Haiku – Autumn

It’s not all crazy fun and games here at the Virtual Hot Tub. No sir. Sometimes, I like to exercise my intellectual side, provide warm nourishment for my creativity. It’s a good balance to the exciting rock’n’roll existence I lead most days.

So here I present a Haiku I wrote a while back, on a course, which is appropriate for this time of year. Enjoy.

Autumn

Leaves fall from the trees

The children return to school

The nights grow darker

Skate Art: Liane Plant/Death Skateboards

Rather than just write a post about my latest set up – as I have done in the past – I decided it was time to shake things up a bit. You see, I’ve inadvertently become a collector of skate art. I don’t have a lot, but I have a few pieces. Though I’m destroying this art on a regular basis, so who knows how my collection will develop – if at all.

Regular readers will already know that I’ve been partial to equipment from Death Skateboards for a long time. UK based company, great ethos, cool and durable products. You may have also seen my previous blog about my Richie Jackson pro-model. That was where the addiction started.

The art for the Richie Jackson deck was drawn by an artist called Liane Plant. I loved it’s detailed, clear and defined lines – a realistic portrait of Richie the master, done in an art nouveau* style. Very clever and quite beautiful. At least it was, till I skated it and shined the graphics off.

Liane has also produced other graphics for Death (along with other skate companies, bands etc). Last year when I needed a new deck, I picked up the Patrick Melcher model, which has a fantastic mermaid graphic. I was all set to stick the trucks and wheels on, then shred it – when I decided not to. This amazing creation will go on the wall instead.

I’m not a deck collector – they’re too expensive – and to be frank, in a house already cluttered with vinyl, toys and other collections, I just don’t have room. The only deck I have on the wall is a reissue of the classic Santa Cruz Rob Roskopp face, drawn by Jim Phillips. If I had the space and the cash, I’d have loads of skateboards on my walls. But for now the Melcher mermaid remains something of an anomaly.

Then this year, I bought another Liane Plant graphic – Eddie Belvedere‘s iron maiden model. Again, another intricately detailed work. It’s bold and grim, a very heavy metal deck graphic melding hot chicks and medieval torture. Totally in your face. But like the other graphics, I love it because of the realism that Liane has created in the characters.

I set up the Eddie Belvedere deck with my Indy trucks and Death wheels, and I’ve been skating it for a while. Great deck, lots of pop, now with a messed up graphic. Never mind, that’s what skateboards are for.

I am slightly regretting shining the graphics on this one though. Let’s see what my next deck will be. I’ll need something to skate, but will I be vulgar and unrefined enough to defile another work of art like this??!

You can see more of Liane Plants work here and on Instagram.

The Death Skateboards website is here.

I bought these decks from Native Skate Store, who are pretty bloody good.

Bonus! Here’s a link to a little article from Sidewalk about Eddie Belvedere’s set up (old but gold).

Now go and Google some footage of Death and the above mentioned skaters. Thank you.

*I think it’s art nouveau, not sure if I’m honest. Should probably educate myself.

Halloween Horror Fest on Wheels

Well that’s it, it’s November – and my month of watching spooky movies for Halloween Horror Fest 2020 is at an end. Yet don’t be distraught, dear reader – here are the mini reviews of the movies I’ve watched, but not written up till now. Starting with something truly shocking…

Poltergeist (1982)

Shockingly bad, that is. I remember seeing this film in my teens, it scared the crap out of me. I was looking forward to revisiting Poltergeist, widely regarded as a classic horror film – but it was absolutely terrible.

The story centres on a pleasant, well-off family living in a new Californian housing development. It’s all lovely and cutesy-pie until the youngest child starts communicating with ghosts through the TV screen. Then it’s unbelievable jeopardy time, as the little girl is kidnapped by the spirits and taken away to ghost land.

Poltergeist starts well, with some interesting supernatural phenomena in the first 20 minutes. But it quickly abandons any subtlety in favour of big, dumb Hollywood spectacle: and the sheer ridiculousness of it renders the film not scary at all. In fact, I was bored 45 minutes in. A couple of jumpy moments, but very silly and very disappointing.

Compare Poltergeist to The Exorcist, and the latter film – though employing some shock tactics – is far more believable: it seems more real. The Exorcist is still a damn scary movie, and Poltergeist just isn’t.

All very strange, you may think, knowing that Poltergeist was directed by Tobe Hooper, who made the genuinely terrifying Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Unfortunately, someone Spielberged all over this film, leaving a twee load of nonsense and small town USA schmaltz. Old Stevie was involved as writer, producer, possibly even director and tea lady – and his influence shows.

You’d be better off watching the old BBC gem Ghost Watch, that’s far better.

4/10

The Howling (1981)

Another early 80’s horror – and although this one is also somewhat dated, The Howling is actually a pretty cool film.

Karen White (Dee Wallace) is a news reporter, who has a too-close for comfort encounter with a serial killer she’s investigating. To aid her recovery from the trauma, Karen’s therapist Dr Waggner (Patrick Macnee) recommends she recuperates at the The Colony, a remote health resort. Little does Karen realise that the other residents are hiding a secret…

Directed by Joe Dante, The Howling is a very entertaining film. Despite the werewolf transformation scenes now looking a little dated, the overall design and atmosphere are excellent. It also has some humour, a bit of raunch, and plenty of tension to keep everything rolling along quickly.

Released the same year as An American Werewolf in London, The Howling is sadly nowhere near as good as the John Landis classic. American Werewolf is still more terrifying by far. But The Howling is a great popcorn horror for a Halloween evening.

8.5/10

Werewolves on Wheels (1971)

More lycanthropic fun next, with this uber cult horror movie that does exactly what it says on the blood stained tin. Seriously, do I need to summarise the plot for this one?

Here goes: a gang of rowdy bikers – The Devil’s Advocates, no less – have a run in with a Satanic cult, which results in one of them becoming a werewolf. Much bloody carnage ensues. And that’s it.

Cheap and cheesy, this grindhouse exploitation flick is one of my recently discovered favourites. Like a horror version of Easy Rider, it’s certainly a product of it’s time – don’t watch this if high production values and modern Hollywood set pieces are your thing. Tom Cruise fans, walk away now.

The soundtrack is absolutely brilliant however, and the satanic ritual looks pretty grim. If you can forgive the atrocious wolfman make-up, you’ll find a lot to love here. Werewolves on Wheels is a low quality B-movie genre mash up that’s a work of art for any freaks like me.

9/10

And there you go, horror fans – another batch of movies with bite for this year’s Halloween Horror Fest! I’ll be back next October, so long as this pandemic doesn’t blossom into a full-on zombie apocalypse. See you then!

The Invisible Halloween Horror Fest

The Invisible Man (2020)

This latest retelling of the classic HG Wells tale focusses on the terrible experiences of Cecelia (Elisabeth Moss). She escapes the home of her wealthy but abusive partner, and hides out with friends, starting to rebuild her life.

Cecelia then hears that her ex-partner has died, and she has inherited a massive fortune. Yet there are a number of strange occurrences that lead Cecelia to believe that she is, in fact, being stalked by her ex – but no one can see him. As the paranoia mounts, and the odd events become more deadly, can Cecelia convince anyone that she’s not crazy?

This modern day version of The Invisible Man updates the central idea well, and does a good job of creating atmosphere and tension. However, I personally find the concept of an invisible villain fairly ridiculous (despite whatever science can be dreamt up to explain it) – and ultimately disengaging.

A nice try, but vampires and werewolves, please.

7/10

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Now this is more like it! Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, the very first of Hammer’s colour Gothic horror films – it’s an absolute classic!

Mary Shelley’s original story is mutated here somewhat, with Victor Frankenstein’s (Cushing) obsession verging on the nefarious. The central narrative remains the same, with the Baron creating his monster from dead bodies and bringing it back to life.

However, it’s the creator, not the creature’s story here. Lee puts in a good performance as a mute and grim monster, but it’s the Baron’s scheming and grisly work that the film concentrates on.

Directed by Terence Fisher, the film looks beautiful: the sumptuous sets not betraying the shoestring budget. It’s fast and pacey, with dollops of technicolour gore and a wonderful James Bernard score. I love this film, The Curse of Frankenstein is Hammer horror at it’s best.

9.5/10

Young Halloween Horror Fest

Young Frankenstein (1974)

For some reason, I thought I’d never seen this Mel Brooks comedy homage to the Universal monster movies, so I bought the DVD. Turns out, I have seen this film – I remembered it as I watched. Even so, the DVD (which cost a fiver) has turned out to be a good investment.

Seann Walsh plays Frederick Frankenstein – sorry, that should be Gene Wilder plays Frederick Frankenstein, or as he pronounces it, “Fronkensteen”. Grandson of the late Victor Frankenstein of monster making infamy, Frederick inherits his family’s Transylvanian estate.

Aided by a beautiful assistant, Inga (Teri Garr) and hunchbacked servant Igor (Marty Feldman, stealing every scene), the younger Frankenstein discovers his grandfathers secret manuscripts. Abandoning his previous scorn of his ancestors work, Frederick decides to resume the experiments and reanimate the dead…

Young Frankenstein turned out to be very enjoyable. It’s genuinely very funny – not every gag works, but there’s enough life in the script to generate some real laugh-out-loud moments. The cast are perfect – Marty Feldman is great, and Peter Boyle as The Monster has both comedy and pathos.

The black and white cinematography is gorgeous, and the sets and scenery make this film a great tribute to the old monster movies. Highly recommended for some light-hearted Halloween fun.

8.5/10

The Resident (2011)

It’s a Hammer film, and Christopher Lee is in it! What more do you need to know? This is the modern incarnation of Hammer, and good old Chris Lee is here to add a touch of class.

Juliet Devereau (Hilary Swank) is an ER doctor, who has split with her husband and rents a too-good-to-true New York apartment from Max (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). It doesn’t take long for Juliet to feel that something isn’t right. In fact, someone is stalking her, watching her every move, and her life is at risk…

Not supernatural in anyway, this film has more in common with the old thrillers that Hammer used to churn out. The Resident is actually a very suspenseful movie, slow burning at first, but accelerating through paranoia to a violent climax.

It’s great to see Christopher Lee, but the two leads are the real stars. In particular Jeffrey Dean Morgan in a pre-Negan role, showing his masterful ability to personify a charming psychopath.

8/10

Castle of the Living Halloween Horror Fest

Castle of the Living Dead (1964)

In the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, the land is beset by unrest and criminality. A travelling circus group are invited to the castle of Count Drago (Christopher Lee) to perform there for him. They encounter bad omens on their way, and find that the Count himself has some unusual – and deadly – hobbies.

And that’s about it, really. I watched this film to add yet another Christopher Lee performance to my stockpile – as always, he’s reliably sinister and is the best thing about Castle of the Living Dead. Donald Sutherland, in an early career role, also does a very fine job.

The film looks good in black and white, which adds a great deal to the creepy atmosphere. It’s not a fantastic film, but has enough quirky merit to be worth a watch.

7/10

The Addams Family (2019)

Regular readers will know that I try to cover some family friendly frights during Halloween Horror Fest. This most recent Addams Family outing – and animated portrayal with some great voice talent – provided some ghoulishly great entertainment for our household.

The animation is vibrant and totally appropriate for this creepy bunch, and Charlize Theron (as Morticia), Oscar Isaac (Gomez) and Chloe Grace Moretz (Wednesday) – along with the rest of the cast – gleefully get stuck into the characters.

Wednesday Addams seems a little underused here, but the whole “be yourself, be different” message of the film is well placed and much appreciated. Far better than I was expecting, this version of The Addams Family was a spooky and kooky delight.

8/10

Witchfinder Halloween Horror Fest

Witchfinder General (1968)

The ever reliable Vincent Price, one of the greats of horror, stars in this late sixties classic movie. Price plays Matthew Hopkins, a Witch Finder, at the time of the English Civil War. In reality, Hopkins is using his position for his own sadistic pleasure and monetary gain, whilst the country is in turmoil and the people are blinded by fear and prejudice.

Richard Marshall (Ian Ogilvy), a young Roundhead soldier, swears to avenge the crimes committed against his fiancée and her uncle, who is tortured and killed by Hopkins. We follow Marshall on his quest, against the backdrop of historical events. Will he be able to rescue his fiancée and end Hopkins’ reign of terror?

Great performances in this film, particularly from Price, make Witchfinder General worth seeing. Despite seeming more like a historical drama than horror film a good deal of the time, it’s still a fairly bewitching (!) folk horror.

7.5/10

Byzantium (2012)

Directed by Neil Jordan, who has also helmed The Company of Wolves and Interview with the Vampire, Byzantium is a modern take on the vampire myth.

Set in a crumbling English seaside town, we follow the fortunes of Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) and her mother, Clara (Gemma Arterton). Both are actually two hundred year old vampires, in hiding from a vampire group called the Brethren, who want them eradicated. Whilst Clara sets up a makeshift brothel in the rundown Byzantium hotel, Eleanor attends a local college. Tired of hiding, Eleanor befriends local boy Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), and her tale starts to unravel…

Whilst this film takes some dramatic departures from traditional vampire lore (such as how they come to be, amongst others), Byzantium is such a novel and well told tale that it doesn’t matter. Following Clara and Eleanor as the lead protagonists allows the audience a unique point of view; regardless of the inevitable bloody horror, we can’t help but be dragged along.

Byzantium is definitely recommended; it’s a thrilling tale and looks superb. And I’m not just talking about Gemma Arterton, who is, quite simply, absolutely gorgeous…

8.5/10

Halloween Horror Fest: Double Tap

Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)

Has it really been over ten years since Zombieland? Indeed it has, and in this long awaited sequel, we re-join the four main characters from that original movie for – well, pretty much the same as last time, really.

Our four post apocalyptic survivors – Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) – have settled in at a disused White House, where there’s a sense of stability and the humdrum, despite the zombie hordes. When the group become separated, we’re back on familiar ground as they attempt to reunite.

There are plenty of new ideas and fun gimmicks in the movie, despite much of the premise being somewhat obvious. A love triangle with bimbo mall chick Madison, some strangely familiar new characters and a bunch of pacifist hippies help add some fun and, yes, jeopardy to the proceedings.

Not as good as the first film, obvs – and featuring a pretty dumb monster truck stunt sequence near the climax – but still hugely entertaining. Definitely worth a watch. And spicing up a cast gifted with the stunning Emma Stone by adding the incomparably beautiful Rosario Dawson is a joy to behold.

I LOVE YOU, ROSARIO!

8/10

Halloween Horror Fest 2020

Good evening, guys and ghouls! Enter, my friends, sit down near the fire and warm yourselves from the cold outside. It’s dark, and many strange things are afoot this night. Listen closely, and I will tell you of them…

Yes, it’s October – and time for another Halloween Horror Fest! Many of you may be feeling that 2020 has been horrible enough, but I’m going to press on anyway. Regular readers will remember that every October, I try to watch a load of spooky or creepy films. Not all of the films may be true horror, but there will always be an element of the bizarre or supernatural that will make them appropriate for this time of year.

Here we go with the first Horror Fest movie of the year…

Dracula (1958)

What could be better than starting the proceedings with a Hammer classic? Titled Horror of Dracula in the US to differentiate this film from the 1931 Universal version, Hammer films followed up the success of The Curse of Frankenstein with another venture into Gothic horror.

Sadly, the plot of this film veers away from the original novel a great deal, something that always bothered me from first viewing many years ago. I guess the viewer just has to accept that this isn’t a faithful rendering of Bram Stoker’s tale, rather a condensed and re-engineered take on the story.

We still begin with Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen), arriving at Castle Dracula, where he is to take up employment as the Count’s librarian. In reality, Harker is there to destroy Dracula (a superb Christopher Lee) and end the counts reign of vampiric terror. Sadly this is not to be, and Harker meets his end at the fangs of the vampire count. Shortly thereafter, Harker’s vampire hunting colleague Dr Van Helsing (Peter Cushing – also excellent) is on the trail, and realises that Dracula is on his way to Harker’s home town, to enact revenge and turn the heroes friends and relatives into the undead.

Despite changing the story and confusing characters from the book, this film becomes a hugely enjoyable accomplishment. The sets are superb, James Bernard’s score is iconic and Director Terence Fisher masterfully keeps the suspense and action mounting. Although the gore and erotic undertone were restrained by the censor (something Hammer would deliver more of in the future), it’s a lush colour production that is simply gorgeous to watch.

Michael Gough as Arthur Holmwood, and Melissa Stribling as Mina Holmwood, provide great performances, as do all the cast. But Cushing and Lee elevate the film to mythic status – Lee in particular becoming the embodiment of Dracula with a power and menace that makes his role unforgettable.

Hammer’s Dracula may not be definitive, if you’re a fan of the source novel, but it’s bloody good entertainment.

8/10

Firewind Album Review

Firewind – Firewind

AFM Records

Release date: 15/05/2020

Running time: 48 mins

Review by: Alun Jones

7.5/10

 

We all make mistakes.  Some of us blunder all the time, and the consequence of those slip-ups can be catastrophic.  And some of us don’t like to admit when we’re wrong.

Confession time: I volunteered to review this Firewind album because I got them mixed up with another band with “fire” in the name (or possibly a couple).  I was slightly mortified when I realised that this band weren’t what I was expecting: none of the sludgy comfort blanket that I usually wrap my ears in.

Firewind are – Zeus help me – a melodic, power metal band.  Not a corner of metal that I’m particularly well versed in, or a fan of.  I fucking hate Helloween, for a start.  And Queensryche.  And fucking Europe.  This was going to be a challenge.

Yet your old pal Al is nothing if not a trooper.  They’re (partially) Greek, which intrigued me being a huge fan of the country.  I plunged into this assignment with an open mind – and do you know what?  This isn’t bad at all.  In fact, I quite enjoyed it.

Opening track “Welcome to the Empire” begins with some fine acoustic guitar before erupting into a big, bombastic rock monster.  It is, like most of the album, totally over the top – but also loads of fist pumping fun.  This ain’t pop music.  It’s fast and powerful (see “Devour”), and while not quite as brutal as my usual preferences, packs a mighty whallop.

The musicianship is exemplary.  Guitar genius Gus G has plenty of flair, but can throw out some crushing, crunchy riffs when required: “Rising Fire” and “Space Cowboy” being a two great examples.  Fast, flashy solos ain’t my scene, but there’s plenty of chugging metal to keep me interested.

The rhythm section – Petros Christo (bass) and Jo Nunez (drums) go beyond textbook and play excellently throughout the album.  Give “Orbitual Sunrise” and “Overdrive” a go for evidence.

Vocals provided by new singer Herbie Langhans are dramatic, in a typically Teutonic fashion.  This guy is straight out of a Wagnerian epic; despite being somewhat more operatic than I’m used to, he can certainly belt it out.  On every single song.

Sorry to disappoint any readers who thought they might actually read a less than positive review from yours truly.  Firewind isn’t my usual cup of absinthe with opium chaser, but I found it very easy to appreciate.  This album is well played, well written, well produced and delivered with some love and pride – all of which manages to steer this album away from trite cliche.

Metal wearing its heart on its sleeve and with a refreshing honesty, I just couldn’t bring myself to hate Firewind.   If I can dig it, then fans of this genre will love it.

Read more like this review on the Ever Metal website.

Find out more about Firewind on their official website, Facebook and YouTube.

And you can visit AFM records here.