Monday, 20 October 2014

Thoughts on Season of the Witch

I caught Season of the Witch this weekend and that fulfills this Horror fan's contractual obligation to watch a Halloween film for October. About halfway thru the film, my wife wandered in and asked me what I was watching, to which I shrugged my shoulders and replied "just some horror movie". Not to condescend Tommy Lee Wallace's film but to explain that this was a Halloween picture would have been far too...complicated. After this screening I can definitively claim the film to be my favourite sequel of the series, and I hope I'm right in saying that the reputation of this much maligned misfit is finally turning. Despite my love for Halloween II (and, I suspect, a badly judged soft spot for the fourth film), I feel it a shame that the series didn't develop into the Twilight Zone style anthology that Season of the Witch promised. I wonder would the film had found a more appreciative audience had it not been released at the height of the slasher boom ? As much as I enjoy Halloween II's great opening scenes - those eerie steadicam shots of Michael Myers stalking the back lanes of Haddonfield, Season of the Witch almost immediately trumps its predecessor with a terrific opening 20mins, culminating in a sequence where a sharp suited gentleman enters a hospital and crushes a man's skull before casually dousing himself with petrol and setting himself alight. It's tremendously self-confident stuff and there's a rather brazen clip of the original Halloween, previewed on a TV set, just to dispel any hopes Myers might put in an appearance. Unfortunately audiences voted with their feet and series producer Moustapha Akkad shamefully arranged a belated recovery for Michael Myers for film number four.

Still, it's fascinating to speculate on how the Halloween franchise might have developed as a series of stand-alone films. Revisiting Season of the Witch, the film's meshing of sci-fi and horror elements put Prince of Darkness in mind and disregarding the Hallowe'en pivot of the projected series, I could almost imagine Carpenter's film as a future installment - if the series produced a film a year, perhaps there might have been Halloween 7: Prince of Darkness. Interestingly, Carpenter's self-penned screenplay for Prince of Darkness was credited to Martin Quatermass, a reference to Nigel Kneale who wrote the original screenplay for Season of the Witch, and later disowned when it was revised to amp up the gore. Consequently Kneale had his name removed from the final film but much of his spirit remains, like the Silver Shamrock company's manufacturing plant which has a neat correlation between the large industrial complex of Quatermass 2. Incidentally, I must disagree with New York Times reviewer Vincent Canby's presumably tongue-in-cheek assertion that the film is "anti-Irish". Being Irish myself I rather enjoy Dan O'Herlihy's Irish toy maker druid recounting tales in his finest Wexford accent of the old country running red with the blood of sacrifice... something I find terribly romantic...

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Every Dog has its day

I must be still in a Spaghetti Western mood after Compañeros at the weekend... Last night I was fumbling around looking for something to read and picked up Rebellion's first volume of Strontium Dog reprints from early issues of 2000 AD (and its predecessor Star Lord). Strontium Dog follows the adventures of bounty hunter Johnny Alpha as he travels the spaceways in pursuit of murderers, thieves, gangsters, and other inter-galactic trash with a price on its head. I'd wager that Strontium Dog writers John Wagner and Alan Grant had the Leone's Dollar films in mind when developing the series, much of it takes place in a ravaged, post-apocalyptic 22nd century Britain or on far flung worlds which resemble the arid, dusty plains of an Italian Western, while the character of Johnny Alpha has a Man With No Name flavor - cynical, laconic, an expert gunslinger, and forever the doomed outsider due to his radioactive, mutant genes. In addition the series' chief artist, Carlos Ezquerra gave Alpha a get-up as memorable as Eastwood's poncho and cigars, with Alpha equipped with a large armored shoulder pad, and a helmet when removed revealing a shock of black hair, chiseled face, broken nose and a distinct Roman look.

Strontium Dog was one of 2000 AD's major series, second only to Judge Dredd, and 10 year old boys like me ate up the fast n' loose pulp sci-fi story lines, with Johnny Alpha squaring off against space pirates, alien brains, Harryhausen-style monsters, maniacal omnipotent computers, and even Satan himself. The writing was at times rather cheesy, like the inclusion of the metal-eating fur-ball alien sidekick known as the Gronk, but the series' outrageous levels of violence and the occasional mind-bending story, like Alpha time-travelling back to 1945 Berlin to arrest Adolf Hitler, made Strontium Dog a firm favourite. Incidentally, the production team that made the excellent 2013 fan short Judge Minty are currently in pre-production on a Strontium Dog film. Watch this space earthlings...