Hunting down the video nasties

I blogged years ago about the hunt to find comic books as a kid, and that back in the day could be a nightmare, but when I was older the hunt for horror films surpassed it mainly because you could be imprisoned for owning some of these films. After the insanity of the Video Nasty moral crackdown, owning a copy of say, Zombie Flesh Eaters could get you thrown in prison.

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So people found ways to get past the censors, and the police which meant an underground network sprung up of bootleggers who’d supply you with dodgy copies of videos which were as clear as being in the middle of a foggy thunderstorm, but still had enough there to give you an idea of the gory antics going on. Here I highly recommend Jake West’s excellent documentary, Video Nasties: Draconian Days, for more about the times in the 80’s and 90’s pre Labour’s post 1997 liberalisation of British society.

As an aside, it is worth praising Tony Blair’s government for that brief period from 1997 to around 2001 when censorship was rolled back, which coming after decades of often extreme censorship at a state level it seemed like a new beginning. Sadly that wasn’t to last long after 9/11 but I digress…

That period in the 80s and 90s saw fanzines spring up which featured small ad listings in the back, as well as swaps, and although I got some films that way the main way I managed to get my uncut sex, gore and violence was through comic marts in London. As I was working these events I managed to get first dibs on some quality gore, not to mention the holy grail of bootlegs; the laserdisc copy. This meant uncut pristine clear copies of classics like Canibal Holocaust.

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Things were good if you were a fan and could get to these events, but this was still Tory Britain so at various shows you’d see customs and/or the police going round tables busting dealers and seizing tapes. Some dealers were prosecuted and a few served time for selling videos, with tabloids leaping on the ‘video nasties sold to kids’ angle, which actually never existed as these dealers weren’t that stupid. Thing was there was no way legally to see these films outwith of the odd private showing, or film festivals like Shock Around the Clock. That involved going to Kings Cross which in the early 90’s was a dark place if you went down the wrong streets, but if you knew the right places it really was home to the best fun you can have. Now it’s all Harry Potter tours and tourists getting the Eurostar.

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But a scene emerged though that time which has went on to bigger things. Not to mention that post 97 many of these films people could have been prosecuted for were now becoming legal. I can now pick up a copy of Last House on the Left without fear of prosecution easily or in the age of the internet, I can download a copy in seconds without heaving my fat arse off my couch. This is all great but I miss the hunt, and I miss the thrill of doing something illegal which stuck a knife in the eye of censors who were out purely to blame something for the problems they caused in society.

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And now in 2019 we’re on the verge of another wave of censorship with hard/far right wing authoritarian strongmen/women eying up what they can to control the public, or at least, blame Thing A for the fact that they’ve fucked everything up. You’d think we’d learn but hey ho…

However I miss those days. They were fun, you got to meet interesting people and saw great (and awful) horror films in places you really probably shouldn’t have been, but dear me, it was fun and we don’t get that sort of fun much anymore.

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Chris Morris remains a genius

Chris Morris is to me, the single greatest satirist the UK has produced in the last 30 years. There is nobody today pushing the limits as Morris did, or challenging not just how comedy is made, but poking a stick at culture, and the way the media works. There was never the sense that Morris was using comedy as a way to becoming a TV presenter or ‘celebrity’ as so many ‘comedians’ have done over the last few decades.

So a new project by Morris is a genuine event, and his new film,  The Day Shall Come, is just that.

It looks very like Morris has found a topic nobody really knew about and is using that to shine a light upon it in a way that reflects some of what’s going on today. Here’s Morris going into more detail on Channel 4 News.

I do wish we’d see more Morris, not to mention more outright satire, but if he produces two or three great works a decade it’s a fuckload better than selling out doing a Netflix special with the same dried-up material you’ve been pushing for years like some comics out there.

So appreciate him wile we’ve got him because there’s no replacement out there.

30 years of Tim Burton’s Batman

The days of the blockbuster film as media and cultural event is more or less past barring one or two exceptions. Avengers Endgame being the most recent, but for a time we’d have two, maybe three a year. In 1989 however the biggest one was Tim Burton’s Batman film.

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The marketing campaign for that film was genius. It basically threw the pre-existing trademark (the Batman logo) on anything and everything, so from around spring 89 you couldn’t move for Bat-logos everywhere. I remember being in a pub in Camden in London at the end of July in 89 with half the pub having some form of Batman t-shirt on, including myself with this effort drawn by Frank Miller.

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If you worked in comics as I did at the time, it was amazing to see people go crazy for the comics with literally a Batman title at least once a week for a year which meant boom times for lesser selling titles who only need stick Batman on the cover to suddenly see a sharp spike in sales upwards. Of course it was the success of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight and Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s Killing Joke which created the environment for the film to be made, and made in the way it was as opposed to  the campy TV show.

Unlike today where every second of the film is analysed in advance, there was a lack of footage from the film and with there still being a vocal section of fans hating the casting of Michael Keaton, the producers rushed out a poorly cut teaser trailer in 1988.

I know of people who would go as see other films knowing this would be running before that film just to see these 90 seconds, and also, bad VHS copies of it would be shown at conventions just to get people a fix before the big event. The fact the film opened in America a good month before the UK meant waiting was strung out as reviews would come across the Atlantic telling us this was something special, until finally that August the film opened in a blaze of glory.

Leicester Square  had been transformed into Gotham City with Bat-Signals galore to help whip up those massive queues waitng to get in, and as for me, I had to wait til the next day to see it and indeed, it was everything I wanted then from a Batman film. I’ve written about the film before here. 

Looking back at the film now, even five years after previously writing about it, it’s clear my opinion has changed. The script doesn’t really have a third act with a messy end replacing any sort of more structured ending instead of the disheveled mess that is the ending as it is. It didn’t matter at the time, but now it’s probably two-thirds of the film I thought it was back then, or indeed, five years ago. The film’s place in history is assured, especially as it was one of the first big comic book films and proved they’d make gazillions at the box office. It has a chaotic feel and hasn’t that shiny, glossy feel of a Marvel film, plus it does draw from decades of Batman history with a great performance from Jack Nicholson who is loving every second.

But Batman made comics acceptable for millions of people. It drew in so many people into shops and made them fans of the medium, and there’s the legacy of that film. For that it’ll always hold a special place for comics fans.

You all need to start watching Echo Rose

In this day and age free entertainment/media is becoming a scarcity. YouTube tends to be the last frontier for that, and even then actual quality entertainment is even rarer because the majority of original content on YouTube is shite. So for something new and original to come along and for it to be a rabbit hole of multimedia is a joy, as it is to catch it relatively early on in the process is a delight.

An ARG stands for ‘alternate reality game‘. It’s been around online for ages. The earliest example many people will know is the multimedia tie-ins to The Blair Witch Project, but recently Stranger Things 3 did one but chances are you’ve come across one but didn’t realise what it is. Which is the point. YouTube has a load of awful ARG’s but some great ones have been there in mainly the horror genre, and in fact, there’s a load of great horror out there like Marble Hornets, Petscop and Daisy Brown and its that latter one which stood out as a pretty stunning original work, which although cheap, had aspirations beyond the limited budget.

Echo Rose (or Nettlebrook) contains the same actress who played Daisy Brown, and she’s very, very good. Here she plays the 20 something drop out from New York who has moved to a small town to make a new life for reasons we’ve not been given yet. She starts a vlog, and it is pretty much what you’d expect in its inanity of day-to-day 20 something life. All of it is beautifully observed, and all of it is fake.

This was the first video, and from here it is truely a rabbit hole of YouTube channels, and social media as an increasing creeeping horror grows as it slowly becomes clear something else is going on in Nettlebrook.

I was alerted to Echo Rose thanks to this video below which also gives you a recap of where we are now, which is still early days in ARG terms, as most ARG’s run a year or more.

I won’t say much more apart from there’s a hard to find video which was deleted that’s pretty essential to the plot, which is below.

Everything else can be found via that first Echo Rose video so get on board now as this is a group of talented people turning out slow building horror and as said, this is early days so you should only be down the rabbit hole for a few hours. Good luck!

Saving Spider-Man

Sony and Disney have been unable to continue their agreement over the use of Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so from now on Sony will be making Spidey films starring Tom Holland. Cue outrage from fans promising boycotts and petitions.

Yet if half of these people pick up a comic they’ll be able to get what they want.

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And of course, by 2022/3 after a few duff films the deal will be back on or Disney will have bought Sony as they swallow the world of media whole.

And the new James Bond film is…

No Time to Die. It’ll be the last film starring Daniel Craig as Bond, and I hope it gives him a good send off as Craig has been excellent.

 

But a new Bond film brings criticism from the regressive right wing who see attempts  to make Bond fit in better to 21st century tastes, and from the wokiestwoke of the left who see Bond as a sexist dinosaur who should be scrapped. Both miss the fact Bond is a fantasy, and that he is a bastard. That’s the point. You couldn’t be a state-endorsed killer if you were a nice guy but the cold, chilling thug of the books would find it hard to operate in the 21st century.

Plus the spectre of John Wick looms over every single action film these days. A film where a brutal killer is out for revenge because his dog was killed resets the action film and so Bond has to change to reflect that while at the same time still being recognisably Bond. The films have sort of done it, but not as well as Warren Ellis’s recent run of comics which managed to marry every version of Bond out there into a 007 for the 21st century.

But a new Bond film brings the same old bleatings from people who haven’t realised that Bond has changed, and that as a character he’s not going away while there’s billions to be made and stories to be told.

 

Rutger Hauer RIP

utger Hauer has died at the age of 75 and it’s a damned pity. Hauer in another reality would be laden with Oscars, BAFTA’s and be lauded as one of the greatest actors, and leading men of his generation. Instead he forged a solid career but never got the acclaim, or often the roles, he deserved.

Like most people outwith of The Netherlands, I first saw Hauer in Blade Runner and was blown away by him and one scene in particular.

It was when I was older that I discovered his earlier work with Paul Verhoeven, with Turkish Delight

And the still extraordinary Soldier of Orange. Apart from Blade Runner this is the best film he ever made and contains this amazing scene of Nazi homoeroticism.

Then there’s the glorious joy of Ladyhawke

And the barking mad insanity of Flesh and Blood.

The ceeeping dread of The Hitcher. His opening scene is just fucking scary as anything.

The Legend of the Holy Drinker should have cemented his reputation as a true great of acting.

But instead genre fare came his way with the 1990’s being somewhat of a barren wasteland creatively, unless you count his mysterious Guinness ads from the time as a high, which compared to some of the crap he was in, they certainly were.

And yes, I’ll admit these ads shaped my dress sense for the late 80’s with lots of collarless shirts and long black coats.

In 2005 a couple of cameos in big Hollywood films came coming with Sin City and Batman Begins. These should have kick started a revival but sadly no, and Hauer stayed working constantly with his last role of real note being the title character of Hobo With A Shotgun.

Hauer leaves behind a huge CV. Most of it isn’t worth paying attention to but dear god, some of the highlights shine and there’s so many highlights. He’ll be missed for what he did and what he could have done as well.