The Best of 2020

Well, that was a mad old year, wasn’t it? 2020 was more like a bizarre disaster movie than the regular fun ride that we’re used to. A pandemic made hermits of us all; working from home became the new normal for many and travel and events ceased to exist. A year from hell for most of us, though it’s far from over yet.

Here at Platinum Al’s Virtual Hot Tub, we’ve aimed to soldier on and bring you the very best in blogging entertainment. Be it music, skateboards, toys or tat, whatever nonsense I could investigate was delivered with all the expected wit and style.

As is customary at this time, let’s take a look back at the top ten most popular blog posts of last year. Calling it “The Best of 2020” seems somewhat incongruous, but let’s roll with it for traditions sake.

10. Haiku – Autumn

An encouraging response to my creative writing, I was very surprised to see that this poetry piece in the Japanese Haiku style was my tenth most-read post of the year. Encore?

9. Firebreather – Under a Blood Moon Album Review

There was a distinct lack of live music in 2020 (Obviously), but quite a few album reviews for my old pals at Ever Metal. This review of Swedish doom metal band Firebreather’s album was the most read at the Virtual Hot Tub.

8. Halloween Horror Fest 2020

The first of my annual horror movie reviews of 2020, this one featured the Hammer version of Dracula.

7. The Best of 2019

I’m not sure if last years top 10 blogs appearing here is a good thing or not? Either way, 2019’s round up of the most popular blogs was a winner.

6. STYLE: Safari Jacket

2020 saw the materialisation of the long-promised STYLE section at the Virtual Hot Tub. This first blog, concerning the wonderful Safari jacket, got us off to a great start.

5. Skate Art: Liane Plant/Death Skateboards

A feature about some of my favourite skate art, as created by the super talented Liane Plant for Death skateboards. Awesome stuff.

4. SK88: Old School Skateboard Playlist

More skateboard based action, with a playlist of songs from my skating youth in the late 80’s. Full of stone-cold classics, these songs still inspire my sessions today.

3. Death Star Playset

I love my vintage Death Star playset. Setting it up with original Star Wars figures for some blog photos was a lot of fun, it’s great to see it was popular!

2. 1980s Skateboard Style

More skateboarding, and another successful entry for the STYLE section! It’s me, dressed in old skate clothes from the late 80s that still fit (or did, before lockdown).

…And what will be the most popular, widely read blog of 2020? Drum roll, please:

  1. Kantouni Village Sausage and Tzatziki

Yes, the most popular was this food blog, which benefitted from a genuine traditional recipe, and an idea to recreate a Greek holiday vibe with ingredients from the local supermarket.

As travel wasn’t happening this year for most of us, perhaps it’s no surprise that the Greek recipe blog came out on top. It was written as an ode to holidays and Mediterranean sunshine, something that wasn’t a possibility for many last year. I hope you found some nostalgic comfort from this post.

Usually my annual Top 10 has featured a load of comic con events – or similar – at the top of the list. Those events didn’t happen this year, so the Top 10 has a very different flavour. Who knows what 2021 will bring us?

Whatever the strange pan-dimensional cross flux of crazy brings us next, I’d like to thank you all for reading my blog. Please remember to pop by Platinum Al’s Virtual Hot Tub as soon as you can!

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

A Symphony of Halloween Horror Fest

King Kong (1933)

Halloween is, for me, all about monster movies.  You can keep the gore-fests, jumpy scares and cheep thrills – monsters are where it’s at.  And you don’t get a better creature feature than King Kong.

Released way back in 1933, this monochrome marvel is still pure excellence.

Daring filmmaker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) leads a crew to a long lost island in the middle of nowhere.  There, leading lady Ann Darrow (the legendary Fay Wray) is kidnapped by locals as an offering to their god, Kong.  Kong turns out to be a giant ape, who goes gooey-eyed for the blonde bombshell and fights off numerous prehistoric rivals to keep her safe.

The crew attempt a rescue, but only Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) survives to rescue his sweetheart from her captor.  Denham decides that Kong should be central to his new venture; hatching a plan to capture the ape and take him back to civilisation as his star attraction.

It’s incredible that this film isn’t far off being a century old.  King Kong has a fantastic story and superb special effects that still hold up to this day.  It’s full on entertainment – and one of my favourite films of all time.

But is King Kong horror?  Well, Kong features in my old Horror Top Trumps set – so that qualifies as a definite YES.

10/10

Nosferatu (1922)

More black and white thrills next, with another magnificent movie that really should not be missed.  F W Murnau’s Nosferatu is a chilling piece of early horror cinema, even after all these years.

The film follows the plot of the book Dracula, with a few alterations to (unsuccessfully) avoid claims of plagiarism.  Our hero, Jonathan Harker (or whatever name is used in whichever version you see) is sent to deal with some real estate for the mysterious Count Orlok.  The Count, however, is a vampire – who traps the hero in his castle and makes his way back to Harker’s home town, bringing death with him.

In 1922, the art and language of cinema was still being developed, leading to some strange visuals this movie – such as a ghostly horse and carriage speeding along in a bizarre manner.  Yet the final film is filled with startling, shadowy imagery that maintains a sense of unease, thanks to some genuinely innovative work.

Murnau manages to create some masterful moments of suspense, and Max Schreck as Orlok – whether rising from his grave, or shadow rising eerily up the staircase (a true iconic moment) – is spellbinding.

An early classic of cinema, Nosferatu helped develop cinematic vampire folklore – and still delivers a sense of dread with its uncanny visuals.

10/10

MCM Birmingham Comic Con 2018 – Part 1

NEC Birmingham

24/25 November 2018

Regular readers will know that a visit to the NEC in Birmingham for MCM Comic Con is on the cards at least once a year.  I missed the earlier event as the gang and I were at Sci Fi Weekender, however we were able to make the November Con.

My intrepid companions and I arrived at the massive site and after parking up, wandered down to the event hall.  Already there were dozens of cosplayers around, showing their awesome costumes.

After a chill in Wetherspoons, we made our way towards the hall.  Thankfully we didn’t have long to wait before we could enter.  This year we had regular tickets rather than early bird, so although this gave us later entry we had no problems.

Inside Comic Con, the aisles were busy and we formulated a plan of attack on how best to navigate our way around the stalls.  There were hundreds of people there, so not always easy to get to see some of the merchandise.  With a little patience and a bit of skill we were able to get a good look around.

The guests this time weren’t particularly inspiring – it seemed like all the best stars would be at Wales Comic Con the following week!  We were happy to spend the day viewing the displays and stalls to see what amazing paraphernalia we could afford.

Sadly, despite buying some fantastic items, there’s never enough money.  Oh, the damage I could do with a lottery win.  Seriously, there were dozens of action figures (for a start) that I could have give a home to.

Besides the joys of spending hard earned cash, there were of course the magnificent cosplayers out in full force.  A mind boggling array of characters, some well known and some more obscure, were to be seen.

Due to various organisational issues, I had forgotten to bring along my trusty Canon camera.  There’s always something, right?  Forgetting to bring the camera was a new low though!  Never mind, I was able to take photos with my phone – and the cosplay superstars were just as friendly and happy to pose as ever.

My thanks to all those who posed for a pic, much appreciated!  You were all great.

After hours on our feet wandering round, wishing for the cash to buy more stuff, the day was finally over.  After another Wetherspoons break, it was back in the car for the long drive home.  Another great day out – looking forward to the next one.

Thanks to Adam for driving and Greeny and Kurt for the company.

There are numerous pics of cosplayers here, feel free to let me know your favourites,  Or if you know the people in the [pics, please let them know.

Finally, i any one in the pics would rather they didn’t appear here, just let me know.

That’s all for Part 1 – stay tuned for Part 2.

Halloween Horror Fest Has Risen from the Grave (again)

Beetlejuice (1988)

Time for a change of pace for this year’s Halloween Horror Fest.  Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice is a spooky comedy horror, showcasing more of the Director’s trademark bizarre imagination. 

Adam (Alec Baldwin) and Barbara (Geena Davis) are a happily married couple, living in their dream house.  They wind up dead, due to an unfortunate accident, and haunting their old home.

When a new family move in, who turn out to be less than ideal inhabitants, Adam and Barbara attempt to scare the new householders away.  After all their attempts fail, they’re left with no other choice than to recruit Beetlegeuse (Michael Keaton) to do the job for them.

Keaton is manically brilliant as sleazoid Beetlegeuse; a deranged, disreputable “bio-exorcist” with a seedy demeanour.

Burton manages to keep the film entertaining and lighthearted in his own goofy way.  Beetlejuice never becomes morbid or grim, instead it’s a fun (though dark) fantasy that oozes creativity.

8/10

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968)

In which good old Christopher Lee returns as Dracula, in his third outing as the Count for Hammer. 

This time around, Drac is out for revenge when is castle is exorcised by the Monsignor (Rupert Davies).  Not having anywhere to hang out, the Count is somewhat peeved and decides to enact his vengeance on the Monsignor’s virginal niece, played by lovely Veronica Carlson.

Hammer courageously attempt to avoid re-treading the same old formula in this film, though in reality the blueprint is never cast too far away.  The actors all do a fine job, including Davies, Carlson and Barry Andrews as Paul, the token heroic figure.

Lee is fantastic of course, with commanding presence and evil red eyes creating a powerful Lord of Vampires.  And the sets look great, like Kiss of the Vampire, bigger and more realistic than earlier efforts.

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave isn’t a completely successful entry in the series, but it’s a professionally produced and entertaining film in the Gothic Hammer horror tradition.  Well worth a look.

7/10

Halloween Horror Fest

Yes, it’s October – which means it’s time once again for Halloween Horror Fest!  Throughout the month on the run up to Halloween, Mrs Platinum Al and I watch some of the horror movies from our creepy collection, and I write a brief review of each for your evil entertainment.

It’s always out and out horror – so long as there’s a general spooky or paranormal element – or monsters! – then the movie is up for consideration.

This is the fifth year running we have attempted this mammoth task.  To keep everyone up to speed, here’s a list of the films that have been viewed over the last few years.

All are listed in alphabetical order.

28 Days Later
28 Weeks Later
30 Days of Night
The Addams Family
Alien
An American Werewolf in London
Big Tits Zombie
Bigfoot Wars
Blacula
Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb
Blood on Satan’s Claw
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter
Carrie
Carry on Screaming
Company of Wolves
The Corpse Bride
Countess Dracula
Creature from the Black Lagoon
Dark Shadows
Day of the Dead
Dead Snow
Dead Snow 2
The Devil Rides Out
Dracula AD 1972
Dracula Prince of Darkness
Ed Wood
Elvira, Mistress of the Dark
Evil Dead
The Fog
Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman
Friday the 13th
From Dusk Till Dawn
From Hell
Ghost Ship
Ghostbusters
Halloween
The House That Dripped Blood
Lost Boys
Night Watch
Oupost
Para Norman
Paranormal Activity
Paranormal Xperience
Pet Sematary
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
The Raven
Rocky Horror Picture Show
Scream
Shadow of the Vampire
Shaun of the Dead
Silence of the Lambs
Sleepy Hollow
Taste the Blood of Dracula
Theatre of Blood
The Thing (1982)
Vampire Circus
The Vampire Lovers
The Wicker Man
The Wolfman (2010)
The Woman in Black
Zombie Strippers

Halloween Horror Fest the 13th

Blacula (1972)

Blacula updates the legend of Dracula, placing it’s protagonist in early 70’s California.  African Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall) is visiting said Lord of the Undead, who curses him to become a vampire, known as Blacula.  After being entombed for a couple of hundred years, Mamuwalde is revived when his coffin is transported and opened in modern day USA. blacula

It’s a fun film, transposing many of the myths we’re familiar with from Hammer movies into a different setting.  As in other versions of the tale, Blacula is transfixed by Tina, who he sees as the reincarnation of his lost love.  Tina, played by the beautiful Vonetta McGee (dead ringer for Beyonce) falls for his deadly charms; whilst her friends attempt to stop the plague of vampirism from spreading.

Whilst undeniably dated, and wallowing in numerous stereotypes that are somewhat non-pc by today’s standards, Blacula offers some great entertainment.  There are a few scares, some incredibly groovy costumes and settings, and a cool funky score.  It’s a novelty rather  than an original, though transposing the Dracula story into the realm of Blaxploitation works a treat.

Recommended, especially for fans of Dracula AD 1972 and Dark Shadows.

7/10

Friday the 13th (1980)

We’re off to the realms of slasher movies next, for one of the all time classics of the genre.  I first saw this film when I was 17.  I’ve not been much of a fan of slasher flicks since. fr13

Friday the 13th knowingly raids all the cliches from the cupboard and displays them proudly on the wall.  Set at Crystal Lake summer camp, the young counsellors fit the required formula and are gruesomely picked off one by one in the classic manner.

And yet it works very well, with some genuinely well done gore (Tom Savini, take a bow) and real shocks that convince even after all these years.  This might not have been the first slasher flick,but it follows the Halloween blueprint faithfully and delivers with surprises and tension.

I’m still not a massive slasher movie fan, but this original Friday the 13th is well worth investigating.

7/10

Halloween Horror Fest 2016

Welcome to this year’s Halloween Horror Fest!  All through the month of October, I’ll be watching horror movies, monster flicks and general B-movie nonsense, and then sharing a short revue on this here blog.  Hope you enjoy!

First off this year it’s…

Countess Dracula (1971)

Loosely based on the true story of Countess Bathory, who bathed in the blood of virgins, this Hammer tale is suitably lurid and macabre.  It deals in all the classic (or stereotypical, if you prefer) Hammer traits, with gore and a dash of nudity – not to mention horse drawn carriages in the woods, castles and intrigue. countess

Here the widowed Countess is played by the legendary Ingrid Pitt, who makes a startling transformation from ancient crone to voluptuous young beauty when she discovers the restorative powers of virgin’s blood.  With this knowledge, the Countess embarks on a mission to ensnare her younger lover and keep the supply of comely wenches flowing.

There’s also plenty of plotting within the castle walls, leading to some duplicitous goings on and dastardly actions.  Chief amongst these scoundrels is Nigel Green as Dobi, keen to take the place of the Countess’s suitor (Sandor Eles).

Countess Dracula is one of the great Hammer films I remember seeing years ago, inded it was one of the first I ever bought – on VHS – for my collection!  It’s an entertaining film, aided by the deceitful twists and turns of the characters, that stops the film from becoming too run of the mill.

Unlike the real Countess Bathory story, and with this being Hammer, there is of course a supernatural element to the proceedings.  The Countess is magically rejuvenated; Ingrid Pitt at first made up to look old becomes miraculously young and seductive.  But this isn’t a historical docu-drama, it’s Hammer horror – and it’s all about entertainment.

Great fun and a worthy start to this years Halloween Horror Fest!

8/10 ingrid

Bram Stoker’s Halloween Horror Fest

Dracula (1992)

A difficult one, this.  Undeniably stunning to watch, this version of the classic tale from Director Francis Ford Coppola has many positives.  Unfortunately it also has some screamingly bad inconsistencies, too.

I won’t dwell too long on the plot, as the narrative manages to follow the source novel for the most part.  Suffice to say that Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) is despatched to Transylvania to arrange some London real estate for a certain Count Dracula (a brilliant Gary Oldman).  Dracula then relocates to Victorian England, where his cult of vampirism is destined to grow.

Despite following many of the key scenes from Stoker’s original book, and indeed managing to correctly include most of the characters for a change, this isn’t the definitive movie version it claims to be.  Rather, Coppola’s film is scuppered by introducing a ridiculous love story between Dracula and Mina (Winona Ryder) that wasn’t in the book.  So for every brilliantly shot tribute to the novel that Coppola makes, there’s a stake through the heart thanks to the silly romance aspect. drac

The performances vary from superb (Oldman) to annoying (Sadie Frost as Lucy).  Then there’s Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing, who can’t decide how far to ram his tongue in his own cheek.

Poor old Keanu always comes under heavy criticism for his work here, and yes, his British accent is truly abominable.  In his defence, however, I would say that he looks exactly as I always imagined Jonathan Harker to look.  So give him a break.  For me, Winona Ryder is much worse – her acting and accent are both wrong, and she also looks totally out of place.

Thank heavens for some authenticity with appearances for much loved characters Dr Seward (Richard E Grant, great job); Arthur Holmwood (perfectly cast as Cary Elwes) and the vampire hunter who was always my favourite, Quincey Morris (Bill Campbell).

If I ignore the stupid desecration that is the Oldman/Ryder romance, then there’s plenty to enjoy.  The sets, costume designs and cinematography are simply beautiful.  There are some ingenious ideas where the laws of physics just do not apply – such as shadows roaming randomly – which create a supernatural world.  And there is enough respect for the novel in various other ways that Coppola’s Dracula is irresistible to watch.  Not to mention plenty of blood and dismemberment, and some true horror.

So despite holding my head in my hands and screaming “WHY?!” to the heavens, Dracula is still a must see.  But please folks, read the book.  Repressed Victorian sexuality and fears of the outsider may be present there, but “Dracula” is no love story.

8/10

Halloween Horror Fest: Prince of Darkness

Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

I couldn’t have another Halloween Horror Fest without honouring the wonderful Sir Christopher Lee, who sadly died earlier this year.  So it’s time for another Hammer horror classic with Dracula: Prince of Darkness!

This was the first time that Lee reprised the role of the Count since his performance in the legendary Dracula (or Horror of Dracula in the US) in 1958.  Bizarrely, this time Dracula is silent throughout – not uttering a single word – as Lee claimed he refused to speak the atrocious dialogue.

Following on from the previous film some years later, we encounter four British travellers who wind up at Castle Dracula, despite warnings against going there.  The travellers face some strange goings on, leading ultimately to the true purpose of their welcome at the castle – being used as sacrifice to resurrect the Count.

dpod

It takes a while to get to the key scene of murder and resurrection, though there are several creepy elements in the lead up to it.  This revival of Dracula is quite a blood thirsty and shocking scene, even now.

The rest of the movie sees our heroes trying to evade the vampire whilst finding refuge at a monastery, where Father Sandor (a superb Andrew Keir) steadfastly defends against the Count.

Lee’s Dracula still manages to menace despite the lack of speech, exuding power and malevolence.  Barbara Shelley also gives a fine performance, switching from peevish Helen to deadly yet alluring vampiress.

Dracula: Prince of Darkness is not without it’s faults, but it does posses some witty ideas and a few sly winks to the original source novel.  Add in some terrific performances and the result is Hammer horror defined; it’s worth seeing to witness these traits before they became a cliché.  All the great elements of the famous studio are here – including the greatest Dracula of them all.

8/10

You can read my full tribute to Sir Christopher Lee here.