When Richard Johnson delivered the famous opening line in Lucio Fulci’s Zombie Flesh-Eaters, little did he know that three decades later his words would gain a double meaning. In the recent UK blu-ray release the boat doesn’t just leave the undead-infested Caribbean island of Matul; it leaves the film itself – or at least a sizable portion of its hull does.
Six seconds of the boat’s initial appearance in New York Harbor, directly after the opening credits, have been accidentally cut from the movie (note: just the blu-ray – the DVD is fine), leading to the distributor, Arrow Films, repressing the disc and offering replacements to customers.
If you have an interest in vintage British horror films, you can’t have failed to notice that Hammer’s UK Blu-ray releases this year have got fans of the studio in a bit of a dither. Battles have raged online over various issues, from image and audio quality to aspect ratio and framing, and, perhaps most controversially, CGI tinkering.
To its credit, Hammer has responded in detail to many of the issues, even recalling and reissuing one product to correct an audio fault. However, there is still much about these discs and their problems that confuses me, and there are still a few questions that Hammer has yet to even try to answer, despite saying that it will.
“You are invited to attend a day in celebration of Shane Briant.” So ran the (A5, stiff and rather good-looking) ticket that I received in the post back in May, after despatching a £30 cheque to Donald Fearney. A newbie to Mr Fearney’s legendary Hammer-themed get-togethers, I didn’t really know what to expect, but I knew that the opportunity to meet Shane Briant – for the actor would be in attendance at this celebration – wasn’t one I should pass up.
The venue was to be the Cine Lumiere in Kensington, where Briant’s final film for Hammer, Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell, would also be screened. However, a couple of months before the big day, some behind-the-scenes kerfuffle led to the event having to be relocated and the screening scrapped. Hence, last Saturday morning, I made my way up to Hackney to visit a church hall called the Round Chapel.
Last Saturday night I went along to Sound Of Fear, a two-part event at London’s Southbank Centre. The main draw for me was a 45-minute set from Alan Howarth, the musician and composer who collaborated with John Carpenter on many of his much-loved ’80s scores, such as Escape From New York, Halloween III: Season Of The Witch and Prince Of Darkness.
The performance in the venue’s Purcell Room, which I loved every pulsating second of, covered all these scores, plus Big Trouble In Little China, Halloween II, Christine, They Live, and even Ennio Morricone’s brooding music for The Thing. Howarth was accompanied on stage by a woman whose name I didn’t catch, who appeared to be operating a live video mixer. It was an understandable addition, given that this music was designed to accompany images, but one I found distracting at times – the repetition, intrusive effects and speed changes mostly failing to capture the mood of the original films. I’d have preferred some simple compilation clips.
Is that the time? I’d better have another rummage around the giant-ape genre, I think. Today, I’m taking a look at Konga (1961), starring Michael Gough, who died in March aged 94. As always with these in-depth reviews, beware: there are heavy spoilers ahead, including the film’s ending.
A light aircraft crashes in a Ugandan jungle, igniting in a ball of flame. It’s feared that its famous occupant, English botanist Doctor Charles Decker (Michael Gough), was killed in the explosion along with the pilot. One year later, however, a very-much-alive Decker returns to London, explaining that he’d managed to bail out of the plane before the crash, and had spent the past 12 months living with a native tribe while conducting experiments on insectivorous plants. His groundbreaking findings, he claims, will establish a close link between plant and animal life.
Logging into my site today, I noticed that traffic had spiked around one particular page: a short piece about the day in October 2007 when I made a special journey to Collectormania, Milton Keynes, to meet Elisabeth Sladen, aka Sarah Jane Smith from Doctor Who. In that blog, I recounted our brief chat, though reading it afresh it’s noticeable to me that I missed out a key detail – most likely because vanity got the better of me.
You see, despite enjoying signing events and conventions, I occasionally struggle with over-the-desk conversation due to my stammer. And this was one such occasion. Lis was one of the chattiest people I’d met, and I quickly hit a bump, my words tangling into a solid block. When I explained what was going on, she said: “Oh, don’t worry – you take your time.” To date, she’s one of only two people I’ve met at a signing who’ve helped put me at ease when I’ve got myself in a pickle (the other is Rob Shearman). I loved her for that.
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.
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?