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.

Brown Acid: the Tenth Trip – Album Review

Various Artists – Brown Acid: The Tenth Trip

Riding Easy Records

Release date: 20/04/2020 (?)

Running time: 33 minutes

Review by: Alun Jones

8.5/10

 

Between me and you, I’ve been wondering when this series of proto metal/heavy psyche long-lost artifacts would start to go off the boil.  This is the tenth instalment now, and any listener could be forgiven for thinking that maybe, the well might run dry.  That the party is over, the acid has worn off, and the hippies have traded in their kaftans for the last time.  I mean, how much of these rare, forgotten nuggets can there be left, for the rock’n’roll gravediggers at Riding Easy Records to exhume?

Well pardon me for being a fanboy, but the Brown Acid trip is far from over.   In fact, this could be my favourite volume so far.

Yes, it’s more of the same: fuzzy, psychedelic late 60s/early 70s heavy rock; somehow cast aside for around fifty years, waiting to be rediscovered.  Gems that pre-date and redefine the genealogical development of metal and hard rock; throwing the long-standing theories of origin into dispute like some musical Antikythera mechanism.  But this time, if anything, the tunes are better than ever.

Here we have Sounds Synonymous with “Tensions”, a fuzz-rock monster with a “Wild Thing” feel and washes of freaky organ not a million miles removed from Steppenwolf.  Witness also the wonder of “Never Again” from Ralph Williams and the Wright Brothers, melding melodic vocals with an “American Woman” style desert rock vibe.   “Babylon” by Conception rolls with some funky, Hendrix-like riffs and a great pop sensibility, not to mention a fabulous bluesy instrumental section.

Bitter Creek deliver “Plastic Thunder”, which has a Who meets Stooges aggressive sound.  On “Mr. Sun”, First State Bank (rad name!) provide a Mountain-covering-the-Kinks lesson in far-out groovery.  Then there’s Brothers and One with the saucily titled “Hard On Me”, which has a little Hawkwind on a road to Maiden’s “Running Free”.

Probably the best track is “The Roach”, by The Brood (another quality name).  It’s a MC5/Sabbath garage rocker with apocalyptic horns and keys, heralding the end of peace and love and the arrival of the age of doom.

Freaky, fuzzy and far-out: that’s the latest edition of Brown Acid.  If you’re late to the party, jump on the magic bus right now and let your hair down.  Signs are this festival is gonna run and run.

 

Here’s a link to the Riding Easy Records website and their Bandcamp.

You can also find them on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.

This article first appeared as a review on Ever Metal.  Please use the electronic super highway to pay them a visit via this link.

Weed Demon – Crater Maker Album Review

Weed Demon – Crater Maker

Electric Valley Records

Release date: 03/04/2020

Running time: 46 minutes

Review by: 9/10

 

“Crater Maker”, by Columbus Ohio rascals Weed Demon, begins with the warm and welcoming hiss and crackle of vinyl.  Then we’re into the first track “Atmospheric Drag”, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’re in the wrong section of the record shop.  It’s a dark, folky country number that sounds like you’ve just stumbled into a saloon in a God forsaken Western town.  I was taken by surprise, but this song is both awesome and a fitting introduction to an album that isn’t afraid to wander off the obvious path.

When track two, “Birthquake” lumbers in, we’re in familiar doomy Sabbath territory.  It’s a stark contrast to the opening song, but brilliant as that was, this is what we came for.  Big, dirty riffage that’s slow yet powerful, the result is an instrumental song that relies purely on dynamics to excite and uplift.  This is bloody great stuff.

The next track, “Serpent Merchant”, is even heavier and more relentless – with growling vocals making a demonic appearance.  It all descends into a masterful, psychedelic break before the pummelling returns.  The album’s title track delivers a groove laden sludge, which again dissolves into a mellow passage at pretty much exactly the halfway mark.  Gradually becoming fuzzier, this soon explodes into a frenzied, aggressive section.

The remaining tracks offer more crunching guitars, thudding bass, booming vocals and pounding rhythms, always concentrating on the all-important doom riff.  Final track “Sporelord” wanders through several segments, before briefly fading away and returning with a quirky reggae style outro.

With four of the six songs here over the 8 minute mark, there’s a lot to explore and digest with “Crater Maker”.  Weed Demon have created a dense album that I enjoyed from the first listen and I’m still returning to weeks later.  Meandering into psychedelic space rock, groovy doom, country and ear-splitting sludge ensures “Crater Maker” is a complex release that’s worth hearing.

All this talk of weeds reminds me of a funny little escapade with my old mate Keith Moon.  Moony lived next door to his big pal Ollie Reed, who asked the loony drummer to keep an eye on his mansion while he was in Europe, filming some naff horror/arthouse nonsense.  Moon had a party, got totally blitzed and remembered at about 4am that he hadn’t mowed Ollie’s lawn for him.  Well, you can imagine the laughs we had, as Keith tried to start the ride-on petrol mower in the dark.  Without going into too much detail, a split fuel pipe and a discarded cigarette resulted in most of Reed’s garden looking like it had been napalmed.

Ollie wasn’t best pleased when he returned to see the unholy mess Keith had left him with.  But Moon just blamed Ringo Starr, who made a quick exit when drunken Ollie brought out his shotgun.  Ringo had the last laugh though, by marrying the most beautiful woman in the world.  Jammy git.

Weed Demon are on Facebook and Bandcamp, plus find them on Instagram here.

Check out Electric Valley Records here.

And go have a gander at Ever Metal, tell ’em Platinum Al sent you.