Monday, October 1, 2018

A New Hope

THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS (2016)

Sennia Nanua begins the film strapped into a wheelchair wearing a Guantanamo Bay-style jumpsuit, before progressing to a Hannibal Lecter face mask and eventual freedom. Ultimately, THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS addresses its dystopian zombie world with issues of race, gender, and generational responsibilities.

ADAPTED from his own best selling novel by M.R. Carey, this absorbing dystopian/infection horror sees humanity ravaged by a fungal disease, were the afflicted become mindless, cannibalistic "Hungries." A small band of hybrid children - including the exceptional Melanie (Sennia Nanua) - hold the key to a vaccine, and go to "school" at an army base where they are simultaneously educated by Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton) and experimented upon by Dr Caldwell (Glenn Close). When the camp and lab is overrun, a muzzled Melanie, Helen and Caldwell escape. Together with Sgt Parks (Paddy Considine) and soldier Gallagher (Fisayo Akinade), the group attempt to communicate with survival cell "The Beacon," while scavenging for food and monitoring the behaviour of their prized asset. 

Utilising authentic locations such as RAF Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire, and with urban London landscapes doubled by drone footage of Prypjat near Chernobyl, the production is firmly helmed by esteemed television director Colm McCarthy
. THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS mixes 28 DAYS LATER with that always effective mechanism for terror, children, but also follows Danny Boyle's release for referencing themes from cult entertainment. INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS is wonderfully alluded to in the mutating mass of decomposing bodies encircling BT Tower, threatening to spread its spores for the "second phase." Pod-like behaviour is also evident in the genuinely creepy notion of standing sleep, where the Hungries react to the slightest movement. It is also consistently grisly and black humoured: for example, Caldwell reveals to Melanie that second generation Hungries were discovered after newborns killed their infected mothers by burrowing out of the womb.

Despite a meagre budget of £4m, the casting of the production is exemplary, especially Gemma Arterton and Paddy Considine. 

With the zombie genre now bloated to the extreme, there is a now a confused blurring between inspiration and mimicry. Interestingly, Carey's prose shares similar themes and plot points to the PlayStation game 'The Last of Us', which was released the same year as his source short story Iphigenia In Aulis. Both feature a fungal plague, have a last stage of infection where people sprout spores, and the infected overwhelming rely on a senses (smell and sound). Most tellingly, they each feature a young girl who potentially has the cure. THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS also taps into our ever-expanding psyche of mortality, evolution of diseases and destruction by environment. Underneath a pounding soundtrack and photography filled with sickly greens and yellows, its heavy handed Greek subtexts are more than compensated for by rounded performances which make you believe in the slow transformation of command. It could be argued that the theatrical appearance of feral infants late on goes against the grain, and that the movie lasts just one scene too long to accommodate its misjudged coda.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Ancient Rhythms

DOCTOR WHO - DOCTOR WHO AND THE SILURIANS (1970)
DOCTOR WHO - THE SEA DEVILS (1972)


Due to a graphics department miscommunication, DOCTOR WHO AND THE SILURIANS is the only TV story to have DOCTOR WHO in the title. 

WITH new producer Barry Letts working with script editor Terrance Dicks to provide a more mature approach to DOCTOR WHO, these two serials, written by Malcolm Hulke, provided related monsters to explore. In a reversal of the alien invasion scenario, long-dormant cousins Silurians and Sea Devils are ancient races of Earth, and The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) a middleman trying to reach peaceful agreements between them and humanity. Both adventures are pedestrian, and suffer from jarring experimental soundtracks, but offer appealing monsters and interesting questions about morals and military might (although the rubber costumes grate with the increased ambition, as does the Silurians' Allosaurus pet).

For DOCTOR WHO AND THE SILURIANS, millions of years ago on Earth, Silurians feared their civilisation was threatened by an asteroid. The creatures built subterranean shelters around the world but the astral body settled into orbit as the Moon, so they slept on until awakened by the activities of a research base. When a rebellious young Silurian seizes power a virus that will eradicate humans from their home is released, but The Doctor finds an antidote before the disease takes hold; plans of a secondary attack fail in an attempt to destroy the Van Allen Belt - a barrier shielding Earth from solar radiation, harmful to humans but beneficial to reptiles - as The Doctor overloads the base's reactor. Retreating to their caves, The Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney) blows up the Silurian base; ultimately notions of co-existence between Silurians and humans are lost in bickering and scheming on both sides.

Lacking the bleak tone of DOCTOR WHO AND THE SILURIANS, THE SEA DEVILS is the archetypal Jon Pertwee adventure yarn.

The message of military condemnation is lost in THE SEA DEVILS, where UNIT is substituted by enthusiastic support from the Royal Navy (including a submarine, a hovercraft and a diving bell). Aided by the misguided Colonel Trenchard (Clive Morton), The Master (Roger Delgado) is stealing Naval equipment to build a machine to revive the amphibious Sea Devils from hibernation, while he is imprisoned on a high-security island. The first episode was transmitted at the end of a Miners' Strike, accounting for a sharp increase in viewers from episode two. Yet it was the end of episode three where one of the most iconic Time Lord moments occurred, as the Sea Devils rise from the water and advance up a beach. Like The Silurians, the titular menace is wonderfully conceived, their turtle-like head pieces worn as top hats by actors so that they towered even over Pertwee. But the real meat is the interplay between The Doctor and The Master ("he used to be a friend of mine once ... a very good friend.")

Carey Blyton's score for DOCTOR WHO AND THE SILURIANS has the Renaissance woodwind instrument Crumhorn for its creature cue. This results in a comical misrepresentation, mirroring Malcolm Clarke's controversial incidental soundscape for THE SEA DEVILS. Here Clarke used the Radiophonic Workshop's newly acquired EMS Synthi 100 to his own anarchic whim, bringing an artificiality to the action which treads a fine line between musical composition and sound effect. Letts insisted on substantial edits, while Clarke argued that his work was mood pieces that fitted both needs. At least this particular score was championed by the Manchester University Press publication Time and Relative Dissertations in Space: Critical Perspectives on DOCTOR WHO, calling it "startling in its range of obtrusive electronic timbres and relative melodic paucity."

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Paranormal Activity

THE OMEGA FACTOR (1979)

Burning ambition: this fondly remembered supernatural series 
ignited the wrath of moral crusader Mary Whitehouse.

BBC Scotland's THE OMEGA FACTOR is a forerunner to THE X-FILES, but without the budget or pretention. Born from the ashes of the cancelled second series of journalist drama THE STANDARD, here the lead protagonist is occult writer Tom Crane (James Hazeldine). Crane's latent psychic abilities lead him into Department 7, a government agency which investigates the paranormal, where he is partnered with family acquaintance Dr Anne Reynolds (Louise Jameson, a recently resigned Leela from DOCTOR WHO). Crane joins the organisation as a means of finding rogue psychic Edward Drexel (Cyril Luckham) and assistant Morag (Natasha Gerson), both involved in the death of his wife; yet, after Drexel is killed, Tom becomes increasingly aware of another shadow enterprise, one which strives to assemble the cream of extrasensory perceptive individuals.

For a programme steeped in otherworldly abilities, THE OMEGA FACTOR feels strangely grounded because of its lack of money and threadbare effects. This enhances Hazeldine's already standout performance, mixing his drive to avenge his wife's death, to come to terms with his own powers, and the vain attempt to assimilate within Department 7 with a secretive superior, namely psychiatrist Dr Roy Martindale (John Carlisle). Like any anthology shows - here with a wide range of writers and directors over ten episodes - there is an inherent unevenness in style and quality, encompassing a heady and diverse set of topics: spectral analogue technology (VISITATIONS), sonic weaponry (NIGHT GAMES), sleep deprivation (AFTER-IMAGE), poltergeists (CHILD'S PLAY), and even astral projection to political means (OUT OF BODY, OUT OF MIND). 

James Hazeldine and Louise Jameson are the Mulder and Scully 
of BBC paranormal drama, with added intimacy. 

POWERS OF DARKNESS is the episode the show is most remembered for, infamously labelled "thoroughly evil [and] one of the most disturbing things I have seen on television" by Mary Whitehouse. History student Jenny (Maggie James) is possessed by a witch, culminating in an altar ritual involving a dead blackbird and a Demon. Mixing a seance, drug use, knife violence and human combustion, this fed into Whitehouse's disgust at any portrayal of Eucharist abstraction, and general distrust of popular entertainment. Two weeks later BBC Scotland Head of Drama Roderick Graham admitted that the BBC's own standards of decency had been breached during ST ANTHONY'S FIRE, where a woman kills her husband with a bread knife. The BBC's Guidance Notes on Violence, which dictated permissible levels, specifically mentioned that dramas were to avoid violent acts that could be easily copied. Graham stated that "the point has been forcibly made to those who were responsible for the programme".

The penultimate entry, DOUBLE VISION, is unnerving because it is so understated. Tom keeps seeing his dead wife Julia (Joanne Tope) in and around Edinburgh; in DON'T LOOK NOW fashion, when running after her, the red-coated figure darts around corners and remains constantly out of touching distance, like the dream sensation of a goal forever out of reach. For the husband to discover this was an elaborate ploy leaves an unsavory taste, as the show leads to its THE PRISONER-like conclusion. The final episode - called ILLUSIONS - ends fittingly on a closed door, leaving further adventures to be picked up in a series of Big Finish audio dramas, where Jameson returns as Reynolds, now head of the department.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Daleks, Daloids and Phaleks (Part II of II)

ABDUCTED BY THE DALEKS (2005)
DOCTOR LOO AND THE PHALEKS (2005)


28 years after Katy Manning's notorious spread in Girl Illustratedthe mutants from Skaro return to menace nude Earth women in ABDUCTED BY THE DALEKS. Needless to say, the BBC and the estate of Terry Nation swiftly moved to pull the plug on any legal distribution.

AS the DOCTOR WHO reboot hit television screens in 2005, these two zero-budgeted "Daleks Do Porn" abominations attempted to cash in on the return of the Time Lord. The softcore ABDUCTED BY THE DALEKS, with a story by "Billy Hartnell" and directed by "Don Scaro" - in reality London based magazine distributor Trevor Barley/Roman Nowicki - mixes Eastern European models and The Doctor's most famous foes for 55 long, erotica-free minutes. Not even a title change to ABDUCTED BY THE DALOIDS - while retaining the Dalek name on all prints - could fool the BBC from threatening legal action (there is also an unlicensed use of Pink Floyd). As for the actual plot, four women (including a Dalek agent) accidentally hit an Alien "Grey" in their car. In full party dress and high heels, they investigate in woodland famous for being a hunting ground for The Serial Skinner killer. But before long they are being taken captive by Daleks, who show a preference in interrogating their prisoners nude.

After surviving an encounter with a scared hunter and his machine gun, plus the Serial Skinner, the Dalek agent explains to the police that the metal menace wanted to impregnate their slaves. The film even makes the long passages of naked girls wandering through the forest monotonous, obliquely mirroring the Time Lord's reputation of endlessly running around corridors. Shot in different aspect ratios, there is also plenty of on-screen goofs (visible Dalek operators, the boom mike handle) and a surreal title card warning of strobe effects. Even the writhing of the starlets when strapped to a stark metallic wall is unsynchronised, though best of all is the impromptu actress switch between Lina Black and Maria Vaslova, presumably due to a no nudity clause.

In DOCTOR LOO AND THE PHALEKSWhovians recoiling from Tom Baker talking to the phallic appendage of THE CREATURE FROM THE PIT are likely to suffer chest cramps at the sight of the Phaleks.

The hardcore DOCTOR LOO AND THE PHALEKS - also known as DOCTOR LOO AND THE FILTHY PHALEKS - was made by the short lived UK porn studio Doll Theatre. And for anyone still distraught on the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the latest Doctor, remember that Britain's leading sex actress Alicia Rhodes got their first. Dr Louise Flangebatter (Billie Piper lookalike Rhodes) travels through space in her luxury toilet Turdis ("wherever there's scum she'll flush it away"); picking up damsel in distress Quimberly Dickmore (McKenzie Lee), the pair travel with house shag-bot Kay Nine to Skrotum 4, where they encounter Emperor Minge (in a gimp mask) and Lady Sodomi with her army of oversexed Phaleks. Pretty inconsequential to the greater scheme of things, the Phaleks are painted water butts, with rubber dildo's attached to the base of their garish red casing.  

Friday, June 1, 2018

Daleks, Daloids and Phaleks (Part I of II)

DR WHO AND THE DALEKS (1965)
DALEKS - INVASION EARTH 2150 AD (1966)
DALEKMANIA (1995)


In December 1966, Dell Movie Classics published a comic strip adaptation of DR WHO AND THE DALEKS with art by Dick Giordano and Sal Trapani. This was the first appearance of any printed story related to Doctor Who in the American market. 

MADE during the rise and fall of Dalekmania, these two cinema adventures - starring Peter Cushing as a non-canon Doctor Who - are concise versions of THE DALEKS and THE DALEK INVASION OF EARTH. Faithful to the BBC programmes, the lead character however is portrayed as a bespectacled Grandfather figure, a dotty human inventer rather than William Hartnell's crotchety alien. And although they are credited on-screen as AARU films because of finance from Regal International's Joe Vegoda, both films are widely accepted as Amicus releases.

Originally to be directed by Freddie Francis, DR WHO AND THE DALEKS was a financial rather than critical success. Hastily scripted by Milton Subotsky, who described the production as "a science fiction comedy," its greatest asset is its vivid 2.35:1 colour photography. This gives the previously monochrome Daleks a hierarchy of red, blue and gold, and real scope by making the most of Shepperton's expansive sound stages. DALEKS - INVASION EARTH 2150 AD is much more sombre, though both entries have a cast that dwells on relations (granddaughter Susan (Roberta Tovey) appears in the two movies, while her older sister Barbara (Jennie Linden) is in the first film, and Doctor Who's niece Louise (Jill Curzon) the second). This matinee-mentality is completed by comic relief: accident-prone Ian (Roy Castle) is Barbara's new boyfriend, and constable Tom Campbell (Bernard Cribbins) inadvertently joins the crew for the later tale.

Despite rescheduling due to Peter Cushing's virulent bout of flu, DALEKS - INVASION EARTH 2150 AD is the more rounded of the two films.

With Vegoda buoyant on the initial box office success, Subotsky was less excited about a sequel, correctly perceiving that Dalekmania was already waning. Darker and more violent in tone, DALEKS - INVASION EARTH 2150 AD had the adverse effect on its audience to the day-glo yarn set on Skaro. Despite improved critical reaction and its bigger budget (thanks in part to Sugar Puffs, where product placement can be seen throughout the feature), costs were not recouped and plans for a third picture shelved. A far superior piece, the gritty INVASION strips away the juvenile escapism to reveal characters in real peril, a world away from the Thals' golden hair and heavy eye shadow from the first movie.

Kevin Davies' hour-long DALEKMANIA documentary - which has accompanied home disc releases on numerous occasions - is a charming look at this motion picture birth and death. The framing device of a ticket taker - played by Davros himself, Michael Wisher - welcoming two excited children perfectly sets the scene for a series of interviews where the players recount fond memories of their time within the most neglected part of WHO history. Amongst the participants we have Thal Barrie Ingham - delighting that his portrayal has appeared in a comic strip - and stuntman Eddie Powell, recalling his on-set accident while being exterminated. Most touching though are Roberta Tovey's recollections of working with director Gordon Flemyng and particularly Cushing, where it is alleged the actor only agreed to make the second film if Tovey also returned.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

"I'm Fiona ... Fly Me!"

HARDCORE (1977)

Based on her 1976 book Fiona, HARDCORE charts the rise of Fiona Richmond, the "frankly sensational adventures of a liberated lady."

MAKE no illusions, there is no hardcore in James Kenelm Clarke's fictionalised sex odyssey of Fiona Richmond. A mockumentary before the term was coined, the model/non-actress turned writer - portrayed by Richmond herself - recounts her carnal exploits to an acquaintance at her publisher's South of France whitewashed villa in 80 tidy minutes. These encounters include her chemistry teacher (who pockets her panties), becoming a member of the mile high club, and frollicking at the back of a moving mixed vegetables delivery van with John Hamill. With its above average production values and beautiful cinematography by Mike Molloy, HARDCORE is the Rolls Royce of British sex comedies, and actually achieves some laugh-out-loud moments. With the opportunity to film in the heatwave of 1976, even the British locations have a welcoming sheen.

Particularly unsettling when viewed today is the scene at the chemistry lab, where the then 31-year-old in school uniform receives her "punishment." Throughout, Richmond plays herself with a wilful abandon that attempts to hide her stilted style, and thankfully she has a parade of seasoned performers for support: Ronald Fraser as the Soho impresario who first employs Fiona (she strips off, puts a vase of flowers over his head and punches him to get his attention) and Victor Spinetti as the proprietor of Men Only (both characters interpretations of Richmond's lover Paul Raymond). On the peripheral, Harry H. Corbett manages to be hilarious in his split-second cameo as Art, and for trivia hounds, an early scene shows Kenelm Clarke's 1974 movie GOT IT MADE playing on television, which featured future DOCTOR WHO Romana Lalla Ward. The picture caused a furore as it was later edited - incorporating sex scenes that the cast had no knowledge - and reissued as SWEET VIRGIN. When Raymond's Club International published photos of the hardcore action alleging Ward was a participant featured, the actress successfully sued.

Richmond with Paul Raymond, the uncredited financier of the picture. Raymond ensures that his businesses are on show, such as his Revuebar, the Windmill and Whitehall theatres, and the Men Only offices.

Released in the United States as FIONA, the only facts the project brings to the table is that Richmond is indeed the daughter of an vicar, was once an air stewardess, and that she earned her stripes as a columnist for Men Only. The rest is cloaked in her persona as a free-spirited 70s sex goddess, who was regularly seen along the streets of Soho in her yellow E-type Jaguar (a gift from Raymond). Alongside her writing "career," Richmond was the headliner in a succession of Raymond-sponsored West End stage shows and revues before screen roles beckoned, and when the cinematic sex market tired at the end of the 70s, Fiona achieved some kind of respectability on TV game shows such as CELEBRITY SQUARES and BLANKETY BLANK. Although Richmond's popularity pre-dated Mary Millington, the draw of Fiona waned upon the arrival of the fresh, sexual liberation qualities of Millington. The tall brunette became overshadowed by the short blonde, with punters preferring Mary's girl-next-door demeanour to Fiona's more remote sophistication.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

"New Thrills! New Faces! New Horror!"

HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (1970)

In the same year that David Prowse became The Green Cross Code Man, the Bristol native appeared in the second of his three roles as Mary Shelley's most famous creation.

JIMMY Sangster's HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN is detested by Hammer purists for its comedic tone, and plays out as a parody of the previous respected entriesThe film opens with Victor Frankenstein (Ralph Bates) at school, accompanied by friends Elizabeth (Veronica Carlson), Stefan (Stephen Turner) and Henry (Jon Finch). Victor arranges for the death of his father and travels to university in Vienna, where he acquires sidekick Wilhelm (Graham James) and impregnates the daughter of the Dean. Returning to Ingstad, Victor starts a series of experiments, using corpses delivered by a local body snatcher (Dennis Price) - who lets his wife do the digging. After electrocuting Wilhelm for complaining about his work - which includes reanimating a tortoise - Victor poisons Elizabeth's professor father (Bernard Archard) for his brain, but the organ is damaged and the resulting patchwork man is a mute thug (David Prowse).

Initiated as a start-over remake of CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, the picture dispenses with Peter Cushing's services and tries to introduce a younger generation (a failed attempt, as Cushing returned four years later in FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL). Despite the traditional 19th Century setting, HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN is very much of its time - as illustrated by Bates' hair and puffy shirts - and quite anarchic, mixing additional plot threads (Elizabeth's finances, Stefan's crush on Victor) with comic relief (a severed arm making a V-sign) and grue (Victor's hands smearing his face with blood). Duelling femmes fatale O'Mara and Carlson are always watchable, but only Price can deliver a performance at the correct pitch. Bates, at this point being groomed to become the studio's next big star, is not so much a mad scientist but a psycho scientist, enjoying the thrill of the kill and rejoicing in the fact that he has this powerful monster ready to do his bidding. And when the creature eventually appears - an hour in, and sporting white cycling shorts - Prowse goes through the motions with a checklist of victims and a perfect physique which bestows its fragmented origins.

"You’ve put on weight in a couple of places"; Kate O’Mara is the bed-warming housekeeper of Hammer's relaunch of its Frankenstein franchise.

Reusing the Karnstein Castle set from THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, and even shooting most of its forest scenes on Elstree stages, there is a distinctly cheap and recycled feel. Furthermore, HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN was not helped by a misleading marketing campaign, where it went out on a double bill with the sombre and gristly SCARS OF DRACULA (as Sangster states in Wayne Kinsey's Hammer Films: The Elstree Studio Years, "if people had gone to see it knowing it was shot light hearted they would have enjoyed it more [instead of] thinking it was a Gothic horror.") However, this twin feature did hold the distinction of the first Hammer movies to be totally financed by British companies, thanks to a deal between Sir James Carreras and ABPC/EMI. But Hammer's new partner would only distribute to England and the Commonwealth, leaving Carreras able to acquire just a small American distributor - Continental - to impossibly cover the whole of the United States market. 

The notion of deriving humour from such pseudo-scientific source material is an interesting one. Since Frankenstein was published in 1818, and Boris Karloff's seminal interpretation hit screens in 1931, Mary Shelley's serious text - and similar works - generate mythical themes and uncomfortable laughter. As the initial power of the book recedes in a collected consciousness, the tome gathers extraordinarily wide responses, snowballing a range of spoofs and humorous asides now over 200 years on. The level of comedic takes is mind-boggling, even to the point of delicious meta-levels: Mel Brooks' celebrated YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, for example, used many pieces from James Whale's original laboratory set, and even in The Beatles film YELLOW SUBMARINE we had the Monster drinking a potion and becoming John Lennon.