Thursday, 15 February 2018

Danger Man: View from the Villa (Terry Bishop, 1960)

The Mayne event.

Before he was a number, when he was a free man, that famous Prisoner of Portmeirion known only as Number Six was an international man of mystery - a man who led a life of danger, to everyone he met remaining a stranger.  The odds were always that he wouldn't live to see tomorrow.

Then he was given a number, and they took away his name.

But back then, in his salad days of spooking and spying as the number one of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's secret service, his name was Drake.  John Drake.

Emerging from a government building in Washington DC (in reality a composite shot, adding the Capitol Building of Washington behind the Castrol Building of Marylebone Road, London) to the strains of Edwin Astley's original Danger Man theme (later, in the subsequent 50-minute episode seasons, to be replaced by Astley's more iconic score entitled 'High Wire' - only to be replaced in turn for the episodes' American airings as Secret Agent by the PF Sloan-penned and Johnny Rivers-crooned slice of sonic Sixties Spymania 'Secret Agent Man'), Patrick McGoohan's Drake gives the series' mission statement in a mid-Atlantic voiceover:

"Every government has its secret service branch.  America: CIA.  France: Deuxieme Bureau.  England: MI5.  NATO also has its own.  A messy job?  Well, that's when they usually call on me - or someone like me. Oh yes - my name is Drake.  John Drake."

Created for Lord Lew Grade's Incorporated Television Company (ITC) by writer and producer Ralph Smart, who had overseen ITC's William Tell and Invisible Man series in 1958-59, Danger Man chronicled the adventures of the titular man of action played by Anglo-Irish-American actor (a true Transatlantic talent!) McGoohan - a lone wolf troubleshooter whose employers sent jet-setting around the globe to various locales to become entangled in the shadowy goings-on behind the sunny exotic climes.

Co-written by Smart and future Avengers auteur (as well as the eminence grise behind '70s-tastic cop caper The Professionals [1977-83] and tres '90s techno-espionage mess Bugs [1995-99], and the author of everything from the sublime heights of Robert Fuest's 1970 And Soon the Darkness to the perhaps not so great nadir of Russell Mulcahy's 1991 Highlander II: The Quickening) Brian Clemens, the opening assignment sees the indefatigable Drake dispatched to Rome to investigate the murder of imbezzling American banker Frank Delroy (Philip Latham, recognisable to connoisseurs of cultdom as the immortality-seeking Lord President Borusa from Doctor Who's 'The Five Doctors' [Peter Moffatt, 1983] and/or the Counts blood-seeking servant Klove in Terence Fisher's 1965 Dracula: Prince of Darkness - before Klove regenerated into the even Whoier form of Patrick Troughton for 1970's Scars of Dracula - but a mainstay of British TV and quota quickie second features such as Merton Park's Edgar Wallace Mysteries for decades).  We open on a pre-credits sequence of Delroy being tortured with a savage beating - possibly for causing offence with the terrible Stateside accent half-heartedly being affected by Latham - by the thuggish Mego (burly Tyneside actor Colin Douglas, who had a similarly lengthy career as Latham, including being a two-time Who alumnus [1968's 'The Enemy of the World' and 1977's 'Horror of Fang Rock'] and a Hammer appearance in Peter Graham Scott's 1962 Eastmancolour version of Russell Thorndike's 'Doctor Syn' stories Captain Clegg [aka Night Creatures] - coincidentally a subject matter to be visited a year later by McGoohan himself in the eponymous role of James Neilson's Dr Syn, Alias the Scarecrow).  Mego is the henchman of the villainous Tony Mayne (played by Australian actor John Lee, Alydon of the Aryan Thals in the premiere of the pestilent pepperpots 'The Daleks' [1963-64] and Len Mangel of Erinsborough's Neighbours [1994]), who is seeking the $5, 000, 000 dollars worth of gold bullion that Delroy has funneled from the financial funds for his own personal use.

Mego's rather overenthusiastic beating (i can relate) leads to Delroy's demise without confessing the loot's location, and to add to Mayne's woes and frustration (i can... never mind) the terrible twosome hear the sound of Delroy's aghast mistress - who has witnessed the murder from the apartment's bedroom - fleeing via the fire escape to the Via below.  Drake enters into this murder scene mise-en-scene accompanied by his own gruff noirish voiceover, setting the scene like the Sam Spade of Sixties Spymania by describing bank manager Mr Finch (played by the wonderfully named Canadian actor Court Benson) as "in no way distressed by the death of his president - only unbalanced accounts would distress Mr Finch.  The man had ink in his veins", all delivered in McGoohan's distinctive clipped vocal style.

Drake's detective work leads him across Rome - represented in the trademark 1960s ITC adventure serial style (viz. The Champions [1968-69], The Saint [1962-69], Man in a Suitcase [1967-68] et al) by mixing location footage with distinctly Borehamwood-bound studio interiors - to couturiere Gina Scarlotti (Barbara Shelley, whose status as a Hammer Horror heroine for such future films as Terence Fisher's The Gorgon [1964] and Dracula: Prince of Darkness [1965], as well as Roy Ward Baker's 1967 big screen version of Nigel Kneale's seminal slice of SF Quatermass and the Pit had already been staked out - so to speak - by her early roles in Alfred Shaughnessy's 1957 feline frightfest Cat Girl [in which co-starred John Lee], Henry Cass' 1958 Blood of the Vampire and Wolf Rilla's 1960 John Wyndham adaptation Village of the Damned).  Having discovered that the absent witness wore the fashions of Signora Scarlotti's boutique, he pumps the pretty proprietor for information on the late Delroy's missing mistress but receives only the vaguest of descriptions ("blonde... rather pretty, with a good figure" and "I don't think she was very nice") and an address that takes him to the construction site of a still-unfinished edifice.  Further stymied by a seemingly insoluble lack of leads (the lady in question "always pain in cash, never by cheque, no matter how large the amount" and "never had her orders delivered - always picked up by messenger") Drake finds himself even more perplexed when a waiter from Delroy's regular ristorante recalls the fugitive bit on the side very differently ("she is dark, she is a true Roman" and "so kind"), but obtains a clue from the establishment's sketch artist - a drawing by our gone girl signed with a 'G' which matches that on a painting hanging in the apartment crime scene.

Tracing the real life locale of this watercolour scenic landscape of belvederes and campaniles leads Drake on a drive to a small village (or should that be spelled with a capital 'V'?) played by the actual In Real Life location of Portmeirion - the Italianate North Wales folly built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis that would become world famous for its use as the main location of McGoohan's post- Danger Man cult classic The Prisoner (1967-68).  There is a strange sense of dislocation, of a strange retroactive deja vu, in the shots of McGoohan's Drake parking his vehicle to stare up at the iconic belltower with a quizzical expression - as if he is recognising his own future prison - like there's a continuity error in reality itself.  Here in this strange place Drake finds a villa, the vista from which matches the painting exactly, and correctly deduces that this is the holiday home of sometime artist, daytime dressmaker and ex-sexy bit of stuff on the side Gina Scarlotti.  Admitting to her affair with - and intention to someday marry - the late Delroy, Gina confesses her deceit due to her fear of being identified by Mayne as the sole witness of her lover's murder but denies any knowledge of the missing millions before pointing out a wooden crate that she was told to be full of books: the contents of which turn out to be more suited to a bank vault than a bookshelf.  The treasure trove thus tracked down, it only remains for Drake to take on the trio of Mego, Mayne and the merry widow of Delroy who has been treacherously teamed up with Tony all along.  One of the series' patented action scenes - an unarmed fist-fight, at McGoohan's own request minutely planned out and choreographed to the minutest detail to be as realistic as possible - ends with Gina putting a bullet in the murderer and wounding him.  "Don't worry, he's going to live," Drake tells her as he takes the smoking gun of vengeance from her trembling hand and picks up the phone to call in the cavalry, "and from now on, so are you."

John Drake would go on to face another villainous Mayne three episodes later in 'The Blue Veil' in the awesome form of Ferdy Mayne (Count von Krolock in Roman Polanski's wonderful 1967 Dance of the Vampires [aka: The Fearless Vampire Killers, or: Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are In My Neck] as the Moukta - rather perplexingly credited as 'The Mayne' in that episode's entry on Danger Man website - but his career would of course go on and on, graduating from the original 25-minute episode format to the higher budgeted 50-minute version of the show known best Stateside by its alternate moniker (how apt for a spy) of Secret Agent, replete with iconic theme tune.  Between that and the full-colour cult immortality of The Prisoner, there was the strange hybrid halfway house of a two-part John Drake story filmed in full colour and set in Japan - which co-starred Christopher Benjamin (Henry Gordon Jago of Doctor Who renown) as the character of Potter, who would re-appear in the Prisoner episode 'The Girl Who Was Death'.  This two-part missing link betwixt Danger Man and The Prisoner would later be edited into a rarely seen movie Koroshi (Michael Truman and Peter Yates, 1968), an Eastern piece of ephemeral espionage.

A Secret Asian Man.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Altered Carbon: Out of the Past (Miguel Sapochnik, 2018)

E'en as a fully paid-up total geek (the kind who wilfully wields the word "e'en", for a start), there are areas of the Subbacultcha that do upon occasion elude me.  One of these, it seems, was Richard Morgan's 2002 dystopian cyberpunk opus Altered Carbon, of which i first heard fully four days ago during the following conversation with a friend:

"Have you been watching Altered Carbon?"

"What's Altered Carbon?"

"Are you telling me you've never heard of Altered Carbon?"

"I'm assuming it's a TV show."

"Have you never heard of the book?"

"Is the book called Altered Carbon?"


"Then the fact that i said 'What's Altered Carbon?' should tell you that i haven't heard of the fucking book, either.  No.  Is it any good?"

Torturous intros aside, and the fact that my friend then went on to attempt to convey in quite some depth the labyrinthine plottings of an SF novel while we were on a night out and my concentration may not have been at it's absolute 100% peak efficiency (it never is in pubs, you know) that wound up coming across as some crazed mass of verbiage that was "Takeshi" this and "Laurens" that and "a bit like Blade Runner meets Gattaca (or, at least, that's sort of how it came across with all the mention of futuristic elites and rain-soaked neon), i did take in some of the conversation and made a mental note to check this show out at some point.  I mean, i trust John's judgement on matters science fictional (with the caveat that he told me back in the halcyon dreaming days of Uni that Space: Above and Beyond was worth watching, and it was so much one of the worst things i've ever seen that i think i almost felt physically sick while trying to fight my way through the first few episodes before utterly giving up), so - it should be okay.  Even if it's managed to somehow completely slip past me.  Let's give it a go.

Adapted for the screen by Laeta Kalogridis (co-writer of Timur Bekmambetov's slice of Slavic supernature Night Watch [2004], which is a good sign, and also the co-writer of Oliver Stone's 2004 Macedonian monstrosity Alexander and Alan Taylor's 2015 late and lamented rear entry in the Terminator franchise Genisys, which aren't such good signs) and directed by Miguel Sapochnik (helmer of the thoroughly entertaining [not as good as Repo Man, obviously] 2010 Repo Men, as well as a reliable director of such TV genre standards as Fringe, Game of Thrones and Beneath the Dome), the series' premiere episode was already onto a good start e'en (please, somebody stop me) before i noted that the episode title was a nod to the classic '40s film noir (aka Build My Gallows High) starring Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas.  This noirish nod would go on to prove to be accurate as to the tone and flavour of the show itself - its future world very much a similar SF noir to the rain 'n' neon soaked streets of Ridley Scott's 1982 Philip K. Dick epic.

Throwing us headlong, everlong, into this future scene wherein the memory engrams of the deceased can be re-uploaded into new "sleeves" (the streaming of the minds of the dead into newer, fitter bodies reminded me of Robert Sheckley's Immortality, Inc., filmed in 1992 by Geoff Murphy as the unlikely Mick Jagger and Anthony Hopkins team up of Freejack), old lives shucked off the way that in the spring snakes shed their skin and they blow away in the changing winds, we are launched into the life, death and afterlife of Takeshi Kovacs (Will Yun Lee) - a hitman and former Envoy 9a kid of adaptable all-terrain assassin) who is taken out and finds himself rudely re-awakened in a new incarnation in the form of Joel Kinnaman (yes, the rubbish RoboCop.  No, worse than Richard Eden.  Hey don't diss Robert Burke - he was in Richard Stanley's Dust Devil, motherfucker).  The scenario of the newly-reborn (literally, emerging from an amniotic fluid-filled body bag and pulling an intubated umbilicus from his throat like an awakening from the Matrix, or like Bobby De Niro as the newborn Creature in Kenneth Branagh's 1994 Mary Shelley's Frankenstein) Kovacs staring at the reflection of his new visage in the mirrored surface of a metal tray is highly reminiscent of the early scene of the newly-regenerated Patrick Troughton in Doctor Who's 'The Power of the Daleks' Episode One - both scenes having a character newly awakened into a new body at first beholding their original reflection: seeing the self that they expect to see, only to have that fade into the person that they now are.

The Doctor Who comparison is an apposite and interesting one, i think, as we are in the age of the politics of identity and a minor furore around the Doctor - a previously male character - becoming a woman (in the form of Jodie Whittaker).  It honestly wouldn't surprise me if there has been some kind of fuss around this series of a main character being played by a Caucasian actor but having an Asian name - we are in the era of the "whitewashing" outcry after all (which is well-meaning and everything, but when you're dealing with a character who is of Asian origin  but happens to be incarnated in a white body, surely he's free to still identify as Asian, right?).  It's an interesting thought though - in the realms of fantasy and science fiction, why shouldn't it be okay to have a character of non-white (do i have to say POC? I hate that acronym) origin played by an actor of a differing ethnicity should be okay, yeah?  Especially when it's actually part of the plot?  But then - i remember the "whitewashing" outcry over Iron Fist (a series which cast a white actor as Danny Rand, a white character in the original comics, but still got called out as racist) - and i just shrug.  But not like Atlas.  Ayn Rand sucks.

The rebirthed Kovacs finds himself at the behest of the rich and powerful Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy, Marc Antony of Rome [2005-2007] fame, V from V For Vendetta [2005] for about minutes possible fame, and the titular Solomon Kane [Michael J. Bassett, 2009] and Dracula from Big Finish Doctor Who audio Son of the Dragon "probably only in my house fame"), who is in the rather singular quandary of wanting to know who has killed him.  Being a "Meth" - short for "Methuselah", as in the long-leggedy long-lived Biblical patriarch - Bancroft is at least three centuries old due to having the means to be able to download his soul (if the rich can be perceived to possess such a thing) into a new body every so often, but has been shot through his prior head and the backup personality that has streamed into his new corporeal coil is missing the vital hours that contain the knowledge of who his killer actually was.  So the new-reborn man finds himself reluctantly on the payroll of posh Laurens - literally a rich man's toy - and taking on the case of the (admittedly non-permanent, but still rather serious) death of this guy who literally dwells in an ivory tower in the clouds; Laurens' grand mansion house with its spacious gardens and ornate statuary towering high above the grinding Metropolis below is so Fritz Lang it almost hurts.  In that painful, but pleasurable kind of way.  Pegging Doctor Freud.  Paging.  Shit.

So far, so intriguing, and that's without mentioning the glimpses of the other characters and the rest of our brave new world ready to be tentatively probed and explored (my mind's still on the last paragraph, isn't it?) - such as dogged Detective Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda), ready to get on Kovacs the cold case; or the intriguing Poe (Chris Conner) - a seeming replicant of Edgar Allan Poe himself and proprietor of the appropriately Gothic-accoutremented The Raven hotel (bedecked with an appositely pendulumed clock).  I'm being drawn in to this futurescape awashed with a hard rain (hard enough to wash the slime from the streets).  We can only but wait to see what happens.  For we are all interested in the future.  For that is where you and i shall spend the rest of our lives.

Monday, 1 January 2018

The Keep (Michael Mann, 1983)

To the Tower... to Rasalom!

Deep in the distant Way-back When of 1981, when i was but two years old and death was but a dream, the American author F. Paul Wilson began his series of novels - variously named the Nightworld Cycle and the Adversary Cycle - chronicling the aeons-old battle betwixt vastly powerful and otherworldly creatures dubbed the Ally (an unknowable and ancient entity that collects and preserves planets and sentient life) and the Otherness (an equal and opposite malevolent force that rapaciously consumes life and revels in destruction).  So far, so Manichaean, one might think - the dualistic concept of light versus dark, order versus chaos, good versus evil has been variously represented throughout the ages by the Avestan Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu, the Satanail and Michael of the Bogomils as well as the Judaeo-Christian God and Satan.  Wilson's pulp horror distillation of this eternal struggle started with the novel The Keep, which introduced the earthly champions of the eternal forces: two immortal beings who battle each other upon Earth's mortal plane throughout the ages for their respective masters.  Serving the all-consuming dark of the Otherness is the ancient and evil sorcerer Rasalom, and the warrior - dubbed 'the Sentinel' - Glaeken represents the Ally.  These two mystical individuals are locked in their struggle against each other throughout the ages, one sometimes temporarily besting the other, only for their immortal and ever-living opponent to return to continue the conflict.

I spent most of my young life ignorant of such things, of course, but i was interested in scary movies - which is why one day when i was about seven years old my parents returned from the local video shop brandishing a VHS of  Michael Mann's film adaptation of Wilson's novel, and one bright afternoon in 1987 or so my nightmares for the coming months would be invaded through my eyes, from the television screen, by the dark and malevolent presence of Rasalom.

Adapted for the screen and directed by Mann - and showing early signs of the wonderful visual flair that he would go on to display in Manhunter (1986), The Last of the Mohicans (1992) and Heat (1995 - although personally, i find his original telefilm version of this one, 1989's L.A. Takedown, slightly more satisfying) - and evocatively scored by Edgar Froese's electro-synth outfit Tangerine Dream (who would go on to provide a similarly mystical score for Ridley Scott's 1985 fantasy excursion Legend - at least for the US release, before it was re-scored by Jerry Goldsmith), the film opens with a long tracking shot of the clouds above a mountain pass in the Carpathians of Romania (the shot and soundtrack combinations slightly reminiscent of Werner Herzog's 1979 vampiric masterpiece Nosferatu).  Here, in the fictitious Dacian 'Dinu Pass' in 1941 (actually filmed in a North Wales slate quarry near Llanberis - had the film crew arrived here at a different point in '83 they probably wouldn't have been able to move for Cybermen), a detachment of German troops arrive to occupy the region to facilitate the Nazis' Operation Barbarossa - the attempt to invade and conquer the Soviet Union.

After occupying the small mountain village the self-proclaimed "Masters of the World", in the words of Captain Klaus Woermann (Jurgen Prochnow, making his Hollywood movie debut after the huge success of Das Boot [1981], and a an English-language role in Michael Landon-starring US TV movie Love is Forever [1983]), take charge of the large and foreboding castle keep - the eponymous edifice of the title - against the warnings of the old caretaker Alexandru (genre stalwart W. Morgan Sheppard): when told that nobody has ever stayed an entire night within the citadel Woerman asks Alexandru what drives them away -

"Dreams...", intones the elderly retainer.
"Nightmares?", scoffs the weary German soldier. "Look, man - the real nightmares man has made upon other men in this war.  The bad dreams of your keep are but a nursery rhyme in comparison."

Woermann further finds himself baffled by the castle's construction: "Why are the smaller stones on the outside and the larger stones in here?  It's constructed... backwards.  This place was not designed to keep something out."

When, on night watch, two of the German sentries discover that among the 108 metallic crosses embedded into the stone walls is silver rather than nickel, their rapacious desire for the spoils of war leads them to prize the talisman - and the masonry into which it is set - from the foundations and open up a narrow passageway into the interior of the monument (akin to the mysterious vent shafts under the pyramids, entombed with the pharaohs) that leads to a chasm into the vasty deep bowels of the earth.  This is the tomb of Rasalom, and from these mist-filled pits, dark, dank, unclear his ephemeral spectre rises to fill all before him with frost-fingered fear.

Whilst Woermann has to deal with one evil rising from inside the keep, another arrives outside, with the coming of a squadron of Einsatzkommandos (the mobile SS death squads) led by Eric Kaempffer (Gabriel Byrne, Excalibur [1981], Gothic [1986], Stigmata [1999]) who begins shooting the villagers having accused them of being partisan fighters against the German army, promising that five Romanians will be shot for ever German that dies, ignoring Woermann's protests that the deaths of soldiers within the keep are not the doings of the Dacians - and Woermann begins to realise the similarity between the thing that has been unleashed from the interior and the sadistic Kaempffer, both being coldly inimical to humanity and life.

"Something else is killing us," he tells a smirking Kaempffer in response to the latter's clinical explanation of rule by fear of death, "and if it doesn't care about the lives of three villagers - if it's like you - then does your fear work?  Take that brilliant thought back to Dachau with you".  The very real horror of wartime Nazi atrocities and man's inhumanity to man is thrown into relief (no doubt backlit by the penetrating blue laser lights and slow motion photography that characterise the movie) by comparison with the completely inhuman and ancient implacable evil of the daemonic Rasalom.  The atrocities of the former are seen manifested in the concentration camp from which the Jewish scholar Dr Theodore Cuza (a pre-mutants and Middle Earth Ian McKellen) and his daughter Eva (the late Alberta Watson, whom i remember from the startlingly memorable Spanking the Monkey [David O. Russell, 1994]) are plucked by the increasingly desperate despoilers in an attempt to translate the mysterious runic warnings adorning the edifice.  After being touched by the hand of the ungodly reborn creature, Cuza finds his crippled and aged body rejuvenated and cured of his scleroderma.

"I don't know what it is, and i don't care," cries the rapturous professor, "He is like a hammer and can help smash them!"
"What are you talking about?" asks his frightened daughter.  "We're dealing with a golem... a devil!"
"The devil in the keep wears a black uniform and has a death's head in his cap and calls himself a Sturmbannfuhrer!" he spits, referring to Kaempffer who had 'welcomed' them after their liberation from the death camp with "the people who go to these 'resettlement camps' - there are only two doors: one in, and one out.  The one out is the chimney".  As far as Cuza is concerned, the enemy of his enemy is his ally - even if it be an unearthly entity from before the dawn of time.

Also heading like Roland to the dark tower is the mysterious Glaeken Trismegistus (Scott Glenn, Alan Shepherd in The Right Stuff [Philip Kaufman, 1983], Jack Crawford in The Silence of the Lambs [Jonathan Demme, 1991] and Stick in the Netflix Marvel series Daredevil and The Defenders [2015-2017]), who awakens in the night with bright blue eyes aglow at the moment that the dark spirit of Molasar/Rasalom begins to take on corporeal form, the psychic connection between the two adversaries reaching from the darkness of the Romanian pass to the Greek village from which Glaeken immediately departs on a voyage by sea and land to reach the appointed place for the Final Conflict (not to be confused with the third film in the Omen trilogy, which had been released two years earlier) of the enmity of ages.

"I have been here for ages," he tells Eva, "watching and guarding against what is happening now.  He is being released.  I have come to destroy him... When he goes, i go."

After Kaempffer has shot and killed Woermann and taken the silver cross that Cuza had given to the latter for protection, he finds himself face to Sphinx-like animated rock face (doctor living stone, i presume?) with the black colossus Rasalom in a mist-bound setting and shot that haunts my memory from childhood.  Answering the terrified Nazi's enquiry as to where he comes from with "I come from you", the titan of terror crushes the ineffectual relic and destroys him like a child crushing an insect.  Cuza also finds himself confronted by the creature, their Faustian pact called into question when his master's voice commands him to destroy his daughter, who is barring him from carrying out the monster's will by removing the relic that binds him to the confines of the keep.  Faced with this dilemma, his own personal binding of Isaac, Cuza turns recusant and questions the infernal fiend ("Who are you that i must prove myself by killing my child?").

Glaeken takes on the beast, of course, in a sacrificial finale made almost incomprehensible by a combination of bizarre editing and haphazard and unfinished effects (partially due to the sudden death of special effects supervisor Wally Veevers during production).  The film was beset with post-production woes, with the studio ordering Mann's original 210 minute cut hacked down to 96 minutes.  The film is in many ways the Lovecraftian horror equivalent of David Lynch's 1984 Dune - both flawed epics stymied by studio interference and editing that removes much context and badly vitiates the (un)finished product.  All that said, the movie still contains many magical (sorcerous, even) moments and a great atmosphere, helped a great deal by the Tangerine Dream soundtrack with its Olympian drums like insistent raindrops and haunting synths like swirling mist.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

The Flash (Robert Iscove, 1990)

Flash-backs, and red glad rags.

Now here's a point - a "Flashpoint", if you will - we have something of a surfeit of scarlet speedsters these days.  Whether it's the continuing adventures of Grant Gustin as the Fastest Man Alive in the CW's The Flash (in it's fourth season at time of typing), being about to debut of the big screen in the form of Ezra Miller in Justice League (Zack Snyder [and Joss Whedon], 2017) or various appearances in animated adventures voiced by TV's forgotten Ferris Bueller Charlie Schlatter and Alex Niforatos among others, DC Comics' crimson comet has never been so ubiquitous.

Timely enough then, if time be need be, to take a retrospective genuflect at the first live-action iteration of the iconic sonic boom dodger - the 1990 television series starring John Wesley Shipp (Bastian's dad in The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter [George Miller, 1990], Dawson's dad in perpetual teen-angst whine fest that blighted my late teens Dawson's Creek [1998-2001] and the current Gustin-flavoured Barry Allen's dad in The Flash - the guy does seem to have somewhat cornered the market in playing dads).  I wasn't aware of the fact that an actual ongoing TV series was extant at the time, it having being shown on Sky in the UK a few years before we got round to having satellite television (though an uncle did have a BSB "Squariel" for those old enough to actually remember what they were and find it amusing - a decision up there with "Beta will outlast VHS, it's just a fad" and "I'm saving up for a Laserdisc player" in the Great Moves irony stakes), but the pilot movie did appear on the shelf of the local video shop, seemingly as a new stand-alone superhero movie in its own right (followed a year later by Flash II: Revenge of the Trickster [Danny Bilson, 1991], guest starring Mark Hamill himself as the villain, a 'sequel' whose slightly uneven feel was by dint of being two episodes of the series edited together.  A further trip to the Well of Diminishing Returns would lead to my baffled reaction of "Another one?!?" as Flash 3: Deadly Nightshade [Bruce Bilson, 1992] arrived unbidden to an uncaring world and even my childhood self would suspect that this wasn't a "real film").

A while back, i postulated in a piece for the rather nice website We Are Cult upon the notion of a 'Marvel Phase Zero' - a an early stage of the Marvel Comics Universe pre- Jon Favreau's 2008 Iron Man consisting of the various TV pilots and series of the late 1970s and early '80s (the original article can be found here: ) - and perhaps the DCEU, such as it currently is, had their own incipient epoch in the '70s and '80s; Christopher Reeve's four Superman outings and Michael Keaton's Gothamite Dark Knight being of the period.  The Wesley Shipp incarnation should, in my opinion, stand proud in these ranks of DC's emergent age alongside the aforesaid heroes, as well as Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman, Helen Slater's Supergirl and Dick Durock's Swamp Thing.

The setting of course is Central City, a twilit noirish urban sprawl almost but not quite identical in look and feel to the Gotham of Tim Burton's then-recent Chiropteran Crusader blockbuster Batman, but on a slightly smaller televisual scale (this being filmed at the Burbank studios of Warners rather than Pinewood).  This small-m metropolis is under siege from a criminal motorcycle gang known as the Dark Riders led by the enigmatic, charismatic (and probably systematic and hydromatic) Pike - played with a scene chewing elan by Dex Dexter of Dynasty Michael Nader, finally getting the Alexis role of butch bitch and having his own henchmen to boss about and abuse.  On the tail of the Riders' trail of havoc and destruction is newly promoted chief of the Central City police Jay Allen (Tim Thomerson, a familiar face in numerous Charles Band movies but chiefly Jack Deth in 1984's Trancers and its many sequels, as well as incarnating the eponymous Dollman [Albert Pyun, 1991]), scion of a family of CCPD cops headed by patriarch Henry Allen (M. Emmett Walsh, who's starred in... oh, everything, really, from Blade Runner [Ridley Scott, 1982] to The Pope of Greenwich Village [Stuart Rosenberg, 1984] to Sundown: the Vampire in Retreat [Anthony Hickox, 1989] to providing the voice of Cosmic Owl in Adventure Time [2010+]).  Henry's pride in his eldest son's following in his flat footsteps is matched by his antipathy toward's his younger son's choice of criminal investigation vocation, Barry (Shipp) being a 'mere' forensic science investigator - or a CSI as i believe they're known these days ('tis perhaps only by the caprice of chance of network that the present Flash series didn't find itself titled CSI: Central City).

Barry balances his daily routine of dodging his father's long streak of pithy remarks at the family dinner table with long day and night shifts of lab work alongside compatriot Julio Mendez (Alex Desert, Swingers [Doug Liman, 1996], Becker [1998-2004]) as well as trying to find personal time for his love life with beautiful bohemian artist Iris West (Paula Marshall, whom i remember well from such films as Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth [Anthony Hickox, 1992], Warlock: the Armageddon [Hickox again, 1993] and Full Eclipse [O HAI, ANTHONY, 1993]).  Run down and run off his feet with the demands of life and the nine to five in the morning overtimes as he does his part to analyse clues to help take down the Riders and their anarchic spate of bombings and robbings, Barry finds running very much a theme when one dark  and stormy night the elements come together and a stray bolt of lightning strikes the scientist (rather than the postman, as Wayne Coyne predicted) and the convergence of flash of cosmic light and the rack of frothing and broiling chemicals that his blasted body belts into transforms him into (all together now) "THE FASTEST MAN ALIVE".

Recovering rather quickly and checking himself out of hospital, Barry begins to realise that his brush with the beyond via a bolt from the blue may have some side effects when he runs to catch the morning bus and suddenly finds himself accelerating uncontrollably at high velocity for miles before barreling down the beach like a bullet, kicking up clouds of sand and getting in the sea before emerging from the brine gasping for breath and finding that the friction of his velocity his reduced his clothing to rags.  Finding that he must consume vast amounts of food to replace the calories burned by his speedy metabolism, Barry reluctantly engages with Dr Tina McGee (Amanda Pays, Theora Jones of Max Headroom [1985, 1987-88], as well as starring in late '80s SF horrors The Kindred [Stephen Carpenter and Jeffrey Obrow, 1998] and Leviathan [George P. Cosmatos, 1989]) of S. T. A. R. Labs - despite his misgivings at their shady past and alleged unethical experimentation - in an effort to understand his new found abilities and attempt to control the biological battleground of his body.  After confiding in Barry that the ruined reputation of her laboratory is because her former partner (in both the sciencing and sexing senses) tested an experimental drug upon himself and sacrificed himself upon the altar of knowledge, Tina supplies the nascent speedster with a prototype Soviet scarlet suit invented to withstand the intense pressures of deep sea diving as an ingenious method of cutting down on the wear and tear of his ensemble coming unseamed as he speeds around a test track.

After it is revealed that the villainous Nicholas Pike was Jay Allen's former partner (his facial dueling scars the result of the elder Allen discovering his crooked compadre's nefarious undertakings and leaving him for dead), Pike sees Jay heading the CCPD task force charged with bringing him down on the local news show hosted by Joe Klein (the ubiquitous Richard Belzer of every cop show going for the past hundred years) and decides to lay and bait a trap for his erstwhile comrade in arms utilising the charms of the alluring Lila (Lycia Naff, who played Ensign Sonya Gomez in a couple of 1989 episodes of Star Trek: the Next Generation before essaying the role of T. C. in the Troma-tastic Chopper Chicks in Zombietown [Dan Hoskins, 1989]).  After Jay falls for the obvious should-be-jailed bait and Pike takes his cruel retribution, Barry manages to rocket to the scene of the crime only in time to cradle his dying brother in his arms and fling back his head to howl the requisite "Nooooooo!!!" at the uncaring sky.  What should rightfully be a cliched scene is sold, though, by the acting of both Thomerson and Shipp.  Vowing to avenge his sibling, Barry asks Tina to fashion more of the speed suit: "I need a hood, to cover my face - and gloves, so i won't leave fingerprints" (there's all those years at forensic detection school paying off right there) and becomes a red clad avenger of the night, taking down Pike and his gang and ending their cycle of cycling destruction in a furious Flash of vengeance.

An effective superhero origin story in its own right (something that DC, Wonder Woman [Patty Jenkins, 2017] aside, seems to find it increasingly difficult to manage on screen these days) as well as the pilot for a TV series, the 1990 version of The Flash went on to have a big influence upon the modern televisual incarnation.  Not only has John Wesley Shipp appeared multiple times in the newer show as both Henry Allen and original Flash Jay Garrick, but both Amanda Pays and Alex Desert have made appearances as Dr Christina McGee and Captain Julio Mendez respectively, while their original roles of lab chum and sexy but frosty scientist with dead fiancee have been assumed by Carlos Valdes' Cisco Ramon and Danielle Panabaker's Caitlin Snow respectively.  While Iris West (played by Candice Patton) has a major co-starring role in the current show, sadly Paula Marshall's Iris only appeared in the pilot and was absent from the subsequent series.

Maybe if Anthony Hickox had directed...

Monday, 6 November 2017

Sherlock: A XXX Parody (Dick Bush, 2016) NB: NSFW. LOL. WTF.

In which things get quite a bit NSFW, and we muse upon the phenomenon of the porn parody.

(NOTE: This blog entry is going to be discussing the content of a mucky movie, and may well use some Rabelaisian and/or scatological language, and imagery which may produce powerful sensations in the brain and body.  "Consider yourselves...WARNED!", as James Dean Bradley so eloquently yelled at the beginning of 'Repeat UK')

Ah, the pornographic parody film - so ripe for satire, lampoon and pastiche of any given subject but with the added bonus boon of boobs.  Perhaps best remembered (by me, at any rate) for the early-2000s glut of straight to DVD Seduction Cinema 'classics' starring Misty Mundae and Darian Caine, such as Playmate of the Apes (John Bacchus, 2002 - co-written by and featuring scream queen Debbie Rochon as 'Dr Cornholeus'), Lord of the G-Strings (Terry M. West, 2003) and SpiderBabe (Johnny Crash, 2003 - starring Ms Mundae as 'Patricia Porker'), there has always been something of a genre bent being exploited: in recent years Axel Braun has produced a steady stream of semen-specked superhero scripts for Vivid Entertainment, spoofing and spoffing characters such as Batman, Superman, She-Hulk, Marvel's Avengers, Spider-Man,Wolverine, the X-Men and Wonder Woman (as well as other genre-related titles such as Game of Thrones, Ghostbusters and Charmed [featuring a Prue Halliwell who actually gives me less conflicted sexual thoughts than the original, which is odd but true]).  Britain's favourite genre product of the BBC (as in British Broadcasting Corporation, rather than in its porn acronym sense) has had several sexy makeovers, including the Adult Channel's 2006 Doctor Screw which followed hot on the heels of the Christopher Eccleston season of Who with Mark Sloan as a leather-jacketed and priapic Time Lord (though his spiked hair and goatee beard make him more of a young War Doctor than an alternative Nine in my book), Wood Rocket's The Doctor Whore Porn Parody (Lee Roy Myers, 2014) featuring almost startlingly accurate randy reprisals of the Eleventh Doctor, Amy Pond and Rory Williams by the brilliantly names Brian Street Team, Jodi Taylor and Richie Calhoun respectively, and the same year's The Doctor (directed by the fnarr-fnarr monikered Dick Bush) from KaizenXXX - which confirmed its canonical status by opening with Mark Sloan of Doctor Screw being injured (must be all of that tumultuous buffeting from the tremendous buggering) and regenerating into new incarnation Danny D, who has lost none of his libido in the transition.

From the same production company and director, we come to 2016's Sherlock: a XXX Parody (is it just my grammatically-picky brain that flinches and wants that to be "An XXX Parody"?  I suppose if you read it as "Triple X" it works...), which sets its sights and sweaty palms upon another of Steven Moffat's (a man who knows a bit about dodgy sexual exploits and bad jokes himself) TV shows.

Opening with a title sequence (aerial shots of London, familiar buildings and monuments) and theme tune that is redolent of the BBC's Sherlock whilst being different enough to just about skirt copyright, we start with the fundamentally-titled A Study in Brown (alimentary, my dear Watson!) with Dean Martin (no, not the piss artist cum singer cum actor!) as a gruff Lestrade calling in Holmes to help with the latest case to have him baffled, which interrupts Sherlock (the ludicrously-endowed Mr Danny D) as he indulges in an experiment to "test my deductive skills against all manner of distractions" as he's fellated by French fancy Nikita Bellucci - leading to a gag wherein Sherlock responds to both Lestrade's telephonic enjoinders to join him at the crime scene and his imminent unspooling in the gagging Gallic girl's gob by shouting "I'm coming!  I'm COMING NOW!" with an elated vehemence that both perplexes and pleases the puzzled policeman.  Another witness to this startling scene in Sherlock's study is medical student Jane Watson (played by the gorgeous crimson-maned Ella Hughes, who has actually made an appearance in a season six episode of Game of Thrones itself - with its alternate name of Tits and Dragons almost qualifying it as a porn parody in of itself, albeit with less jokes), who has arrived with a case for the celebrated sleuth but ends up with a casa - becoming his new flatmate in 221B Baker Street, perhaps aiming to parallel US 'modern Sherlock Holmes' series Elementary with its cross-gender casting of Dr Watson (in Elementary's case Lucy Lui as Joan Watson).

Holmes and Watson attend the murder scene, to find the latest in a string of corpses that show signs of having had intercourse ("Not just any sex - look at the beads of sweat: this guy was really going for it!" observes the sleuth) whilst expiring from poison ("So she likes to have sex with them whilst they dies?  Sounds... delightful" says a dubious Jane): very much a case of a petit mort post mortem.  The production plays with the tropes of Moffatian Sherlock, such as Holmes' 'mind palace' -

"If you don't mind, Jane," says Sherlock as he folds himself into his armchair, "i'm going to enter this information into my mind palace."
"Your mind palace?"
"Yes, my fucking mind palace!  Is there an echo?"

- and the technique of quickly flashing Holmes' thoughts up in text form on-screen (like the 'datablasts' of Violet Berlin and Andy Crane fronted '90s gaming show Bad Influence! and Lee and Herring's pioneering Fist of Fun), such as "slight bruises on penis", "he fucked even though it hurt", "he had to fuck" and "fuck or die" as Sherlock pieces together the clues from the case to cum come to the conclusion that the victims were poisoned by a Sexy Killer (no, not Sarah Young, nor Macarena Gomez neither) and forced to engage in a vigorous fuck session in order to obtain an antidote - no one yet having achieved the climax of this cunning linguist's plan.  The culprit is revealed to be the French girl who aided Sherlock in his oral examination earlier - Ms Bellucci now sporting a red wig - who reveals that she has already introduced the venom into Holmes' system and he must play the naughty game of death as she proffers her box to him (an actual small box, not her box box just yet).

"The antidote is locked in this safe."
"That's voice activated!" deduces Holmes, somehow.  "They tried so hard, didn't they... Let me guess - the sound of your orgasm is the only thing to open it?"

After the revelation that he only has 30 minutes in which to get the siren to squirt, and pausing only to wonder whether or not to order the pizza now, the dying detective deploys his dong.   The action that follows includes oral both ways - as Holmes is rewarded for his cunnilingus with some spit-drenched suckage - as well as doggy-fashion (Ms Bellucci's shrieks as Mr D's very generously-proportioned member ploughed into her from the rear causing me to wonder whether we were in for an abbreviated episode, as surely those squeals would activate the box?), anal (i assume sitting down would be involving a soft cushion or one of those inflatable ring things for a while) and reverse cowgirl before the desired decibel level is achieved (during some vigorous anal choke-fucking) and then Holmes unloads his ribbons of liquid joy onto the villainous vixen's buttocks and quaffs the antidote.

After all that though, i'd have to personally opine that Ms Hughes as Dr Watson, with her red hair and pale skin and clad in a leather jacket and a pair of jeans that accentuate her lovely buttocks, possibly did more for me than the carnal scenes in the episode.  Why is none of your business, but maybe i'm just jaded like a cankered whore these days.

Episode two is once again punningly titled - this particular spin on Conan Doyle being The Sign of Whore - and entails Sherlock receiving a mysterious text message from the elusive Irene Adler, instructing him to go to number 14 Baskerville Road.  The detective duo promptly arrive at the assigned address to find themselves in a sex club, greeted by a buxom receptionist (Linsey Dawn McKenzie - something of a UK porn legend in the '90s, and a favourite of those who like to see their sex starlets endowed with elephantiasis of the chesticles.  Mammoth mammaries, Mycroft!) and the proprietor of this pleasure palace of impropriety who introduces herself as Irene Adler (the estuary-accented and slightly chavvy Chantelle Fox), who challenges Holmes to "a little game" if he can "pick out and fuck the girl [she's] describing".

"Um, sorry, wait - did you say 'fuck'?" asks an agog Watson, "we have to fuck them?"

"This is a very sexual place, Miss Watson.  A place for sex" is the reply, and possibly the best example of that kind of gag i've seen in a movie since "Greeks.  Men from Greece!" in Tom Green's opus Freddy Got Fingered.

After standing back to admire a display of his deductive skills that has him narrowing the description of a dominatrix down to the spexy secretary, Watson is surprised to hear Sherlock passing the sexing duties over to her ("Now go ahead, bang her brains out chop-chop!") and finds herself soon busily engaged in some receptionist rumpo involving a spanking session wherein Ms McKenzie smacks her alabaster buttocks a nice shade of pink.  There follows some oral fun before the toys are produced - then inserted, then produced again - before a judding climax involving a very slippery nipple as Watson teases Adler's henchlady by rubbing her perky breasticles against her clitoris allsorts.

Episode three sees the series give up on turning Conan Doyle Holmes titles into puns and resorts to the simple "does what it says on the tin" title of Sexbomb, wherein Sherlock is working solo (Watson being away on her honeymoon, her husband having been introduced via a series of gag scenes - as opposed to gagging scenes which do happen in these sort of thing but are quite different - in the earlier episodes).  He finds himself working alongside Inspector Sally Hopkins (Darlington's premier sexport Sienna Day), with whom he has an antagonistic/flirty banter relationship, on a case wherein a young lady (Carmel Anderson) has had a time-bomb strapped to her nether regions (a less erotic version of this scenario was played out in the Red Dwarf episode 'Entangled' - Craig Charles' charms being slightly less alluring than Ms Anderson's on that occasion).

"Thirty minutes 'til the big bang" says Hopkins in one of the most blatant signposts in a not exactly subtle series, before falling for the fiendish (and as yet unseen) Moriarty's trap by drinking what appears to be a glass of water but is in fact "that new female dodgy Viagra [that's] been all over the news - i need an antidote within the next few minutes, otherwise i'll die" (delivered with all the mortal panic of a malfunctioning toaster) "only your spunk can save me now!"  Our priapic private investigator duly obliges of course, going straight in for some rimming of the policewoman's puckered posterior and ere long tongue is replaced by schlong for "a dip in the brown" that turns her frown upside down.  This vigorous bout of bumming in various positions leads to Sherlock, who's got the medicine that she needs - in the wise, wise words of Lana Del Rey - filling her prescription good and proper and delivering it directly into her cupped hand to scoop and swallow as directed.  How many times a day is not specified, but i hope it's only once, the lad looks knackered.

Oh, on the way out he defuses the bomb and frees the girl.  I'd almost forgotten about her.

The fourth fit of febrile fun bears the moniker of Carnal Knowledge, neatly encapsulating the twin obsessions of both the production and the title character: the eternal yearning for both the pleasures of both the flesh and the sophia of wisdom (or, as Sir Steven Patrick Morrissey put it, "Does the body rule the mind, or does the mind rule the body? / I dunno.").  Or perhaps i'm giving Dick Bush's writing a little too much credit.  I dunno.

After being summoned by Lestrade to yet another murder scene, this time that of a terrorist suspect, Sherlock makes quick work dismissing the 'evidence' on hand - the various books and documents (along with a bomb) having been planted in the dead man's bedroom, as well as noticing that the necklace bearing religious symbols has caused an adverse reaction to the skin pre-mortem signifying that he didn't usually wear such an item - and concluding that the victim (who is sprawled before them on a bed with a large purple vibrator plunged into his chest) is the latest pawn in the game being played against him by the shadowy Napoleon of crime Professor Moriarty.  Arriving back at his Baker Street lodgings, Holmes sends a text as urgent as his restlessly twitching member to Irene Adler asking her to meet him, his "I want answers" being auto-corrected to "I want anal", prompting the wholly (hole-ly?) appropriate response of "Bugger!"  In timely fashion, Holmes enters his lodgings to rather serendipitously find Irene - this time the genuine article, you might say, rather than the decoy from the club earlier - waiting for him wearing nothing but high heels and a pearl necklace (an actual one: wait for it!).

"Sherlock!" cries flustered faithful landlady Mrs Hudson (June Smith) "I took Miss Adler's coat - but she didn't have any clothes on underneath!" before fleeing the room when her embarrassed enquiry as to whether tea should be served is met by Irene asking instead if there is any lube in the house.  As you do, when circumstances look like it's about to be needed.

"I do love playing with people" purrs the ardently amorous Miss Adler (played by the gorgeous Italian-born queen of the British grot industry, Stella Cox - a Tyrrhenian temptress more "Ream 'us!" than Remus, and guaranteed to make one's Alba Longa), prompting a frustratingly Freudian conversation between Sherlock and herself ("Sex.  All about sex." / "Isn't everything?") before his accusation that she is working for Moriarty and knows something of his plans, and that if she gives him the vital information to foil the professor's plot he will afford her protection.

"Saving those close to you isn't your forte" she smiles.
"You're not that close to me" counters Holmes.
"I could be.  Maybe then, i'll tell you something" she says, sashaying to the mantelpiece and presenting her pert and peachy posterior and fingering her fillable fundament.

Obviously within seconds the twitching 'tec has taken the hint as is up behind her like a rutting Rottweiler, blithely taking the cup of tea offered by an aghast Mrs Hudson (who swiftly exits so traumatised she may as well be pursued by a bear) and sipping from it before resting it upon the dimples of Irene's lower back.  Possibly indulging a repressed cosplay fetish, he places his iconic deerstalker hat on her head and bends her over his armchair (with Union Jack cushion - how 'Cool Britannia'.  Is it 1996?) for some Sherlockian sodomy so eager and vigorous (can't blame him for excitedly ploughing that furrow i must say) that's it's bound to leave bruises in the morning.  Don't it turn my brown eye blue, as the old song goes.

In the finale, Game On, it transpires that the majority of the preceding events have been set in motion by the devious deviant Moriarty (played by the marvelously pseudonymous Fred Passion giving a less OTT performance than Andrew Scott, at least) who has - in an inversion of the events of Moffat / Gatiss' Sherlock's premiere episode - been passing himself off as Holmes' brother Mycroft to gain the trust of Watson, whom he now kidnaps and lashes to a Bond villain-style laser trap.  Sherlock is faced with the old "which switch?" dilemma with one deactivating button but two from which to choose, and so decides to opt for the patented Steven Moffat "cool shot in which the hero fires a gun at a random piece of equipment" get-out-of-a-cliffhanger gambit (C.F.: Sherlock 'The Great Game', Doctor Who 'The Time of Angels') before using his preternatural mental prognostication skills to outmanouvre and physically take out Moriarty's henchmen in the manner of Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes (Guy Ritchie, 2009).

"Fuck me, Sherlock - that was very unlike you!" exclaims Watson as she is untied.
"The only solution to winning his Game is not to play", responds the gnomic gumshoe, with a neat solution that perhaps should have occurred to Bruce Lee in The Game of Death and everyone in Game of Thrones.  The twosome then rather thoroughly consummate their professional relationship, including the lovely Ms Hughes lying on a leather couch with her head back and taking Mr D's egregiously proportioned member down her throat, followed by some very eager and frantic doggy-style and cowgirl positions.

After Moriarty is surrounded and taken away by the regular constabulary and Sherlock has received a message from Irene assuring him that she's alive and not a victim of one of Moriarty's deadly assassins, there's even a guest appearance in the closing Baker Street scene by Danny D in the guise of his other porn parody character - that of the TARDIS-travelling titular Time Lord from The Doctor (Dick Bush, 2014), giving any fan of Doctor Who and Sherlock who's made it to the end unspent the crossover that Moffat never did.  Which is nice, i guess.

'"My dear Holmes!", I ejaculated' - Dr Watson in 'The Adventure of the Resident Patient' by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1893.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Frankenstein (J. Searle Dawley, 1910)

The Gothic horror tradition in both film and literature can ultimately trace, if not its genesis, then its apotheosis back to that legendary storm-wracked three day weekender on the shores of Lake Geneva at the Villa Diodati in the summer of 1816 when the legendary 'Mad, Bad and Dangerous' George Gordon, Lord Byron gathered together the elements of himself, his fellow Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, Shelley's soon to be wife Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, and Byron's personal physician Dr John Polidori - and together they infused the spark of undying life into the nascent Gothic genre.

The horror movie's debt to literature was recognised in James Whale's seminal 1935 The Bride of Frankenstein, which opened with a prologue set at the Villa (recast as the standard Universal Horror storm-lashed turret upon a craggy peak) with Mary (Elsa Lanchester) recounting her tale to Byron (Gavin Gordon) and Shelley (Douglas Walton), a scenario fully fleshed out on film by Ken Russell in Gothic (1986) - a superlative filmic fictionalisation of the epoch-making events of that eventful eldritch evening.

Long before Whale's dramatisation of this dark genesis of not only the nascent Mrs Shelley's Frankenstein but also Polidori's The Vampyre and two decades before William Henry Pratt changed his professional name to Boris Karloff and strapped on the iconic asphalt-spreader's boots and neck bolts in 1931, yet almost a century after that dank and dismal day of dreadful dreaming, the first Frankenstein was filmed by the Edison company at their New York studio facility in the Bronx.

Condensing the plot of the novel down to a one-reeler running a scant silent fifteen minutes, Searle's adaptation introduces us to medical student Victor Frankenstein (played by the splendidly-named Augustus Phillips) saying his goodbyes to his fiancee Elizabeth (Mary Fuller, whose life spanned a tragic arc from being an actress as lauded as Mary Pickford in such roles as the lead in the first ever American film serial What Happened to Mary [Charles Brabin and Ashley Miller, 1912] and the dual role of Mary Mayne and her mother Mrs Mayne in Lucius Henderson's Mayne main event of 1916 The Girl Who Feared Daylight before her career ending abruptly in 1917 and spending her last quarter century in the mental hospital in which she would die) before leaving home to dwell and toil amidst the shaded groves of academe.

After a time jump of two years (swiftly conveyed through an intertitle that also explains to us that Frankenstein has, in this brief span, "discovered the mystery of life" [though not how sweet it is or how he found it - we'd have to wait until Mel Brooks' 1974 Young Frankenstein to have that conveyed to us through the medium of song]), we find the student of the metaphysical sciences pacing pensively in his cluttered quarters, before deciding to pen - or, rather, quill - a letter to his beloved before beginning his alchemical wedding of science and nature:

"Sweetheart: tonight my ambition will be accomplished.  I have discovered the secret of life and death and in a few hours i shall create into life the most perfect human being that the world has yet known", he writes, shortly before all his dreams of an alpine ubermensch are torn asunder.

The cinematic representation of Frankenstein's creation of his creature has since 1931 been indelibly linked in the audience's mind with James Whale's tour de force of thunder and lightning and the crackling, sparking and arcing mechanical apparatus of Kenneth Strickfaden, and yet it's worth remembering that the brief description given in the novel contains nothing of elevating gurneys or kites or lightning rods - "It was on a dreary night of November that i beheld the accomplishment of my toils.  With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, i collected the instruments of life around me, that i might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet" - and indeed reads as much as the work of a magician or an alchemist than a physicist: more sorcery than science.

So Phillips' Frankenstein doesn't go about his act of asexual reproduction (and , let's face it, which student hasn't spent long sweaty hours in his room doing the same?) by sewing together the pieces of cadavers, but pours a sequence of elixirs into a cauldron before closing the fomenting mixture behind iron doors with a handy peep-hole with which to spy on his neon-genesis (evangelion not supplied).  The 'CREATION' sequence really is a tour de force, in which we see his hubbling-bubbling homunculus slowly forming from the frothing elements - apparently achieved via the simple method of burning a waxen figurine and running the film in reverse, we seem to see the flesh congealing and coalescing upon the very bones of the Creature, it's skeletal arm flapping wildly like an errant Muppet as the muscles and flesh begin to form upon it to create the Creature played by Charles Ogle (another veteran of the silent screen, including not only co-starring with Mary Fuller in What Happened to Mary, but also starring opposite her erstwhile rival Mary Pickford in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm [Marshall Neilan, 1917]*): Ogle's creature bears the elevated brow later made famous by Karloff. but also a stooped hunched walk more akin to Quasimodo and a wild shock wig and talon-like fingernails.

After the standard sequences of Frankenstein rejecting his creation, and the Creature stalking his creator and his bride like some flailing human striving to search for Yahweh and Shekhina (but in sepia-tinted black and white and in under a quarter of an hour, so we probably don't have time for philosophy all that much), the Creature finally meets his end when, rejected by his 'father', he catches sight of his reflection and - in rather a good trick shot - at first vanishes to leave nothing in the room itself but only his reflection in the mirror, and then the reflection changes to show only Frankenstein himself.  The nightmare vanishes, to leave only the waking dreamer - the father left to deal with the consequences of his misbegotten, forgotten son.

(*The book The Rivals of Frankenstein by Michel Parry [Corgi, 1977] lists a film entitled Franenstein [sic] of Sunnybrook Farm as a "nudie rip-off" directed by William Rotsler in 1971.  To the best of my knowledge, this is a product of M. Parry's inagination, but answers on a postcard please if anyone knows any better.)

Monday, 2 October 2017

Mockingbird Lane (Bryan Singer, 2012)

In which a telefantasy classic is re-imagined for a new generation by some of the most capable genre-savvy people in TV land, with decidedly mixed results.

As but a small child, i was very into the whole 'Universal Monsters' thing.  Boris Karloff as the eternal Monster from James Whale's classic 1931 Frankenstein, Bela Lugosi as the titular Count from Tod Browning's Dracula and Lon Chaney Jr.'s tragic lycanthrope Lawrence Talbot aka The Wolf Man (George Waggner, 1941) stalked the mist-drenched forests of my dreams and i knew that the night was not what it might seem.  These gruesome spectres of the macabre always had a touch of humour about them to me, however - possibly due to the influence of having seen both Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein (Charles T. Barton, 1948) and The Monster Squad (Fred Dekker, 1987) before the age of eight or so, long before seeing the characters in their original classic cinematic context.

It is for this reason, perhaps, that i always loved both The Addams Family (1964-1966) and The Munsters (also 1964-1966) when they would be rerun on Channel 4 during my misspent, maladroit and maladjusted youth: but especially the latter.  I enjoyed the fact that, being made by Universal television, the show was able to utilise the classic Jack Pierce created looks for the creatures comprising the cast - such as the Karloffian Frankenstein stylings (replete with flat-topped head, anode and cathode duly bolted onto both sides of the neck, and costume of asphalt-spreaders boots and black serge suit) sported by Fred Gwynne as Herman, and Al Lewis' bemedallioned Lugosi-inspired penguin suited Dracula outfit as Grandpa.  They seemed tangible echoes of the real Famous Monsters of Filmland to me, whereas, funny though the show was, i always asked myself who or what the Addamses  were supposed to be?

I even enjoyed - somehow - the late '80s to early '90s revival series The Munsters Today ("We went to sleep twenty years ago / And woke up with a brand new show!"), now in glaucoma-inducing colour NTSC videotape, and starring Catwoman (Lee Meriwether, replacing Yvonne De Carlo as Lily).  One would have thought, therefore, that i would have eagerly looked forward to a 21st century 're-imagining' of The Munsters, especially given a pedigree of being directed by Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects [1995], Apt Pupil [1998], X-Men [2000] and many of its sequels/prequels, and Superman Returns [2006]) and produced and co-showrun by Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies [2007-2009], Hannibal [2013-2015], American Gods [2017-?]), and yet... It wasn't only the dreaded spectre of the 'pilot not picked up to go to series' taint that cast a pall over the project by the time i became aware of its existence: i genuinely didn't want to watch it for the longest time as i didn't want my happy childhood memories of these characters to be tainted with a bad interpretation (i mean, sure, you'd think that John Schuck and company would have done that in the early '90s, but at least that ran for a couple of seasons so someone besides me was watching it).  But the time finally came to bite the (silver) bullet and give this thing a whirl.

Eschewing the original's creaky monochrome Universal horror approach, the Mockingbird Lane pilot opens with a campfire scene more indebted to the early '80s slasher horror genre of The Burning (Tony Maylam, 1981) or the Camp Crystal Lake of Sean S. Cunningham's  1980 Friday the 13th, during which Eddie Munster's werewolf transformation is treated with a seriousness far beyond anything that the Henry Hull-inspired widow's peak of Butch Patrick may have ever called for - young Eddie's (Mason Cook) carnivorous lunar activities at scout camp being covered up as the activities of a "baby bear".  Charity Wakefield (Lois Lane-a-like Lucy in 2016 Doctor Who Christmas special The Return of Dr Mysterio, as well as Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility [John Alexander, 2008] and Mary Boleyn in Wolf Hall [Peter Kosminsky, 2015]) takes on the role of "normal" Munster relative Marilyn, adding a kooky and skew-whiff sense of offbeat menace to the role previously essayed by Beverley Owen, Pat Priest and Hilary Van Dyke.  Unlike those previous 'cute' Marilyns, however, there is the underlying feeling of unease that this one isn't the normal one - she could quite easily go for your throat.

Stepping into the Frankenstein lifts of Herman we have nobody's favourite cast member of Stand By Me (Rob Reiner, 1986), Jerry O' Connell - also of Sliders and Kangaroo Jack and possibly other stuff - playing Herman not as a literal reincarnation of the Karloffian Monster, but as a m,an literally held together by the nuts and bolts and sutures of surgery: stitched and braced together and with a heart on a timer that needs replacing (cue requisite sub-Grinch maudlin US TV sentiment).  Grandpa has Eddie Izzard assuming Al Lewis' role, arriving Salem's Lot-style, his coffin delivered by scared moving men in a van, with rats spilling from his coffin a la Gary Oldman's crepuscular Count in Francis Ford Coppola's cinematic and overwrought 1992 Bram Stoker's Dracula (with a crimson cloak / dressing gown echoing Eiko Ishioka's ruby robe).  Completing the clan is Portia de Rossi (of the sublime Arrested Development 2003-2013) as Lily, who has a glorious entrance (pardon me) as spiders spin her a gossamer cobweb gown over her ethereal form.

The bulk of the pilot's plot consists of the usual 'fish out of water' sitcom tropes, enlivened by Izzard's louche delivery (recoiling from a proffered handshake with "I have a disease") and insistence on his monstrous heritage ("I intend to start drinking again"), and the amusement of the family dinner wherein scout leader Steve has been lured with the intent that Grandpa will drink his blood and Herman will receive his heart but is under the comic misapprehension that he is there to take over Herman's marital duties towards Lily.

An amusing enough update of a fondly recalled classic, but it's no real surprise that it didn't make the cut, as 'twere, in the very cut-throat world of modern television pilots.  Perhaps some things shouldn't be resurrected.

Some things belong dead.