Sunday, April 20, 2014

THE HUMAN CENTIPOD - Episode 12 : 100 Years of Anthology Horror!

For your easy listening, here's a brand new episode of the "Original" THE HUMAN CENiPOD!
Episode 12 : 100 Years of Anthology Horror. Join Fred and I as we take a look at past, present and the future of this fantastic genre.



Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Queen of Blood



Queen of Blood
Directed by: Chris Alexander
USA, 2014
Horror, 89min
Distributed by: Autonomy Pictures

Sequel time… or is it? Chris Alexander dived head first onto the genre filmmaking scene with his impressive debut feature Blood for Irina a few years back, and I had the great privilege of checking it out whilst it still was in post. What I saw blew me away, and being a huge fan of Herzog, Rollin and Franco, Blood for Irina was a love letter penned with passion from a guy who certainly knew how to summon up the aura of late seventies Eurohorror.

So when an email dropped into my in box posing the question, ”Would you be interested in seeing an early cut of Queen of Blood? I never hesitated a second. Partially because I truly did enjoy Blood for Irina, and partially because I wanted to see how Alexander tackled the tricky second feature curse!
Vampire queen Irina [Shauna Henry] walks the earth again, although this time it’s set in a western time period. Irina crawls out of a dirty riverbed drooling blood and with hunger in her eyes. Moving from place to place, encountering people along the way. People whose fates she will affect. The tone and atmosphere is much the same as in Blood For Irina, as in being gentle, meditative and cautious. But at the same time, momentary rushes of death and destruction are in place. Irina lashes out in her hallucinatory like state, turning the dreamlike shimmer into a dark nightmare. Remember that Herzog film where everyone was supposedly hypnotized before they shot the movie… Well, this captures the feeling of Heart of Glass, [1979] but with a Vampires and bloodshed!

So does he pull it off? Has Alexander been stricken by the curse of second feature failure? Well if you are a recurrent reader, you know me. I believe in honesty in everything that I do. I only write about movies I like, movies that affected me, movies that have something unique and movies that have some thought put into them. Only on a few occasions have I slammed movies for bad story, missing the bigger picture or not really getting their message through, even though I stand firmly by the theory that sometimes a zombie movie is only a zombie movie.
I do have some small issues with certain moments in Queen of Blood, but they are the kind of things that really don’t affect the movie as a whole, they are merely details of taste, and will vary with each individual viewer. With that said, one of the things that makes modern society so great is that one can discuss films with the filmmakers in a few simple punches of keyboard buttons. I’ve had the pleasure of talking about Queen of Blood with Alexander, and presented the issues to him. I also stand firmly with the belief that if a filmmaker did something intentionally, then that’s fine. I can’t, and won’t really interfere with artistic vision, and when said filmmaker answers with a referent to Franco’s Female Vampire, it kind of made my point void. Chris Alexander knows exactly why every scene, beat and frame looks, feels and works the way it does, and that’s something you have to respect!
The style that Alexander chose for his first feature, was a meditative, fever dream and also gentle, despite the topic. That’s all here too, but this time the content is what makes a difference. You will find multiple characters, multiple story arcs and multiple scenes of violence. Boundaries are pushed, both within the film and with the audience; it’s obvious that Alexander isn’t here to make mainstream mediocrity that we have seen way to much, he’s here to create his own unique space; a realm where Irina is Queen and a force of nature to be wary of.
But let’s talk about characters. In Blood for Irina we saw a pretty basic small cast. We had good, we had evil, kinda, It’s not really fair to call Irina evil in the classic antagonist way, she’s a tormented antagonist that we have an emotional recognition with and we do end up rooting for her, hence turning her into protagonist. This is basically what is transferred right over to Queen of Blood. Irina is that same character, tormented, wounded, vulnerable without being hapless. In some ways, I feel this to be perhaps more of a prequel than a sequel, as I find that there are keys to why she’s the suffering persona of Blood for Irina hidden within this film. (Also a scene where a photograph may unlock a deeper level to Irina’s background) But this time around, Alexander adds an element to the mix; he brings in characters that we almost could call red herring characters. Then there’s the highly intriguing character of The Preacher, portrayed with a broodingly sinister vibe by Skinny Puppy front man Nivek Ogre. Irina and The Preacher characters work splendidly, drawing the audience in with their mystical stories, living parallel lives in the same space, both with drifter-like agendas that we all know will lead them towards each other.

In this way, expanded, multiple character arcs make it a more complex piece than Blood for Irina. It takes some time before we can finally decide where our dedication will be, with Irina, The Preacher or that third character I will keep secret. I really dig movies that take time to establish characters and flip the classic archetypes on their ass, moving protagonist to antagonist and vice versa.
One of the things that I really loved about Mike Mignola’s Hellboy when I first discovered that comic, was that the fights where instant. He didn’t waste time or ink on illustrious battles that stretched over pages and pages with big spreads of glorious combat. “Red” just got in there, got slapped by the foe, cursed and then easily hammered the beast into submission with a single blow from that big ass red hand. Done. All in one page, or two at tops. There is something of this in Queen of Blood to, Alexander doesn’t dwell on the attacks or fights. He builds an atmosphere, get's in there and get’s the job done. I like that, because despite the slow move forth and gentle pacing, he’s not wasting time he lashes out and sending a blast of violence crashing down and then settling into that gentle pace again. Dynamic to say the least!

Queen of Blood is a natural progression of the story presented in Blood for Irina. Alexander takes Queen of Blood and expands on that universe, has a wider space in which its story takes place, locations are bigger, there are more characters, more depth, we get further into the head of the mystical Irina. Also Queen of Blood lives up to its title, as there is more blood and violence this time around, in a provocative way. Alexander get’s in there and pushes some limits and in many ways opening up new roads for fever dreams to come. Just wait until you see the re-birth lake of blood scene, it’s a fantastic moment, and what happens to lead there is shocking indeed.
Personally I see Queen of Blood as a genesis story, I see moments here that clarify why Irina reacts as she does in the initial movie, even though Alexander sees it as a sequel, and another of Irina’s feverish dreams taking place in that remote hotel room of Blood for Irina. An exciting detail is that the movie takes place in a timeless universe. What starts off as a Western setting gradually shifts into a contemporary setting and in its own way becomes a metaphor for Irina’s timelessness. After all, Irina is eternal!

There’s also an interesting and captivating wider aspect to Queen of Blood; Alexander is building a universe in the same way that Rollin and Franco built universes around their recurrent characters, themes and stories. These universes are key to Alexander’s movies, and without them you may just find yourself lost in Irina’s world. It’s the recognition and the familiarity of how those films work that is echoed through Alexander’s Irina movies. Sometimes a perfectly composed shot will tell you more than a line of dialogue; sometimes metaphors will work better than explanatory a poor exposition; sometimes less is more giving the audience an opportunity to become one with the piece instead. It will alienate some viewers, and will undoubtedly polarize the genre fans, but with that said, Queen of Blood isn't a movie for each and every genre fan either. It's a required taste, and as far as I'm concerned, I'd rather go with original over generic any day. Queen of Blood isn't for everyone, and everyone will not be for Queen of Blood
Queen of Blood is a worthy sequel, or prequel if you take my path of interpretation. Alexander has done well within his own universe. He takes us on a completely different path this time, but sticks to the themes and tone that he introduced in Blood for Irina. At times it doesn’t quiet manage to hold the same magic aura that Blood for Irina had, but it’s definitely bigger, bolder and more ambitious creating a captivating tone and universe. Irina is a great character, and the fact that Alexander doesn’t present a transparent backstory and a traditional explanation to her character works in advantage of the piece. She keeps her mysticism and that means it doesn’t collide with the fact that Irina, as she is in both movies, is basically emotionless. Irina shows no angst, no remorse, she’s just cold-blooded killer… or is she? The only thing that haunts her is her eternal damnation to walk this earth and that “loss”, "search" and "longing", the same ever-important Jean Rollin themes.  I have a theory on that, but will leave it to a later time as you still have to see the movie and how it unfolds before we discuss that without spoiling. Queen of Blood also opens up doors into a universe that Alexander knows like the back of his hand, and he doesn’t hold back on tipping his hat, even though he’s claiming his own turf in those familiar spaces. I have a feeling that in a decade or two someone will have the great delight of digging into the universe of Irina and Chris Alexander as many of us have dug into the worlds, themes and symbolism of Jean Rollin and Jess Franco, because Irina is eternal, and she is the Queen of Blood.


Wednesday, April 09, 2014

DYLAN DOG! Back from the Dead!


Dudes, and Dudettes… remember a post I posted half a lifetime ago where I ranted about Dylan Dog?

Well, if you are living in Sweden (or Denmark like you Jack) you HAVE to purchase AdesMedias releases of DYLAN DOG!

But why? Dark Horse all ready released Dylan Dog in that huge Case Files collection you may say… you may even be of the older guard like me and question if these are the same issues released back in the day as part of SerieMagasinet or in the eponymous magazine Dylan… which are the same initial issues that partially figure in the Dark Horse case file…

No. You need to buy these releases from AdesMedia because these are new more current adventures, they have Groucho back as Groucho was intended by Tiziano Sclavi, mustachioed and all, and the books simply kick major ass. Hey, it’s Dylan Dog what else would you expect!
So far four issues, or rather two issues and two shorter companion books have been published - often accompanying the two main books as bonus albums, and they are fab. It's Dylan Dog at his greatest!

Vila i frid (Rest in Peace)
De sista ljuva åren (The Last Sweet Years)
En serie mördares bekännelser  (Confessions of a Serial Killer)
Av Vargablod (Of Wolfs Blood)

If that didn’t get you all excited, then let me just say that personally I’ve been missing Dylan Dog for years. The simple fact that a small indie publisher has the balls to publish something this slim in a market still ruled by Disney and a honey happy bear called Bamse is fucking amazing. Yes, I’m sure that stuff like the Swedish translated editions of The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones released by Apart, opened the door to more obscure stuff, but I for one certainly lift my hat to AdesMedia for bringing back one of the coolest horror comics in the world.
These books are great episodes in the life of Dylan Dog and not only will you smirk at the many nods to classic Italian and to some extent other European horror that are hidden in the pages, you also get some wonderfully slick cover art by the best names in Swedish comic book art; the awesome Elin Jonsson, magical zombiefier Jimmy Wallin and the majestic Peter Bergting, (current with his sequel to The Portent: Ashes (Tecken i Skyn, out now) and Mike Mignola’s Baltimore)

These albums are a must, and definitely something that every fan of EuroHorror should have on their shelves. So make a move, go visit AdesMedia and grab yourself some really cool graphic novels – you won’t regret it!

Friday, March 07, 2014

The Witches


The Witches
Directed by: Cyril Frankel
UK, 1966
Horror/ Occult, 90min
Hammer Horror

Missionary schoolteacher Gwen Mayfield [Joan Fonatine] escapes from a terrifying and traumatizing attack during her time in Africa. Back from Africa, and following something of a breakdown, she moves to the small rural English village, Heddaby when Alan Bax [Alec McCowen] and his wife Stephanie [Kay Walsh] invite her to come take a position as head teacher in the village’s school. At first all is fine and Gwen quickly settles in, despite the fact that Bax wore a priests collar when they first met even though he’s not a man of the clergy, and the fact that the village still hasn’t rebuilt the burned down church ruin that stands on the hill above the village.
During her fist class she goes through the names of the pupils and reacts to the fact that young Linda Rigg [Ingrid Boulting] has her doll with her to school, something that she feels Linda is way to old for. The next day, Linda is absent and Gwen finds a note in one of the children’s textbooks claiming that Linda’s Granny treats her cruel. Here comes the first sign of odd behaviour in the village as Gwen learns about Linda’s Granny forcing her hand into the mangle! Not to worry says the chuckling old Granny Rigg [Gwen Ffrangcon Davies, who also starred in Terrence Fisher’s magnificent The Devil Rides Out two years later], she’s given Linda a nice brew of herbs to ease the pain.
Although Linda’s hand-in-mangle isn’t the thing that is worrying Granny Rigg the most, it’s her concern over young Ronnie Dowset [Martin Stephens] running after Linda, especially as they are at “That” age. If one was to be prejudice, Gran and her cat – who just happens to trail Gwen after Granny Rigg whispers into it’s ear to follow her and the talk of herbal medicine, home made sherry and chutneys – it would be easy to think that the old woman may just be a witch!
Ronnie suddenly falls into a coma, an effigy of him is found in a tree with pins stuck in it and the head missing, Gwen awakens from a sleeping pill slumber and screams in terror as she mistakes a feather duster for one of the Voodoo statues from her terrifying encounter in Africa. With the strange events occurring all around her, Gwen comes to the conclusion that Granny Rigg must be planning to use Linda as a virgin sacrifice in an occult ritual!
Slowly, slowly devilish things start happening to villagers, a man is found drowned, sheep attack Gwen and the African effigies start to turn up in dreams – or is it real? Guess the confusion and shock as Gwen awakens after fainting only to be in a nursing home and not Heddaby and under the supervision of the odd Dr. Wallis [Leonard Rossiter]. Is Gwen going insane or is there a conspiracy lead by Granny Rigg and the witches of Heddaby? Prepare yourself, because as the movie shifts into the third act, suspicions are overthrown, truths are exposed and the real constellation of the Heddaby coven is revealed!
This is classic Hammer occultism, gradually building the presence of the unnatural elements, letting paranoia grow, exposing our leading lady to the horrors of Heddaby, voodoo dolls, creepy cats, mystic happenings, Sabbaths and virgin sacrifices!
 
No stranger to the world of the weird, screenplay writer Nigel Kneale delivers the creeps and eeriness perfectly with his adaptation of Nora Lofts’ (under the pseudonym Peter Curtis)  The Devil’s Own, and Cyril Frankel dispenses it well. The Witches was the final big screen performance for Jean Fontaine, which she also co-produced as she’d bought the rights to the Loft story. Fantastic Hammer Horror creepiness and low key shocker filled with wonderful paganism and occult dabbling make this a movie I feel can be classed as something of a underestimated Hammer gem well worth seeking out!



Wednesday, March 05, 2014

THE CURSE OF DOCTOR WOLFENSTEIN (Teaser trailer!)

Remember how I raved on about Marc Rohnstock's NECRONOS - Tower of Doom a few years back? Well, in the words of the dead kid from the Poltergeist flicks, "THEY'RE BACK!"

Just check this sizzling hot teaser for Rohnstock's THE CURSE OF DOCTOR WOLFENSTEIN, it looks sodding brilliant in all the ways I want a German gore flick to be sodding brilliant!


Tune in to INFERNAL FILMS or go like their THE CURSE OF DOCTOR WOLFENSTEIN Facebook page to keep up to date with the progress of what looks to be another kick-ass classic from the Rohnstock camp!

I love that logo, and that trailer had me at Warning: Explicit Content - Blood and Gore - Intense Violence! 

Tales from the Crypt




Tales from the Crypt
Directed by: Freddie Francis
UK/USA, 1972
Horror Anthology, 92min

I’m still watching a lot of anthology flicks, and before the Crypt Keeper was a rotted corpse puppet on HBO (as played by John Kassir), he was Ralph Richardson. Legendary, majestic Ralph Richardson, or God from Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits if you love that flick as much as I do.

Deep down underneath the gothic atmosphere of the British equivalent of Jean Rollin’s beloved Pere Lachaise, Highgate Cemetery (where amongst others Douglas Adams and Karl Marx rest) the Crypt Keeper hosts a series of gruesome fates told to his blissfully unaware visitors. Five short stories and the interweaving wraparound with Richardson and leading cast are shared with us and I’ll be damned if this isn’t amongst the finest ever of Amicus anthology films. British anthology horror at its finest, and nobody did it better than Amicus.

Just like the successful TV series fifteen years later, this Amicus production takes its inspiration and stories from a bunch of Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror short form horror comics.  Five stories kick this racket, five stories right out of the pages of the EC comics Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror and it shows. These stories are everything that made those comics so damned controversial and amazing to start with. You know exactly what you are going to get with this fare, short and to the point horror with creepy atmosphere and ironic twists!

After walking astray in the vaults of the cemetery a bunch of people on the guided tour end up in an underground lair where the Crypt Keeper welcomes them. He starts to show them visions; visions that we pretty soon understand are their untimely demises. This is where the chills start to run down your spine.
The first story out sees Joan Collins once again reminding the audience why she was the hotness of the hot at the time this movie was made telling the tale of violent death and the way fate settles the score. And All Through The House starts with a murder and Collins panicking as she tries to rid all the evidence so that her young daughter doesn’t see what has happened… only to hear over the radio that an escaped maniac [Oliver MacGreevy] dressed as Santa Claus has escaped from the mental institute. Moments later she hears her daughter scream and guess who’s rapping at the window! Tense, fast and ferocious, what a splendid opener!

The second story Reflections of Death sees a scenario not to unlike H.P. Lovecraft’s The Outsider when Ian Hendry tries to find his way home after a fiery car crash. Short and to the point this is effective storytelling and it delivers a great climax!
The third story and undoubtedly the finest moment of this collection, is Poetic Justice starring Robin Phillips, David Markham and the majestic Peter Cushing. This tells the tale of predjudice and how two fancypants snobs go to extreme measures to rid themselves of the neighbor they presume is a dirty smelly old man. Cushing is  Arthur  Edward Grimsdyke, who still talks to his passed wife, is friendly to the neighbourhood kids and has a few dogs to many. Hence the neighbors, the Elliots presuming that his house is filthy and stinking of dog shit. Wnating to rid themselves of him as to up the value of their own property they scheme a diabolical plan to push the old man over the edge. A series of nasty valentines day cards are sent and realixing that the messages inside are not ones of love, Grimsdyke takes his own life… But one year later to the day, he arises from his grave to take his revenge. This entry is stunning, Cushing is fantastic and this is the epitome of EC horror. A masterpiece in it’s own right and comes with some fantastic moments of shock and awe.
W.W. Jacobs old classic The Monkeys Paw serves as inspiration and is even referenced in the fourth tale of horror, Wish You Where Here as Ralph Jason [Richard Greene] finds himself with a roublesome economy. Taking something of a last look at their many trophies purchased overseas on their many journeys abroad his wife Enid [Barbara Murray] notices an inscripture on one of their many statues… remember the wise words Carefull what you wish for? Well never did they ring more true than here as the economical problems become the least of their worries and a very shocking climax that for many years was cut from the movie startled the audience, has finally found it’s way back into the film. Blood and guts galore!
The final grim tale is all about the new boss in town. Nigel Patrick is Major William Rogers, a vile bastard with a sadistic streak and a passion for sicking his Alsatian dog on the inhabitants of the all male, blind ward he’s just become head of. Although George Carter [Patrick Magee] won’t have it, and after rallying his fellow inmates, the insane, or rather the blind, take over the asylum and Major Rogers get’s to taste his own medicine. If you have a phobia for razorblades, they you’ll probably faint when you see the razorblade infested walls of the tight corridors the callous Major is forced to walk.

With an all star cast, yes I think we can call it an all star cast as it houses many great British actors and actresses, Tales from the Crypt is something of a who’s who of UK low budget horror fare. Upon it’s release, Tales from the Crypt became one of the most successful films of the year in the US. Hence leading Amicus to continu with the great string of anthology anthology horrors that beaome something of a signature style of Amicus.  Another few years later a remake was planned by George A. Romero and Stephen King. Luckily they decided against it and instead came up with Creepshow another example of anthology movies that pay homage to both Amicus and the EC horror comic universe.