Sci-Fi Weekender: Back to the Future

March is usually the time for Sci-Fi Weekender: a weekend long, stay-over-and-party Comic Con that’s full of entertainment. From special guests, interviews, signings, screenings, games and all manner of live entertainment, this event has always been a fantastic, full-on experience for all your geeky desires.

Sadly, the Covid pandemic exterminated the event this year. It should have been taking place this last weekend. It’s a real blow, as Sci-Fi Weekender offers just the kind of escapism that we need right now.

Have no fear, however: I’ve used my Indiana Jones-like archaeological skills to rediscover some long lost photos from the past.

Cosplay is always a big deal at SFW. All manner of glorious, gruesome, magnificent and marvellous costumes can be seen on display, worn by some of the coolest and most down-to-earth people you’ll be likely to meet this side of Tosche Station.

Thanks to my old pal Darf Dork (that’s Adam G, to you), I’m able to present some photos from the past that will bring back some fond memories. These pics are all Adam’s work – he’s been kind enough to thaw them out of carbonite for your enjoyment.

Hope in my Virtual Hot Tub Time Machine and let’s go back to SFW past. Hope you enjoy the photos. And keep dreaming: one day Sci-Fi Weekender will return…

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 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

MCM Comic Con Birmingham 2019 – Part 2

NEC Birmingham

16/17 November 2019

Right back atcha with some more fabulous photos from the recent MCM Comic Con at the NEC in Birmingahm.  Here’s Part 2, ‘cos one blog post just wasn’t enough.  So many photos, you see.

There’s not much else to report that I haven’t covered in previous editions of my MCM Comic Con blogs.  You know the drill, right?

So let’s just crack on and you can witness the awesome Cosplay photos of these amazing, talented people.

Here’s a bit of fun for you, though – can you spot my pal Darf Dork hanging around in one of these pics?  There might be a prize for someone who can…

Finally, another big THANK YOU to everyone who posed for a photo – the true stars of the day.  See you at the next Comic Con!

 

MCM Comic Con Birmingham 2019 – Part 1

NEC Birmingham

16/17 November 2019

OK, look – I won’t write a blow by blow account of this years MCM Comic Con at Birmingham NEC.  I’ll just provide a little info; a flavour, if you will, of the attractions and atmosphere.

That way, we can cut to the chase and you can see the photos I took of the many and varied Cosplayers at the event.

Maybe you were there?  Maybe a photo I took of you is featured here?  If so, I’d like to thank you for your contribution.  Also, I’ll offer my apologies, if the pic isn’t that great.  Fingers crossed some of these images look alright.

The main goal of the day was to see as many of the stalls as we could, and spend a few quid here and there.  There were a great many treasures to be seen – oh, if only I had the money to buy them all…

I did buy the following:

  • A ReAction figure of Jerry Only from the Misfits (to go with my Misfits Fiend I’d purchased previously).
  • A ReAction figure of the classic Universal monster, the Mummy (bargain price).
  • Freddie Mercury Funko Pop – the yellow jacket version, the first I’d ever seen in the wild and a steal for only a tenner.
  • A Marvel comic book: Master Of Kung Fu – cos I felt I needed to add at least one comic to my collection.

Not a bad little haul, really.

Over all, though, the greatest success of the day were the amazing Cosplayers.  Thanks to all of your for posing for a photo.  Hope you all had a great day!

That’s it for Part 1 of the MCM Comic Con write-up: stay tuned for Part 2 very soon, with loads more photos to enjoy…

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

The Curse of Halloween Horror Fest 2019

The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

Hammer’s only venture into lycanthrope-based horror in the movies, The Curse of the Werewolf is a great example of the studio doing what they do best.  There’s no Pete or Chris, but we do get an early chance for Oliver Reed to demonstrate his talent.

Apparently the movie was based on a book called “The Werewolf of Paris”; the location shifted to Spain when a planned film about the Spanish Inquisition had to be abandoned – and the Spanish sets were forced onto this production.

Reed plays Leon, who the audience learns has had a troubled upbringing.  Born on Christmas Day and conceived from a rape, Leon is cursed to become a werewolf.  With love and comfort, his curse is kept under control.  He falls for his employers daughter, who is engaged to another man – and soon Leon’s hidden wolf is out of control.

The Curse of the Werewolf is something of a gem in Hammer’s crown.  The story has tension and drama courtesy of Director, Terence Fisher – and the special effects are adequate for the time.  Reed is engaging as Leon, inviting our sympathy though the audience realises he is doomed.

The result is a monster movie that’s both entertaining and moving, with a depth not often witnessed in a Hammer horror.

8/10

Misery (1990)

You can’t beat a bit of Stephen King, and Misery is one of his best – the book is great, the film is a masterful adaptation.

Paul Sheldon (James Caan) is a best selling novelist, who crashes his car on a snowy Colorado road.  He’s rescued and nursed by Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), who claims to be Paul’s number one fan.  But Wilkes discovers that Sheldon has killed off her beloved character, Misery, and his experience goes downhill faster than his car did.

Trapped in Annie’s house and confined to a wheelchair, how will Paul escape before Annie’s descent into murderous madness is complete?

Directed by Rob Reiner, Misery has tension and pace enough to keep anyone on the edge of their seat.  Caan is excellent; Bates is on Oscar winning form as the disturbed woman switching from kindly to evil in a heartbeat.

There’s nothing supernatural in Misery, but this story is certainly horrific.

9/10