Tag Archives: The Walking Dead

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.

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The magnificent Blake’s 7: Robin Hood in space

With the death of Blake’s 7 actor Gareth Thomas it’s time to strap on your transporter bracelets to The Liberator and THAT ending for ‘Robin Hood in space’.

Such was the basic premise of Blake’s 7 back in 1978, and that idea was pitch perfect for one of the most beloved TV series of the last 40 years. Always seen as something of Doctor Who’s younger sibling, it springing from the mind of Who-alumnus, Terry Nation, for many it was never held in as high regard or as beloved. But, for me, I probably loved it even more than the fellow in the blue box.

You can see the similarities to Sherwood’s finest with its original character set-up, with Gareth Thomas headlining as Roj Blake, who leads a rebellion against a tyrannical regime (hey, even in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), The Norman Soldiers were likened to Nazis). More ‘Marauding’ than ‘Merry Men’ his reluctant heroic crew, perhaps sharing as much with the likes of The Dirty Dozen and The Magnificent Seven as much as with those from the trees of Nottingham.

We are then introduced to corrupt computer genius, Avon, (Paul Darrow), essentially Will Scarlett, a man who you wouldn’t trust as far as you could throw him, even if he was classed as your friend, but you would far rather he be your friend than your enemy. Avon quickly become the show’s favourite, with his sardonic wit and no nonsense behaviour, he had the same appeal as the likes of Han Solo.

Master thief, Vila, steps up as your Much the Millers Son, as he is essentially the light-hearted comedian who is something of a coward. Avon and Vila were the perfect foils for one another and have the zingiest dialogue this side of the galaxy that is still as crisp and clever to this day

Gan, is clearly the Little John of proceedings with his mighty frame and heart, but I’m not quite sure how a smart arse computer, Zen, fits into it all Merry Man wise, um, Friar Tuck…well he is at least the voice of reason and calm. The rest of the original crew were made up of Jenna, a smuggler, and Cally, a telepath, and these feisty, gung-ho women were clearly reminiscent, in their fighting spirit, of Maid Marian. After all, you have to remember that this was the late 70s and that women did as much of the rescuing as well as the being rescued.

The ship, The Liberator, a wondrous design whose Corgi model once bestowed my birthday cake as a child, which was a brilliant backward-looking design with its (Lincoln) green bubble at its rear, so my hats off to you Matt Irvine for a ship that even outclasses the Millennium Falcon for being so ugly and impractical – Einstein would have a fit on the Physics front – that it is a thing of beauty.

If Blake and his crew represent Robin Hood and his Merry Men, then the Federation forces, personified in the obsessive, psychopathic Space Commander Travis, complete with eye patch, and his superior, the ruthless Supreme Commander, Servalan, represent Sir Guy of Gisbourne and the Sheriff of Nottingham, respectively. You only have to look at the mid 80s rebirth of Robin of Sherwood on ITV, and latterly, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, to see how similar the working relationship between Servalan and Travis was to that of the Sheriff and his lapdog.

The show was quite revolutionary in terms of structure – the arcing plot is ahead of its time, something seen as commonplace in the likes of the Battlestar Galactica reboot – and characterisation. It also features a surprisingly cynical world view with a healthy dash of dystopia and dash of moral ambiguity, this is no Star Wars black and white – which premiered in the UK the same year the show was launched – instead there are massive grey areas in the ensemble cast, like we see in everything from 24 to Lost and The Walking Dead, people who aren’t just the well-rounded, good-looking good guys of programmes like, say the original Star Trek.

It may have had its peak and troughs throughout its four-year series, not to mention cast changes galore and Blake jumping ship come the end of series two, but it had a fantastic concept, multiple major character deaths and perhaps the finest ending of any TV show past, present or future, an ending from which Planet of the Apes writers would find hard to get out of, an ending that gave my chin carpet burns from the force it struck the floor, an ending that had the balls to kill off the entire remaining cast and still have Avon going out (or did he?) in the coolest TV moment of my life.

Not bad, essentially being a kids tea time programme and taking in political intrigue and terrorism (remember the IRA were still out in force) and harrowing deaths of beloved characters. The sets may have wobbled and it was probably filmed in one too many quarries, but hey that is BBC budgets at that time for you, but the writing still holds true and is pretty blistering stuff most of the time, clearly helped in part with many of the main actors being RSC trained.

Thomas came back for that last episode having left after series two and he claimed never to have watched an episode. That’s a shame and a real loss, despite its somewhat dodgy sets and special effects it had some great Orwellian dystopia which meant that it was well-ahead of its time, especially in that time slot. And, story wise it still really shines today and remains relevant with terror and political intrigue riding high in the headlines and a major staple of TV drama, the rebooted ‘gritty’ Battlestar Galactica was of course dubbed ‘The West Wing in space’.

And these unjust times of political unrest and times of terror Blake et al  would fit in perfectly. Stories about anti-government dissidents and corrupt, totalitarian governments never seem to go out of fashion (it’s no coincidence that the series villain was a woman – just as Thatcher came into power), and surely that’s doubly true of this era of terrorism.

Crucially, it had drama and conflict in spades, and most of this came from within the crew, especially between Blake and Avon or Avon and Vila, which was full of crisp, foil-bag fresh dialogue that even JJ Abrams or Joss Whedon would be proud to have scribed today.

Although it has been resurrected as an audio drama, getting a new lease of life in a series of audio adventures which has attracted a whole host of talent from Bond and genre fave, Colin Salmon as Kerr Avon and guest stars from Ashes to Ashes’ Keeley Hawes and new Sherlock Holmes, Benedict Cumberbatch.

Like the Who audio adventures it has also lured back cast members from the original series, Michael Keating and Jan Chappell, all of which shows there is still plenty of talent and interest in the project.

It keeps threatening to return to screens with aborted attempts from Sky and the Syfy Channel in recent years. With the return of Star Wars to the big screen and another Star Trek series in the offing, as well as on the big screen, we are in the same alignment as when Blake’s 7 first materialised on our screens.

And after all in this world niche audiences for The Walking Dead and original dramas produced for the likes of Amazon, with The Man in the High Castle, and Netflix, with House of Cards, or Sky Atlantic with Fortitude, then there is nothing to stop the return of The Liberator and its crew.

Who knows, perhaps the real life death of Roj Blake, from heart failure and not shot by Avon, could be the right catalyst for his rebirth. Roj Blake is dead, long live Roj Blake?

As Zen may have stated: “Probability of reboot, 80%.”

 

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.