August 29, 2014

Flashbacks 1982 - Blade Runner, Tron, Poltergeist...

1982 was an incredible year for new movies. But at the time, I was buying fewer of my usual, general film magazines. Here are the only highlights, plus a look at the more specialised publications I was chasing instead...

This Blade Runner cover shows how Ridley Scott's futuristic vision was at odds with the style-less presentation of movie magazines.

Photoplay, October

An 'AA' certificate for the 'European Cut' of Blade Runner that was less censored than the US release. Unfortunately, that toned-down US version was then used as the basis for the 1992 'Director's Cut'.

Photoplay, October

I included this advert for Who Dares Wins because of the details of the release pattern, following TV regions and describing everywhere that isn't London as "provincial cities"!

Photoplay, October

This was a great year for special-effects heavy classics. But these monthly magazines couldn't give me what I really wanted - colour photos from the films and well-researched behind-the-scenes information. In retrospect, they provide valuable information about when and how they were released in the UK.

A great cover, but Films & Filming had no colour pages inside. Couldn't pass up articles about John Milius and David Cronenberg though!

Films & Filming, October

The Entity still has no trouble finding an audience. It was late to the 'possession' horror genre, it's edge came from the claim that it was based on a true story. Surprised to see it appeared in 70mm!

Films & Filming, November

Besides the blockbusters, mid-budget genre films like The Sword and the Sorcerer, which delighted me all through the 1970s, were disappearing from wide cinema release and instead finding their fortune on home video.

That's all I've got to show you from 1982! The reason that I bought so few Photoplays and Film Reviews was because of the blossoming of sci-fi and horror specialist magazines. Film synopses, cheesecake photos and publicity-soaked interviews were no longer enough. I was after hard facts from writers who didn't scoff at my favourite genres! Here's (some of) what I was collecting instead in 1982...

'Cinefantastique' had glossy pages (mostly colour), top reporting on new sci-fi hits, great news coverage of what was coming, and extensive, superbly researched retrospectives of genre classics.

'Cinefex' soon took over from Cinefantastique in chronicling the precise visual effects techniques used in American blockbusters, as well as any groundbreaking techniques used in film or TV, focussing on two or three of the latest movies each issue. In the UK, we could see how they made the movie before we saw had a chance to see it! Thick issues full of startling photos. However, their coverage can dissipate the magic of a movie, by blowing every secret behind the cleverest effects.

'Starlog' rivalled Cinefantastique with it's sci-fi coverage. Published more often, it could scoop it on news and had far more coverage on TV fantasy. At the time, their episode guides were invaluable!

Starlog begat 'Fangoria', with horror movie news and a special interest in the latest make-up effects. Often the clever gory techniques would never make it onto UK screens due to the avid censorship of the time. The colour pics in Fangoria were the only clues we had to what we'd missed.

Yet another American glossy on sci-fi movies, 'Fantastic Films' soon failed to compete, but with great interviews and tons of colour photos, it was essential while it lasted.

This British answer to Starlog was cheaper and timelier than the US mags. Of course 'Starburst' covered more European sci-fi, TV and (gasp) literature. It also sneaked in horror reviews in the absence of any UK mags on the subject.

But. I'm not going to go through these magazines in the same 'flashback' way. Most titles are still publishing, so I'm certainly not reproducing any of their pages. Because... copyright. And because, they still make money from back issues, digital or otherwise.

My flashback articles have focussed on the covers and adverts for the UK release date information. Taken from defunct magazines that predate the scope of internet coverage. The next flashback, 1983, will be my last look back at my UK movie mags from this era.

(There's a list of links to previous Flashback posts, from 1968 onwards, in the sidebar to the right...)

August 10, 2014

THE UFO INCIDENT (1975) - the mother of alien abduction stories

(1975, U.S. TV movie)

First recreation of a reported alien abduction - never been on DVD

This a compelling, well-produced TV movie that features an early conception of what 'grey' visitors look like and introduced the 'alien abduction' to millions of viewers, presenting it as actual events on prime-time. Whether or not all of it's true, the cultural influence of this story is huge. Before it, there'd been documentaries about UFO sightings, but here it's powerfully dramatised. First contact with an extraterrestrial civilisation, presented as a factual possibility.

Betty and Barney Hill were driving home from Montreal to Portsmouth, New Hampshire at night, when they saw an unidentified flying object. A few miles on they heard a beeping sound and both suffered amnesia (an unusual phenomenon in itself) about what happened next, arriving home in a daze two hours later than planned. After two years of nightmares and anxiety-related illness, they sought professional help and, through hypnosis, recovered memories of the lost hours from that night. They remember being stopped in the road and led into an alien spacecraft...

Many films say they're based on a true story, then distort the truth to make a better story. But The UFO Incident doesn't need to invent anything to be a gripping drama. It's based on a book containing many of the actual transcripts of the Hills' hypnosis sessions. The Interrupted Journey (1966) is written by the psychiatrist himself, who saw his job as evaluating what happened to the couple, but mainly to alleviate their anxieties over these repressed memories. The book and the film is open-minded to the possible truths behind their memories. Much of the script is taken word-for-word from their taped psychiatric sessions. As films based on true stories go, this is one of the most faithful there is.

It's up to the viewer to decide what the Hills are remembering under hypnosis. Flashbacks recreate their memories, but are they dreams or experiences? The emotional reactions from them not wanting to remember and the shock realisation over what they saw is down to James Earl Jones' and Estelle Parsons' extraordinary performances, filmed in very long takes.

According to the full-page review in Cinefantastique magazine (volume 5, number 1, 1976), James Earl Jones (above) bought the rights to the story and spent two years trying to get it made as a feature film, before settling for a TV movie. His work isn't reflected in the brief onscreen credits though. Jones even travelled the roads around the abduction site in preparation for the part.

The film packs in as many of the book's highlights and conjectures as possible, but I was clearer about the timeline of events after reading the book as well. It adds some consistent details about the visitors' motives. The aliens have no concept of age or dying (which fits in with extended years of space travel) and are only visiting Earth to collect a few samples - they say they won't be back! Betty's recovered memories are so rich in detail, the internal logic is too good to be from a dream. For instance Betty wants to stay with Barney while he's being examined, but she also wants to leave the spaceship as soon as possible. The alien leader argues that if she is examined at the same time as her husband, she'll be out of there faster!

It's a dramatic, involving and frightening movie that derives its strength from close ups of the couple under hypnosis, far more than what they actually see. Their memories are often seen only in flashes, which also means we don't dwell on the costumes and special effects too much. The budget certainly isn't Close Encounters, but it's better than Project U.F.O. because of the superior performances that sell the shocks. There are some beautiful lighting effects used to infer the pursuit by the ship that I'd love to see clearer (the YouTube files are quite vlurry). Incidentally, Greg Jein, one of the main modelmakers on Close Encounters, built the spaceship forest diorama glimpsed in The UFO Incident (below).

The significance of this case is wide-ranging, and the book and film are definitely important culturally, if not scientifically. This may not be the first reported story of an alien abduction, but because there are two witnesses it was taken more seriously. It fed into a widespread UFO paranoia, predating many similar reports and variations of abductions, and popularised the use of hypnotic regression. It also champions the idea that aliens won't harm us - the view soon to be expressed in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and by 'visitor' cults and religions.

Two years on, Ridley Scott's Alien (1979) turned the tables again and 'abductions', a weird term for an event where you're borrowed for a few hours, turned hostile again. Despite the warm fuzziness of E.T. The Extra-terrestrial, most spaceship interiors signified terrifying experiences, as seen in Communion, Fire In The Sky and The X Files.

So, The UFO Incident is an important milestone of the genre and worth watching as a drama, but is it a true story? The Hills (pictured below) weren't motivated to make this all up for personal gain. Both of them had steady jobs and Barney was also involved in civil rights campaigning. They didn't want the story getting out because of ridicule. They didn't sell their story and worked hard to keep it out of the public eye. The book was only published to set the record straight after the story was leaked to the press.

As with many stories of UFOs, I think the context of human perceptions framed by public knowledge and popular culture holds many answers, possibly revealed in the earlier cultural timeline. The film was made in 1975 but the abduction took place in 1961. (Why did it take so long to become a film?)

Betty and Barney Hill were driving home on September 19th, 1961 when they spotted a light in the sky. The way it was moving ruled out that it was a light aircraft. They thought it might be a helicopter though they couldn't hear a motor. Barney looks at it through binoculars and thinks its a UFO. But their conclusion is already being formed by many earlier reports of UFOs in that area. Betty's sister had already seen one, so they were already primed to conclude that that's what it was. 

The Twilight Zone episode 'Hocus Pocus and Frisby' 
premiered May 1962, between their abduction and hypnosis

On TV, many episodes of The Twilight Zone featured spaceships and alien visitors similar to the ones they describe, not to mention hundreds of pulp novels with imaginative cover art, cartoons and the sci-fi feature films of the previous decade. This Island Earth (1955) and Invaders From Mars (1954) both feature abductions, the latter a table examination with a needle probe. The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) has the same circular corridors and ramp that they described inside the spaceship. These films and TV episodes could all provide a library of visual experiences to be remembered later on. Whether the Hills saw any of these or not, the images might also have been on posters, in newspapers and TV guides.

While they claim amnesia for most of the ride home, Betty had very vivid dreams over the next few weeks, detailing her walking into the spaceship and speaking telepathically with the alien visitors on board. She then writes down these dreams.  I don't know what extra detail she remembers under hypnosis, other than that it was real rather than a dream. She also contacted her sister, who had seen a UFO, and then Project Blue Book takes a statement of their sighting. Those guys may also have quizzed them with leading questions, adding detail to what they could have seen. Barney also read a book about UFO experiences (Donald Keyhoe's 'The Flying Saucer Conspiracy').

All this happens in the two years before the taped hypnotisms, the couple have potentially filled themselves up with memories by December 1963. By which time, The Outer Limits is also on TV - featuring a different alien creature every week! (The episode 'The Bellero Shield' featuring a grey alien with a streamlined head premiered the week before the Hills' second hypnotic session.) Their two missing hours could also be explained by their repeatedly stopping the car and getting lost on the way home.

While their experiences are broadly the same, this could be explained that Betty has been talking about her nightmares with Barney. In any case, the psychiatrist doesn't cross-examine them closely on the details once they're inside the ship (Betty mentions that the examiner took out Barney's false teeth, but the psychiatrist fails to check if Barney also remembered that incident). The opportunity to get two distinct accounts is further tainted when he plays back all their trance-like recordings back to them, once they're awake.

I was struck that their descriptions of the abduction is dreamlike, mirroring their state under hypnosis - they are barely awake when they are dragged into the ship. The aliens also use hypnotic suggestion on them to cooperate. Betty mentions that the aliens talk to her without talking (infering telepathy) but also much like we communicate with characters in our dream.

The psychiatrist questioning Betty parallels the alien leader interrogating her. There's even a moment in the book when Betty is in an alien waiting room while Barney is still being examined (this is when she asks about the star map). A parallel experience with her hypnotism session happening after Barney's.

But these stories are fascinating, and the film and book stress the possible multitude of reasons for their recalled experiences. An extraordinary case dealt with sympathetically though intelligently. The abduction experience overshadows what just happened when they were conscious - a UFO that they observed over several miles that seemed to be following the car. Barney even stares at it through binoculars, observing a window with several figures inside!

I wish it were a true story. But projecting wishes onto what I've seen in this movie is probably the same mechanism that started this all in the first place.

The cover scans I've seen of this on sale online make me think that The UFO Incident has never officially been on DVD. All the art looks like bootleg. Though there's this NTSC VHS sleeve (above) that indicates it had a home video release. But it should really be on DVD, rather than the fuzzy, jumpy TV recordings that are currently on YouTube.

August 02, 2014

MONSTER MAG rises from the grave with three new issues!

It's Back! Bloodier Than Ever!

The goriest movie magazine of the 1970s - a cover gallery that includes the brand new issues...

(Updated 02/10/2014 - issue 19 is a third new Monster Mag)

Of the few horror movie magazines available in Britain in the 1970s, Monster Mag was the most outrageous. Gory publicity photographs all in full bloody colour on glossy paper. Once seen, never forgotten, but it's time for a little reminder now that three more editions have been published, 39 years later!

Early issues had more text, less colour, but great posters!

MM 2 was confiscated and destroyed, but MM 3 was even bloodier!

Censored from British and American versions, this scene has only just re-appeared in the newly-restored blu-ray edition of Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell (MM 3)

 MM 6 had a foldout poster from Ken Russell's The Devils

MM 6 covered Amicus' The Beast Must Die, with this graphic shot of a throat wound effect that still baffles me. The graininess of the image made me think it could be an optical effect?

From 1973 to 1975, these monthly magazines were the clearest images from current and recent horror movies available at pocket money prices. Each edition had photo-heavy 'articles' that folded out with a huge tasteless (creased) poster on the reverse. 'Poster magazines' later became more popular as movie tie-ins, like Doc SavageIsland at the Top of the World, and a monthly series for Star Wars.

Monster Mag mostly covered European and British horror films that were in cinemas in the mid-seventies. Light on text, often leaving many photos uncaptioned, they alerted horror fans to the existence of many movies we had no hope of seeing unless they turned up on TV.

According to publisher Dez Skinn's website, Monster Mag was edited by husband and wife team Roger and Jan Cook. Apparently Jan's mission was to find the goriest movie photos that were around at the time. This was a full five years before Fangoria magazine began, and also learned of the power of gory photos on their circulation.

I discovered my first Monster Mag in a local newsagents when I was about thirteen! (My first issue was six, I might still have been twelve). Buying them sometimes took a couple of tries because I was refused a few times. The front cover had a strip saying 'For Adults only', a warning usually only printed on softcore porn mags. I'd return to the shop on a different day, when someone different was at the till, and try my luck again. Thought I was being ingenious by covering up the 'adults only' banner with my thumb. Didn't always work.

Inside MM 7, Willard, Ben and Blood Island!

MM 8 had a startling spread covering Paris' Grand Guignol theatre, and a photo-free article on The Exorcist.

MM 9 has more Euro-horror with The Claws of Lorelei and Horror Express

MM 9, had this mystery poster, probably from the Grand Guignol stage production that they covered in MM 8.

MM 10 has two pages on When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth and this great publicity photo of Vincent Price as Dr. Phibes

MM 12 has more great photos, but the poster features Hammer's worst ever fake head, from Twins of Evil!

This shot of sting make-up from The Deadly Bees is barely glimpsed in the film (MM 12)

As you can see from all these covers, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing were Britain's kings of horror!

Grisly giant poster of Dracula frothing blood!

Excellent shot from Vampire Circus - again, I can't tell if this is a fake head or a camera trick (MM 14)

Volume 2 had a slightly smaller format and the posters were diminished down to two big photos

Vampire Circus gets a four-page spread in volume 2, no. 2

Volume 2, no. 3 was the last of the Monster Mags (or was it?)
Includes a great spread of photos from Scars of Dracula

At the time, horror was barely recognised as a serious genre, and violent thrillers like Bonnie and ClydeDeath Wish and A Clockwork Orange, westerns like The Wild Bunch and A Fistful of Dollars were the main worry of censor-happy moralists like the Daily Mail. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre hadn't opened in British cinemas yet (not until Christmas 1976), but I think that's when low-budget horror started being perceived as a threat. 

But just before then, there wasn't any fuss in the papers over Monster Mags being sold in the newsagents. The threat of 'high street horror' didn't hit hard until video rental shops opened everywhere.

For the rest of 1975, I collected most of the Monster Mags (12 of the 17), failing to backorder the gaps in my collection. But for decades, no-one was able to complete their collections because issue two was never on sale in the UK, though they were available abroad, in German and French... 

Problem was that the English editions were also printed in Europe, but on arriving in England, Her Majesty's Customs seized all copies of issue two, destroying every last one! It was only a few years ago that I first saw a photo online of the French edition (above), but never ever a copy for sale. Only last month did the publisher officially reprint it in English (below). Hurrah!

It's a mad thrill to be able to buy a brand Monster Mag again, after all this time. At the end of July, publisher Dez Skinn followed up the resurrection of issue 2 with the 'XX issue' that was promised in the last ever Monster Mag in 1975 (pictured at the top)! And in September, Issue 19, with Carrie on the cover (pictured below) has continued the revival. So that's three new editions that are now on sale, both selling for cheaper than any secondhand vintage editions

Meanwhile, back in the '70s, a slightly tamer version continued...

After Monster Mag folded (sorry), a toned-down foldout poster mag appeared throughout 1976 called Legend Horror Classics. A bizarre mix of creepy comic strips and movie photos, aimed at a younger, but still bloodthirsty, reader. The comic artwork was too simplistic for me at the time, and the first two cartoony covers put me off. 

However, I bought this one with the astonishing photo from Death Line on the cover. That was even gorier than the Monster Mags!

Also bought no. 3, that tied in nicely with a reissue in cinemas of Ray Harryhausen's The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. The plot was adapted as a comic strip and there was this four-page cyclops poster (above) too. In all, there were nine issues of Legend Horror Classics that were mostly comics inside.

But, the last three issues returned to an 'all photographs' format like Monster Mag. The titles were Vampires (above), Werewolves and Frankenstein. Here are all twelve covers of Legend Horror Classics on the Monster Magazine Gallery site.

Welcome back, Monster Mag. It's been a while! Looking up your history, I've learnt more about the tempting Legend Horror Classics series too.

Get the new Monster Mag editions from Dez Skinn's website
or from his eBay shop.

More about Dez Skinn's adventures in publishing on his website (the story of Monster Mag is near the bottom of this page).

And here's my look at the other horror movie magazines on sale in Britain in the 1970s.