Tag Archives: Halloween

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

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Phantasm 2 #30DaysOfFright

ph4Phantasm 2 has balls, small shiny flying metal ones with drills and lasers.

This belated sequel to the 1979 original was my introduction to the Phantasm series of films when it was released on VHS rental.

I’d loved the idea of it since seeing part of its trailer on Film ’89 (the year it was released in the UK).

I can’t imagine Barry Norman had much time or it…but how could you not love a film with deadly flying metal balls?

p2If it looks like the most expensive looking Phantasm of the all, that’s because it is. The £3 million budget is all there on the screen and there really are some epic and memorable visuals, it may not sound a lot but that is ten times the budget of the 1979 original. It really has never looked more polished and rich.

It’s just a shame that Universal let it flounder in the summer season rather than releasing it closer to Halloween where it really could find its feet. It found its second life on the VHS rental shelves, and rightly so.

p5Returning from the original, promoted in a sense to the leading character role is Reggie (played by Reggie Bannister), the former ice-cream salesman. The character of Mike is back, but this time is all grown up and played by James Le Gros, in an alternate universe it would have been Brad Pitt, who also tested for the role.

Story? It’s a revenge movie with two men seeking retribution against the sinister The Tall Man, who dresses like an undertaker and drives a hearse. He collects bodies and turns them into his dwarf-like minions. Think of them as evil Jawas.

Like Sam Raimi – he has a cameo of sorts as a bag of ashes – with the Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2, George Miller, Mad Max and Mad Max 2 and James Cameron with The Terminator and Terminator 2, returning writer and director, Don Coscarelli, has a bigger toy box to play with.

ph3Like Cameron he gives the sequel more of an action focus. And the explosive beginning certainly makes that very clear, even for those people who haven’t seen the original it intrigues, excites and hooks you.

With Reggie and Mike’s cool black 1971 Plymouth Barracuda and creeping into cemeteries on a mission to hunt down The Tall Man, a hulking haunting Angus Scrimm – best name made up or otherwise, ever – who is clearly relishing his role, at times this could almost be an episode of Supernatural featuring Dean and Sam Winchester.

ph5In fact Coscarelli stated that he was partly influenced by the grizzled Ben Mears and Mark Petrie Salem’s Lot characters hunting down vampires at the end of the two-parter. What’s not to love?

Having not seen the original at the time there was a bit of catching up to do, but having seen it since there is still an awful lot that remains unanswered, not that I have an issue with ambiguity. It only adds to its dream like quality, at times entering the same sort of realms as A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors meets Evil Dead 2.

p4The quirky character of Reggie takes centre stage this time, the former ice-cream salesman showing he’s a dab hand a four-barreled shotgun of his own creation.

It’s got some great jumps and creep out moments that still stand up really well today and you never needed a big budget for that, you just needed good ideas and Phantasm 2 has plenty of them. Not all hit the mark of course, an unclear telepathic link between two characters, and a couple of unnecessary characters.

p3But when Phantasm flies it soars, like its infamous deadly spheres. They have a tour-de-force scene in a mortuary that oozes cool and plenty of blood. The balls are indiscriminate, so don’t care who they go for. Phantasm 2 taps into our fear of death and dying, and the tools associated with that, making taut use of embalming fluid in one scene.

Phantasm 5, dubbed Phantasm Ravager, has just been released, again with Coscarelli’s involvement and the last appearance of The Tall Man, Scrimm passed away earlier this year shortly after shooting.

p1Toppling The Tall Man is a tall order but it’s a cult tale that still more than holds its own today, from its recap from where the original ended and its explosive start it’s a journey that is never dull and still has the power to surprise.

Scream #30DaysOfFright

ghost2Scream didn’t just reinvigorate the horror genre back in 1996 – can it really be 20 years old – it took it to another level. From its shock opening this seminal shocker mixed knowing titters and terror to triumphant effect.

Horror director, Wes Craven, had previously scared us witless The Hills Have Eyes and A Nightmare on Elm Street and he had already dipped his toe in post-modern horror with Freddy’s New Nightmare, but Scream wouldn’t just rewrite the rule book, it would eat it and spit it all out, defining much of Hollywood’s horror output for the next decade.

scream3Although everyone now knows how the opening sequence of that first film turns out, no one can deny its power and shock seeing it for the first time on the big screen, surely the modern day equivalent of Janet Leigh meeting her maker in Psycho some 36 years earlier.

Shock endings have long been a staple of horror but shock beginnings with such a well-known name and so early on in proceedings, which was a humdinger and justifiably secured its place high in the history of highs in the genre.

It was visceral and I vividly remember the murmurs of uncomfortableness and hushed ‘did that just happen?’ as the smash cut frames of Drew Barrymore could be seen hanging from her parents tree as I sat in that Odeon cinema in Luton. Jesus, they had just killed the little girl from E.T.!

This was the end of the innocence and the birth of a new horror icon, and if that wasn’t enough he went onto slay The Fonze as well.

ghost1With that opening it set its stall out early that this is a horror with a whole new set of horror-savvy rules. Boasting assured direction and writing it was the perfect meeting of minds with the director of A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes and The Last House on the Left, meets the writer of Dawson’s Creek, Kevin Williamson.

The Scream films, all four were helmed by Craven, are essentially like the main character, lean, mean, pull no punches and list anyone and everyone as a possible victim (and suspect for that matter).Was it the dad, the boyfriend, the cop?

There were red herrings aplenty and everyone is a suspect, like a teen Agatha Christie movie, even going so far to use the double killer device from Murder on the Orient Express.

Even after 20 years it is still really fresh and sharp, the dialogue and scenes canter along. As well as expertly crafted in its own right Scream is a bloody love letter to the genre.

There are film references galore throughout, which makes it all the more fun to watch. It covers everything from Psycho to Carrie, a Wes Craven cameo in a Freddy sweater, Halloween on the TV, Friday the 13th, and a cameo by The Exorcist’s Linda Blair as a news reporter to name but a few.

Like those films, Scream has a memorable bogeyman in the form of Ghostface, who quickly established himself as part of the pantheon of iconic horror ghouls.

ghost4These kids aren’t stupid either and they know the rules of horror films, are self-aware. Knowing and clever it doesn’t insult the audience, instead it – like the characters themselves – it outfoxes them. Craven had stepped one foot in that arena with his previous film, Freddy’s New Nightmare where Freddy Krueger stepped into the real world.

The only difference being that Scream takes place in our world also, a world where previous horror films such as Halloween and Friday the 13th exist. All of this is delivered with effective jumps throughout, that teeter between comedy elements and pure frights.

ghost5As Matthew Lillard’s character touted, “These days, you’ve got to have a sequel.” And Scream did, three, all directed by Craven. Scream now lives on rebooted for the new MTV generation, on where else, MTV, where it is currently enjoying its second series.

Like Freddy, Norman and Hannibal before it Scream has joined TV. And it’s in good company with the likes of the continuing American Horror Story, The Walking Dead and the newly launched The Exorcist TV series.

I loved the original Scream trilogy, but was less impressed with the fourth chapter which returned after an 11 year break. It also turned out to be the last film of Wes Craven, who sadly passed away in 2015.

ghost3It’s doubtful we’ll see Scream back on the big screen anytime soon but as Craven showed with Freddy – returning to write Part 3 and direct Part 7 – you can’t keep a good horror franchise down and with horror resetting itself anew every few years and Scream being at its best, a celebration of horror films and trends, you can be sure of a back from the dead ending for this franchise on the big screen.

Before The Enfield Haunting there was Ghostwatch

The Enfield Haunting, a dramatisation of the UK’s most infamous poltergeist case, starts its three-part run on Sky Living this evening, rather aptly the night of a full moon.

enfield hauntingThe drama boasts both a based on a true story moniker but also a heavyweight cast to give the story some weighty gravitas in the shape of Matthew Macfadyen, as paranormal assistant Guy Von Playfair, Timothy Spall as supernatural researcher Maurice Grosse and Juliet Stevenson as Betty Grosse, used to ghosts of a different kind when she starred opposite Alan Rickman in Truly, Madly, Deeply. In fact it is such a significant story that it is even being used as the basis for the sequel to horror-smash The Conjuring.

Based on Playfair’s book ‘This House is Haunted’, The Enfield Haunting is a supernatural drama based upon real supernatural events that took place at an ordinary house in Enfield, North London, around two sisters during the autumn of 1977 using extensive documentation, recordings and witness statements of the incident as its jumping off point. It’s quite apt then that The Mirror, who also had an exclusive on the original story, reported this week about the ‘real’ paranormal activity that took place on set – commonplace PR these days it seems on ghost/horror stories.

But this isn’t the first time that a project directly inspired by The Enfield Poltergeist has hit our screens, and that proved so powerful and disturbing that it has never been repeated on British television ever again. That was shown one Halloween evening over 20 years ago, that one-off drama was Ghostwatch which caused the switchboard of the BBC to practically melt.

So prior to The Enfield Haunting, creep back behind the sofa and get reacquainted with the horror and terror that it inspired in Ghostwatch…

For those that tuned into BBC1 on the evening of Saturday 31st October 1992 things would never be the same, especially for those of a nervous disposition. The events that took place that evening caused such panic and fear that they have never been repeated again…ever, anywhere…but those who watched it have never forgotten.

Early 90s Saturday night TV could normally be counted on to be a jolly diet of Noel doing his usual from his Crinkly Bottom, Cilla playing cupid and people falling off ladders in Casualty, but Halloween 23 years ago was to prove to be a very different affair.

Mike Smith, Sarah Greene and Michael Parkinson in GhostwatchGhostwatch was an ambitious BBC project that pre-dated Most Haunted by years and saw some of the most respected TV people, Sarah Greene and Michael Parkinson, lend the whole proceedings some gravitas, as they investigated Foxhill Drive, one of the most haunted houses in Britain and have it beamed live into our homes. Parkinson anchored proceedings in the TV studio whilst Greene was based at the house, alongside late hubby Mike Smith and Craig Charles.

That was the premise, I say premise as despite the presence of Parkinson it was all a fake, a rouse, something to give the audience a fright and boy did it work in that department. Written by Stephen Volk, who also latterly penned the also suitably creepy Afterlife, which starred The Walking Dead’s Andrew Lincoln. The drama took its central idea from an actual documented poltergeist case, The Enfield Poltergeist and of course it’s all very apt timing that later this month we also have Poltergeist receive the remake treatment on the big screen.

Looking back at the BFI special edition DVD, its first appearance on any media which also has some great extra features including a commentary, thus showing it to be a seminal piece of British television the like we will probably never see the like of again, some of the acting is a tad ropey but despite this it still drags you in and still unnerves as it did all those years ago.

Certainly for inducing panic and fear, it caused numerous complaints regarding sleepless nights and even allegedly caused a number of women to go into labour and even unconfirmed reports of the suicide of a young man, it deserves to be uttered in the same breath as Orson Welles’ radio presentation of War of the Worlds in 1938, also broadcast on Halloween. And with that in mind you can certainly understand why it has never been repeated, something which almost makes it The Exorcist of the TV world.

We are of course back in traditional haunted house territory here but there are enough efficient twists and moments to make the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up, and if you are watching it on DVD, reach for your remote control in disbelief. Ghostwatch still has the ability to provoke significant chills with scratches appearing on a young girls face, tales of mutilated dogs and the building’s disturbing history and fleeting glimpses of ‘Pipes’, the evil spirit haunting the house. The climax still has the power to shock too with Sarah Greene being dragged into the cellar and the door slamming shut just as we lose contact with the house…

It’s all the more impressive as it is all done live, all done with smoke and mirrors the old fashioned way that is still ultimately highly effective all those years later.

Modern audiences may scoff at it all and wonder what all the fuss is about but you can be sure that there are still those who still cower and freeze at the very mention of ‘Pipes’ in what is one of the most-fascinating pieces of British television history and its viewing is a firmly established Halloween ritual in my house…never too far from the light switch.

Kids in horror: far from child’s play

children-of-the-dammed[1]Kids are an intergral part to horror, so here’s my list of children you’d need a little bit more than the naughty step for…

Cole from The Sixth Sense

He’s behind you!

We all want our children to make friends, er just not perhaps the dead kind. At least birthday parties wouldn’t be expensive although pass the parcel might become a little tiresome. You might also have a few issues if you have Nene’s 99 red balloons playing at any parties as well; read being the harbinger of death throughout the film.

Charlie from Firestarter

She’s a Firestarter , a twisted Firestarter. No she’s not she’s Drew Barrymore. This little moppet might get you hot under the collar as a parent down to the fact that when provoked she can quite literally have a fiery temper – I blame all those E numbers. Think Carrie on heat, so to speak!

Carol Ann from Poltergeist

To be fair she’s a sweet kid and it’s not really her fault that she is most haunted, not by Derek Acorah or anything, now that would be bad.

They say that children watching TV can have a bad affect on them and never has this been truer than with Carol Ann Freeling who speaks through the dead through the static on your TV (at least it’s better than The Zone: QVC and signed repeats of Country File I suppose).Having a graveyard in your back garden might be good for the plants but to be honest it doesn’t really help the situation. Soon to be featured on an episode of DIY SOS…probably.

Michael Myers from Halloween

Knife to see you, to see you knife. Young Michael sure did like his dressing up but clearly this was ‘masking’ other problems. Talking of which if they did the remake today would they use a Chris Pine mask?

He, that’s Myers, grew into a strapping young man and that superhuman strength would come in handy for removals and those trips to the shops. I can see him now in those overalls with his bags for life.

Esther from Orphan

There’s something wrong with Esther, so screamed the posters for Orphan, well there must have been something about her stare as it used to send our Jack Russell potty when she saw the posters. Essentially a reworking of sorts of The Omen where a well to do family adopt a child only to find out everything is not as it seems. As the body count rises so do the doubts. Comes with an interesting twist that helps stop it being a run of the mill shocker.

Malachi from Children of the Corn

If the whole Dexy’s Midnight Runners look of dungarees does it for you then Malachi might be right up your street…or strip of field.

Leader of the Children of the Corn, the original based on a novel by Stephen King short story but now a never ending stream of uneven direct to video sequels, Malachi is probably not likely to be the apple of your eye for long as he and his minions want all adults dead. Clearly they haven’t thought this through as they won’t get pocket money and end up living of all the wrong kinds of food.

The children from The Children                        

Bugs can be nasty, especially when they turn innocent children into rampaging killers. This is a nasty piece of British horror that has massively effective moments and manages to conjure up some wonderful look away now if you don’t want to see the results death scenes.

Two families spend the Christmas holidays at a remote (of course) house and after a seemingly horrific accident where one of the adults dies in a tragic sledge accident (more you’ve been maimed) it isn’t long before other adults start dropping like flys and end up being outnumbered by their butter wouldn’t melt sons and daughters…well worth a look.

Regan from The Exorcist

Shut it! No, not John Thaw in The Sweeney but shut it you potty mouthed pea-green splutter! We all hope for beautiful children that turn people’s heads but rarely one that turns its own 360 degrees.

Steer clear of pastel colours as vomit may well be a serious problem although to give her credit she does have a strong grasp of languages, mostly the dead or disgusting kind. She is undoubtedly a fast learner but could perhaps do with some sex education lessons as well, try explaining those splinters!

Village of the Damned

Most people might be rather pleased for kids for kids with blonde hair and blue eyes…but less so if it is the whole bloomin village of the little tykes. Remade to a lesser effect in 1994 by John Carpenter even Superman, Luke Skywalker and Mikey’s mum from Look Who’s Talking couldn’t even stop them! Gives a whole new meaning to ‘Are you smarter than a (collective) ten year old?’

Damian from The Omen

The original devil child, Damian comes complete with his own devil dog accessory and 666 birthmark in his hairline – at least you won’t get him mixed up with the other kids! Keep out of reach of three-wheeled trike, goldfish and he’s none too keen on churches either.

Damian shows promise and ingenuity with the way he despatches of those who come in his way, the real reason Cameron kept the toddlers milk running. Specialities include Reverend skewered by spire and decapitation by sheets of glass, oh and the Christening and visits to the zoo may also cause something of a problem.