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State of the Art

A diary of horror in Australia

Tabula Rasa#2: January - March, 1994

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We are dwuids!
Warlock: The Armageddon
Well, Bloodsongs came out, and while it hasn't seemed to generate much comment elsewhere (apart from the various newsagents who won't stock it), it seems to be doing reasonably well, and has apparently had a positive response from overseas contributors. Well done, Chris and Steve, and see our review elsewhere herein.

Not much else exciting or new happened, really, and if you were looking forward to the new range of Nintendo's horror themed games such as Night Trap that situation is likely to remain -- they've been banned from our sunny shores. On the 17th of February national legislation was passed both to rate computer games and material in a way similar to film, and provide an avenue for banning those given an X rating. A new rating was devised -- G8, not suitable for those under the age of eight.

Art lovers were in for a bit of a shock the day after -- somebody stole Edvard Munch's The Scream from the Norwegian National Gallery. Apparently it was the work of anti-abortion activists, trying to garner attention during the Winter Olympics, though the connection between their cause and the expressionist masterpiece is mystifying (mind you, we've seen it used as an inflatable punching bag -- it's a weird world). As far as we're aware, the painting has not been recovered.

In the 'oh my god' category the Australian entrepreneur Tom McDonald won a court action against Universal about their copyright of their famous flat-topped Frankenstein image created for Boris Karloff (not the name of course, which has long since been public domain). He apparently wants to set up a TV show set in modern Australia, with Frankenstein as a rock singer. It could be worse, he could be setting up a chain of restaurants -- well, he's doing that as well.

Twin Peaks started playing in Russia -- apparently their first sign of American culture not involving mindless violence.

Anne Rice was trying to put on a more positive aspect this time, by saying nice things about the Exit to Eden production, after her visit to the set (we'll believe it when we see it). Also a script of Interview with the Vampire is floating round, causing all sorts of discussion, including some very positive comments. On the down side, the comic company Innovation, which had published graphic novels of her work, went bust, leaving Queen of the Damned incomplete and, finally, Star Trek: The Next Generation screened the episode Sub Rosa -- a rather blatant ripoff of The Witching Hour (more on this next ish).

The oddest event we've noticed is the setting up of a horror 0055 number (not 0055-EVIL, but 11264). Maintained by the Melbourne-based Informotel, it seems to be having some problems -- most notably a rather urgent need for both quantity and quality. They declined to comment when we asked for further information.

On to books, and it's actually rather difficult to exactly determine when things come in, and if they're reprints or not. Certainly no more work from big names appeared -- local success was had with the March release of a Queensland serial killer novel, Stalker, by Gerald Gleeson. The game company Chaosium released two anthologies in the Cthulhu Cycle -- Tales that Define the Mythos. These are The Hastur Cycle, from various writers, and Mysteries of the Worm from Robert Bloch.

Two additions to the researcher's library come in the shape of The Dean R Koontz Companion edited by Martin Greenberg, Ed Gorman and Bill Munster, and the long-awaited Horror volume in the Aurum Film Encyclopedia (edited by Phil Hardy -- whose SF volume is already a useful tool). Turning up in Galaxy recently were some eight vampire novels (along the lines of Raven: Eternal Red Blood Death) a number of anthologies (most interestingly, The Ultimate Witch, edited by Byron Preiss and John Betancourt) and not much else.

Movies didn't inspire a great deal of confidence either -- but it is probably a good sign that Warlock: The Armageddon (Anthony Hickox) and Man's Best Friend (John Lafia) were given a cinematic release at all. While aimed at different audiences (the second to a younger breed) they both shared a complete disregard for good, or rather elaborate, plotting. Both were slick presentations of special effects, though Julian Sands at least can take it seriously, and was once again a delight. The dog wasn't bad either.

The Good Son (Joseph Rueben) had pretensions to psychological depths, and was certainly well-received by critics (who were probably unduly relieved Macaulay wasn't the anti-Christ). Neither of us were greatly impressed, however, it just seemed to lack the frisson it needed. True Romance (Tony Scott of The Hunger) perhaps didn't live up to either Quentin Tarantino's previous script Reservoir Dogs, nor to the oft-compared Wild At Heart, but was nonetheless not bad at all, certainly proving Christian Slater still has what it takes. The cameos were, to a one, brilliant. Hocus Pocus and RoboCop 3 squeezed in on the last day of the survey, and we don't really care.

Last year's Oscars were announced and while no real horror material was included (Jurassic Park wasn't that scary), there were a number of intense or fringe-horrific winners such as Jane Campion's The Piano (and superb it is too) and Mr Spielberg's Schindler's List (a strange picture, certainly more than watchable. Nobody seems to have mentioned that Liam Neeson played the lead in Sam Raimi's Darkman, but the less said about that the better).

Rereleased were Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder, for the first time here in the originally shot 3D and, good news, Salo returned to Sydney, albeit briefly, for a run at the Mandolin.

Most anticipated video release was Abel Ferrara's remake Body Snatchers, and while the director was doing his job -- it always looked gorgeous (well, apart from that CSO effect), the script-writers simply didn't put enough in to sustain interest. Avi Nesher's Doppelganger was a pretty good, and reasonably typical, example of modern horror on video -- Drew Barrymore, not a bad script (if somewhat obviously some young writer's wish-fulfilment) and gratuitous special effects. Biggest surprise, however, went to the independent release Jugular Wine, written, directed, etc, etc by one Blair Murphy. While quite clumsy at times, it still managed to be a really nice, atmospheric vampire tale, with a nice edge to it. It wasn't hard to spot Frank Miller's cameo, his character was called Frank Miller. Making the inevitable transferral were Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (Anthony Hickox), Army of Darkness (Sam Raimi, and god was it boring second time round, even with extra bits) and Mad Dog and Glory. We're not quite sure if this is horror, but a romantic comedy from the director of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer has got to be worth a mention. Great stuff. Both versions of George Sluizer's The Vanishing were also released -- but the wrong one got all the advertising. We've said it before -- check out the Dutch version.

If you're not watching TV that is, and really this is where all the action has been recently. Highest profile goes to The X Files, a superbly made 'occult investigator' show that has moved beyond its original Silence of the Lambs / Twin Peaks ripoff scenario -- now it's ripping off The Thing. Still, after a slow start it has really proved itself to be capable of some punchy stuff, and well worth the watch (more next issue). Harder to find, but perhaps even better, is the show Forever Knight, finally screened here after some three years wait (and languishing after midnight, buffeted by sport). Yes, it's about an angsting vampire, but apart from a little too much jokiness it does some really good things. Check it out.

SBS ran a week or two of vampire material, kicking off with the documentary Fine Cut: Dracula. Complete with recognisable experts, recognisable non-experts and a couple of wonderful fruitcakes it was, all in all, a good little doco. Also shown were the official Romanian history, Vlad the Impaler. And what a whitewash it was too! An incredible number of extras, good scenery and it was still rather boring ('Mad, Vlad and dangerous to know'???). The original Nosferatu and Vampyr were repeated, along with a French satire and, not really about Vampires, an incredibly strange thing called Gregory: Diary of a Nutcase, part of Comic Strip Presents, sending up Silence of the Lambs.

There was also an incredible number of movies shown, starting with an Alfred Hitchcock festival of early work, including his first: the 1926 Jack the Ripper movie The Lodger (not bad, not as good as M). We counted twenty-eight other movies of interest in the three months, highlights include Evil of Frankenstein, The Creeping Flesh and The Vampire Lovers from Hammer, Monkey Shines (George Romero, 1988), Serpent and the Rainbow (Wes Craven, 1988), River's Edge (Tim Hunter, 1986) and, to our surprise, a Dario Argento film (and one of our favourites at that), Tenebrae (1982).

On the local stage we had two productions of an... interesting and classic nature. Firstly Beatrix Christian's Faust's House, an application of the myth to contemporary science ethics (with a female protagonist) which managed to be staged in the Australian Museum. Also somebody managed to adapt a Franz Kafka novel (unfinished -- did he finish any of them?) into an opera, the Song Company's The Burrow, featuring Kafka himself as a character.

Musically, we got Julee Cruise's second album, The Voice of Love and, Enigma 2: The Cross of Changes which, from what we've heard so far, sounds a disappointment after the decadent and moody first effort.

Horror in magazines was right down this quarter, and Who magazine had seemed to change editors or something -- after being quite interesting last year the only thing appearing recently was an X Files article. Apart from another interview with Anthony Hopkins (focusing on Hannibal Lector and called 'I'll have what he's having') and Brian de Palma (about his latest thriller) in the Herald, there hasn't been a lot elsewhere either.

But just to keep us amused, or something, they've started doing some vaguely interesting ads. Stationary is being advertised using an Edward Scissorhand lookalike, whereas jeans are being sold accompanied by the Blue Velvet theme song (you can hear it, can't you? -- hey fuck, buy the fucking jeans). Also spotted -- bumper stickers saying 'Death is Faster'. They're apparently an anti-speeding message, but are rather nice nonetheless.

And finally, a piece of good news -- they've started advertising George Romero's much-battered The Dark Half for upcoming cinema release. Looks good, but don't blink.


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