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Farewell to the Maestro: HR Giger a Eulogy

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Farewell to the Maestro

HR Giger a Eulogy

By Jerem Morrow

Industrial designer. Painter. Sculptor. Director. Toiler at night terrors. Friend of Salvador Dali, whom he appreciatively dubbed a “Fox”, as Dali was attempting to bed his then wife. Wearer of bread loaves as shoes to a gallery opening. To my mind, the sole, peerless conjurer of Lovecraftian imagery. And by many accounts, the kindest of human beings.

            We all know his work. Even if we don’t know who he is. Even if we’ve forgotten just how deeply he changed the landscape of Sci-Fi. You’d be hard pressed to find even a minor collector of phantasmagoria without at least one example of his work in their collection. Be it a movie, book, art print, album cover, tattoo, furnishing, toy, documentary, personal anecdote or the rarest of treasures – an original piece. We’ve all got our teeth in the matter of his mind, in the fashion with which we devour any monolithic sooth-sayer of our age.

            As ubiquitous as Hello Kitty, the architecture of Hans Rudolf Giger’s wondrous machinations is known even to those who would normally shun his brand of “biomechanical” psychosexual surrealist nightmare. Even those very descriptors, now drawn together to describe the work of many other artists he inspired (myself included), are owed to the man himself. Like the enduring demonic Xenomorphs he created for the Alien films, his reach has been long and will surely continue to be so now after his passing. H.R. Giger, Modern Father of the Alluring Grotesque, died this 12th of May, 2014, following complications from a fall, age 74.

            Giger managed wide-ranging success at wielding the popular visual vernacular to discuss the verboten subjects of death, sex and politics. Often at the same time. He showed us that the notion of anything in art being gratuitous is ridiculous. He maneuvered his fingers inside the slit of our collective unconscious and shared with us his night terrors, like a maniacal Humanist Johnny Appleseed, planting seeds of self-salvation from the fear of our own minds and bodies. He reminded us of what is good in life. And how vastly important is the acceptance of what we absolutely cannot change. The list of people who’ve managed these feats is short.

Timothy Leary once said of Giger,

“Giger’s work disturbs us, spooks us, because of its enormous time span. It shows us, all too clearly, where we come from and where we are going.”

I’d go one further and say, “And he reminded us to live without fear.”

Goodbye Maestro.

BAN THIS SICK FILTH!

Ban This Sick Filth

Living through the Video Nasty era.

By Jay Fountain

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In 1984, I was thirteen years old.  Those were years long before the internet, mobile phones, computers in every home, or DVDs.  If you wanted to see a movie, you had to go to flea-pit, post-vaudeville theaters retrofitted with a single screen, pay your money, and pick your own seat.  Sometimes you’d catch the end of the film you wanted to see from the previous screening.  You’d sit in the dark, surrounded by cigarette smoke, drinking orange cordial that tasted like plastic, waiting for the lights to drop, the curtains over the screen to rattle back for the first of many times.  You’d sit through something called a “supporting feature”: usually a short film or a cartoon.  The curtains would close, wait, then open for adverts for local bicycle shops and takeaways, some asking you to leave your seat to return to the foyer to buy soft drinks and week old hot-dogs.  The curtains would repeat their dance, and you would get the best part of the experience: the Pearl & Dean music.  Memory may fail me as to the placing of the music in the preamble to the main feature, but the music and the blue graphics are seared onto my mind.  The music was actually called “Asteroid” by Pete Moore, but a nation would only know it as The Pearl & Dean music.  It meant that you were at the cinema.  It was a real night out.  An event.

But for the last few years, a swaggering newcomer had pushed its way into the entertainment scene.  A war had been fought for over a decade before it spilled into the home: a war between two formats, VHS and Betamax.  When we finally got a video-player, some years after the events I’m going to discuss, we chose Betamax.  My Dad, a former television engineer, picked the better system.  Eventually, as we know, Betamax lost the popularity war, but back then it was still in the running.  Home video was making its mark in the UK.  Expensive, yet increasingly popular, the video tape players were the must-have for cinephiles.  For myself, it would be a few more years before I would find Horror and become hooked, via my minor autism and a tendency to be an archivist.  I would play no role in the sinister power-games, lies, and jack-boot tactics that would sweep through the UK in those early years, but the atmosphere would shape my future in ways I could never have predicted.

The need to keep new video stores stocked with tapes fuelled a hunger for films.  Sure enough, cheap exploitation movies were the easiest and most plentiful to source for distributors, and they would sit on the shelves alongside reputable fare such as comedies and westerns.  In the early days, video tapes were not rated.  In the cinema at the time, films were age restricted in the following way: “U”, which was suitable for children (but included Dumbo [1941], Fantasia [1940] and Bambi [1942] which all traumatised children deeply); “A”, children of 5 and over, although under 14s not advised; “AA”, for the 14s and older; “X” for young adults of 18 years and older.  Video tapes, however, were not age restricted.  There were no indications of content other than lurid video sleeves and poorly written blurb.  This would be the key cause of all the problems that would befall the video industry.

X-RATING

The story becomes interesting in 1982.  Horror fans will know that this is the year of The Evil Dead, the insanely kinetic low-budget debut of future mainstreamer Sam Rami, but it would also be the year the phrase “Video Nasty” was coined.  There is some debate about the first use of the term: some say it was a journalist writing for a typical right-wing UK tabloid, others say it came from within the ranks of the Christian moral outrage movement called the National Viewers and Listeners Association.  It’s a moot point, for the term entered the national consciousness within a few years.  Like any spectral villain, the name itself was enough to whip up a frenzy.  Video tapes were big business and, being easy to stock and distribute, everywhere became a video-tape rental dealership.  There were dedicated video stores, but garages, newsagents, corner shop supermarkets all became viable outlets.  Video tapes were everywhere, and the gritty, sleazy exploitation horrors sat quietly in amongst them.

I was too young, naïve, and lacking in the kind of friends that would see me exposed to the typical “rites of passage” video horror parties of the time.  But so-called “children” would indeed rent and watch these films, just to see who could withstand the gore.  This fact would be used later as a stick to beat video stores into submission, warped and twisted by the moral majority.

 

Nazisploitation subgenre was well catered for in the 80s video boom.

Nazisploitation subgenre was well catered for in the 80s video boom.

Over the next two years there were more films, more controversies, and more interfering busybodies.  Despite the BBFC (British Board of Film Censors, which changed the last word to Classification around this time) attempting to bring in self-regulation it cost too much for the small video distributors to send films off to be censored (for indeed, the BBFC would still demand cuts) and so many films just were not sent, and remained contentious.

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In 1982, it came to a head.  The tabloids, essentially the Daily Mail and its ilk, claimed “video nasties” as the big evil of the age.  The moral panic had begun, and the various factions (NVLA, The Conservative Government, the tabloids) would not stop until there was blood in the water.  The first assault would be in the form of the Obscene Publications Act, enforced by the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP). The Act, designed to be used against sex in literature, art and now films, defined obscenity as anything that was likely to “deprave or corrupt” those exposed to it.  In Manchester, the Chief Constable, devout christian James Anderton, lead a huge raid across the region, gutting the video rental business by seizing anything that could possibly fall under the OPA, including famously The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), Apocalypse Now (1979) and The Big Red One (1980).  Anderton would later go on to become a controversial figure during the miner’s strike (which tore the UK apart during the 1980s) and went on to make inflammatory and viciously homophobic remarks regarding HIV and AIDS sufferers.

When video retailers began to be arrested and fined for stocking videos, the Video Retailers Association demanded some kind of clarity as to what films would be classified under the Act, because as it was, local police forces just decided for themselves, seized films, and would sit watching them “just to make sure” they were obscene.

In 1983, The Evil Dead was the award winning poster child of the video industry.  Naturally, it fell into the sights of the DPP.  But, when it came to court, Evil Dead was exonerated.  That was, of course, the last straw for the moral majority.  Enter the nemesis of the Video Nasties… Mary Whitehouse.

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Whitehouse was a 71 year old right-wing christian, who hated social liberalism and in particular the BBC.  She even had a knife in her hand for “Doctor Who” which she loathed.  By the 1980s, she had become a figure of ridicule, and yet her defining moment would soon rise.

She gathered a number of allies to her side: ambitious young politician Graham Bright, who famously stated that video nasties could upset children… and dogs.  Yes, that’s right, dogs.  Also on her side was Peter Kruger, head of the Obscene Publications Unit at Scotland Yard.  Kruger claims to be the one who edited together a “best of” video of gore to show to MPs (Members of Parliament), who, unsurprisingly were shocked as the unremitting assault of violence and screaming taken out of context.

Finally, there was a man called Clifford Hill, who had one of the most punchable voices of the era.  Hill was the mad responsible for the most deplorable abuse of power in the whole video nasty era: The Video Violence and Children report of 23rd November 1983.  When the report came out, it vomited up a key headline for the tabloids.  “40% of Children Have Seen A Video Nasty”.  This report was based on the returns of a questionnaire constructed and analysed by, it was claimed Oxford Polytechnic.

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It was essentially fraudulent.

Brian Brown, one of the members of the team brought together to conduct that research, writes in Martin Barker’s excellent book The Video Nasties (1984):

My name was attached to the report as associate director of the enquiry; my research unit at Oxford polytechnic was named as the place where it was based.  This created a problem for us, as a week earlier we had repudiated the framework, context and conclusions of the entire document.

So what had happened?  Brown, a Methodist, had been brought in to the process and had undertaken the study in all good faith after a meeting called by Viscount Ingleby on behalf of Clifford Hill to look into the possibility of videos damaging children.  Brown notes that the meeting was a “highly charged atmosphere”, and nobody stepped forward to challenge any of the claims that video nasties were devastating.  The group wanted results within 6 months, but as Brown noted, after 30 years of research into the effects of media, no conclusions were forthcoming.  Interestingly, the members of the group were sworn to secrecy.  After writing his concerns to Hill, who appeared in person and gave him reassurances, Brown acquiesced.  While Brown was on holiday, Oxford Poly accepted the project, but obviously without Brown present there could be no decisions as to “research design, responsibility for publication, or, above all, the necessity I had continually stressed for the Television Research Unit (TRU) to adopt a neutral stance and not be involved in campaigning or political activity.”

Brown designed some questionnaires, but the frantic pace of the requirements left him fully aware of the limitations: his whole remit was to get some data ready for March 1984 and Graham Bright’s Bill.  In October of 1983 these preliminary questionnaires were sent to schools at Hill’s insistence.  When Brown returned again from an absence he found that Hill had used a private printer to send out all of the questionnaires, yet had ignored a requirement to stamp children and parent versions in pairs so they could be cross-referenced.  Once the first 1,000 were returned, they lacked this piece of information, rending demographic conclusions flawed: Hill made conclusions anyway.

Soon, Brown was forced to reiterate his stance that he and his TRU team be impartial and not to be used in campaigning: however, Hill had already been doing so in Christian circles.  Hill had in the meantime been sending assurances to Brown, and to the working party that had begun the process.  When the Committee stage of the Bright Bill surfaced in November, Hill said he would use an interim report to give them data, despite the data being as yet unanalysed.

Brown was away from his desk again on 9th November due to lecturing duties, when Hill left an unmarked folder for Brown.  Brown returned on 14th November to find that another document had arrived, only this time it contained conclusions.  Brown and his team spent several hours formulating a response that was highly critical of Hill’s latest report.  Two days later Hill responded saying that the Prime Minister, Maggie Thatcher, was taking a “personal interest” in the report, that she was “very pleased” with the way it was proceeding, and finally Hill demanded full cooperation from the polytechnic in order that the rest of the research be conducted there.  Less than a week later, Hill had presented his printed report to the Parliamentary Group Video Enquiry.  Brown was stopped and congratulated by Mr Raymond Johnson for producing a report that was “Exactly what we wanted”.

What happened then smacks of conspiracy.  While Brown was on leave Hill essentially raided the TRU in the early morning before staff were there, removed all questionnaires, all correspondence, all of Brown’s private mail, and wiped computer tapes.  In light of this Brown began to get his compliant ready: his concerns were that the report was not an academic piece, but rather a “campaigning pamphlet…[containing]…hysterical and prophetic assertions”.  It was full of conclusions made on the backs of anecdotes almost designed to point to those very conclusions.  It also contained data that Brown and his team had never even seen:

It surely is an odd research document in which the conclusions are written before the tables which led to the conclusions are completed and the data analysed (Brown, in Barker 1984, p80)

This is the report that claimed that 40% of children had seen a video nasty.  The report was constructed using the flawed methodology and data Brown and his team had criticised 6 months earlier.

As Hill had essentially stolen all of the data, the TRU was unable to analyse it to find out if it were accurate.  But as Brown notes, one of his staff decided to make a check on what was available.

It turned out that Hill’s report seemed to have been based upon 46 returned questionnaires, and in only 3 of these had the children seen any videos.

In December, the TRU disowned the report, and Brown filed a report of what had happened to the Methodist Conference.  The matter was essentially dismissed by another enquiry.

When Hill’s second report came out it was as equally flawed and biased: however, by this time the Methodists had pulled out due to the poor treatment of Brown and his team.  Nevertheless it was seen as being a “church” supported report, despite the Roman Catholic representatives being concerned about the manner in which it was handled.  The report also emphasised the fact that the unofficial group that had started the process had called itself the Parliamentary Group Video Enquiry, which seemed to give it the trappings of governmental respectability.  Finally, the report still bore Brown’s name, despite his team being removed from the final analysis in clandestine manner.

Now, the report was out, the myth of the video nasty twisting and corrupting children was given credence.  So what films were the most evil, the most depraved?

The objectionable films, according to the DPP, were officially 72 films that formed the infamous Nasty List.  Of these, 39 were successfully prosecuted under to OPA.  Naturally, these became the “hit-list” for both police forces to seize, and film fans to rescue.

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Most of these are badly made, badly-dubbed, euro-trash quickie horrors, with little plot, poor acting, terrible pace and editing, with nothing to recommend them except the gore.  The Video Nasties were some of the most tedious movies you could be forced to sit through.  Looked at through eyes of kitsch and camp, they occasionally raised the odd hoot of derision, but anyone who sat through the majority of these films would not be titillated, depraved or corrupted, but would be quite, quite bored.

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Few were of any real artistic merit, but that wasn’t the point.  The government was telling us to be good little boys and girls, and not to watch the nasty films, because it would turn us into violent, murderous little monsters.  It was ok for them to watch the films, because they weren’t the lumpen proletariat, they weren’t working class scum.  They feared the underclass was consisted of bestial killers and watching one bad film would send us over the edge.  They ignored the violence in our streets and on the news every night, or splattered over the tabloids.  The excuse, as always, was trying to protect children.  Children, especially those under 7 (those targeted by the poorly constructed research fired off by Clifford Hill) seem to have an attention span of a brain-damaged goldfish, so sitting through 90 minutes of tedium for the odd splash of gore seems unlikely.

At the time, the nation needed a scapegoat.  The early 80s in the UK was a time of strikes, unemployment, riots, and a little thing known as the Falklands War.  The Conservative (aka Tory) government was unpopular, and needed an easy win to pull some credibility back.  In short, the early 80s was the closest we’d come in the modern era of being under a totalitarian regime.

 

Typical British Tabloid of the time, with the usual sensibilities of a jackal

Typical British Tabloid of the time, with the usual sensibilities of a jackal

When Graham Bright’s bill came to parliament, nobody dared to oppose it, lest they be pilloried in the public sphere for being “pro-depravity”.  Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister at the time, was behind the bill, and so it was rushed through.

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The upshot of this was the Video Recordings Act (1984).  The BBFC changed its name to emphasise “Classification”, and now all videos had to be submitted and classified under the remit that they “could be seen by children in the home”.  This meant that films would be butchered between cinema and video release.

Supplying unclassified films, or allowing under-age rental, was now a criminal offense.  Censorship in the UK was no longer a by-product of policy: it was the policy.  The charge to send a film for classification at the time was around £1000, which was out of the reach of the small distributors, essentially wiping out all but the major studio-approved outlets.  This would begin 16 years of having the most stringent censorship in the western world.

 

Notice the X certificate for this 1957 Hammer classic.

Notice the X certificate for this 1957 Hammer classic.

At the time, I was growing up.  I was already a casual fan of the old Universal and Hammer horror films, but even as a young kid the seizures of video tapes rang alarm bells in my head.  I didn’t know it then, but within a few years, I would be hunting out horror wherever I could find it.

So, I went from a naïve fan, who would be regaled with the plots of The Thing (1982), Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), High Risk (1981), The Exterminator (1980) and Xtro (1983), among others by my friends on the way to school, to a horror fan who started strong.

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The first three modern horror films I saw were in a single sitting, on VHS, aged about 17.  Mum and Dad knew I was interested in films, and was by now able to cope with horror films.  As a younger child I had been terrified by Poltergeist (due to my sister being evil to me during its showing) and An American Werewolf In London: now I was confronting horror head on.  For my delectation that night I had selected Day Of The Dead (1985), Hellraiser (1987) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).  I started with Freddy, moved through Pinhead, then onto Bub.  By the end of that night I knew what I wanted: more horror.

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My grandparents (a baptist minister and his wife) bought me this one Christmas.  They knew I liked "blood and thunder" films.

My grandparents (a baptist minister and his wife) bought me this one Christmas. They knew I liked “blood and thunder” films.

Of course, what I didn’t know then was that these films had all been essentially butchered for home video.  Day Of The Dead was short eyeball gouging, finger biting and other wonderments.  The man responsible for these cuts was the self-styled emperor of the BBFC: James Ferman.  He would actually cut the films with some sense of personal entitlement.  In the famous case of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986/1990) Ferman re-cut the film himself, without the director’s permission, to alter the context of the notorious “family massacre” scene, and in the end the film was shorn of 113 seconds.  That’s nearly 2 minutes.

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Ferman was known for his personal bugbear: nunchuks.  He would force cuts in any film where these martial arts weapons appeared, even cutting a scene in the comedy film Dragnet (1987), [a Bruce Lee poster in once scene where he wielded nunchuks] and removing Michelangelo wielding a string of sausages in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990).  However, he would also refuse classification to films he thought would require too much cutting, but only if he considered them of some artistic merit, such as The Exorcist.  Bootlegs of The Exorcist were available for £50 via a dodgy tutor’s assistant at my place of higher education, but I refused to pay that kind of money.  Especially when I had friends with other contacts…

 

even light family nonsense like this fell to Ferman's whims

even light family nonsense like this fell to Ferman’s whims

My search for horror increased when I realised the films I loved were being cut.  Not only that, but once I began to enjoy gore (I had wanted to be a special effects worker when younger) I wanted to get my hands on films that the government said I was too stupid and too impressionable to see.  That’s how I managed to get to watch a fourth generation copy of Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979), which film fans in the US will know as Zombie.  It was uncut.

My all time favourite zombie film.  I know, I know, but I just love it.

My all time favourite zombie film. I know, I know, but I just love it.

I was blown away, and it remains one of my favourite films.  I was finally making my way through the holy List of 39.  I soon managed Cannibal Holocaust (1980), which at the time I didn’t find as repellent as I do now.  It’s a great film, undermined by animal cruelty.  Luckily, you can now buy a director’s cut with all animal violence excised.

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In 1987, a man named Michael Ryan went on a shooting spree in Hungerford, a small market town in Berkshire.  He murdered 16 people, including his mother, and wounded 15 others.  Eventually, he did what most spree killers do: he committed suicide.  Of course, it wasn’t long before the press began to blame video tapes for the killings.  He was called the “Rambo Killer”, and for weeks, the moral panic was not focused upon guns, but films.  As it turns out, Ryan didn’t even own a video player, and no evidence that he had ever seen Rambo ever surfaced.  That didn’t stop the moral panic zeitgeist from hovering for decades to come.

 

the jackals are feeding again

the jackals are feeding again

Then, 1993 happened.  A two year old boy was abducted and murdered by a pair of 10 year olds, and the UK being what it is, a scapegoat was needed.  In this case it was Child’s Play 3 (1991).  At the end of the trial of the two killers the Judge, Justice Moreland, went out of his way to blame violent videos.  At no point during the trial was video violence raised but suddenly we had a scapegoat.  There was an immediate return to a state of moral panic and videos were on the menu for sacrifice.   In actual fact, there was no link between the film and the killing, something that has been conveniently forgotten by the cultural zeitgeist.

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But it caused another ambitious politician out to carve a name in history to try and stir up controversy with an amendment to the VRA.  His name was David Alton, a fervent anti-abortion campaigner, essentially wanted to make all films with a 15 or 18 certificate illegal and to curtail all violence in all films to make them suitable for children.  Most people were unaware that the Alton Amendment was religiously motivated, essentially driven by the Movement for Christian Democracy, which had nothing like democracy on its mind.

I was a 22 year old horror fan.  Myself, and others like me, were public enemy number one.  We were sick, twisted filth who were just one movie away from a massacre.  Suddenly it became all the more important to start archiving films.

It was all happening again.  It had been 10 years since the last panic over video tapes, only this time we had an actual dead child as a figure-head, and an actual scapegoat in the form of Child’s Play 3.  The Sun newspaper (a tabloid famous for having naked boobs on page 3, often of girls barely out of their teens) called the populace to “Burn Your Video Nasty, for the Sake of our children”.  What were we going to do?  These were mainstream horror movies now coming under fire, not badly made exploitation movies.  The movie fascists were out again, baying for blood, and ordinary horror fans were in the crosshairs.

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Luckily for us, Alton’s amendment fizzled and died once it was noted that Oscar winning fair such as Schindler’s List would also be banned under his knee-jerk censorship.  Nevertheless, the horror-fan has remained a pariah ever since, especially in the eyes of the tabloids.

In 1999, lord emperor of the censors, James Ferman retired from the BBFC, and the new era began.  It was the start of a golden age, but we didn’t know it yet.  DVDs were beginning to enter the market and the new format begged for films.  That year saw the final release of The Exorcist, which Ferman had consistently refused to classify, and in the next few years film after film that were previously condemned were trickled out.  Not all of them were uncut, of course, but a surprising number were.  The battle wasn’t over, however, as wherever there are horror films there will be politicians hoping for a quick and easy boost to their profile.  One of these is MP Keith Vaz, notorious in certain circles for jumping on various moral bandwagons, as he did in 2008 when he and MP Julian Brazier condemned the BBFC for their even-handed and neutral stance on films that were previously classed as nasties.  The catalyst for this was the release of SS Experiment Camp (1976) on DVD.

Told You

Told You

This film had already been through the censors mill, being banned during the Video Nasty era and even having its cover art altered to protect sensibilities.  Vaz has form when it comes to thigh-slapping and hand-wringing: he also has tried to interfere with violent computer games such as Manhunt, Manhunt 2 (which is banned in the UK), Bully, and Counter-Strike.  Interestingly, he has also been involved in a few financial scandals, breached the code of conduct of the House of Commons, and even played both sides in the fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie (he promised Rushdie his full support, and then led march against Rushdie’s book).  Brazier, like Alton before him, is a dedicated anti-abortionist and member of the Conservative Christian Fellowship.  As an aside, he also supported the Iraq war, and has voted in favour of fox hunting and corporal punishment in the home, and is against gay-rights, legal recognition of transsexuality, and euthanasia.

Interestingly, it turns out that none of the prosecutions brought against video dealers and collectors were actually legal: in 2009 they found out that a mistake had been made.  So they repealed then re-enacted the faulty Bill, having made the adjustment.

However, the insanity continues.  The UK Government has passed a law whereby owning screenshots of certain films will be illegal, while owning the uncut films themselves will not.  This is tacked onto a Bill dealing with extreme pornography, which is the Conservative government’s current moral crusade.  It’s not just porn that falls under the remit: horror movies with any level of sexual violence and hentai (essentially Japanese tentacle porn cartoons) all come under the cock-smashing hammer of this bill.

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Yet again, those who like films outside of the saccharine mainstream are becoming the “enemy”.  We’re corrupt, depraved perverts in the eyes of the government.  All we want is to be allowed to watch what we want without government interference and without the specter of criminality over our heads.  This is pure control, hiding beneath the mask of moral protection, damning aficionados of certain films as potential murderers and rapists.  There is no correlation found between horror film appreciation and violence, despite years of study.

We are film buffs.  We are your sons, daughters, husbands and wives.  And we will fight for the right to determine our freedom of choice, even in the face of government control.  We are not sick filth, and you can’t ban us.

 

 Jay Fountain  (The Bunker, 2014)

References

Censored (Tom Dewe Mathews) 1994

The Video Nasties (Martin Barker) 1984

Trash or Treasure (Kate Egan) 2012

Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape (2010)  Directed by Jake West  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_ocrenOCPo

Also recommended is Cynical Celluloid which can be found here http://www.youtube.com/user/lampyman101 and is a look at all sorts of extreme cinema.

 

Dear Censor (BBC documentary) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0155fss

Banned In The UK (2005)  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0840064/

Ban The Sadist Videos Part 1 & 2 (2005/6)  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbJst2A2gx8

Fear, Panic & Censorship (2000)  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1068769/combined

 

The cast of villains…

Keith Vaz  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keith_Vaz

James Anderton  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Anderton

Julian Brazier  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_Brazier

David Alton  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Alton,_Baron_Alton_of_Liverpool

Graham Bright  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham_Bright

 

 

A list of the video nasties can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_nasty

 

Most of them are tedious nonsense.  You have been warned.

Dark Disney: A Look into the other side of the magic kingdom

Dark Disney

A Look into the other side of the magic kingdom

By Jessica Dwyer

When people think of Disney movies they typically think of singing princesses and picturesque locals filled with fairy tales.  Frozen, the newest Disney juggernaut has the independence of a girl who’s different at its core and finding the love of her sister and her self that she was looking for.  There are dark bits such as the fact her family wants her to deny who she is and keep her so locked up she’s afraid to be around people…but that’s well…kid’s stuff in comparison to the films I’m going to talk about that Disney was producing 30 years ago.

In the 70s and 80s Disney went dark with their live action movies.  With the upcoming release of Maleficent it got me thinking about some of those films.  The accessibility of Netflix also helped this along.  Tim Burton’s return to wonderland in Alice in Wonderland also has a hand in this.  Not many films have their shrunken heroine skipping through a moat of severed heads.  Disney has an uncanny knack for being known as a kid friendly and sweet studio but they also have some of the most twisted and disturbing things you can imagine in movies that while rated PG go into places that are heavy, dark, and will give you nightmares.

I’ve picked three movies to focus on from Disney’s dark side that were released over the span of three years.  I’ve also got a couple of honorable mentions for you that may have snuck pass your radar or you hadn’t thought of in a few years.  Or you may not have even realized Disney released them at all because they sure don’t have a sign of Mickey Mouse in them.

The Black Hole – 1979

Themes:  Heaven and Hell, murder, destruction, going beyond the veil

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The title gives an indication of just how dark this movie gets.  Released around Christmas in 1979 The Black Hole was a science fiction film that went beyond science into the realms of religion and megalomania.

Starring Robert Forster, Maximilian Schell, Anthony Perkins, Yvette Mimieux and the voice of Roddy McDowall the movie followed the ship Palomino whose crew is on a deep space mission with their robot VINCent.  They come upon a Black Hole with a massive ship somehow keeping alongside the hole without getting sucked inside.  The ship is The Cygnus and its only human occupant is Dr. Reinhardt.  The entire ship is seems to be manned by robots, one of which is the massive Maximillian.

Eventually the crew of the Palomino realize that Reinhardt is insane and has actually turned the entire human crew of the Cygnus into mindless lobotomized living robots after they decided to mutiny.  As the film progresses two of the Palomino’s crew are killed, one by Maximillian and the other crashes the Palomino into the Cygnus while trying to escape (while leaving behind the rest of his crew.)

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The film ends with the destruction of the Cygnus after the gravitational fields keeping it from being sucked into the Black Hole are compromised.  Dr. Reinhardt is trapped on the ship while Maximillian is defeated and flung into space.  The surviving members of the Palomino board the only remaining space craft which is set to go through the black hole…a gamble that they hope will pay off and somehow survive…they go into the void.

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The film ends with scenes so surreal and unexpected that people still talk about it to this day.  Reinhardt is shown trapped inside the robot Maximillian, standing atop a hill in hell.  Flames are everywhere and faceless souls, much like the living dead robots on the Cygnus, are funneling into the landscape as he’s forced to watch forever.  Meanwhile the crew of the Palomino are shown following an angel through a cathedral like tunnel, going into the light as it were.  They emerge heading toward a planet with a bright light shining nearby leading them “home.”

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With that sort of ending the film doesn’t lend itself to a “kids” movie.  Or if a child watched this they’d be a bit freaked out to say the least.   The films tone is one that melds theories of morality and good and evil with science.   In the end the morality tale plays out with the characters “afterlife” shown very literally as the versions of heaven and hell that we know from biblical descriptions.  The Black Hole goes beyond the veil into realms unexpected for a Disney film let alone a sci-fi epic.   Reinhardt is a madman living on a ship populated by the dead.  And his hell is eternally to remain that way…trapped in the metallic husk, just like his time on the Cygnus was, only in the form of his lifeless enforcer Maximillian forever.

The heroes find their way “home” to a heaven or sanctuary by literally following the light.  They are guided by an angel or being that looks very angelic to a blue planet with a bright shining star leading them on their way, much like the three wise men.

The imagery makes no attempt to be subtle but the way it is conveyed and the fairly heavy subject matter managed to make the Black Hole to be the first PG rated Disney film.   The films ending was changed for the kids follow along record release to simply having the crew survive the journey through the Black Hole with a more easily understood continuation for the explorers in a new universe on the other side of the Black Hole looking for a new home.  In the novelization of the film the crews consciousness is kept intact while their bodies are destroyed by the forces of the Black Hole using the power of a characters ESP.

Whichever ending you prefer, The Black Hole represented a departure from the ordinary for Disney into the dark reaches of Space and the darker reaches of storytelling.

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Dragonslayer – 1981

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Themes:  Death, Destruction, Sacrifice

Dragonslayer was one of Disney’s entries into the various fantasy epics of the 80’s.  While the film was a failure at the box office it was a cult hit on video when it was released during the hay day of VHS.  But while fantasy and Disney would always be in the minds of many a world of singing fairies and glass slippers Dragonslayer as far different…and the princess didn’t get a happy ending.

Dragonslayer is the story of a young apprentice magician named Galen (played by a very curly haired Peter MacNicol before the days of weird accents and dancing babies in lawyer offices.)  His master is the sorcerer Ulrich (played by Sir Ralph Richardson) who has seen his own death approaching…which he welcomes.  Ulrich is searched out by the people of Urland who are being attacked by a massive dragon with the epic name Vermithrax Pejorative.  The King has created a lottery done twice a year who’s “winner” is sacrificed to the dragon.  It’s always a virgin female as the boys in the kingdom aren’t involved.

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A soldier from the king’s guard follows the group of peasants to the sorcerer’s home and there they “test” him, not believing his power.   The test leads to Ulrich dying even before his quest begins and it falls to Galen, his apprentice and now beneficiary to go on the journey to help stop the dragon.  As you can imagine, the young apprentice has his work cut out for him.  After what they think is a successful attempt at the beasts life the village celebrates and Valerian (Caitlin Clarke), the leader in the search for Ulrich shows the town that she is in fact a girl not a boy (something Galen discovers in a, at least for Disney, risqué scene.)  Her father has hidden the fact from the world to protect her from the lottery. She and Galen quickly start to fall for one another.

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As the film proceeds the dragon is shown not to be vanquished yet and the hypocrisy of the King is revealed to everyone, including his daughter the Princess whose name has been kept from the lottery  the entire time.  She fixes the new lottery to sacrifice herself for the good of the people and to make up for the years she’s been protected.  The King begs Galen to save her…and armed with a shield of dragon scales and a Dragonslayer spear he tries to do just that.  Unfortunately he is too late and the princess (remember this is a Disney film) is eaten by baby dragons which Galen discovers.  Eventually with the help of his reborn master Ulrich, Galen defeats the dragon and he and Valerian live to go off together on a white horse happily ever after.

Dragonslayer has level after level of darkness and very touchy subject matter within its fiery depths.  At one point a priest (played by emperor Palpatine himself Ian McDiarmid) is burnt alive on screen by the dragon who he’s calling upon the power of God to help him fight as in his eyes the beast is Satan.  Then there’s the virgin sacrifices, young women slaughtered by the creature (which is actually pretty spectacular looking and VERY scary.)    Vermithrax the Dragon is beautifully created…and by beautifully I mean stuff of nightmares and what a dragon should look like.  He’s also a creation of ILM.

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But the one part that always stuck with me from this film is the Princess Elspeth and how callously Galen basically sends her to her doom by accusing her of knowing what her father had been doing all along.  His assumption of her guilt and cowardice cause her death and it’s one that’s not only unnecessary but disturbing.  Galen himself is a flawed character who eventually learns and grows but at a huge cost of life and destruction.

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At the end of the film we get a message that the people believe that it was the power of God that defeated the beast and not Ulrich and Galen’s magic.  Even the king takes credit.  Dragonslayer is nothing if not sarcastic, much like Ulrich.  The humor is as black as his robes.

The film, like The Black Hole, was released with a PG rating (but back then PG13 hadn’t been implemented yet.)  These films would lead to Disney creating another studio to release flicks that weren’t quite as squeaky clean as what their core audience expected of them (that would be Touchstone).  As it was, this one, still a Disney film, was distributed by Paramount pictures in the states.

The Devil and Max Devlin 1981

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Themes:  Hell, Damnation, Sacrifice, Greed

The Devil and Max Devlin is yet another PG rated Disney film that managed to surprise people with the level of dark places it delved while trying to cover everything in a nice coat of Disney lighthearted romp.  The film sticks with a lot of people who saw it when it was first released because within the film are some images of hell and the devil that look to come right out of a Tales from The Crypt episode.  Not only that but the story is, at its dark little heart, pretty extreme for a Disney film.

Max Devlin is slum lord, and a real bastard of one.  He’s killed by a bus while trying to evict a tenant and winds up falling into the pit of hell which is his due.  There he meets hells board of directors and is given an out by Bill Cosby’s demon Barney.  If he can get three people to sell their souls in exchange for his he wins his freedom and can go back to earth.  It just so happens the three souls he is to try and get belong to kids, the oldest of which is 18 and the youngest is 7.  Yep, he’s trying to steal the soul of a seven year old kid.

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Of course the film is a redemption story and Max at the end, refuses to give up these souls to the devil.  And that sacrifice makes him too good for hell…so he makes it out with his soul and actually hooks up with the mother of the seven year old.

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While the film plays as a comedy, it’s black comedy.  It’s also got Bill Cosby as evil as you’ve ever seen him and he plays it over the top and freakishly it works to be intimidating and…bizarre.  Also it has the chairman of the board of hell played by Reggie Nalder…who adds creepy to any film.

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The Devil and Max Devlin’s themes of hell and damnation were represented through a disturbing landscape of fire and eyes embedded in walls that looked like bloody flesh and people falling into a pit of fire.  The fact that you have Cliff Huxtable trying to get the souls of three kids (doggedly so) just makes this even more creepy.  Now keep in mind, this was before The Cosby Show, but Cosby had been doing kids’ stuff actively as the voice of Fat Albert and hosting the Fat Albert cartoons in the late 70’s.  So yes, this probably did freak quite a few kids and parents out.

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Here are a couple of honorable mentions for you that you can also check out on DVD:

Something Wicked This Way Comes – 1983

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Written by Ray Bradbury (who also wrote the screenplay) the film deals with a young man remembering his father’s showdown with the mysterious Mr. Dark, the man in charge of a traveling circus.  The film deals with the regrets we sometimes have later in life and how the temptation to change our past can lead to losing what the future brought us.  It’s a brilliant film and story and Jason Robards and Jonathan Pryce are excellent as the leads.

The film’s deeper subject matter may be lost on younger kids but the film’s other themes of temptation and preying on the sins of the mind can still catch you off guard.  The film is a given to be one of Disney’s darker movies but it’s a story about a father and son and a man learning his own worth.

The Watcher in the Woods – 1980

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Starring Bette Davis (not as a villain) Watcher in the Woods follows the disappearance of a young girl after a séance years earlier.  When a family moves into the area with a girl roughly the same age things start happening that are ghostly and mysterious.  The spirit of the missing girl starts appearing to the new girl, Jan and she decides to figure out what happened to her.

The film has some scary moments for a Disney teenage focused flick (although it was released in the time of many supernatural films like The Changling) and the finale is to this day one of the more intense Disney endings around.  The film was actually changed (with the original ending included on the DVD release.)  The original film showed the “Watcher” looking like a decimated angel.  The image in a film already intense for the young kids it was made for must have been deemed too much and it was changed.

As you can see from the trailer, the movie was marketed in the vein of those late 70’s early 80’s occult films like The Omen, Carrie, etc.  A little odd for Mickey Mouse and company.

 

 

 

 

The Wonderful Simplicity of Cheese And Why We Need It Now

The Wonderful Simplicity of Cheese

And Why We Need It Now

By Jessica Dwyer

This article isn’t about food.  The cheese I’m referencing isn’t the kind that you’d top a cracker with, but the kind that is a sometimes derogatory term for simple, moralistic storytelling.  The kind that we grew up with that you’d find throughout many a Disney flick or an after school special.   When cheese is done well it works wonders and can make us forget about the grey and dingy world we live in.

Of late we’re seeing a sort of resurgence in the types of stories, series, and films that revel in this type of tale.  It’s especially prevalent in television right now where Once Upon a Time is a major hit and has already spawned one spin off with the series Once Upon a Time: In Wonderland.   There are quite a few people who are saying that the new spinoff, which focuses on Alice and her search for the newly added character of Cyrus, the genie that she’s fallen in love with, is nothing but this type of story.  Nothing but fluffy fluff and that’s it.

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But I find I’ve noticed something interesting.  In this day and age of snark and dark, in the television wasteland of dreary police procedurals (remember when NBC used to be the Law & Order network and CBS could have just changed its name to CSI?) that we’ve reached a point where we have hit burn out.  If the evidence of numerous live action fairy tale retelling’s getting ready to hit you in the next year on the big screen isn’t enough, the fact that Once Upon a Time has already got one spin off while in its 3rd Season, with a few more ready to go once Wonderland is over, I don’t know what to say.

I think people are looking back to these stories from childhood, these basic tales of good vs. evil for a touchstone of something pure in a world that’s been so filled with bleak reality of late.   That goes for what’s been on TV too.  While I know the Walking Dead and Breaking Bad are great TV, the fact is the stories of a good man going bad and a world where basically everyone you love is going to be either eaten or die and try and eat you aren’t so happy.  And sometimes it can be a bit much when you’ve already seen some atrocious TRUE story on the news or had a horrible day, week, month, or even a year where you’re convinced that the universe hates your guts.  Sometimes you need something that reminds you what it was like to believe in something like magic or maybe just lose yourself to a good old fashioned love story that’s just simple and pure.

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I’m not talking about the Lifetime Movie Network versions where there’s usually a kidnapping involved or some bitter and jaded office girl finds love with a lumberjack.  I’m talking about the kind where you fight against forces greater than any you’ve ever imagined; dragons and witches and having to travel far and away from your safe little house to be with the one you love.  Destiny and redemption of a lost soul the sort of story that’s been around forever but we can always seem to stand seeing it one more time.

It’s interesting that these days we seem to be gravitating back to the classic stories, the tales that have, as I said, been around forever.  I think in our collective subconscious we’re burned out on all the rehashing of the modernized stories which have mutated into some weird mass of rehashed gunk with look-a-like actors.  We’ve done it to death or it’s something that’s just reminding us of what’s wrong in the world and I think we as an audience deserve a break.

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People make fun of me or say “of course you’re going to like that” when I talk about how much I enjoy watching Once Upon a Time and Wonderland.  They know I’m a sucker for that type of story because I grew up (when not reading Dracula or Phantom of the Opera) reading Beauty and the Beast.  And now guess what…everything old is new again.

We’ve collectively reached that point where the only way to get something new is to go back to the very old stuff.  It’s like finding a long lost friend who gives you a big hug and says “hey remember when…”  And you get that same feeling back as you watch.  You learn new things you didn’t realize too.  And while yes, the original stories themselves were quite dark as they evolved they taught us something about ourselves and gave us something to believe in.

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So yes, I’m a cheese connoisseur.  Yes I’m going to unashamedly watch Beauty fights for her Beast to become the man she knows he can be.  I’m going to hope that the Evil Queen learns to be the good person she used to be.  I’m going to watch as the real story of what leads one down a dark path like that of Maleficent can do to a soul.  And I’ll believe that if we believe in ourselves we can do impossible things because we can.

We’ve gotten so jaded and so disillusioned I think we can all use a little illusion, a little magic, especially the youngsters around us and our inner child too.  And so I’ll gleefully gorge on the platter of cheese set out in front of me.  It’s filling and satisfying and while it might be a guilty pleasure, I’m not feeling the least bit guilty for loving it.

 

 

Crossed (comic) 2008- present

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Crossed is a tale of depravity, murder, rape, cannibalism and infanticide.  It is without doubt the single most violent, brutal and unforgiving series of graphic novels ever smeared across the page.  It is disgusting, reprehensible and I love every red-stained page of it.

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It began in 2008, written by Garth Ennis, the genius behind Preacher and The Boys, and drawn by one of my favourite artists Jacen Burrows.  For 10 issues, the reader was drowned in blood, guts, gore, and other bodily fluids as this bleak, scarlet spattered tale was told.

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Crossed begins with the story of a small group of survivors making their way north to escape roving bands of The  Crossed.  Who are The Crossed?  They are you and me, your mother, your father, siblings, children, neighbours, but they have been exposed to an unknown disease which causes a cross-shaped rash on their face and makes them murderous rapists.  The disease makes them act out every sick desire they may have, but doesn’t render them mindless zombies.  This makes them highly dangerous, as they hunt humans for opportunities to indulge in their sadistic fantasies.  The Crossed contagion is passed through bodily fluids: blood, saliva, semen.  And they spray, spurt and slobber all over.

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The first volume concerns Stan who, along with others, witness the horror of the Crossed first hand.  On their way to Alaska, hoping that the Crossed will freeze to death the further north they travel, the group is stalked by a particular group of Crossed, led by a hulking former biker now known as Horsecock due to his weapon of choice.

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Among Horsecock’s band are Face, skeletally thin and wizened; and Stump, who has been divested of his arms and legs but who has unusually acute hearing.  These Crossed exhibit tenacity and a degree of sadistic planning, making them more dangerous than normal.  While trying to stay ahead of Horsecock’s group, Stan and his comrades have to make difficult moral choices, and discover what it means to try and hold onto your humanity in the hope of a happy ending.

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Volume 2- Family Values deals with the Pratt family, a ranching clan centred on religious patriarch Joe, and his rebellious daughter Addy.  The Pratt family had secrets before the Crossed attacked, but the blood-drenched devastation that sweep them from their ranch concentrates Joe Pratt’s religious mania and his incestuous desires for his daughters until it reaches critical mass.  Addy is forced to step up to lead the remains of the family to an uncertain future.  David Lapham takes over the writing duties for Family Values, and Javier Barreno is an artist with a very similar style to Burrows, which helps smooth the transition from Ennis to Lapham.

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Volume 3-Psychopath is a trip into human evil.  What happens when all that stands between you and the Crossed is a rapist murderer?  And he isn’t even Crossed.  Psychopath follows Harold Lorre as leads a group of survivors into increasing danger with lies, fantasies and murder.  His sick lusts show that you don’t need to be Crossed to be a danger to others.  Again, David Lapham continues writing the series, while Raulo Caceres is the artist.  Caceres has a dirtier, grittier style than either Burrows or Barreno, which although feels like a wrench away from the series style, it suits the tale very well.

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Volume 4- Badlands is a two story tale.  First, a group of survivors in the Scottish Highlands is tracked and killed one by one, while they continue to make mistake after mistake.  The second tale is that of three groups whose destinies will collide in the Florida Everglades.  We meet gun-toting sociopathic twins Ashley and Ashlynne; tough female ex-army torturer Stevie; Leon, a drug-dealer at a swamp-based white supremacist milita compound; and Greg, a slightly timid coward who latches onto Stevie as the only hope for survival.  Ennis and Burrows are back for the first story, and it feels a little as if Ennis is having a little trouble getting back into the groove with the story bumping along in episodes rather than as a whole.  However, Burrows is a clean and crisp as ever, although a few of the characters are too similar to easily distinguish them.  The second tale is the Crossed debut of writer Jamie Delano and artist Leandro Rizzo, and while the art is sound and consistent with Burrows, the writing is a lot weaker: the characters are, with the exception of Stevie, one-dimensional cyphers and the plot is fairly poor.  It’s a road-story, but the only thing that keeps road-stories buzzing are character studies.  That’s what’s lacking.

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Volume 5-is another two story tale.  In part 1, we meet cowardly kid nicknamed Yellowbelly, who is a narcoleptic with a streak of good luck a mile wide.  When his father and little brother take him to a circus it ends in blood and rape as the Crossed attack.  Hiding and sleeping through it, Yellowbelly survives to try and warn the next town, but to no avail.  He tries to seek sanctuary within a biker gang, but the situation quickly becomes fatal…  Lapham teams up with Burrows here, and it is an excellent match.  Lapham manages anti-heroes very well, and Yellowbelly is well fleshed out in this respect.

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The second story takes the form of a homage to Masque of the Red Death as an arrogant writer puts his entourage through increasingly degrading and depraved acts even before the Crossed make themselves known.  The writer here is David Hine, and this is the weakest Crossed story so far, and oddly, even Burrows seems to be dragged down by the baggage, especially in the action scenes.

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Crossed: Wish You Were Here.  This story follows Shaky, a former writer who faced the Crossed in London, and managed to make his way across the entire country to reach the tiny island of Cava in the Shetlands.  He, and others, scrape out an existence on the bleak island, keeping watch for Crossed who may venture into boats.  As the small community begins to implode, Shaky begins to formulate a plan for survival…Wish You Were Here started out as a web-comic, written by newcomer to the Crossed universe Simon Spurrier who delivers the most engaging plot and characters since Ennis’ original.  He is complemented by the excellent work of JavierBarreno, who again gives us clear and beautiful images of the bleak island of Cava, and the blood explosions of the Crossed and their victims.

 

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The other things to mention are the covers.  These are generally amazing, they are frequently drawn by Caceres, who brings a strange dark humour and almost cartoon style to the proceedings.  His style is what would happen is R.Crumb and Frank Miller had a baby, stamped it to death, them used its pulp as ink.

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The Crossed is simply brilliant.  While Ennis bowed out for a time after Volume 1, he was replaced by several other writers who have taken the shared world and used it to examine the darker recesses of human behaviour.  They teach us that the Crossed are just us, given licence to rape, kill and rend their way through the veneer of civilisation.  The “they are us” notion has been dealt with in the zombie movies of George Romero, but that always felt a little forced due to the dislocation between living and dead.  In Crossed these are not zombies: they are throbbingly, sickeningly alive, and they really are us.

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The genius of Crossed, though is to show that even as humans we are capable deep and terrible evil.  Almost every story presents us with a palpable human villain to hate: Joe Pratt, the incestuous father of Family Values; Harold Lorre the rapist murderer of Psychopath; and Gideon Welles, the “Prince Prospero” of the shock-lit crowd.  Even our protagonists tend to be anti-heroes: Ashley, Ashlynne and Stevie in Badlands are all sociopaths, and Yellowbelly is a coward.

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All of human behaviour in here in Crossed.  There are futile gestures, forlorn hopes, misplaced heroism, and dark desires.  There is blood, carnage, and bleak misanthropic angst.

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But most of all there is proof that, time after time, this is where the greatest stories lie: Lying in a pool of their own torn out intestines, laughing maniacally, and screaming obscenities…

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So what does the future hold for the Crossed?  I’m waiting on the delivery of Wish You Were Here 2 and the next Badlands anthology so they’ll be an update on them soon.  The most interesting rumour is, however, that a live-action web-series called Crossed: Dead Or Alive is to be filmed, directed by Ennis himself.  A web-comic will accompany the series.  After that?  A feature film is mooted, but it could only ever be a bastardised and watered-down shadow of its blood-spattered self.  Of course, if the full gory carnage and depravity could be rendered on film with the power of Ennis or Spurrier’s writing, this would no doubt be an unrated money-maker.  Gore hounds such as myself would snap it up quicker than Crossed teeth on flesh.

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Crossed isn’t for everyone.  And it is the benchmark for the clarion call that comics are not just for kids.  A benchmark dripping with human juices.

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COMICON IS COMING: HERE’S A BLAST FROM THE PAST

I wrote this back in 2009 after what I believe was my 3rd or 4th visit to the Geek Mecca known as Comicon while waiting to go home at the airport.  With SDCC coming up next week I felt this was a nice trip back down memory lane to share with you all.

Comicon, Con Depression, and Survival Tips…

By Jessica Dwyer

Comicon is now over.  It was 5 days of geek craze, movie love, and party.  This was quite possibly the biggest they’ve ever had and there was easily over 120 thousand people there on Thursday alone (half of them most likely Twilight fans.)

Comicon has the ability to daze you because its so surreal…for many reasons. And that’s sort of where I’m at right now as I wait for my flight to take me back to reality.  I feel like I’ve been hit on the head and I’m emerging from some bizzare alternate world.

The otherness of Comicon has many factors.  Firstly there’s just the size of the thing.  It’s massive..like it’s own little city within San Diego.  As you walk through not just the giant convention center but you go into the Gaslamp district and the con has now stretched out to areas in it.  There’s signs throughout as well as people promoting games and films all around you.  It’s not just contained to the convention area…it’s tentacles have slithered out into San Diego proper.  You can’t escape…you are on Planet Comicon.

Next there is the blitz of audio and visual stimuli.  It’s mind blowing.  From the minute you step inside you are seeing giant vistas of art, picutres, videos, music, games….EVERYWHERE.  Colors and sounds…people talking.  The roar of the crowd in the exhibition hall is a rumble that would make the Cloverfield monster shake.  Your mind has to catch up to what its seeing and over five days you’ll be so bombarded you’ll be hearing the roar for maybe a couple days after.

The other part of Planet Comicon that really causes you to feel like you’ve slipped into another dimension are the costumes.  It’s one of the few places in the world where cosplay is normal.  Fans and geeks show up in the guise of anime characters, comic book superheroes, and whomever they damn well please.  They are embraced by the fellowship of the fans.  There’s no judgement, merely enjoyment.  And the effect can be surreal when you see the Cullen clan smiling and shaking hands with Sailor Moon and Mario.  But that’s part of the appeal.  After nearly a week of this you can imagine your brain having trouble with the concept of reality.

The panels and presentations become an endurance challange.  It’s also one of the problems of the convention that will never have an easy answer.  The panels overlap with fans having to make hard choices on what they want to see the most.  The rooms also will typically get full up and you will not be allowed inside when that happens due to the fire code (sections of the exhibition hall have been closed down before due to vast number of people that were packed into the space.)  Hall H is the Valhalla of Comicon.  The hall holds over six thousand people and during the convention itself it will be full the entire time. 

Some panels are in the upstairs area and the downstairs…and you have to run like a T1000 to get from one to the other.  By the end of the convention you will know every inch of that damn convention center.  But the first few times through the exhibition hall, which is overwhelming as hell when you first see it, is disorienting.  You’ll need the map that’s in the convention guide for certain.

This year Hall H saw some of its biggest crowds ever clamoring to get in thanks to New Moon, the Twilight sequel.  Thanks to this film there were people camping out overnight for a whopping 30 minute panel.  Needless to say this caused some hard feelings to fans of the OTHER panels and films that were going to be shown during the convention.  James Cameron pulled rank and had the con move his panel for Avatar to AFTER New Moon because he knew that a lot of the crowd was going to leave after Edward and Bella made their appearance. 

But needless to say, the damage had been done.  Comicon attendees were walking around on Sunday holding signs that said “Scream if Twilight ruined Comicon.”  And there was a lot of screaming.  We’ll see what happens next year with Eclipse’s release if the convention gets smart and has the films panel first on Thursday or even better on a Sunday by itself.

Comicon as said is an endurance challenge.  One of the big problems is keeping hydrated and food.  Both of these necessities will cost you an arm and a leg if you don’t come prepared.  BRING PROTEIN BARS AND YOUR OWN SNACKS.  You will find yourself forgetting to eat and water is going to cost you 3 bucks a bottle if not more.  Bring your own and fill the bottle from the water fountains.  The people in the convention center don’t give a damn if you are about to pass out…they just want your money.  As an example…I was out of food and drink and had to purchase a 24 oz Coke Zero and a cookie from the Mrs. Fields stand.  The girls are very nice…the cookie and coke cost me seven dollars.   No it didn’t include getting felt up by Johnny Depp, but it should have for that price.

After five days of forgetting to eat and drink on a regular basis you start to feel it on the way back.  I think I lost six pounds.  You walk…a lot.  And the not eating and the walking will wear you out.  This is why I took off the three days after Comicon to give myself time to recover.  You don’t sleep.  You walk, you view, you listen…you walk some more.  And while you are walking you are usually carrying lots of free stuff that you’ve been given or things you have bought. Or if you are like me and working the event and covering press activities you’ll also be lugging around your laptop and a camera.  This also adds to the wearing out factor.  Your back and legs will feel like you went a couple of rounds with The Hulk.  

This brings me to another point, luggage.  If you are flying you are most likely going to need to check a bag that will cost you between 15 to 20 bucks one way.  You need to do this if you are planning on buying stuff.  Even if you don’t plan on buying anything, the freebies will overwhelm you.  Go ahead and check the bag, but bring one that is big enough and has room for goodies.  I bring a bag that I can fill half full with my clothes and have half the bag left for stuff. This trip I managed to stay 3 pounds under the 50 pound limit on the way back.   (Also be sure to plan for the con exclusive goodies sold by people like Mattel and Hasbro.  These things are GOLD and will go quickly.  This year they capped the lines for them and people lost out if they didn’t have four day passes)

As I sit here and reflect back on the convention it’s in a semi-daze.  Johnny Depp showed up, I was seven feet away from the dream man of many a geek girl (and guy for that matter).  I met Gary Oldman and Carrot Top was running around.  I saw the trailer for Nightmare on Elm Street’s remake.  There’s tons of other stuff…but the point is…where the hell else am I going to get to do this?   I hugged the Doctor…I HUGGED THE DOCTOR!!!  I mean, really…where do fans get to do this type of thing other than Comicon?  And that’s the point. Nowhere else is like Comicon.  Comicon is magic, and yes its gotten so big that it’s a massive entity that’s eating itself alive…but that doesn’t change the fact that its magic. 

It’s a place where geeks and the so called weirdos of the world can converge and be themselves.  We get to touch that which we never thought we could. Dreams happen there.  Dreams come true there (did I mention that I hugged The Doctor?) and to many its their idea of heaven.  Surrounded by their fellow fans and geeks, we all just get to love what we love and not be judged.  We are a part of this world, this other universe that isn’t tainted by reality.  We’re somewhere else if even for just five days. 

And so, con depression sets in as I sit here in the airport.  We all have to go back to our jobs and our normal everyday lives and we feel a bit of loss for the bizarre and beautiful world we’ve left behind.  After a week or so we’ll be back to “normal” but for those five days we were in a place that felt like home.  But the good news is that we only have to wait till next July to get transported back.  Until then though, you’ll have your memories and your pictures.  And some great stories to tell your friends and family. 

Viva Comicon.

God of Monsters: Ray Harryhausen


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Here is something I wrote when the late, great Ray Harryhausen passed.  It was to be included in the latest issue of HorrorHound but due to some space constraint we couldn’t get it to fit within the magazine.  So here is my tribute to the man who I consider the God of Monsters.

 

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God of Monsters:  Ray Harryhausen

By Jessica Dwyer

The word legend is used sometimes too often in the world these days.  In the land of film that is often the case.  But true legends are few and far between in these modern times we live in and we lost another of the truest when we lost Ray Harryhausen.

Harryhausen was one of what I considered the Trinity of Sci-Fi.  He was the last to leave us of that trinity that included Forrest J Ackerman and Ray Bradbury.  One the follower, one the writer of the word, and Harryhausen the creator of life; but all three fans and lovers of the genres they helped to make better simply by being who they were and doing what they did so well.  The three would be great friends for the rest of their lives after meeting in the late 30’s and joining a fan club for lovers of science-fiction.

Ray was born June 29th 1920 in Los Angeles, CA.  When he was 13 years old he saw the film that would set his path in the world of film, King Kong.  The special effects work in the movie would inspire Harryhausen to start making his own stop motion projects.  He’d eventually become the protégée of the man responsible for Kong’s creation, Willis O’Brien.  The two would work together years later in the creation of Mighty Joe Young, another giant gorilla which would win O’Brien an Oscar the year it was released.

He would follow up this work with “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” a film that’s story came from Ray Bradbury and follows a prehistoric monster brought back to life from a nuclear bomb test in (then) modern times.  With its release in 1953, it was the first giant monster film to follow that storyline.  The giant monster movie genre would forever be inspired from the film, especially Godzilla.

20,000 Fathoms would be followed by “It Came From Beneath The Sea” and “Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers” and “20 Million Miles To Earth.”  Harryhausen’s  love of the science-fiction genre comes through in these films.  Detail was important to Harryhausen, so much so that he contacted “UFO experts” to make sure the saucers looked authentic.

1958 would see the release of the film that would truly set Ray as the god of monsters.  Eleven months of work would go into the creation of the stop motion “Dynamation” creatures that would come to life in “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.”   Harryhausen would not only do the special effects for the film, but was also a producer.   The film is considered one of the most popular showcases of his work and included his iconic Cyclops design.

Harryhausen continued working within the fantasy genre and in 1963 released what Tom Hanks would call “The greatest film ever made.”  Jason and the Argonauts was also Harryhausen’s favorite film that he worked on.  The creatures created for the film were some of the best that he would make, Talos specifically who would go on to terrify and delight children to this day.  The amount of work put into the effects was extraordinary with Ray spending 4 months alone on the iconic skeleton fight.

Ray continued to work within the genres he loved throughout the 60s and 70s, producing and giving life to iconic creatures that had never been seen before and that would inspire filmmakers today.  “One Million Years B.C.,” “The Valley of Gwangi,”are two of note that would go on to inspire Stan Winston and Steven Spielberg’s epic Jurassic Park.  There would also be two more trips to the worlds of Sinbad with “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad” and “Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.”

Children of the 80’s would be graced with the last of Harryhausen’s master works with the original Clash of the Titans in 1981.  The film, like all of Ray’s works, was magical and still charms and dazzles everyone who watches it.

Ray Harryhausen never won an Academy Award for his numerous works in the world of film.  But he was given the Gordon E Sawyer Award in 1992 by the Academy (after a campaign to have him honored was started).  This was presented by Tom Hanks who famously stated his love of Jason and the Argonauts at the event.

Hanks wasn’t the only person to be influenced by Ray and his creations.  The number of those who have cited Ray Harryhausen as one of the driving forces for their love of cinema and the genres he touched are too many to mention.   Next time you see Army of Darkness, take a look at those skulls scowling and you’ll see Ray’s touch.  When you watch Cloverfield again, be sure to keep an eye out for Ray’s monsters.  All the special effects gurus and greats of today like Greg Nicotero, Rick Baker and the directors like Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, and John Landis…they all will tell you that the magic started when they saw the monsters come to life.

He truly was the God of the Monsters.  Ray Harryhausen’s legacy will live on for as long as there are kids who want to see the monsters move.

 

 

Maniac 2012 Film Review

After a long absence, one of our favorite Fanboys John Fountain is back with a review of the new remake of Maniac starring Elijah Wood.  And I have to say I agree with everything John says here.  The film was terrific and Elijah Wood sells this flick.  So enjoy John’s review and welcome him back to our little domain.

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A Review for Fangirl Magazine

By John Fountain.

Maniac (2012)

Meet Frank Zito (Elijah Wood).  He has mommy issues.  Unfortunately for the young, attractive women of the city, he deals with these problems with his own form of therapy: stalking them for their scalps, which he then staples onto mannequins and calls them his girlfriends.  Frank seems nice enough, apart from this minor personality defect, and scrapes out a living restoring antique mannequins in his shop, which has serial-killer lair written all over it.  Also written large on the shop, and Frank’s psyche, is his mother’s name and her memory.  Frank loves his mother, but he also hates her.

As the story progresses, we find out that Frank’s mom was a bit of a slut, taking two men on at once while the little boy version of Frank watched from a cupboard.  What makes this even more disturbing is that Frank’s mom knew her little boy was there the whole time.  Why this makes Frank hunt scalps is never quite explained, other than a general sense of the poor guy being loony-tunes.  Into this already quite crowded relationship Frank has with his fly-blown “girlfriends” comes Anna (Nora Arnezeder), a fine-art photographer with a passion for mannequins that while not exactly like Frank’s sparks the seeds of love in his little serial-killer heart.  And so we slip, gracefully, into the awkward love story of boy-stalks-girl, boy-kills-girl-for-her-scalp, boy-meets-another-girl-but-doesn’t-want-to-scalp-her-so-takes-her-to-feed-the-birds-then-a-movie-then-discovers-she-thinks-he’s-gay-so-kills-someone-close-to-her-so-he-can-comfort-her.

It’s a story we’ve all lived in our own lives, surely.  Or maybe that’s just me.  Anyway, this latest murder causes a whole raft of problems for poor Frank, whose attempts to explain it to Anna fall on unreasonable ears.  Needless to say, this love story probably isn’t going to end well.

Maniac is a remake of the William Lustig/Joe Spinell movie from the 1980s: y’now the one, Tom Savini did the effects then tried to distance himself from the final film.  As remakes go, this is pretty faithful to the original, at least in terms of plot.  However, most of the film is shot from the Point-Of-View of Frank: if we hadn’t been saturated with a decade of “found-footage” movies, this would have become tedious very quickly, but being filmed in this way means that when the POV shifts, no matter how subtly, we are wrenched away from Frank’s inner narrative and forced to reposition him as a character.

Frank is played by loveable, blue eyed Frodo Baggins, who becomes more and more like Gollum as the film progresses.  He even gets Gollum’s patented line in schizophrenic dialogue, albeit with the other side being played by a completely absent mother-figure.  But Frodo, sorry, Elijah Wood, manages to come across as shy, manipulative, pathetic, and psychotic to such a degree that not only do you like and pity this character, you don’t really question his actions too much.  There is the inevitable “No Frodo, don’t do it, you’ll find love someday!” feeling running through the movie, and yes, you really do want this nutty murderer to come through at the end, cleansed, loved and redeemed.

But deep down, you know that ain’t going to happen.  Not after the exchange between Frank and Anna after they watch The Cabinet of Dr Caligari at their local cinema.  From then on, things are going to start spiralling downwards for Frank, and you really feel for the pathetic killer.  This is a triumph of three things: a minimalist script, Wood’s voice acting, and the acting of Arnezeder, through whom you have to filter most of Wood’s action (because he’s just not there to look at).  The other triumph of the film is how it looks: it is both glossy and slightly sleazy (as opposed to the “just sleazy” feel of the original), and apart from a chase through the world’s most deserted major metropolitan subway station, allows the city to act as a shroud for Frank’s deeds.  He uses the city as his hunting ground, and at no point do you feel that he is not part of the dirty underbelly itself.

There is also a moment where fans of the original will love, where the DVD sleeve of the Blue Underground release is captured in a reflection.  The other selling point here is the gore: it is extremely well done, and you can barely tell the CGI knife blades aren’t real as their pierce nubile flesh.  Every gore scene is wonderfully rendered: a mix of practical and CGI that works incredibly well, even down to the laugh-a-minute final scenes where Frank’s psyche decides that Freud was right, and there really is a “return of the repressed”.

All in all, the film is a triumph, and certainly an improvement over the original, if only for production values.  As a final verdict, this is great movie, but probably not one for a first date.  Unless you have a penchant for scalps…

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