Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Shaun Hutson's Terminator

The fly crawled into the wound, feasting on the dark fluid within. Terminator ignored it as it nudged deep into the gash on his face. The skin was torn in many places, some of the cuts mottled green and blue where gangrene had begun to set in. The flies swarmed over the putrescent repast like gourmets. The cyborg could smell its own odour. The tiny hotel room was rank with it, a thick fetid stench which clogged the air and was made worse by the stifling heat...
Shaun Hutson, The Terminator

It seems an unlikely pairing, James Cameron’s stylish hi-tech sci-fi thriller and splatterpunk novelist Shaun Hutson, but back in 1984 UK publishers Star commissioned Hutson to write a novelization of Cameron’s film to tie in with its January 1985 release in the UK and Ireland. By all accounts neither party was terribly enthusiastic about the project. Hutson reportedly completed his assignment in just 15 days, and the novelization was not published in the US. Instead a more substantial, expansive and what might be best described as official novelization was penned by Randall Frakes and Bill Wisher and published in the US in November 1985. Of the two Terminator novelizations, the Frakes and Wisher book is probably the one best recommended for Terminator scholars. I've read in tandem with Hutson's novelization, a advanced draft of The Terminator screenplay, dated April 20th 1983 and the novelization closely follows, almost scene-for-scene, the screenplay, even dialogue in most cases remains unchanged. That’s not to say Hutson’s pass at the film should be disregarded. Before the advent of the 2001 Special Edition Terminator DVD, Hutson's novelization was one of the few sources of information on scenes that never made the final cut, and even today, with The Terminator mythos thoroughly explored in numerous books and websites, the novelization can still surprise with a few interesting diversions.

Two scenes that most likely were not filmed involve two supporting characters. Early in the novelization, readers are introduced to redhead Ginger Ventura and boyfriend Matt, when Sarah meets both at a gym. It's a minor, lightweight scene that no one would miss. The second lost scene is more substantial though and serves to introduce the character of the weary lieutenant Ed Traxler, first seen attending the home of the second murdered Sarah Connor:
Lying face down was a young woman, although it was hard to ascertain her age at first glance. Her upper body was a torn mess, a congealed puddle of blood having spread out around her. Part of the back of her skull had been blasted away revealing the sticky grey brain matter beneath.
‘Sarah Connor?’ he said. ‘That can’t be right. That’s the name of the one from Valley Division this afternoon.’
Vukovich shrugged and handed something to his superior
‘No doubt about the name. Here, we got her driver’s licence.’
‘You gotta be kidding me,’ Traxler said. ‘Jesus Christ. A one-day pattern killer. The newsboys will be short-stroking over this one.’ He looked down at the driver’s licence, hoping that there was some kind of mistake. There wasn’t.
Cameron judiciously transposed this bit of exposition to the police station for the film, but the scene as originally written lends Traxler a more profound connection to the unfolding events - when Sarah is later stalked by the Terminator in the police station, the critically injured Traxler hands Reece his gun and implores him to keep Sarah alive, suggesting that he believes what Reece had spoken about during his interrogation.

If the Frakes and Wisher book is now considered the definitive novelization of the film, Shaun Hutson's book has at least one important plot point not found in its US counterpart. After Sarah and Reece regroup at the Tikki motel, Sarah tries to convince Reece to destroy the Cyberdyne Systems plant which she locates in the phonebook. The plan is ultimately scotched when the Terminator resumes his pursuit but by a strange twist of fate, the climactic battle between Sarah and the Terminator takes places at the Cyberdyne manufacturing plant, where two of its personnel recover one of the cyborg chips. Interestingly there seems to have been some confusion on Hutson's part about what the computer system that waged war on humanity is actually called, referring to it as Skynet, but also as Titan. The word Titan eerily anticipates James Cameron's 1997 film Titanic but I could find no evidence that it sprang from an early Terminator screenplay draft. Perhaps Shaun Hutson was sneaking in a reference to Trident, the United Kingdom's nuclear missile programme established just a few years earlier in 1980.


A noteworthy aspect of the book is the naming convention used for the cyborg assassin. For the bulk of the novelization, Hutson refers to the T-800 as simply Terminator, without the definite article, which is not restored until the story's climax. This initially threw me off, thinking it was an ill-advised idiosyncrasy of the author, but the inconsistency is explained in the April 1983 screenplay which contains this bit of action:
The last flakes of flesh are falling from him like burning leaves. His gleaming structure is revealed in all its intricacy. No longer a 'He', but an 'It'. It looks like Death rendered in steel.
And for the remainder of the screenplay, the cyborg is referred to as The Terminator, which Hutson duly follows for the rest of the novelization.

Friday, 3 January 2020

Morbid Angel

Mickey Rourke as the private detective with an identity crisis in Alan Parker's 1987 film Angel Heart...


A freshly unearthed memory of first seeing this film on a trip to London, nearly 30 years ago was the inspiration for last night's screening, and for the most part I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting this unlikely voodoo Horror film noir hybrid. Fangoria readers were treated to some outrageously gory shots from the production in issue 63 ("Sam Spade goes to Hell") which may have set expectations a tad too high when the film finally arrived, to chilly notices. Despite the dark and nightmarish imagery of Midnight Express and Pink Floyd: The Wall, I don't think Parker had much of an affinity with the Horror genre, which was just fine - I thought the film was most enjoyable when it worked thru the noir conventions - the labyrinthine plotting, the detective with a mysterious past, the dimly lit interiors and so on. It was only when the film strayed too far into Horror film territory in the final reel did it falter, including a ridiculous shot of Robert De Niro's character which left no doubt about his diabolical origins. Still, there was much to enjoy - Mickey Rourke is tremendous as the tormented private eye who makes Elliot Gould's Philip Marlowe look sharply dressed and the production design is impeccable. Michael Seresin's camerawork, all expressionist shadows and autumnal hues, quite brilliantly underscores the film's sense of moral corruption, but watching the film last night I had to wonder how it might have played had it been lensed in noirish black and white...

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Streetcleaner at 30

I must not let the day go by without mentioning another anniversary. 30 years ago today, Earache unleashed Godflesh's debut long-player Streetcleaner and the world was never the same again. Actually I didn't catch up with the album until 1991 after hearing the title track on Earache's Grindcrusher compilation and I immediately sought out the album (on cassette if my memory serves me right). Streetcleaner is often spoken about as a landmark metal album, but at the time, it didn't sound like any kind of metal I had heard, with its abrasive, screeching guitars, thudding bass and the clean, mechanical precision of the computer-programmed drum beats. Godflesh was evolving fast: by the time Streetcleaner was cut, the band had shaken off the Swans influences heard on the eponymous 6-track EP recorded the year earlier, and the group would move even further out with the subsequent Slavestate recordings. In many ways Godflesh heralded the beginning of the end of my teenage metal years - the music of John Zorn's Painkiller, and Mick Harris' post Napalm Death excursions into isolationism and dub seemed far more interesting than the next Morbid Angel and Deicide albums. When Godflesh's 1992 album Pure came out Justin Broadrick was talking about the influence of hip-hop and Eric B. & Rakim's Paid in Full on the music and it sent me down new avenues of investigation that no longer seemed compatible with death metal. And astonishingly Broadrick was just 20 years old when Streetcleaner was recorded.

Monday, 4 November 2019

Andrei Rublev - the Japanese laserdisc

One last Andrei Rublev post... I recently picked up the 1990 Japanese laserdisc, purely as an objet 'art, and it is rather lovely. Surprisingly simple in its art direction, (for a Japanese laser) and keeping with Pioneer's Soviet Film Collection line (which also includes Tarkovsky's 1961 film The Steamroller and the Violin, and Donatella Baglivo's 1984 documentary Andrei Tarkovsky: A Poet in the Cinema), the spare design - a simple gatefold with stills and Japanese text, matches well the austerity of the film. And for the record the 4 sides house the 182min version.




The Mysteries of Rublev

Last week my mother presented me with the 1974-1975 annual Film Review book, once part of my film book collection until it mysteriously disappeared never to be seen again. It was found quite by accident, stashed away on top of a wardrobe at her home, where it had accumulated the dust of the ages. Reading the capsule film reviews of the year covered, I chanced upon an entry for Andrei Rublev, which had some interesting devil in the detail. I knew the film had taken several years to emerge out of the Soviet Union, but I was surprised to learn that the film’s first non-festival playdate in the UK was as late as 1973.


My initial thought was that the Film Reviewer had seen the film in rep, but not so - according to BBFC records, the film was first examined and certified in August 1973, and was issued an AA cert with cuts. The Film Review entry notes the film was screening the following month at Camden’s Bloomsbury Cinema (now the Curzon Bloomsbury), but I was less than sure - turning to Sight and Sound magazine from the same era, I could find no mention of the film’s release, although the film’s unavailability was mentioned in the Spring 1973 issue, where Ivor Montagu, in his Tarkovsky retrospective lamented: "Who has it here and what, if anything they intend eventually to do with it has not yet transpired. Our loss". Fortunately, the October 1973 issue of Films and Filming put the matter to rest, when that issue carried an ad for the film’s London run (photographed from my copy below).


Interesting too, that this version of the film distributed by Columbia-Warner ran 145mins, well short of the 182min international version. BBFC cuts aside, I was curious to know how this truncated version of the film was prepared, whether some editor shorted or eliminated sequences considered longueurs, or perhaps were episodes within the film simply removed a la the original theatrical release of Kwaidan. Perhaps a clue can be found in Margaret Tarratt’s’s lengthy and thoughtful review of the film in the November 1973 issue of Films and Filming: “It is in many ways complex and difficult to follow although something of this may be due to the cuts that have apparently been made”. The next appearance of the film in BBFC records comes in 1991 where the 182min was passed uncut for theatrical and home video distribution by Artificial Eye, which would suggest that Tarkovsky’s preferred version of the film, was only finally unveiled to UK audiences, some 25 years after the film was completed. But chatting with film writer and DVD producer Michael Brooke on Facebook earlier, it seems the 182min version did do the rounds of rep houses in the 80's, while the film had two known TV screenings on BBC - one in 1976 (length unknown), and a second airing in 1987. Abel Ferrara biographer Brad Stevens confirmed to me that the 1987 screening contained the complete shot of the horse falling down the staircase which was eliminated from all BBFC-sanctioned editions of the film, so I'm wondering if the BBC had access to the 205min version ?

Friday, 1 November 2019

Essentials

Well sadly I didn't get to watch any Horror films last night, but no matter, there will be time enough - as far as I'm concerned Halloween ripples across the whole month of Samhain (November). But had I time and the mental fortitude, I might have spent the entire day watching this desert island selection - no wildcards, no pretensions, just ten beloved films that have been with me since adolescence...

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Drones, atmospheres and a touch of depravity - A Halloween playlist

I may not get to watch any Horror films today so instead I'm lining up as many scary records as I can. A Halloween playlist of sorts, and we're starting with a huge slab of kosmiche weirdness courtesy of Tangerine Dream's 1972 album Zeit. It's not my favourite TD album, but it's certainly the scariest - 4 sides of unnerving atmospheres and drones, the album subtitled "A Largo in Four Movements", perhaps a nod to the album's classical undertones. All the usual spacey cliches come to the fore with Zeit, but the sci-fi trappings soon peel away with those long abrasive Ligetti-like cello lines that open the album. This is music heard in the cold empty wastes of endless space, or the abandoned alien city of Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness. It's a long grueling 75min trek and if you can make it to the end, you have my complements.


****

This next selection is very much the Horror-film-by-proxy. I won’t get to see The Shining, or The Exorcist this evening but I can certainly listen to them, and this collection of Krzysztof Penderecki works contains selections from those films (and INLAND EMPIRE). Across this double CD, the Polish composer turns the traditional orchestra into an avant-garde labyrinth of woozy strings, brooding rumbles, ominous silences and disruptive percussive effects. It’s good to listen to this collection again, and hear those pieces so familiar from The Shining in their entirety, rather than the fragments Kubrick selected, judiciously so it must be said. As well as the titles listed above, James Horner's score for Aliens is strongly reminiscent of Penderecki's work especially the 1976 piece The Dream Of Jacob, included in this collection (and one of the pieces heard in The Shining)


****

Carrion for Worm, the 1991 long-player from Arizona’s Nuclear Death is quite possibly the most unnerving album that emerged from the first wave of Death Metal. Deicide waged war on Christianity, and Cannibal Corpse and Autopsy drenched their albums in outrageous splatter but Nuclear Death were genuinely out on a limb, and lyrically their songs read like extracts from the diaries of Se7en’s John Doe.

Little boy with little penis
plays his organ in the dark;
his lust will forever be
with the feces of his homosexual lovers;
the boy will forever dine
on the feces of his homosexual lovers;
Little boy, perverted boy
don't grow up, just die...

Indeed. Carrion for Worm is a fantastic sounding album, with churning distorted guitars, grindcore velocity blast beats, and the demonic howl of vocalist Lori Bravo, a rare case of a woman fronting an extreme metal group. It's a shame the band never clawed its way out of the underground. Last year I read Choosing Death, a very good account of the early Death Metal scene and the author mentioned the mighty Bolt Thrower and their female bass player - a singular case of a woman in a death metal band. Evidently the author never heard of Nuclear Death.

Samhain

Dr. Sam Loomis explains a cryptic message left behind in Halloween 2... It's a favourite scene for many in Rick Rosenthal's enjoyable sequel, but I always cringe at Donald Pleasance's skewed pronunciation of the Gaelic word Samhain - which should have sounded phonetically speaking as "sow (as in the word for a female pig, sounds like south) in". Perhaps John Carpenter thought Samhain would sound too weird for American audiences, but Loomis, and Englishman supposedly well versed in Celtic mythology should have known better. I say supposedly because Samhain is not "the end of summer", but the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter - the Irish word for November is in fact Samhain, and here today in Ireland we are celebrating Oíche Shamhna (pronounced eee-ha how-na). Thankfully, that good Wexford man Dan O'Herlihy got it right in Season of the Witch...

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Advice to fellow bloggers

I'm getting increasingly fed up by the amount of blogs that carry advertising. Just this morning, the content of two blogs I landed on was so interwoven with loud, dynamic advertising that I soon tired of both and went elsewhere. Which was a shame because both blogs looked so enticing – the first was an impressive trainspotter’s Beatles blog, while the second, was a blog post which examined the differences between the longer and shorter versions of Andrei Rublev. The latter was especially regretful – the author had clearly put some effort into the work, illustrating his text with screen grabs from the different versions, but disastrously, every second or third screenshot was interspersed with an ad, ruining what was a perfectly good post. For the humble blog with a small readership, ads are a bad strategy. Next to nothing will be made in revenue for the smaller, more personal journals, and no matter how well written and designed a blog is, the function of the ad is to draw readers attention away from content the author might have spent some time crafting. Ads look sleazy, and if I understand Adsense correctly, blog owners have little control over what they appear to be endorsing – was the Beatles blogger really recommending I buy a blood sugar meter ? Annoying…

Monday, 21 October 2019

Toys Are Not for Children

Marcia Forbes playing a young woman who’s never heard the old adage of be careful what you wish for, in Toys Are Not for Children


I had a belated second screening of this 1972 film last night, some 16 years (!) after I first picked up the Something Weird DVD (double-featured with the 1971 sexploitation fantasia The Toy Box), and very much enjoyed it. Prior to last night’s screening, I had but a sketchy memory of the film and much of the nuance was long forgotten. Mondo Digital's Nathaniel Thompson called the film a cross between Andy Milligan and Joe Sarno, and I might have included early John Waters as well inasmuch as the film clearly has an intelligence and ambition that elevates it above the usual grungy Harry Novak-produced fare. I particularly enjoyed the film’s editing style which frequently disrupts the narrative’s timeline, and there are some fine performances in the film, chiefly Marcia Forbes, a rather lovely and enigmatic beauty who lends her character a compelling childlike naivete that elicits one's sympathies. It looks like Toys was her only appearance on celluloid which is a shame. I liked too actor Luis Arroyo, here playing a tough-talking pimp, and I could easily imagine him as a peripheral character on the side lines of Mean Streets. If the film’s main talking point is the climactic scene, and one character’s dreadful misunderstanding of the situation, I couldn’t help but feel even more unnerved by the repetition of shots of the 6-year old daughter and the father. Still, I’m very pleased Arrow have brought this singular film back into circulation (and in fine style too), and I’ll definitely upgrade the tatty looking Something Weird edition…

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Up the stream without a... Blu-Ray

I've had Netflix (Ireland) for several months now but it was only at the weekend that I finally sat down to watch Roma. I thought the film was absolutely magnificent, unquestionably one of the best films of the century, but after watching the film the gulf between streaming film and collecting film was thrown into sharp focus. While I enjoy Netflix and Prime, the experience of watching film on both platforms remains completely ephemeral, much like catching a film on broadcast television. Quite often a TV screening or stream is used as a sort of audition for adding a film to my collection. So Talking Pictures on Sky has become a good source for Indicator titles - it matters little that Talking Pictures' quality control is often mediocre - films are invariably soft looking and often shown squeezed, but these presentations serve well enough as "run-throughs" - the main event comes not with this initial introduction but with the Blu-Ray purchased afterwards. I felt the same way seeing Once Upon a Time In Hollywood recently. Despite seeing it on a large IMAX screen, the experience was entirely transitory - what I truly savored in the days that followed the screening was the thought of re-watching the film again (and again!) at home on BR on the 55" LG.

Seeing Roma at the weekend, the exhilaration of discovering this extraordinary film was tempered by the fact that I can’t buy a physical copy of the film, in an optimum presentation, with supplements and artwork. Beyond that, I can’t even display this incredible film on my shelf (where it would sit alongside Fellini’s 1972 twin-in-name film). Some might say that it’s the film itself that counts, that all the rest is window dressing, but for me physical media and all the rituals that come with it still matters. I think I’m finally making peace with the idea that films on boutique labels like Second Run and Indicator (two labels whose labours of love rarely dip below the £10 ceiling) are simply worth that extra bit of money.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Not now Pink !

Below, the Pink Floyd in happier times... Earlier today, I finished reading Pigs Might Fly: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd, my second read of Mark Blake’s excellent biography, and evidently I had forgotten how depressing the second half of the book is, when the band hit the ‘80’s, and suffered a dictatorial songwriter, an inevitable breakup, and a re-emergence as a dreary AOR outfit with all the rough edges that once made the group so special, thoroughly sanded away. The shots fired between Roger Waters and Floyd Mark III (Gilmour, Mason, Wright and a supporting cast of session players) makes for genuinely painful reading, not to mention the plight of Syd Barrett and his ailing mental health, which never stopped fans and the press intruding upon his life. I’ve always felt the Floyd did their finest work up to Dark Side of the Moon, and everything that followed was superfluous. When I picked up Mark Blake’s book, I was seriously considering buying the Discovery boxset, to upgrade my 1967-1973 CDs and finally add Wish You Were Here, Animals, The Wall, and subsequent albums to the collection, but upon completion of the book, that plan is no more...

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Der Golem

With growing anticipation of Masters of Cinema's forthcoming Blu-Ray of Der Golem (due November), I dug out my old Kino DVD on Monday night to see how the disc still holds up. Back in the early noughties, it was incredibly exciting to finally catch up with the great masterworks of early German Cinema in the best presentations home video technology of the day would allow. Nevertheless, the arrival of the MOC Blu-Ray will be most welcome. The image on the Kino disc has had most of its detail scrubbed out by the excessively bright tinting and the source prints used are heavily speckled with debris and damage. I wasn't expecting the Kino DVD to be so redundant (in fairness, it's 15 years old!) but it makes the Blu-Ray edition all the more exciting. The film of course is marvelous and eerily prophetic - I was especially struck by the placing of the Star of David on the Golem to give it life - something that the Nazis would essentially reverse with the Yellow Star as a symbol of humiliation and ultimately, a death sentence. This was not a new idea introduced by the Third Reich, it had been used as far back as medieval times to mark out Jewish communities, but with Der Golem being a German film, the image of the Yellow Star is loaded with significance. The film has many parallels with Universal’s Frankenstein film, but weirdly, I thought of Jess Franco’s Erotic Rites of Frankenstein, during a brief close-up of Paul Wegener, whose make up appears, at least on the monochrome image, as silver colored, as per Fernando Bilbao’s memorable silver-sprayed monster in Franco’s film…

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Piper at the Gates of Dawn

“Jennifer Gentle you're a witch. You're the left side, He’s the right side. Oh, no!”

I’ve been listening to Piper at the Gates of Dawn this evening, rotating the mono and stereo mixes, packaged together for the album's 40th anniversary, and despite the general consensus by Pink Floyd fans that the mono mix is superior, I find the stereo far more satisfying; the separation between instruments lends the album a scale and grandeur the mono lacks (Flaming, the best song on the album feels like black and white in the mono version to the stereo’s Technicolor), and there’s a greater depth to the “little instruments” scattered throughout the album. Still, there are moments when the mono mix surges ahead - Rick Wright’s organ is far more present on the mono Interstellar Overdrive, and there’s far more bite and attack to Syd Barrett’s guitar and Nick Mason’s drums. On my second pass of the mono version, I actually turned the volume up past my own comfort level, and the album felt genuinely abrasive, perhaps an approximation of what the band sounded like when it was playing small club dates at deafening levels. Listening to the album again this evening, the level of invention for a debut is outrageous and there’s the excitement of hearing a new language being forged (which found its greatest expression in the German avant-rock bands that followed). I’m not sure if Piper at the Gates of Dawn is a better record than Sgt. Pepper, probably not - The Scarecrow and Bike are too whimsical for their own good, but either way, stereo or mono, it’s an astonishing album...

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Dario and David

David Bowie and Dario Argento photographed for the May 1995 issue of Italian culture magazine Sette... This momentous meeting of two great icons took place in London during promotion tours for the Outside album and The Stendhal Syndrome. I don't have my 3 or 4 Bowie biographies at hand right now, but I don't recall Argento earning a mention in any of them, so I wonder will this great summit (and indeed Bowie and Argento's first meeting over in Berlin in 1978 at a dinner with Fassbinder) feature in the forthcoming English-language edition of Argento's 2014 autobiography Paura ? I was initially tempted to pre-order the book when it was first announced, but I've read a few awkwardly translated Italian reviews of the book and they suggest there's nothing terribly revelatory for seasoned Argento scholars. We'll wait and see...