Thursday, 28 October 2021

PLAYLIST: Spooky Isles Halloween Radio Show 2021

 



I have the honour of hosting this Hallows Eve special, where the Spooky Isles team choose some of their favourite Halloween tracks for your listening pleasure, and chat about their selections. There's also some prime cuts from Brit-horror film and TV soundtracks. Why not join us? 

Click the play button and listen here, or find out more about the Spooky Isles authors and view the full tracklist over at SpookyIsles.com.


Thursday, 2 September 2021

PLAYLIST: Pop Injustice 1965-69



Inspired by the #PopInjustice hashtag on Twitter, highlighting great singles which never got the chart success they deserved. 19 tracks (or a perfect C60, if you like) from 1965-69, all great singles that never made the UK top 50. Pop, soul, freakbeat, out-and-out psych, everything that made late 60's UK pop great. There's people who would never score a hit, then there's big names making a commercial misstep. There's something for everyone, so click the play button and I hope the sleevenotes below are informative (or at least prompt you to further investigate some top notch acts).



The Poets – That’s The Way It’s Got To Be (1965) - Decca F12074 

When this Glasgow band’s Decca debut, Now We’re Thru crept to number 31 there were probably high hopes for the follow-up, but the brilliant That’s The Way It’s Got To Be bafflingly didn’t register. It did, however find its way onto the soundtrack of Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster (1965). Go figure.

 

The Eyes – When The Night Falls (1966)Mercury MF881 

Their first two corking singles for Mercury (of which this was the first) were also combined on a most desirable EP. When The Night Falls has been often comped since, and quite rightly. After two further singles and a budget collection of Stones covers (credited to The Pupils), The Eyes disappeared but would eventually gain cult immortality.

 

The Bats – Listen To My Heart (1966)Decca F22534 

With success in their native South Africa, The Bats tried their luck in the UK, recording Listen To My Heart for Decca. A self-penned cracking blue-eyed soul track, it failed to click at the time but has since found its admirers. Two further releases for Decca sank likewise and the band had returned home before 1967 was out. 

 

Honeybus – (Do I Figure) In Your Life (1967)Deram DM152 

If The Left Banke were the US kings of baroque pop, then Honeybus are the UK’s monarchs. They hit the top 10 with I Can’t Let Maggie Go, but none of their other fine singles for Deram came anywhere near repeating the success. Still, (Do I Figure) In Your Life would get covers from Joe Cocker and Paul Carrick.

 

P.P. Arnold – Everything’s Gonna Be Alright (1967)Immediate IM040 

The former Ikette’s opening shot for Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate label, a bouncy soulful track which bafflingly didn’t chart, although Arnold would fare much better with her next release, The First Cut Is The Deepest.

 

Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera – Flames (1967)CBS Direction 58-3083 

So close for this one, it lurked on the Breakers list for a week but didn’t quite make the Top 50 proper. It did, however end up in a lot of homes thanks to its inclusion on the CBS sampler album, The Rock Machine Turns You On.

 

Dusty Springfield – What’s It’s Gonna Be (1967)Philips BF1608 

A rare 60’s flop for Dusty but, following the massive success of You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me both Philips and the public were perhaps pigeon-holing her as a ballad singer. This unjustly ignored soul belter perhaps indicated more where her heart truly lay.

 

The Creation – How Does It Feel To Feel? (1967)Polydor 56230/US Decca 32227 

There were different mixes for this record’s respective UK and US releases, but I’ve opted for the US version with its crunching, bowed guitar. This was the version that provided the template for Ride’s cover.

 

The Action – Shadows And Reflections (1967)Parlophone R5610 

They were mentored by The Beatles’ producer George Martin, but despite his best efforts The Action never had a hit. Shadows And Reflections was their last Parlophone release.

 

Denny Laine – Say You Don’t Mind (1967)Deram DM122 

In between leaving The Moody Blues and joining Paul McCartney’s Wings, Laine released Say You Don’t Mind and if it flopped, it wasn’t for lack of trying on Deram’s part – they released the single three times in the hope of a hit. Colin Blunstone would eventually take it to the top 10 in 1972.

 

Fairport Convention – Meet On The Ledge (1968)Island WIP6047 

It may have become Fairport Convention’s signature song, but singles buyers weren’t biting in 1968. When they re-recorded the track for their 20th anniversary in 1987, violinist Ric Sanders apparently joked: “We're going to release it every 20 years until it's a hit"

 

Warm Sounds – Night Is-A Comin’ (1968)Deram DM174 

They made the UK top 30 with the baroque-tinged Birds And Bees in ’67, but the storming Nite Is A Comin’ (with its backwards b-side Smeta Murgaty) sounds like the work of a completely different outfit. It turned out to be their parting shot on Deram.

 

Calum Bryce – Love-Maker (1968) Conder PS1001 

Originally a TV-ad jingle for Woodpecker Cider, Love-Maker’s breakbeat-friendly nature means that original copies on the Conder label now sell for insane prices. This was the only release from Calum Bryce.

 

The Factory – Path Through The Forest (1968)MGM 1444 

Quite rightly now considered one of the finest UK Psych singles, this sank without trace when released on MGM in 1968, so much so that demo copies are said to be more common than the ones that reached the shops.

 

Pink Floyd – Point Me At The Sky (1968) Columbia DB8511 

A Roger Waters/David Gilmour collaboration, its failure convinced both the band and EMI that they should concentrate on albums, and they would not release another UK single until Another Brick In The Wall in 1979. However, more recently Nick Mason’s Saucerful Of Secrets band revived Point Me At The Sky in their setlist.

 

The Zombies – Time Of The Season (1968)CBS 3380 

It enjoyed an amazing afterlife when it broke through in the USA the following year, but in 1968 Time Of The Season was yet another unfair flop and a muted coda for a band who had released one of the classiest runs of singles to grace the decade. The Zombies broke up, but their later rediscovery and resurgence was a timely reminder that the good stuff always finds its audience eventually.

 

The Flirtations – Nothing But A Heartache (1968)Deram DM216 

It can genuinely surprise people when you tell them that this track was recorded in the UK, but the ex-pat Flirtations did indeed record a string of great soul singles for Deram in Decca’s London studios. Ironically for the band trying their luck in the UK, the single did score them a US top 40 placing. Regardless, it is now a bona fide classic.

 

The Kinks – Shangri-La (1969)Pye 7N 17812 

It seemed that The Kinks couldn’t get arrested in 1969, although this five-minute-plus epic track from the Arthur project might seem a curious choice of single in retrospect. Lola would restore them to the top ten the following year.

 

Wallace Collection – Daydream (1969)Parlophone R5764 

This Belgian band recorded their magnum opus at EMI’s Abbey Road studio, and took their name from the nearby gallery but failed to score a hit in the land where they recorded it. Nonetheless, it did well in 20-odd other countries and has proven remarkably durable. The song (in a different version by The Gunter Kallmann Choir) would provide the bedrock for Daydream In Blue by I Monster (2001) and The Beta Band’s Squares (2002).

 

Monday, 23 August 2021

MOVIE: A New World Order (aka A Living Dog) (2019)

 



A New World Order (aka A Living Dog) 

Directed by Daniel Raboldt 

Starring Stefan Ebel, Siri Nase 

Hewes Pictures/Nocturnus FIlm 2019 


An unspecified date in the future: Tomasz (Ebel) is part of a troop fighting a legion of mechanical creatures, the A-Mech Mark 8. Created by the Igacho Corporation for the apparent benefit of humankind, these intelligent creatures have turned their attentions to wiping out the entire population and taking over. 

When the soldier next to him meets a nasty end at the hands of the enemy (who are clearly winning this war), Tomasz decides to take the survival option, flees in a VW van and holes up in a remote, abandoned house in the heart of a vast forest. 

It turns out that the house isn’t as abandoned as it looks: Out inspecting a malfunction in his portable forcefield (now there’s a handy gadget), Tomasz gets a full-on whack around the mush from some heavy-duty kit wielded by Lilja (Hase), who is holed up in the woods obsessively tinkering with parts from disassembled A-Mechs when a bound and gagged Tomasz eventually comes around. 

Lilja is Russian, but it’s just as well that the two don’t speak the same language for the A-Mechs pick up on their prey by detecting the sound of their voices. Without the benefit of verbal communication, Tomasz faces the difficult task of demonstrating to a clearly suspicious Lilja that he is not a threat to her, whilst working out how to evade and survive the threat from the A-Mechs.

Meanwhile, Lilja has a bigger plan in mind… 


Lilja (Siri Nase) confronts an A-Mech in A New World Order (aka A Living Dog) (2019)

Originally going by the less prosaic (if possibly more intriguing) title of A Living Dog, the renamed A New World Order comes to UK screens two years after it debuted on the festival circuit. It’s by no means the only film to have its distribution disrupted by global events beyond its control, but I would say this one has been well worth waiting for. 

The creatures are like a more angular cross between the fighting machines of Jeff Wayne’s musical version of War Of The Worlds (1978) and the BBC’s take on John Christopher's The Tripods (1984-85), and they are very impressive on the screen, especially when one considers that A New World Order is a very small independent production, initially supported through a Kickstarter campaign. 

Ebel and Nase do fantastic work in the leads, entirely mute save for one repeated line each – you can totally believe the difficulties with expressing and explaining themselves to each other, and the two get enough of the anguish from their characters’ back-stories across to make for some truly poignant moments without bogging down the film in unnecessary diversions. 

This is demonstrated no better than when we learn that Lilja has suffered a deep personal loss in this war – the bare details we have are enough for us to feel for her. No further explanation is needed. Likewise, a brief flashback to a terrible act by Tomasz as he flees the warzone is enough to make us think a bit more about our view of him. 

Ultimately a tale of (to a certain extent) tragedy and (to a larger degree) redemption, Daniel Raboldt’s film is a textbook exercise in getting one hell of a lot out of very little. It’s tempting to wonder what he could pull off with bigger resources, but the sheer economy of scale works so well in the favour of A New World Order that my selfish side wants to see what else he could pull off with similar restraints. 

In a nutshell, A New World Order is an effective little gem. 

A New World Order is out on UK digital platforms from Reel 2 Reel Films on August 23rd 2021.

 

FOOTNOTE: Just a point to consider for anyone thinking “Enemy creatures picking up the sound of the human voice? A Quiet Place did that already!” – Work on this film began in 2016, a full two years before A Quiet Place was released.


MOVIE: Random Acts Of Violence (2019)



Random Acts Of Violence 

Directed by Jay Baruchel 

Starring Jesse Williams, Jordana Brewster, Jay Baruchel, Niamh Wilson, Simon Northwood 

Elevation Pictures/Manis Film/Kickstart Productions 2019

 

“Nobody ever talks about the victims, and those are the people who matter!” 

It’s a pertinent point, one which put me in mind of Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five, the book in which the writer cast a spotlight on Jack The Ripper’s victims and effectively challenged the tendency of the true crime genre to focus its energies on the mindset of the killer and treat the victims as less important, passing two-dimensional characters. 

It’s perhaps the conflict between a voracious public appetite for serial killer stories and the comparative lack of interest in the detailed backgrounds of their victims that underpins Random Acts Of Violence, where the above point is raised by Kathy (Brewster): She’s working on a serious study of a series of killings which (in this film’s universe) took place on a stretch of Interstate-90 from 1989 to 1992. Her husband, Todd (Williams) has taken a very different inspiration from the same events, for the perpetrator of those crimes is represented as anti-hero Slasherman, the star of Todd’s long-running comic book series. 

The pair have been travelling along that same stretch of highway to attend a comic-con where Todd is doing the usual meet-and-greet duties for a queue of adoring fans, and the two have been joined by Todd’s friend Ezra (Baruchel) and assistant Aurora (Wilson). When the travelling party pulls into a ramshackle gas station en route, Ezra thinks it might be a wheeze to restock the store’s depleted magazine rotunda with some of Todd’s back-issues of Slasherman. 

A later customer browses the impromptu comic display and takes a particular interest in the Slasherman volumes, and when Todd is being interviewed for a radio phone-in, a cryptic call (claiming to be from someone sharing the name of one of the killer’s earlier victims) gives the coded message: “1, 12, 18”. 

It heralds the beginning of a new series of murders on I-90, which mimic scenes from some of the more grisly comic panels. The mimicry is pulled into sharp focus when the travellers get a close-up glimpse of the aftermath of a group slaying, and the killings gradually get closer to home. 

As Todd faces accusations that his fictional killings might be inspiring real-life acts of violence, there are times when one wonders whether Random Acts Of Violence concurs with that viewpoint and is effectively biting the hand that feeds it: Fans of horror comics, or horror movies for that matter might occasionally feel like the script is having a go at them. 

Still, I would argue that the ultimate revelation of the real reason why the killings have resumed not only subverts that notion but casts a very different light on Todd’s motivations for creating the comics in the first place, and it still seems fair game to point at the more unnerving end of fandom when a fan proudly shows off his hand-crafted model of Slasherman’s truck, complete with a very carefully detailed, miniature torture victim tied up in the trailer – after all, haven’t we all encountered that fan who takes it just that bit too far? 

The moral viewpoint may shift throughout the film, but perhaps that’s the point. With its admirable subversion and challenging of slasher tropes, and some genuinely unsettling and tense moments Random Acts Of Violence is the kind of film that starts a conversation once the credits roll, and it's a conversation worth having.

Random Acts Of Violence is out on blu-ray in the UK from Acorn Media on August 23rd 2021.

MOVIE: Eye Without A Face (2021)

 


Eye Without A Face 

Directed by Ramin Niami 

Starring Dakota Shapiro, Luke Cook, Vlada Verevko, Rebecca Berg, Ashley Elyse Rogers, Evangeline Neuhart, Sarah Marie. 

Sideshow 2021


Henry (Shapiro) lives a mostly solitary life, indulging in the dubious practice of monitoring several local ladies whose webcams he has hacked into. Henry holds one-way conversations with them as though they are close acquaintances but the only meaningful in-person interaction he has is with his lodger, out of work actor Eric (Cook) who imagines that he can trade off his lack of rent by offering Henry friendship of sorts. 

The girls that Henry watches over are a disparate group: there’s online influencer Ella (Marie), musician-in-a destructive-relationship Sky (Neuhart) and Tessa (Rogers), a webcam model who argues on the phone with her mother about her chosen profession. 

Their day-to-day lives are overshadowed for Henry by that of Laura (Verevko), who seems to have a string of short-lived boyfriends in the truest sense of the term, since they are seen being taken upstairs but never seen leaving. Putting the available evidence together in his head, Henry is convinced that he is watching a serial killer at work, a notion only confounded when he sees her dragging what appears to be a corpse-packed bin bag across the living room. 

Questions are raised as the film progresses: Is Henry putting two and two together but coming up with five? Does he have his own demons to deal with? Is there more than one killer at large? 

Eric takes drastic steps to convince Henry that the whole thing is a flight of fancy, fuelled by his insular and obsessive pastime and even goes so far as to bring him face-to-face with one of his online coterie but, as things reach a head it’s clear that (for a few characters at least) this spiralling situation is not going to end well… 

The script aims at ambiguity over who is perpetrating what but ends up becoming somewhat muddled, and the contrasting elements of voyeuristic horror, slasher mayhem and what verges on buddy-com banter between Henry and Eric never quite manage to reconcile. Still, for all that Eye Without A Face is still a worthy attempt to shake up some familiar ingredients: Rear Window (1954) is an obvious reference, and there is also a climactic moment which is akin to an up-to-date take on Peeping Tom (1959). 

Also on the plus side, the presentation is striking with a top notch lead performance from Dakota Shapiro, sparking memories of Elijah Wood’s turn in the Maniac redux (2012). Even if it doesn’t quite manage to coalesce its parts into a truly satisfying whole, Eye Without A Face has more than enough going for it to merit your investigation. 

Eye Without A Face is out on UK digital platforms from 101 Films on August 23rd 2021.

Monday, 16 August 2021

MOVIE: Scare Me (2020)

 


Scare Me 

Directed by Josh Ruben 

Starring Josh Ruben, Aya Cash, Chris Redd, Rebecca Drysdale 

Irony Point/Artists First 2020

 

When writer Fred (Ruben) checks in to a remote cabin in an attempt to break his writer’s block, he meets another writer, Fanny (Cash) who is staying nearby. When a power cut hits the area on a stormy night, Fanny drops-in and the two decide to pass the hours by regaling each other with scary stories… 

So far, it’s the ideal set-up for a horror anthology picture, but Scare Me has a nice twist up its sleeve: Where one would expect the scene to cut away elsewhere for a cast of players to unwind each tale, the action instead unfolds within the cabin as Fred and Fanny act out their tales, at first individually but the process becomes an increasingly collaborative one as the film progresses. 

There’s an interesting undercurrent to the interplay between the two: Fanny is already a success with a bestseller under her belt, while Fred is struggling to reach first base with his premiere effort and it’s interesting that Ruben has made his feature debut as writer/director by casting himself as someone who clearly can’t put his ideas across successfully: Fanny can’t help herself in correcting his grammar, pointing out his plot holes and interjecting with her own improvements. 

A break between tales reveals a message on Fred’s phone that indicates a personal life in disarray, making his attempt at an artistic breakthrough all the more desperate. Any potential tension from that revelation is temporarily dispersed by the arrival of a much needed pizza, delivered by Carlo (Redd), a horror-fan who is awe-struck by the revelation that Fanny is the author of his favourite book. 

Carlo joins in for a stimulant-fuelled run-through of Fanny’s novel but, with his eventual departure to continue his rounds the chasm between Fred and Fanny’s respective lives and achievements becomes all too clear and the storytelling takes a darker turn as dawn approaches… 

Ruben and Cash bounce off each other brilliantly – indeed, the cast dive into things with aplomb and there’s the feeling (in a good way, I assure you) that there was a fair bit of spontaneous wordplay flying around this set. 

Scare Me perhaps carries on too long for its own good (dare I say most of the pizza-delivery-guy section disrupts the flow and could have been dropped?), the disjointed nature makes for an uneven ride and the final gear shift into more chilling territory doesn’t quite have the impact it should, but that’s not to say that the denouement isn’t a satisfactory one by any means. 

Genre fans will enjoy the references to various touchstones (Poltergeist, Halloween, Jaws and many more are namechecked) and regardless of any reservations noted above, for its refreshing take on the horror anthology idiom Scare Me is a fascinating feature debut well worth seeing – I’m certainly intrigued enough to seek out Ruben’s filmic take on video game Werewolves Within (2021).

 

Scare Me is available on UK blu-ray from Acorn Media from August 16th 2021

Tuesday, 3 August 2021

August 2021 Update

I've been spending plenty of time over at Spooky Isles recently,  with lots of UK/Ireland related activity but it's looking to be a bumper month for new releases from further afield,  with a few interesting Horror-related titles coming up for late August (anyone would think Halloween had arrived early!):

Tigers Are Not Afraid,  A New World Order,  Eye Without A Face and Random Acts Of Violence all hit the UK on August 23rd, while Wired Shut follows on August 30th - more news/reviews nearer the release dates.



Meanwhile, my Thriller episode guide for Brian Clemens' classic anthology series has reached the end of series five over at Spooky Isles, where you'll also find reviews of some recent film releases -  The Deadly Bees (1966) arrived on Blu-Ray,  whilst newer productions include Tharun Mohan's debut The Darkness  and the very impressive The Green Sea, also a debut feature from Randal Plunkett.

The Darkness

The Green Sea

Last but not least, there's coverage of Sacrifice with a review and an interview with directors Andy Collier and Tor Mian.

Sacrifice

Meanwhile, you can find me over on Twitter @RPJWrites