Apocalypse Later Empire

I also write books, for sale at Amazon and the other usual online stores.
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Also announcing the 2nd annual Apocalypse Later International Fantastic Film Festival!
Filmmakers, submissions for horror and sci-fi shorts are open through Film Freeway.

Please feel free to contact me by e-mail.

IHSFFF and PFF 2017

Check out the Film Festival Coverage section over on the right or click here for the indexes for the these live festivals:

International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival 2017
Phoenix Film Festival 2017

Also check out my daily coverage at Apocalypse Later Now!

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Resurrection (1999)

Director: Russell Mulcahy
Writers: Brad Mirman and Christopher Lambert, from a story by Brad Mirman
Stars: Christopher Lambert, Robert Joy, Barbara Tyson, Rick Fox and Leland Orser

Index: Horror Movie Calendar.

In our modern consumerist culture, it’s easy to see the holiday of Easter like Bill Hicks described it: ‘commemorating the death and resurrection of Jesus by telling our children a giant bunny rabbit left chocolate eggs in the night.’ However, to Christians, it’s one of the cornerstones of the liturgical year, the end of one season and the beginning of another, and it’s serious stuff indeed. It follows the season of Lent, during the six weeks of which many Christians prepare for Easter by fasting or giving up something to symbolise sacrifice. Lent ends with Holy Week, which is rich with key events: Palm Sunday marks the triumphal entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, Maundy Thursday remembers the Last Supper and Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus. This all ends with Easter Sunday, which begins Eastertide with a great celebration, because it’s when Jesus rose from the dead after three days in the tomb. After Jesus’s birth, marked at Christmas, his resurrection is the most important event in the Christian year.

In fact, it’s so important that people have been arguing about it for millennia: what theological significance it bears, its tie to the Jewish holiday of Passover and even the date on which it should be celebrated. Controversies over when the correct date should be date back to the second century and trawl in the First Council of Nicaea and the Synod of Whitby. Things only got worse when the western world shifted from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar and they’re not even squared away yet. As recently as 1997, the World Council of Churches proposed reform, suggesting that Easter should be celebrated on the ‘first Sunday following the first astronomical full moon following the astronomical vernal equinox, as determined from the meridian of Jerusalem.’ Had that been adopted, it would have taken effect in 2001, a rare year in which the Western and Orthodox dates for Easter coincided. The fact is that it wasn’t adopted and people will continue to argue about it for the foreseeable future.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953)

Director: Roy Rowland
Writers: Dr. Seuss and Allan Scott, from a story by Dr. Seuss
Stars: Peter Lind Hayes and Mary Healy

Index: 2017 Centennials.

I’d seen The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T before, but it’s by far the most interesting movie starring Hans Conried, so I knew I had to choose it for his centennial. What I hadn’t realised until a fresh viewing is that this bears some similarity to another cult feature released in 1953, namely Robot Monster. That film unfolds as the fever dream of a young boy, who imagines the entire world destroyed by an alien who appears as a gorilla in a diving helmet, who rules the planet from his cave which is otherwise occupied only by a bubble machine. The remaining survivors are Johnny’s family and a couple of archeologists, so he pairs them off with his mum and sister. When I reviewed Robot Monster, I highlighted how weird it was that a young boy would be dreaming about such perverted ideas as replacing his father, killing one sister and having the other kidnapped by an alien ape with a bondage fetish. This film helps me to realise that it’s just a imaginative boy dealing with his hopes and fears in a dream sequence.

Because that’s exactly what The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T is, or at least without the perverted angle. Little Johnny is now Little Bart or, to use his full name, Bartholomew Collins, who we can only assume does not grow up to appear on Dark Shadows. He recently lost his father, to death rather than divorce because this is 1953, and he’s practicing as hard as he can on the piano to take part in a recital in a month’s time. Well, not really. He doesn’t like playing the piano at all and he’s only practicing for two reasons: one is that his mother, Heloise, whom he likes a lot, wants him to; and the other is because his piano teacher doesn’t acknowledge the existence of other instruments. He hates the autocratic Dr. Terwilliker with a passion and imagines him to be a racketeer. As Bart can’t be a blink over ten years old, this is all a lot of pressure for him, so when he falls asleep at the keys, his feature length dream sequence directly addresses his hopes and fears: how he can find a new dad and how he can cope with the recital.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Blanche Fury (1948)

Director: Marc Allégret
Writers: Audrey Lindop and Cecil McGivern, from the novel by Joseph Shearing, with additional dialogue by Hugh Mills
Stars: Stewart Granger and Valerie Hobson

Index: 2017 Centennials.

If there was any doubt as to what genre this picture falls under, it vanishes with the title card. A primitive painting of an isolated and foreboding mansion against a sky so dark and tortured that it seems like a tsunami ready to wash over the house. A carefully italicised font that looks like handwriting, coloured the orange of faded blood. A title that at once introduces the leading lady and subtly hints at dark emotions; ‘fury’ meaning destructive rage and ‘blanche’ meaning to turn white, often through abject fear or shock. Yes, these are quintessential components of the gothic and this is a powerful one that perhaps stands up today because of its heady atmosphere of doom. There have been better movies made in this genre, Hitchcock’s Rebecca being merely the obvious choice and Dragonwyck and The Uninvited following in its footsteps, but few contain anything close to the ache for catastrophe the doomed lovers of Blanche Fury exude like sweat. This doomed romance has an unusual emphasis on the first word not the second.

After the title card, we see a skeletal tree and hear the wind, even though the painted clouds aren’t moving. We follow a pair of urgent riders as they exhort their horses through the woods and up the manicured paths of Clare Hall. Oh yes, I’d buy that place for a dollar! It’s a gorgeous, if rather brutal box of a mansion, the external shots being of Wootton Lodge, in Staffordshire, which dates back to 1611; it’s currently owned by the family of Joseph Cyril Bamford, who founded the company named for his initials, now the third largest manufacturer of construction equipment in the world. The internal shots are just as striking, though these were sets back at Pinewood Studios with high ceilings, ornate doorways and a plethora of paintings. As you might expect, there’s also a young lady in bed, clearly ill and those riders are the doctors doing what they can for her. She’s very weak, they say, as we shift into abstract visuals and echoed dialogue as she dies.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Stay Hungry (1976)

Director: Bob Rafelson
Writers: Charles Gaines and Bob Rafelson, from the novel by Charles Gaines
Stars: Jeff Bridges, Sally Field and Arnold Schwarzenegger

Index: 2017 Centennials.

I’m a child of the eighties, which means I grew up with Arnold Schwarzenegger. I saw every one of his eighties movies soon after release and that continued on into the nineties until I gave up and tried to avoid things like Jingle All the Way. However, I find that I never consciously went back to the seventies, which surprises me. I’d seen Hercules in New York, because it’s one of those so bad it’s good movies that I can’t resist, and I’d seen The Long Goodbye, in which he isn’t even credited, but I hadn’t seen The Villain until this project last year, watching for Kirk Douglas’s centennial, and I hadn’t seen Stay Hungry until now, watching for R. G. Armstrong’s. I wonder if I’ll find myself reviewing Scavenger Hunt next year, watching for someone else’s! In fact, the entire Stay Hungry cast looks like my childhood: Jeff Bridges from Starman, Sally Field from Smokey and the Bandit, Robert Englund from V (and, later, A Nightmare on Elm Street), Roger E. Mosley from Magnum, P.I. and Scatman Crothers from, well, Hong Kong Phooey (yeah, and The Shining).

What I found from this long overdue catchup was that my idea of what this movie was and what it actually is only just intersected and the maybe ten per cent that did includes duh facts like it’s a feature film and Arnie is a bodybuilder. I think my expectations of Stay Hungry were more like the reality of Pumping Iron, shot months later but not released until 1977, though they do play together well. That’s a docudrama narrated by Charles Gaines and based on his photo-essay about the 1975 Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia competitions, with the Austrian Oak winning the latter. This is a comedy drama adapted by Gaines from his original novel and the title refers only in part to Arnie who, as Joe Santo, a bodybuilder preparing for Mr. Universe, is the one to speak it aloud. He says it to a rather young Jeff Bridges, playing the lead role of Craig Blake, because he’s the one who needs the advice. I’ve seen Bridges a lot younger than this, in The Last Picture Show, Fat City and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, but I guess I’ve got used to him being old.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

The Night Walker (1964)

Director: William Castle
Writer: Robert Bloch
Stars: Robert Taylor, Barbara Stanwyck and Judith Meredith

Index: 2017 Centennials.

Drop the name of Robert Bloch, who would have been one hundred years old today, in polite company and the likelihood is that you’ll hear the very same word back from everyone around you: ‘psycho’. He wrote the novel of that name in 1959 and it became famous when Alfred Hitchcock adapted it onto film a year later. Bloch wrote two sequels, called Psycho II and Psycho House, though they’re unrelated to any of the subsequent film or TV sequels, prequels and remakes. However, Bloch was nothing like a one trick pony. He was a contributor to Weird Tales magazine, one of the youngest members of H. P. Lovecraft’s literary circle, and his early short stories are great takes on his mentor’s cosmic horror themes. After Lovecraft’s death, he diversified his writing to include a range of horror, science fiction and thrillers. His novels are of consistent quality but include gems like Night-World, American Gothic and Night of the Ripper, the latter two fictionalising real people, the serial killers H. H. Holmes and Jack the Ripper respectively.

Given the success of Psycho, we might expect that film studios would have leapt at the chance to adapt his other work, especially as his bibliography was expansive by that point. However, most of his work on film was as a scriptwriter rather than a source author. Unsurprisingly, many of his scripts were for genre anthology shows like Thriller and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, with his name on ten episodes of each, but he also wrote three episodes of Star Trek, among many others. His screenplays for films included no less than five features for Amicus, the ‘other’ classic U.K. horror studio, including Torture Garden, The House That Dripped Blood and Asylum; an odd couple, The Cat Creature and The Dead Don’t Die for director Curtis Harrington; and, perhaps most interesting, a pair of features for legendary exploitation filmmaker William Castle, both in 1964. The first was Strait-Jacket, which sees Joan Crawford murder a cheating Lee Majors with an axe, and the second is this unjustly neglected gem starring Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Slaughter High (1986)

Directors: George Dugdale, Mark Ezra and Peter Litten
Writers: George Dugdale, Mark Ezra and Peter Litten
Stars: Caroline Munro and Simon Scuddamore

Index: Horror Movie Calendar.

April Fools’ Day has been associated with pranks since The Canterbury Tales in 1392, so it’s another thing we can blame on Geoffrey Chaucer, if not the Romans, who had a festival called Hilaria about a week later. Of course, there’s an April Fool’s Day horror movie, released in 1986 and well worth watching, but I felt that it was a little too obvious for my Horror Movie Calendar project. Instead, I chose another April Fool’s Day that was released in 1986 but was renamed to Slaughter High to avoid confusion (or a lawsuit from the lawyers of Paramount, a studio with deep pockets). To highlight the magnificent power of irony, this version was clearly shot first, given that its lead actor, Simon Scuddamore, committed suicide in November 1984, right after the film wrapped. It’s very possible that the April Fool’s Day everybody knows wasn’t even started until after that date. Further irony lies in these two slasher movies, a thoroughly American genre, were shot in Canada and the UK respectively. Then again, it did all begin in Italy with A Bay of Blood...

This isn’t a particularly notable slasher, but then the genre isn’t known for its notable films; it’s known for its memorable maniacs and its imaginative deaths. Slaughter High is perhaps the dumbest classic slasher I’ve ever seen, but it has a memorable maniac and it has a few highly imaginative deaths, so it’s built up a minor cult following over the decades. I could even see the film growing in esteem after repeated viewings because, while it aims to be a slasher, it’s perhaps unintentionally also an early and solid example of the urban legend horror movie. It gets at least 100% better if we decide to imagine that this isn’t a real movie with a story we’re intended to believe and decide instead that it’s a YouTube video about an urban legend that makes no sense but people are talking about anyway. After all, in this modern world of alternative facts and perception equalling truth, what’s to say that isn’t what it is. If we believe it, then it’s true, right? What if we want to believe it, because it would be better that way? Does that work?

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

United Trash (1996)

Director: Christoph Schlingensief
Writer: Christoph Schlingensief and Oskar Roehler
Stars: Udo Kier, Kitten Natividad, Joachim Tomaschewsky, Johnny Pfeiffer, Jones Muguse, Miklós Koniger and Thomas Chibwe

Index: Weird Wednesdays.

I’ve brought you some weird movies as part of my Weird Wednesdays project, but perhaps I’ll never be able to bring you another one weirder than this, a 1996 art film from German auteur Christoph Schlingensief, rather appropriately called United Trash. I am sure that the director had a serious purpose, namely to provide a socio-political commentary on the failure of the United Nations in Rwanda, but he chose to do it in an incredibly offhand manner. What he delivered was a sort of screwball comedy, in which no taboo is too low to exploit. It’s what you might get if Luis Buñuel took aim at western political and religious power structures and John Waters rewrote his script. If that sounds schizophrenic, it really is. The entire approach screams for analysis, as if there are deep and meaningful metaphors in every scene, but they’re all smothered in faeces and hurled at us by a chimp tripping on acid. The end result is somehow both aberrant and magnetic; we really don’t want to watch at all but we just can’t look away.

Let me introduce you to the key characters and you’ll get the idea. First up is Werner Brenner, a German general working for the United Nations somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa; we’re never told where, but the film was shot in Zimbabwe, so that’s as good a location as any. Brenner, played by Schlingensief regular Udo Kier, who I now see has been superbly described as the ‘Ron Jeremy of cult movies’ because he’s in so damn many of them, is clearly effete Prussian nobility which, to Schlingensief, translates to poor leader, flagrant queen and scat muncher. His wife, Martha, is Kitten Natividad, voluptuous vixen of many a Russ Meyer film, who’s racking up (pun not intended) quite the cult career of her own. She’s a former American hooker, whose debauched past (a twenty year stretch for exhibitionism) has been inexplicably replaced with a sexless present as a bored housefrau. She begins proceedings heavily pregnant and the baby shows up as black as the ace of spades, so that life change surely didn’t happen the way we’re told.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The Naked Kiss (1964)

Director: Samuel Fuller
Writer: Samuel Fuller
Stars: Constance Towers, Anthony Eisley, Michael Dante and Virginia Grey

Index: 2017 Centennials.

One of the most consistently overlooked filmmakers in American movie history is Sam Fuller. I first learned about him on a British TV show called Moviedrome, presented by Alex Cox, the director of cult films like Repo Man and Sid and Nancy. Cox programmed two of Fuller’s films in a double bill: a western called Run of the Arrow and a war picture called Verboten! Both were low budget, although there were many actors that I recognised. What struck me then was what strikes me now whenever I see another Sam Fuller film, namely that he does a lot with a little and that lot includes things that we aren’t conditioned to expect from American movies. His most controversial pictures came later, like this one, as well as its predecessor, Shock Corridor, also starring Constance Towers, and White Dog, but he stretched taboos early and often in ways that don’t always seem controversial today. For instance, he often wrote films about marginalised characters, such as thieves or prostitutes, and films that featured multicultural casts.

I’d seen The Naked Kiss before and, when I started to look for a good choice to remember the career of Virginia Grey on what would have been her one hundredth birthday, it came quickly to mind. Any opportunity to watch a Sam Fuller picture is a good one and I was keen on taking a second run through this one to see what I’d missed a decade and change ago. One thing I discovered was that Grey isn’t in it anywhere near as much as I remembered her being, but the scenes that she does have are memorable and superbly performed with a great deal of power. She’s easily the best actor in the movie, even if she’s billed fourth after Towers in the lead and Anthony Eisley and Michael Dante in support. She plays a madam called Candy, who runs a cathouse called Candy à la Carte with a selection of Bon Bon Girls. How her part interacts with the film as a whole mirrors its moral progression and the film has no point unless it progresses morally and we notice that.

Devil’s Angels (1967)

Director: Daniel Haller
Writer: Charles B. Griffith
Stars: John Cassevetes, Beverly Adams, Mimsy Farmer and Maurice McEndree

Index: Dry Heat Obscurities.

The landscape of American film changed in the late sixties in many ways and not only because American life changed too. Many of the things that the industry was used to and could safely rely on just weren’t the case any longer: the studios didn’t own theatres any more, television was eating heavily into ticket sales and the Production Code, which governed film ‘decency’, was increasingly being ignored. Society was in upheaval, with the civil rights movement and the counterculture, not to mention anti-Vietnam War protests. The studio heads, realising that their pictures were becoming increasingly irrelevant, eventually gave in, admitted that they were now completely out of touch and began to give large sums of money to whoever might possibly be in touch. This led to the New Hollywood of the early seventies, with the most fascinating set of movies seen in America since the pre-code era back in the early thirties. The studios didn’t get their mojo back until Jaws in 1975, arguably the first modern blockbuster.

If the big studios were akin to cruise liners, so couldn’t turn round quickly, indie filmmakers were speedboats and they could turn on a dime. Companies such as American International Pictures (A.I.P.) and filmmakers like Roger Corman, who shot many movies for them to distribute, could leap on every fad and have topical features in drive-ins in no time. To see where New Hollywood got their ideas (not to mention most of their key people), check out the indie films of the sixties. Biker flicks were just one sub-genre of exploitation but they were an important one in the late sixties and early seventies as people wanted to ‘turn on, tune in, drop out’. Many were carbon copies of their predecessors but others took the opportunity to explore themes that the studios weren’t willing to touch yet. Motorpsycho, from Russ Meyer, muses on PTSD; the first Billy Jack film, The Born Losers, adds prejudice against Native Americans; and, of course, Easy Rider became the definition of ‘a generation lost in space’ in 1969.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Maniac Cop (1988)

Director: William Lustig
Writer: Larry Cohen
Stars: Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon, Richard Roundtree, William Smith, Robert Z’Dar and Sheree North

Index: Horror Movie Calendar.

No, this isn’t a politically charged drama about the current state of police violence, even if we have a prominent African American actor in the cast; Richard Roundtree actually plays the police commissioner. Our title character isn’t driven by race, he’s driven by revenge and that places this in an interesting category. It’s a horror movie, first and foremost, but it’s also a revenge flick; that my copy is on the other side of a DVD from The Exterminator isn’t just because James Glickenhaus executive produced this and directed that. And, of course, it’s a product of the late eighties, arguably picking up from RoboCop in 1987 and creating a hilariously surreal trend of mashing up every sub-genre imaginable with cop movies. Every year from this point on brought a fresh new example of Something New and Ridiculous Cop: Psycho Cop in 1989, Vampire Cop and Omega Cop in 1990, Karate Cop and Samurai Cop in 1991, Cyborg Cop in 1993, Scanner Cop in 1994, Gladiator Cop in 1995... and onwards. We’ll ignore Kindergarten Cop, of course, to keep sane.

This certainly looks like a cop movie to begin with, with Officer Cordell putting on his uniform with all its accoutrements in slo-mo as the opening credits roll. We’re in New York, the twin towers very much in evidence in the opening long shot, and Cordell is one of the city’s finest. The problem is that the public’s trust in the boys in blue is being rapidly eroded by a series of brutal murders at the hands of one of them. First up is Cassie Philips, who gets the better of a pair of muggers only to stumble into the wrong cop for help. He promptly lifts her off the ground by her throat and snaps her neck. ‘It was a cop, man,’ the muggers tell the authorities, ‘a big cop!’ And, while there are disbelievers, Frank McCrae, NYPD veteran in the requisite trenchcoat, believes those dumb kids. He doesn’t see how they could have done it and, as the killings continue, he reasons that it’s someone inside the department, not the commissioner’s wishful suggestion that it’s someone merely impersonating a cop in an attempt to discredit the force.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Little Red Riding Hood and Tom Thumb vs. the Monsters (1962)

Director: Roberto Rodriguez
Writers: Fernando Morales Ortiz and Adolfo Torres Portillo, from a story by Fernando Morales Ortiz and Adolfo Torres Portillo
Stars: María Gracia, Cesario Quezadas, Jose Elias Moreno, Manuel ‘Loco’ Valdes and El Enano ‘Santanon’

Index: Weird Wednesdays.

Once upon a time, so long ago that I can’t remember how long, I stumbled onto the surreal joy that is the filmography of K. Gordon Murray. He was an entrepreneur who borrowed a wild combination of children’s movies and horror features from Mexico, dubbed them poorly into English, gave them new, often more outrageous titles, and released them to the American market. I don’t know if I popped my Murray cherry on The Brainiac or The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy, but I revelled in these pictures and was rather happy to discover, on moving to the American southwest, that many of them were easily available in dollar stores. However, I’m a strong believer in experiencing films in their original forms and it was only much later that I started to find some of these Mexican films sans the later Murray treatment. Sadly Mexican movies are rarely available in the U.S. with English subtitles, a poor situation that I really hope starts to change, but those that are tend to make a lot more sense than Murray’s bastardised versions.

This is one of Murray’s signature films, under the title of Tom Thumb and Little Red Riding Hood. The more recent DVD completes the original Mexican title, as Caperucita y Pulgarcito contra los monstruos has more than just our two childhood heroes, it has them facing off against the Monsters, the primary reason why this film is such a blast, in the very title. Let’s have fair advertising, please! If the Mormon family round the corner took their kids to see Tom Thumb and Little Red Riding Hood, they might reasonably think that they would have plumped for a safe family friendly movie, only to be progressively traumatised by the wild array of monsters sprawled across their screen. I would love to be a fly on the wall as they fought for their refunds. Would they be more upset about the Satan-worshipping Queen Witch that they stole from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or the paedophile who gets strung up to be used as a piñata? Maybe the monster who looks like Carrot Top if he was a fish man from Innsmouth.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

It Always Rains on Sunday (1947)

Directors: Robert Hamer
Writer: Angus MacPhail, Robert Hamer and Henry Cornelius, based on the novel by Arthur La Bern
Stars: Googie Withers, Jack Warner and John McCallum

Index: 2017 Centennials.

Any opportunity to watch an Ealing movie is a good opportunity and the hundredth birthday of one of that studio’s greatest stars, Googie Withers, is even better. There are plenty of other reasons too. Withers stars with her husband to be, John McCallum; their marriage in 1948 lasted until his death in 2010 and she outlived him by only a year. It also features a number of recognisable faces from the British post-war period: Jack Warner, Hermione Baddeley and Alfie Bass, to name just three (Sid James is uncredited as a bandleader, but I couldn’t find him even with frame advance). The superb cinematography is by the legendary Douglas Slocombe, as he was establishing his name at Ealing; he would go on to win three BAFTAs (from ten nods), be nominated for three Oscars and shoot three Indiana Jones pictures. And, if you still want more, it’s one of the most underrated gems from this era of British film, exploring the complexities and interconnections of one memorable Sunday in Bethnal Green.

I had a further personal reason to watch, namely that, if you take my family back only a few generations, we were bootmakers in the east end of London and many of the births, marriages and deaths that I’ve tracked were filed in Bethnal Green. I’m too young to remember this era myself, but my parents were kids at the time and, while both their families had moved a little further to the east by this point, I’m sure they would both recognise a lot of the reference points from their own childhoods. As the film’s trailer suggests, this was described as a ‘symphony of London’s East End’, long before Eastenders took that further into the world of soap opera, and it’s a fair description. It’s amazing to realise just how much is crammed into an hour and a half and it’s rare for a movie to feel this immersive. Most of us will leave it wondering where we might fit in this world: would we try to escape it by landing a good prospect or settle down to darts and Guinness at the Two Compasses? Hopefully we wouldn’t turn into the inept crooks.

Monday, 6 March 2017

The Great St. Trinian’s Train Robbery (1966)

Directors: Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat
Writers: Frank Launder and Ivor Herbert, from the story by Frank Launder and Sidney & Leslie Gilliat, inspired by the original drawings of Ronald Searle
Stars: Frankie Howerd and Dora Bryan

Index: 2017 Centennials.

By the time I was born in 1971, the infamous St. Trinian’s boarding school for girls had been shuttered for half a decade, but it had already become enough of a British institution that the name, and what it represented, hadn’t gone away and, in fact, still hasn’t to this day. I saw this feature at some point during my childhood, probably on television, and parts of it were still lounging around in my memory, but it’s less a film now than it was. In 2017, a decade after the franchise was rebooted, to adopt modern terminology, it’s more of a time capsule than a movie, because the writers wrapped up the original series with a wallop by throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the script. In fact, this is more of a caper film, a spy picture and a chase flick than it ever is a school story, odd for a series that’s inspired by, named for and set in a school. In short, it highlighted that times had changed and it was surely the right moment for the girls to hang up their hockey sticks and call it a day. Well, at least for a while.

For those who don’t know St. Trinian’s, they began as a set of cartoons created by artist Ronald Searle and published in a magazine called Lilliput. The first was published in 1941, but after Searle had been called up for service and sent to Singapore. It was a polite cartoon without a hint of the brutality and delinquency that would soon come to characterise the school; that change was because of how Searle spent the Second World War. Officially listed as missing, he was confined to the Changi prison camp by the Japanese, then sent to work on the Siam-Burma railway, now famous as the setting for The Bridge on the River Kwai. He suffered from malaria, beri-beri, skin disease and ulcers, he shrank to eighty plus pounds and he was temporarily paralysed at one point by a pick-axe to the spine. Yet he continued to draw throughout this time, mostly documenting his war experiences in drawings that he hid under the mattresses of prisoners dying from cholera. He survived the war and so did three hundred of those drawings.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995)

Director: Bill Condon
Writers: Rand Ravich and Mark Kruger, from a story by Clive Barker
Stars: Tony Todd, Kelly Rowan, William O’Leary, Bill Nunn, Matt Clark, David Gianopoulos, Fay Hauser, Joshua Gibran Mayweather, Michael Culkin, Timothy Carhart and Veronica Cartwright

Index: Horror Movie Calendar.

Cheesy title or not, the original Candyman was one of the underrated horror gems of the nineties. I’ve seen it a couple of times but watched it again before reviewing this, its first of two sequels, on Mardi Gras, the day on which the finalé of Farewell to the Flesh is set. It surprised me again for a whole slew of reasons. Some were little ones, like Virginia Madsen being credited above Tony Todd, the monster of the franchise; the brief presence of Ted Raimi, brother of Sam; or the fact that the score was by a major composer, Philip Glass. Others were more important, such as the way in which it’s really an African American horror film that speaks without stereotype. Four of the six leads are actors of colour, though the focus is on a white woman; that leaves only one white male, who’s by far the weakest of that half dozen, being a college professor cheating on his wife with a bimbo student. Xander Berkeley played him well, but this isn’t about Prof. Lyle; it’s about racial inequality and how things haven’t changed much in a century or so.

This sequel isn’t remotely up to its predecessor, but it’s better than many have given it credit for; unfortunately, when it’s bad, it’s really bad and that lack of consistency really doesn’t help. A great example of this comes during the prologue, right before the title card, as the Candyman shows up in the bathroom of a New Orleans bar. Before I explain this, let me explain who Candyman is. He’s Daniel Robitaille, the son of a slave who grew up in polite society after the American Civil War because his father innovated a shoe production technique that proved highly profitable. Daniel became a renowned portrait artist, but made the mistake of falling for, and fathering a child with, a white woman. Being 1890, his lover’s father promptly led a lynch mob that severed his painting hand and replaced it with a hook, then smeared him with honey to attract bees to sting him to death. For reasons left unexplained until this sequel, his soul can be summoned by speaking the name Candyman into a mirror five times, whereupon Bad Things happen.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Captain Newman, M.D. (1963)

Director: David Miller
Writers: Richard L. Breen and Phoebe & Henry Ephron, from the novel by Leo Rosten
Stars: Gregory Peck, Tony Curtis, Angie Dickinson and Bobby Darin

Index: Dry Heat Obscurities.

This week’s Dry Heat Obscurity wasn’t entirely shot in Arizona. In fact, from what I can gather, most of it was shot on the Universal lot back in Universal City, CA. However, every time we step outside, we find ourselves on the Libby Army Airfield, which is part of Fort Huachuca, a U.S. Army installation at the northern end of the Huachuca mountains, fifteen miles north of the Mexican border. It’s part of the Arizona town of Sierra Vista today, though it wasn’t when this picture was shot, as they didn’t annex the post until 1971. We fly over Fort Huachuca behind the opening credits to land at Libby. Now, the Libby Army Airfield is also the Sierra Vista Municipal Airport, but this script calls it the Colfax Army Air Field, which is a fictional name. However, if we track the story back to its origins, we’ll find that it’s really pretending to be the Yuma Army Airfield, still in Arizona but located three hundred miles west, where it shares its facilities with the Yuma International Airport as a combined civilian/military operation. Are you confused yet?

Well, let me back up to the real Second World War and hopefully things will become clear. Ralph R. Greenson, best known today as a psychoanalyst to the stars, was then a captain in the Army Medical Corps, stationed at the Yuma Army Airfield, where he worked with patients suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, or P.T.S.D. He was an early professional to associate P.T.S.D. with the experiences of soldiers during wartime, so his work became well known and highly regarded. In 1961, a personal friend called Leo Rosten, a professional humorist and retired scriptwriter, fictionalised the doctor’s wartime stories into a novel, transforming Capt. Greenson, M.D. into Capt. Newman, M.D. Hollywood quickly came knocking to adapt this success onto the big screen, even though the doctor’s accomplishments were becoming eclipsed at the time by his professional association with celebrities, such as Marilyn Monroe; a number of conspiracy theories have him involved in covering up the circumstances of her death in 1962.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Behind Locked Doors (1948)

Director: Oscar Boetticher
Writers: Malvin Wald and Eugene Ling, based on a story by Malvin Wald
Stars: Lucille Bremer and Richard Carlson

Index: 2017 Centennials.

You couldn’t tell it from this film, but Lucille Bremer was a dancer, a Rockette at Radio City Music Hall at the age of sixteen and the one ‘most likely to succeed’, according to her peers. It can’t surprise that she attempted a film career, but she failed her screen test at Warner Bros. and knew it, once she insisted on going back to view it. She went back to dancing, at clubs like the Copacabana and the Club Versailles in New York and, only later, got her second shot at Hollywood, after Arthur Freed saw her dancing and had her audition for Louis B. Mayer. This time it went well and a brief career in MGM musicals ensued. A supporting role as Judy Garland’s sister in Meet Me in St. Louis led to the lead in Vincente Minnelli’s Yolanda and the Thief, opposite a star of the calibre of Fred Astaire. Unfortunately, the picture failed for many reasons and she never got another musical lead. She danced with Astaire once more in Ziegfeld Follies and also appeared in Till the Clouds Roll By, the biopic of Jerome Kern. Her musical career had lasted three years.

Mayer considered that she also had potential for dramatic roles but she was never pushed for them. Her last MGM picture was in support of Lionel Barrymore and James Craig in the final Dr. Gillespie movie, Dark Delusion; then they loaned her out to a poverty row company, Eagle-Lion Films. Her final three films were shot for them in 1948: Adventures of Casanova, Ruthless and this picture, which is short and sweet but deserves more attention than it tends to receive. It runs a mere 61 minutes, but packs rather a lot in; had it been made as an A-movie rather than a B-movie, it could easily have filled a further half hour with character development. It isn’t too surprising that, eventually, someone came back to the ideas here and made another feature along similar lines, though Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor, made fifteen years later in 1963, attempts a lot more and succeeds at it too. If we compare the two, the later film wins every time, but that doesn’t mean that this one doesn’t achieve the goals that it’s set.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Sole Survivor (1970)

Director: Paul Stanley
Writer: Guerdon Trueblood
Stars: Vince Edwards, William Shatner and Richard Basehart

This review is part of the Movie of the Week Blogathon hosted by Classic Film and TV Café.
I’ve taken part in a few blogathons in my time, but they’ve generally revolved around people, usually actors. However, this one is a little more interesting, courtesy of Rick Armstrong at Classic Film & TV Café, who has set up a Movie of the Week Blogathon with the goal of celebrating TV movies, made between the mid-sixties and the late-eighties. He aims for this to be an annual event, so I will put a list together for next year of some more TV movies I’ve been meaning to catch up with. This year, however, I was always going to go with Sole Survivor, which was first broadcast on CBS on 9th January, 1970. I first read about this film when researching William Shatner, a man whose early movie career is utterly fascinating, with an amazingly varied selection of interesting material up until he turned into a caricature of himself in, arguably, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Many, though far from all, of those films were made for TV and this is a great example of television a lot deeper than Captain Kirk, T. J. Hooker and Denny Crane.

We don’t meet Shatner for a while. Instead we’re introduced slowly and subtly to a scene while the opening credits roll, through a combination of visuals, sound and music. We’re in the desert, which we later find out is in Libya, looking at the wreck of a bomber, a B-25 Mitchell which is strafed with bullet holes. There’s a pitcher painted on the hull, throwing a baseball with a broken swastika on it, above the name of the plane. As we realise we’re looking at the corpse of the Home Run, the desert wind gives way to strains of Take Me Out to the Ball Game, played plaintively on the harmonica. Then we hear a progression of machine gun fire, radio chatter and jazz music, as if the Home Run itself is waking up and remembering what happened to it. Sure enough, the next thing we see is a human being, one of five who are using the plane as shelter. They’re all in uniform, surely the men who flew the old bird and it’s clear that they haven’t left this remote site in the last seventeen years, not least because they haven’t aged. Yes, they’re all ghosts.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Zombies vs. The Lucky Exorcist (2015)

Director: Jaguar Lim
Writer: Jaguar Lim
Stars: Jaguar Lim, Bobby Yip, Kieran, Hidy Yu, Henry Thia, Jaguar Lim, Jaguar Lim, Jaguar Lim, Jaguar Lim and Jaguar Lim

Index: Weird Wednesdays.

If you haven’t heard of the name Jaguar Lim before now, be warned: you’re going to be repeating it in your sleep after this review because the man is like a human meme. His Facebook page is a research rabbit hole from which I may never escape and, you know what? I’m OK with that. I have no idea what planet he’s from but he seems to spend his time in Malaysia, where he runs a nostalgic chain of candy shops of all things. It’s Country’s Tid-Bits & Candies Cottage, which apparently made him a large amount of money, and I mention it here because its name is the first thing we see in the movie after the ident of the production company, Jaguar Lim Films & Productions (M) SDN BHD, and the crediting of Jaguar Lim as producer on a dedicated screen. We get no less than fourteen such dedicated screens before the title card, detailing the key members of the cast and crew, and Jaguar Lim himself has, get this, ten of them, each with a different photo. No, I’m not kidding. Sorry, Tommy Wiseau, you’re clearly not egotistical enough.

He’s less a credit and more a drum beat. Producer: Jaguar Lim. Executive Producer: Jaguar Lim. Director: Jaguar Lim. Scriptwriter: Jaguar Lim. Starring Jaguar Lim. Then we take a brief break to introduce some other folk who appeared in the film, highlighting in the process how Jaguar Lim has connections. Credited with special appearances are Bobby Yip, a prolific Hong Kong actor who has worked for Wong Jing, Tsui Hark and Stephen Chow; and Kieran, a DJ on Hot FM in Bandar Utama, Malaysia. In shorter cameo roles are Hidy Yu, a model, actress and martial artist from Hong Kong; and Henry Thia, a comedian and actor from Singapore. Then it’s back to Jaguar Lim because he has no less than five cameo appearances too, three of them in drag. By the time we get to the end of the movie, we find ourselves in the forest with our hero, played by Jaguar Lim, watching his grandparents, both played by Jaguar Lim, fly away on a giant banana. Originally called Red Haired Priest, I’m unsure as to why this wasn’t simply renamed to Jaguar Lim.