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Saturday, 31 August 2013

The Fall of The House of Usher BluRay review - Arrow Films




My mate Vincent - minus umbrella festooned scarlet drink

I once, quite some years ago, had a dream about Vincent Price. As many dreams tend to be, it was a rather strange one. It took place on a warm sunny afternoon, I can remember sitting outside a pub with a drink. However it wasn’t my normal butch & manly drink of a Jack Daniels & Coke, but some cocktailed concoction with that was the most vivid crimson red in colour and filled with what seemed like a hundred multi-coloured umbrellas. Just as I was about to taste said umbrella festooned red coloured drink when who should come walking by, but Mr Vincent Price. Now apparently in this dream Mr Price and I were the best of best buddies as I shouted out “Yo, Vincent!”

“Stuey!!” was the reply as a hearty man-hug was exchanged between the two of us.

I don’t remember much of the conversation that we had at that point (well it was many years ago) but I do remember three distinct things. Firstly, I realised that in retrospect Vincent ( I feel I can still call him that) on this warm sunny afternoon was dressed exactly as he was as Roderick from the movie ‘The Fall of The House Of Usher’ – swept back wavy blonde hair, crimson red coat etc. Secondly, I remember asking him if he knew the delicious Hammer Horror actress Madeline Smith and if he would be prepared to ‘put in a good word for me’. The good news was that he said that he did know her gorgeousness herself and that he would give her my telephone number later that day. Thirdly, we then began to sing together a verse from MacArthur park - the Richard Harris version, not the Donna Summer version, naturally…. We then exchanged another hearty manly hug and he walked off into town. The bad news was that I never heard from Maddie Smith.

Why no call, Maddie. Why?!
By this point I’m sure that you’re out there in blogland wondering why I’m blathering on again about something and nothing before getting down to the serious business of actually reviewing something. Well, at the time of the dream I was becoming seriously obsessed with classic horror – devouring from my local, and not so local video outlets all things Hammer, Universal, Amicus, Hitchcock etc etc.  Yet for some reason I had yet to fully discover the series of Roger Corman's Edgar Allen Poe adaptations and believe it or not, this dream became the catalyst for my love for a series of movies. A series which perhaps provided Corman with the greatest critical acclaim of all his cinematic works. After visiting the local library to research Vincent Price and crimson red coats ( yes  kids, this was in those dim and dark pre-historic days pre-internet) I discovered that my best buddy Vincent had indeed appeared in my dream as the tragic Roderick Usher – and a journey of discovery & joy began.

So the bottom line is that when boss Andy from UKHorrorScene suggested in his usual ominous  friendly way that I might review the new digitally remastered BluRay of 'Usher' produced by Arrow Films I immediately jumped at the chance. It was simply too much of temptation to revisit this 'old friend' of a movie.


The stunning limited Edition SteelBook Packaging


The Fall of The House of Usher Was the first in American director Roger Corman's series of adaptations of stories by writer Edgar Allen Poe. The series was filmed between 1959 and 1965 and consists of eight classic Poe tales: House of Usher, The Pit & The Pendulum, The Premature Burial, Tales of Terror, The Raven, The Haunted Palace, The Masque of The Red Death and finally The Tomb of Ligeia. All the films in the series featured my mate Vincent, except for The Premature Burial.

Now at this stage in proceedings I must mention one particular point - I'm not exactly a huge fan of Poe. In fact i'd go as far as saying that I don't like his works very much at all. I've always felt that as a horror nerd that I SHOULD love his work and believe me I've tried. However, try as I might to be part of the 'Poemania' that if anything, seems to have increased as the years go by, I just cannot get past his writing style. I find his style of writing is stifling and overly poetic in its phraseology which then serves t detract and distract me from the plot of the story itself.  When I read Poe's work I can almost hear the words  say "Look at me, look at me!, I'm so descriptive!"

However, Roger Corman was a huge fan of his work and was someone who had held a desire since his childhood to bring Poe's tales of darkness and terror to the cinema and doing so, provide the public with rich, colourfully lavish productions that would rival any Hammer productions- and boy did he succeed. 





THE PLOT

Darling, there's something coming between us...

The film begins with love-struck Philip Winthrop (played by Mark Damon) who has travelled to dilapidated and isolated old mansion, The House of Usher, to visit his fiancee Madeline Usher (played by the gorgeous Myrna Fahey). Upon reaching the mansion, Philip is met by Madeline's brother, Roderick (played by you know who) who immediately makes it clear to the young romeo that he completely opposes any relationship or marriage between the young lovers. He tells Phillip that the bloodline of the Usher family is cursed for all-time, with any continuation of the bloodline only meaning further family descents into violent and agonizing madness. Naturally, the love struck romeo isn't particularly impressed with Roderick's increasing desperate warnings and refusal to even let him see Madeline. He himself becomes so desperate with the situation that he plans to elope with Miss Usher, to which she initially agrees to.

However, events soon take an even more dramatic turn when it becomes clear that Roderick will resort to the most extreme of measures to ensure that he keeps Phillip and Madeline apart…


Released initially to mixed reviews, Usher has gained a reputation and following over the years of huge proportions. It is a movie that has everything for any aficionado of horror. Raging insanity, misty desolate moors, a deathly imposing old house and oozings upon oozings of splendidly colourful Gothic splendour. Whether or not Corman was directly or non-directly inspired by the lavish productions that Hammer was becoming famous for is open to question. What is not a matter of debate is that this film began a series of equally lavish productions combined with themes of tortured minds and souls all rounded off with a roll call of stellar performances from its leading character actors. They may not of out- Hammered Hammer, but they came mighty close.



Roderick and family


Of course, one cannot mention this movie without making reference to Vincent Price, who along with such luminaries as Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing forms part of the three kings of classic horror. Of the five principle characters in The Fall of The House Of Usher, Price provides a performance that brilliantly conveys the tortured mind of a man who knows that he has no choice in the terrible actions he has to take. He makes Roderick a genuine figure of sympathy and empathy - Roderick is not evil, nor the villain of the piece as many people incorrectly seem to summise. We see his loving commitment to his sister and that the knowledge of what the curse will eventually of to her is slowly devouring his soul. 


The performances of Damon, Farney and Harry Ellerby as the Usher's loyal manservant are less successful. It would have been difficult for anyone for any actor worth his or her salt to have matched the magnificence of Price's performance. It is Damon in particular that comes across as little more than a wooden pretty boy who never quite seems comfortable in the part of the pining lover who refuses to believe anything that he is told about the family curse. The weak link in the supporting cast could have severely detracted to the resulting movie, and perhaps this may be the reason that for some people, Corman's later movies in the Poe series such as The Masque of the Red Death, are viewed largely as superior pieces of cinema.

That crack's going to need some polyfilling…..

I mentioned a moment ago that there are five principle characters in the film. The final one isn't a human character, it is the house. Corman expertly makes the crumbling Usher mansion, along with Roderick as the main player in the piece. It is the house, not Price's character that is the real villain of the story as it guides and punishes the behaviour of it's human inhabitants. 

So when I heard that Arrow video were due to release the digitally restored movie from it's original Aspect Ratio my excitement was palpable. This is no word of exaggeration, the excitement I felt when the preview copy from Arrow dropped through my letter box was huge - no word of a lie. Quite simply, the job that Arrow have done is a triumph. 

I was genuinely taken aback by the visual restoration with the richness and texture of the colours threatening to flow effortlessly off the screen at any moment. The original set production and photography is enhanced beyond all recognition which perfectly brings to life the depth and lighting of the various scenes. The famous nightmare sequence is now a sumptuous psychedelic and Gothic delight with the blues and yellows being given a life that that completely transcends any visual experience that I've had for quite some some time. 


Unlike some restorations that I've come across, the remastering doesn't detract from the original visual experience of horror that Corman and his crew were string to achieve way back in the early 1960's. The cleaned up image is now umblemished and smooth with only a few minor outline glitches along the way which are only noticeable if one is really looking for them.

The audio experience has also been restored to an exceptional level coming in at 2.0 stereo PCM - the experience is sublime. The musical score, sometimes aggressive, often melancholy together with the sound effects from the soundtrack is now something to be heard on the modern family audio systems that accompany even the basic of family entertainment systems. Perhaps the greatest joy from the audio restoration is the clarity and power of the dialogue, with Price's voice in particular not surprisingly sounding as crisp and full of emotion as he ever did.

As well as the sublime resonation of vision and audio there are a gaggle of excellent special features and extras in the BluRay release which cannot help but add to the overall experience. 

The special Feature included in the Arrow video release are as follows:


-Limited Edition SteelBook Packaging

-High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the feature, transferred from original film elements by MGM

-Original uncompressed 2.0 Mono PCM Audio

-Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

-Audio commentary with director and producer Roger Corman. This is a typically detailed and humorous commentary from Corman which provides a plethora of insights into his thinking process throughout the making of the movie - a real treat.

-Legend to Legend: An interview with director and former Corman apprentice Joe Dante
-Interview with author and Gothic horror expert Jonathan Rigby. If you like your humour filled movie anecdotes (and don't we all?) then this extra is for you.

-Fragments of the House of Usher: A Specially-commissioned video essay by critic and filmmaker David Cairns examining Corman’s film in relation to Poe’s story. This I loved, my only complaint is that I wish that it's running time was longer. The video cleverly combines the thoughts and observations of David Cairns which are intermixed with pieces of Poe's prose. It provides a genuinely insightful look at the themes and inferences that Corman was attempting to convey throughout the film.

-Archival interview with Vincent Price. I must a admit that I thought i had seen every interview Mr Price had made over the years, but this one was new to me. It may be short but it is a wonderful example of the charm and humour that the man had in spades - a real little gem.

-Original Trailer

-Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by author and critic Tim Lucas and an extract from Vincent Price’s long out of print autobiography, illustrated with original archive stills and posters. I can only take the makers word for how good this will be as it obviously wasn't for inclusion with my preview copy.




This may not be the best of the Poe adaptations by Roger Corman, but it is still a sublime piece of filming which after the restoration is further cemented as a true great of cinematic storytelling. All too often the remastering of classic movies can leave an artificial and less than palatable result which can occasionally dilute and diminish the memories that one may originally have had when first seeing the film. This doesn't happen here, the mood and atmosphere is given a resounding amplification in this 'new version'.

The only negative feeling of writing this review is the knowledge that I am still awaiting that message from Madeline Smith.

I have no hesitation on giving the BluRay release 9/10.

The Fall of The House of Usher BluRay from Arrow Films was released on 26th August 2013.



This article can also be found on the most excellent of horror websites http://www.ukhorrorscene.com/the-fall-of-the-house-of-usher-1960-arrow-film-bluray-review/










Sunday, 11 August 2013

A Psycho's Medley by Terry M. West - a book review.





When I was asked by El Presidente Andy, of UKHorrorScene, if I would be so kind to review another book my usual reticence once again re-appeared. It wasn't as if I was asked to do it with a gun to my head. I know I could have refused - after all, Andy is a nice guy, especially now that threats he makes to his writers to do good work or 'face the wrath of the boy's' have stopped. 

Frankly, I have never met the boys or experienced their wrath….but I'm a born coward and so have quite wisely in my eyes never decided to risk the consequences. It's not as if a badly written review has ever resulted in anything bad to one of his writers…..yet. 

No, the email request was perfectly fine; 


" Dear minion,

Now then Anderson old bean, I'm giving you another chance to redeem yourself so I want you to read and review a collection of short stories by a chappie called Terry M. West. He's already pretty well known to most horror fans as the director of the critically-acclaimed independent horror film Blood for the Muse and Fever Dream’s Flesh for the Beast
He's returning to the horror genre after nearly a decade. so be a good chap and rustle up one of those pseudo-witty and half-decent attempts at a book review of yours…..and don't let his rather moody and sinister look in his photo put you off, he's apparently a very nice guy, so you can be perfectly honest in your review without any, er, consequences….i think.
Have a smashing day dear chap and let me have the review as soon as possible. 

Ta ta

Andy (The Leader)

P.S The boys say hello………………….."

You see? All in all pretty OK, even though writing email's to one writers in dripping red blood colour could be somewhat misconstrued I suppose. So what, may you ask, is the reason for my reticence? You know me by now, I love horror and love reading horror…..Stoker, Lovecraft, Barker, King - many of my most enjoyable times in life have been immersing myself in the bloody and terrifying landscape of this most wonderful of genres.

So what is the issue? Well, the problem is short stories - they simply have never been my favourite form of horror writing. As I mentioned, I love Stephen King's works…… no, I ADORE his books. I have read everything, and I mean everything that he has ever written. The problem is that I'm not the greatest fans of short stories, even Kings's short stories - and before any of you out there in Blogland start badgering me with emails about 'The Body" or 'Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption', they weren't short stories they were novella's….so there. No, I just have some innate preference for the long story, the novel, something that I can lose and immerse myself in. A Novel is like a fabulous night's sleep -  refreshing and rewarding. Short stories on the other hand are like a nap on the sofa - occasionally acceptable but more often than not resulting in a headache and being swiftly awoken by the cat sitting on your chest waiting for his dinner. 

Hence, the reason for my reticence for reviewing a collection of short stories. However, after due consideration I decided to put aside my dislike of the format and be the professional that I am…..OK, I meant be the enthusiastic amateur that I am.

A Psycho’s Medley is a collection of five short stories and one longer story at the end.  For those of you wanting to bathe in the current fetish for supernatural tinged horror then go back to your 'Conjurings' and 'Sinisters'. Because the concept that runs through each of the six stories is the existence of the very real psychopath. There is no handiwork of the devil, vampires or ghostly like apparitions controlling the human impulses in this book - no, instead the stories delve into the psychological motivation and methodology of people (them and and us) who wander through existence adrift in a world of tortured and violent madness. In other worlds, there is nothing supernatural to hide behind in any of theses tales, no comforting sense of being able to say to oneself  " well it's only make believe monsters, and there's never really one ever hiding underneath my bed". This collection sits you gently down, asks you if you are comfortable……. and then introduces to the very real human monsters that could well be lying there under your bed and just waiting to introduce you to their insanity.



A Psycho's Medley

"I was embracing the shadows with dear Mr. Hyde. 
He lent me the cape and cane.
He gave me justification
and searing reason
and just a spark of the flame. "

A Psycho's Medley, the first story in the collection is the taken from a the private journal of serial killer John Newport, written not long after his arrest whilst undergoing observation in an institution. It also happens to be my personal favourite. 

The story is a delightful first-hand look into the mind of a psychopath. The journal takes the form of written accounts and poetry of John's memories, thoughts, and reasoning behind his becoming a serial killer. I really don't wish to give anything away about this or any other of the stories, but what I will say is that the strength of this particular look at a serial killer is the shades that the author uses to build up the psychopaths character. There is no black and white, there are degrees of sanity and insanity on show here and all written with a degree of humour that at times made me almost like the character of of John Newport. 

"….Boy, the judge's head would sure look nice on a spike. And that prosecutor... man, I'd like to cut him open and fuck his entrails and let him watch right before the last breath rattled from his body... Call me a hopeless romantic… "


The thought that many psychopaths can be quite charming and funny is an unsettling thought in itself.


The Night Out
"(...you are a thirty year-old virgin...father would roll over in his grave and mother would be proud..…)"


The second descent into the realm of madness is called The Night Out. The story is about Kevin who goes out for a night at the Silver Pistol Club, a topless bar, and the events which occur as he attempts to reconcile the broken pieces of his memories with his complex upbringing. Here in the club he meets one of the waitresses, who just happens to be a long lost love from his days at High school. 

This story is deliciously paced with the reader being gradually carried to the point where we witness an ever increasingly inevitable collision of the mans tortured past and sexually oppressed present. The writing too is clever, the complex mix of tortured memories vying with the attentions of Kevin's present thought process is a nice examination of a tortured mind.

Another story high on my list of favourites in the collection.



Morsel

“I don’t know. Peace. I don’t want to be anxious all of the time. It doesn’t take a lot to keep my chin up, you know. I just need a little morsel of happiness from time to time. I just need something to take away the monotony.”


The third story in the collection is Morsel . The story is begins with introduced to a business man, angry and disillusioned with his life who we find in a city hotel room. We see him talk on the phone with his wife - their relationship is clearly strained and unfulfilling from his point of view,. We hear his thoughts about his career as a travelling businessman, as an adult, as a man - he is bored, he hates the fact he has little control over his life. 

The need to find something fulfilling and satisfying, to be in control of something in his unhappy existence see's him arrange for a prostitute to visit him in his hotel room….. and here we discover that this disconsalete man enjoys a rather abnormal and particularly grungy fetish.

What I particularly enjoyed about this story is the ending. I had previously ignored any other reviews or opinions about A Psycho’s Medley before writing this piece, for obvious reasons. One review I did see about this story regarded the ending as a something of a disappointment, referring to the ending as being somewhat disappointingly positive. I would regard that as a major misjudgment of the climax of the story. In fact I would regard the nature of the ending as a chilling forbearance of the things to come - the continuation of a man's descent into insanity.



Waiting For The Thunder

"she had been waiting for the thunder her whole life, it seemed…"

Waiting for the Thunder is perhaps my least favourite of the collection - perhaps the fact that it is the shortest of all the stories has contributed to that opinion. It is a very brief glimpse into the consciousness of a woman who is perhaps insecure of herself and certainly has issues regarding commitment to relationships, especially one's that constitute one night stands. 

The writing and language is the usual high standard, but it ultimately left me feeling slightly unfulfilled, rather like the main character. Blimey, that might just have been the point!


Traiteur

“You gotta hunt to survive, lessen you want to end up a purty boy, kissin’ uptown men in Orleans?” The boy shook his head, reaching for the weapon……"

The penultimate story takes place in the southern American Swamplands and features the tale of a father taking his son (Dreg) on a hunt for the first time. Ah bless, a beautiful father/son bonding session. It beautifully focuses on the absolute need of Dreg to impress and not let down his father, whilst also hinting at the power that a father can have over a son to condition his behaviour - regardless of the horror of the activity.

When I read this I can genuinely remember thinking that whilst being a reasonably satisfying short story in its own terms, this would work better as excellent first chapter of a novel. Well bugger me, for once in my life I seem to have got something right as it IS actually the initial chapter of Terry's novel Dreg.


Again, it's not my favourite of the six stories, for one thing the direction the story took wasn't a particular surprise. But as an excercise into looking at the power of conditioning the human mind to performing acts of absolute horror- it is powerful and thought provoking.




Hair And Blood Machine

And Johnny, I know there is something you are reluctant to talk to me about,” the doctor said, with a knowing look. ………"
“……...I don’t know what you mean,” Johnny said. “I’ve talked about everything with you.”
“I can see it in your eyes, Johnny. There so much you want to talk about, but you are afraid. You don’t have to be. I’m here to help you.” 



The final story, Hair and Blood Machine is the longest , and perhaps my second  favourite of the selections. It features Johnny, a young man from small-town America who has suffered a terrible personal tragedy and loss and is desperately attempting to keep his sanity under control. His problems are compounded by the not unknown small-minded approach of small towns everywhere after the way his grief and loss publicly manifested themselves on one particular tortuous occasion. 

In his conversations with his therapist show him to be at his core a decent, caring person who is probably suffering from some form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. However, the author clearly hints at something darker, something in-decent lurking within him. This darkness is addressed by a chance meeting with the woman of his dreams at the town carnival.

So its a love story then? Well if you regard love as dark, twisted and violently vengeful then this is the sort of romance that will appeal to you - it certainly appealed to me.

Perhaps the most delightful part of the story is the day that Terry M. West takes you along a slightly familiar psychological journey, only to then use the most original slight of hands to take you to the most satisfying of climaxes. A delight.

So has Terry M. West changed my mind about the short story format? I will admit that I genuinely enjoyed reading this collection of journeys into the mind of the psychopath. Some of them are very different forms of insanity, each with their own origins and manifestations, but most of them equally effective. It could be that I never  manage to reconcile my usual avoidance of short stories - I know for a fact that my next visit to my favourite book shop will include numerous novels, and possible few short story collections. However, that may be be a fault that lies with me. What is certain is that this collection may have gone a little way in changing my reading behaviour in future - and that is a glowing reference indeed methinks.


My personal rating 8.5 out of 10



C'mon Terry, give me your best moody
look mate..

Terry M. West is a well known author, filmmaker and actor. He has written several books in the young adult field (most notably the graphic novel series, Confessions of a Teenage Vampire) and he has also authored several horror stories as well as the novel, Dreg. His short horror work has appeared in FrightNet, Scream Factory, Agony In Black, Lacunae, Jackhammer, House of Pain, Dark Muse and Moonletters. He was a finalist for the 1997 International Horror Guild Award for a short story (The Night Out) and he made the 1999 Bram Stoker Award preliminary ballot for a piece of long fiction (Hair and Blood Machine). He was also mentioned on the 1997 TV Guide Sci-Fi Hot List.

His film works include his debut film Blood for the Muse (based on his comic book of the same name which was a finalist for the 1998 International Horror Guild Award for a comic) and Flesh for the Beast. He has acted in the films The Blood Shed and Gallery of Fear (both directed by Alan Rowe Kelly) and had a starring role in Joseph M. Monks debut film, The Bunker. Upcoming projects include: a revised
edition of Dreg, What Price Gory?, Fear and Lesbians in New Jersey and
Dead Aware. West currently lurks in southern California with his wife
Regina and son Terrence.




A PSYCHO’S MEDLEY can be found at the link RIGHT HERE

Terry's official Facebook page can be found RIGHT HERE

This article can also be found on the most excellent of horror websites http://www.ukhorrorscene.com/a-psychos-medley-by-terry-m-west-book-review/