31 Days of Halloween- Day 10- Tales of the Unexpected (TV series)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 10- Tales of the Unexpected (TV series)

Sunday nights in the late 70’s/early 80’s here in the UK were great for TV. In my household we’d religiously watch That’s Life, a weird hotchpotch of hard hitting investigations into very dark subject matters with lighter fare which was designed to make the audience titter and guffaw (they loved vegetables that just happened to be shaped like genitalia). Going from a hard-hitting expose to a carrot shaped like a penis was sometimes very inappropriate but it worked somehow. This was all presided over by the ultra-camp Esther Rantzen (sometimes wearing a mumu).

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Esther in a mumu

After that was The Professionals, a very masculine (and thus, very camp) crime/action series tellingly made by the same company who made The New Avengers. These have now been reissued on Blu ray and are well worth seeking out. I fancied Lewis Collins like crazy.

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The butch camp of The Professionals. Lewis Collins on the right *blush*

Last, but certainly not least, there was Tales of the Unexpected. This gem of a series told a different story every week and each episode was introduced by Roald Dahl. You may have heard of Dahl as the writer of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Matilda and other classic children’s books. But he also wrote short stories for adults, many of which were very dark and had a twist in the tail. And that’s precisely what this series was based on. Most episodes were written by Dahl but not all. He introduced each episode from what appeared to be his favourite comfy chair in front of a roaring fire. His introductions were just as brilliant as the stories themselves. And these tales were executed (pardon the pun) very well indeed- in fact, a bit too well.

This programme was the last thing I saw every Sunday night before going to bed. I remember not sleeping most Sunday nights because of this and Mondays at school being very tiring affairs.

A number of the episodes of Tales of the Unexpected have stayed with me as they terrified me as a child. I bought a boxset containing all of the episodes recently and can report that they still terrify me.

The opening credit sequence was enough to have me cowering behind the sofa. Creepy organ and saxophone music that sounded like the ultimate in sleaze and menace. Over this were images of silhouetted dancing naked women, guns, lion-like gargoyle faces, tarot cards and skulls. Nothing traumatising there for a 5 year old boy. The woman dancing in front of the flames was later referenced in the video for Cities In Dust by Siouxsie and the Banshees (as if Siouxsie couldn’t be cooler- she then shows she’s a fan of this TV programme).

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The dancing woman from the opening credits made the front of the DVD collection
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Siouxsie’s homage

I’ll recommend the two episodes that freaked me out the most. Firstly, theres The Flypaper written by Elizabeth Taylor (no, not that one). A schoolgirl who doesn’t feel like she fits in is preoccupied with other stuff going in her life when she quickly comprehends that the accidental stranger on her bus in fact being a bit too over-friendly and overfamiliar with her. She decides to get off the bus to try to get away from him. And that’s all I’m telling! When this was transmitted here in the UK it seemed like kids were going missing every other week. This grim tale reflected what was going on in society at that time all too well.

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The second is Galloping Foxley. A man on a train recognises the bully who regularly beat and humiliated him at boarding school. The young Foxley is played by the always brilliant Jonathan Scott-Taylor from Damian: Omen 2. I went to private school myself after passing an exam which was designed to allow poorer families to send their ‘academically gifted’ children there without having to pay the hefty fees. Whilst I experienced no bullying or brutality from my fellow peers, I did very quickly pick up on how oppressive the actual system was, the teachers especially. I started within this system in 1986- the same year that corporal punishment was outlawed in all schools in the UK. My timing was impeccable! I could see that the angriest teachers hated this decision and would rather have been inflicting some kind of painful punishment out on us for some real, imagined or fabricated misdemeanour. Friends have told me about when they went to school in the days of such physical punishment and were themselves beaten. One friend tells me of his time at a strict Catholic school where they were beaten with a studded leather strap. If they didn’t say ‘thank you’ after their beatings they would be beaten some more.

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Prefect and anti-Christ

To me the best horror comes from the unembellished factual accounts from people’s lives. Truth is stranger than fiction. And sometimes a lot more warped and fucked up.

Please peruse these two episodes but proceed with caution. They aren’t for the fainthearted. For more episodes click here.

 

 

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31 Days of Halloween- Day 7- Piranha 2- The Spawning

31 Days of Halloween- Day 7- Piranha 2- The Spawning

I actually saw this back in the 80’s when it was called Piranha 2: Flying Killers.

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Theres really not much plot except that there is a shoal of piranhas who have wings terrorising a resort. Pulitzer Prize worthy stuff.

The lead female character seems to have been based on Stevie Wayne from The Fog if we got to see her a few years later.

This film is famous for being directed by James Cameron. He stated in an interview that in fact he was fired after a week, the producer shot and edited the rest of the film and Cameron couldn’t get his name taken off the credits.

The movie feels like an early sun-drenched porno flick with all the sex cut out.

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This certainly isn’t the worst film I’ve ever seen and doesn’t deserve it’s reputation. But it certainly isn’t a patch on Joe Dante’s original masterpiece. It does possess a certain weird cheesy charm though.

The print I saw of this flick was pan and scan and somewhat fuzzy. I’d love to see Scream Factory’s Blu ray. Apparently it looks and sounds amazing.

2 out of 5 stars

Article- The Motherlode: Prisoner Cell Block H on ITV

Article- The Motherlode: Prisoner Cell Block H on ITV

30 years ago to the day something extraordinary happened. Let me elaborate. I grew up in York in the UK. My local TV station was Yorkshire Television who were the first UK regional station to transmit twenty four hours a day. Because of this during the night and early hours of the morning they would show some of the most eclectic fare imaginable. One night they might show Spawn of the Slithis, another they might show a Warhol movie, the night after it might be a series of rare Scorsese short films. In between whatever they showed they would transmit 70’s and 80’s Public Information Films and ads for sex lines.

It’s Monday 3rd Oct, 1988. I forget what I was recording on my VCR but it was what was after it that made my jaw hit the floor. I was suddenly watching a late 70’s/early 80’s drama depicting Australian women in denim serving time in a Melbourne prison. The programme was of course Prisoner Cell Block H, a programme that I had seen listed plenty of times but never thought of taping to investigate. For a fan of exploitation cinema and cult movies the discovery of this programme was the equivalent of hitting the jackpot. This was also my first taste of ‘Ozploitation’.

This first episode that I watched was (I later found out) episode number 125. This was a great point in the whole trajectory of Prisoner’s history to start watching it. At this point Prisoner had just entered it’s ‘Imperial Phase’- characters had been clearly defined and established, there was a firm nucleus of these characters who the audience recognised and had grown to love. Hence there were viewers favourite prisoners (Bea, Lizzie, Dor and relative newcomer, Judy) and favourite ‘screws’ even if some of them weren’t goodies (Vera ‘Vinegar Tits’ Bennett is far from a pleasant character but audiences loved her being vile and sour just as much as they did fellow officer Meg Morris being all ‘sweetness and light’). These characters were eagerly watched by viewers as they moved through different situations and encountered opposition from various characters who entered their orbit.

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The Imperial Phase- familiar characters loved by the audience

This was also a great episode to act as an introduction as it featured one of Prisoner’s greatest characters- Noeline Burke. If you want to experience how brilliantly funny, well written and acted this inmate was then please do investigate her scenes here.

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Noeline Burke. Genius, just genius.

I started to watch every episode after this. I had my fingers crossed that this first episode that I had recorded by mistake wasn’t some kind of fluke. I was relieved to find out that it wasn’t. Every episode was consistently brilliant. The characters were hugely likeable, the dialogue crackled with character and the storylines were by turns intelligent, perceptive, daring and sometimes downright outrageous. I was looking for sex, violence and gritty fare. I had found the motherlode for this in Prisoner Cell Block H.

Yorkshire TV’s history of showing Prisoner (as it was called in Australia) was very good. They were the first UK regional TV station to show the programme in the UK.

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Original TV listing for the first episode showing of Prisoner on Yorkshire TV, Monday 8th Oct, 1984

They had started showing it in 1984 when the programme was still being made and shown in Australia (it ran from 1979 until 1986 in Oz).

My friend who I had grown up with had actually told me about seeing the first episode when it was first shown and gleefully regaled the plotline to me involving the ‘baby that was buried alive and found by tracker dogs just in time’.

After watching Prisoner for several months on Yorkshire TV I suddenly had a brainwave- what if other regions had started showing Prisoner from different time-points. One region could have just started showing it from the very beginning whilst another might be up to a later point in the programme’s history. I had another TV aerial which allowed me to watch programmes on another regional station (Tyne Tees). I found out that they showed Prisoner on a Thursday as opposed to the Monday in Yorkshire. When I tuned in I was astounded to find out that they were showing episode 30 and so I had the luxury of almost starting from the beginning of the programmes history.

In no time Prisoner was starting to gain popularity as seemingly everyone from students (Prisoner regularly featured in the NME end of year Reader’s Poll in the Best Programme category) to OAPs started to religiously tune in every week. There were estimates that weekly viewing figures for the programme in the UK ranged from anywhere between 3 to 10 million. When shown in America it had primetime viewing figures of 39 million.

But there were still those who didn’t get the programme and just saw it as cheap trash. They probably came to see Prisoner after hearing that it was another Aussie soap and so surmised that maybe it would be like Neighbours and Home and Away. Rumours of wobbly walls started around this time. Which is very strange as Prisoner was filmed in the headquarters for Channel 9 the company that made it in Australia. And for what it’s worth, I’ve watched Prisoner in it’s entirety several times. It may have been rushed in places (and these occasions were few and fair between) but Prisoner was shown twice a week in Oz- thats two hours of telly to be made and so the cast and crew never had the luxury of multiple takes and plenty of time to shoot these in.

Also, if you watch other soaps from this time period you will see similar techniques, imperfections and production practices at play. I’ve seen shaking sets and moving bannisters/staircases in Coronation Street before. But then maybe this is why Prisoner was criticised as sub-par or cheap in the early days of it being shown on ITV- it’s Australian and maybe this was pure snobbery on the parts of the minority of British critics and viewers who didn’t like it. The same criticisms would never have been levelled against home-grown fare.

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To understand Prisoner and enjoy it is not just to recognise the conventions of the ‘Women in Prison’ sub-genre but also to understand ‘cult’ viewing in the first place. Prisoner is so sophisticated that it can fit into multiple categories with their own viewing demographics all at once- soap opera, drama, exploitation vehicle with heightened storylines and a pessimism/realism not seen on many other TV programmes at that time.

Another great thing about Yorkshire TV showing Prisoner before any other region was that they didn’t think to check the programmes content. When word spread that there were some scenes or storylines that were close to the bone and needed to be possibly cut, they had already been shown on Yorkshire and devoured by yours truly. Hangings, decapitations, brandings, shootings- they all featured and in many cases in graphic detail.

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Even 30 years on Prisoner Cell Block H is still my favourite TV show. Do yourself a favour- if you’re a fan of all things exploitation, ‘cult’ and extreme watch Prisoner. You’ll be glad you did.

All of the episodes of Prisoner are on YouTube. Start here.

My Prisoner clip YouTube channel is here.

Yer bloods worth bottlin’.

Review- ‘Rottweiler: Dogs of Hell’

Review- ‘Rottweiler: Dogs of Hell’

Ahh, the 3D craze of the early 80’s. Some films were great and used the gimmick really well (take a bow, Friday the 13th 3D) whilst others were films just a flat and mediocre in 3D as they would have been in 2D. This film belongs in the latter category.

I only watched this as I saw the VHS art on a friend’s Instagram page and it looked luridly interesting. Oh, and if you’re on Instagram add us- www.instagram.com/meathookcinema

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A truckload of killer dogs trained by the army to fight like a whole battalion of men runs off the road and crashes releasing it’s deadly cargo in a small American town- the kind of town that has mud wrestling in the local bars. The scientist who trained the dogs arrives to try to make sure the dogs don’t kill too many people. Or is he secretly interested in saving his work?

There are no spliffs being passed to the audience, no eyeballs being popped out or snakes  in sense shattering 3D to look forward to here. In fact I watched this in less than stunning 2D and the film feels more like an early 80’s TV movie like The Savage Bees (but not as good) than like a proper film made for the cinema. In fact this feels like it was only  distributed as a film as it was shot in 3D and the gimmick wouldn’t have worked if it was shown on TV’s rather than on a cinema screen.

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This ad makes the ‘film’ (ahem) seem much better than it actually is

In fact the guy who consulted on the 3D for this film also worked on Jaws 3D. If theres any bigger warning against seeing this film then that’s it.

1 star out of 5.

The Halloween 2 Riddle Solved?

The Halloween 2 Riddle Solved?

I’ve just reviewed Snapshot that was cheekily renamed ‘The Day After Halloween’ to capitalise on the success of John Carpenter’s masterpiece.

I remember the first time I saw this was on a copy of the soundtrack that I saw whilst browsing for soundtracks in the mid 90’s when I had moved to London to study film. ‘Well, I’ll be damned!’ I thought as I saw the title of the film and the same font used as for the original film. I was also amazed to see Sigrid Thornton on the album’s sleeve art. I had known and admired Ms Thornton’s work in the TV series Prisoner Cell Block H.

Now rewind a few years. It’s the late 80’s. I’m in Leeds after taking the bus from York to visit a brilliant film memorabilia shop called Movie Boulevard.

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It’s here that I buy a quad poster for the film Halloween 2. I wondered why it said ‘All New’ on it.

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The UK quad poster for Halloween 2

When I posted my review of Snapshot in the Meathook Cinema Facebook group yesterday one of my regular contributors Phillip Lopez Jimenez said

”I remember when that came out, the ads eventually had a banner that said Not a Sequel to Halloween but it wasn’t in theaters for very long…”

So is this why the posters for Halloween 2 had the words ‘All New’ written on them? Had this small (but perfectly formed) film from Australia which had tried to market itself as a sequel to Halloween perplexed the makers of the real sequel to the film to such an extent that they had to tell audiences that this was the real deal, the real sequel? It would appear so.

This ‘All New’ addendum was added to both the American and British posters for the film (the British poster is earlier in this article)-

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The original US poster

This also extended to the British and American/Canadian newspaper ads for the film-

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Original London newspaper ad
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Canadian newspaper ad. What a great double-bill!

A mystery solved. Take a bow, Phillip.

Review- Snapshot (1979)

Review- Snapshot (1979)

I first learnt of this film as it was called The Day After Halloween and marketed as a sequel to John Carpenter’s classic. It isn’t. But it’s still a really interesting movie.

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I came across this soundtrack whilst browsing for vinyl in the mid 90’s in London. I didn’t know of a film that had cheekily billed itself as an unofficial sequel to Halloween.

Angela (played by Prisoner Cell Block H’s brilliant Sigrid Thornton) is persuaded to ditch her low paid hairdressing job and enter the world of modelling. Nude modelling.

This could have been a generic ‘nice girl gets led astray’ film but it isn’t. Theres too many genuinely unexpected twists and turns for it to be predictable. An example- Angela is stalked throughout the film by her creepy ex-boyfriend- who just so happens to drive a pink ice-cream van!

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There’s an air of unease and menace that runs through the whole film that gives it a truly unsettling feel.

Watch out for the ending- it’s very unsettling indeed.

4 out of 5

Review- The Slayer (1981)

Review- The Slayer (1981)

The infamous video nasty that was banned in the SS Thatcher days of 80’s Britain.

It’s a solid effort with great gore and decent suspense as two couples go to an island for a vacation.

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I loved the lead character who feels like she’s been having nightmares all her life about the place she’s just arrived at. She even feels like the creature who roams the place is of her own creation.

You’ll never look at a pitchfork in the same way again.

3 out of 5