RIP Tobe Hooper

lifeforce1I read the news of Tobe Hooper’s passing today with much sadness- another Horror great gone. In some other alternate universe, Tobe Hooper’s film Lifeforce is revered as the finest bad horror movie ever made. Any film that features a security guard trying to tempt a naked space vampire with a biscuit has got to be one of the greatest, oddest films of all time, and Lifeforce is full of such mad genius. I know most horror fans will refer to Hooper as the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Poltergeist but for me, he’ll always be the Master of Space Vampire movies- in the grandest tradition of Ed Wood, Lifeforce is his undoubted masterpiece.

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1982

As I write this, 35 years ago.

Half a lifetime ago I guess. I was sixteen.

I remember, walking with a group of friends (most of whom I have not seen in decades- in that pre-social media era freindships had a habit of splintering off forever,  lives spinning off like shattered shards of glass). We were walking to another’s house on the other side of our council estate, to play Dungeons and Dragons (we were RPG-junkies for a few years back then). I remember walking down a street as we made our way across, talking about Blade Runner, thinking about the film’s year of 2019. Worked out how many years ahead it was, how old I would be in that year. A time so long-distant to a sixteen-year-old! 2019 was some incredibly far-off shore, a distant alien landmark, way past that other notable year, 2001, that figured so highly in our geek estimations.

It’s odd to consider that Kubrick’s special year was such a landmark to my generation and those before us-  2001: A Space Odyssey! Those very words were exciting, powerful, they carried some kind of arcane meaning. People now, kids, likely look back on it as just any other date, just another old movie. For us it was something bigger than us, something evocative of a space-faring future ambition. We had visions of returning to the moon, going to Mars. Even in 1982 it all seemed a matter of when, not if.

In hindsight, we were pretty stupid. But 1982, 35 years ago, it was another world.

1982 was a year for other worlds. Dungeons and Dragons, Traveller, Runequest, Gamma World. Well, I could go on and on about those RPG days. Back when the acronym TSR meant so much, Gary Gygax was some kind of genius, and Games Workshop was a gateway to incredible places- each of us of our group would pick a game system and create adventures we would later gather to play.  I ran a campaign titled Shadow World using the AD&D rules that went on for years. I still have books and folders of work I wrote for it, up in my loft- it was such a passion of mine that took so much time it’s hard to fathom now. I should have been out fooling around with girls but instead was inside my room dreaming up dark dungeons and evil sorcerers. Well, either that or reading or painting.

I read so much back then- Arthur C Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Robert E Howard…

1982, Arthur C Clarke was still alive and writing, as was Ray Bradbury. Frank Frazetta was still alive. John Buscema and Gil Kane and Gene Colan and so many others I grew up with were still working in comics. I was reading 2000 AD in those days, the comic still in its prime. 1982 was the year they ran the 26-issue Apocalypse War saga in the Judge Dredd strip. Each week after reading each installment I was trading comments with my mate Andy in the halls of our secondary school. Block Mania, East Meg One, War Marshall Kazan, Stubb guns, 400 million dead... it was some glorious soap opera, a comicstrip punk-Charles Dickens that unfolded each week, and we would marvel and moan at the various turns of fate as the saga progressed.

I remember the threat of global nuclear armageddon was very real, so that Apocalypse War storyline seemed very pertinent. We actually went to war that year, an old-fashioned war: Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands and we sent an armada to those small islands thousands of miles away that no-one had even heard of. I remember the daily updates on the news.

1982 was a very good year for films. Its why this blog has its name, for one thing.

Blade Runner, ET, Poltergeist, Star Trek: Wrath of Khan, The Thing, Mad Max 2, Conan.People often refer to it as the ‘summer of 1982’ and of course it was if you were American, but in other countries that incredible summer of genre films was spread out across the year, as releases were not so immediately global then. Wrath of Khan was here in July, The Thing in August (what madness was that?), Blade Runner and Poltergeist in September, Tron in October, and finally E.T. not until December when likely everyone had already seen it on pirate VHS. Video piracy-  how I first saw The Thing and Conan and Mad Max 2 (and The Exorcist, too, that Autumn).

I could never get my head around being able to watch films on-demand at the press of a switch. Even today it seems a bit weird, a bit like sorcery. In 1982 of course it was a slice of the future, but always over someone else’s house; at home we couldn’t afford a VHS machine until we rented one in late 1983.  Those dark Autumn nights of 1982 when we gathered over a freinds house when his parents were out and watched those VHS copies, they linger in my head forever, so intense it almost seems like yesterday. I giggled like some kind of idiot on first watching The Thing (it just seemed so extreme, in hindsight it was probably nervous laughter, not funny ‘ha-ha’ laughter, but I hadn’t seen Dawn of the Dead at that point). I detested Conan for not really being honest to the Howard books (though I made peace with it soon enough on subsequent viewings) and I remember being gobsmacked by the wild kinetics of Mad Max 2.

Backtrack a few months to Easter, 1982, and Tron: I remember playing an RPG over a freinds house and we paused to watch Disneytime on his portable telly. Imagine five or six of us enthralled when they showed a clip of Tron: it was the Lightcycle chase, and this little portable b&w television was suddenly a window into the future. Hell, I was still playing videogames on my Atari VCS and they were nothing like the cgi being thrown around in Tron. We had seen nothing quite like it, it was like something that arrived out of nowhere.

It was like that back then. Films did seem to come from nowhere. I remember every month going into the city to the specialist bookshops, reading all the latest movie news in the latest issues of Starlog, Fantastic Films, Starburst, Cinefantastique, Cinefex. Marvelling at the latest pictures, reading the latest previews/reviews/interviews. There was no internet, films were spoiled less and information harder to come by. Trailers were rarely seen (not available at a whim as they are now).

When I saw Blade Runner that September, I had never seen a single scene beforehand, hardly any pictures. I do remember a film-music programme on the radio on which I heard the sequence of Deckard meeting Tyrell- that was my only experience of that film beforehand. I wonder if that was why the film had such an impact on me back then? Nowadays we see so much, learn so much, before we even see a film. It steals the surprise somehow. It’s so hard to avoid these days.

Back in 1982, films kept their surprises.

 

 

Two greats lost

Sad news today concerning the passing of Martin Landau and George Romero (good grief, as if losing one wasn’t enough, we lose two greats over one weekend).

spasemartinSpeaking as a Brit who grew up in the 1970s, Martin Landau will always be Commander Koenig in Gerry Anderson’s tv series Space:1999. I loved that show when it was first on; it was dark and serious and huge. And like all Anderson shows, it had a killer main title sequence, one of the best to this day.  Over the years it has perhaps not aged very well, but the adult me appreciates its 2001-inspired design and cutting-edge miniature effects, and also the irony of a logistics expert being put in charge of Moonbase Alpha just as all the shit cuts loose. Koenig is the anti-Kirk; intentional or not, it makes for fascinating viewing and it’s fun seeing Koenig so clearly out of his depth and clutching for solutions like some modern-day politician. The less said about the second season the better but the first certainly has some brilliant moments and it remains uniquely positioned as a tv-response to 2001- there’s nothing else quite like it.

But my very favorite memory of Landau remains his remarkable turn in Crimes and Misdemeanors. He’s absolutely fantastic in that film- he really deserved some recognition awards-time for that. It’s a deep and thoughtful film (Woody Allen’s best, for me) and Landau is just incredible.

And of course we also have the news that the Godfather of the Zombie Genre, the great George A Romero has passed away too. It’s a little unfair, but it’s probably only natural that when I think of Romero, I think of Dawn of the Dead. My God, what a film that is. Back in the video-nasty period of the 1980s, an uncut VHS copy of Dawn of the Dead was like some kind of holy grail for horror fans. I remember first watching it, thinking it was the greatest horror film I’d ever seen- so dark, brutal, graphic, twisted and funny. So clever too with its social commentary (as timely now as ever- it just needs shots of zombies with mobile phones to bring it bang up to date).

Of course there was more to Romero than Dawn, and even zombies (although, bless him for embracing it rather than looking down on it or its genre fans). I loved Creepshow. That was so much fun, and he did many great films. Just none quite as great as Dawn for me. That film was just the right film at the right time; it became something more than just a film. It represented something.

Yeah, a very sad news day. We keep on losing these great names that we grew up with. It is only natural I guess as the years march on and we ourselves grow older but it never gets easy- there is a weird feeling of my own past slipping away.

 

My Favourite Web-Slinger

spidey 60Go back some 43 years, and early on a Saturday morning you’d find me lying awake in bed waiting for the familiar noise of a delivery through the letterbox. It was a regular routine, every Saturday through most of my childhood. The rest of the house would be asleep, enjoying a lie-in at the start of the weekend, and I’d usually be awake, light dimly streaming through the curtains, waiting for that noise. I’d hear the swing of the letterbox flap, the sound of the morning newspaper and my Spider-Man comic being pushed through and finally falling to the hallway floor with a dull thud. With that, I’d get out of bed and silently, oh so carefully (woe I woke my parents!) creep down the stairs trying to avoid the creaky spots, go down to the front door, pick up the latest issue of my favorite comic and return upstairs for a read.

I remember how crushing it would be, those rare weeks that only the newspaper was delivered, and my comic missing/delayed. Upset my whole weekend. Was I ever that young, life ever so simple, days so easily crushed?

Spider-Man Comics Weekly was a UK b&w comic that reprinted the American original The Amazing Spider-Man- the first issue of the UK reprint came out in February 1973 (free Spider-man mask that didn’t really resemble the free gift in the tv ads), and it continued into the ‘eighties. I think I read it until about 1980; sometime after the original mag’s Ross Andru run the quality seemed to fall off dramatically and I’d finally grown out of it- remember Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns were several years away, but I’d already been reading 2000 AD and enjoying it’s harder, more grown-up stories. But during the 1970s that weekly ran through all the Steve Ditko run, the John Romita period and into the Ross Andru years- what an astonishing run that was, with the advantage of weekly installments racing through the original monthly run of four-colour comics.

omni 3Why do I mention all of this? Well, the other day my copy of The Amazing Spider-Man Marvel Omnibus Vol.3 was delivered. This fantastic book reprints issues 68 – 104 of the original monthly edition. This period is probably my favourite period of all the Web-Slinger’s adventures. While I will naturally always love the Steve Ditko years, it was this period, with artwork by John Romita, John Buscema (my favourite comic artist) and Gil Kane, that seemed to feature the strip all grown-up and sophisticated. The artwork was wonderful, and the stories brilliant- the Kingpin, the Green Goblin, Dr Octopus, the ‘drugs’ issues, the death of Captain Stacey… these were the issues that blew me away, and being able to own them in this luxury hardcover is like being ten years old again.  Indeed, sometimes I think we never really grow up. I cannot express the joy of reading strips I have not read in decades and yet remember as if I only read them yesterday, they were so burned into my subconscious. I think I forgot how much of a big deal/real love they were to me, those Marvel comics in the 1970s, and of course, to be able to read them in their original colour format, with the original letters pages, is something of a wonder.

So now I have the three Spider-Man Omnibus volumes, and all those original issues from issue 1 through to 104 with annuals etc in between. Hopefully volume 4 will follow in a few years, with the death of Gwen Stacey and through to the Ross Andru era. One day I’ll sit down and read them through and it’ll be like some kind of microcosm of my childhood. But this book, volume 3, is really something special- I’m sure my eyes must light up with the joy of my childhood self as I read it. No, we really don’t ever grow up, not if we’re lucky.

February 21st, 2013

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Today is the fourth anniversary of losing our King Charles Cavalier, Barney. The days and nights and weeks and months have rolled on four years now- at once it seems a long time ago and only yesterday. A gentle rolling mystery of the workings of relentless Time- how can it seem so long ago and yet also seem just a few months ago? So much has changed and so little. It seems a particularly cruel twist of fate that in those four years we have gained and loved and lost another dog, too. With thoughts like that, Barney seems a long distant memory, lost in the tumultuous shadow of our still-intense grief over young Ben.

And yet, today, standing in the back garden where he used to love to run and play, near the sundial that marks where where we buried him, Barney seems to be only yesterday. I can see the bright glitter of his eyes and hear his bark and remember the feel of his fur under my fingers, his weight on my lap (not inconsiderable, he did go to doggy Fat Club, after all). “First rule of Fat Club, we don’t talk about Fat Club,” I used to tell him. “The second rule of Fat Club…” well, you know how that goes, and I’m sure Barney did too. I used to talk to him as if he were human and he used to look back at me with the wearisome patience only dogs have, as if they understand everything and humour their owners with a bored wag of their tail as they wait for mealtime to arrive. Barney sure did love his food. But he did beat Fat Club; he got his weight down -and even featured in our local newspaper, a moment of fame- and lived a month shy of thirteen brilliant years.

The price of loving is the weight of grieving, the currency of love our tears- I shed plenty over Barney. That last week was pretty brutal.

I do think of him often, it’d be impossible not to. Memories of him are everywhere in the house, and the garden. But the tears have dried up, I think, replaced by the fresh ones over Ben. I can think of Barney with warmth and fondness, the sadness faded, while thinking of Ben is still shards of glass twisting in my chest.

As is our tradition, we bought flowers and placed them above the spot where we buried him in our back garden the day after he died. I reserve a special hate for that day, just a week after my birthday that year, digging a hole for my dog under a bitter-grey sky that shed flakes of snow. Why is it that memory reserves a particular ability to remain vivid when it concerns such unpleasant times? It’d be so much more merciful to forget days like that.

Later, we play a disc of video footage of Barney, a time machine to priceless moments that we relive around this time of year. Suddenly he’s alive and barking, its Spring of 2009 and he’s chasing his ball as I kick it around that back garden where he rests now forever. His loud barking fills our room and our Westie, Eddie starts barking back, annoyed at the mystery of a room suddenly filled with the joyous barking of a strange dog.  In the same way as starting  a new journey and adventure with a perfect puppy named Ben helped heal the pain over Barney, the new experiences of our Westie puppy Eddie is helping us heal the pain of losing Ben. I always thought that Ben was a blessing, and the same is true of Eddie. Dogs can be the cure of sadness just as they can be the inescapable cause of sadness.

So today we remember Barney, as we will when its the anniversary of his birthday next month, and we recall birthday morning treats when we gave him a croissant to eat. Yeah, the first rule of Fat Club…

barney-july-2008e

 

Eddie on the run

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Slow news day, so a picture of Eddie from this morning’s walk. Bit blurry, as it’s a snap taken with my phone, but you can tell the little fella was enjoying himself. He did insist on running through mud which necessitated a bath when he got back so his good mood didn’t last long (Westies seem to despise baths/water- at least, this one does).

I’ve been ‘off the grid’ for a few days (Tron lives forever). Its birthday week, you see, in which my family has five birthdays within the space of a week, with Valentine’s day thrown in the middle just for good measure and further expense at the card shop. So its a belated Happy Birthday to me (last Wednesday) and an apology for breaking my daily postings if anybody out there is noticing (hey, I managed from Jan 1st thru to middle of Feb, so not bad).

So whats happening? Well, I’ve been progressing through season 4 of Person of Interest as I bought season 5 a few weeks back and I’m adamant that I’m not buying discs just to leave them on the shelf. I’ve been reading Carrie Fisher’s memoir The Princess Diarist (birthday present) and listening to Max Richter’s Three Worlds: Music From Woolf Works (another birthday present). No doubt I’ll enlarge upon them on subsequent postings. Oh, and I’ve been wasting time shooting bad guys on Sniper Elite 4 of course. The only good Nazi is a dead… well, you know how that goes. And I pulled a 14-hour shift at work on Friday. So I’ve been tired all weekend, but it’s been a great weekend with young Eddie.

 

Run for the hills- he’s talking 2016 Stats

statI’ve been meaning to sum up some of this blog’s 2016 stats (somebody out there loves stats) for the past few weeks, and it’s getting a bit silly now we are into February, so it’s now or never, and I’ll keep it short.

I never got a End-of-year report from WordPress this year, maybe they stopped it. So I’m using the stats from my blogs meta page.

The big deal regards 2016 was attempting to hit 100 new reviews, which I did just about manage. In total with all my other postings,  I managed a grand total of 159 posts for the year. Quite a feat, considering that in all of 2015 I managed just 68 posts. If I manage to maintain a roughly daily post on this blog this year (my crazy target for 2017) that 159 figure should be dwarfed, but that comparison between 2016 and 2015 clearly shows the extra effort I made last year.

The weird thing is (and stats don’t lie, they tell me) something smells odd in Ghost Towers, because the related stats regards ‘hits’ etc are a bit more mysterious. In the face of making over twice the number of posts, the blog’s other stats don’t suggest a similar increase. 2016’s 159 posts received 2,966 visitors and 5,056 views, while 2015’s 68 posts managed 2,306 visitors and 4,478 views. I’m not entirely sure what was going on there. 2015 had better posts, or 2016’s reviews were boring? Or is it, as I suspect, that 2015’s stats keep on rising over time in perpetuity (i.e. WordPress is counting visits to those 2015 posts in both 2015 & 2016, and on into 2017- in other words, those 68 posts have a heck of a head start). Maybe those End-of-Year reports we used to get were more precise.

Otherwise I have to wonder, was my writing worse in 2016, or were all those 100 reviews off-putting/boring, turning people away? Am I- shudder- boring people? With actual reviews taking more of a back seat in 2017 in the face of commentary and news posts as I try keep to a daily posting routine, maybe the figures for this year will show some change. Something to do with pretty much static follower numbers and the vagaries of Google/search engines? I don’t know. Maybe I need to branch out into Facebook and Twitter to raise the blogs profile.

Not that higher visitor numbers are the target of this enterprise anyway, as its not a private site trying to make money. I write this blog for the creative challenge and I value comments and opinions as response more than cold figures anyway, but those 2015/2016 stats are certainly a bit perplexing. Double the posts, double the views, that what I expected to happen, if only as a simple added input/output response. God only knows what will happen with 2017’s figures. Stats are great, don’t ya just love ’em?

Sir John Hurt has died.

kaneKane: I’ll volunteer to be in the first group to go out.

Dallas: Yeah, that figures.

Kane. He was the heroic one. The one with an explorer’s heart. First out of the Hypersleep chamber, first one into danger… first one to succumb to the beast. Only this was the 1970s, and heroes looked kinda ordinary back then. Actors then, they looked like ordinary people, you could identify with them, and nobody looked as normal and ordinary as John Hurt. He always looked like a guy who might live next door or you could share a few pints with in the pub. So Kane, although he was a hero, he was a different kind of hero to what we usually see now. Not someone particularly fit or tall or powerfully-built. I don’t know. Maybe he wasn’t a hero at all. Maybe he was just an ambitious company man eager to make a bonus. Maybe he was a damned fool stuck in a dead end space-trucker job dreaming of the romantic space fantasies of centuries-old fiction, suddenly on the brink of the greatest adventure of all -first contact. In anycase, his heroism/curiosity/ foolishness (delete as applicable) got the better of him, and he got bitched by a facehugger and the rest is history.

Can’t believe I’m writing another one of these again. Waking up to the news this morning that Sir John Hurt had passed away yesterday was another one of those kicks to the gut. Its strange; over the years and so many movies and tv appearances, we get some kind of daft feeling that we ‘know’ these actors, when we clearly really don’t. But we grow attached to them, we re-watch their performances and relish them. Years pass by. We re-watch those performances. They become part of our lives.

Only last weekend I re-watched John Hurt’s remarkable turn as Timothy Evans in 10 Rillington Place. He is so great in that movie. I mean, Hurt will always be Kane to me, from Alien. Its the first role I really saw him in and of course Alien was a pretty big deal to me growing up. I’d see Hurt in so many other roles after that, both from before and after Alien… He was so impressive though in 10 Rillington Place… his Timothy Evans, brash, foolish, easily led, unable to comprehend the events overcoming him, he seems so real with Hurt playing him. I thought he was brilliant in 1984… amazing in The Elephant Man… man, he was in some really great movies, and he was great in them. His face seemed lived-in, real, his voice… he had a great voice. Anybody remember him in the short-lived tv series, The Storyteller? He was brilliant in that. But he’ll always be Kane in Alien to me. I’ve watched that film so many times, seen that little bastard leap out of Kane’s chest so many times… well.

RIP John Hurt. I’ll raise a glass to your shade tonight. I guess this is the times we live in, but 2017 is quickly carrying on like it’s 2016.