Preparing to crash-land: Last Great Dreamers warm up in Watford, 31 August 2014

Last Great Dreamers live at Sanctuary Studios, Watford, 31 August 2014When it comes to the art of illusion, neither Paul Daniels nor young Mr Dynamo can compete with Old Father Time. Has it really been 17 years since I saw Last Great Dreamers perform?

The fossil records say yes; my memory says no. It was 1997 when the band last blew the doors off a London venue (metaphorically speaking) and I caught my final glimpse of them before they picked up their guitar cases and strode off into the sunset. Yet in some ways it feels as if just six or seven years have passed. It’s outrageous that people born that same year are now allowed to drive. I mean, really? If I were you, officer, I’d double-check those licences.

Scarier still for me, time is about to contract even further.

Hammer at 80: Westminster event announced

'A Hammer Film Production' title card from Dracula (1958)On Saturday 8 November, Westminster Central Hall in London will be hosting an event celebrating Hammer Films.

The British studio, famed for its classic horror output, was founded in 1934, making it 80 years old. To say ‘happy birthday’, a large cast of players from Hammer’s history will be gathering to meet fans, sign autographs and talk about their experiences making cult gems such as Vampire Circus and Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell.

When sleep attacks! How nocturnal hallucinations helped me bust some ghosts

Darren having a snooze, Portsmouth, 1995A few nights ago, not long after going to bed, I opened my eyes to see a man in a gorilla suit standing by my wardrobe.

I’ve had a fair few strange nocturnal experiences, going right back to childhood. I remember, as a toddler, suddenly being woken up by a rooster on the inside of my windowsill. It wasn’t there, of course – I lived on a suburban street and none of the neighbours kept chickens – but I saw and heard it very clearly. Then there was the time – I guess I must have been five or six years old – that I shut my eyes in pitch darkness, only to open them a few seconds later to find my room bathed in daylight. Thoroughly confused, I got out of bed, found my mum and asked her: “Is it morning?” She laughed. Of course it was morning. “I haven’t been to sleep,” I said. “I’ve only just got into bed.”

Inside the Konga suit: Unmasking Paul Stockman

Paul Stockman and me, London Film Memorabilia Convention, 19 July 2014My name’s Darren and I’m a giant-ape-oholic. That’s right, I’m addicted to giant-ape-ohol – a cheeky and highly intoxicating substance that’s a key ingredient in more films than you might imagine. My DVD collection houses 28 of them, at last count. And, as you might expect, I’m partial to related collectables too, such as autographs. Which is why, today, I find myself standing in the lobby of Westminster Central Hall, handing over a crisp five-pound note to gain entry to the London Film Memorabilia Convention, where a certain Paul Stockman is a guest.

In 1961, Mr Stockman donned a hairy suit to play the titular character in Konga, one of only two British entries in the giant-ape genre (the other being the comedy Queen Kong from 1976) and a film that I’d regard as a guilty pleasure if I felt any guilt. Of course I can’t defend it as high art – it’s a daft production through and through, with its species-changing ape and not-always-so-special effects – but the presence of Michael Gough, who plays the dastardly Dr Decker, makes it very watchable. I find the film charming and, in the end (the very end), quite affecting. If you’re interested in my full and proper thoughts on the movie, have a read of my review. I’ll still be here when you get back, I promise.

Cutting remarks: Video Nasties – Draconian Days at the Prince Charles Cinema

Poster for Video Nasties - Draconian Days outside the Prince Charles CinemaIt’s Thursday 3 July and I’m at London’s Prince Charles Cinema, just off Leicester Square, to see Video Nasties – Draconian Days, the follow-up to Jake West’s 2010 documentary Video Nasties – Moral Panic, Censorship And Videotape. Billed as a world premiere of the 97-minute cut, the event, which has been organised by FrightFest, has attracted a close-to-sell-out crowd. West is here, along with the producer Marc Morris and some of the film’s participants, to take part in a post-screening Q&A. It’s reportedly the warmest day of the year, and I’m glad of the cinema’s air-con. “If you’re feeling hot and bothered,” says Morris in his brief introduction, “this will make your blood boil”.

Draconian Days picks up the story of UK film censorship in 1984, with the passing of the Video Recordings Act, and takes it through to the late 1990s and James Ferman’s resignation from the BBFC. Ferman, the organisation’s director from 1975, was notoriously – and I guess you could say ironically – bloody-minded in his treatment of certain horror films. He certainly wasn’t going to grant The Exorcist a certificate for home viewing, and he wouldn’t give the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre a theatrical one, either.

Living the dream: A fan’s-eye view of Last Great Dreamers

Last Great Dreamers memorabilia“Got it!” Rooting around in my under-stairs cupboard, I’m delighted to find, nestling in its furthest reaches, a poster tube. For the last couple of weeks I’ve felt as if I’ve been on an archaeological dig in that cupboard, turning over layers of history in a search for artefacts of an age close enough to remember but too far away to touch.

The catalyst for all this rummaging was the reformation of a rock ‘n’ roll band, Last Great Dreamers. For four years in the mid-1990s, I followed this band with a passion. They had one of the best names I’ve ever heard – it sounded like the kind of thing I could get on board with, even before I’d heard them play a note, suggesting as it did something unique, with aspiration and imagination. I first saw, and heard, the band in 1993, at one of their many Dogs D’Amour support slots at the Marquee. Straight away, I could see that the Dreamers were a perfect package: the songs, the sound, the clothes, that name. They had what all great bands have: a philosophy. Of course I’d end up with their posters on my walls.

Rocks Off: The story of a fanzine

Rocks Off issue 1 (Jul 1993)For three years in the mid-Nineties, I ran a music fanzine called Rocks Off, or Rocks Off!, as it was called for the first six issues – the title, minus the exclamation, of course pinched from the opening track on the Stones’ Exile On Main Street. Like most good ideas, it sprang from a drunken conversation with a friend, Keith. We were both music nuts, friends from our college days, and spent much of our time together talking about bands, records and gigs.

We wanted to spread a little of this enthusiasm. So, in the summer of 1993, we put together the first issue – everything was written on a manual typewriter in those days – and printed out 50 copies, sneaking into Keith’s employer’s office one Saturday morning to use the photocopier.

We bought our own paper – we weren’t animals.

Scream-age fang club: Hammer Horror Day 2014

Advert for Hammer Horror Day 2014Update 11 June 2014: Sadly, this event has been cancelled, with a view to staging it next year instead.

Says organiser 10th Planet: “With great regret, due to contractual problems Hammer Horror Day has been postponed until 2015. We are sorry for any inconvenience. All refunds will be given over the next week.”

In the meantime, Hammer fans might want to turn their gaze towards an official event that’s happening in Westminster on Saturday 8 November.

Below is my original article about the event that 10th Planet planned to run.

Minor classic: The Caves Of Androzani at the BFI

Graeme Harper, Matthew Waterhouse, Sarah Sutton, Janet Fielding and Peter Davison at the BFI, May 2013“By the time we get to the end, and Caves, it’s as good as it gets.”

So said Mark Gatiss in his intro to this month’s ‘Doctor Who at 50’ screening, at NFT1 on Saturday 4 May. The story that the BFI selected to represent the Fifth Doctor’s era was The Caves Of Androzani – a popular choice. Everything came together on Caves – script, performance, direction and score – to create what readers of Doctor Who Magazine in 2009 voted the series’ best story of all time. Where to go in the TARDIS? For a large section of fandom, Androzani Minor is the destination.

Yet, in some ways, Caves was also a strange choice of story for this event. It’s Peter Davison’s swansong – his Doctor regenerates in part four. It also stars Nicola Bryant as Peri, a companion who has just two adventures with the Fifth Doctor, rather than any of the longer-serving actors from Davison’s three seasons – actors who were invited to talk at this event (Bryant will, I assume, be a guest at next month’s screening, The Two Doctors). By showing the story in this context, it felt a bit like we’d overshot the target.

Golden voyage: A tribute to Ray Harryhausen

Ray HarryhausenYesterday morning I booked a ticket to see the 1963 Ray Harryhausen epic Jason And The Argonauts on the big screen. It’s playing at the NFT1 in June, complete with a Q&A from film historian Tony Dalton – an event to celebrate the film’s 50th anniversary. The BFI programme, posted to members last week, says: “We also hope to welcome Ray Harryhausen.”

Yesterday evening, I heard the sad news that Ray had died.

As a young kid in the 1970s, I was in thrall to stop-motion animation. Like Ray, I was bowled over by the original King Kong – I can still clearly remember sitting and watching it, having been guided to it by my parents – and I never missed a chance to see any of Ray’s own films when they were on telly. The fantastic creatures of The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad, The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad and, of course, Jason And The Argonauts just seemed magical. I was also a dinosaur nut, and the likes of One Million Years BC and The Valley Of Gwangi wowed me in exactly the same way that Jurassic Park would 20 years later.