Little Shop of Halloween Horror Fests

Halloween may be over, but as usual, I’ve still got a few left over Halloween Horror Fest reviews to write.  So don’t get too comfortable, you’re not safe just yet…

The Wolf Man (1941)

Yes!  This is what it’s all about – classic Universal Monsters!  The Wolf Man is one of my favourite movies of this type.  It’s massively influential – most of the folklore we know about werewolves was actually created for this film – and it’s great fun for Halloween.

Larry Talbot (the legendary Lon Chaney Jr) returns to his ancestral home (actually set in Wales, fact fiends!).  He reconciles with his father (an excellent Claude Rains), and tries to find his place in the community.

When defending a friend from a wolf attack, Larry is bitten by the creature.  Of course, there’s no prizes for guessing that the beast was a werewolf (human alter ego played by another horror legend, Bela Lugosi).  Larry is condemned to become a werewolf too, as his life takes a tragic turn.

The Wolf Man boasts great performances, a fantastic score and a story that is pretty much definitive in the realm of cinematic lycanthropes.  Larry Talbot’s story is both thrilling yet sadly ill-fated.  Iconic make-up effects from Jack Pierce also help to create an unforgettable monster movie that’s amongst the best from Universal.  And it’s set in Wales.

9/10

Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

Geeky plant shop worker Seymour Krelborn (Rick Moranis) is downtrodden, unsuccessful – and has a crush on his colleague Audrey (Ellen Greene).  Seymour discovers a strange plant which he names Audrey II.  The mysterious plant has an appetite for blood, and flourishes when it feeds on Audrey’s sadistic dentist boyfriend.  Soon the amazing Audrey II becomes a sensation, bringing fame and fortune to Seymour – but at what cost?

Now I’m no fan of musicals, but I’ll make an exception for Little Shop of Horrors.  It has a fun story, some great songs and a quality cast  – including cameos from some comedy greats.  Frank Oz directs, and the whole movie is a gruesome treat from start to finish.  A different, but wholly appropriate, Halloween movie.

8/10

Lust for a Vampire (1971)

The final film for this year’s Halloween Horror Fest is another from my beloved Hammer Films.  Lust for a Vampire forms part of an unofficial trilogy, sandwiched between The Vampire Lovers and Twins of Evil, being loosely based on J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla”.

Beautiful Mircalla (Yutte Stensgaard) arrives at a girl’s finishing school, situated somewhere vaguely Eastern European.  However, Mircalla is actually a reincarnation of  Carmilla – one of the evil, vampiric Karnstein clan.

The school headmaster (Ralph Bates) pledges his unholy allegiance to Mircalla and visiting author turned school teacher Richard LeStrange (Michael Johnson) falls in love with her.  But pupils and local villagers start to die off – and soon suspicion falls on the Karnstein’s and their demonic resurrection.

In Lust for a Vampire, Hammer plunge into more sexually explicit themes, resulting in cheap titillation and camp silliness.  This approach has caused the film it’s fair share of harsh criticism over the years.  Indeed, the story is a little cheesy and predictable, but the boobs’n’blood approach has never been an issue for me, unsurprisingly.

In fact, I found that there’s plenty to enjoy in this movie: terrific gothic sets and atmosphere – always the hallmark of Hammer – are really effective here.  It lacks a Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee, yet the cast have a decent stab at creating a novel tale.

Any cringe worthiness generated by Lust for a Vampire can just as easily be enjoyed as “they don’t make ’em like that anymore” 70’s kitsch.  An entertaining film that whilst not a major shining jewel in Hammer’s crown, is still pretty much unmissable.

8/10

Universal Monsters – Action Figures

Back in the late 1990’s, a series of action figures based on the classic Universal monsters was released by Burger King.  That is, they were give aways with the kids’ meals.  As I love both action figures and classic monsters, I collected the set.

The figures are all 3.75 inches – Star Wars figure size – and each was packaged with a free glow in the dark sticker.  All of the stickers are now on my fridge door.  I’ve dragged the figures out in to the light as Halloween decorations, and they’re pretty cool. P_20141030_135609

Dracula

Based on the Bela Lugosi Dracula from the 1931 film, this vampire comes complete with his own bright red coffin.  Twist the lever at the bottom, and the Count rises to terrorise the night.  It’s a very neat and authentic feature.  Although the likeness to Lugosi isn’t brilliant, it’s still a very impressive toy.

Frankenstein’s Monster

As you can tell from the photo, this monster’s head is translucent.  It’s designed to glow while placed on the accompanying operating table, which emits a light when a button is pressed.  Unfortunately the battery in mine stopped working a long time ago.  The likeness is based on the classic Boris Karloff look.  The translucent effect, whilst a cool play feature, means that the head sculpt can’t be seen that well.  This is a shame, as it’s possibly the best face of the set.

Wolfman

The Wolfman appears with a twist of the lever (like Dracula) from what appears to be a wooden freight box.  Also as with Drac, you can detach the figure from the accessory.  I’ve always been a big fan of the Wolfman, and I love this action figure.

Creature from the Black Lagoon

Despite appearing a little chubby, the Creature from the Black Lagoon is very detailed.  He’s also designed to have a light up feature, by pressing his stomach the Creature’s torso glows.  Again, the batteries have long since drained away, and it looks extremely fiddly to replace.

A search on eBay will locate these figures if you’re interested, though you’ll pay a few quid to own the set mint.  Mine aren’t for sale.  I was 25 years old when these toys were released, and I was as excited as a tiny kid when I saw them.  They are monstrously cool!

The Misfits – Gig Review

The Misfits

Thursday 26th July 2014

The Live Rooms, Chester

Way back in 1988, as a young skateboarding rapscallion, I bought a vinyl copy of The Misfits album “Walk Among Us“.  I’d heard Metallica’s cover of “Last Caress” and decided to invest in some tunes by the group.  It was a gamble – I had no idea what the rest of their music sounded like.  Neither “Last Caress” nor “Green Hell” were featured on that particular platter.  Nevertheless, I decided to hand over my saved up dinner money to try it out, after some deliberation.

That was one of the best decisions I have ever made.  “Walk Among Us” is, quite simply, one of the best records ever, of any genre.  Any initial trepidation I had was annihilated as soon as the furious pace and sing along vocals were heard.  My ears were opened.  It didn’t hurt that all the songs were about cheesy old B-movies, either.

So imagine my delight when I heard that The Misfits would be playing in Chester, only a few miles from home.  One of my favourite bands ever, so close – there was no way this gig was going to be missed.  I bought tickets immediately.

OK, so Jerry Only is the only (see what I did there?) original member performing under The Misfits name.  No Glenn Danzig, no Doyle.  Even though I’m a huge Danzig fan, I wasn’t going to be precious.  This was a momentous opportunity. images

Besides, there’s Dez Cadena on guitar, who has a fine punk rock pedigree from his time in Black Flag.

So disbelievers be damned, The Misfits gig was on!

I missed the support band though.  Sorry.

The Live Rooms was previously a comedy venue, now it’s showing bands.  It’s a cool venue and worth keeping an eye on to see who to expect.  On this night, the place was absolutely packed out with all manner of black clad loons, anticipating the arrival of the legendary Misfits.  I certainly felt excitement in the air.  Everyone seemed to be hyped up for this gig, me included.  After all, a band like The Misfits playing in these parts is pretty much unheard of.

So the band arrive on stage and are welcomed like all conquering heroes.  As I was stood there, I couldn’t really believe I was experiencing this in person.  The Misfits – here and now, churning out monster hit after hit.  I’m sure others felt the same.

They start with some great tracks from the most recent album, “The Devil’s Rain“.  We also get a smattering of songs from the 90’s era of the band, with “Scream!” a real stand out.  I dig these Graves era tunes, and most of them hold up really well, even against the old Danzig classics.  Only does a fine job of howling out the vocals whilst thundering along on the bass too.

Those old tracks certainly bring a smile though.  “She”, “Bullet” and “Where Eagles Dare” practically tear the roof of the place.  But when we get to gems from “Walk Among Us“, I’m as happy as Bela Lugosi on 31st October.  “Vampira” is probably my favourite Misfits song, so a treat to hear that.  We also get “Hatebreeders”, “Astro Zombies”, “20 Eyes” – the list goes on. Misfits-promo13c

In fact it’s amazing how much material the band get through.  They play a nearly two hour set, and bombard the audience with song after song.  There’s barely a breather between each track.  The Misfits play fast and intense.  All credit to drummer Eric Arce – the Devil knows how he keeps up the relentless pace.  The audience respond with slam dancing/mosh pit craziness like I’ve not witnesses for many a long year.  It will be interesting to see whether the management have second thoughts about booking similar bands in future…

Our only down side  this evening is the sound, which isn’t the best.  From Jerry’s side of the room, where I’m standing, the guitars at the opposite side are frequently lost.  Cadena’s vocals are largely inaudible.  There was a story going round that Dez was suffering with a throat infection, hence why we get a roadie singing the (very good) Black Flag cover.  When we can hear Dez, he’s great.  Still, seems to me like there was some issue sound wise here, though.

The Misfits are exactly what I expected, and that’s fine by me.  From the dry ice enveloped opening, through raucous punk rock and over the top delivery, this is what I paid my money for.  More than just delivering the goods though, The Misfits were genuinely exciting to see.  I’ve seen novelty bands before and while they were fun, they were nothing like this.  This isn’t a tribute band, it’s a well honed, obliterating machine.  It drags us through all eras of The Misfits’ revered history and leaves you grateful to have been a part of it.

Absolutely phenomenal.  Thank you Jerry, Dez and Eric.  Long live The Misfits!

Please check out the Live Rooms soon – if they’re going to support bands like this, you need to support them!

The Misfits web page is here.

The Live Rooms web page is here.

Hallowee’en Horror Fest Meets the Wolfman

Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943)

It wouldn’t be right, to review a load of horror movies and not include something from Universal.  I couldn’t forgive myself.  Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, though not at the more critically acclaimed end of the Universal catalogue, is a hell of a lot of fun.

Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr) is revived – in very creepy style – from his tomb.  Sometime later he’s treated in Cardiff hospital (yes, you read that right), only to disappear on a quest to destroy himself and his werewolf curse.  Eventually, Talbot finds his way to Frankenstein’s castle, where he aims to persuade the doctor to aid him.  Instead, Talbot finds the Frankenstein monster (Bela Lugosi), and ultimately chaos ensues… 187699-werewolves-frankenstein-meets-the-wolf-man-poster

This film features some great Universal sets and lots of atmosphere.  It wins bonus points from me, for setting the first part of the film in Wales – though the supposedly Welsh actors don’t tackle the accent at all!  It’s a bizarre fact that Hollywood chose to set it’s Wolfman saga in Wales, though I have no idea why.

Lugosi’s attempt with the monster falls a little short, though apparently his dialogue – which would have enhanced the performance – was cut.  As a result, the last part of the film doesn’t meet early, high expectations.

The thrill with Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman is seeing two Universal monsters together in one film.  When I heard about these Universal “team-ups” when I was a monster obsessed kid, this idea fascinated me.  It was like superhero team ups in comic books, and all seemed very exciting.  The end result doesn’t quite deliver, but I love it all the same.

8/10

Hallowe’en Horror Fest Must Be Destroyed

Ed Wood (1994)

OK – so Ed Wood doesn’t have any shocks or frights.  Nor does it contain anything remotely supernatural.  Yet it does have Bela Lugosi, Vampira, a Hallowe’en scene and references to some of the worst horror B-movies of all time.

This film charts the career lows (and more lows) of Ed Wood, a man whose movies are largely considered absolute disasters.  Played by Johnny Depp, Wood and his band of misfits blunder from one production to another, with far more enthusiasm than talent.  Thus we see a dramatised version of Wood’s life behind the scenes of such turkeys as Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 From Outer Spaceed_wood_ver2

Bela Lugosi is played fantastically by Martin Landau, in a role that elicits great sympathy from the audience.  The film also stars Sarah Jessica Parker, the legendary Bill Murray, Patricia Arquette and Lisa Marie as the aforementioned Vampira.  Depp, too, does a riveting job, making Wood likeable – a failed hero the audience can root for.

Directed by Tim Burton, this is a film that I can watch again and again.  You don’t have to be familiar with the works of Wood, but it does add another dimension if you are.  It’s a wonderful film that has, at it’s core, a story of succeeding against the odds.  Sort of.

Not a horror film then, as such, but the fact that Ed Wood features such icons of early horror makes this film an unmissable Hallowe’en treat.

10/10

Day of the Dead (1985)

So it’s post apocalypse and there are zombies everywhere.  There are these survivors holed up in an underground mine/storage facility.  Tensions mount between the survivors –  some being scientists and some military – as they each have their own agendas.  Eventually everything goes belly up and it’s zombie attack time.

I don’t think that gives away too many spoilers – you weren’t expecting anything else, were you?

Director George A Romero was also responsible for the completely thrilling Night of the Living Dead.  He also made Dawn of the Dead, a very fine sequel.  However, for me, Day of the Dead doesn’t quite reach the heights of the two earlier films.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to get your teeth into here, and there are a few genuinely innovative moments.  It’s just harder to relate to people stuck in an underground cavern than it is a shopping mall.

I won’t mention the zombie Bub, a character that I definitely thought was too much.  But check it out, certainly if you’ve seen the other Dead films.

7/10