The success of January’s Barbara Shelley and Linda Hayden signing seems to have spurred events organiser 10th Planet on to book more Hammer actors. Last Saturday, in a conference room at Barking’s library, I had the pleasure of meeting John Carson, who starred in three of the studio’s films: The Plague Of The Zombies (1966), Taste The Blood Of Dracula (1970) and Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974).
As you can see from the pictures below, John is a man who belies his 84 years, though to see him looking so well was just one of this event’s joys. The other was hearing him speak in those instantly recognisable tones. If he’d brought along some voodoo effigies, by the end of the morning I would definitely have been working in his tin mine as a zombie slave.
I want to share a few thoughts (spoilerish ones, so be warned) about Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein, which I saw at the National Theatre on Monday. The play, written by Nick Dear, is still in its preview stage at the moment – press screenings follow later in the month, and the official premiere happens on 24 February – but what I saw appeared to be pretty well formed.
Famously, the roles of Victor Frankenstein and his creature will be alternated across the run. Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller will be taking it in turns to portray the scientist and his experiment. The preview info didn’t state who would be playing which role on which day – you paid your money and took your chance – but I hoped I’d get to see Cumberbatch as Frankenstein, the creator. I wanted to see my favourite of the two actors playing a man, rather than a monster. After all, Victor would be the more interesting role, wouldn’t it?
The Ward – or John Carpenter’s The Ward, to give it its full and proper title – is a film I’ve been pining to see for what must be the best part of a year, ever since I heard it had gone into production. Carpenter has long been one of my favourite directors. I’ve been enjoying his films since I was 14 years old, at the height of the home-video boom. Long before I even knew what a director did, Carpenter’s name in the opening credits of a movie assured me that I was in for a good time.
Fast-forward 27 years, and here I am, sitting on a train heading for London’s West End. Destination: the Empire, Leicester Square, where The Ward, Carpenter’s first theatrical release in a decade, is playing its opening weekend. I’ve avoided seeing any trailers, and I deliberately haven’t read any synopses or reviews. I want to have no expectations; I want the film to surprise me. When I’m at the cinema, I like to feel like I’m sitting in the front car of a white-knuckle ride. It’s more fun than climbing in the back and slipping on someone else’s vomit… er, so to speak.
As much as I enjoy attending 10th Planet’s Saturday-morning events in Barking, my day usually starts with a groan. The act of rising before the sun does might be easy – nay, compulsory – for vampires but, let me tell you, it hurts when you’re more alive than undead.
Of course, when I put it like that, the solution seems obvious – I need someone, or something, to put the bite on me. But, to be frank, I don’t much fancy the whole ‘fang-growing, coffin-dwelling, blood-drinking’ thing.
Someone who might, though, is one of the two actresses I met at last Saturday’s signing – namely Barbara Shelley, star of Dracula: Prince Of Darkness, a 1966 sequel in which Ms Shelley is bitten by Christopher Lee’s titular count and ends up… well, let’s not spill the beans when we could be spilling blood. The red, sticky stuff can also be seen in a fair few other films on Barbara’s CV, such as The Gorgon (1964) and Rasputin The Mad Monk (1966). Unsurprisingly, she’s been adopted by the classic-horror community as an icon of 1960s horror, and Hammer in particular.
Wandering around Collectormania London recently, I saw on one of the stalls a copy of Let’s Scare Jessica To Death, John D Hancock’s cult chiller from 1971. This was a movie that had long been on my want-to-see list, thanks largely to the critic Kim Newman. In my late teens, I was a regular browser of Newman’s 1988 book Nightmare Movies, in which the author championed the film, describing it as “shamefully underrated” – though, really, the title of the movie alone was enough to convince me that I ought to see it if I ever got the chance (see also Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things).
The stallholder was asking the not-unreasonable sum of £4.99, so I paid up and took the disc home. When I sat down to watch it last Saturday night, a curious thing happened: the film’s title prevented me from enjoying it as fully as I should have. To understand why, you have to know something about Jessica’s narrative – and here be spoilers, so if you’d rather be blind to what happens in this movie, shut your eyes now. (Beware the trailer below, too.)
Set your videos – or whatever new-fangled recording machine you currently have living under your telly – because this Saturday, BBC2 is showing a bona fide horror classic, Night Of The Demon.
Directed by Jacques Tourneur, and starring the late Dana Andrews and the, um, fashionably early Peggy Cummins (sub-editor – please change to something that makes sense), this 1957 film based on an MR James story is not only a cracking thriller and a masterful work of suspense; it’s also a damned fine fright flick, layered with some fantastically creepy moments and topped and tailed with cinema’s best-ever demon (possessed young girls from Georgetown notwithstanding).
To some, Memorabilia, the twice-yearly signing/collectors’ fair held at the Birmingham NEC, is the once proud, now underachieving older brother of Collectormania and the London Film & Comic Con.
Its recent guest lists seem to have drawn more tuts of dissatisfaction than any other show of its kind, both online and offline – primarily, it seems, because there haven’t been enough guests from modern science-fiction shows or the latest genre films. “The weakest line-up there’s ever been,” complained one forum member in the run-up to last weekend’s event. At the show itself, I overheard someone bemoaning the “Z-list celebs”.
You can’t please everyone. Personally I think that, while there are good reasons to criticise Memorabilia’s organiser, MCM Expo (they’re certainly no Showmasters when it comes to dishing out pre-show information), its guest list isn’t one of them – not this year, anyway.
The lights were off, the jack o’lantern was carved and lit, the bag of Haribo Horror Mix was open and Night Of The Demon was flickering on the telly. A perfect Halloween? It would have been if all this was happening on 31 October. But, alas, it was 30 October, and I was celebrating All Hallows’ Eve a day early for the second year running.
In 2009, I caught the bus into town to see Steve Earle play my local concert hall. This year I venture further afield, to the centre of London and, eventually, down into the bowels of the Barbican, where film critic and fellow horror fan Mark Kermode is giving a talk to promote the second edition of his cinema-centric memoirs, It’s Only A Movie.
As it’s Halloween he’s promised, via Twitter, to tell the “Linda Blair / Alice Cooper story”. And, after a brief introductory film in which he explains the science behind Avatar’s 3D using some cuddly smurfs and a fishing rod, he tells it, complete with impressions of his nervous younger self meeting Blair for the first time. It’s hard to imagine the motormouthed critic as a stumbling, fumbling journalist learning the ropes of his profession, but the self-deprecation is no surprise. As regular viewers/readers of the Kermode Uncut blog will know, his candid sense of humour often punctuates his reviews and opinion pieces.
On Monday night, watching A History Of Horror With Mark Gatiss (a jewel of a series from BBC4), I was struck by one scene in particular. As Gatiss stood in an Aladdin’s cave of collectable pulp treasures, he picked up a copy of The House Of Hammer magazine, the look on his face saying all that needed to be said. But he said it anyway: “This is a Proustian moment for me. This brings back a rush of unbelievable happy memories.”
Gatiss said that when he was 11 or 12, he was obsessed with the magazine. However, after his parents discovered, at a school parents’ evening, that he’d been writing gory stories, they banned both the magazine and horror movies. Gatiss chuckled as he recalled sneaking downstairs soon afterwards to watch Hammer’s The Revenge Of Frankenstein while his parents were in bed. “And that,” he said,”was the end of my horror exile.”
Having missed it at FrightFest, where it was the closing film of the five-day festival, I took the opportunity while on holiday last week to see Daniel Stamm’s The Last Exorcism.
Produced by Eli Roth – who also seems to have taken on a large chunk of the film’s PR, if the number of times he’s crossed my line of sight in the past month is anything to go by – this latest entry in the exorcism sub-genre was shot in a shakycam style, which cunningly draws comparisons away from the The Exorcist, the untoppable grandaddy, and towards recent first-person horrors such as REC and Diary Of The Dead.
The Last Exorcism’s story centres on a likable but troubled preacher called Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), a man whose faith has been on the wane for some time – if it was ever there at all. Disgusted by reports of a boy being smothered to death during an exorcism, Marcus has decided to expose the mundane, conning secrets of the practice by hooking up with a small TV crew to make a documentary, so that, hopefully, people will be made aware that demonic possession is nothing more than a delusion.