Tuesday 28 April 2015

The Junction (a short film)

I've written about my love for short films on this blog before and so I'm pleased to say that my friends  Dave Jeffery and James Underhill Hart, at Venomous Little Man Productions, have now released their latest short "The Junction" via Vimeo.

I was lucky enough to watch it late last year, one edit back from this one and really enjoyed it - it has a good pace, the location was terrific and the direction was smooth and assured.  Anyway, enough of me waffling, watch the film yourself now...

The Junction from VLM Productions on Vimeo.

I've known Dave for a long time and we shared space in Peter Mark May's "Alt-Zombie" anthology, for which I also contributed the cover art.  When Dave decided to make a film of his own short, "Ascension", with James, I was really keen to see it and it's a thoroughly enjoyable piece of short cinema.  They also produced the excellent (and very short) "Six Feet Under", which I blogged about here.

At last years FantasyCon, "Ascension" was screened as part of the Short Film Showcase and I got to watch it with them, which was very enjoyable.  I blogged my review of the film, which you can read here and I also interviewed Dave and James back in 2013 and you can read that blog post here.

Watch "The Junction", I think you'll like it.  I know I did.

Good luck, you venomous little men, for all of your upcoming projects!

Monday 20 April 2015

Make-up Effects in the movies

As regular readers of my blog will know (and if you don’t, this thread might interest you), I have a keen interest in the behind-the-scenes nuts and bolts that go into the making of a film, everything from matte paintings to miniature work and all points between.  Following on from my post about Rick Baker (which you can read here), I decided to have a look at more special effects make-up that helped spark my interest in the art as I was growing up.

In 1974, Twentieth Century Fox decided to move away from the films and shifted the Planet Of The Apes saga to a weekly TV show.  Apparently it hit the UK screens in October of that year so I would have watched it in either 74 or 75.  I was six and loved it, embracing the whole she-bang - for years, I had a plastic ape mask that my parents picked up somewhere, which for a long time was one of my most favourite things ever and I was also an avid collector of the bubble-gum cards.  That Christmas, I was bought the Brown Watson annual (which I still have) and read it eagerly.  In addition to the usual 'kids annual' fare of comic strips, prose stories and biographies, there was a section at the back called ‘How To Make A Monkey Out Of Roddy McDowall’.  Hold on a minute - Roddy McDowall was a man?  Well, that was a surprise.  So the apes, chimps and orangutans in the TV show weren’t really apes, chimps and orangutans - they were people, made up to look like them!  My six-year-old mind was blown. 

John Chambers & Roddy McDowall pose
for a publicity shot
John Chambers (September 12, 1922 – August 25, 2001) was born in Chicago, Illinois and trained as a commercial artist, starting his career designing jewellery and carpets.  Following service in World War II as a medical technician, he worked at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Hines, Illinois, repairing faces and making prosthetic limbs for wounded veterans, in addition to training under Ben Nye, who was then head of make-up at 20th Century Fox.  Starting out as a special make-up effects artist, he created Spock’s ears for the original “Star Trek” TV series (in 1966) and worked on “The Munsters”, “The Outer Limits” and “Mission: Impossible” before winning an Oscar in 1968 for his work on “Planet Of The Apes”.  He worked extensively in films (“Slaughterhouse Five”, “Superbeast”, “Sssssss”, “The Island Of Dr Moreau”, “Halloween 2” and (uncredited) “Blade Runner”) and retired from them in 1982, though he continued to assist and mentor new artists.  In addition, Chambers was awarded the CIA’s Intelligence Medal of Merit for his involvement in the ‘Canadian Caper’, wherein six American hostages escaped during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.  The film “Argo” (2012) covers this and Chambers was played by John Goodman.

This image shows the process in detail.

Roddy McDowell (who played Cornelius in the original "Planet Of The Apes", as well as Galen in the TV series) was famed for his home movies.  This one shows him being made up (by Don Cash) for the film and also includes some footage of the production on location.  I love the apes in shades!

Jump forward a few years (to the very early 80s) and I picked up a make-up book (which I would love to find now, for a reasonable price) from the library which featured, amongst many other greats, the wonderful Lon Chaney and I was staggered at the illusions he was able to create.  Later (but still in the early 80s), BBC2 began to show old horror films around teatime (can you imagine that happening now?) and once I found out "The Phantom Of The Opera" was going to be shown, I was a dedicated fan of their programming thread.

The film features Lon Chaney as Erik, The Phantom and following the success of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1923), Chaney - who was skilled at the art of make-up and didn’t seem to mind the discomfort he put himself through in achieving a certain look - was given the freedom to create his own make-up.  Taking his cue directly from the description in the novel, he painted his eye sockets black (to give them a skull-like impression), pulled the tip of his nose up and pinned it in place with wire, enlarged his nostrils with black paint, and put a set of jagged false teeth into his mouth to complete the overall look.  When audiences first saw The Phantom, they were said to have screamed or fainted at the unmasking scene with Christine - even watching it today, there's a real frisson to the piece (and the make-up) that makes me think it must have been great fun to see this in a cinema in 1925!

Leonidas Frank ‘Lon’ Chaney (April 1, 1883 – August 26, 1930) was an American stage and film actor, director and screenwriter, who is regarded as one of the most versatile actors of early cinema.  He excelled with tortured, often grotesque characters and was also a highly skilled dancer, singer and comedian whilst his groundbreaking artistry and development of special effects make-up earned him the nickname ‘The Man of a Thousand Faces’ (which was the title of the 1957 biopic starring James Cagney as Chaney).

Born in Colorado Springs, Colorado to deaf parents, he quickly became skilled in pantomime and began a stage career in 1902, travelling with popular Vaudeville and theatre acts. In 1905, he married the singer Cleva Creighton and they had one child, a son called Creighton Tull Chaney (who, as Lon Chaney, Jr., would go on to become a horror actor in his own right).  The marriage soured, with Cleva attempting suicide by swallowing mercuric chloride - she survived but it ruined her singing career - and the scandal (and subsequent divorce) forced Chaney out of the theatre and into film.  From 1912, he spent five years doing bit parts though his skill with make-up helped his chances.  In 1915 he married a chorus girl called Hazel Hastings, a union which lasted until his death and Chaney finally gained custody of his son.

He continued to work in film with his breakthrough performance - for both his acting ability and make-up skill - being ‘The Frog’ in “The Miracle Man” (1919).  He played an amputee gangster in “The Penalty” (1920), Quasimodo in “The Hunchback Of Notre Dame” (1923), Erik in the aforementioned “Phantom Of The Opera” (1925) and a carnival knife-thrower called Alonzo the Armless in The Unknown (1927).  Also in 1927, he co-starred with Conrad Nagel, Marceline Day, Henry B. Walthall and Polly Moran in the Tod Browning film, “London After Midnight”, now considered as one of the most legendary and sought after lost films.
from left - "The Phantom Of The Opera", "London After Midnight", The Hunchback Of Notre Dame"
He spent the last five years of his film career from 1925-1930 working exclusively under contract to MGM.  His memorable performance as a tough drill instructor in “Tell It to the Marines” (1926), earned him the affection of the Marine Corps, who made him their first honorary member from the motion picture industry. He was also widely respected by aspiring actors, to whom he offered mentoring assistance.
Two shots of Chaney with his fabled make-up kit, which is still occasionally shown to the public
Chaney developed pneumonia whilst filming “Thunder” in the winter of 1929, was diagnosed that same year with bronchial lung cancer and picked up a serious throat infection caused by artifical snow used on the film (made from cornflakes).  He died of a throat haemorrhage on August 26, 1930 in Los Angeles and his funeral, on August 28 in Glendale, California, was given an Honor Guard by the US Marine Corps.

Also part of the same BBC2 strand that year was "Frankenstein" (1931), featuring the now legendary combination of Boris Karloff's wonderful performance and Jack Pierce's iconic make-up.  I watched that monster lumber across the screen with wide eyes and until I saw "The Creature From The Black Lagoon", he was my favourite.  Pierce's design (it's not clear how much input anyone else had) was both horrific and as logical as it could be, within the context of the story.  The scar and seal come from Henry Frankenstein accessing the brain cavity and the bolts on the neck - which everyone remembers - are electrodes, to carry the electrical charge needed to revive what is, in essence, a stitched-up corpse.

Jack (Janus Piccoula) Pierce (May 5, 1889 – July 19, 1968) was a Greek born emigre who, in the 1920s, worked as a cinema manager, stuntman and actor, building an interest and ability in make-up that culminated in his  transforming Jacques Lernier into an ape in “The Monkey Talks” (1926).  Impressing  Carl Laemmle, then head of Universal Studios, with his work, he was hired full-time after creating the rictus-grin face of Conrad Veidt in “The Man Who Laughs” (1928).

Although he had a reputation for being bad-tempered (he and Lon Chaney jr especially didn’t get on)  he enjoyed a good relationship with Boris Karloff which is just as well, since the Frankenstein make-up took four hours to apply.  As head of Universal Studio's make-up department, Pierce designed and created the now iconic make-ups for “Frankenstein”, “The Mummy” (1932) and “The Wolf Man” (1941) (plus their various sequels), utiliising ‘out of the kit’ techniques - building facial features out of cotton, liquid plastic or nose putty.  During the 1940s, as moulded foam latex appliances - cheaper, quicker and more comfortable for the actors - were used more often, Pierce found it difficult to adapt to modern methods.  With the old guard at the studio gone, he was ‘let go’ from Universal in 1946 and his last credit is as make-up artist for the TV show “Mister Ed” (from 1961 to 1964).

The following video link (which is, wonderfully, a slightly ropey VHS copy of an American TVB show from 1981) helps to explain the process and also features Dick Smith and Rick Baker (with his superb "An American Werewolf In London" make-up).
For my next mini-essay in this thread, I'll look at special make-up from the 60s, 70s and (boom-time) 80s!

Monday 13 April 2015

The Crusty Exterior in London

The Crusty Exterior is a group of friends, united in their love for the horror genre, books and, of course, a good curry.  The core of the group - James Everington, Phil Sloman, Steve Harris and me - met up for the first time at Andromeda Con in 2013 (see my report here), though Steve & I go back much further, first corresponding in the late 90s when he ran a newsletter called The Inner Circle.
At the Southbank Book Market - James, Phil, Steve and me
At Edge-Lit 3 last year (see my report here), we were talking about how good it was to see one another again and made plans to meet up at some point nearer to Christmas, though with Mrs Sloman and Mrs Everington giving birth as the year drew to a close, those plans were put back to 2015.  And so, on Saturday, The Crusty Exterior met for the first time, organised by Phil, to tour 2nd hand bookshops (and other places of culture, obviously) in our wonderful capital city.
In Covent Garden - Phil & I are NOT goosing the Highlander
I caught the 9.26 down, had the last seat in cattle-class before the 1st Class section and the blokes in the next seat (on the kebabs and beer already) played their music on a speaker for the whole journey.  I didn’t mind (it was 80s stuff), I had my own Walkman plus “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon” but I was glad I hadn’t paid double the train fare to move one seat down and travel all posh!

From St Pancras, I tubed to Embankment and met Phil Sloman at the station there, we hugged and walked across Hungerford Bridge, running through the plans for the day.  At the Southbank, we met Steve Harris, who’d driven down and all quickly caught up, perusing the stalls, pointing books out to each other and marvelling over some of our finds.  James then arrived, more greetings and after taking an author pic for Steve (against a graffiti covered concrete stanchion, for Punk-Lit), we headed back to Charing Cross station.  It was great to see everyone, it was great to be back together and it’s always a pleasure to spend time with fellow writers, talking about projects and finds and not having to explain our conversational topics.

Since Steve had never been to Covent Garden, we took him through there (and I pointed out the location where Barry Foster brings out the body in the spud bag in “Frenzy”) and then walked along to Charing Cross Road/Leicester Square where we had lunch from the deli (and it was bloody lovely) on the corner.  Eating and chatting, we walked up Charing Cross and explored several bookshops, before cutting through to Shaftesbury Avenue (past the theatre showing ‘The Mousetrap’ - “I wonder,” I asked, “if they ever get people outside saying, if you don’t give me a tenner, I’ll tell you whodunit”) where I introduced the boys to The Cinema Store.
Outside The Mousetrap - both James and Phil made
a 'shush' noise as I took the photo...
After, we headed up Monmouth Street, past the Seven Dials (all the times I’ve crossed there, I never knew that was what it was called, so thanks for that Phil!) and picked up a drink from a newsagents and stood in the street, as London life went on around us, talking genre and books and people and it was a wonderful half an hour.  It even included a sighting of Mark Gatiss, who crossed the road into Forbidden Planet, spent a minute or so in there and then disappeared back the way he came.  When a tourist blocked the road taking pictures of a street sign, curiosity broke up our conversation and we all went to see what he’d been photographing.  The sign said “humps” and that was enough to have us thinking of schoolboy-humour-level jokes as we went into Forbidden Planet.  Spent some time (and money) in there, then walked to the Bloomsbury Tavern for a couple of drinks and more chat.  Well, I say drink - we took a table that had recently been vacated, with James & I clearing off the previous patrons dirty plates and one suspiciously full pint glass of clear liquid.  As we sat down and started talking, Phil & James sipped their pints, I sipped my Diet Coke and Steve sipped… nothing.  “Where’s my lemonade?” he asked.  Erm…

In the Bloomsbury Tavern - pint of lemonade definitely not pictured (I wonder where it went...?)
After a couple of pints - and several wonderful, tangent filled conversations - we headed towards Bloomsbury, passing ‘London’s Best Fish & Chip Shop’ on the way.  “Ah, London,” said James, “that well known seaside resort.”  “Smells like Skeggy,” I said and that set us off on a brief, but initially enthusiastic, idea of setting the next gathering there before good sense prevailed and we filled Steve in on why Mablethorpe wasn’t worth seeing.  We visited Skoob books (great cellar bookshop, filled to the rafters - quite literally), saw some blue plaques, nipped into another bookshop before calling into the Norfolk Arms for another drink and a conversation at the outside tables which encompassed critiques, what to do if you read a friends story and it’s not good and ruminations on genre.  After a lovely (and very reasonable) dinner at the Tavistock Tandoori, the day was up.  Steve & Phil were heading back across London, James & I were heading for St Pancras, so we said our goodbyes and wandered off.  We got into the station just in time, caught the 7.29 and talked the whole way back to Kettering, where I got off.
Ah, curry.  In the Tavistock Tandoori - we don't know why the waiter chose to cut most of Steve off...
As inaugural meetings go, it was brilliant - it was great to see everyone again, the conversation, humour and laughs flowed easily, we all picked up some decent book stashes and, most importantly, we had a good time.

Provisional plans have been made for the next Crusty gathering to be in Brum towards the end of the year, notwithstanding seeing one another at Edge-Lit and FantasyCon and I, for one, can’t wait.
In a Charing Cross bookshop cellar.
 p.s.  Membership of The Crusty Exterior is liquid, with several members unable to make this meeting, thus making it - in Steve's words - a "mini-con".

p.p.s. Just in case you were wondering, the name of the group comes from an off-hand comment made at Edge-Lit.  We were sitting in the cafe comparing scars (or, more to the point, the worst rejection letters we'd ever received) and, following Steve's newsletter, someone (we can't remember who now) said "we're not the Inner Circle, more like The Crusty Exterior".  That made us all laugh and when Phil set up an FB group to organise the meeting, that's what he called it.
My stash from the day

Tuesday 7 April 2015

What Gets Left Behind, now available as an ebook

In 1981, Gaffney was terrorised by the Rainy Day Abductor.

Local girls went missing.

And two boys made a terrifying discovery.

Now one of them has come home, to try and lay the past to rest.

In September 2012, Spectral Press published my story "What Gets Left Behind" as the seventh in their acclaimed limited-edition chapbook line (and I was thrilled that it sold out four months prior to publication).  No ebook version was released.

Since the original run was limited to 100 print copies, I thought it might be a good idea to publish the story in a digital edition and - having spoken with Simon Marshall-Jones at Spectral - that's precisely what I've done.  At the present time, there are no definite plans in place for any further print editions of this story.

The ebook version of "What Gets Left Behind" is essentially the same as the print one (with just a few minor tweaks) but includes an exclusive afterword where I spend 1,500 words talking about how the story came together.  The digital edition was built by Tim C. Taylor of Greyhart Press and I designed the new cover.

The ebook is available on Kindle now and for a limited time you can pick it up for 99p...

"Very strong writing and with a nice evocation of time and place.  West conjures the sense of a particular era with skill and the horrors he finds there are universal."
- Gary McMahon, author of "The Concrete Grove" trilogy

“Where this story excels is Mark’s amazing talent at intertwining the stories narrative with an emotional depth and detail, that will stir the emotions of the reader.  Mark West’s writing has a heart and soul that many writers would kill for.”
- Jim McLeod, at Ginger Nuts Of Horror

"Mark West has a knack for making the bonds that bind friends and family tangible and very
real. In What Gets Left Behind those bonds reach forward from the past to ensnare Mike and
draw him back to a place he never wanted to visit again...”
- Ian Whates, author of “City Of Dreams & Nightmare” and “The Noise Within”

“[A story] about loss and regret, as well as unsettled ghosts.  If you love the terror of good horror then there’s plenty for you in this slow-burner. And if, like me, you enjoy Mark West’s writing, there’s even more.”
- Sue Moorcroft, author of “All That Mullarkey” and “The Wedding Proposal” 

"What Gets Left Behind" garnered some very good reviews for me and I'm proud of the story.  If you decide to take a chance on it, I hope you enjoy it.

And I'll leave you with the Rude Dude Films trailer, complete with a soundtrack from the fine Gary Cole-Wilkin.
Pick up the ebook...