Category Archives: Film

Horror hits high gear: Maximum Overdrive

max1Stephen King adaptations have been part and parcel of the horror movie-going experience for more than 30 years and the results have been somewhat patchy, with The Shining and The Dead Zone at one end of the spectrum and the likes of Cujo at the other.

Also sitting pretty at this end of the line is Maximum Overdrive, a film based on a King short story (as so many are) featuring Emilio Estevez. But what sets this apart from other King fodder is that this was the first, and to date, only time that the bespeckled Maine writer has stepped from behind his typewriter to behind the lens to direct.

It’s a mess of a movie sure, but as always with ‘the King of horror’ there are intriguing ideas and interesting images to be had along the way, and to be honest it’s a gloriously fun B-movie in the same vein as Night of the Comet, Cat’s Eye and Creepshow, the latter two of which King was also involved in.

In many ways this is Transformers without the machines transforming into robots but what it does share with its Cybertron cousins is that is has plenty of explosions as pretty much everything you see on screen is blown to smithereens.  Unlike those robots in disguise there are also several rather cool and memorable death scenes including death by lawn mower, a cold drink machine that fires its cans of drink with deadly accuracy and a steam roller that makes a squidgy mess of a baseball team.

With a premise such as this, the emphasis is purely on the fun factor rather than the fear factor, which no doubt disappointed many, but when it’s someone like King running the show there is always some fun to be had. Sure, Emilio Estevez is the only character we give two hoots about (also look out for an appearance by Yeardley Smith AKA Lisa Simpson).

The ‘story’, as little of it there is, unfolds as thus: After a comet passes over earth it leaves a haze surrounding the planet which takes control of machines, making them deadly killers (no reason for this is given but we don’t really need or want one as it would only get in the way), it’s almost a homage to the likes of Day of the Triffids with machines running amuck instead of those pesky plants. A group of people try to stay alive hold up at the Dixie Boy truck stop, think of it as The Alamo with articulated lorries, including the particularly memorable ‘leader’ which has a face not too dissimilar to The Green Goblin.

Released in 1986, this was also the year that Halley’s Comet passed by close to Earth, so it could be seen as a reaction of that as being a supposed harbinger of doom, as it was allegedly sighted before The Battle of Hastings. It could also be seen as a pre-curser to the worry, even though it never materialised, over the likes of Y2K. For all of its comedy and its big bangs it certainly takes a tiny leaf out of the James Cameron book of doom mongering in posing questions about our over reliance on new technology and how we would cope if it bit back.

Before the days of mobile phones and our devotion to all things technology you can’t help but wonder whether it wouldn’t be the right time for a remake of sorts, like all geniuses perhaps King was just ahead of his time with this particular tale?

The mindless mayhem and death and destruction are worth a peek on its own and surely a film with little leaguers getting neatly pressed by a steamroller can’t all be bad!! A bonafide cult classic.

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Roger Moore: Baby, you’re the best

Today would have been Sir Roger Moore’s 90th birthday, my birthday is the day before and when I was younger I always used to say that his birthday was on the 13th, wanting so desperately to share the birthday of my James Bond.

james_bond_teaser_poster_octopussy_1

He was my James Bond growing up, he’s still my James Bond and he always will be. Thankfully my mum and dad were cinematically savvy; in the summer of 1983 it was Octopussy that became my first ever Bond film at the cinema (the old ABC cinema in Mansfield, Notts) and not Never Say Never Again.

Fittingly I was aged 007 at the time and that was the thing about the older Bond films, they were a family affair full to the brim of gadgets, girls, stunts and laughs. It was something that simply had to be seen as a collective and Moore’s Bond was perfect for the family audience.

I was bought the glossy film programme from that viewing, I must have memorised every picture and fact as I read it until it practically fell apart and became more sellotape than brochure.

Although Sir Roger is no longer with us, his cinematic and television legacy certainly is. The great thing about the latest release of Bond films (how many times and how many formats have I bought them on now?) is that all the Moore ones feature a Sir Roger Moore commentary, which are a great and informative listen. It also means you can have Sir Roger visit your house at any time.

The name Roger Moore continues to make me smile, not because of his puns or raised eyebrows, but because he always – in film, in interviews or in person – came across as a genuinely lovely man who would be top of anyone’s dinner party guest list.

And I was lucky enough to meet the man twice, once at the reading of some Rudyard Kipling poetry and for a second time at the book signing of his first autobiography, My Word Is My Bond. It all seems a bit Alan Partridge but I met him at Norwich Waterstones, outside in the queue I was also fortunate enough to be interviewed by ITV Anglia News about why I was there.

I’ve since read Last Man Standing and received Á bientôt just yesterday, on my birthday. Naturally I had to start reading it today, with a suitable cuppa of course!

man-who-haunted-himself5Don’t let him fool you that he can’t act either, not everyone can pull off the right mix of suave, funny and deadly as Bond and you genuinely believe his vulnerability when he stumbles from the simulator in Moonraker. He would have admitted though that his greatest acting role was in the fantastic The Man Who Haunted Himself, catch my review here.

My favourite Moore Bond film? It’s a constant flux, but my faves for various reasons are Live And Let Die, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker and yes, even A View To A Kill. The latter isn’t the best Bond film ever, I know, but the impression it made on me as a nine year old has stuck and it is my Bond guilty pleasure. I loved it so much it was the very first original Bond quad poster that I bought.

view-to-a-kill-poster

And Moore was so much more than Bond, so wherever his acting roles took him, I followed. He was a delight as Sherlock Holmes against Patrick Macnee’s Doctor Watson in Sherlock Holmes in New York, great playing a Bond/Moore pastiche in The Cannonball Run, kind hearted German commander in Escape To Athena (not the poster shop) and real hard ass merc in The Wild Geese, check out his opening scene with a drug dealer that is still surprising and shocking. Eat it, all of it!

Sir Roger, you’ll always be the man with the golden puns, the spy who I loved, you’ll always be my James Bond. And he’s also the reason – for the next couple of year at least – keeping the scant hope alive that I could be the next James Bond as he wasn’t announced as picking up his Walther PPK until he was 45. And that record of seven official Bond films isn’t set to be toppled anytime soon.

I’d also like to see Moore appear in the Bond main titles one final time as the last credit with a dedication. He probably wouldn’t have been bothered, but I think it is what we and his legacy deserve.

live and let die

I’D BUY THAT FOR A DOLLAR: REMEMBERING ROBOCOP

Robocop – released 30 years ago today – is perhaps one of the finest examples of mainstream sci-fi action to ever hit our screens.

The power and energy of that original violent epic from 1987 may have suffered a couple of chinks in its armour from a couple of diminishing returns sequels, a bland TV show and even an animated series. But you’ll have to seriously think it over creep if you think Robocop still doesn’t stand tall, in that rather cool pose with that automatic weapon coming out of his leg. Take that TJ Laser!

Infact Robocop is the greatest comic book adaptation that was never a comic book in the first place, with its humour, visuals and over the top violence you’d certainly be forgiven for thinking that it was and was certainly no surprise when he made the transition to comic books and graphic novels, even sharing panel space with that other 80s cyborg, The Terminator and even Predator and Alien. Fine and deserving company.

What has made Robocop stand the test of time and head and robotic shoulders above the competition is that not only is it an exceptionally well made film, Dutch Director Paul Verhoeven’s US debut, that neatly weaves action, violence and pokes fun at Americana in a way European filmmakers do with such aplomb but also its actors.

You believe the actors, Robocop would not have worked with an established actor’s chin in the role (see Stallone’s Judge Dredd for details) and you really buy into Peter Weller’s portrayal of Murphy and later Robo when he starts getting some of his human memory back. In fact despite its futuristic dystopian setting it is very much Frankenstein meets Jesus in many ways.

Fact is that Weller is as synonymous with Robocop as Boris Karloff was with Frankenstein and it just doesn’t work as well with someone else in the role, which considering how much you see of him is odd. Weller will forever be Murphy and Murphy will forever by Robocop.

Back to that Jesus comment, Director Verhoeven is cited as saying that the film is a Christ story, witness how Murphy is laid out with him arms, Christ on the cross like before he is crucified by Boddiker and his cronies, in what is one of the most shocking scenes of the film, especially with those added faux tracking noises that just ramps up the tension and unease. Of course latterly as part man and part machine, with some human memories remaining, those scenes are truly exquisite and you really feel the characters pain, you see Murphy get resurrected.

He may not feed people with an abundance of loaves and fishes, clearly that scene ended up on the cutting room floor, but we do see Robo walk on water at the steel factory before the end of the film. It’s a take on the film that I’m not entirely sold on but certainly helps it transcends its mere action sci-fi trappings.

Kurtwood Smith is electric as Clarence Boddiker, so much so I find it difficult to watch him in his sitcom guise in That 70’s Show, it just doesn’t seem right. Miguel Ferrer, in a short but pivotal role, and the epitome of corporate evil, Ronny Cox are also delights in this very 80s film that perhaps says more about greed being good and corporate America than Wall Street ever did. Infact with its criticism’s of a money driven media obsessed society you could even argue that is more relevant today than it ever was, with the passage of time making it more science faction of sorts. It was rather telling then that disgraced former President, Richard Nixon, was hired to promote the home video release. Genius.

Basic Instinct and Starship Troopers certainly had their moments of flair but it’s a crying shame that Verhoeven hasn’t shown the zeal that punctuates almost every moment of this thinking man’s action classic.

If you’ve seen Robocop but not seen it in a while then your prime directive this is to get to know him again, if you’ve never seen it, then shame on you. Some of the effects may not have aged too well, remember it was 1987, but ED 209 still has a Harryhausen-esque charm about him and at the end of the day the story is king and so is Robocop.

Peter Cushing used to live in Whitstable

download (3)So goes the song by The Jellybottys, and that’s exactly where he lived – when not hammering stakes into vampires, travelling through time and space, journeying to the centre of the earth or ensuring a certain Death Star was fully operational.

Hammer and all round film and horror buff, Alex Norman, stumbles across the village that never forgot Peter Cushing.

Who knew that a day trip to the south east coast could end up as a walk in the footsteps of a celebrated legendary British actor?

Located on the north coast of Kent in south-east England, Whitstable has a population of roughly 32,000 and is famous for its oysters and historical landmarks such as the castle and Black Mill.

Its coast is lined with a mixture of shingle and sandy beaches and the scorching hot day sees many sunbathers, swimmers and water sports enthusiasts taking advantage. A jet ski has just arrived and is being carefully released into the water.

If you look out to sea, off the coast, you can see a windfarm consisting of 30 wind turbines which power 70,000 households and even further out, roughly nine miles, you can make out small black forms of the Maunsell Sea FortMaunsell sea-fort, armed towers built during the Second World War to help defend UK shores. A close-up photo of them is being sold in the marina market and, to me, they resemble the AT-AT combat walkers first seen The Empire Strikes Back (1980).

download (2)Little was I to know that it was the home of Grand Moff Tarkin, and no doubt his slippers. As we walk along the seafront promenade past the Neptune Pub where Peter O’Toole filmed scenes for Venus (2006), for which he received an Academy Award nomination, and past the stylish holiday cottages and terraced townhouses, we find ourselves on a pathway called Cushing’s Walk, a highly sought-after stretch of real estate offering perfect sea views with the beach literally on the doorstep.

What’s this we see? One of the houses has an English Heritage blue plaque and a tingle of excitement ripples through me – who could have lived here? As I move closer and my eyes refocus, I see that it reads:

PETER CUSHING O.B.E.
1913-1994
ACTOR
lived here
1959-1994

‘Cushing’s Walk’ is named after THE Peter Cushing, star of Hammer Horror, Sherlock Holmes, Dr Who and, of course, Star Wars.

My tenuous Star Wars analogy now seems quite fitting. He only appeared in the original 1977 classic but was somewhat controversially resurrected For the 2016 prequel, Rogue One.

homeCushing first visited Whitstable a long time ago…in the 1940s, and in 1958, bought this very house, initially for weekend use, and then as a retirement home, until his death in 1994. Cushing and his wife, Helen, loved Whitstable and the townspeople clearly took to them.

Cushing is probably best known his prolific work during the 50s, 60s and 70s in the Hammer horror films, alongside good friend (or should that be fiend?) Christopher Lee, particularly his portrayals of Baron Victor Frankenstein and Professor Van Helsing.

He also played Sherlock Holmes many times, originally in Hammer’s The Hound of the Baskerville’s (1959). This was followed by 16 episodes of the BBC series of which only six episodes have survived.

Cushing even played Dr Who in two films (Dr. Who and the Daleks – alongside Roy Castle – and Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. – this time with Bernard Cribbins) based on the BBC science-fiction TV series Doctor Who, although the films are not considered part of the show’s official canon. And he’d end his film career dabbling with time travel in his final screen performance in Biggles (1986).

The plan for the rest of the day was decided – to find out as much about Cushing and his time here in Whitstable before we head back home to the opposite side of the Estuary.

Museum

The Whitstable Museum (quite rightly) has a section dedicated to the actor and although it’s a little tired and features a skew-whiff portrait of Cushing as Sherlock, there’s no doubting the high regard Whitstable has for this man. The remains of a half-smoked cigarette sits in a glass cabinet, supposedly Cushing’s final smoke – apparently he would wear a white smoking glove so he didn’t stain his fingers.

A volunteer at the museum was genuinely delighted that we were so interested in Cushing, having gotten so used to the younger generation’s complete lack of knowledge as to who he was! She tells us she used to go swimming at the local pool and would often see Cushing doing his laps. She also said that Cushing was a very quiet and gentle man who fitted right in with the locals, no ego or pretence. She then mentions the pub across the road, a must-see for fans of the great man.

The pub

pub3A black plaque out front says the building is the former Oxford cinema which first opened its doors on 27 July 1936. It was built around the Oxford Picture Hall, which itself, opened in 1912 in what had been the Oxford ‘concert and music hall’.

J.D. Wetherspoon took over the building in 2011 and transformed it into an art deco palace whilst retaining the essence of the original incarnation. The foyer is wonderfully preserved and its centrepiece is an original cinema projector. The walls are adorned with film posters and film cans of many of Cushing’s films such as Dracula, The Hound of the Baskervilles as well as other British favourites such as Carry on Sergeant, Hitchcock’s Stage Fright and Carry on Cruising.

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The main drinking hall is majestically presided over at the bar end by a huge black and white print of Cushing and Robert Urquhart in Hammer’s 1957 production of The Curse of Frankenstein. Some of Cushing’s original paintings also grace the walls, celebrating another of his talents.

Antique shop

Geoff Lauren antiquesWe were hoping to meet some local elders who may have met the great man and it was then that we spotted, on Harbour Street, the quirky yet enticing Geoff Laurens Antiques. Inside there’s barely room to swing a cat (perhaps one from The Uncanny) and Mr Laurens himself sits in his favourite chair deep inside his store and greets us with a warm welcome.

Geoff-LaurensGeoff has been trading in Whitstable since 1970, the same year as Scream and Scream Again, and whereas others antique stores have come and gone, Geoff continues do business.  If anyone crossed paths with Cushing, then surely it was Geoff? So I asked him and was pleased when Geoff said: “Oh yes, of course. He used to come in here all the time.  On some days when it rained, I would drive him back home. You know, just up the street is his favourite tea rooms.”

Tea room

Tudor Tea RoomsIndeed, we pop into the Tudor Tea Rooms and Cushing’s favourite table now features a touching tribute alongside a photo of him in his later years.  The message reads: ‘In loving memory of our dear Peter Cushing. A sadly missed family friend’. The shop was closing up for the day so we didn’t have time for a cuppa.

We decided to finish our tour by going back to Cushing’s Walk on the seafront promenade.  With the sun sizzling, the Neptune Pub beer garden heaving and the oyster bars packed – it was clear to see why Cushing decided to retire in this town as opposed to his previous address in London. It has a real timeless feel about it, just like the man and his movies. So it is fitting that he is remembered so vividly and prominently, almost 20 years since he died.

Tudor Tea Rooms1They don’t make actors like Peter Cushing anymore, so it is great to see Whitstable continue to honour its adopted son, an acting legend. But then actors like Peter Cushing never really die…

Scarred For Life Vol 1 – the 1970s

Life means life, so when you read Scarred for Life volume one: the 1970s – Growing up in the dark side of the decade, a celebration of everything that scared you rigid in the 70s, from public information films (PFI) to TV programmes, that’s exactly what you get…scarred.

Over the years those scars may have become feint distant memories but they come screaming back to haunt you as you eagerly explore its 740 pages.

Like secondary schools at the time it’s comprehensive, not in the Grange Hill way you understand – which is also featured in the book along with its still nightmare inducing swimming pool incident – no wonder its authors, Stephen Brotherstone and Dave Lawrence admit ‘it is fairly huge.’

final cover front and back1

Exhaustive is putting it mildly as chapters wise it covers everything from the afore-mentioned TV to PIF to board games and ice-lollies to comics, all in glorious detail with numerous images to help return the things that you spent the last 30-40 years trying to forget.

It really is a delicious dystopian sweetshop of the 1970s, with it hard to know what section to consume next. Answer, all of them.

Engrossing, informative and entertaining beyond belief it successfully wrestles the 70s away from those programmes that just take the piss with inserts of ‘comedians’ doing vox pops and showing how the 70s was oh so un pc.

Just scrolling through the content is enough to whet your appetite and demonstrates their true love for the cultural touch points this decade produced, whether it be TV show, advert or toy. It really is all here. Even down to the Fleetway Annual homage on the front cover, what’s not to love.

I’ve not felt this excitement and giddiness about devouring the contents page(s) – all five, count ‘em – since reading Kim Newman’s Nightmare Movies when it was first released in 1987. The book sets the scene perfectly, it may as well be me laid on the carpet, head propped in my hands. The Amityville Horror, Bigfoot, The Bermuda Triangle, Watership Down, The Pan Book of Horror and the Usborne Book of the Unexplained – that IS my childhood and it is all gloriously revisited.

You are hooked from the off. Obviously if you were born in that decade, felt its cultural ripples or grew up in the 70s you’ll get the most out of with instant recollections of I remember that, I had that and remembering moments from childhood that were long forgotten but smash back into your conscience as if they never left.

That intro is so evocative at transporting you back to that time in your house, it’s almost like time travel itself, regressing like Christopher Reeve in Somewhere in Time as the words wash over you or seeing the decades and décor roll back like Rod Taylor in The Time Machine watch the constantly changing shop window.

Each entry even provides suggested viewing and suggested further reading; this is very clearly written by fans for fans. I’ve had to keep a note book alongside me as a read it so that I can just keep track of my future viewings and reads.  My Amazon account is going to take something of a bashing.

We also get regular appearances by ‘the art of the title sequence’ breaking down some of TVs greatest every opening credits. These are the shows we want on our Netflix, Amazon Prime, ITV Player and BBC iPlayer, or even BFI player.

Essential, it’s damn near perfection. The ‘I did not know that’ facts come thick and fast as well, such as the creator of Shadows, a supernatural anthology series for children was from the same person that created Rainbow.

The chapters are like longer versions of features from TV Zone, SFX or the – all too short lived – Cult TV magazines, a spin off from SFX. It’s refreshing long form writing that never out stays it’s welcome.

It’s absorbing and makes you want to consume it in one, or certainly as few sittings as possible, but is also designed as such that you can easily dip in out of chapters or subjects that interest you. I guess the only shame is a lack of an index, but minor quibbles aside the contents pages are in plenty of detail in that regard.

Brimming with programmes I’d seen (Grange Hill, Blake’s 7, Worzel Gummidge), those I knew of and had read about (The Tomorrow People, Doomwatch, The Stone Tapes) and those I’d not (Beasts and 1990) it’s an interesting and a great package bursting with familiar, heard of and new delights aplenty. You can’t help but read it (crossed legged on the floor of course) and smile.

As well as all the television moments, the highlights for me were evoking vivid memories of The Doctor Who Exhibition in Blackpool; I never even met anyone else who went! The still-scare-the- bejusus-out-of-you public information films, particularly the Lonely Water, which, complete with full horror tropes, plays out like a 70s version of It Follows, and the escalators one with the red wellies ripped to shreds. Shudder!

It gives you one of those joyous crick necks where you’ve just been staring down for such a long period of time, like when you just read through The Guinness Book of Records. You could easily lose yourself in it pages for days on end.

A celebration of the odd, strange and macabre that hit our screens, shops, book shelves and magazine racks.  And even if you didn’t it effortlessly captures that period’s output and shows us that it wasn’t just as is oft portrayed, as just about wearing flares and disco dancing.

Today is often referred to as a golden period of television and writing for television, something which is said to only recently herald from the States, but this volume clearly shows that writing and content was king not just in dramatic output but children’s dramatic output. Windy Miller, we aren’t in Camberwick Green anymore. And everything else, from 2000AD to Roy of the Rovers tackling hooligans, is just as rich.

Doctor Who and hiding behind the sofa is just the tip of the ice-berg. An assault on the senses, it doesn’t just capture my childhood, it is it. Observations are just so spot-on, it’s a landmark dissection of this period and all the great and frankly demented things it had to offer.

If volume two, which focuses on the 80s – my mouth is watering already – is of the same standard, length an fun to read – and with the likes of Blake’s 7’s ending, Adric dying in Doctor Who, The Adventure Game and Mr Noseybonk to name but four things I’m expecting to make an appearance – these two encyclopaedic volumes could well be The Godfather Parts 1 and 2 of books about popular culture. If you were a child of the seventies or grew up in that decade it is an offer you can’t refuse. A definite a must buy.

Available soon from Lulu.com for £16.99, that’s great value at just over £1.69 a year!

John Carpenter: The night HE played Halloween

Guest blogger Alex Norman hitched a ride on The Pork Chop Express to the Troxy in London on Halloween night, which was not dark and stormy and had no rain coming down in sheets thick as lead. He did however get to see the horror master, John Carpenter, play live. Like old Jack Burton he stood in the crowd and looked Carpenter square in the eye and says, “Give me your best shot, pal. I can take it.”

Check out his review…

When horror icon John Carpenter announced a European tour in support of his two Lost Themes albums, original music created with his son and godson, it was a dream come true to finally see one of my idols in person performing his iconic synth music.

30617424621_10dd694cfb_kThings got even better when it was announced he was doing a meet and greet before the event. I didn’t even question the £135 cost; it was more a case of where’s my credit card! Opportunities like this – meeting JC on Halloween in London – won’t come along too often.

With the Art Deco Troxy filling up, anticipation was building and it was bizarre surveying the mosh pit which consisted of Michael Myers, ghosts, They Live zombies, Gracie Law, Jack Burton, even the axe wielding crazy dude from In the Mouth of Madness (“do you read Sutter Cane?”). You get the picture – Carpenter even announced the winner of the best costume.

MacReady – “Why don’t we just wait here for a little while, see what happens?” The Thing

When the lights finally went out, the crowd roared in anticipation and out came the ‘bats’ – Carpenter was pointing out faces in the crowd, doing the sign of the horns, reverently chewing gum and even doing grandad shimmies.

30705801585_1fc90fec21_kThen it began… Carpenter’s boney finger pressed down on the keys to signal the opening of the main theme to Escape From New York. Yes! Here we go.  There’s was a real lack of Snake Plissskens in attendance tonight which was a shame.

With the backing of his full band of men half his age, Carpenter’s music is injected with some rock power and his music explodes out of the amps. His iconic music still sounds as good as it ever has but it’s more ferocious, louder and, just, in your face.

As the exultant crowd scream their appreciation of the opener, Carpenter yells: “Hello London!”. Judging by the look on his face, his choice to go down this rock rabbit hole odyssey as he approaches his 69th birthday, you can’t help but think he is ticking off a dream he never really believed would happen. Next up is the driving and moody Assault on Precinct 13 theme.

30073808054_96eec03315_kA couple of tracks from Lost Themes follow, Vortex and Mystery, before the mood shifts… in between songs, Carpenter acts as a story teller, bordering on melodramatic, as he introduces The Fog.  It felt almost as if you could be in Antonio Bay as the stage is layered with thick fog and clips from the film are played on a giant projection at the back of the stage.  All of his film scores are accompanied by clips from the films and it really does enhance the performance.  After all, Carpenter is stationed behind a keyboard chewing gum and kicking ass musically, so it provides something else to enhance the performance.

30073834074_76764e4817_kNext, as Carpenter and the band donned sunglasses, the crowd knew what was coming and the projection screen was filled with bold statements such as ‘obey’ and ‘money is your god’. Enter the main theme from They Live. As images of the late ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper and Keith David are beamed up on the screen, the crowd whoops and hollers.

Carpenter then introduces the next song in honor of one of the greatest film composer of all time, Ennio Morricone. The studio drafted Morricone in to score The Thing and reports of tension surfaced.  John even telling the great composer to play ‘less’ notes.  But Carpenter is a much more relaxed man these days and the past is blood under the bridge.  The Thing’s main theme literally shudders the rib cage as the thunderous bass pounds out of the giant speaker stacks.

Next up is Distant Dream from Lost Themes II – a driving, rocking track that sounds like a lost track from Big Trouble in Little China, and lo (pan) and behold, the next track is from that very movie – seeing Lo Pan emit his blue mouth beam on the big screen and various action packed clips from the film as the band are rocking out is very cool indeed.

30405769400_c19171fc03_kNext up are a couple more tracks from Lost Themes – Wraith and Night. The former is a slow burner that sounds enriched and far more sonically powerful than the album cut. It’s at this point that Carpenter confesses tonight’s show has been uncharacteristically upbeat and that it was time to dour things down. This is where Night comes in – a dark slice of bass synth that broods along relentlessly.  This sets the mood and tone of the venue perfectly as Carpenter wishes everyone ‘Happy Halloween’ before keying the iconic opening notes to Halloween to the delight of everyone.

The main set is wrapped up with the hard rock main theme from In the Mouth of Madness which starts off sounding like Metallica’s Enter Sandman before it transforms into a balls-out rocker Carpenter-style, leaving those bad Metallica’s thoughts far behind.

Tonight’s encore kicks off with Darkness Begins from the Prince of Darkness score, followed by Virtual Survivor from Lost Themes II, one of the best tracks of the night that trudges along to a big finish.  Purgatory slows things down and provides the most emotive point before the second half of the track kicks in with marching rhythmic intensity.

Before the final song of the evening, our ringmaster and storyteller for the evening offers us some final words of caution: ‘travel home safely tonight, because Christine is out there somewhere’. Carpenter of course is talking about the sentient and violent Plymouth Fury that wins the heart of Keith Gordon before destroying everything that threatens their romance. There’s clearly a lot of love for this film and score.

30588852102_b870ba77c3_kWith the final beat of the drum and as Carpenter’s last note fades out, he thanks the crowd, the band take a bow and leave to rapturous applause. Sure, it was a short gig clocking in at just 80 minutes but what a great 80 minutes they were. Whether this will ever happen again in London, who knows, but tonight, the Master of Horror channeled the youth and vitality so desired by Lo Pan and lived the rock star dream and added a whole new chapter and level of cool for his fans to cherish forever.

30071736283_2e300b71e7_kAs Sheriff Leigh Brackett says in Halloween: “It’s Halloween, everyone’s entitled to one good scare.” Everyone who attended the Troxy certainly had one good evening. After all you can’t kill the boogie man!

 

Pictures: Stephen Watts

The Dead Zone #30DaysOfFright

English teacher Johnny Smith (an electric Christopher Walken) is involved in a car accident that puts him in a coma. He awakes five years later to a changed world, he’s lost his job and the woman he loves, but he also has changed gifts. He can now see into the future (and past) of individuals he comes into contact with and touches, using it for good he can make a difference but can he change the course of history that has yet to be written?

dead5Less horror and more tragi-supernatural thriller, The Dead Zone, for me, is my favourite Stephen King adaptation. I loved the poster and VHS box for it as well, it always intrigued me, both design and title. It’s a firm favourite.

The restrained direction of David Cronenberg plays a huge part in that, as does the script by the late Jeffrey Boam (who also penned The Lost Boys, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Lethal Weapon 2) and the score by Michael Kamen.

dead4It never fails to hook you and Christopher Walken, in my favourite screen role of his, is utterly compelling and heartbreaking. I’m surprised that there wasn’t an Oscar nomination in the offing for his portrayal, perhaps it is more to do with the genre he was acting in? In many ways he is as cursed as David Kessler in An American Werewolf on London, an ordinary man changed by circumstances not of his choosing, then put in an extraordinary situation and having to make a choice.

dead2The Dead Zone has always been gripping, full of one man’s sadness and of intrigue with flashes of horror. That horror and sadness is perfectly etched on Walken’s face and delivery. When we see his visions we feel his pain, the fire, the fall under the ice – “the ice is gonna break” scene is a powerhouse delivery – and the serial killer.

You could almost say that Walken is something of a superhero, a mutant, think of M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable with Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson as something of a distant cousin.

dead7With his pale granite white face, Walken is a picture of loss and sadness, still carrying a limp from his accident its a physical echo of his continual mental pain and suffering ultimately knows his own destiny and cuts a pained figure of sadness, lost love and genuinely heartbreaking. You really feel for him and want to save him like he saves others, in many ways his disability is akin to say the film version of The Elephant Man and so is the rapport he has with Herbert Lom, like Hurt did with Hopkins.

Walkman may chew the scenery but it is with real vigour and senselessness, he is a man who can see into the future and past yet not change either his past or future. And that scenery of snow and bleakness and of dark tunnels only adds to the feeling of loneliness.

It’s a powerful film that long lingers after the credits have rolled and although some at the time claimed Cronenberg had deserted the strangeness of Scanners and Videodrome and gone mainstream. In his other mainstream horror, The Fly, that was also very much a tragic love story as well.

The Dead Zone still packs a memorable, powerful punch, especially when it comes to the visions. If you are going to watch this ensure it is the unedited version and the special edition DVD has a great commentary by Kim Newman.

dead3Some would call his second sight as blessing, others a curse. It’s a great moral tale of a man who once had everything but lost it now has the power to forte the future even though he does not have one. He and his ‘gift’ is given purpose however when he discovers he must stop Presidential Candidate Gregg Stillson, played with great zeal by Martin Sheen.

He had of course previously played Kennedy so had presidential down to pay, and would of course go onto hold office in The West Wing. You can’t help thinking he’s a little too Donald Trump though – talk about eerie premonitions. His vision sees Stillson flying the nukes, a madman in the Whitehouse.

As well as Sheen there is excellent support from Brooke Adams, the former girlfriend, Tom Skerritt as a local sheriff investigating a murder, Anthony Zerbe and the fine Herbert Lom as Smith’s Doctor.

dead10If you haven’t seen The Dead Zone, or only the TV series with Anthony Michael Hall, make sure you catch this classic, still one of the top Steven King adaptations and certainly an interesting and absorbing take from Director David Cronenberg. I predict you’ll love it.

Of course it does also have one other curious foretelling of the future, at the start of the film Christopher Walken is taking his English class and asks them to read ‘The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow’. Perhaps he knew he would go onto to play the Headless Horseman in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow?