The Cold Equations

Back in the early 1990s, when my friend Martin Tudor and I were publishing the journal Critical Wave, we had an editorial philosophy of helping raise the profile of writers, artists and other creative souls we felt deserving of a wider audience. It has been pointed out on many occasions since that we probably did so to the detriment of our own professional careers, and that we could have used those same contacts to get ourselves a news-stand distribution deal, but I guess our focus was elsewhere. By the time SFX hit the racks in 1995, Martin and I were just a year away from giving our enterprise up as an interesting but expensive experiment (paying Critical Wave‘s debts off only took another five years).

The creative landscape has transformed utterly over the two decades since, and by no stretch of the imagination for the better. Even a shallow trawl of social media reveals vast numbers of would-be novelists, illustrators et al, clamouring for attention and getting drowned out by everyone else. There is an astonishing amount of self-delusion, of course, especially from people who seem to believe adding “author” to their username magically makes them one. I’ve recently been exploring setting up a new magazine, with more formal distribution, but finding a fresh angle is dispiritingly difficult, and the likelihood of financial viability worryingly slim.

Meanwhile, Chrissie Harper and I came up with this cartoon last year, which pretty much summarises our joint misgivings about the current state of affairs…

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Blu-ray review: The Green Inferno, aka Cannibal Holocaust II (1988)

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The Green Inferno, aka Cannibal Holocaust II (1988)
88 Films, certificate 15 (out 11 March)

Anyone picking up this limp jungle drama in the mistaken belief that it bears any connection whatsoever with Ruggero Deodato’s infamous 1980 gorefest beyond the Amazonian setting is in for a savage disappointment.

Director Antonio Climati (Mondo cane) originally intended Natura Contro for Italian television, where it might have slipped into well-deserved obscurity, but Medusa pre-empted that airing with a video release falsely promoting it as a sequel to Cannibal Holocaust. The only upside to this scam is that UK customs officials might have seized any copies passing through their sticky fingers and spared the intended owners from wasting 90 minutes of their lives on this utter piffle.

Other than the gratuitous insertion of Jessica Quintero’s naked breasts into shot whenever the pace begins to flag (in other words, continuously), The Green Inferno would not look altogether out of place on CBBC, and why 88 Films deemed it worthy of a 2K remastering is a bigger mystery than the disappearance of a noted professor which sends our gang of cardboard explorers up river.

Extras: booklet featuring an essay by Francesco Massaccesi (not seen); extracts from Banned Alive, The Rise and Fall of Italian Horror Movies (featuring interviews with Ruggero Deodato, Umberto Lenzi); Italian titles and end credits; Italian audio track; remastered trailer.

DVD review: The Doctors, Villains! (2018)

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The Doctors: Villains! (2018)
Koch Media, certificate E
Review originally written for UK magazine Infinity

Hot on the cloven heels of the Myth Makers compilation Monsters!, producer Keith Barnfather and his team turn their attention to the Doctor’s arch-nemeses.

Sadly, of course, the best-loved of those actors, Roger Delgado, was tragically taken from us 45 years ago in a car crash whilst filming in Turkey, but this two-disc set includes a tribute to him from many of his former colleagues (a number of whom have sadly also now left this plane).

The remaining five places in this nefarious Who‘s Who are taken up by David Gooderson (Davros in Destiny of the Daleks; interviewed this year by Robert Dick), Bernard Archard (Marcus Scarman in Pyramids of Mars; interviewed at a 2006 convention), Julian Glover (Scaroth in City of Death; ditto); Ian Collier (Omega in Arc of Infinity; filmed at home that same year) and Peter Miles (Nyder in Genesis of the Daleks; likewise). In a misguided attempt to give the older material a sense of continuity, questions from regular interviewer Nicholas Briggs were inserted into the footage; the result is both clumsy and jarring.

Whilst Glover provides the most entertaining segment, arguably the best line comes courtesy of Collier, confiding how his 1988 HIV diagnosis made it difficult to get regular work: “If it wasn’t for Big Finish, my career would have been finished!” Another reason, whilst the broadcast series suffers the attentions of the vacuous Chris Chibnall, to be grateful at least one company still knows how to make an authentic Doctor Who adventure.

Blu-ray review: The Time Tunnel, The Complete Series (1966-67)

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The Time Tunnel: The Complete Series (1966-67)
Revelation Films, certificate PG
Review originally written for UK magazine Infinity

Having explored oceanic depths in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and distant worlds with Lost in Space, legendary producer Irwin Allen switched focus to the fourth dimension for his third science fiction series. Unfortunately, despite garnering solid ratings for ABC in the generally ill-regarded Friday evening slot, three did not prove the charm and The Time Tunnel was relegated to telefantasy history after just a single 30-episode season, in the spring of 1967.

And yet it had all begun so well that previous September, when viewers were introduced to impetuous physicist Tony Newman (James Darren), his more cool-headed colleague Doug Phillips (Robert Colbert) and the secret underground installation which gave the show its title.

Threatened with the project’s cancellation unless it begins to justify its astronomical budget, Newman risks his own life to test out the apparatus and finds himself aboard the SS Titanic in the final hours of its fateful maiden voyage. Phillips volunteers to mount a rescue mission, which ends with the pair adrift in the continuum whilst their fellow scientists try frantically to pull them back into the present day.

Later adventures would see them interact with such landmark events as the Reign of Terror, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Custer’s last stand and the fall of the Alamo, with Allen taking maximum advantage of Twentieth Century Fox’s stock footage library. Cost concerns kept non-historical settings to a minimum, but the second episode did feature a moon landing in 1978 and aliens could turn up wearing costumes borrowed from the Lost in Space wardrobe.

Quality predictably varied from week to week, but the show’s writers would occasionally turn in a really ingenious storyline and the series was rarely less than entertaining. Ultimately, however, it was a victim of network politics, initially granted a second season in the 1967-68 schedule, bounced into 1968-69 to make room for an unsuccessful western show and then dropped entirely when ABC had a change of management.

That said, at least we still have the first season and full marks to Revelation Films for this excellent Blu-ray presentation; the image is crisp, the colours deep and the Emmy Award-winning special effects look terrific. Ironically, the pilot episode for a proposed 2002 reboot has fared less well, shot on video rather than celluloid and upscaled from DVD.

Extras: original 1966 pilot (largely identical to the aired version, but with a different ending); unaired pilot for the 2002 reboot (a further attempt in 2005 never got beyond the script stage); tv and radio spots; on-set camera tests and home movie footage; cast interviews; The Time Travellers, a 1976 tv movie produced by Allen and based on an uncredited storyline from Rod Serling; mono / 5.1 audio options.

UNAmusings

I’m currently reading Professor Theodore Kaczynski’s essay “Industrial Society and Its Future”, originally published simultaneously by the New York Times and Washington Post in September 1995 in return for his ending a 17-year terrorist campaign during which he was dubbed ‘The Unabomber’. Setting those crimes aside (he was apprehended seven months later and is currently serving eight consecutive life sentences without possibility of parole), it’s difficult to fault many of his initial assertions that humanity has been deeply damaged by the growth of global industrialisation and that the physical, emotional and mental health of individual citizens has been repeatedly ignored in favour of perpetuating both the industrial system and the social structures which underpin it. I’m only about 5000 words in (out of 35.000), but it’s a challenging treatise which, if anything, touches upon more raw nerves today than when released into a world still largely free from the vice-like grip of the Internet.

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You can download a PDF of the essay here.

As I Was Saying…

Rather shockingly, it’s been three months since my last confession my most recent posting here, during which time Monsters premiered at Leicester’s third Grindhouse Planet Film Festival and The Forbidden Lady appeared as an extra on Arrow Video’s release of Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion. Chrissie and I went down to London just before Xmas to meet up with my old friend Norman J Warren (photo below), who’s busy supervising the 2K remastering of his back catalogue, but other than that, neither of us have exactly been caught up in the social whirl. If social media has indeed replaced old-fashioned face-to-face interaction, it’s a rather dull and uninspiring substitute for the energetic pub gatherings and rambling early-hours conversations I used to enjoy so much back in the final quarter of the Twentieth Century.

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Voices in the Dark

Surprises are part of the Halloween tradition, but I was still caught off guard on Wednesday evening when the BBC telephoned to invite me about the late night show which is broadcast on BBC Radio WM and seven of its sister channels. Apparently, host Graham Torrington likes to chat with “remarkable people”, and his producer Nicole Pullman bizarrely considered I qualified for that nomenclature.

You can listen to our conversation here (I enter the fray just past the 01:26:30 mark). Appropriately for All Hallow’s Eve, we discussed horror movies, the Birmingham Horror Group and my work at Vamporama Films.

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Here Be Monsters [2]

The new trailer from Vamporama Films for Monsters. Written and directed by Chrissie Harper from an idea courtesy of yours truly, featuring Liam Woon as ‘The Man’. We’re hoping to premiere it in late November.