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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Who dunnit: The Robots Of Death at the BFI

Philip Hinchcliffe, Louise Jameson and Tom Baker at the BFI, 20 April 2013Talk about April showers. I needed a cold one when I found out that Tom Baker and Philip Hinchcliffe were going to be sharing the stage at the NFT1 for this, the fourth of the BFI’s ‘Doctor Who at 50’ events, on Saturday 20 April.

The story chosen to represent Baker’s Doctor was the 1977 whodunnit The Robots Of Death, the penultimate production of the Hinchcliffe era – that peerless two-year period between The Ark In Space and The Talons Of Weng Chiang, when both the show and its lead actor were at the peak of their powers, scaring the bejesus out of kids like me every Saturday evening with tales of Zygons, Wirrn, Krynoids and Kraals.

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Time for a chat: An evening with William Russell

William Russell at the Cinema Museum, Kennington, 27 April 2013It’s 27 April. Saturday evening. Dusk. Normally at this time I’d be at home in front of the telly watching Doctor Who. But tonight I have other plans – plans that I can’t record to my V+ box and watch tomorrow. It’s hard to believe, I know, but sometimes real life is worth venturing out for.

So I’ve straddled the train and ridden the Tube to Kennington, south London, for An Evening With William Russell (all caps, you’ll note, for the phrase is a title as well as a descriptor). The much-loved actor is at the Cinema Museum to be interviewed, by Mark Egerton, in front of around 100 fans and admirers about his 60-year career in stage and screen.

Though he’s most famous for his part in Doctor Who between 1963 and 1965 – when he was Ian Chesterton, one of the original three companions to the original Doctor, played by William Hartnell – Russell’s CV is both broad and long, and includes roles in many other highly successful works, including The Great Escape, Superman, The Black Adder and Coronation Street.

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Keller television: The Mind Of Evil at the BFI

Guest panel at the BFI's screening of The Mind Of EvilOn 10 March, I attended a BFI screening of the 1971 Doctor Who story The Mind Of Evil, in which the Doctor pits his wits against his arch-enemy the Master and his mind-sapping Keller Machine. This screening was the first time that this story had been seen entirely in colour, in public, since its original broadcast.

For the unaware, the BBC junked the original tapes in 1973 (it’s a long story), and in recent decades fans have been watching The Mind Of Evil on tapes sourced from black-and-white 16mm film copies, alongside a few colour clips that survived thanks to a domestic recording someone had made in the US. But now, thanks to the efforts of the Doctor Who Restoration Team, the entire six-part serial exists in colour once again.

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Nightmare concert: Fabio Frizzi to play London

Advert for Frizzi 2 Fulci gigIt’s a bit early, I know, to be discussing Halloween (the day, not the film – it’s never too early for that). However, if, like me, you’re a fan of the soundtracks to the films Lucio Fulci directed in his horror heyday then plans must be made right now, because this All Hallows’ Eve, Fabio Frizzi and his seven-piece band are coming to London to play live, and tickets ain’t gonna be around for long.

Frizzi, who scored a number of Fulci’s films, including Zombie Flesh-Eaters (1979), City Of The Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981), Manhattan Baby (1982) and Nightmare Concert (1990), will be playing the Union Chapel, a gorgeous venue – and actual working church – in Islington, north London, on 31 October.

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Project MotorMouth: Five Doctors, one good cause

Peter Davison, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann and David Tennant at Project MotorMouthThe announcement of Project MotorMouth last September was bittersweet. A Doctor Who convention featuring Doctors 5, 6, 7, 8 and 10 – that’s Davison, Baker (C, not T), McCoy, McGann and Tennant – was an appealing prospect, but the reason for the get-together was linked to some far less pleasant news.

“Janet Fielding has a new fight on her hands,” said the event website, “not against the Daleks or Cybermen but against cancer”.

The idea for the event, scheduled for 19 January 2013, was dreamt up by Janet’s Doctor Who co-star and friend Peter Davison, who “swung into action and enlisted the help of his fellow Doctors” to try to “raise money for a good cause but also keep Janet’s spirits up”.

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