[Published in The Dark Side #183, April]
[Published in The Dark Side #183, April]
Further to my review of John Carpenter’s Manchester gig, I’ve been contacted by the BBC Radio 4 consumer magazine You and Yours regarding widespread allegations that the Victoria Warehouse was dangerously overcrowded. (Not that you’ll read anything about this controversy on the venue’s social media pages, of course, or amongst the feedback on SeeTickets’ website.)
I once had the enormous pleasure of meeting the director John Carpenter at the National Film Theatre, where he’d presented a lecture on his idol, Howard Hawks. I pointed out that he’d paid homage to Hawks’ westerns (Assault on Precinct 13) and science fiction (The Thing), but never tried his hand at a ‘screwball’ comedy. He joked that he might do just that, but with only two movie credits this century (2001’s lacklustre Ghosts of Mars and 2010’s barely-released The Ward), it’s unlikely we’ll ever see him in Bringing Up Baby mode.
In any case, Mr Carpenter is now pursuing a different path, albeit one which feeds on his parallel career as a soundtrack composer: rock star. Which is why Saturday evening found me at the Victoria Warehouse, a short distance from Manchester United FC’s home ground. The European leg of his Release the Bats tour had originally included two nights at Manchester’s Albert Hall, but a switch in promoters precipitated a conflation of both events into one venue, a massive concrete box with all the ambience of a multi-storey car park (and comparable acoustics, according to some who ended up standing at the back). A makeshift sign near the entrance alluded to Escape From New York, but the building itself was a far more convincing nod to that movie.
Doors opened at 6:30pm, and most of the 4,000 ticket-holders seemed to have made their way inside by 7pm, but other than a couple of technicians, the stage remained empty until 8:30pm. Luckily, I’d managed to finesse my way into the balcony area, which offered very limited seating, but the vast majority who’d expected to watch the concert in relative comfort were instead forced to stand for three hours with a restricted — or non-existent — view of the 75-minute set.
The sole saving grace was the performance by Mr Carpenter and his band, which was excellent, although the balcony may have been the only place where it could be properly enjoyed. In amongst the instantly recognisable Halloween, The Fog, Big Trouble in Little China et al, we were treated to tracks from his two volumes of Lost Themes, belted out in a mesh of synthesiser and heavy guitar.
So, great gig, lousy location. To quote Beth Abbit’s review in the Manchester Evening News, “It’s disappointing that this highly anticipated opportunity to see a hugely iconic movie man at work was hampered by an unsuitable alternative choice of venue.”
Please note that whilst I welcome comments, you accept full responsibility for the accuracy of any statements made. All views are your own.
Delighted to announce I’ve been invited to interview the actress and director Dagmar Lassander next Saturday for the 27th Festival of Fantastic Films in Manchester. I already had two reasons to be in the city that day: Chrissie and I will be interviewing attendees for a Ghostwords TV documentary on the event, plus we’re catching John Carpenter during his brief UK concert tour. The Dark Side has expressed interest in publishing my conversation with Ms Lassander, which is a bonus.
There are essentially two schools of thought when it comes to horror movies. The first, typified by John Buechler and Clive Barker, holds to the theory that emotional response is directly linked to visual bombardment: the gorier the image, the greater the impact. The other, which informed Robert Wise’s superlative 1963 screen adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, opts instead for intensity and suggestion rather than graphic anatomy lessons, shadows rather than splatterfests.
Regrettably, the latter school has had few graduates in the past decade, the box office success of Freddy Krueger and his rivals too much of a temptation for young film-makers eager to make their mark and all too ready to jump aboard the bloody bandwagon if it seems to be heading in the right direction. That’s not to say I’m not in favour of a little gore once in a while, just that by the time you’ve seen your tenth eye-gouging or your fortieth disemboweling, the entire affair loses its initial shock value, much as a stag night comedian who peppers his routing with “fucks” soon becomes merely tiresome.
So I suppose I should send a note of thanks to Dwight H Little, director of Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, for not only creating (with screenwriter Alan B McElroy) a movie with sequences of real tension, but denting the view that horror sequels are by their very nature a worthless exercise in audience exploitation. The third chapter in the Myers saga (Halloween 3: Season of the Witch having no connection to its predecessors, you will recall) opens a decade after John Carpenter’s original, Jamie Lee Curtis’ character having survived her murderous brother only to die in a traffic accident, the focus shifting to her young daughter, now fostered by one of Curtis’ babysitting clients. Uncle Michael is safely locked up, of course, but (surprise, surprise) escapes to wreak havoc in tranquil Haddonfield yet again.
Several questions arise at this point, such as “How come psychopaths are always relocated in pitch darkness?” and “Why don’t people simply leave town for the Halloween weekend?”, but expecting a sensible answer is as pointless as wondering how Myers and monomaniacal psychiatrist Donald Pleasance survived the fiery finale of the second movie. You simply have to suspend disbelief, set your brain in neutral and go with the flow; gore fans may be disappointed by the conspicuous lack of on-screen carnage (folks get offed, sure, but with a refreshingly economical style), but I actually jolted at one point towards the close, which is quite a change from the usual predictable yawnfest. And make certain you catch the final few minutes, for one of the neatest twist endings in many a moon.