Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Questor Tapes

Monday, 28 November 2011

Monday, 21 November 2011


Big Hollywood looks at the top ten overrated actors.  I particularly like their take on Meryl Streep:
Undoubtedly I will be hung by my toenails for this pick. She is a marvel technically, but she’s always cold. I can’t think of a single film in which she has reached me emotionally. I always get the feeling while watching her movies that I’m watching a documentary about acting for a master class; I never get the feeling that her characters are real. On this one, I agree with Katharine Hepburn, who couldn’t stand Streep’s acting: “Click, click, click,” she once said, talking about the gears you can see turning inside Streep’s head.
I would have used the word scaffolding rather than gears.  She's always struck me as being a horrendously mechanical actress within whom you could always see the mechanism at work.  Worse, she herself buys in on the idea of her being "great" when she is, in fact, mediocre.

As to her bizarre accents, the less said the better.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Review: Dr Terror's House of Horrors

Winner of the Annual Film Title That Tries Way Too Hard award.
Dr Terror's House of Horrors (1965)

One night, five ordinary men climb into a railway compartment.  A six man sits down.  This one is not so ordinary.  Speaking with a strange middle-European accent, he wears a coat that is almost a cloak and his hat and beard give him a sinister appearance.  He carries with him a deck of tarot cards, which he says can tell a persons future and what he can do to avoid it.  As the train travels through the night, the curious yet sceptical group allows the stranger to tell their fortunes, though the future doesn't look very bright for any of them.

anthology horror films have had a good run in Britain ever since Dead of Night and Three Cases of Murder, but they reached something of a vogue in the late 60s and early 70s.  Dr Terror's House of Horrors is one of the lighter entries.  Despite having a strong cast lead by Peter Cushing as Dr Schreck (Dr Terror) and Christopher Lee along with a young Donald Sutherland in a feature roles, Dr Terror reaches for thrills, but the stories are timid and anaemic–unwilling to grasp at anything really frightening and director Freddie Francis has real trouble establishing a proper atmosphere in any scenes except for the bookends on the train.  Still, the cast never indulges in the temptation to wink at the camera and Lee is obviously enjoying a chance to play against type as the waspish art critic who literally shrieks with fright.

It's not a bad film, but it isn't a good one either.  It's more of a cheap paperback sort of work that one would pick up at a newsagents to pass the time on, say, a night time train journey.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Neuromancer: The Movie

Maybe calling your production company "Cabana Boys" wasn't the best idea.

Remember that Neuromancer feature back in 1986?  No?  Maybe this promotional video made by the would-be producers to sell the idea to investors explains why.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The Master Mystery

Most people know Harry Houdini as the greatest magician and escape artist of the 20th century–possibly even without that qualification.  Even today, 85 years after his death, his name is a household word, but what most people have forgotten is that he was the true equivalent of a superstar and was as active in the new medium of film as he was on the stage.

Over at Ephemeral Isle, we're commemorating this with a run of one of his most successful serials: The Master Mystery (Click the link to see the trailer and a list of the weekly episodes posted so far).

One thing to bear in mind while watching is that Houdini used these serials to showcase his escapologist credentials, so all of his getting out of tight spots are as real as the demands of filming would allow.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Review: The Magnetic Monster

The Magnetic Monster (1953)

To meet this challenge to our existence,  a new agency has been formed: OSI; the Office of Scientific Investigation.  The operatives of OSI are called A-Men.  A-Men; sounds like the final word of a prayer.

Or the set up for a very rude joke.

Top OSI agent Dr Jeffrey Stewart is called in to investigate an appliance store where everything has suddenly become magnetised.  Discovering that their is also a strong trace of radiation, the OSI team soon discovers that the source of the trouble is a new element that periodically generates powerful blasts of magnetic force as well as doubling in size every 11 hours. Tracking down the element, they learn that it can only be contained and destroyed by incredible amounts of electricity.  With only one place in the world capable of delivering the massive charge, only one chance to do so before it grows too big to control, the clock ticking and the fate of world resting on his shoulders, Dr Stewart has his work cut out for him.

The Magnetic Monster is a science fiction version of the FBI procedural film.  While Stewart is given a home life and pregnant wife to give his character two dimensions instead of one, the real star of the show is the steps taken by the OSI as they hunt for the magnetic killer.  Producer Ivan Tors, as he demonstrates in his other film and television work, is fascinated with the mechanics of science and dressing sets with all manner of apparatus, but what makes this film most interesting is how Tors was able to take stock footage from a German sci fi outing that was banned in the US as Nazi propaganda and build an entirely new feature around it.  This meant moving the climax to Canada to explain why the workers at the atomic plant aren't dressed like Americans as well has having the principal actors kitted out like their German counterparts.  The trick works for the most part, though there are a few confusing set crossings that only make sense because of the need for the plot to match the footage.

Richard Carlson and King Donovan take their parts dead seriously as they try to sell the absurd premise and Connie Stewart as our hero's long-suffering wife makes the most out of a very thin part.

Not the greatest B-movie of all time, but a respectable journeyman effort in making do on a low budget and with stock footage as the feature's tent pole.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Bond 23 has title

The title of the new 007 thriller, heretofore known only as "Bond 23" has been revealed as Skyfall.  Let's hope it involves nuclear weapons

Ralph Fiennes is in the production and is rumoured to be playing Ernest Stavro Blofeld.  However, this has not been confirmed, as there is no news of a white cat being cast at this time.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Review: The Asphyx

The Asphyx (1973)

Sir Hugo Cunnigham is as happy man as the waning years of the 19th century has seen.  Head of an aristocratic family, inheritor of a great name, he is wealthy, educated, respected, a great scientist, social reformer and philanthropist.  More, he has three wonderful grown-up children, one adopted who is engaged to be married to his natural daughter, and he himself is to be remarrying after long years of widower-hood.

However, a spot shows up on his horizon in the form of a smudge he keeps finding on photographs of the dying that he's been taking as part of his philanthropic work.  At first, he thinks that these are photos of the departing soul, but then his natural son and fiancĂ©e die in a boating accident while he is filming them with an early cinecamera.  When he develops the film later and plays it, he sees the same smudge moving away. Driven by grief, he investigates and soon discovers that what he is seeing is the creature that carries away the soul at the time of death; a tormented thing called an Asphyx, after the spirit of Death from Greek mythology.  More to the point, Sir Hugo discovers that his apparatus that allows him to see the Asphyx also allows him to trap it, which means that he has the power to grant immortality.  Unfortunately, it can only be done at the moment of imminent death and so Sir Hugo's laboratory becomes a place of torture and death as he tries to bring life to the world.

The Aphyx is a curious film.  It was one of those small studio efforts to imitate the success of Hammer Films in the early '70s that met with varied success and this one fell into obscurity fairly quickly, which is a pity.  Indeed it fell so far that when I first went looking for it on the Internet a few years ago I kept finding sites dedicated to perverted sexual practices involving auto-erotic asphyxiation.   It's an undeserved obscurity because this is a nice little horror piece.  It makes the most of its very modest budget by spending every penny wisely and keeping the staging as intimate as possible.

The plot has some absurd coincidences in the beginning, but they only serve to get the story moving, so no real harm done.  meanwhile, Robert Stephens gives a very good performance as the loving father who descends into fanaticism and destruction through the purest of motives and Robert Powell gives an excellent, though understated supporting part.  With surprisingly good cinematography for a low budget production and a musical score that is refreshingly free of "spooky" leitmotifs, The Asphyx shows that some decent bits of horror cinema ran in the slipstream of Hammer.