State of the Art
A diary of horror in Australia
First Appeared in Tabula Rasa#6: January - March, 1995
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If there's one thing I can't stick
This quarter's death unfortunately went to prolific actor Donald Pleasence, best known to horror fans for his portrayal of the obsessive Dr Loomis in the Halloween series. He was born in Nottinghamshire, England on the fifth of October 1919, passing away in his villa in France on the second of February, and his contribution to the motion picture industry, and our favourite subsets, is vast indeed. We have record of 143 of his movies, including John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness, Dario Argento's Phenomena (aka Creepers), Dracula (1979), The Premature Burial (1990), Escape from New York, THX1138, Blofeld in You Only Live Twice and many other horrific tales. He narrated the documentary Terror in the Aisles, and made several notable television appearances, including the original Twilight Zone. His last movie is the upcoming Halloween 6.
It's a bloke who cuts a chick
Any one who gets a kick
From doing that is truly sick
The place for him is in the nick.
They should beat him to a pulp,
With something thick
They should hang him by his tongue
Or by his dick
This bloke is reallyreallyreallyreallyreally sick!
The Vampyr: A Soap Opera
Roy Ashton also passed away recently, on the 10th of January. Born in Australia he went on to become Hammer Studio's chief make-up artist and worked on such movies as Curse of the Werewolf, Plague of the Zombies, The Mummy, The Evil of Frankenstein and Dracula: Prince of Darkness.
On to more pleasant news, and we are happy to report Australia's first horror convention, Terror95: The Anti-Con, being held on the 14th and 15th of October in Melbourne. Contact the AHS and we'll see you there.
In town recently, to coincide with Mardi Gras, was a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Mapplethorpe deserves our interest as being at the centre of censorship arguments in the States with his stark studies of the gay and S&M community in NY, as well as being one of the foremost portrait and flower photographers of last decade. He also deserves interest for being an utterly incredible artist, as the exhibition well-proved.
Also with their fair share of censorship problems, the Death Metal band Cannibal Corpse played Sydney in February, in spite of the fact a number of their CDs have been banned here. One of the original groups in the movement, Slayer, also appeared in March.
On a note of slightly different register, Sydney had a new Goth club open in March at The Armory in Kings Cross, and the scene appears to be thriving.
Williams S Burroughs has actually been reasonably active of late, at least in the bookshops, starting with the re-release of The Place of Dead Roads (from 1983). Also Oliver Harris has put together The Letters of William S. Burroughs 1945 to 1959. Smashingly sordid, our sources say.
Meanwhile, Dan Simmons' latest is out, the amazingly pulpy-looking Fires of Eden, at least from the plot description. Christopher Fowler has had a very wide-release for the new novel Spanky, a tale of a modern-day demon in London (with lots of black leather). Of most surprise, though, was yet another Comte Saint-Germaine novel from Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. Darker Jewels is set in 16th century Russia during the reign of Ivan the Terrible.
Of least surprise, a World of DarknessTM novel, this time for the Werewolf system, Edo van Belkom's Wyrm Wolf. It has good werewolves and bad werewolves. Woof.
If you want something completely different, try the Pulp Fiction scriptbook, an earlier draft than hit the cinema. It's an interesting read, too (though I'll admit to only sneaking a look in the shop at who shot who in Reservoir Dogs). For a more interesting read, QT's original script of Natural Born Killers is available (from the Cinestore, Liverpool St, if you're in Sydney), and to give you an idea of Stone's changes, M&M spend only the pre-credit sequence out of jail.
On the anthology side of town, erotic horror is continuing to appear regularly. Poppy Z Brite has put together Love in Vein (on an obvious subject), whereas the local market produced Love Cries, to critical hyperbole (A vile book for mean and pitiful people, said the Herald). See our review elsewhere. Also Michele Slung produced a sequel to I Shudder at Your Touch (not one of our favourites) with Shudder Again.
The Monkey's Paw, and other Tales, by WW Jacobs was compiled recently. We're a little worried as Lovecraft has described the author as a writer who only wrote one story of the macabre (but what a story!) Not having the same problem, Peter Straub edited the most recent HWA anthology Peter Straub's Ghosts.
Prism of the Night by Katherine Ramsland, was the sole non-fiction entry we noticed, an updated (but pre-movie) version of the Anne Rice biography, appearing in paperback. It's receiving some good reviews (and has joined our reference library, along with her Vampire Companion), but we do think the author gets a little carried away at times. Notice 'the abstract', 'abyss' and 'ambiguity' in the index.
In the comic shops (and many others besides), The Comical Tragedy and Tragical Comedy of Mr Punch is Neil Gaiman's and Dave McKean's latest creation. It is complex, subtle and has that peculiar nastiness associated with its subject. That's the way to do it.
Grant Morrison put 120 Days of Sodom into his Invisibles comic (and see if we care).
Oscar time again, even if in our case the nominations were more interesting than the winners. Or in some cases, the lack of nominations, towhit the mysterious absence of Interview With the Vampire from the various awards -- such as Special Effects, Make Up and Cinematography -- we could have sworn it was up for. We shall admit the competition for the nomination it did receive, Art Direction, was stiff. The Award for Best Speech goes to none other than Quentin Tarantino (not sure about Roger Avary's, though) with their joint winning of Best Original Screenplay. This was, however, the category in which Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures received its nomination, which was a pleasant surprise in itself. Other than that, only Ed Wood with Supporting Actor and Make Up (by Rick Baker, among others) and Franz Kafka's It a Wonderful Life were interesting winners, KB's MS's Frankenstein did get a nomination for Make Up, and both Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction got a fair number.
Speaking of The Shawshank Redemption, Frank Darabont has done a wonderful and faithful job of adapting the Stephen King novella to the big screen (he had already directed a very good short film based on The Woman in the Room). Just see this one (before The Mangler hits town). Not known for his ability to please the Academy, Abel Ferrara is still delivering the goods with Dangerous Game (originally titled Snake Eyes), though it was actually a couple of years old by the time it appeared locally. Sleaze, degradation and Harvey Keitel (we've also heard it described as an hour and a half of Madonna abuse), it's actually a step back from the extremes of Bad Lieutenant into more personal territory. That guy at the end was none other than Werner Herzog, of the '79 Nosferatu, caught during the making of Fitzcaraldo (trying to drag a ship over a mountain... literally).
Russell Mulchay's The Shadow gets a mention because of the inclusion of the original character in the timeline. We can't think of any other reason to bother with it. Shopping and Love and a .45 also came out, showing that hip violence isn't slowing down yet. Once Were Warriors and Bandit Queen are worth a mention for their powerful presentation and subject matter, and we'll see them eventually...
Onto the pure genre, we don't think anybody has said Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight wasn't a horror movie. Directed by Ernest Dickerson, it was certainly fluff, but a great deal of fun and Billy Zane was wonderful to behold as the head demon. The funniest Holy Grail movie since...
In The Mouth of Madness, however, was a less successful foray by noted director John Carpenter. Perhaps struck by the normal woes of Lovecraft-inspired cinema (it was Kim Newman who said the most successful mythos movie was Ghostbusters), ItMoM's main problem was it was an hour and a half long in-joke. There was certainly some great images, and Sam Neill is becoming a prolific as well as successful horror actor; good on him.
Brought back to Sydney screens (and not free of censorship problems itself, in its time) was Michael Powell's superb 1960 movie Peeping Tom. Pre-dating Psycho (just...) it was howled down on its release, but taken up by film theory as an examplere. Intelligent, well-made and full of surprises, it deserves to be better known in the horror community.
The big news this time round is the arrival of Redemption Films to our sunny shores. Dedicated to the more obscure and risque European titles, there is a lot of interesting material in the UK catalogue. The Australian releases start in April and will bring out an extra two per month, at a good price to boot.
The best thing we saw released on video recently was Shimako Sato's Tale of a Vampire, though it was made some years ago. With a good lead performance (Julian Sands' fanged debut), it is a slow but haunting look at the legend. Several legends, in fact. Annabell Lee is a poem by Edgar Allen Poe -- that's all you need to know. And speaking of odd appearances, if the female lead looks strangely familiar, she played Julia in the 1984 1984.
The latest Full Moon release to make it down here was Linda Hassani's Dark Angel: The Ascent. If you could accept the basic premise (despite its inconsistencies) it's pretty good. It was certainly trying to do something different.
Matinee (Joe Dante) was also released, but with such lousy distribution we found it all but impossible to find a copy. This is the one about the schlock movie producer during the 1950's Cuban Missile Crisis, and is apparently well worth the rental. Good luck. Elsewhere in the straight to video section we have a new video of Twilight Zone stories, written but not produced for the original show.
Meanwhile, Bad Boy Bubby and Braindead (after no little wait) made their way onto the shelves. We're sure they'd make a good double.
Many and various interesting things were to be seen (mostly on SBS). For a start the Hammer documentary is still going, and if nothing else is proving Hammer did a lot of really good-looking movies. We also got the chance to check some of them out -- including Vampire Circus, which has been incredible difficult to find in Australia after being banned when presented to the then censors. We believe the ABC's copy is still cut, but it was a really good movie and did lots of nice things. The only complaint we can make is that the carnival in Something Wicked was better (and the Vampires lost). We also got Curse of the Werewolf, Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde, Horrors of the Black Museum and Blood From the Mummy's Tomb. Not a bad selection.
SBS also showed us the European treats Terror in the Crypt and Orgy of the Dead (not the Ed Wood movie), also far from uncut. Still lots of fun. Then there was the original Blob, The Exorcist, Friday the Thirteen (played rather inexplicably on a Friday the 31st) and Phantasm 2. We missed the chance to tape a French language version of Nikita, and got part way through another Australian Linda Blair movie, Dead Sleep. Blacula was quite interesting, definitely a rarity. One surprise was the 1974 Deranged, and we counted six other movies of interest.
Downright weirdest... thing was a five-part BBC series, The Vampyr: A Soap Opera. It was an adaption of Heinrich Marschner's 1827 opera, but placed in a modern setting with substantially altered lyrics. Despite the fact opera doesn't normally work in a 'realistic' setting, it had its moments, and Omar Ebrahim as Ripley the Vampyr was great. Another TV show played, and which we've just discovered we missed, was Wes Craven's series Nightmare Cafe. Described by star Robert Englund as more of a comedy/fantasy than anything else, it revolves around the Cafe and its supernatural proprietor, Blackie. It didn't last long on US screens.
And The X-Files is back, for its second season. So far it has struggled valiantly with many difficulties, once again very well made, but so far nothing has really clicked. Maybe things will improve when Scully returns to active duty. Best eps... the first Duane Barry one, and yes, the Vampire one. It replaced Forever Knight (metaphorically speaking), which was still doing good things when rudely interrupted by ratings season. For those who just can't get enough, try to track down Nick Knight, the original TV pilot with Rick Springfield, out in video shops (or perhaps shop). It's pretty awful really, but interesting to compare to the remake.
They're also repeating Twin Peaks at various late hours (does that make Billy Zane a TftC:DKA?) and six of Roman Polanski's student films certainly provided some variation.
In non-fiction we got Life of a Vampire, an Anne Rice documentary with many strange camera angles, Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer appeared, not too long after its cinema run, and we got a repeat of the great doco Damned in the USA.
Music and Audio
Only one CD caught our eye, but it certainly caught it. Scary Classics, complete with Doré engravings on the cover and a glossary of scary terms. But the music -- ah! The Danse Macabre of Saint-Saen, the complete Night on A Bare Mountain and the Execution and Sabbat from the Symphonie Fantastique, only some of a superb line-up. A must for the Games Master, and any one who burns candles in their room.
Though the path we took was not strictly straight
We turned fine white dust into real estate
My friend, you were blessed with the Midas touch
As for me, I never protested much.
The Vampyr: A Soap Opera