November 22, 2013

Doctor Who and the Mechanoids - the adventure on vinyl

A Dalek audio adventure among the worlds of Gerry Anderson

Fifty years since Doctor Who was first shown on TV and my earliest memories of the series are understandably hazy.

For years, I thought I remembered watching William Hartnell episodes on TV, during their original broadcast. I was always very conscious that he was the first Doctor and that Patrick Troughton was the second. But I would have been only 5 years old when 'The Tenth Planet', the last of Hartnell's episodes went out (on October 29th, 1966). Can I really remember that far back? Or was William Hartnell's incarnation so heavily reinforced in books, comics and magazines, that his face was so familiar?

I definitely have vivid memories of several Patrick Troughton episodes, particularly the Cybermats creeping around with the Cybermen, and the two Abominable Snowman stories (which is why the recent rediscovery of four more episodes of Web of Fear is so exciting). These stories went out only a year after Hartnell's departure, so did my visual memory circuits kick in between the two?

My recollections have certainly been heavily skewed by this record (above), just one of a dozens released by Century 21 Productions, mostly made up of Thunderbirds adventures, and marketed as '21 Minutes Of Adventure'. They were crammed onto the two sides of a 7-inch single, by being played at 33 1/3rd r.p.m. to get a longer running time. I'd was only four when this episode was transmitted, but I had clear images of it in my mind...

'The Daleks' was the only Doctor Who record amongst the many StingrayThunderbirds and Captain Scarlet stories. The audio was taken from the last episode of what is known as 'The Chase' storyline, (the onscreen title is 'Planet of Decision'). 

The story blurs into Gerry Anderson territory, not just because it was on sale along with so many Thunderbirds adventures. It's narrated by David Graham, a regular voice artist for Anderson, famously heard as Parker and Brains in Thunderbirds. Graham was perfect for this job having also been one of the earliest voices of the Daleks for the BBC.

It sounds even more like an Anderson episode because of the use of Barry Gray's music, several cues also heard in Thunderbirds 'The End of the Road'. This adds considerably to the dramatic atmosphere.

The Doctor, Ian, Vicki and Barbara enjoying the Mechanoid prison

The eerie voices of the Mechanoids (their early TV21 spelling) are only slightly more welcoming than the Daleks that they're running away from. The ensuing battle and the Earth people's terrifying descent from the roof of the exploding city sound more exciting because of loud explosion sound effects, that also added punch to Anderson's series. Among all of this, hearing Vicki's extended screams as she's lowered 1500 feet from a burning building was, and is, effectively distressing!

The Daleks had met their equals with the Mechanoids, far bigger robots, even less open to reason. Through this record, the Mechanoids were built up for me as a major Doctor Who monster, though this was their only TV appearance.

The story has a particularly pivotal climax in the Hartnell story arc, as the Doctor says goodbye to two of his long-standing companions, Ian and Barbara, who'd been with him since the very first episode. It's also the first episode to feature Peter Purves' regular character, Steven Taylor (above). Rather a busy 21 minutes!

Apart from the many novelisations, this was the only adventure I could vividly enjoy over and over again until the series slowly started being released on VHS in the 1980s, and then shown in its entirety on the BBC cable channel UK Gold.

When I finally saw the events of 'The Daleks' record on VHS, it looked very unfamiliar. Meaning that I must have imagined my own version while listening to it (and my memories of many subsequent dreams), mixed in with a few photographs I'd seen in comics and magazines. Doctor Who articles and adventures appeared in TV Comic, and the Daleks were a regular colour comic strip on the back page of the awesome TV21 comic - a further link with the world of Gerry Anderson. I'd known what all the characters looked like, but I'd imagined the city and how this adventure played out.

The next challenge to my early memories of watching Doctor Who will soon be the recently recovered episodes of 'Web of Fear', the Troughton story where the Yeti roamed the London Underground. An adventure I definitely remember seeing. Honest!

While the '21 Minutes of Adventure' range is still being remastered and released on CD by Fanderson, the Official Gerry Anderson Appreciation Society, the complex copyright issues will probably restrict this unique Doctor Who adventure to vinyl. (And of course, maybe YouTube...)

The release of the other Gerry Anderson Mini-Albums are an ongoing project, the CDs all available from Fanderson Sales once you've become a member.

A recent Dalek and Mechanoid collector's set

Early Doctor Who merchandise at the Moonbase Central blog.

November 21, 2013


A look at how the big movies of 1976 were released in the UK, their advertising campaigns and coverage in the movie magazines of that year...

An article about special effects in the Photoplay Film Year Book includes this shot from The Land That Time Forgot. Doug McClure and Declan Mulholland on the deck of their submarine, fighting the full-sized prop of a plesiosaurus head (with notably rubbery teeth). 

In 1976, Mulholland would shoot his scenes as the original Jabba the Hutt, walking alongside Harrison Ford, for the first Star Wars. The scene didn't make it into the film, but was reinstated for the Special Edition, with a downsized, computer-generated Jabba pasted over his performance. He can still be seen in 'making-of' before-and-after clips in documentaries and DVD extras.

What would you rather go see in January 1976, Jaws or Barry Lyndon...? Me? I saw Jaws and then went back and saw Jaws again...

This incredible cover photo impressed me so much that I still haven't seen Barry Lyndon.

Film Review, January
A Stanley Kubrick film is always an event, this one using much of the research he'd spent years working on for his aborted Napoleon project. But it's not as much of an event as a great white shark eating its way around Cape Cod. Perhaps this is why Kubrick started phoning Spielberg in the middle of the night.

Photoplay, January
Some of my favourite movies have been released on Boxing Day, despite them being far more suitable for the height of summer.

Photoplay, January
Here's Roy Scheider relaxing on Martha's Vineyard with producer Richard Zanuck, and director Steven Spielberg, before he went permanently beardy.

Much much more about Jaws here - the movie, the merchandise and a visit to the filming locations...

Photoplay, January
The Man From Hong Kong has now been rediscovered as one of the most action-packed Australian films of the stunt-heavy seventies. Packaged as James Bond meets kung-fu... down under.

Films Illustrated, March
After a year of coverage in the movie magazines, Rollerball finally gets released in the UK, certificate 'AA' (no-one under 14 admitted).

Film Review, April
James Caan again. Sam Peckinpah's trademark cross-cutting, slow-motion action sequences are the only thing I remember about The Killer Elite, one of the few of his films that made it intact to TV. The action thriller pits ninjas versus guys with guns. Guess who wins...

Film Review, April
The last Hammer horror film is one of their darkest. A low-key, straightforward depiction of Satanism, with Christopher Lee at his most evil. In their earlier adaption of a Dennis Wheatley horror novel, The Devil Rides Out, Lee played the good guy...

More about To The Devil A Daughter here...

Film Review, April
Nicolas Roeg picked David Bowie for his favourite, most unearthly-looking actor. In The Man Who Fell To Earth, Earth gets its first close encounter, before they were called close encounters...

Film Review, May
Considering everyone knew the ending (especially after seeing the poster), The Hindenburg is an interesting and dramatic theory of why the disaster happened. But I remember the climax being especially disappointing when it flicked into black-and-white, so that the 16mm newsreel could be cut in, instead of being recreated by new modelwork.

Zoiks! Films and Filming's goriest cover. A good job it wasn't in colour. Vampyres director, José Ramón Larraz recently passed away. I'm sure he was pleased to see this getting released on blu-ray though.

Films and Filming, June
Spielberg's follow-up to Jaws, was eventually called Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Here's news of it early in production, with a less confusing title.

Films and Filming, June
Films and Filming were livening up their photo-previews by presenting them with shots of the director getting involved. Above is a very tired-looking George Pan Cosmatos filming 'outbreak on a train', The Cassandra Crossing. He later directed both Rambo 2 and Cobra with Sylvester Stallone. His son Panos recently directed cult psychedelia Beyond The Black Rainbow.

Films and Filming, June
I include this shot from The Cassandra Crossing for fans of Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue - it's the star Ray Lovelock without that beard! He plays the guitar-playing boyfriend of Ann Turkel. A dangerous role, as Turkel was married to the star Richard Harris! More about The Cassandra Crossing here...

Film Review, June
The delay in releasing Rollerball meant that Roger Corman's similarly-themed Death Race 2000 rolls up only a few weeks later. It was compared to Rollerball in the British press and favourably-reviewed as being better satirically. A great script and funnier than it looks, though director Paul Bartel was unaware that the second-unit was sent out to beef up the blood and gore as well. The censor didn't fall for the jokes though, and cut the kills for cinemas, despite the 'X' certificate.

More about the wonderful Death Race 2000 here...

Film Review, June
Richard Rush (The Stuntman) directed this early 'buddy cop' movie, mixing the tough tactics of a borderline-insane detective with comedy and car chaos, years before any Lethal Weapon was drawn.

Films and Filming, July
William Girdler's Jaws-with-claws arrived in cinemas remarkably speedily after Jaws, also pre-empting the Jaws 2 attack on a helicopter by two years! Grizzly sneaked out while 'animal attack' movies could still show gore, though it plays much more like a slasher movie. Of course, we saw far less gore in the UK than the US. The uncut DVD special edition was quite an eye-opener! Grizzly is now promised on blu-ray by Scorpion in the US.

More about Grizzly here...

A bizarre collage on this cover presenting the paradox of seventies cinema - violent independent New York new wave, versus bloated unfunny Hollywood nostalgia.

Films and Filming, August
The late Karen Black cheats her way into Alfred Hitchock's gallery of blonde female stars by wearing a wig as a disguise in Family Plot. The very last Hitchcock film is a disappointing light comedy.

Films and Filming, August
Margaux Hemingway in what I think is a missing scene from Lipstick. She starred alongside her younger sister Mariel in this rape-revenge thriller opposite Chris Sarandon and Anne Bancroft.

Films and Filming, August
Director Pete Walker (Frightmare, House of the Long Shadows) shows Stephanie Beacham how to wield a knife in bloody whodunnit Schizo. Released this year on blu-ray in the US, by Redemption Video.

Films and Filming, August
Director Bob Rafelson directs Jeff Bridges in Stay Hungry, his follow-up to the acclaimed Five Easy Pieces.

Film Review, September
Director Alan Parker directs Scott Baio and Florrie Dugger in the all-child cast, gangster musical hit Bugsy Malone. His next two films will be Midnight Express and Fame...

It was fairly easy for Film Review to predict the coming hits on their preview covers, especially after the Oscar ceremony. All The President's Men won four awards that year.

Radio Times, July
If you wanted anyone to star as you in a film, in 1976, it would be Robert Redford. Journalist Bob Woodward was the lucky one, runner-up Carl Bernstein is played by Dustin Hoffman. Here the actors pose with the team they portrayed in All The President's Men.

Film Review, September
We finally get to see it in September, following the sensational news headlines and the best-selling book, written by the two journalists who cracked the case and exposed the President of the United States to be a liar. Richard Nixon's crime was to sanction government agencies to listen in on anyone's telephones. He resigned. Times have certainly changed.

Film Review, September
Producer/director Moustapha Akkad is best known by horror fans for making John Carpenter's original Halloween possible, and for producing each of the sequels. Just before all that, he'd made this epic about the birth of Islam, The Message, starring Anthony Quinn.

The Message will soon be on blu-ray from Twilight Time, along with the epic follow-up, Lion of the Desert.

Film Review, September
Here's Moustapha Akkad (on the right) with Anthony Quinn while filming The Message.

Film Review, September
These kids don't know how lucky they are, because they won a set visit to Star Wars, before anyone knew what Star Wars was.

While the dated special effects (and especially the wobbly robot) of Logan's Run was lucky to appear in cinemas before Star Wars, we were about to be starved of predictive science fiction films that had something to say.

Films and Filming, October
This photo-spread rightly shows off the extremely complex and dangerous 'Carousel' scene, with multiple stunt performers simultaneously hanging in the air on wires.

Film Review, November

Film Review, December
I can find no mention in Film Review or Photoplay of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre opening in cinemas. Yet they have no problem with the posters for Survive! and Death Weekend. To be fair, Chain Saw had an unorthodox release and wasn't co-ordinated on a national basis, but rather with individual Borough Councils!

Survive! also told a real life tale of cannibalism, when a plane crashed off-course in the Andes. It was dramatised again as Alive in 1993.

Much more about Survive! here.

Films Illustrated, December
Another rape-revenge thriller where, like Lipstick, it's the assaulted woman who takes revenge. Lipstick predated The Accused in highlighting the lack of legal support women had at the time. Death Weekend is a more straightforward thriller, but unlike Death Wish and like Lipstick, it's the woman that takes revenge. This also draws on Straw Dogs, with a home invasion and an isolated setting. All these films predate the infamous I Spit on Your Grave, a gorier, far more exploitative reworking of the premise of Death Weekend. But I bet they were jealous of the poster's tagline (above).

Still not on DVD, more about Death Weekend here...

Films Illustrated, December
Like Phantom of the Paradise, Brian De Palma's Obsession wasn't a hit, though both were received well in Britain. His next film launched his fortunes, something called Carrie. Out of all the posters I've seen for Obsession, this is my very favourite, also used on the vinyl soundtrack. Obsession boasts one of Bernard Herrmann's last soundtracks and some of De Palma's best work. It's just been released on region-free blu-ray in the UK by Arrow Video.

A decade of classic Brian De Palma films...

Previous magazine flashbacks...

Lawrence of Arabia and more from 1963

Blow Up, The Trip and more from 1967

Barbarella, Witchfinder General and more from 1968

Rosemary's Baby, When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth, Women In Love and more from 1969

M*A*S*H, Myra Breckinridge and more from 1970

The Devils, Deep End, double-bills and more from 1971

November 14, 2013

SLEEP TIGHT (2011) - Jaume Balagueró and his apartment horrors

(Updated May 2014, to include Fragile review)

Sleep Tight is the latest in a series of impressive and original thrillers directed by Jaume Balagueró, most of which take place in an apartment building. I'm guessing that is the kind of place where he grew up...

The story of Sleep Tight starts as a man wakes up, kisses the woman asleep in bed with him, and gets ready for work. He's the desk supervisor in that apartment building and he needs to be at the desk early. When the woman leaves for work, she barely looks at him. We realise that they're not a couple...

With the pass-key and some daring tactics, he's sleeping with her without her knowing it. The situation gets more horrifying as it deteriorates, while remaining logical and plausible. A premise that means you might never sleep soundly again...

This is one of the director's best stories yet, presents his most carefully etched-out characters and features his best cast so far. I'd call Sleep Tight a 'creeper' - the story goes at its own pace, gradually getting more creepy. 

Balagueró's stories are strict with logic and continuity, both lacking in many modern horrors. He has equal compassion for male and female characters, young and old. But what's with all these apartment stories?

He's the writer/director behind the successful Rec series. Rec spawned Rec 2, Rec 3: Genesis and the upcoming Rec 4: Apocalypse. Most of his films have been made in Spanish, so Rec was remade in the US as Quarantine, which now has its own sequel.

Rec could be filed under the 'found footage' genre, but it's one of the most intelligent uses of video cameras as part of a story. A young reporter making a TV show about firefighters follows a crew as they answer an emergency call in an old apartment building in the heart of the city. Once inside, they find themselves trapped with the residents, who are being killed by something upstairs. They can't escape because the authorities have sealed the building...

If David Cronenberg's Rabid was a video game, it would look like Rec. The ferocity of 'the infected' lurking in the shadows stayed with me - an effectively realised nightmare.

But Rec 2 is one of the best horror sequels I've seen, taking place in the same time frame as the first, the story carefully intertwined around the original and extending them with an even faster pace. I love that he's fleshed out a fictional place so carefully. 

Rec 2 (2009) tackles the mysteries from the first film, but hits the ground running much faster. Knowing of the danger inside, I was already tense from the very start, and the suspense impressively never lets up. Something nasty can happen at any moment. 

While we're on this series, I'll say that Rec 3: Genesis (2012), the only one which Balagueró didn't direct, also takes place in the same time frame as the first two, despite the title suggesting it's a prequel. Rec 3 has been criticised for introducing humour. I thought it succeeded, and fairly sparse among the usual 'no holds barred' thrills. The setting also spreads the Rec concept on a grander scale. And what better occasion for a story to rely on video cameras, than a wedding...

Keeping a lookout for his name, I caught another of his horror films set in an apartment block, on Film4. To Let (2006) is part of a collection called Films To Keep You Awake, each from a different director. Not as consistent as his later work, but again demonstrating his obsession with apartment claustrophobia.

While writing this, I realised that his 2002 film, Darkness, was the very, very first film I ever reviewed in this blog, back in 2005. Relying mostly on in-camera effects and bursts of disorientating editing, rather than CGI monsters (an approach that the director has since stuck with), it then had trouble getting distribution. The wider international release was delayed for two years after it first appeared in Spain, despite being filmed in English (starring Anna Paquin, Lena Olin and Iain Glen).

I found it on DVD in Thailand in a 104 minute (original length) cut, before the US release (in 2004) and UK (in 2005) saw it with a shorter duration of 88 minutes. (The current UK DVD is the short version, the USA have the longer, slightly bloodier version on DVD and blu-ray).

Darkness is beautifully shot (in 2.35 widescreen) and often creepy, but short on satisfying pay-offs both in storylines or suspense. That's despite having something in it that wouldn't look out of place in Rec. While not set in an apartment block, Darkness relies heavily on the oppressive interior of a building.

Fragile (2005) was partly shot in England (including on the Isle of Wight) again with a named cast, headed by Calista Flockhart, Elena Anaya (The Skin I Live In), Richard Roxburgh (Sanctum, Van Helsing) and Gemma Jones (Ken Russell's The Devils).

Again the scares are confined to a single building, in this case, an old hospital being closed down. The children's ward is among the last to be evacuated and just as a new nurse (Flockhart) joins the staff, a child mysteriously breaks his leg, while simply lying in bed...

Like his other non-Rec horror films, this is a character-led story that slowly increases the tension at its own pace. The fun is in the building atmosphere and the unfolding mystery. It packs its punches when its good and ready! 

Really enjoyable, with a cast who rarely appear in horror films keeping the approach fresh.

Balagueró is a director who has stuck with thrillers and knows how to thrill. I'm looking forward to catching all his earlier films.