Friday, 31 October 2008

Tennant's Super Strength!

So it's been announced that David Tennant is leaving Doctor Who after the four specials in 2009.

When it was first announced he would taking on the role, my first reaction was "well, he's a bit young looking for the part". However I then remembered I'd had the exact same thought when Tom Baker took over the role, and we all know how well that turned out.

And indeed by the time "Tooth and Claw" (his third episode) had aired, I was in doubt the character was in very safe hands indeed. The common opinion (in my manor at least) was that although Ecclestone had played the role extremely well, Tennant had topped him - he wasn't just playing the Doctor, he WAS the Doctor!

And so I for one will be sorry to see him go. But he’ll have done 4 years, and 4 series (if we're counting next year's specials as a series), which in the Doctor Tenure League Table places him at a very respectable 4th place (do any numerologists out there want to make anything of all those 4s?).

1) Tom Baker – 7 series
2) Jon Pertwee – 5 series
3) David Tennant – 4 series
4) William Hartnell – 3 series
5) Patrick Troughton 3 series
6) Peter Davison – 3 series
7) Sylvester McCoy – 3 series
8) Colin Baker – 2 series
9) Christopher Ecclestone – 1 series
10) Paul McGann – 1 TV movie

It's been a great period for Doctor Who, and before we get all maudlin mourning Tennant's passing, remember we've got 5 specials coming. And considering they are going to be the final tales of the 10th Doctor, I'm betting they are going to be hugely epic!

Of course I’m wondering what the hell they are going to do about River Song …

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man

At last we get return to the realms of Frankenstein! Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man holds a special place in my heart, as it was the very first horror movie I ever saw... Previously I'd seen a fair few sci-fi flicks and monster movies, some of which contained a good dose of fear. Like many genre fans out there I'd been terrified by the Morlocks in George Pal's The Time Machine, thrilled by the mutant in This Island Earth, and utterly dazzled by the original King Kong.

Plus Doctor Who at the time (mid 70s) had been providing a weekly dose of terror with serials featuring giant maggots, body snatching spiders, creatures from the deep and all manner of ugly and villainous aliens - and if all that wasn't enough the early Tom Baker stories featured homages to The Quatermass Experiment (The Seeds of Death), Frankenstein and Donovan's Brain (Brain of Morbius), mummy movies (Pyramids of Mars), and The Phantom of the Opera (Talons of Weng Chiang). And the latter threw in the most sinister murderous ventriloquist's dummy of all time Mr Sin.

All great stuff for the budding horror fan. But I'd not yet seen a proper horror film. At that time in the UK, horror films - even the ancient Universals were only ever shown late at night and so apart from the stuf fmentioned above, the closest I'd got to seeing a pure horror movie was a couple of clips on a TV show about movie history and Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (which was deemed suitable for an earlier viewing slot).

However in 1977 that was about to change at a rainy Cub Scout camp. In the usual range of activities, it was announced there was to be a film showing. Now we trooped into the hall expecting something from the Children's Film Foundation stable, as was usually the case in these situations. So imagine my surprise and delight when the lights dimmed and the title Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man hit the screen. Needless to say the movie went down a storm with us Cubs. Partly as this showing had the alluring whiff of contraband about it (remember this was the kind of thing that normally screened way past bedtime and years before the advent of video), but mainly because this movie is just so much fun. And for the rest of the weekend, several hundred small boys were either snarling around trees or lurching about with arms outstretched... I don't know who decided on that choice of movie, but they have my everlasting thanks!

So how does this film hold up now? Well it does exactly what it says on the tin. It's still an awful lot of fun and is hands down my favourite of the last four movies in the series. Though it has it's problems. For a start the first half which focuses on Larry Talbot is far superior to the second - it's well constructed and intriguing but when we discover the Frankenstein monster the script lapses slightly.

Watching the series in order, the first question is how on earth did the Monster end up in an ice cave beneath Castle Frankenstein when at the close of Ghost of Frankenstein he was burning up in miles away in Ludwig's manor? Considering the smooth continuity from The Wolf Man this does jar. Admittedly the studio bosses did monkey about with the film. As you may remember the previous film ended with Igor's brain being transplanted into the Monster's body and discovering he was going blind. Hence for this movie Lugosi logically got the role of the Monster, and the script originally had the monster speaking. However test audiences laughed too much at Lugosi's speechs and so Universal ordered the monster's dialogue to be snipped. So one wonders whether there was a Lugosi speech which told how the Monster came to be frozen. Considering the care Curt Siodmak pays to other aspects of the continuity, I find it hard to imagine he would omit bridging the gap in the story from the previous Frankenstein outing, especially as it was written to be Igor in the Monster's body.

No doubtedly these cuts also damage the movie's plot in other ways. For example, we have Lugosi shambling about with arms outstretched but there is no reference made to the monster being blind. But one also wonders what else was lost; I can't imagine Igor not having another evil scheme up his sleeve. One can only hope that someday the lost footage turns up, as I imagine it will produce a second half that lives up to the first.

However despite the above problems, Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man is still far superior to its predecessor or its two sequels. Creighton Chaney's impassioned performance really holds the film together and the cinematography has a truly epic gothic vision. It's packed with wonderful set pieces - the atmospheric opening with grave robbers breaking into the Talbot mausoleum, the lavish mittel-European village revels, the climatic final battle of the monsters - to name but three. It may not scale the heights set by the first three Frankenstein movies, or The Wolf Man for that matter, but it does satisfy, delivering creepy thrills and spills and manages to contruct a tale which integrates the Wolf Man and the Monster.

And finally, it must be noted that Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man is an increasingly important film in cinema history as it is the granddaddy of the the crossover film. Without it we would have no King Kong Vs Godzilla, no Freddy Vs Jason, and no Aliens Vs Predator movies... (though in the latter case that some of you out there may well be thinking that's a blessing). However with Marvel finally getting their characters to crossover on the big screen, we can be sure that movie icons will be going head to head a whole lot more in the future...

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Dead Set

I think this is a first - a zombie TV series, complete with all the biting and gut munching we've come to expect of the risen dead post-George Romero. Considering the original Night Of the Living Dead, which set the template for a zombie apocalypse, came out way back in 1968, and that small groups surviving in inhospitable and unlikely places has always been a popular hook for TV series, it's amazing that a zombie serial hasn't been done before.

Although that said, whether Dead Set counts as a TV series is something we'll have to look at closer later...

So what is Dead Set? Basically it's a five part series currently being shown on UK channel E4 all this week. And you can expect a repeat on the parent channel, Channel 4 pretty sharpish, judging from the high ratings of the first two episodes. Oh and the DVD is out next Monday (November 3rd).

The premise is fairly straight forward - the dead rise, started eating all and sundry and the world ends. Just like every other zombie holocaust. However Dead Set's twist on the usual proceedings is that the action centres not on a hospital, shopping mall, or military base but on the reality TV show. So we have a group wannabe telly stars who slowly realise that the world outside has ended...

The major coup here is that rather than having to invent a fictitious show, the makers managed to secure the services of the daddy of reality telly, Big Brother. Seeing the zombie outbreak occur around the very familar sets of Big Brother adds massivley to the credibility of the story. Certainly, given the quality of this production, they could have pulled it off with a made-up show but featuring a very famous real world show gives the story much more impact. Plus we get to see Davina McCall in the thick of cannibal ghoul action, which adds hugely to the fun factor!

Also the show's creator, Charlie Brooker is primarily a TV critic, famed for his amusingly scaborous writing, and so Dead Set features an important but often overlooked element of a classic zombie tale - social satire. So naturally being able to weave his plot around the exisitng cultural framework of Big Brother has sharpened his pen in this respect.

As we are only two episodes right now, obviously it's hard to gauge how good this show is. But on the current evidence, I'd have to say that Dead Set is delivering a solid addition to the zombie genre. It's sharply written, fast paced and nicely directed - easily knocking the average dead flick back into its grave. The acting is pretty great too: Jaime Winston is delivering a fantastatic performance as the heroine, ably supported by the rest of the cast which includes the very great Kevin Eldon. And special mention must be made of Davina McCall, who has a much bigger role than the expected cameo, and has been brilliant.


Not only has she provided a terrific death scene but is currently doing sterling work as a flesh eating ghoul. Depending on the remaining episodes, she very well could be set to join the likes of Bub and the Tar man in the best zombie performance hall of fame. Certainly her eviction night catchphrase "I'm coming to get you" is taking on a whole new meaning.


Ok quibbling time! First up, be warned this show does feature fast zombies. Now I much prefer yer classic shambling dead, but I can live with speedy undead. And in Dead Set they are handled well; generally they do shamble about ... until they spot prey and then they start motoring.

Quibble number two - recently Mark Kermode has been talking about the 'Bayification' of modern direction (see the link to his site for the full rant), and there are elements of this in Dead Set. For those who don't know, Bayification in short can be defined as the absolute inability to keep the goddamn camera still, particularly during action shots, often to the point of making what is happening in the scene utterly incomprehensible. Now there is a little of this in Dead Set and so far I'm inclined to forgive it. Mainly as you can still tell what's going on, and it's being used reasonably sparingly. Also I suspect some quick shaky cutting is a cunning way to show full-on flesh chomping on TV without garnering too many complaints. (Quick aside: in the UK there is a weird double standard regarding horror - horror films must be shown very late at night, whereas the likes of Casualty can stage horrific accidents and liberally chuck gore about before the watershed).

Final quibble - at the start of this I mentioned we'd be looking at whether Dead Set counts as a TV series. Now judging from last night's episode, I'm not sure it was actually written to be shown in five parts, as the episode just seemed to stop rather than build up to a cliffhanger. It's too early to say but I'm guessing it was originally conceived to shown as a two or three parter. Or maybe even as an epic length TV movie. I'm intrigued to discover how it will be presented on the DVD - as they screened the whole thing for the press, plus the lack of credits, I'm betting we'll get the series as a movie. So possible this ISN'T the first zombie series.

However what Dead Set certainly is is the most convincing slice of horror seen on TV in a long time. And it's definitely rotted head and shoulders above most zombie cinema. I'm not ordering the DVD just yet but I'm damn close...

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Merlin - the Mid-Season Report

So we've got the halfway mark, and I thought it was high time for an update on how I feel the show is doing so far...

And the short answer is very well indeed. I've been througly enjoying these Saturday tea-time jaunts to Camelot. The show is delivering just the right mix of magic, adventure and humour to keep this viewer happy, and seems to be confidently stepping over any worries I had.

I've quite acclimatised to the modernist stylings of the dialogue. Of course on principle, I'd prefer a little more of the typical cod-period thee and thouing but I'm finding in Merlin the colloquial approach is working out well. Mainly this is due to the dialogue being sufficently witty and dramatic to carry it off. And I quite like the way that they actually do venture in the verily for soothe realms for the scenes of court formality.

Performances have been top notch and guest roles have been well cast. The regulars are gelling nicely, giving the show a strong ensemble piece feeling. I also like the way different episodes shift the focus; for example it was great to see Richard Wilson's Gaius take centre stage in tonight's episode.

Plot-wise, I'm enjoying the direction the story lines are developing. I'm guessing that like another very well-known series about a boy wizard, the writers are planning on this show to run and run - with the characters aging and presumably reach the point where they can tell the classic Arthurian stories.

On the effects front, I have to say I'm still not a fan of the Great Dragon design - it has failed to grow on me, and still reminds me of Churchill the nodding dog. Other than that though, the cgi has been up scratch, and generally not over used. And I delighted that in "The Mark of Nimueh", the Afanc appeared to be a good old fashioned, physically made creature model.

If I have one niggle though, it's the Great Dragon scenes. Design aside, he is getting a Mystic Meg in his cryptic pronoucements, to point you begin to wonder why they bother consulting him at all. But thankfully, we have had a few episodes where a trip to his cave wasn't obligatory.

On the whole though, I'm finding this is perfect TV fare for winter weekends and I'm looking forward to see where the rest of the series goes. And that's another thing Merlin is doing well - the great 'The adventure continues...' teasers. Can't wait to see what the scary drippy-faced blue demon king thing in next week's episode is all about!

Thursday, 23 October 2008


After more muppetry than I care to mention, it's finally here! The rough beast's hour has come at last - is open! A miscellany of vision, verse and lore.

And believe me it probably is a bit of a rough beast right now too! I'll no doubt be spending a fair chunk of time bug hunting in the next couple of days... but hey it's up in a fledging form :)!

Go check it out now!

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Quick Update

Apologies for the lack of posts this week, as we've been rather busy here at Hypnogoria sorting out the main. The dark gods willing, the site should go live in the next few days!

On the reviews front, expect a bumper crop soonish - I've got a fair few rough drafts floating about waiting to be polished to an acceptable degree of literacy - including the final reviews for the Universal Frankenstein series. Well the official series anyway - I will add a review of 'Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein' when I eventually pick up the DVD. And in the spirit of completism I will review "Van Helsing" - yes I know it's a travesty but as it was intended as a homage to the movies I've been looking at, I thought it deserves a look in.

Right I'm off back to the web muppetry before I start a rant about wc3 validation and the 'embed' tag...

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Happy Like Murderers

Gordon Burn's Happy Like Murderers (Faber & Faber 1998) is a very difficult book. At several points during reading this, the book was put down for several days and it was touch and go whether I'd return to it. But return I did, and eventually finished it. And I can't say I was glad to either - on one hand, it was good to get to the end of an exceedingly tough book but even after you finish it tends to linger in the mind for a good long while.

Anyhow, to the book itself - basically this an account of the lives of Fred and Rose West, the notorious UK serial murder couple. First thing to note, is that it is an account of their lives and not just the crimes they committed. It is closer to biography than most true crime books.
Secondly it it written in a style somewhere between a biography and a novel. This isn't to say that this is a fictionalized account of the proceedings, but it is does use a good deal of literary flourishes that are more commonly found in a novel.

When I first heard about this book, I was unsure of how this style would work. My feeling was that too much narrative and desription might overwhelm the facts of the case and possibly stumble into the tar-pit of unfounded speculation and outright fabrication in creating some scenes. However I can report that Burn has done an excellent job in crafting this work and manages to illustrate the events rather embroider them. Stylistically, Burn uses the repetition and variations of certain key phrases that sketch in atmosphere and psychological themes. Some readers may find these echoes in the text annoying, but I found them to an elegant device which highlight the progression of the West's crimes, illuminate the links between past and present events, and to reiterate recurring impressions and opinions.

Also it must be noted that this style does not in any way dilute the horror of the facts. For all the 'artistic' flourishes, the book never provides a comforting fictional veneer of the events of Cromwell Road. Neither does Burn go down the tabloid route. There isn't reams of sensationally written 'reconstructions' of the murders or pages of details from autopsy reports. The murders themselves are dealt with rather succintly - as there is scant actual detail about them. Fred West only really spoke about the specifics of disposing of the bodies, and the forensic evidence was limited due to the age and condition of the bodies discovered.

So what made this book so hard to get through? Although details of the murders are few, there is a lot known about life at 25 Cromwell Road, in the main from the recollections of three of the West's children. For this book, Burn extensively researched and interviewed family, friends and co-workers and has built up a detailed picture of The West's lives - not just the major events but their day-to-day routines over the years. And it is this emerging picture that is so upsetting to read.

Basically the Wests created within Cromwell Street a pocket universe which revolved around sex and sadism. The murders really are only just one part of a larger nest of horrors. Both Fred and Rose came from families where abuse; physical, sexual and psychological, were rthe norm, and their own household perpetuated this. Burn handles this material with the necessary sensitivity and steers a course away from lurid detail, but reading about how they not only abused their own children, but allowed and encouraged others to do so, year after year is very harrowing.

If you wish to understand the motivations and possible background triggers for the West's murders, this book does paint a very detailed picture. However it cannot be said to be the only book about the West you need to read.

The problem is that the actual investigation, arrest and trial are only very briefly examined in the final chapter. And although Burn has avoided speculation, and rightly so in the main, there are some issues where I felt some commentary was necessary. For example, the question of how many more murders, other than the twelve that went to trial, were committed really needed to be mentioned more fully. Similarly the issue of whether or not Rose was party to the murders also warranted remarking on.

Hence a reader who makes it to the end of this book, may be have to cast about for another account to get the complete picture. Now I'm in this boat, and though I feel I should while the facts from Happy Like Murderers are fresh in the mind, to be honest, right now I really don't want to read another book on the Wests.

So in conclusion, I would recommend this book if you have an interest in the West murders, but with the following reservations - that firstly it's highly upsetting and secondly will not give you a full view of the case.