May 25, 2015

QUATERMASS AND THE PIT - the BFI Film Classics book

By Kim Newman

Just rewatched QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (1968) and read Kim Newman's book-length essay on the film and the Quatermass genre.

His research on early British TV sci-fi and knowledge of the movie genre contantly give insights into all aspects of the three Quatermass films and all four TV series. Contemporary current affairs are reflected in the series, yet THE PIT movie still has a very current impact. 

Newman also examines the movie's place in sci-fi, whether it was influencing others or influenced by previous novels and movies. QUATERMASS AND PIT makes a worthy, though far cheaper, companion to Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY in terms of 'first contact'. Coincidentally both films were produced at the same time and even shared the same film studio for a while.

A apt and witty dissection of the film highlights the many, many big ideas as well as the cracking dialogue. Newman also contrasts various versions of the developing scripts.

With beautiful, original cover art, I was disappointed that the many photos inside appeared to be frame grabs. These are typical for film studies but considering this is the only book about the film, it's a lost opportunity to collect the best available publicity and behind the scenes photos.

Towards the end of the book, I also took exception to some of his readings of dialogue and onscreen action. Also, I'm sure I've read elsewhere that the explanation of the 'rippling graveyard' effect wasn't 'gravel spread over rollers' that he suggests, but instead a thick rubber mat with compressed air forced under it.

But apart from a few subjective gripes, this is an immensely enjoyable, thorough and insightful look at British science fiction's early heroes, Nigel Kneale and Professor Bernard Quatermass.

KIm Newman's book is available on woodpulp and on Kindle.

My review of the QUATERMASS AND THE PIT Blu-ray and the movie, including associated ephemera, are here... 

My brief meeting with Barbara Shelley at a London convention last year is here...

A look at the last original Quatermass TV series - The Quatermass Conclusion is here...

December 21, 2014

Flashbacks - 1983 and beyond

A last look at my old movie magazine shelf...

While my collection of horror and sci-fi books and mags is another matter, this shelf of general movie magazines has a wider appeal and proved very popular on Twitter. Here's the last few highlights, skipping through the rest of the 1980s.

After this, my collection became very specialised, and I rarely bought Empire magazine, especially as their opinions were so differently tuned than mine. I switched to Movieline for a few years, though my life was mostly ruled by the collectors' bible Video Watchdog, which is also still running today.

All my early peeks inside the mags of the 70s are linked at the end of this article. Here we finish off the decade, starting with 1983...

Dustin Hoffman put on a dress and won an Oscar in Tootsie. Another winner, American Horror Story's Jessica Lange, was also on a roll with star roles at the time.

The third Star Wars, Return of the Jedi, lands in London at three West End Cinemas, in 70mm.

Film Review, July

Flashdance hit big that summer, though the news soon broke about Jennifer Beals not doing all her own dancing. Though a big clue was all of the stark backlighting...

Another busy summer, another Bond, another Star Wars, another Superman...

Film Review, August

Meanwhile, Scorsese was about to release The King of Comedy. Here he is with De Niro as Rupert Pupkin.

Film Review, August

The last Monty Python film, The Meaning of Life, snuck out quite quietly. Terry Gilliam directed the short supporting film that later attacks the main feature! His next directing credit would be the epic Brazil.

A new, but short-lived, movie magazine Movie Scene had great colour pages. This spectacular cover from Fright Night...

...and this publicity shot for John Carpenter's Big Trouble In Little China.

More sequels, here's Freddy in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.

Merchant/Ivory delivered this relatively frank gay drama, based on a novel by E.M. Forster, who also inspired their acclaimed successes with adaptions of his A Room With A View, A Passage To India and later Howard's End. Maurice features a great role for young Hugh Grant.

Films Illustrated, November

Photo from a one-page interview with Randall Cook, who provided some startling visual effects for the superbly entertaining horror, The Gate.

After being derided in many roles, Arnold was finally taken more seriously in The Terminator and Predator.

Writer/director Derek Jarman's films were some of the few that were made that angrily fought back against A.I.D.S. paranoid British society. Tilda Swinton was a regular collaborator in these experimental visual poems, mostly shot on Super 8 film.

Director Ken Russell's last great works appeared in a loose trilogy, sharing a few overlapping cast members: Lair of the White Worm, The Rainbow and Salome's Last Dance (above).

Great shot of Paul McGann on location for Withnail & I.

Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix in Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho.

Earlier magazine flashbacks from 1963 to 1982, can be found in the sidebar, at right...

December 08, 2014

Bela Lugosi was here - a look round his old mansion!

Through a series of unrepeatable, lucky coincidences, I recently found myself standing in Bela Lugosi's bedroom. He may not have lived here for long, but just walking around one of the houses he owned felt very special. The rooms he once walked in, the views that he once enjoyed...

Bela and his wife regularly moved homes when he was at the height of his career. It's estimated that he lived here for less than two years, in 1934 and 1935, in the Hollywood Hills' Beachwood Canyon in a mansion known as Castle La Paloma. 

Because the house was up for sale, we were able to briefly look around inside, with the realtor's permission. As this is private property, this certainly isn't open to the public, but sightseers can still see the front of the house from the street.

This isn't the modest, cramped home portrayed in Tim Burton's Ed Wood, when Bela was at the end of his career. This is where he lived twenty years earlier, while making Mark of the Vampire.

The house perches on a very steep drop, allowing views from the back of the house, and gardens, to overlook a significant chunk of the City of Los Angeles, as well as across at many other lofty residences around the rest of the canyon. It has quite extensive grounds, carefully planted out, despite some of them being on a 30 degree slope! 

The 1924 house has recently been renovated and restored for the current sale, with this swimming pool added to what was once a large lawn where Lugosi's menagerie of large dogs must've romped.

The front of the house looks like a quaint English country bungalow, disguising the fact that the house is actually on two levels, built down the canyon slope at the back. 

I wasn't allowed to take photos in the room where Bela most likely used to sleep, which added to its mystique. The fascinating aspect of that room was a hidden, tiny back door that lead outside and subtly out of a corner of the grounds, past a hidden arbour. A remnant of forbidden Hollywood, to include a sneaky secret escape route out of the bedroom and away from the house!

It was a pleasure to witness some vintage Hollywood history, and a privilege to look inside one of the luxury homes I normally only marvel at from the outside. The views are spectacular, and the chance to live in a genuinely old property relatively rare. I wonder who's going to end up buying it?

More photos of this Lugosi residence on Curbed L.A.

Me, not believing my luck

October 05, 2014

BLIND TERROR / SEE NO EVIL (1971) - CD soundtrack release

I've updated my review of Blind Terror (UK title) / See No Evil (US title), Richard Fleischer's 1971, blind woman vs psychopath thriller starring Mia Farrow. Unexpectedly, Elmer Bernstein's rousing and beautiful soundtrack has been restored and released on CD.

September 30, 2014

The Making of George A. Romero's DAY OF THE DEAD - a new book!

I wish all my favourite movies had a book like this

George Romero's 1985 Day of the Dead now has a brand new making-of book, full of never-before-seen photos and recent interviews with the cast and crew. Published in October, it's been put together by Lee Karr, who's so keen on Romero's zombie films that he even relocated to Pittsburgh!

Day of the Dead deserved this book in 1985, but as the author notes, any chance of that was eclipsed by the publication of Paul Gagne's 'The Zombies That Ate Pittsburgh - The Films of George A. Romero'. That only had a chapter about the film, but that was the main reason why I got it at the time. It's very good, but gives equal space to every other Romero film that existed up till then. I was so impressed with this film that I was still hungry for much more detail, which is why this book is such a treat. 

It's still hard to decide which I like more, Dawn of the Dead or Day of the Dead. Dawn was more influential, but Day has a better script and a more consistent cast. While the shopping mall was a post-apocalyptic fantasy, the underground shelter is a claustrophobic nightmare. The mall had many escape routes, in the mine, you're trapped. In the dark. With zombies.

I saw both films in the cinema, during their first run in the UK. But the many, bloody shock moments in Dawn of the Dead had been censored, literally cut out of the prints, and it took years before the jigsaw was eventually put back together on home video. But Day of the Dead, I saw on one of the largest screens in the country and it looked uncut. With even more elaborate make-ups and gory effects, the many shock moments made much more of an first impression. 

Thirty years later, I've seen short documentaries and heard a few well-trodden stories, but here is a book full of much more. A complete story of the production of Day of the Dead, from the original rumours of 'a trilogy', through Romero's original vision (there is a lengthy synopsis of his favoured script), to the tortured pre-production process as the budget was pared down. There's a detailed account of how and exactly where everything was filmed, including interviews with the cast and crew, right down to the main zombies of every scene. Featured zombies were often technicians, volunteers or extras - but this was a chance for anyone to get a big screen close-up and a death scene. Something that many actors can only dream of.

Usually, when a film is documented, it's divided up into departments, stunts, special effects, directing, and a choice of all the best stories. In Karr's book, I was apprehensive to start trawling through the lengthiest section, a day-by-day account of the entire shooting schedule! But it proved to be very interesting - here we don't get the best stories, but all the stories. By the end, I felt like I'd been there with the crew for the entire shoot!

Karr doesn't shy away from the raunchier aspects of the young, high-spirited crew and I now see the wizard of gore, Tom Savini, in a slightly different light (!). His constant love of practical jokes distracts many of the crew from a grindingly hard and difficult location, where they were filming for months, though some of the 'gags' end up in hospital! At the same time, Savini tests his effects so thoroughly that it's very rare that any of his effects misfire. He's so conscious of how precious time is to a production schedule.

The film proved to be a training ground for several young crewmembers who'd been drafted in to deal with the huge number of make-ups and effects. Day presents the zombies as starting to rot, whereas in Dawn of the Dead, many of the make-ups were just extras painted green! Greg Nicotero, now a make-up effects supervisor on The Walking Dead, got his professional start on Day of the Dead, (and even had a supporting role). He learnt his trade on this film, though now we know what he actually did...

The book is drawn from over 100 interviews, though the passage of time has dimmed some of the detail. But the book boasts 250 never-before-seen photos (none are shown here), mostly in colour, presenting an eyewitness document of Day of the Dead that can't be beaten.

The paperback has just been published by Plexus and is now available in the UK and USA. Happily, Day of the Dead is now available on blu-ray in the UK and US, but please, please don't confuse George's film with the inferior 2008 'remake' starring Mena Suvari. Please.