Thursday, 27 May 2010

Clive Barker's Coldheart Canyon: A Hollywood Ghost Story

I have issues with Clive Barker. In theory I should love him, the gore factor, the homoeroticism, the 80s, etc., but somehow I find his books inherently forgettable and that annoys me because I really want to love him and he insists on making that so hard for me. I keep being surprised by books of his, they jump out at me from nowhere and I discover I’ve read them and just couldn’t remember a damn thing about them. (Actually the reason CB keeps cropping up in my house at the moment is that my husband has suddenly developed something of a big boy crush on him and his novels keep dropping through my letterbox with alarming regularity and startling me with their familiarity).

When I read the blurb about Coldheart Canyon I thought that it was going to be right up my street: A Hollywood Ghost Story, it promised me, I love old Hollywood, I love ghost stories, this has to be the Clive Barker book for me! Also, one irate Amazon reviewer described it as: ‘far from what I would call horror, it descends into nothing better than semi-pornographic filth.’ And that was all the incentive I needed to head straight to ‘proceed to checkout’!!!

Coldheart Canyon follows Hollywood action hero Todd Pickett. Todd is a global superstar, probably along the lines of Bruce Willis in his heyday (or more likely someone more current that I haven’t heard of). Todd’s rise to fame has been meteoric and he has been at the top of his game for a long time, or at least a long time in Hollywood years, but as he gallops through his thirties (know the damn feeling) his grasp is beginning to slip. He’s built his career on his pretty face and, because your thirties mostly suck, that pretty face is starting to show the inevitable signs of age and that simply will not do in Hollywood, especially when there’s any number of taut young things creeping up behind you ready to steal your crown with their fresh young fingers.

In attempt to rectify his pesky age situation and grant himself another few years clinging to his superstar pedestal, Todd allows himself to be cajoled into plastic surgery. This was his first mistake; the surgery goes badly wrong and although he is reassured that, given time, there should be no lasting damage; he can’t face public and tabloid scrutiny in his current damaged condition. So his manager scouts for the ideal recovery location, and finds Coldheart Canyon, a dream hideaway closeted in a secret corner of the city, and remarkably so much of a secret it can’t be found on any map.

In the 20s, Coldheart Canyon was home to beautiful silent film star Katya Lupi who was renowned for her decadent parties where the cream of Hollywood’s elite would gather to indulge their darker tastes and fantasies. To add to her mystique, Katya is the proud owner of series of mysterious hand painted tiles that were purchased and transported as gift to her from her lovelorn manager, William Zeffer from a monastery in her homeland of Romania and meticulously recreated in the cellar of her Coldheart Canyon home. These tiles depict a landscape of Hieronymus Bosch proportions, another world known as ‘The Devil’s Country’. And the thing about the ‘The Devil’s Country’ is that you can physically enter it and experience all of its hellish delights. Unsurprisingly ‘The Devil’s Country’ swiftly becomes a prime attraction for Katya’s famous friends, and a powerful currency for Katya, however, as is always the way with these things, there is a steep price to pay for its favours. Entering ‘The Devil’s Country’ changes people physically and spiritually, it enslaves them with its horrific pleasures so much so the need to return, if denied, can kill them. For Katya ‘The Devil’s Country’ gives her eternal youth and beauty, consequently she remains the unchanged mistress of Coldheart Canyon in present day still residing within its boundaries as exotically beautiful as she was on the screen 80 years prior.

With Todd, to all intents and purposes, essentially a captive in the mansion it isn’t long before he becomes aware of Katya’s presence and he is easily captivated by her beauty which makes it easy for her to draw him into her dangerous world where dead movie stars are alive and copulating and a semblance of hell is secreted in the basement. Our temporally disfigured, hapless hero is rapidly seduced into Katya’s domain and voraciously initiated in the pleasures of the ectoplasmic flesh. Unfortunately, what he fails to realise while he’s getting his action hero freak is the devastatingly addictive nature of ‘The Devil’s Country’ and, indeed, the cold, callous nature of its ever youthful mistress which makes for a dire combination. Years ago the capricious Katya grew weary of sharing her other hellish world with Hollywood’s rich and famous and closed it up to them, severing the still human stars from that which they desired most. The calamitous results of this action are illustrated with actual star stories of premature death and self- destruction. Now these starlet phantoms are gathered within the grounds the Hollywood mansion tortured by their illustrious past and they are understandably more than a little pissed off with their current state of dislocation and our feckless hero is heading for a hell of lot of trouble, quite literally. It doesn’t take too much of an imaginative leap to see the parallels Barker is drawing and to recognise the recurrent metaphors for the darker, unpleasant side of Hollywood and fame.

Clive Barker has effectively taken the classic form of the haunted house novel and subverted it, in his own inimitable style, with varying degrees of success. As a ghost story it maintains many of the classic gothic elements we’ve come to expect and adds some unique twists to enliven the familiar structure, and while this is refreshing, it did at times seem like as a direct result of that it did struggle for identity. It wasn’t traditionally creepy enough to be a classic ghost story, but equally it wasn’t dark, twisted and depraved enough to be a classic Barker novel. That said, ‘The Devil’s Country’ is impeccably realised, but then Clive Barker is invariably at his best when creating fantastical other worlds and making them beautiful in their horror and depravity.

Actually, my only real criticism is that it is unnecessarily long; instead of building to one climatic crescendo it seemed to have three endings staggered through the last part of the book the last being nothing more than a long epilogue informing us of characters’ fates that really didn’t add anything to the story. Oh yeah, and there’s a great big long bit at the beginning about the hero’s dog dying which I thought was gratuitously self indulgent, but my husband reasonably informs me that in showing us the incredibly strong bond Todd has with his dog we are also seeing how empty and barren his life actually is, he has no one to implicitly trust and rely on and unconditionally love him except for that dog. Ok, fair enough, but it was still too damn long.

Also, the odd, but then I suppose apt, choice of Todd Picket über fangirl Tammy Lauper as the novel’s heroine. My problem here is that the majority of Tammy’s character is based around the fact that she is a larger lady. The archetypal obsessive fan, delusional, overweight, sublimating her deficiencies with unrealistic infatuation. Ultimately Tammy is inherently capable and her more objective insight into the machinations of Hollywood does serve her well and I can accept that her more excessively womanly figure is necessary, not as generalised psychological assertion regarding bigger women, but as a juxtaposing Madonna figure, all things maternal, fertile and nurturing and alive in comparison to the destructive decay of Katya. But really you are left thinking that it’s a bit of a leap between obsessed fan club president and the mounting of a dangerous otherworldly rescue expedition for what is essentially a complete stranger.

I was also kind of both intrigued and distressed by the inclusion of many real life bygone stars. While part of me felt it was a valid inclusion that very much epitomised the destructive truth behind the Hollywood façade, and also I felt a bit smug for recognising them and for appreciating the connotations of their real life stories, it also made me a little sad to see the stars I grew up loving, the idols of yesteryear; Valentino, Clara Bow, Lana Turner, Jean Harlow, etc. depicted in such a tragic way, although I will admit it did add to the perverted charm of the piece.

I also feel obliged to point out that with regard to ‘semi-pornographic filth’ it’s not much more than one extended ghostly orgy scene and while, granted, I felt a wee bit naughty reading it on the bus in front of school kids, it’s really not worth getting that worked up about. Or maybe I’m just not that shockable.

For the most part I kind of enjoyed Coldheart Canyon, though it did annoy me a little. Clive Barker’s prose is divine and seductive and while I do wish it had a more solid identity and had had more of an edit, but there is still a lot to redeem it, and it did give me, as promised, both classic Hollywood and a ghost story so I can’t really complain. And I’m fairly certain I’ll remember it too.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Bunny Lake is Missing (1965)

Apparently I’m all about movies I remember from my childhood at the moment.

Bunny Lake Is Missing was originally a 1957 pulp fiction novel written by author Merriam Modell under the pseudonym Evelyn Piper. In 1965 it became a black and white movie somewhat surprisingly starring non other than giant of stage and screen Laurence Olivier.

Bunny Lake is Missing begins with young American single mother Ann Lake (Carol Lynley) relocating to England to be nearer to her brother Stephen (Kier Dullea) who works in London. From Anne’s interactions we learn that she has a four year old daughter named Felicia though she is commonly known as Bunny. Since arriving in the UK Bunny has been sick and confined to bed rest but it is now her first day at her new school the marvellously christened ‘The Little People’s Garden’

In a stunning feat of parenting, on arriving at ‘The Little People’s Garden’ and finding it currently bereft of teaching or administration professionals on the advice of the school cook Ann abandons her daughter in the school’s day room and leaves to go and attend to a delivery (it was a different time, you could do stupid stuff like leave your small child unattended in a strange place and leave your front doors open. Damn it, the sixties!). It is important to note at this point that we, the audience, do not see the titular Bunny, we see Ann interacting with other characters discussing the situation but we never see Bunny herself.

When she returns at lunchtime to collect her daughter, she finds that Bunny is nowhere to be found and, worse than that, the school claims no record of having had Bunny enrolled at all. Naturally Ann is distraught and things only disintegrate further as it becomes increasingly apparent that she can provide no tangible evidence that Bunny even existed in the first place; Ann has no photographs of her daughter and when the police routinely investigate Ann's new flat they can find none of the usual abundant paraphernalia that suggests a child’s residence .

Larry Olivier enters the fray as Superintendent Newhouse assigned to ascertain the truth behind alleged child’s disappearance and in his able hands we systematically see evidence for Bunny’s existence countered with evidence for her being entirely made up. So, all in all, while you are probably unsurprised to learn Bunny Lake is, indeed, missing, you are maybe a little surprised to find yourself having question whether, in fact, she existed in the first place, but such is the crux of the plot.

It is the minor roles in Bunny Lake is Missing that particularly stand out, the ubiquitously talented Noel Coward performs a smashing turn as Horatio Wilson, a predatory, lapdog brandishing, alcoholic broadcaster who also happens to be Ann’s landlord. His general creepiness sets him up as neat suspect and to aid his defense he proceeds to gleefully intimidate members of the metropolitan police force with allusions to sadomasochistic proclivities and the claim that he is in possession of the Marquis de Sade’s skull. Also, Martita Hunt as Ada Ford the retired founder of ‘The Little People’s Garden who, while apparently disturbingly sequestered in the school’s attic rooms, fills her time recording and documenting the nightmares of the little children in her care.

Poor Larry O. is left to negotiate his way through this convoluted mire of weirdness whilst still having to ascertain if Bunny is actually missing at all or if she is merely the mutual fantasy of the two co-dependant and pervily over attached Lake siblings. Unsurprisingly, Laurence Olivier is clearly the thespian lynchpin of the movie; he quietly holds the other leads together allowing the less accomplished actors to flit around his uncharacteristically understated performance lending weight to the assemble with his internalised portrayal of Newhouse.

The film is intriguing and captivating enough that the plot holes and lapses in logic are forgivable and fairly easily overlooked. It effectively exploits several basic fears; cultural displacement, our heroine finding herself in a strange place at the mercy of alien systems and legalities that are unfamiliar and incomprehensible, the very basic and primal terror of losing a child and, indeed, the conflict of internal rationality and outwardly perceived insanity.

However, though the film’s set up is eerie and effective, almost Hitchcockian in the accumulation of suspense and sense of creeping fear, the end, unfortunately, somehow does not quite manage to live up to the rest of the piece and seems somewhat contrived and insubstantial particularly when measured against the tautness of the initial stages and the expectations consequently garnered. That said there are some genuinely sinister moments in the closing scenes. The use of London as the backdrop also adds a lovely creepy nuance to proceedings; the city is imagined as a kind of nightmarish fairytale in keeping with the recurrent themes surrounding childhood and also appropriate as the city is predominantly viewed through the eyes of Ann Lake, the stranger in a strange land, picking her way through the disorientating landscape like Snow White through the forest.

Despite any small failings, Bunny Lake is Missing remains a tense and absorbing thriller. It is the kind of fare perfect for a rainy afternoon and if you live in Britain we’re probably in for any number of those as we falter into what we laughingly refer to as our ‘summertime’. If you don’t live in Britain, what the hell, watch it anyway and pretend for an hour and a half you do.

Fun Facts

Carol Lynley posed nude for the March 1965 edition of Playboy.

Director Otto Preminger played Mr. Freeze in the 60s Batman TV series.

60s group The Zombies have three songs in the film and have a title credit despite only actually appearing briefly on screen on a television in a bar scene.

Daphne Du Maurier’s house was used as a location.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Necroville (2007)

I never really got the Jay and Silent Bob/Clerks thing. Sacrilege to many, I know, but despite being a quintessential under achieving product of Gen X (I blame Kurt Cobain) I just never got the joke. However, if Jay and Silent Bob had been a bit more like the boys from Necroville I might have appreciated them more.

Jack and Alex are BFFs. They’ve grown up together in the same small town and now work together in a video store and spend the vast majority of their time indulging in the appropriate level of BFF type banter. Alex is chubby and is surprising skilled with weaponry, Jack isn’t chubby but is inexplicably involved in a toxic relationship with obnoxious live-in girlfriend, Penny. For her part, Penny mostly sits round the house eating, smoking and whining, calling Jack to pick up cigarettes and food for her and waiting for money for massage classes in much the same way actors wait for Godot, she also likes to round out her days with a little more whining. Needless to say she’s a catch. They all live in the town of Necroville, near Albuquerque, New Mexico and things in Necroville have been going a bit downhill recently. Hordes of zombies mill freely through the streets and the town is also frequently besieged by werewolves and vampires and all manner of other supernatural entities and assorted goths also call it home. This is just part of everyday life in Necroville.

When Jack and Alex accidentally destroy the video store whilst wrangling with a zombie they find themselves unemployed and, for Jack, this does not go down well with his unpleasant, equally unemployed masseuse in waiting girlfriend. Fortunately the pair are not out of work too long as, after and impressive interview, they manage to secure positions with local supernatural exterminators Zom-B-Gone. The new position puts them in the role of exterminators. Now, for a nominal fee, they can set to work cleaning up this damn town and continue to indulge in their preferred manner of dilatory conversations. But, just as things were looking somewhat rosy for our slacker heroes, amid the zombie battling and monster slaying, a new danger saunters into town in the fey shape of Jack’s old martial arts nemesis, and coincidentally Penny’s ex-boyfriend, Clark, who just so happens to be a master vampire, and one of his nefarious, vampirey plans is to win Penny back. Apparently she is a catch.

Naturally the boys can’t be having this and what follows, between the liberal dispatching of monsters, is a personal journey of self discovery for the brow beaten Jack whereby he must finally face his own demons and prepare for the inevitable, and long time coming, showdowns with childhood nemesis and also vampire Clark and with his grasping succubus of a girlfriend Penny.

While there are many things wrong with Necroville; maybe it could have done with more scissor happy editor, the cast are clearly not actors and a lot of the humour is sabotaged by the delivery, the script seems, at times, self indulgent, there is a lot more that makes up for all that. Necroville may be low on production values but it is big on heart, infectiously enthusiastic and boasts some nifty gore effects. Despite the lack of budget the filmmakers capitalise on what they have and, in some cases, I found, what was lacking actually proved to be charming addition to the overall piece, for example there was something completely disarming about the badly made up werewolves with little blackened noses that I totally appreciated within the confines of this fictional universe. That fictional universe itself, in fact, another plus, it is surprisingly well realised with its streets teeming with the restless dead, innocuous suburban vampires, the homeless begging for bullets rather than change and its business specialising in the eradication of paranormal pests.

When the comedy works its works remarkably well, there is a nice comedy-basic piano drop vampire kill, a running joke about holy water that has an amusing payoff and a fun scene involving a BDSM club of vampires. Also its soundtrack is rounded out by the awesome Zombina and the Skeletones so that wins all the points.

I can overlook a lot in a film if I’m feeling a genuine love of the genre from its makers and an exuberant sense of fun from its cast and you definitely get that from Necroville and more besides. In a world of bland remakes and formulaic torture fests I’d much rather watch an independent labour of love like this any time.

Monday, 17 May 2010

The City of the Dead (1960) aka Horror Hotel

About a hundred years ago, when I was in my early teens and dressing a bit like a chubby Cyndi Lauper, in the good old days of VHS when remote controls had strings and you could tape anything you liked off of the old tellybox with impunity, I recorded something late at night in said manner (I’m fairly certain it was the boobilicious Hammer film The Twins of Evil) and after my film of choice the tape ran on gave me the tantalising beginning of another film, then promptly ran out before I could find out what happened. This drove me mad for years. In a sad testament to my own stupidity it was only recently that I thought to try and track it down, which turned out to be a lot easier than I had anticipated, it took me about two seconds , which was a bit embarrassing as I’d already prematurely resigned myself to hours of fruitless internet trawling. The result was 1960’s The City of the Dead. Hurrah for modern technology! And it turns out it’s in the public domain too. Once more, hurrah!

The City Of The Dead, (or Horror Hotel as it is known to our American brothers and sisters) begins in 17th century Massachusetts (where else?) as the requisite mob of town’s folk from Whitewood prepare to burn Elizabeth Selwyn (Patricia Jessel) at the stake for being a witch. The unrepentant Ms. Selwyn has no intention of going quietly, however, and promptly curses said mob and promises to return from the grave to exact her revenge on those who wronged her, which is exactly the kind of behaviour one expects from a burning witch and, frankly, I’d be disappointed not to get it.

The rest of the drama takes place in swinging 60s America, where young student Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson) is studying the history of witchcraft which is apparently taught by Christopher Lee (can you see now why I can’t believe it took me so long to find this?) Nan tells Kissy Lee that she’s planning on conducting some independent research on the subject and Count Lee, somewhat suspiciously it has to be said, suggests his home town of Whitewood as ideal for such an endeavour (you remember Whitewood, it’s where they burn ladies, it’ll probably be important later on).

Our heroine duly consults with her nice but dim science geek boyfriend, and her hepcat science teaching brother (Dennis Lotis ) and neither of them think that this is at all a good idea, but this is entirely redundant because Nan doesn’t care what their science brains think she’s a young historian with a mission and she’s going to damn Whitewood whether they like it or not.

Unfortunately, much as I hate to admit it, it turns out that the science boys were right and Nan probably should have stayed at home and gone to the library. To be honest Nan really should have realised something was erring on the wrong side normal when faced with a sinister mist and a creepy hitcher before she even arrived at Whitewood. The signs were there, Nan, really they were. But our intrepid historian cares not for such trivialities and merrily wends her way to the Raven’s Inn and checks in with the eerily familiar proprietor, Mrs. Newless (Patricia Jessel. Again) and without any qualms at all happily accepts an invitation to this eerie stranger’s evening soiree. Then some more stuff happens including meeting a cuteypie lady bookseller, some sinister villagers, a minxy flash of our heroine in her underwear (oh, yeah!), some jazz and dancing with the assembled Raven’s Inn ‘guests’ and a portentous blind priest who warns her to get out of town.. Really, Nan, the signs!

Sadly it isn’t all pretty booksellers and dancing (things rarely are) and very soon Nan finds herself abducted into the catacombs below the hotel, where she is ritually sacrificed by the natives. Bet you didn’t see that coming! A black and white movie from 1960 where you trustingly believe the young lady you initially meet on a journey to a creepy location out in the middle of nowhere is our heroine only to find her brutally murdered less than half way through! Who’d have thought it? Wait a minute…….

In the absence of a heroine we are then forced to rapidly switch allegiances and reassess our fictional world. We’ve got a cuteypie bookseller though so that’s ok. It is then left to the science world’s equivalent of the Hardy Boys Nan’s brother, who’s amusingly named Dick, and her boyfriend Bill (Tom Naylor) to investigate and sort out this nefarious den of witchery.

While there may not be anything startlingly original about The City of the Dead, it is still a thrilling and bizarrely convincing supernatural horror. I say bizarrely convincing because really, in theory, everything about it shouldn’t work, we’ve got a largely British cast pouncing about exhibiting less than perfect American accents (a refreshing change, I suppose), heavily stylised studio sets representing a small town in New England, perpetual heavy fog rolling about the place, not to mention the support of an assemblage of overly dramatic villagers rhubarbing for all they’re worth. But weirdly, by some form of magical cinematic alchemy, it totally works. Somehow the wrongness of it all combines to create the disturbing, chilling sense of otherness, of a claustrophobic, threatening almost nightmarish other world cut from all security and normality.

It was well worth the two seconds of searching I spent finding it and would have been worth hours of website hopping I had anticipated.

To add to my embarrassment at taking so long to find The City of the Dead it turns out it is pretty well culturally referenced. Iron Maiden used bits of it in the video for ‘Bring Your Daughter... to the Slaughter’, Rob Zombie used Christopher Lee’s opening words at the beginning ‘Dragula’ and then there’s the Misfits song ‘Horror Hotel’. I hate myself.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

The Last of Sheila (1973)

The Last of Sheila isn’t really a horror movie; it does, however, have an impressive horror pedigree. It was conceived and written by none other than Anthony ‘Norman Bates’ Perkins abetted by composer Stephen ‘Sweeney Todd’ Sondheim, starred James Mason (as seen in Salem’s Lot) and even gave us Joel Schumacher (Lost Boys) as costume designer.

I find it somewhat surprising that The Last of Sheila isn’t better known; it boasts a terrific all star cast, has an intriguing and fascinating storyline, beautiful locations shown to advantage in every shot and at its heart it is a well-crafted, sophisticated whodunit.

In The Last of Sheila the protagonists are assembled under the ruse of Mediterranean pleasure cruise aboard the yacht of movie producer Clinton Greene (James Coburn), the specially selected guests include Christine, an agent (Dyan Cannon), struggling screenwriter Tom Parkman (Richard Benjamin) and Lee Parkman (Joan Hackett), his wealthy wife, actress Alice Wood (Raquel Welch), Anthony Wood, her manager/husband (Ian ‘Lovejoy’ McShane) and film director Philip Dexter (James Mason). We soon learn that the event is, in fact, a macabre reunion as all the guests, with the exception of Lee Parkman, were together at a party at Clinton’s home one year before and on that night his wife the titular Sheila was killed in an apparent hit-and-run accident.

Once the cruise is under way, Clinton, who is a well known game enthusiast, informs his guests that he arranged as entertainment for the week ‘The Sheila Greene Memorial Gossip Game.’ Naturally almost everyone is more that a little perturbed by this somewhat tasteless turn of events but all of the guests have their own ulterior motives for endeavouring to stay on Clinton’s good side so feign enthusiasm at the prospect. The six guests are each assigned a specially prepared index card containing a secret that each must hide from the others. The object of the game is to discover everyone else’s secret while protecting one’s own.

Each part of the game is played on a different night with one secret being disclosed to the group as the yacht arrives at different picturesque location. The guests are then given a clue pertaining to the secret and sent ashore to find the proof of whom among holds that particular secret card.

When the first ‘secret’ is revealed to be ‘YOU are a SHOPLIFTER,’ the participants begin to grow more uneasy as it is beginning to become apparent that these cards are not the harmless ‘pretend pieces of gossip’ Clinton proclaimed them to be but, in fact, actual dirty little secrets personal to each player.

Things quickly take an even more sinister turn when wacky japester Clinton does not return from the second evening’s game installment hunting for proof as to who is the holder of the ‘YOU are a HOMOSEXUAL’ card, and the guests soon discover his absence to more than justified when they run across his dead body back on the island. The game now appears to be over, but, while waiting for authorities to arrive, one of the guests reveals that his card reads, ‘YOU are a HIT-AND-RUN KILLER.’ It is then seemingly apparent that Clinton had motives beyond the airing of embarrassing and/or potentially damaging secrets and, in fact, there is a more elaborate game going on, one they didn’t even know they were playing that involves culpability for the death of Sheila Greene, and now Clinton Greene. As the game cards continue to be revealed and the essence of the secrets become darker the guests are left to contend for the lesser secrets while becoming increasing more paranoid that the implication is that one member of their party is a double murderer.

I am particularly thrilled by the fact that the movie was inspired by a series of elaborate, real-life scavenger hunts Messers Sondheim and Perkins arranged for their showbiz pals (said to include the likes of Lee Remick, George Segal and Roddy McDowell) in Manhattan in the late 1960s and early 1970s where the glitzy participants would maraud through the streets of Manhattan for clues to a ‘mystery’ it is said that the winners prize was typically champagne on ice. How unspeakably glamourous! I was also rather thrilled to note, purely for the delightful mental image it conjures, that James Mason reportedly said of his experience of working with Ms. Welch on The Last of Sheila that:

“Raquel Welch is the rudest, most unprofessional actress I’ve ever had the displeasure of working with, and if I could, I would spank her from here to Aswan.”

Thank you, Mr. Mason!

While the plot may sound convoluted it is, in fact, beautifully crafted and realised and The Last of Sheila really is a delightful little thriller with a glorious cast of miscreants and ne’er-do-wells that I would heartily recommend you make the effort to view if haven’t done so already. And, as an added bonus, it is also so deliciously seventies that you could easily spend the entire run time simply marvelling at the array of magnificent hair and outfits on display. Or you've always got the mental image of James Mason spanking Raquel Welch.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Movie Psychic Monday

Charlene ‘Charlie’ McGee (Drew Barrymore)
Firestarter (1984)

Under different circumstances the McGees probably would have taken over the world. Unfortunately their particular circumstances were not inclined toward that possibility and were instead inclined more in the direction of their suitability as lab rats.

Charlene ‘Charlie’ McGee is a young girl whose tiny wee little body potentially possesses a myriad of psychic abilities, the most blatant, or most developed, being pyrokinesis. It seems poor little Charlie inherited these abilities from her parents after they, some might say foolishly, participated in a clandestine government sponsored experiment whilst in college whereby they allowed themselves to be injected with an undisclosed drug known as ‘Lot Six’ which apparently had the capacity to alter chromosomes and pituitary glands.

Although her parents developed some powers following the ‘Lot Six’ debacle really they were quite embarrassing and probably best not mentioned in comparison to what resides in the little blonde head of Charlie McGee. Charlie is powerfully pyrokinetic, so much so it is remarked that she could eventually be able to create a nuclear explosion from sheer will alone. Oh dear.

As a direct result of her parents’ ill-conceived experimental drug dabbling, li’l Charlie is destined to end up on the run from clandestine government agency The Shop, who are ruthlessly eager to capture the McGees for their own nefarious purposes, Charlie to use as a weapon and Andy to use to gain Charlie’s complicity and to control her.

Growing up can be traumatic enough for the best of us but wee Charlie also has to contend with her own little body continually waging a potentially catastrophic internal war with itself and as if that was bad enough she is also consistently let down by every significant person in her life. She loses her mother and consequently any security she had ever known when forced to abscond with her father and live as a fugitive. Well meaning though he undoubtedly is, Andy is all but incapable of looking after her and struggles to even tangibly protect her from their pursuers, which ultimately leads her to not only being captured but also preyed upon by sinister assassin and potential perv John Rainbird (George C. Scott). Sound parenting there, McGees!

Charlie spends the majority of the film forced to battle her own moral compass, and, indeed, with previously instilled parental values and behavioural codes. As a result of circumstance her own father is obliged to use shield and dagger tactics with her, he is continually by turns drawing her to him and reassuring and comforting her and then pushing her away into solitary and violent conflict. As a result the child has no stable base to operate from; on one hand she’s devastated at the harm she has unintentionally caused others, particularly her own mother in one instance, but on the other, in order to survive she is pressured to use her powers to inflict great harm on those perceived as a threat, and even more significantly she is required to watch that harm.

It is ironic that the situation dictates that Andy, as the father and required protector, needs his powers but can’t use them and Charlie, the vulnerable child, doesn’t want them but has to use them and take on the role her father should be assuming.

As a nuclear disaster waiting to happen, Charlie McGee is definitely a top movie psychic, as a little girl she’s a tragedy in the making, (I'm rapidly going off Andy McGee) and let’s face it things are only going to get worse for her, and probably everyone else, when she finally hits adolescence. So we should all be nice to Charlie and buy her presents because the little mite has had it tough, and she could kill us all.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Ghoul School (1990)

Ghoul School (1990)

In 1990 we finally managed to get Thatcher out of No. 10, Nelson Mandela was at long last freed after 27 years in captivity, we were vogueing and rioting in response to the poll tax and I kind of wanted my hair to look like Tawny Kittaen’s or that bird from The Bangles, not Hoffs the redhead. And Ghoul School was released. Ghoul School is a campy little entry into the zombie cannon that tries its ardent little best to make up for its quite shockingly low production values with some gory special effects, which is a nice thought and I appreciate the effort.

The plot isn’t a complicated one, I had a couple of whiskies and I managed to keep up, a couple of delinquents accidentally unleash a peculiar toxic substance into a high school's water supply while indulging in a spot of late afternoon janitor worrying. Predictably, the first people to happen upon this noxious chemical cocktail are the school swim team, who promptly turn an unhealthy shade of blue and merrily proceed to devour their coaches.

swim star zombies

Our carnivorous little swim stars soon embark on rampage through the rest of school, dining on unfortunate principals and the worst basketball team in the history of the world as they go. Fortunately for this strangely busy after hours school there are a couple of horror-obsessed geeks on hand to assess the situation and take requisite action (yay for horror geeks!) and who appear to be in their thirties and probably shouldn't be hanging around a school, along their way they also manage to add to their rag tag zombie fighting team by picking up the aforementioned rubbish basketball team’s coach, and a curiously elderly metal band called, quite aptly, Blood Sucking Ghouls.

And that’s just about that, everything else runs pretty much as you’d expect, characters run around hallways, squabble and bicker amongst themselves, make wise cracks and kill their fellow students. There are some bits and pieces of nice gore to keep you interested and stop you getting too distracted by the array of 80s hangover hair on display, oh the mullet, and you can also marvel at the inclusion of something laughingly referred to as Jackie ‘The Joke Man’ Martling, whom I believe to be some manner of comedian or radio personality from the era that I don’t understand, but whoever he may be he seems to be doing a fair bit of misjudged product placement throughout the film.

our thirtysomething teenage heroes. Rremember kids: stay in school

We are also given the treat of phenomenal rock band Blood Sucking Ghouls, Blood Sucking Ghouls have been hired to play the school dance where, if it wasn’t for the blessed relief of a potentially apocalyptic zombie onslaught, the entire school would have been subjected to an evening of The Ghouls repertoire which apparently consists of one song over and over which in turn apparently consists of one long monotonous guitar riff over and over. The Ghouls are too cool for lyrics, their guitars speak for them, and their drums to a lesser degree.

 The Blood Sucking Ghouls: real musicians say no to lyrics.

Ghoul School isn’t the worst film in the world, hell, it isn’t even the worst film I’ve watched this week, (that honour categorically goes to Dragonquest. Grrrr, I hate you, Dragonquest). You get some blood, some silliness, some garishly painted zombies and, if you’ve had enough whiskey, some giggles. There are worse things you could do with a Saturday night. And at the princely sum of one English penny I can’t really complain. Good old Amazon. If all else fails you can admire the glorious mullets, make up your own lyrics to Blood Sucking Ghouls’ hit song or just pour yourself another drink. There are also an obscene amount of low budget camp fest trailers on the DVD so you’ll definitely be able to find at least one thing worse.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Movie Psychic Monday

Andrew ‘Andy’ McGee (David Keith)
Firestarter (1984)

Andrew McGee and the soon to be Mrs. McGee, Victoria (Heather Locklear, sporting the kind of eighties hair one usually only witnesses in dreams), saw fit to participate in a secret government experiment whilst in college where they consented to be shot up with unknown quantities of an unknown drug referred to as merely ‘Lot Six’. Now, frankly, this sounds like a bloody stupid thing to do, but those crazy sixties kids didn’t seem to think so and consequently the elder McGees scored themselves nice little powers, most notably Andy McGees acquired brand of mind control, a kind of telepathic hypnosis that he refers to as the ‘push’ an ability which seems to allow him implant strong suggestions into people’s mind thereby allowing him to bend them to his will. While you might think that this would be a super awesome power to have and your naughty minds might run away with the untold possibilities it could offer you, it turns out that it’s actually pretty rubbish as the side effects of utilising this gift include crippling headaches and brain hemorrhages, so, all in all not so great.

Following the ill-fated experiment Andy and Vicky have married and increased their number by one little blonde girl, Charlie (more on her later), but their family life is blighted by two significant factors, 1) Charlie has powers of her own and 2) the top secret government agency responsible for the original experiment known cryptically as ‘The Shop’ (amongst their number a certain Martin Sheen who’s hellbent on inciting apocalyptic warfare. AGAIN) continue to monitor them.

As Charlie grows up and her abilities escalate The Shop’s interest intensifies leading them to unnecessarily murder Vicky McGee in an attempt to seize Charlie. Despite being devastated by the loss of his wife, Andy is able to use his powers to prevent them from taking his daughter, but this then leads to the pair living as fugitives surviving only on their combined wits and Andy’s limited power.

Andy McGee is an essentially good man trying hard in an impossible situation. He clearly adores his daughter, but not only is he a suddenly single dad, he’s on the run and he’s having to acknowledge just how potentially dangerous his little girl could, in fact, be. While most fathers are teaching their daughters to read or to swim or to eat their greens, Andy is trying to teach his daughter how to control her powers something she clearly has difficulty with practically, but also emotionally in dealing with the ramifications of her uncontrolled bursts. Da McGee uses his power to protect his daughter but ultimately ends up relying on her superior abilities to defend them, something he knows will emotionally hurt her and possibly make her more of a danger in future. He’s a desperate man forced to extreme actions, he wants her to be able to protect herself, but equally fears the consequences that could create. Rock, hard place, meet Andrew McGee, you’re going to be the best of friends.

Really, on the psychic scale Andy is a bit rubbish, granted he totally makes a sucker out of Huggy Bear but he doesn’t rack up the kills, blow anything up and rather than fighting evil he mostly runs away from it, but I suppose this is because Andy’s powers are predominately destructive, or self-destructive, they physically hurt him with use so he, rather wisely, avoids using them, but he still scores some psychic points for over coming that pain and damage and using them to save his little one from the clutches of the evil Shop. If there was a big red rosette for ‘Psychic Dad Trying Hard in the Face of Adversity’ Andy McGee would win it, although really it was largely his own damn fault that he and his daughter were in this fine mess, but he still sort of deserves a prize, a little one though nothing flashy mind.

So all in all, what we’ve learned from this escapade is when you’re asked if you want a couple of quid (or bucks) in exchange for participating in super secret governmental drug trials the answer is NO.


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