Tuesday, 30 December 2014

984: Prisoner of the Future - A film brought to you courtesy of the Movie & Music Network

984: Prisoner of the Future (1982)

Director: Tibor Takács

Cast: Stephen Markle, Michèle Chicoine, Don Francks


When it came to my current choice of movie to watch & review from the wonderfully subversive library of the Movie & Music Network, well it is safe to say that I almost stumbled upon the film in question quite by accident. If truth be told I was going to watch something else completely, the name of which shall remain nameless for now as it may well form part of a future article (anything to save me from extra work.....), but I changed my mind at the last moment (one of my many, many bad habits) and decided on something very different after an intriguing little title caught my eye.

I've always been something of a sucker (easy, don't make up your own jokes) for a good old story of 'man (or woman) against a totalitarian system' story. I suppose that the concept of being locked away for crime one not only didn't commit, but also being unaware exactly what that crime is, has long since been one of our deepest sociological and personal fears. In my case, being locked in a room and forced to listen 24/7 to the latest X-factor 'songs' with TV in the corner playing non-stop reality shows, would quite frankly be my actual top of personal list of ultimate dreaded fears.......but the being locked up thing while being innocent etc etc is pretty close.

So these fears very nicely influenced the film that caught my attention. In truth, it was the briefest of synopsis of a film that to be honest I had never heard of before - 984:Prisoner of the Future (1982). Just reading the following meant that the deal was sealed. 

"In a futuristic world, a man is taken prisoner and jailed for alleged crimes against the government.

Imprisoned without true cause, the man is tortured by a sadistic warden."

This theme (the crimes against the state, not X-Factor and reality TV hell) has long since been the staple of dystopic subject matter that has continued to enthral Science Fiction audiences to this day. From the likes of Franz Kafka's stunning book, The Trial, which tells the tale of Josef K, a man who is unexpectedly arrested and sent to trial by unnamed agents from an unnamed authority. The man is never given any indication (as neither are we) at any point during the story as to exactly what the crime is that he is accused of. Then of course we also have George Orwell's dystopian showpiece, Nineteen Eighty-Four, which is arguably the personification in literature and film of the power of an all-powerful authority over a society, and specifically, the individual.

Perhaps my personal favourite along this dystopian strand is the classic 1960's TV series, The Prisoner, which tells the story of an ex-Government agent who is imprisoned and interrogated for information (again, the subject of which he or the audience is never made aware of). The real genius of this series was to transform the 'interrogation facility' from a dark and bleak prison cell to a charmingly beautiful isolated seaside village, complete with a population comprising of strange enigmatic individuals (some of whom are 'enemies' of the state too - possibly) and life-size balloons that chase the Prisoner, who is now simply referred to by the state as 'Number six'.

"Excuse me sir, we have reason to believe you are an enemy of
our Orwellian dystopic dictatorship regime....."
984:Prisoner of the Future was originally a made-for-TV Canadian production. However, before I talk more about it let me say something from the very beginning, this film is no Nineteen Eighty-Four, nor is it close to the perfection of The Prisoner. However, it does have enough merits of his to warrant being regarded as an enjoyable, albeit flawed piece of work. 

It contains some of the familiar themes mentioned in the its illustrious predecessors, namely a man taken against against will by a powerful organisation who know little or nothing about the crimes he is accused of - and just as importantly, we are equally in the dark. That final factor will be more than enough to annoy some viewers who like their 'nice cosy character arcs and fully explained satisfying' endings. 

Indeed, one or two of the reviews I have seen about this move have made that very very criticism, the fact that 984:Prisoner of the Future leaves much of the mystery of the narrative unexplained seems to really, REALLY annoy some people. One particular reviewer's main rant about the film was this distinct lack of transparency in the plot and narrative and took a great deal of offence at the fact the proceedings weren't clearly explained to him. God give me strength! The fact that the irony of him wanting full and frank explanation of what was going on in a film that deals with a protagonist who has little or no idea of what is happening around him was well and truly lost on this one reviewer in particular.

As I briefly mentioned earlier, this was originally made for television production and was slated to be the pilot for the following series. After literally a couple of moments of intense research I gave up trying to find out why the series was never commissioned. Perhaps the main reason was the slightly confusing story narrative that takes place, maybe it was monetary constraints (something which is more than apparent in certain parts of the feature), one day I may find out. 

The rumour that this is me after the Christmas celebrations
are yet to be confirmed......
One thing that I am sure of is that despite a number of glaring negatives (one of them though is incredibly entertaining), which I will mention later, 984:Prisoner of the Future is a surprisingly effective and convincing treatment of a study into how one individual can find himself in a insane nightmare of Kafka-esque proportions as reality becomes nothing more than battle against the madness of the oppressive system.

The performances throughout are generally excellent, with Don Francks obviously having a whale of a time in the meaty role of the sadistic and ever increasingly insane interrogator. The protagonist, Tom Weston, is also nicely played by Stephen Markle as he finds himself on a journey which begins initially with anger and bewilderment at his plight, but which gradually descends into psychological terror and impending madness. Perhaps the most interesting of the performances for me was that of Stan Wilson, who plays the enigmatic assistant to the warden. It's a nicely layered portrayal of a character who is far more complex than the brutish and sadistic officer that he first appears to be. One criticism than cannot be levelled at this film is the quality of acting.

I can imagine that some people would be put off by the often vague structure of plot and narrative that leaves the viewer from the very beginning to end asking far more questions than any answers would be given for. For example, we are never quite sure if Tom Weston is guilty of conspiring against 'The Movement'. The film features constant flashbacks to his 'normal' life when he was first approached by his influential friends to join with them in rebellion. Did he really refuse their advances? Or is he merely trying to convince himself in order to be better able to resist the ever more violent interrogation? I sincerely believe that the intention (just like in The Prisoner) was to leave the viewer with a sense of bewilderment at Weston's plight, in essence, trying to put us in the same shoes as this man who is no longer sure of what he knows or believes. 

This belief comes in part from the track record of 984:Prisoner of the Future's director, Tibor Takacs, who has a fine track record of productions such as; The Gate (1987), I, Madman (1989) plus episodes of Earth: Final Conflict and the rebooted Outer Limits from the 1990's. Believe me, this guy is no mug.

A prison robot guard - & yes, 
it is wearing roller skates....
For all the undoubted strengths of 984:Prisoner of the Future, it is undoubtably a flawed piece of work, particularly in terms of the film's budget, which quite frankly speaks volumes of a 'Please pick up this pilot for a full series and we'll be able to spend much more' approach.

The most obvious consequence of this is that the robot guards who are intended to invoke feelings of terror and instead invoke feelings of humour - but in a 'laughing at them' not 'with them' sort of way. It also doesn't help that the robot guards travel around the facility on skates......yes, my friends..... skates. Seriously people, you need to go to the Movie & Music Network right now if only to watch this version of 'sadistic robot guards on roller skates - it's fun for all the family!!'

However, these are but minor negatives for which is overall a considered and skillful take on man versus the power of authoritarian authority. Yes the production values may be lacking, and yes, the robot guards (on skates) may be a frightening as a cute puppy with a cute playtoy. Yes, the plot may be foggy and confusing in parts - If I was a betting man (which I'm not), I'm betting that the TV execs didn't have a clue what the heck they were looking at when first seeing this film back in 1982 . The men in suits must have wondered just what to make of this vision of dystopia, indeed it may have be just a little too far on the 'wrong' side of an unsettling and downbeat for their mainstream executive tastes.

However, what we have here is a relatively unknown film that deserves to have a much wider audience. I would dearly love to find out just what the makers of 984:Prisoner of the Future planned to to with the series after the events here, I think it may have been special.

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But hey - don't just take my word for it. Because thanks to the most wonderful people at the Movie & Music Network, you can watch 984: Prisoner of the Future - FOR FREE!

You don't need to subscribe to view it - but you never know, after having yourself a sneaky little peak the rest go the Library then it may well be a good idea to do so!



Click RIGHT HERE to watch the movie and let me know what you think!
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Saturday, 20 December 2014

The 99 Cent Network - Get a pack of movies for $.99 ... Have them whenever, wherever!

There are some people that would say that I'm cheap and easy, well who am I to argue? When the cultural shopping frenzy phenomenon that is known as 'Black Friday' wound its inexorable way over here from the States to the shores of the UK, the rumour that I was one of the few to think that it may not be a completely bad thing (especially when I noticed some seriously outrageous price drops for Apple products) cannot be confirmed or denied. In addition, the rumour that I was prepared to queue at midnight, and thereby miss a day at work, to obtain a iPad Air for peanuts will be dealt with by my (overworked) legal department. 

I certainly am a sucker for a bargain, that is a fact that certainly cannot be denied, especially when it comes to the movies - and even more especially when it comes to movies that feature a certain three favourite genres of this here blogger. So when I was told of the plans that the fine people at The Movie and Movie Network were planning the launch of a brand new network to further showcase their plethora of movie titles, well I was more than a little interested.

You may think that I'm just saying this because I've been asked to do so, but nothing could be further from the truth. My regular reader will know very well by now that in this saturated online world of bloggers that I find myself in, there are three golden rules that I have;

1) Celebrate all that I find good and enjoyable in the wonderful genres of Science Fiction, horror and fantasy.


2) Be true to myself without ever taking myself too seriously.

3) Eventually get Eva Green's personal email address.

Now, while the 3rd of those targets has unfortunately yet to be achieved, the first two I am glad to say are going rather swimmingly well. So much so in fact that I can say without any form of guilt that I sincerely think of the The Movie and Movie Network
 as one of the best things currently out there when it comes to satisfying the never-ending nerdy needs of this blogger. If you want run of the mill and formulaic Sci-Fi, horror and fantasy (which of course there is a time and place for) then you can run off to Netfilx and the likes to satisfy ones need for corporate middle of the road productions. However, as recent reviews from The Fifth Dimension show - such as the remarkable, The Doomsday Machine, The equally remarkable The Last Man on Earth and the even more remarkable (in a very different sense of the word, remarkable) Billy the Kid Vs Dracula , all indicate that the network is far more designed for those many of us who desire a more classic variety of the genres we love - and the more obscure the better. 

The new network in question was launched just this week on the 17th December and goes by the name of the 99 Cent Network.  Once again, it's a pretty exciting concept.

So pray tell, Stuey I hear you ask - just what is this here 99 Cent Network, and just how the heck doest it benefit me? Well if you make yourself comfortable with a beverage of your choice (my particular poison of choice is a red wine, please), then I'll tell you.

It’s your one-stop streaming movie superstore! Get 3 movies for a one time fee of $0.99 or 10 movies for $1.99. From December 17th, the network has the horror, sci-fi, western, and holiday collections available… With every other genre (Pink Eiga, Cult, Something Weird, etc.) following thereafter.

Just a quick side note, in case any of you reading this article were wondering just what the heck Pink Eiga is.......well as you all know, I'm far too, ahem, pure and wholesome to know about such things. However the fact I know that it is short-form, independently produced, Japanese erotic movie subculture means absolutely nothing. Nor does the fact that I'm aware that the genre has great titles such as Twilight Dinner which features our protagonist, KAZUHIKO, who leads a normal life until two beautiful sisters move into the apartment next door. He falls for the younger sister, MAYAKO, but not before being seduced by the older sister, TSUKIKO… Soon Kazu has an insatiable hunger that he thinks is sexual, but might be something deeper, darker and more feral…

Nope, I've never seen any of them, your honour.

THE BEST PART of the 99 Cent Network.  is you can share those movies with your friends to watch too... with no limit… It’s perfect for the Christmas holiday period for a start. Apparently it's that magical time of year at the moment when we think absolutely nothing of letting our children sit on the knee of a strange fat man in a bright red suit and then let the same (I'm assuming of course that is is the same) strange fat man in a bright red suit come into our house in the middle of the night of the 24th of Dec where we make him and his smelly reindeer even fatter by offering them food and alcohol in exchange for presents. So why not this year, instead of letting this obvious lunatic into your house, go and buy your friends and family a whole package of film goodies?

Moreover, I'm rather confident that people will love this opportunity to purchase and stream cheap entertainment and even more so that there is the facility to be able to share the titles with your friends.. for life!! 

Take a quick look at the promotional video below to give you a further idea of the goodies that the store has for you.






The face book page for the Movie and Music Network can be found at https://www.facebook.com/moviemusicnet?fref=ts


Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Scrooge (1951)- A Christmas Carol with bite

"That bloody Frog is here somewhere......”
This post first appeared in December 2013 - for some reason I decided to re-post it. I blame it on the time of year myself.

Scrooge - 1951 | 

86 mins | 

Comedy, Drama | 

B&W

I don't like the Muppets, I don't like them at all. I never have and I'm probably sure that I never will. It's a controversial viewpoint which I know will upset many, but I have my legitimate reasons.

Even as a child I never really had much time for those supposedly lovable puppet things that celebrities almost seemed to trample over each other to get their faces on the show; Kermit the blooming Frog simply annoyed the hell out of me, Miss Piggy reminded me of an old schoolteacher from my Grammar school and Fozzy bear just creeped me out for some unknown reason that I couldn't ever quite put my finger on. The only character that I ever found remotely likable was the drummer, Animal. "So Stuey, what is the actual reason for this hatred of an entertainment institution?" I hear you ask. Well, partly it may be that at school one of my lesser flattering nicknames was 'Gonzo', given to me by some wit who thought that, as I had a slightly big nose, it would be highly hilarious to give me that name.  I'm way past that now - after all, those years of therapy had to amount to something.....

No, it is far more than just a half-arsed witty nickname that causes me to tense up just at the very thought of Jim Henson's crazy Muppets. The thing that more or less sealed the deal was a certain adaptation of arguably the classic ghost story of all ghost stories. As far as I'm aware there have been over fifty adaptations in various forms of Charles Dickens Literary classic 'A Christmas Carol'. Some of them have been truly excellent (the 1984 TV film starring George C. Scott being of particular note) while some adaptations have been, well, less than excellent. 

You see, I truly love the story of A Christmas Carol, not necessarily for it's theme of personal redemption (which is a quite nice thing I suppose), no I love it because at the core of the story there is a genuine substance of spectral horror. Yet, throughout the years a light-hearted and comforting tale of amusing and eccentric ghosts visiting a rather grumpy but still humorous old Ebenezer have replaced the original feeling of fear and horror that Dickens intended when he wrote the story........ and chief amongst those guilty of such a transformation from horror to cosy are those responsible for A Muppet Christmas Carol. I tell you now, 'Funny ghosts' and Michael Caine hamming it up are not anywhere on god's green Earth near to the original authentic subject matter of the source material. And don't get me started on the bloody songs.

Thankfully the more authentic adaptations are there to remind us how powerfully chilling this story can actually be when the will arises. Whilst the aforementioned TV version starring the excellent George. C Scott is a wonderful piece of work, for me nothing has yet has ever compared on a chill-factor level as a British made black and white version of the story - Scrooge (1951).
"You bloody well let me know when you hear the first sound 
of a song in this movie"

THE PLOT

You've got to be kidding me?! - Its A freaking Christmas Carol!

Well OK - for those 23 people in the Amazonian tribe yet to be discovered by the rest of 'civilisation' and so haven't got around to seeing any of the veritable plethora of movie versions, here is the plot in a very quick but informative way.

"Old, bitter businessman Ebenezer Scrooge hates Christmas and everybody who celebrates it - he does have one favourite Christmas pastime, which is shouting "Humbug" at all Crimbo devotees.....He especially has no time for his ever-so-nice employee Bob Cratchett who has a big annoyingly happy Family, including a crippled son called Tiny but annoyingly happy Tim.......Ebenezer is soon visited by the ghost of his dead business partner - Ghost warns him of his impending doom. Scrooge laughs it all off as the result of bad cheese, ghost gets a bit annoyed........ soon he's visited by the ghosts of Crimbo past, Crimbo present and possible Crimbo future which looks decidedly pants - It's all very very frightening with thunderbolts and lightening.......Eventually he sees the error of his selfish ways.........suddenly becomes very happy when alive to see Crimbo morning......treats everybody to free lunches & presents......buys the Cratchetts a big bird to eat......Tiny Tim is more annoyingly happy than ever...."


Yes the story for me has its faults; Tiny Tim is always genuinely annoying and if I was his older brother I would be deeply pissed off that good old golden buy Tim always gets all the attention. His father ,Bob Cratchett, has always in my book deserved a bit of a slap around the chin with a wet fish for being overly wet and subservient. However even the cynic in me never fails to get sucked into the joy that Scrooge feels when waking up as a reformed man on Christmas morning.

This film is true, not only to the main episodes in the original story, but just as importantly to this blogger, faithful to its fundamental horror content. 
"But I've never even met Jim Henson!!"
For while learning from the error of ones' ways and attaining personal redemption are all well and good, it's the chilling psychological journey that Scrooge is forced to endure that has always appealed to me - and boy does this version lay on atmosphere and chill-factor galore.

The film is perhaps in some ways the most faithful in some ways to the original text and yet succeeds in adding some fascinating layers of previously unexplored back story of the character at Scrooge, in essence building upon elements of plot that Dickens at best only hinted at. For in this version the usual pantomime version of Scrooge as a grumpy yet still likable is replaced by a back story rich in detail that gives meaning and understanding to some of his behaviour. For example, Scrooge's resentment of Fred isn't purely due to his hatred of Christmas, but also because his birth resulted in the death of the only woman he ever loved, his sister.


It is partly the marvellous screenplay by Noel Langley which provided richly textured back story to Dickens' source material and partly the darkly ominous musical score from Richard Addinsell that creates a wonderful atmosphere. However, more so it is the central performance of Alistair Sim that brings out a rounded completeness to Scrooge's character - this is no cardboard cut-out performance from a giant of British cinema, it is a thing of genius. It isn't only me that believes that Sim's performance is the benchmark portrayal of Scrooge that all others should be measured by - George C. Scott himself said the very same when he was preparing for the eponymous role.
"Look, this is where I've buried that bloody Gonzo"...
Sim's portrayal is an honest to god tour-de-force, with the more detailed back-story of his life providing him the chance to give depth, understanding and even a degree of sympathy to his selfish and outwardly seemingly downright evil treatment of the people in his life. For example, the well known antipathy he seems to have towards his nephew Fred is explained by the fact that his cherished sister died shortly after giving birth to him - an occurrence that has caused intense resentment and in some ways no little hatred towards the unknowing young man. No-one before or since has ever matched Alistair Sims magical performance of a man tortured by his past - there are moments when just a flicker of his eyes says more than a dozens of hammed up performance of Ebenezer have ever managed to do combined together.


However, this is a horror blog, so I'm especially concerned with the scare factor of this version - and by Jove does it deliver.


I mentioned earlier that numerous adaptations of this story have resulted in what we now familiarly see as a series of vaguely unsettling but more so amusing spectres providing their various warnings of impending doom. This version thankfully remains true to the chills that it should actually provide - after all, the ghosts that appear are supposed to be intending to frighten the worst of moral offenders into changing his selfish ways.  For example, the slow atmospheric build-up leading to the appearance of Scrooges' long since dead partner is so expertly done that when the Ghost of Jacob Marley finally appears it produces perhaps one of the most unnerving spectres to haunt cinema - and I genuinely mean that. Not only is the deep despair about his own fate clearly apparent in the wonderful performance of Michael Horden, his rage and frustration at Scrooges initial scepticism is deeply convincing. The fact that a range of ground-breaking special effects were also employed in this production gives a true sense of chilling gravitas to the phantasmic scenes.

If that wasn't enough for the connoisseur of the frights,  the effective chills of the ghost of Christmas future is the forbidding shadow of impending doom that Dickens originally intended him to be. 

The fact that the entire movie was filmed on a purpose built studio is a testament to the intense and foreboding atmosphere created for this Dickensian London. The bleakness of the black and white film gives an added Gothic nuance that is reminiscent of the glory days of Universal monster movies. This is simply British film-making at it's glorious best. I would strongly advise that if you are going to view this version of the film for the first time that you watch the original b&w version and not the later colourised version which goes a fair way to robbing the film's ghost sequences of much of their power to scare - stay away I say....stay away from colour!!

Oh my good god - no word of a lie, but I've just seen a trailer on TV for The Smurfs: A Christmas Carol. Kill me now.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Billy The Kid Versus Dracula: A movie brought to us courtesy of the Movie & Music Network

Billy the kid Vs Dracula  (1966)

Director: William Beaudine 

Cast: Chuck Courtney, John Carradine, Melinda Plowman


I really wish that I could have been a fly on the wall of the film studio sometime during the mid 1960's when the discussions started about ideas for new horror films. Of course, I wasn't there but nevertheless, in my mind it all went something like this.

Film studio rep: Now we're getting really desperate for some good new horror movies, somebody give me some ideas!!!

Producer: Hmmmm, what about a Dracula story? Everybody loves Dracula!

Film studio rep: No damn way!! Ever since those goddamn Limeys and their goddamn Hammer studios and goddamn Christopher Lee cornered the market in Gothic horror, nobody wants American Vampires any more!

There's silence for a moment until the producer gets another idea......

Producer: I know, I know.......Frankenstein! What about Frankenstein?

Film studio rep: Jesus wept, man!! Ever since those goddamn Limeys and their goddamn Hammer studios and goddamn Christopher Lee and his godammed limey mate, Peter Cushing cornered the market in Gothic horror, nobody wants American Frankenstein any more!

This time the silence is now uncomfortable and seems to last for an age as the producer sees the final dregs of his career die before his eyes......until suddenly a flash bulb seems to appear above the producers head.

Producer: Got it!!! We give those Brits a taste of their own medicine and use some good ol American boys to give Dracula and Frankenstein a real good kick in the balls!

Film studio rep: Now that could work - how's about a using a few Gunslingers to kick some Vampire ass??!!

The excited  producer was already dreaming of wild west vs Gothic Franchise heaven. After all, what could go wrong?........"

When it came to my next choice of movie to watch & review from the wonderful library of the Movie & Music Network, well in all honesty, it took me a few minutes to first decide what suited my mood at the time. Did I want something thought provoking and intelligent? No. Did I want something complex and full of complex psychological themes about the human conditions? No. Did I want something that I wouldn't have to think to hard about and was about as deliciously cheesy as cheesy could be? You're blooming right I did!!...... and after a few moments of perusing the network's library I stumbled on a gem of exquisite cheesiness.

Some time ago, in the deep dark recesses of this blog, I scribbled a feature on movies under the headline of something along the lines of "So bad that they're good". You know the ones, there are films that are so irredeemably flawed yet there is still an undeniable guilty charm about them that draws us back again and again into re-watching them, no matter how many times we vow never to do so again. For some reason, my 'So bad they're good' article didn't feature the subject of this latest article, or the other film made simultaneously with it, the equally wonderfully titled Jesse James Vs Frankenstein. So I think that the only thing for it is to at some point update the list, because quite frankly, Billy the kid Vs Dracula is without doubt one of the most exquisitely enjoyably bad movies that I've ever had the pleasure to see.

For a start, the premise is simply as mad a as the proverbial box of Frogs....

"The world deadliest gunfighter! The worlds most diabolical killer! Dracula travels to the American West, intent on making a beautiful ranch owner his next victim. Unfortunately for the dastardly Transylvanian, her fiancé is the notorious outlaw Billy the Kid. When the gunslinger finds out about it he rushes to save her and with it, destroy the cunning Count. "

If the premise is mind-bogglingly insane, well as are indeed the rest of the ingredients; the acting, direction, filming and editing all range from extremely bad to almost extremely bad. For a start, the film was directed by William Beaudine. What, you've never heard of him? Well, you're in for a treat. William 'one-shot' Beaudine is arguably one of the most prolific, in terms of output, directors in Hollywood history. He directed far too many for me to have bothered to count when I visited his Wikepedia page, suffice to say there are blooming hundreds (well at least there seemed to be, though that might be slightly affected by the glass or two of wine I had while 'researching' his career). 

"I'm sorry my boy, you can't be Billy the kid because you're a wuss."
To be honest, i wold highly recommend looking at his list of movies, not necessarily in order to watch any of them, but simply to enjoy the incredible entertaining names of some of his titles - my absolute favourite being the completely bat shit bonkers title of 'Bela Lugosi meets a Brooklyn Gorilla' (1952). I have never watched the said confrontation between Mr Lugosi and the Gorilla - but one is for sure, it is now on my 'must see'. I would sincerely consider my life wasted if I didn't get the opportunity to see that film before I die.

As you may have already guessed, Beaudine obtained the the nickname 'one-shot' due to his highly economical method of filming - and while the myth that he never ever used more than one take is probably indeed that, a myth, the fact is that Billy the kid Vs Dracula certainly includes some of the hallmarks of this quite remarkable director's career. For example, there is one particular scene where one of the cowboys have even killed and the actor clearly moves and flinches as a horse draws near to his 'body'. I just love the fact that the filmmakers may have seen this and thought "what the hell, who cares?...."besides which, we need to get this finished as we start on Jesse James giving Frankenstein a good kicking next week"

"I think I may need the Gentleman's room......"
John Carradine is quite rightly regarded as one of the 'big four' stalwarts in horror history, along with Vincent Price, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. I must admit admit that in comparison with the other three, I have always been less enamoured with Carradine's own prolific career. Well, if his performance in Billy the kid Vs Dracula is anything to go by, that viewpoint will have to change, because if you love your over the top cheesy performances (and don't we all?) then this one is perhaps the daddy of them all. I don't know whether it was Carradine's own idea, or one from old 'one-shot', but his idea of showing the demonic and chilling side of the blood-sucking Count was to look squinty eyed into the camera and trying look all menacing like, while at the same time old one-shot' was using his limited supply of red tint lighting. If anything, it simply looks like the actor was suffering from extreme episodes of rampant diarrhoea if the looks on his face are anything to go by - simply hysterical, and not in a scary way. 

Actually, I'm doing John Carradine something of a dis-service as he does have one other facial expression in this film, and that is the lecherous dirty old man leer that he gives the young ranchers daughter whenever he sees her. The actress in question, Melinda Plowman, was indeed rather fabulous looking, that fact cannot be denied. However, I'm pretty sure that if her mother was to show me her picture (as happened in the film) and I pulled my best "I'm going to lick you to death look" (as the Transylvanian terror does in the film) that I would have been railroaded and horsewhipped out of town (that's a Wild West term, you know). But no, nobody says a word.

"Now my dear, he may look at you as if he wants to do very bad things to your body
but I'm sure he's a very nice man"
The rest of the cast do their very (limited) best with the material they were given, though whether any of them would have fared any better with a better script, director and budget is open to question. I mean, I know that I may not be that up on my Wild West mythology, but I really wasn't aware the Billy the kid was actually a clean cut Nancy-boy who was afraid of his own shadow! If he's not showing the very pretty Betty (Plowman) to happily shoot shit up while looking at her all puppy dog like, then he's walking around with the very pretty Betty trying to also convince her that even through he used to kill lots and lots of people he is actually a nice guy now. I could have told him that he needn't worry, because nobody in their right mind would thing this complete mummy's pretty boy could be a psychotic killer.

The film generally looks cheap and is often so badly lit that it's often difficult to tell if it's meant to be day or night time. Consequently, one doesn't know whether old 'one-shot' wasn't particularly aware or simply didn't care about his Vampire lore as the leering Count is often seen to be wandering around in the sunlight. Cheep and not so cheerful too are the scenes where the Transylvanian tickler transforms from a very obvious plastic bat on a string to his blood sucking dirty old man guise. Well actually, no transformation takes place, the plastic bat simply lands behind a waggon and moments later, the creepy Count comes walking nonchalantly out.

Believe me, if you like your blatantly bad films that are so disastrously inept that they are in fact one and a half hours of pure and unadulterated joy. You may not be chilled to the bone but you'll possibly find yourself laughing yourself into an early grave.

Shear genius.

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But hey - don't just take my word for it!. Because thanks to the most wonderful people at the Movie & Music Network, you can watch Billy the kid Vs Dracula for FREE!

You don't need to subscribe to view it - but you never know, after having yourself a sneaky little peak the rest go the Library then it may well be a good idea to do so!

Click RIGHT HERE to watch the movie and let me know what you think!

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Saturday, 6 December 2014

The Strain - now on DVD from Foxhorror

I think that it's only fair that I own up straight away to the fact that I have a major geek adoration (some may even go as far in calling it a Geek crush) for the work of Mr Guillermo del Toro. However, It saddens  me at say though, that the adoration that I have for his work has been tested on the odd occasion recently. It had all started to well with masterpieces such as The Devil's Backbone and the truly sublime Pan's Labrynth, as well as other favourites of mine including Blade II and the wonderful Hellboy. I genuinely thought for a time that he could do no wrong and no matter that the odd dud may be bound to come along in his career, I would still love his work....nothing but nothing could test my geek adoration. I was a sure as sure could be that I was safe in that assumption. That was until Battleship Pacific Rim.........

I wanted to like Transformers Pacific Rim, I really did. And for a good while into the film I was almost bearing it pretty well, for a start it had one or two noticeably familiar and enjoyable 'del Toro touches', so all was OK. It was going better than I had anticipated. That was until I heard the line "Today is the day we cancel the Apocalypse". Oh. Deerie. Me. Oh deerie deerie me.

To be honest, I almost fell out of love for the work of the Mexican maestro right there and then. I thought that this was quite possibly the end of a beautiful friendship. Almost, but not quite, because around the time of the cinematic monstrosity I also chanced upon del Toro's first novel, written in collaboration with Chuck Hogan. The book, called The Strain, was a deliciously gruesome and intelligent tale of New York City being overrun by a virulent Vampire plague. I read, nay, devoured the story in a matter of hours. It was del Toro at his gruesomely descriptive best.

Now I know what you're thinking, the book was released way back in the dim and distant days of 2009 with the other two in the trilogy following within a couple of years - not exactly a blogger with his finger of the pulse of all that is good and nerdy is it? Well, maybe you're right, but as she said "Better late than never, I suppose" 


A full and frank review of the books is something for another time and place. The point of this article (be quiet, there is occasionally a point to some of my articles) is to talk about the the TV adaptation of the story and its subsequent release onto DVD and BluRay. Suffice to say, reading those books went a long long way to helping me out behind me the memory of Godzilla    Pacific Rim.

So you can imagine my delight this after being contacted all the way from Los Angeles by a representative of Fox Home Entertainment, who have been recently performing a takeover of the Fox Horror website in anticipation for the Season 1 release of The Strain on Bluray/DVD and the launch of http://bit.ly/TwoStrainsSite which will give users a look at how the graphic novel was turned into a television show. I was asked whether I would want to tell people not only about what they are undertaking, but also to talk a little bit on my blog about The Strain. Of course I did!

To see what delights the new website has in store then visit http://bit.ly/FoxHorrorStrainTakeover but be quick as the takeover ends on Monday 8th December.

So for those of you that haven't read the books or seen that television adaptation then how about a quick synopsis of the storyline?

The Strain begins with the team from the Centre for Disease Control investigating the mysterious arrival at New York airport of a plane in which the whole of the passengers & crew are seemingly dead.

At this same moment Abraham Setrakian, owner of an old raggedly pawnbrokers in downtown New York, is also heading to the airport after hearing the news. He knows that this is no 'ordinary' viral outbreak and is convinced that it is a new, potentially catastrophic chapter in an horrific and age old series of events designed to wipe out humanity.

Soon, the team of scientists, together with the obsessive Setrakian and a rag-tag team of fellow city dwellers, are fighting the Vampiric parasites that could well spell the end for normal human existence.

Adapting from page to television is traditionally some of a hit and miss affair. In fact it's safe to say that pleasing some of the more, shall we say, vociferous fans out there, is something of a no win situation (Yes, some Game of Thrones fans, I'm talking about you). If I've heard "well that's different from the book" once, I've bloody well heard it a thousand times. Give it a rest people!! Remember, we don't actually own the work we're watching or reading. If the writers etc want to change their work for whatever reason then that's their choice. Though I would say that a certain Mr G Lucas has tested even my open-minded stance in the past.

It seems though, that generally, The Strain's first season on Fx was on the whole well received by critics. Perhaps more importantly, many fans of the story (of which I'm proud to class myself as one) seem to agree as the viewing ratings, particularly in the States, held up strongly thought its first season run. The fact that the show was picked up for a second season pretty quickly into it's run speaks volumes in the cutthroat world that TV series now seem to inhabit.

I must admit that on a personal level, the first season of The Strain was, apart from a couple of issues, an exceedingly satisfying experience. This was probably helped in no small part by del Toro's continued involvement in the concept and production of many of the episodes. Yes there are noticeable differences from the books, but actually some of those differences actually benefit the viewing experience. For example, the character of Abraham Sektrakian of the books is far more softer and likable then he appears on screen as played the the magnificent David Bradley. This could have alienated some of the literary aficionados, however turning the character into a far more driven, obsessive and often unlikable person is something of a masterstroke. In doing so, the frequent back stories of him and his experiences of past deaings with the vicious Nazi Vampire, Thomas Eichorst, is given even more gravitas and importance. Both Bradley and Richard Sammel (Eichorst) simply chew up the dialogue and scenery with the power of their relative performances and if anything, flesh out far more than expected, the characters than they appeared in the books.

In fact, the cast as a whole provides an essential excellent ensemble performance. I must admit that for me it did take a number of episodes for the characters gel with the more action orientated segments, which may have been something of a risk perhaps for the modern I-want-It-now audience in order to give the character development some time to breathe. However, The Strain is not meant just to be a series of gruesome action set -pieces (albeit some rather excellent ones) but it's also a tale driven by some very strong characterisation. 

This element of actually caring for the characters has benefited the likes of The Walking Dead, beyond all expectations. For example here, the always excellent Kevin Durand gives a beautifully measured performance as the rat-catcher, Fet, one moment sharing a tender moment with his estranged parents, the next becoming one deliciously mean son-of-a bitch killing machine. The scene where he quickly decides that he must be the one who has to 'dispatch' a close friend of the team is shockingly effective.


That's not to say that the production values and action set-pieces of of less impressive standard, because I assure you they're not. The visualisations throughout, especially the scenes where there Vampires morph into their tongue lashing yucky finery are excellent in their biological squeak inducing state. I know there will be some who miss some of the more elaborate methods that the parasitic worms find their way through various orifices in the books (I'll leave it up to your dirty imagination to connect those particular dots). Instead we have to make do with the worms entering through the eyes, which while still looks rather excellent, may lose some of the gruesome factor for some who like their inventive worm entering orifice scenario - as it were.

The memorable set pieces throughout the first season come thick and fast as the episodes progress. The segment that takes place with the gang cornered in a secluded city store is not only perhaps one of the most exciting episodes, it's also the first time where we see the disparate members first begin to gel together as a real team. Add to that a number of scenes with a wonderfully claustrophobic quality about them that take place in the tunnels and catacombs of the increasingly decaying city and you have an ever improving mix of characterisation and action as the series reaches a stunning climax.

I will be the first to admit that not quite everything works well in series one, with perhaps the least satisfying aspect being the first revealing of the Master vampire. I'm not sure whether it was the way the scene was directed or lit, but the moment when we first witness the personification of vampiric evil appear should have been far more hard-hitting. Instead it is left the the wonderfully ambitious scenes of ever increasing human/vampire transformation that succeed on most every level to provide a genuine feel of terror and stomach-churning chills.

All in all there is much to recommend the first season of The Strain - I plan at the earliest opportunity to get myself a copy on DVD or BluRay - I would do so yourself, you know it makes sense.

Check out http://bit.ly/FoxHorrorStrainTakeover when you get the chance. 

Also, if you want to, you can compare scenes from the graphic novel to scenes that occurred on the show by clicking on http://bit.ly/TwoStrainsSite. I promise you though, that if you do, you may well be there for a few hours because it's crazily addictive!