madman (Kenneth J Warren) plays his bald pated manservent Karl.

Demons of the Mind is a hard film to truly love - it's meandering storyline demands concentration from the viewer - though it's intention to bring something *new* to the Hammer pot was appreciated. Christopher Wicking's idea of fusing the birth of psychoanalysis within the framework of essentially a psycho costume drama produces variable results. Visually it's a feast - Emil flaunts about like Jim Morrison in acid orange shirt (and bares a vague similarity to Emil from Vampire Circus). The naturalistic forest footage transports you momentarily to the Circus of Nights ambience - but that's pretty much where the similarities end.

60's Popstar Paul Jones (Manfred Mann) makes an appearance as *the hero* - but he's bland at best, whilst Michael Hordern wanders the forest as the comedy relief manic priest. It's all decidedly odd. Patrick Magee's mesmerist psychiatrist Falkberg rounds off the cast - bringing much needed gravitas to the story - his mesmeric twirling *device* reportedly based on real apparatus.

Like any respectable 1970's offering from the house that originally dripped blood - we get some fleeting full frontal nudity from Virginia Wetherall (albeit through a mirror image) and much bloodletting - the suicide of Zorn's wife a throat gushing extreme example - that sets us up nicely for the giant burning cross staking that film culminates on! BLOOD forms the subtext of the film (original title – Blood Will Have Blood) , though its intended lychanthropic storyline got vetoed early on - for the more serious study of a cursed hereditory bloodline associated with madness rather than furry fiends. If the film falls short anywhere it's in the fact it reverts to the Hammer *default* towards the end - where regulation torch wielding villagers chase Zorn through the deep woods - whilst Hordern struggles along with the burning crucifix.

Monday, May 4, 2009

ON THE BUSES 40th anniversary event

Something of potential interest to Hammer fans:

THE ON THE BUSES 40TH Anniversary event will be held at Elstree Film Studios on Saturday 27th June. As it is the 40th celebration it is hoped the event is going to be a bit special. Also for the first time we will be including a buffet lunch.

For this event please contact for details how to order your ON THE BUSES tickets. Please note due to interest shown it is expected tickets will sell out fast, book now to avoid disappointment, places are limited. £30.00 per adult £15.00 (ONLY 30 TICKETS LEFT)
10.00am meet at Elstree Studios for tea and coffee
10.30 Walking tour visiting such locations as The Butler House, Turnaround Betty's plus other locations from the movie.
11.15 Tour on a Routemaster bus visiting more locations used in ON THE BUSES movie(some new ones added for 2009)
1 pm Buffet Lunch at Elstree (Cash bar will be open)
2 pm Movie on the large screen
3.30pm Meet the special guests with a question and answer session.
5 pm End

More details can be found at the On the Buses Fanclub site.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Review: Shane Briant's WORST NIGHTMARES

I am a bit funny when it comes to horror and Science Fiction. I’d rave on how much I love both genres, but as a rule prefer watching a horror movie to reading a horror novel, though on the other hand prefer Science Fiction novels to movies.

There are of course exceptions in both cases. There are Sci Fi movies I truly love (Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green) and there are of course horror novels I really dig. I will never forget the day when I first discovered James Herbert’s Rats: Started reading it in the morning and was finished in the early afternoon and just when I snapped the book shut I was so immersed in the imagery that a phone call I received that very moment – remember those very loud, shrill ringing house phones that everyone then had – nearly gave me a heart attack.

I do like Guy N Smith - though that could have more to do with my eternal love for 1960s/70s style pulp fiction paperbacks – but as a general rule of thumb find that I prefer thought provoking Sci Fi in writing to most of the brainless movies that have overtaken the genre since Star Wars first came out and reversely cherish visceral, moody and most importantly visual horror to the one found between the pages of a paperback. Stephen King? Dean Koontz? Yep, tried them, did not dislike them, but can’t say that any of their stuff really had me hooked.

So when I first heard that Hammer star Shane Briant is due to release a new horror novel, Worst Nightmares, I was a bit sceptical. I so wanted to like it just because it was by him. And when I then received an advance copy I truly hoped that this was going to be something I could recommend as I would not want to praise it just because it arrived for free on my doorsteps, but would also hate to slate it as this appears to be a book that is very dear and close to Briant’s heart and obviously means a lot to him.

I shouldn’t have worried.

Worst Nightmares is a keeper.

Even though this is advertised as Shane Briant’s debut novel, it would be more correct to say that this is his first big international publication. He had previously published five other novels in Australia that never really saw a wider release. Even though I have yet to come across any of those, what little I know of them sounds as if they’d be exactly my cup of tea.

Worst Nightmares focuses on Dermot Nolan, a famous, award winning novelist with a severe case of writer’s block. Having already spent his considerable advance, one day he gets confronted by a homeless guy who hands him a diary detailing a range of gruesome murders committed by the “Dream Healer”, a mysterious web host who first encourages people to share their worst nightmares with him online (allegedly in the interest of exorcising their fears) and then arranges to stage just those nightmares for the unfortunate victims. These nightmares include the fear of being a quadriplegic torso, of dying of asphyxiation, seeing your loved ones being killed in front of your own eyes, being attacked by scorpions and much more.

Nolan first of all considers this diary to be a work of fiction written by a deranged lunatic looking for attention, though through his own research gradually begins to suspect that there may indeed have been some truth to it. When it appears that the killer may have come to an untimely end himself, Nolan decides to publish an edited version of the manuscript himself and present it as his latest work of fiction, but soon begins to doubt the wisdom of his ways when the Dream Healer appears to stalk again and Nolan himself draws suspicion upon himself due to the similarities between the fictional deaths he described and the corpses that are gradually being discovered.

Worst Nightmares is written in that breathless style that is prevalent with modern blockbuster fiction these days. At 344 pages containing 72 chapters plus a prologue you’re bound to constantly give it “just one more” chapter before you put it down until you realise you’re as hooked on it as on crack cocaine.

Elements of the plot appear to be slightly autobiographical: Shane Briant is a writer writing about a writer. Nolan’s edited version of the diary is set in Australia, Briant’s adopted home country. His agent’s name is Esther Bloom, surely more than just a small Joycean reference given that Briant had at one stage studied law in Dublin’s Trinity College.

The book plays on at least four different levels: We as the readers are reading a) a work of fiction called Worst Nightmares about b) a novel of the same name based on c) the diary of a serial killer and d) his series of murders.

The book is clever without being pretentious. Based on quite a unique, interesting and truly 21st century idea we get immersed in a very cinematic style of writing that sucks you right in and won’t let you go until you have reached the final page. It is therefore little surprise that Lance Henriksen, Greg Kinnear, Bridget Moynahan and Michael Vartan are apparently in talks to star in the film version of Worst Nightmares though I could also envisage that the book would make a great Dexter style TV series.

Whereas the first half of the novel is very much focused on the Dream Healer’s killing spree and Nolan’s research into the missing persons, in the second half the focus changes slightly to a more mystery based hunt for the real killer. If I had one piece of criticism for this book it is that the identity of the true culprit was probably not quite as surprising as it should have been, but then again Worst Nightmares is not meant to be a classic Whodunnit but a terrifying thrill ride and what it may have been lacking in the ultimate reveal it more than makes up in the shocks along the way. In actual fact the final fate of one of the characters is of a morbid ingeniousness that will not easily be forgotten.

The end also sets itself up nicely for a follow-up and I understand that a sequel has already been written.

So did I end up reading Worst Nightmares in one go? No, it took me two attempts as real life came in the way after I first approached it. The second time round, however, I had all the time in the world and - try as hard as I wanted – couldn’t keep it down until I was completely through at 3:00 a.m. in the morning. Needless to say when I finally crawled up to bed I had to answer a couple of uneasy questions from my girlfriend as to what I was doing up so late? Was I watching porn on the net? (As if!)

But all of it was worth it. So go ahead: Pretend that you’re having on online affair with a Dream Healer, but order the book for a truly thrilling ride through your Worst Nightmares.