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.
It’s Thursday night and I’m queuing in the freezing cold outside the Royal College of Surgeons in Holborn. I’ve been here for more than an hour. My instructions were to arrive early, so I did. And now, despite my hat, scarf and gloves, I feel like I’m on the verge of hypothermia.
When the doors eventually open, I shuffle forward until I reach the college entrance, where I’m shepherded inside by people in biohazard suits. At ‘passport control’, I’m handed a wristband granting me ‘access to the Infected Zone’. And three drinks tokens.
Welcome to the Jameson Cult Film Club, one of an ongoing series of film screenings in unusual venues around the country, complete with live dramatics and complimentary tipples. Tonight, a heaving throng of mostly twentysomethings has ventured out to see Gareth Edwards’ Monsters, complete with an introduction and Q&A from the director and his editor, Colin Goudie, with Chris Hewitt from Empire magazine on MCing duties.
I woke up today to an email from a friend telling me that Nicholas Courtney, Doctor Who’s much-loved Brigadier, had died. I didn’t think this was even possible. I knew that Nick had been suffering with his health over the past couple of years, but the way he kept bouncing back – showing up at conventions with a twinkle in his eye – suggested that he’d probably be around forever.
The last time I saw Nick was at an event called Seventh Heaven, which was held in Chiswick last July. A few weeks earlier, he was billed for a different event, the UNIT-themed ReUNITed, but he had to cancel on the day as he wasn’t very well. Nick’s appearance at Seventh Heaven (so called because it celebrated the Seventh Doctor’s era) was completely unannounced – he turned up part-way through a Battlefield panel, dressed in a waistcoat and shirt that would do Keith Richards proud – and was welcomed with the kind of applause that commonly facilitates encores at rock gigs.
Some people like to buck conventions, but I embrace them – at least I do when they’re branded Doctor Who. (Do you see what I did there?) The current kings of Who cons are Fantom Films, a company who regularly run small-scale but hugely enjoyable day-long events in Chiswick, west London. The venue for the last couple of years has been the George IV pub on Chiswick High Road – or, to be precise, the Headliners comedy club out the back, which comfortably houses 60 fans of the show, along with choice cuts from their merchandise collections for signing.
With two autographs from each guest included in the £35 entry price (extras are available for £5 each), and all the guests happy to pose for a photo, these events are good value – to the extent that it only takes the announcement of two or three strong guests to have me whipping out my wallet and buying a ticket.
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.
It’s Sunday 28 November, and three Doctors – Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann – plus companion Katy Manning (Jo Grant from the Jon Pertwee era) and Stephen Moore (a Silurian from this year’s Cold Blood) are fielding queries from the respectably sized crowd at Collectormania London. As usual, certain audience members are asking the questions that matter. Hmm, who would win that fight?
“I think it would depend,” replies Colin. “If it was wrestling, I might have a chance. If it was boxing, I think they’d have me.”
I suspect that he’s given this subject some previous thought.
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.
What’s a kiss between friends? As it happens, quite a lot, if one of those friends is a Time Lord. In May 1996, when the telefilm that has come to be known as Doctor Who: The Movie first aired, it attracted the ire of many long-term fans. Its ‘crimes’ were legion, but two in particular raised certain viewers’ hackles to planet-scraping heights: 1) the Doctor said that he was “half human”, and 2) our hero romantically kissed a woman for the first time in the show’s history.
The recipient of the controversial smacker was Dr Grace Holloway, played by Daphne Ashbrook, who happens to be the guest of honour at today’s 10th Planet signing in Barking, north-east London. These Saturday-morning events are always quite well attended, but today’s is even busier than usual. Ashbrook shares the spotlight with two other actors from the series’ past, Kenneth Gilbert and John Gleeson, known in Who circles for their roles in 1976’s The Seeds Of Doom, but the majority of fans here this morning have clearly been enticed by presence of the Californian actress, who might well have been in the TARDIS but is still very down to Earth.
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.