Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Laserdisc Collecting: Blade Runner (Japan, 1987, Warner Home Video)

There's been much talk of Blade Runner these past few weeks with the arrival of the sequel, some 35 years after Ridley Scott's signature film was first released, and it seems as good a time as any to present my Japanese laserdisc copy, originally released in 1987. The Japanese were treated to at least 5 distinct laserdisc editions of the film - three of which came with unique photo montage artwork, while the other two editions, the very first laserdisc release from 1985, and fifth edition, the 1992 Director's Cut, simply featured John Alvin's iconic artwork. Of the 3 editions that sport alternative artwork, the 1987 issue is the most lavish, borrowing the Criterion laserdisc's European Theatrical Cut and issued as a heavy two disc-set and housed in a beautiful gatefold sleeve brimming over with Japanese text (which lends a nice Asian connection to a film which takes place in a very Sino-flavored Los Angeles). I particularly like the photo montage on the front, it's stylish and refreshingly uncluttered and coherent, and making fine use of Syd Mead's futurist designs - the  Tyrell building rubbing shoulders against LA's toxic skies, and I like the solar flare effects of the spinners.






Inside gatefold - left side


Inside gatefold - right side


Inside gatefold - bottom right side - list of supplements

Of the supplemental material which has been ported over from the Criterion laser, I'm most intrigued by the Blade Runner Trivia Test which I'd like to take, but haven't been able to find it online !


One-sided insert

Monday, 6 November 2017

Covering King

For the past few days I've been re-reading the excellent 1988 book Bare Bones: Conversations on Terror with Stephen King, which gathers 30-odd interviews with the Elvis Presley of Horror fiction (as editor David G. Hartwell calls him in his introduction to the short-story anthology The Dark Descent). In one of the more interesting chapters in the book, the conversation turns to King's book covers - a subject little explored in most interviews. Not surprisingly, this interview first appeared in Heavy Metal magazine, and while it makes for fascinating reading, I was frustrated that there were no illustrations to accompany the text. Digging out my scanned copy of the February 1980 issue of Heavy Metal, the original interview is also bereft of graphics, so with that in mind, I thought it might be worthwhile to present the entire section of the Heavy Metal piece with the appropriate illustrations.

* * * *

Bhob Stewart: We broke off last issue with a mention of New American Library designer Jim Plumeri's visual concept for King's Night Shift collection: a clever double cover with six eyes peering through die-cut eye slits in the dark blue background. Opening this front cover to page one you discover that the eyes are actually socketed into the palm, thumb and fingers of a half-bandaged hand, a Don Brautigam illustration of King's story I Am the Doorway about an astronaut back from Venus who finds that aliens inside him are metamorphosing his body. Brautigam's skilled use of surrealism techniques earned him a Society of Illustrators award for this airbrush/acrylic painting. Equally effective are Plumeri's other award-winning covers for King titles. "I call them occult solutions" says Plumeri. "When I did Stephen King I was looking for the most unusual solutions I could possibly find. My job is to make people stop and pick the book up. I can't drag them to the cash register. but I can sure as hell make them pick it up."






For the first million copies of the paperback edition of The Shining, Plumeri devised a small, faceless head and had it printed in black on a glistening silver mylar. "I don't have to have that kind of visual now. I can just put "Stephen King". By the time The Shining comes out by Kubrick, with Jack Nicholson in it, I think all I have to do is put a big STEPHEN KING on the cover. The Shining is Kubrick's baby; whatever he has for his advertising visual I will do. In all movie tie-ins the movie usually supplies us with their advertising art and typography. It's a chance where they get extra exposure and we get exposure. One hand washes the other."

Plumeri's occult solution for the initial paperback printing of Salem's Lot won an award from the American Institute of Graphic Arts. This was a cover of lustrous solid black - no title, no blurbs, no byline - with a single, tiny drop of red blood at the mouth of an embossed head hardly visible unless held and angled so that the embossing can catch the light. Plumeri chose type designer Pete Gute to handle the illustration because Gute had previously worked with embossed type. A follow up version of this cover added a silver embossed title above the embossed head. In its final form (the one currently in bookstores), the embossed cover was replaced by a photograph of the same head with regular flat printing. "That happened because we ran out of the special black stock." Plumeri explained. "I had photographed the original head see how it would work with dramatic lighting on the raised surface. When we ran into this emergency. I pulled this photograph out and decided that it could be used for art."



The paperback jacket for The Stand has a frightening beauty that goes beyond the merely hypnotic to become a trance-inducing glissade into ethereal evil. It combines a Richard Rossiter type design with a Brautigam airbrush painting based on a Plumeri concept sketch. "I use paint or pastel - whatever is available to give me the effect that I'm trying to portray to the artist" said Plumeri. "The sketches are rough. but they can see the concept without any problem. Don and I work well together. Throughout The Stand the evil character is described with these burning eyes, almost red, and the there is a symbolism of a crow that pops into the book at different parts. Someone sees the red, glaring eyes. and for a second thinks he sees this evil character. At that point I thought of this double image using the black crow and the evil and letting one eye work for both to give it this supernatural quality. "



Where Jim Plumeri's conceptual transpositions of King's writing into innovative paperback covers have been appropriate, relevant and ambiguously intriguing, the Doubleday hardbacks with a yawning indifference to King's fresh slant on contemporary horror fiction, have featured only mundane designs and illustrations so trapped in tradition that they lack any genuine imaginative thrust. Stephen King's own reactions to the art that wraps his words kicks off Part 2 of this serialized interview:

Bhob: The jacket on the hardback Carrie has nothing to do with the book.

Stephen King: Yes, well. it doesn't. My editor and I had a concept on that, but of course, one of the things about Bill Thompson, my editor, was that he was a man with relatively little power at Doubleday and it kept showing up in funny little ways. When I left Doubleday, they canned him. It was kind of like a tantrum: "We'll kill the messenger that brought the bad news." Our concept of the jacket would have been a Grandma Moses-type primitive painting of a New England village that would have gone around in a wrap to the back. But the jacket was done by Alex Gotfryd, who does have a lot of power at Doubleday. What he gave us was a photograph of a New York model who looks like a New York model. She doesn't even look like a teenager.



Bhob: How do you feel about the montage on The Shining hardback?

King: Don't care for that either. It makes the people look too specific. It's almost a Gothic romance jacket. There are some nice things about that jacket - I object to the faces of Jack, Wendy, and the little boy, but I like the concept of having the hedge animals. The hardback Night Shift has a classy jacket of just words, but it looks like a Doubleday-type jacket for a book they didn't expect to sell. There's nothing really exciting about that graphic.




Bhob: The long-distance view of the town on the Salem's Lot hardback doesn't indicate the book's true nature.

King: I think that was intentional. The flap copy on Salem's Lot is a real collaboration: my editor wrote part of it, his secretary wrote part of it, I wrote part of it, and my wife wrote part of it. It was just an effort to say something without saying anything. Of all the Doubleday jackets, I think that I like The Stand the best, but Salem's Lot runs that a close second. I like the idea of the black background with the town inset in the "O" of Lot. You can look into the town, and you see the Marsten house. That's a pretty decent jacket. That was the best produced book by Doubleday: all the way around, that was a good piece of work.



The illustration for the hardback of The Stand was taken from a Goya painting, The Battle Of Good and Evil - it was repainted. I was mad that they didn't give poor old Goya a credit.1 There are a lot of people who are rather literal-minded, kind of nerdy about book jackets, who don't like it because they say that it doesn't look like what the book is about. But it looks like what the spirit of the book is about. New American Library's The Stand cover is super. I think that it's a good one: I like the dark blues and turquoises in it. The paperback covers have always been better because paperback people seem to understand how to market books, how to go about that. Illustrators and designers don't get credit on paperback jackets the way they do on hardcovers.



Bhob: Then there's The Shining in mylar...

King: Except that it was discontinued, as was the dead black cover on Salem's Lot. Both of those were expensive covers. The Salem's Lot cover cost seven cents right off the top of a book that originally sold for $1.95. The mylar was nine cents, and in addition, the mylar cover buffs. It doesn't peel, but the lettering and picture gradually buff off the book. Now they just have a plain paper cover with the same picture: it's not as eye-catching, but it lasts longer.



Bhob: Did it occur to you that the wearing away of fragments of The Shining's cover produces a strange, corrosive effect that some readers might consider an additional horrific bonus?

King: I hadn't thought of it that way - maybe it is. There are people who treasure those copies: some
day maybe those will be worth some money, especially the ones that are in good condition, because on the ones that have been read. the cover wears off very quickly. The mylar was really discontinued not just because it buffed in people's hands, but because it buffed in the boxes when they were shipped. I also like the paperback Night Shift cover: it's a deep. dark. rich blue. Some of the editions are perfect, and on some, the holes are not over the eyes. Again, that was a difficult one to do: there is such a thing as being too clever by half.

Bhob: What was on the Carrie paperback before the movie tie in?

King: That cover has gone totally out of print. The original paperback had no title, no author, no printed material of any kind on the front cover. It simply showed a girl's head floating against this blue backdrop — a pretty girl with very dark hair swept back. It was a painting. a rather nice one(by James Barkley). Inside, there was a second jacket. Originally. it was to have been die-cut down the side in a two-step effect: the title, Carrie, reading vertically down the right-hand margin, was supposed to show and, at the last minute their printer told them that he couldn't do it. Inside there's this town going up in flames, and that is an interesting effect. You reach the end of the book, and there's a photograph on what they call the third cover of the same town crumpled up into nothing but ash. I don't know if that's ever been done before: having another picture inside the back jacket. These were photographs (by Allen Vogel) of flames and a model town that looks as though it was one of these origami things created out of cardboard.




Bhob: The One + One Studio's design for The Dead Zone (Viking) illustrates the repetitive wheel-of-fortune device used throughout the novel.

King: I like that jacket pretty well. I think that, in a large measure, it's been responsible for some of the book's success because it's a very high contrast type, something I think Viking might have lifted from the paperback houses. It comes out at the reader there's so much black. The thing I don't like is the photographic effect: I've never cared for photographed jackets. I can't really even say why, but they seem too realistic to me. I would have liked that jacket better if it had been that same cover design - only painted. By the time you get up to six books, you have mixed feelings. Salem's Lot was the best produced of the Doubleday books. Night Shift would be second, and probably The Shining, third. The Dead Zone is the best produced of all the works. But it's more than just cover. The cover is something that, you hope, entices readers who don't know your work to look. But it probably doesn't mean that much to people who have read you before. If they really turn on to what you're doing, they look for the name, and they'll buy the book on the basis of that. Like this new Led Zeppelin album packaged in brown paper with "Led Zeppelin" stamped on the front - you buy the name. I like books that are nicely made, and with the exception of Salem's Lot and Night Shift, none of the Doubleday books were especially well made. They have a ragged, machine-produced look to them, as though they were built to fall apart. The Stand is worse that way: it looks like a brick. It's this little, tiny, squatty thing that looks much bigger than it is. The Dead Zone is really nicely put together. It's got a nice cloth binding, and it's just a nice product.



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Blogger's Note
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1. I'm not so sure Goya deserves a credit here. I've long heard about Goya being the inspiration for the painting that adorns this edition of The Stand, but I'm not aware of any Goya painting entitled The Battle Of Good and Evil. I wonder is King referring to Fight with Cudgels, one of Goya's Black Paintings which the Spanish artist painted in the early 1820's.

Picture Credits: All the graphics in this post were sourced from the following locations:
The excellent Too Much Horror Fiction blog, which "collects and reviews vintage horror literature (mostly from the 1960s to the early 1990s) and celebrates its resplendent paperback cover art." Images borrowed too from the terrific, comprehensive Stephen King blog, The Truth Inside the Lie. Other images were lifted from rare-book auction sites.

Friday, 3 November 2017

First look at the Milky Way

It seemed like the longest pre-order of my life, but Roland Kayn's fourteen-hour magnum opus, A Little Electronic Milky Way of Sound has finally arrived ! And very nice it looks too, the 16-discs packed into a sturdy folding cardboard box, with the individual CDs housed in simple card sleeves. The set also comes with a folded one-sheet insert which contains an interview with Kayn from 2003. I was surprised to see that apart from a rudimentary track listing, there is no information about the actual music. I suppose I was expecting some impenetrable notes about the 22 compositions but this is at least offset by Robert Beatty's psychedelic-tinged geometric artwork which I like very much. And I like the bellyband that comes with the box, rounding out a very stylish collection. 750 copies only (so be quick!)







Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Apocalypse Music

I’ve been obsessively listening to the Apocalypse Now soundtrack this past week, the single CD, music-only edition, and last night I alternated it with the double CD containing music, dialogue and sound effects. I don’t dig out this particular edition out very often, but it’s good to be reminded that it’s not just a conventional soundtrack but rather a specially prepared sound map of Willard’s mission up the Nung River to exterminate Colonel Kurtz, augmented with subtle stereo and electronic effects not featured in the sound mix of the film. In addition the album features music cues that are not heard in any other version of the film, Redux included, and interesting to note that one of these cues, used for the scene where the dying Chief wrestles with Willard sounds very similar to one of Rick Wakeman’s atmospheric fills in The Burning.

More significantly though, is the extra narration not featured in the film. In the scene where the Bunnies are airlifted to safety after the Playboy show, Willard wryly comments:
Only the Americans could build a place like this in the middle of the jungle. Only the Americans would want to.” 
In the scene prior to the san pan massacre, Willard makes an admission:
I didn't belong on this mission anymore because I had begun to doubt it. Kurtz was turning from a target into a goal.”
And there’s one curious substitution of narration. In the film, Willard advises: “Never get out of the boat. Absolutely goddamn right. Unless you were going all the way.” On the soundtrack it’s replaced by
Never get out of the boat, absolutely goddamned right. Not unless you were ready to take it all the way, no matter what happens

Worth mentioning that both CD soundtrack editions come with one glaring omission – the original 2LP pressing of the soundtrack included an insert listing personnel who worked on the score and it’s an interesting who’s who of musicians and players. I mentioned Herbie Hancock’s 1972 album Crossings in my previous post, and I’m pleased to see that Patrick Gleeson who played Moog on that album was the chief synth player on the Apocalypse Now score. Grateful Deadites Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann and Phil Lesh moonlighting as the Rhythm Devils are also listed, as well as Don Preston and Bernie Krause. Here’s the full list…


Friday, 27 October 2017

Crossings

Like every other youtube user, you’ll find me frantically clicking the skip ad button when there’s a break in continuity, but I’m enjoying the promo for the Herbie Hancock Masterclass featuring the great man sitting at a piano discussing music in his own inimitable warm style. I’ve watched it several times now and this morning it reminded me to dig out Herbie’s 1972 album Crossings, which I’m really enjoying, and on my 3rd pass no less as I write this. The second album of the Mwandishi trilogy, Crossings is one of the great Afro-Futurist records, as funky and out-there as anything I’ve heard by Funkadelic or Sun Ra. The centerpiece of the album is the side-long Sleeping Giant with its furious percussion and muscular jazz funk, brilliantly augmented by great dubby effects, and I love the section of music that sounds uncannily like Little Church from Live-Evil (which Herbie played on, that June day in 1970 at Columbia Studio B) – it’s a fantastic atmosphere. But it’s the final few minutes of Crossings, the closing track Water Torture that I find most tantalizing, as the music slips its moorings and drifts off into deep mellotron space – the group sound like they’ve hooked up with an Alpha Centauri-era Tangerine Dream – what a prospect !



Warners’ CD of Crossings sounds terrific but this one instance I wish I had an LP copy just for Robert Springett’s fantastic, eerie artwork - thankfully, the CD edition of the album contained in the excellent 3-disc Warner Bros Years 1969-1972 replicates the original gatefold LP sleeve featuring some appropriately psychedelic pictures of the group as if they had strayed from Ira Cohen’s 1968 mylar fantasia The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda...

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Viva La Musica!

I was kicking around Discogs earlier when I chanced upon the rare French 7” single used to promote Fernando Arrabal’s 1971 film Viva la Muerte. The real treasure here is the song on the A-side, Ekkoleg, the lovely, playful children’s song heard over the opening credits for Arrabal’s film. This song has always been something of a mystery to me, never quite sure what language the young boy was singing in, and what threw me off was the fact that Fernando Arrabal is Spanish, so I wrongly supposed the song might be in the Basque language or even Portuguese. But after some digging, I’ve discovered the song is in fact Danish, composed by Grethe Agatz and sung by a boy simply known as Morten. Information is rather sketchy but it seems the song was recorded in the late 60’s for an EP entitled Hvem Vil Være Med Til At Synge? Nr. 4 (which Google dryly translates as Who Would be Willing to Sing? No. 4) and one presumes was appropriated sometime afterwards for the film – I wonder what Grethe Agatz thought of her charming song being associated with such a transgressive film ? More investigation pointed to a French blog post which hosts the song along with a version recorded in English, plus three (!) versions of the song in French, including a second single to promote Arrabal’s film in France, the smiling angelic face of child singer Eric Damain on the picture sleeve looks rather incongruous alongside a film title which translates as Long Live Death ! If you haven’t encountered Viva la Muerte investigate with caution (but do investigate!) and should you wish to hear what all this fuss is about step this way...



Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Laserdisc Collecting: Crash (Japan, 1997, Herald Films)

I mentioned laserdiscs in a recent post and I thought it might be fun to kick off a series documenting some of the more interesting items in my collection. I should mention from the outset that these posts will not feature any technical information about transfers and so on – I don’t own a laserdisc player and have no interest in picking one up (a functioning machine is prohibitively expensive to get hold of these days), but if I can gleam some relevant information from the smattering of laserdisc review sites still out there, I will include it. What these posts will focus on is the art and design aspects of the laserdisc which is the raison d’être of my collection. And for this inaugural post, I’m going back to the beginning, to the first laserdisc I snagged on eBay, the Japanese edition of Crash. I’ve always been dissatisfied with home video presentations of David Cronenberg’s 1996 masterpiece, my old VHS edition and subsequent R2 DVD were content to use the over-familiar image of Holly Hunter straddling James Spader, indeed, the Criterion used this same image for their 1997 laserdisc. So it was quite a revelation to discover the Japanese edition and what a provocative and brilliant piece of design it is - the shot of Rosanna Arquette’s character seductively clad in fish-net tights and leg braces, and sporting a ravine of a scar captures much of the film’s transgressive sexuality in one single image.


Herald Films produced the Crash laserdisc for the Japanese home video market and it’s one of their more sleeker designs, the rear sleeve has a nice clear layout and features some sexually charged stills from the film (including that ubiquitous Hunter/Spader shot!). And I like the OBI strip which comes in luminous road-sign yellow, rather appropriate I think whether it was intended or not, and far more effective than the sleeve of the UK DVD which features faux road signs warnings - Crash Ahead, No Cuts and Open Soon (?)




The Japanese Crash is thankfully one of the more common titles still in circulation and one can pick this edition up quite cheaply. As ever prices fluctuate among eBay dealers but prepare to pay €20-€25 for this beauty. Incidentally, the Criterion edition remains the definitive laserdisc presentation of the film, transfer wise, but more importantly contains a typically excellent Cronenberg commentary which sadly has never been ported over to later DVD editions. However, if you're curious, the commentary can be downloaded here as an mp3 file...

Monday, 25 September 2017

Diabolus in Musica

Some infernal listening this morning... It's probably the best thing Keith Emerson has done, and while I'm not a fan of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, I do like some progressive rock stuff, so the more overblown excesses of the soundtrack - the Verdi re-write, the choral passages, I can take. I'd like to think Argento saw Emerson doing his famous stage act where he attacked his huge Hammond organ with knives, and thought "That's my man!" Inferno will always stand in the shadow of Suspiria but I find both films work as a terrific double-header. If Suspiria has the thrills and spills (and what incredible spills especially in the opening reel), Inferno is the more sensual of the two, and there are images in the film that profoundly resonates with me, like Irene Miracle's incredibly elegant, almost erotic pen-writing in the opening of the film, the descent into the water-logged basement, or the weird shot of the water rippling as Leigh McCloskey comes round after his fainting fit - images that are forever sketched on the wall of my memory. It's an extraordinary film... One final thought - what a shame Argento never commissioned Tangerine Dream to write a score. The music of Rubycon or Stratosfear combined with Argento's images could have been a match made in Heaven... and Hell.




Friday, 22 September 2017

The Great Crater

The weather in this part of the world has turned rather wintry these past few days, the promise of an Indian summer has been met with a definite chill in the air, so it’s appropriate that Robin Rimbaud’s latest Scanner album, The Great Crater should drop thru my letterbox on Wednesday courtesy of the excellent Italian Glacial Movements label. The Great Crater, a 49min concept album about a mysterious circular formation seen on the Antarctic ice sheet - a side effect of the continent’s rising temperatures, is one of the finest ambient isolationist albums I’ve heard in many years. This is very much a work with an intuitive understanding of its environment, the beautiful electronic textures unfold like huge empty expanses of white desert while thunderous low end vibrations, Penderecki style plucked strings and disquieting percussive effects suggest a subterranean world in disintegration. Listening to the album another great work of frozen ambient drift came to mind, Thomas Köner’s Nuuk but I think I prefer The Great Crater, it feels more panoramic, immense and perhaps appropriately enough, warmer. Glacial Movements have given the album a fine release, the CD’s exquisite art direction was overseen by Rutger Zuydervelt (aka Machinefabriek) and the album’s title is embossed, crater-like, on the front of the fold-out digipak - a very nice touch. Incidentally, I listened to the album last night whilst leafing thru David Wilson’s excellent coffee table book The Lost Photographs of Captain Scott, and the century old vistas of Scott’s trips to Antarctica made for an excellent visual companion…





Sunday, 17 September 2017

The Sign of the Surfer

This won't mean much to you if you're not a reader of The Galaxy's Greatest Comic, but here's some nice scribbling on display near my home – one sprayer’s homage to 2000AD’s Marlon Shakespeare aka Chopper, Mega-City One’s Midnight Surfer, complete with Chopper's trademark smiley face - evidently, Acid House made a comeback in the 22nd century ! But good to see the vicious young hoodlums paying their respects to the sacred texts of my youth.





Putting this post together jogged a long forgotten memory of a trip to Italy many years ago and a photograph of your humble narrator posing in front of a wall which had MONDO CANE spray-painted in large letters. When I saw this piece of graffiti I immediately thought of  Jacopetti and Prosperi's genre-defining 1962 film, but I doubt the artist responsible had quite the same thing in mind...

Monday, 28 August 2017

Rewind, press play, fast-forward...

Back in 2012, I took part in a Q & A series on film collecting, with contributors waxing lyrical about their film collection. I just happened to cruise by the website earlier and I see the series has been taken offline so I'm re-posting it here. I've made a few adjustments to the text, removing some outdated information, and adding some new info to bring it up to date...


WHEN DID YOU START COLLECTING FILMS AND CAN YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST ONE YOU BOUGHT?

In 1989 I was 12 and was given my very first film on VHS, an anonymous sounding film-clip compilation entitled The Best of Martial Arts, presented and narrated by John Saxon, which showcased various Golden Harvest films - Bruce Lee classics, ninja films, Jackie Chan comedies and so on. My primary interest though was Horror and Science Fiction. I was an avid reader of 2000AD from the age of 6 or 7 and by the time I reached my teens I was gravitating towards adult Horror. I have cherished memories of long summer afternoons spent behind closed curtains watching the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th series, The Fly, Phantasm II (it would be a few years yet before I saw the original), Re-Animator and Day of the Dead. The first film I bought on VHS was undoubtedly the big-box New World edition of Hellraiser, from my local videoshop for the princely sum of 10 Irish pounds. I'm sure it never occurred to me that I could have bought a brand new sell-through copy for the same price at HMV. Fast forward to May 1992 and Dark Side magazine's Video Nasties issue appears, a pivotal moment in my film watching life that would change the map of Horror forever...



TELL US ABOUT DIFFERENT FORMATS: WHICH DO YOU COLLECT ?

The first decade of film collecting was VHS. Collecting Horror on video here in Ireland demanded patience and perseverance. The Video Nasties round-up wasn't quite so severe here, only a small amount of headline-grabbing titles were pulled off the shelves to satisfy moral outrage, but with fewer tapes in circulation, one had to spend hours of detective work sifting through grotty video shops looking for banned titles, and uncut pre-cert rarities. But even as late as the mid-90's I was finding the odd bit of buried treasure - Thorn EMI's uncut edition of  Suspiria, hard to find pre-cert titles like The Blood-Spattered BrideThe Crazies and Martin, Intervision tapes like The Exterminator and Poor White Trash, curios like The Jesus Trip and Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks, and the occasional Video Nasty - The BurningNightmares in a Damaged Brain, Blood Bath, I Spit On Your Grave and Gestapo's Last Orgy...

Another important source came from a more underground connection. I knew someone who sold dupes of Cult, Exploitation and Video Nasty titles and had no qualms about selling his wares to geeky teenagers. These tapes came in color photocopied sleeves and were mastered from tapes that were usually degraded to an inch of their life, all swarming tracking lines and random color shifts, but after handing over £6 per tape (or 3 for £15!), I was finally seeing the likes of Cannibal Holocaust, Last House on the Left, Snuff and hard-to-see exotica like Nekromantik, Bloodsucking Freaks and New York Ripper (letterboxed with Dutch subtitles!). To my huge regret most of my tapes, originals and dupes are long gone. By 2001 I had transitioned from VHS to DVD, and consigned the bulk of  my tapes to the trash just because DVD was so superior. Who knew that The Devils would take 12 years to come out ?  Nevertheless, the sun had firmly set on VHS, and I remember well the seismic event of Pioneer's DVD edition of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre arriving through my letterbox from the US in 2001. DVD coupled with online shopping was a revolution in terms of film collecting, and I was fortunate that those frenzied years of DVD buying dovetailed with an era of strong Euro-to-Dollar rate, cheap shipping from the US and relaxed customs controls - none of which are true today.

It's interesting that in this era of high-definition presentations I've become increasingly preoccupied with laserdisc, and in the last few years I've been putting together a modest collection. I don't have a laserdisc player but I find this dead format strangely seductive, indeed fetishistic, and I do enjoy seeking out laserdisc editions that came with vintage or exclusive artwork. And oddly enough I find myself collecting VHS again, in recent weeks I've picked up a copy of Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge and Mario Bava's Shock on VHS, both for their wonderful artwork.





WHAT WOULD YOUR SAY ARE SOME OF THE STANDOUT TITLES IN YOUR COLLECTION?

I don't have a whole lot of rarities on DVD, perhaps a few titles that have gone out of print in recent years - Anchor Bay's DVD of Cockfighter immediately comes to mind, and Barrel's DVD of Last House on Dead End Street which came in an attractive fat-boy case adorned with terrific artwork by Stephen Bissette. I'm quite fond of some European discs I've picked up over the years - the German edition of What Have They Done To Your Daughters ? and two Camera Obscura titles, Terror Express and Mondo Candido. Boxset wise, I like to show off my Raro boxset of Andy Warhol films, and Potemkine's massive 52-disc Eric Rohmer collection. And I've been fortunate to score a number of Arrow special editions - Videodrome, Phenomena, and I'm particularly proud that I was part of the crowd-funding campaign for the Walerian Borowczyk Collection.  I've been lucky too to land some very nice Japanese laserdiscs, and most recently I picked up a copy of Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things laserdisc, a very limited run signed by Bob Clarke and Alan Ormsby. And I must mention the 2008 documentary entitled Meeting Andrei Tarkovsky which I bought on DVD from the director Dmitry Trakovsky who included a handwritten letter thanking me for the interest in the film and explaining his ideas and motivation in making the film - a very nice touch.



Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Music of the Night (of the Living Dead)

For a non-musician, the closest thing to composing a score is working a good set of library tracks into your picture”…
George Romero, as quoted on the sleeve of the 1982 Varèse Sarabande soundtrack edition of Night of the Living Dead. I’m currently enjoying the music of Romero’s great film - not exactly the kind of music fitting a bright summer’s morning, but I’m working a hectic 16-hour work shift today and the sturm und drang of Romero and Karl Hardman’s selections seem entirely appropriate. I’ve read that it was Hardman who applied the subtle electronic shading to the cues, which may account for some distortion heard on the tracks, but it makes for a far more eerie musical landscape than any conventional score could provide (fascinating to think what Louis and Bebe Barron might have come up with). The stand out track here is the final number, a mournful violin refrain credited to Spencer Moore, but crucially treated with some echo and used to powerful effect in the film over a disturbing photo montage of dead bodies. This edition of the soundtrack also includes a sampling of some of the more famous dialogue in the film and while I normally find such a thing intrusive, it’s always a treat to hear George Kosana say “They’re dead, they’re… all messed up”. The liner notes on the sleeve of the Varèse Sarabande LP mention other films that have shared Night of the Living Dead’s music – Terror from the Year 5000 (1958), The Hideous Sun Demon (1958), Teenagers from Outer Space (1959) and unmentioned here, The Killer Shrews (1959). I can’t recall the exact cue used in the film, but I had that distinct feeling of déjà vu whilst watching season 1 of Naked City


Worth mentioning too, an additional Night of the Living Dead soundtrack album entitled They Won't Stay Dead from 2010 which gathers as many cues and effects as possible from the film. Unfortunately it's currently OOP but worth keeping an eye on Discogs...

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Carnival of Souls

Just seeing some news that Criterion UK are releasing their Blu-Ray of Carnival of Souls just in time for Halloween, and while I warmly welcome this release, it’s probably best to say nothing about the hideous artwork. With that in mind, I’ve been looking at artwork and designs used for theatrical and home video editions of the film over the years. It’s frustrating that very few of the designs do justice to Herk Harvey and John Clifford’s evocative film, perhaps it was simply too difficult to market. I’ve never been fond of the film’s original poster (which fronted Criterion’s terrific 2001 DVD), the credited artist F. Germain includes all the familiar elements of the film, but unwisely imagines Candace Hilligoss’ character as some sort of 19th century saloon girl. The woman-in-peril theme reoccurs thru most subsequent US video releases, usually the shot of Hilligoss emerging from the car accident looking dazed and distressed, but it’s two British releases that have come up with something different. From 1991, Graham Humphreys’ exquisite b/w design for Palace Video, taps into the film’s nightmarish expressionism, and I love the inclusion of the keyboard of the organ, an integral element of the film.



The other design created for the film’s original theatrical run in the UK is also very striking, quite unlike any other design I’ve seen, looking more akin to one of Hammer’s psychological thrillers made in the wake of Psycho. Interestingly, this was a Tony Tenser release my initial thought was that it was marketed with Repulsion in mind but after consulting with John Hamilton’s Tenser/Tigon book Beasts In The Cellar it seems this was not the case. Information about the film's UK exhibition is rather sketchy. BBFC records list the film's submission for examination as June 1964, but Hamilton's book suggests the film was not publicly unveiled until May 1967 when it supported Tigon's debut film, a sexploitation item called Mini Weekend at the Jacey Cinema in London. And furthermore no evidence suggests the film had any additional playdates, it was not covered in the usually reliable Monthly Film Bulletin, and I have not seen any additional advertising material for the film. All very mysterious !


Monday, 17 July 2017

George A. Romero (1940 – 2017)

Waking up to very sad news this morning that George Romero has passed away at 77 after a short battle with lung cancer. This is hard news to take, Night of the Living Dead, Martin, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead are four sturdy pillars that my love of Horror Cinema rests upon. I haven’t been keeping up with Romero in recent times, every now and then I would hear speculation that a new Living Dead film was emerging but after half-hearted engagements with Land of the Dead and Diary of the Dead, I figured Romero had followed the terminal decline of Dario Argento and John Carpenter. Better to bask in the warmth of the classics than suffer the diminishing returns of Bruiser or Survival of the Dead (both of which I still haven’t seen). But all that fades from view now, Romero leaves behind a tremendous body of work. That would be true had he simply made the four films mentioned above, but Romero also gave us The Crazies, Creepshow and Knightriders, and there are films that I’m eager to go back and revisit – Jack’s Wife, Monkey Shines, and Romero’s half of Two Evil Eyes. Jack’s Wife is an especially intriguing prospect – I saw the film back in the 90’s when it screened on Channel 4 and strongly disliked it. But this was long before my tastes developed matured (and before I discovered Ingmar Bergman!) and now that I’m roughly the same age as the titular character, I feel much better placed to appreciate what Romero was trying to do. I’ve only mentioned Romero’s films up to this point, and rightly so – I hate it when people sentimentalize the passing of remote, unknowable public figures, but in Romero’s case, I think I can grieve for the man he was. By all accounts he was an absolute gentleman, listening to his commentary tracks one gets a measure of his kindness, warmth, humor, the way he remembers his films like they were extended family outings. He remains always a joy to listen to. In Martin, I see Romero’s tenderness and humanity towards a character struggling with mental health issues. I look at Romero’s courageous casting of Duane Jones in Night of the Living Dead, a black actor given the role of a strong, resourceful and defiant man (and defiantly smacking a bothersome white man), at a time when Civil Rights was still a tinderbox within American society. When asked about it, Romero would always shrug it off and insist that Duane Jones was simply the best actor for the job, but it’s hard to believe that Romero and his partners at The Latent Image didn’t discuss the political ramifications of their decision. For me George Romero’s greatest legacy was perfectly encapsulated by my friend and film-maker John Mulvaney earlier today: "Watching the likes of Night of the Living Dead, Martin and Dawn of the Dead still gives me urge to want to just go out there and make art, irregardless of budget, or what popular culture dictates."

Filming Night of the Living Dead, 1968


With Stephen King and Richard Rubinstein on the set of Creepshow, 1982


Playing an FBI agent alongside Charles Napier and Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs,1991


Filming The Dark Half, 1993


Filming Land of the Dead, 2005


Thursday, 13 July 2017

A scare at bedtime

A marauding, enraged giant, a child-snatching goblin, a nana-eating wolf and an unstoppable pot of oozing porridge - the stuff that nightmares are made of... My 20-month daughter tends to dictate most of my reading these days – her current faves are Daisy Duck, Little Lamb and the unputdownable Puppy Dog, and it has me reflecting on Ladybird’s Well Loved Tales series which I loved as a child. I haven’t thought about these books in well over 30 years so it was a treat to discover a page containing scans of the various covers. Ladybird have re-issued the series many times over the years but the original artwork courtesy of Eric Winter and Robert Lumley has rarely been bettered. I’ve always cited 2000AD as the origins of my love of Fantasy and Horror, but I wonder was something already stirring in those early years with the help of those Ladybirds ? Even now, looking at the cover for The Magic Porridge Pot, I can feel a little frisson of panic, perhaps an ancient buried memory of fooling around with a sink and gushing taps beyond my control… Check out the Well-Loved Tales series here



As I was putting this post together, I was reminded of Cinema's first adaptation of Jack and the Beanstalk made by Edwin S. Porter in 1902. Over a century later, it looks undeniably stagey and primitive - the camera is locked down and distant, and the special effects, rudimentary, but this 10min film is remarkable in two respects. Firstly, the concept of a narrative cinema can be seen slowly emerging from the film - unlike many silent films from the era which were little more than brief sketches of everyday life, Porter's film has a definite story structure. The film has no intertitles and was most likely made before intertitles were introduced (Porter's own film Uncle Tom's Cabin is said to be one of the earliest uses of intertitles, in 1903) but Porter sticks closely to the folktale so audiences could follow the story. The second important aspect of the film was that it showed how Cinema could transcend theatre. Porter was able to bend space and time with a simple edit, and the film's optical effects, create a kind of magic that could not be replicated on the stage. This charming film can be viewed here