31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 18- Children of the Damned (1964)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 18- Children of the Damned (1964)

A sequel to Village of the Damned which is less a continuation of the plot and instead like a film containing characters who possess the same powers as the children in the original but under different circumstances.

Whereas the original took part in a countryside idyll, the action within this film is based in London. A gifted child called Paul is studied and observed by the relevant governmental authorities. Other almost supernaturally gifted children are also discovered and brought to the city so that UNESCO researchers can witness them at work. They are brought from places as varied as China, Russia and Nigeria.

These gifted children then abscond from each of their respective embassies that they are staying in and take refuge in an abandoned church. It’s here that the authorities and the army find them and have to decide whether to try to coax the children out or destroy them if they pose a threat to humanity. It’s here that a tense standoff encroaches.

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This film as opposed to the original is firmly on the side of the children who we see as persecuted and in need of human support. The original depicted them as inhuman, devoid of emotion and empathy and very much as villains in a horror film. Children of the Damned elicits sympathy and compassion for the children who are shown as unjustly discriminated against, ostracised and treated as freaks in many ways. Having high levels of intelligence and other powers such as telekinesis are gifts but also hindrances. Witness the speech Paul’s mother shrieks at him that she should have destroyed him before she took him in her arms for the first time.

I made the mistake of reading the reviews for this film before I actually watched it. The few examples I could find were derogatory and very unflattering. They were also wrong, in my humble opinion. Children of the Damned may not be as good as the original film it is a sequel to but is still a vivid, well written, engaging film that is well worth a view. The shots of 60’s London are beautiful. A special mention to Ian Hendry (Repulsion) who heads a stellar cast.

***and a half out of *****

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31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 11- The Sorcerers (1967)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 11- The Sorcerers (1967)

A Tigon film from 1967 regarding Marcus, a doctor (played by Boris Karloff) who practices hypnosis. His wife Estelle is also part of his practice as they search for a suitable subject for their experiments. Step forward swinging 60’s hip-cat Mike Roscoe (played by future Saint Ian Ogilvy) who Marcus picks up in a Wimpy bar (it sounds well dodgy, eh?!) Roscoe follows Marcus back to his house and his hypnosis machine whilst being promised good times with no consequence before Marcus uses the machine on him.

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After undergoing the hypnosis machine (this sequence is very aesthetically pleasing. Think of the inner sleeve portraits of the band from The Velvet Underground and Nico album with the projectiles of dots over their faces and you’re almost there) we learn that Marcus and his wife are able to experience whatever Mike is experiencing (but this is a double-edged sword as any physical injuries that Mike sustains will also be inflicted on the couple) with the pair being able to influence this by planting thoughts in Mike’s mind to force him to do whatever they wish.

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But with such an ability to control someone’s life there comes great responsibility and you will learn the controller’s true intentions and characters. Marcus becomes almost like an angel on Mike’s shoulder whilst his wife Estelle becomes the opposite and it isn’t long before she’s forcing him to beat up and even murder those around him. She even destroys the hypnosis machine when Marcus suggest deprogramming Mike’s current mentally malleable state.

This film is terrific but I knew it would be as it’s directed by Michael Reeves who made the similarly amazing Witchfinder General (aka The Conqueror Worm in the States). A fantastic premise, engaging characters but also very poignant as London life in the 60’s is captured beautifully from the ‘new’ of the hip clubs Mike resides in through to the ‘old’ of the streets, pubs and newsagents of everyday life. This film is like a time capsule and photographed handsomely.

The cast are uniformly brilliant but it’s the covertly evil Estelle, the Lady Macbeth of the film who steals the show. Her performance is astonishing as her face and eyes seemingly mutate and become more evil as her character does.

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A classic.

****and a half out of *****

Book/Publication of the Week- Fangoria Magazine

Book/Publication of the Week- Fangoria Magazine

It was in 1986 when I discovered Fangoria Magazine. A comic book store in a beat up shopping arcade in York in the UK had started stocking it on import from the US. I instantly began buying it and fell in love with the publication. 

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The down at heel (but still sadly missed) Davygate Arcade in York, UK where I bought my first issue of Fangoria from in 1986.

There was a brief time after that that Fangoria couldn’t be bought in the UK anymore as SS Thatcher had purposely banned it’s import and other similar ones (Gorezone and the French Vendredi 13 were two such) as they were viewed as being obscene and as the spectre of the Video Nasty moral panic from a few years earlier was still looming large. But this didn’t last long and the magazines were restocked and horror fans were kept happy. 

A couple of years after this I started to escape the small town of York and escape to the big city of Leeds which was close by. There was a great film memorabilia store there called Movie Boulevard that stocked actual back issues of Fangoria that covered the late 70’s/early 80’s golden era of the slasher films and the time period when new horror movies were seemingly being released every week. I picked up many older issues from there including issue number 1 and also the issues that featured Halloween 2 & 3 on it’s front covers, amongst others.

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The Halloween sequels featured on Fangoria’s front covers

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When I moved to London to study Film in the early 90’s I found even more back issues in the amazing film stores there including the Music and Video Exchange in Notting Hill that were selling issues for as cheap as 50p a pop!

So what was it/is it that makes Fangoria so indispensable? In a word- everything. The articles on new releases, the pieces written about classics from the past and forgotten gems that are still unjustly under the radar of most horror hounds and the essays on films ripe for reappraisal that were criticised and ridiculed on first release by critics who sneer at most horror.

There were also pieces on the still vile MPAA and how they were trying to butcher the horror fare being released back then. In fact, I remember Fango’s editor Tony Timpone being one of the few people defending horror as a genre against the censors and so called ‘moral guardians’ in the US at that time. 

But it was also the ads for horror masks, for soundtracks and t-shirts. And it also featured the classified column which contained horror-based snippets from readers and their profound offerings (‘Jason SUX!!!’). 

To me, Fangoria felt like a vital piece of Americana, a gorgeous monument of American popular culture that only confirmed even more my love of this very special country over the pond.

Fangoria was also loved by those in the horror film industry. There were even pictures of actors on the sets of various productions reading the magazine.

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There were even cameos of the publication in various prominent films.

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Debbie reads Fangoria in a hammock in Friday the 13th Part 3D…

 

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…perusing an article on Tom Savini

 

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Her enjoyment of the Godzilla piece was interrupted though. You know what happens next…

It’s funny that a magazine can fully encapsulate that golden phase of my horror obsessed childhood. Fortunately one does and that’s Fangoria. It’s THAT special to me and thousands of others all over the world.

Fangoria continues to this day and is still as great as ever even though the golden age of horror is well and truly over. I’m glad it’s still being published. Now, we just need gorgeous coffee table books/compendiums of it’s back issues.

Until this is the case we can still look at back issues which have been scanned by others and ready to be perused due to the beauty of the internet. The Halloween 2 issue is here whilst the Halloween 3 issue is here. In fact, there are LOADS more issues on this site which can be found here

I Miss The NFT

I Miss The NFT

You may recall me talking about the NFT (National Film Theatre) in a piece I wrote recently about going to see Friday the 13th Part 3 in 3D there.

It got me to thinking about when I went to see films there and the fact that there were critical analyses handed out for each film being shown so that the serious film connoisseur could peruse it before the film started. I wondered if I had kept any of the ones that I received. I have kept most of my ticket stubs, did I save these handouts also?

I just got notified on Facebook of what I was doing in years gone by. A few years ago I had scanned ticket stubs and keepsakes and dated them appropriately after putting them on my FB timeline. And one of these handouts came up!

This is one such handout from when I went to see Klute as part of a 1960/70’s film season reflecting New American Film. The handout even has discolorisation on it from where it was in my pocket!

I saw The French Connection, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and The Warriors amongst other gems as part of this season.

I miss the NFT. But the world doesn’t revolve around London anymore (unless you’re stinking rich and woke) and I have plenty of great film establishments here in Leeds to more than satisfy my film needs.

Still, the memories come flooding back.

Day 28- 31 Days of Halloween- Repulsion (1965)

Day 28- 31 Days of Halloween- Repulsion (1965)

This 1965 Roman Polanski film centres on the character of Carol, a beautiful woman who works at a beauty parlour whilst living with her sister Helen in South Kensington, London. Shes very childlike and seems to be not only sexually repressed but actually repulsed by men. Matters aren’t helped by a persistent young man called Colin who tries to woo her. The fact that she is aloof and standoffish only seems to make him work harder on trying to melt this Belgian ice queen. Carol is also perturbed by her sister’s relationship with Michael who has started to stay overnight in their flat. Helen and Michael go to Italy for a holiday leaving Carol all alone in the flat.

Repulsion is anything but plot driven and is more a psychological study of Carol’s ever disintegrating mental state. And a genius representation at that!

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The scenes up until Helen going on holiday provide constant signifiers of Carol’s instability and mental decay- the cracks she seems to be obsessed with in the pavement and those she actually sees appear in the walls of the apartment, the frantic scratching and wiping away of imaginary ticks, her tendency to lapse into mental abandonment (a sign of past trauma in psychological terms, often as the result of sexual abuse), the sounds she hears on the other sides of the walls. There are plenty of signs of her sexual repression and abhorrence of men also. Colin tries to kiss her which prompts her to run home, brush her teeth and then vomit. She sees Michael’s razor and toothbrush on a shelf in the bathroom and clears them away frantically as if her personal sphere has been invaded and contaminated by them.

But it’s when Helen goes on holiday and Carol is left alone that things accelerate at a dizzying speed and her mental decline worsens at a dramatically faster pace. The image of the skinned rabbit on a plate is extremely potent as it is left out to decompose throughout the film. Carol’s work colleague later notices it’s head in her handbag later in the film. The domestic space of the flat that should be a sanctuary from the outside world is turned into a sinister and thoroughly nightmarish place to contend with by Polanski. There are shadows that appear in the light under door jambs as if an intruder is outside which develops into Carol having visions that men come in to rape her in her bed. There aren’t just cracks that appear in the walls now but hands that unexpectedly shoot out of them to indecently grope her body.

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It’s ironic that during this part of the film she staggers around her flat wearing a Baby Doll nightie that traditionally signifies innocence but because of this has conversely become a potent fetishised image exactly because of it’s traditional iconography. Innocence is to be sexualised and sullied in the eyes of male gratification.

Carol starts to descent deeper into madness at a rate of knots as we see her embroidering on her sofa as she alternately hums and weeps to herself, frantically ironing whilst we see that the iron isn’t even plugged in (a knowing comment on gender roles?) and manically writing on window panes.

But the film also depicts what belies those who dare to penetrate (pun not intended) Carol’s domestic sphere even if it is nightmarish and dysfunctional for her psyche. Firstly Colin literally breaks the door down to get to her but is then clubbed to death with a heavy candleholder. The landlord who is collecting his overdue rent is slashed to death with Michael’s straight razor.

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What does all of this mean? Is it a commentary on the burgeoning permissiveness that was becoming evident in British society? Is Repulsion a comment on the encroaching Women’s Liberation movement and feminism in general? It could even be a comment on Gay Rights and Gay Liberation with Carol being so repulsed by men because she is in fact gay.

I actually think the film is a disturbing portrayal of the consequences of child abuse. Notice the family photograph that depicts Carol as a child. Even here she is aloof, distant and looks disturbed. The final frame of the film is of this photograph but shadows obscure everyone in the picture bar Carol and a male family member before it focuses on just Carol herself. It’s obvious that this is the implication which gives the film a sad lilt, echoed by Chico Hamilton’s oddly melancholic end musical suite. Add to this the earlier instances of disassociation and the signs and signifiers of childhood sexual abuse are omnipresent.

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This film is a masterpiece and one of Polanski’s best. The cast is perfect with the gorgeous Catherine Deneuve turning in one of her finest and most nuanced performances. It takes a special kind of actor to convincingly conjure insanity and mental instability and Deneuve knocks it out of park. Her performance evokes sympathy, shock and fear from the audience.

The film is also a beautiful time capsule of Sixties London. Check out the scenes of South Kensington and the attention to detail and how glorious it all is.

A bona fide classic. If you haven’t seen this you need to see it NOW!

5 out of 5 stars

 

 

 

 

Review- The Servant (1963)

Review- The Servant (1963)

After he has come back from travelling, a wealthy young man named Tony (James Fox) decides to employ a house servant. Hugo Barrett (Dirk Bogarde) successfully applies for the position. The relationship works well but this soon changes when Tony’s girlfriend Susan starts to spend time at Tony’s abode. She seems not to treat Barrett as human and takes the role of ‘master’ to his ‘servant’ to almost cruel lengths. Things get even more surreal with the introduction of Barrett’s ‘sister’ who comes to work under Tony in the same subservient role.

I’m surprised I’ve only just seen this film for the first time. It was worth the wait. This is brilliant on every level. There are universally fantastic performances especially from Fox and Bogarde who throw themselves into the descent into madness which Harold Pinter’s adaptation of Robin Maugham’s book portrays.

In fact, Pinter has a cameo role in the scene in the restaurant which epitomises the convention-breaking nature of the material at hand. We are shown an excerpt from the conversation from each table in the venue. We’re privileged enough to become privy to multiple different narratives and stories from many different characters, not just Tony and his girlfriend. One of these pairings is Pinter as a socialite and his date.

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Check out director Joseph Losey’s use of mirrors to portray the action but also to distort it’s view to the audience just as the film’s events are being shaped and distorted. Also, check out Douglas Slocombe’s cinematography which is breathtaking.

The film also reverses, subverts and delightfully fiddles around with the power dynamic of the ‘master’ and ‘servant’- who is serving who? Do the truly subservient characters even realise?

In fact, things get so surreal that I would have sworn that Pinter had written this story himself rather than just adapting it. This would make a great triple-bill with William Friedkin’s The Birthday Party (also written by Pinter) and Polanski’s Repulsion.

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On The Servant’s release it won a raft of awards and rightfully so. It also resides on The BFI’s Top 100 British Film’s list.

4 out of 5 stars

 

Day 6- 31 Days of Halloween- The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971)

Day 6- 31 Days of Halloween- The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971)

Vincent Price’s Dr Phibes avenges the death of his wife by bumping off the culprits with each murder having a biblical connection.

Very camp, very funny and very unsettling- this is one of Price’s best just like Witchfinder General and the Poe films he also made with Roger Corman.

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Check out Phibes’ clockwork band- one of the eeriest things committed to celluloid.

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Also check out the classic art deco decors and groovier surroundings that capture the early 70s so fantastically.

Caroline Munro appears but only as photos of Phibes’ tragic dead wife.

4.5 out of 5

Death Line (1972) – Day 20 – 31 Days of Halloween

Death Line (1972) – Day 20 – 31 Days of Halloween

A film set in London Underground. A cannibal is the last of a generation of cannibals who live in the tunnels of Russell Square tube station. He hunts for food ie passengers as the late night trains are running.

Death Line was renamed ‘Raw Meat’ in America

This film is obviously based on the supposedly true story of Sawney Beane and his family- a cannibal who lived in a cave in 19th century Glasgow.


This film depicts 70s London beautifully. Theres a gorgeous opening sequence of a supposedly respectable gentleman frequenting the swinging seedy strip shows of Soho.

The setting of the underground of London is also very evocative. I know all too well how scary a deserted underground station can be when waiting for the last tube home. Thank God for the 24 hour tube.

Donald Pleasence stars as a hard bitten police detective. But hes too lovable to be truly nasty. Hes like a more affable version of Jack Regan from The Sweeney.

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The character of the cannibal actually evokes a great deal of sympathy from the audience. Yes he hunts people for food but you get the feeling hes just trying to survive like everyone else in the Big Smoke. He can’t speak except for the words ‘Mind The Doors.’ Oh, bless.

This is a quirky 70s British horror gem that captures a time in London history which makes it an amazing time capsule. Its story needed fleshing out a bit more though (pun not intended).

3 out of 5

The Legend of Leigh Bowery (2002)

The Legend of Leigh Bowery (2002)

I first saw Leigh Bowery in the late 80s. I was at the cinema when a commercial for Pepe Jeans was played featuring Leigh. This advert which only lasted about 2 minutes left such an indelible impression.

I first saw the documentary The Legend of Leigh Bowery about five years ago and again was gobsmacked. This is amazingly made with a multitude of interviews with collaborators, family and friends. The breadth of the source material of footage and audio featuring Bowery is breathtaking- this project was obviously a labour of love and the director Charles Atlas throws himself into the making of this documentary with gusto and passion. And it shows.

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Polaroid of Leigh Bowery, Taboo, London 1986

Who was Leigh Bowery? He is hard to categorise. Artist, fashion designer, pop star, musician, nightclub proprietor/superstar… But most importantly he was Leigh Bowery the personality. He defies all labels. And this is one of the most brilliant things about him and the multitude of ways that the documentary conveys this.

The film shows how Leigh became recognised firstly by his outlandish patronage of carefully chosen nightclubs. Because of this the film becomes so much more. It depicts the underground gay clubbing scene of the 80s in London- a world that spawned the New Romantics (in an interview we hear Leigh say that he always preferred this movement to any other) and was built around the idea of transforming oneself into a legendary entity and the whole ritual of ‘getting ready’ to go out (brilliantly articulated by Michael Bracewell in the film) and all that that entails. From a dingy bedsit in the suburbs arty loners could metamorphosise into larger than life characters and create new personae for their chosen nocturnal wonderlands in the neon soaked big city.

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‘We could be heroes…’

London in the 70s and 80s was unparalleled for this- after glam rock and punk, the New Romantic scene had exploded in a mushroom cloud of Elnett and Boots No 5 make up. And that was just the boys. It attracted brilliant creations such as Marilyn, Philip Sallon and Steve Strange.

Whilst this scene and its main stalwarts were brilliant and revolutionary for their time, Leigh was so much more. He was a one man subculture who was still several hundred years ahead of his time. He liked to subvert- gender, the body, sexuality. This documentary depicts this amazingly. Leigh liked to use his body as a canvas and this film is like a catwalk for him to show the world the diversity of his alien visions.

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Leigh’s personality and quirks are also evident through the wide range of sources and interviews used for the film- his love of embarrassing people, his love of cottaging (also a key part of 80s gay life), his love of getting a reaction from people but through using his brain rather than just using shock tactics for the sake of it.

There is also a feeling that whatever he turned his hand to he mastered brilliantly. His pop groups Raw Sewage and Minty have to be heard (and seen) to be believed. Here is his genius cover version of Run DMC’s Walk This Way-

And heres how it came about-

Another amazing thing about this film is the music used on the soundtrack- its just as avant garde and original as Bowery. Its a shame that a soundtrack was never released.

In these times of RuPaul’s Drag Race and its imitation of all that was genius that has gone before I can’t help but cherish Bowery’s work and this film even more. He was authentic and that authenticity is even more astounding when watered down versions by more mediocre and conventional drag artistes are foisted upon us. Imitation isn’t the sincerest form of flattery. Its just really shit.

I’ve now seen this documentary several times and think of it as a film I could watch at any time and thoroughly enjoy. I honestly think this is one of the best examples of the genre and one of the best films I’ve ever seen. I urge others to discover this gem and experience the genius of Bowery for themselves. And here it is-