Monday 31 October 2022

Halloween Horrors (Painted Movie Posters)

It's Halloween, when all the ghosts and ghouls come calling (usually for chocolate), when the evenings are dark and the air smells of woodsmoke and the thoughts of us all turn to the idea of watching or reading something scary and creepy.
For my fifth Halloween post (following paperback covers, Top TrumpsVHS cover art and behind the scenes special effects shots), I've decided this time to go with something else I love, namely painted movie posters.  Looking at some of these again reminds me of being a young horror film fan in the late 70s and early 80s (when BBC2 began showing Universal horrors in the early evening), seeing gaudily gorgeous posters for films I wouldn't get to see for quite some time (and which, sometimes, didn't live up to my imagining of what they'd be).

So with all that in mind, enjoy this Halloween treat of posters that (very occasionally) promise more than they deliver...
Produced by Gene Corman, this is the perfect horror film poster (something the Corman team did very well indeed).  I really want to see this, even though I know the monsters won't look anywhere near as convincing as they do here (which isn't saying a lot, I realise).
I first read about this in Stephen King's Danse Macabre and couldn't wait to see it, though by the time I eventually did (late one night on BBC2, if I remember correctly), I was waiting for King's suggested last line.  He wrote that there was a legend of a lost ending, where Xavier - having plucked his eyes from their sockets - shouts "I can still see!"  Unfortunately, it's just a terrific rumour - Roger Corman said, in interview, that the scene was discussed but never filmed.
There's so much to love about this film, it makes for perfect Halloween viewing.  An anthology film (an Amicus speciality), this features "Werewolf" with Neil McCallum, "Creeping Vine" with Alan Freeman (which is properly creepy, though it'd sound silly if I explained it), "Voodoo" with Roy Castle and his trumpet, "The Disembodied Hand" with Christopher Lee and Michael Gough lending real weight and "Vampire" with Donald Sutherland (and a cracking ending).  Peter Cushing plays Dr. Shreck in the framing story.
A so-so film (it feels very long) but a great Arnaldo Putzu poster
A brilliant poster from Vic Fair which does so much without really doing a great deal.  How could you not want to see the film are seeing this?
Swinging Dracula on the Kings Road (with added Caroline Munro gorgeousness).
Another terrific Amicus anthology film, well served by an Arnaldo Putzu poster.  This features "Midnight Mess", a creepy vampire story (with some great in-camera effects) with Daniel and Anna Massey, "The Neat Job" with Terry-Thomas, "This Trick'll Kill You" with Curt Jurgens, "Bargain In Death" with Michael Craig (and, in a nice touch, Robin Nedwell and Geoffrey Davies as two trainee doctors - they'd appeared together in "Doctor In The House", an ITV sitcom) and "Drawn And Quartered", with Tom Baker and Denholm Elliot (as well as Terence Alexander, who gets a bigger head on the poster) and some great views of early 70s London.  The framing device sees five strangers boarding a descending lift in a modern London office block.
We can't be sure what H. G. Wells would have thought of this but surely, bearing in mind all the animals they could have chosen for the poster, was a giant chicken really the best one?
Also known as "Shocklines" (the title I first saw it under, as a VIPCO release), I was first aware of it when I saw an advert in Starburst magazine.  The film itself is slow and creepy but those underwater nazis are as effective as the poster art makes them out to be.
A cracking little horror film (you'd be better off with this than the remake), Joe Dante is on top form with a John Sayles script, make-up effects by Rob Bottin and piranha effects by Phil Tippett, amongst others.
Unnerving, dark, claustrophobic and frightening, this is an excellent film (which I wrote about, in detail, here) that was unfairly classed as a Video Nasty for while.  Best seen knowing very little about it, you're wrong-footed from the start and all the way through.  Great stuff.
There's never a great deal of subtlety in a Lucio Fulci film but they're all the more fun for that.  I first saw this on a VIPCO tape (and if you remember that label and their claims, then you'll understand why I thought it was a confusing mess), re-watched it on another label and liked it a great deal more.
A wonderful Graham Humphreys poster for a funny little film that was, sadly, a bit out of step with the times for when it was released (though it did get a Look-In cover).
Graham Humphreys again, giving us some of the highlights from Sam Raimi's bizarre and very funny sequel.
A clever and fairly subtle poster for a darkly intense and unsettling modern vampire tale, long before those creatures of the night got all spangly and sparkling.  I love the film (especially the uncomfortable sequence in the bar when you suddenly realise that everyone's in trouble) and I think this poster serves it well.

Happy Halloween!

Monday 17 October 2022

The Secret Of Phantom Lake, by William Arden

2014 marked the fiftieth anniversary of The Three Investigators being published and, to celebrate, I re-read and compiled my all-time Top 10 (safe in the knowledge that it would be subject to change in years to come, of course).  I posted my list here, having previously read all 30 of the original series from 2008 to 2010 (a reading and reviewing odyssey that I blogged here).

Following this, I decided to re-visit some of the books I'd missed on that second read-through, without any intention of posting reviews of them but, as if often the way, it didn't quite work out like that.  Happily, this is on-going and so here's an additional review...
Collins Hardback First Edition (printed in 1974 and never reprinted), cover art by Roger Hall
"Step carefully and look behind you - mystery and danger await all who follow The Three Investigators to Phantom Lake."

That's Alfred Hitchcock's warning...

Not only do Pete, Bob and Jupiter hunt lakeside phantoms - thy're also haunted by a ghostly gunfighter.  Not to mention a piano at plays itself and a saloonful of poker-playing miners - invisible ones!

Where will the spooky treasure trail to Phantom Lake lead them next?

You have been warned...

Detail from the back cover of the Armada format a paperback,
art by Peter Archer.  There were no internal illustrations
in the UK editions.
The fifth entry in the series by William Arden, pen name for the prolific thriller writer Dennis Lynds  (his fourth, The Mystery Of The Shrinking House, was published just prior in this in 1972 and I wrote about it here), this is as well plotted and paced as all his books.  There’s some action in the Jones Junkyard (including Jupiter using “Plan One!”), but most of the piece takes place at the Gunn estate, which is well observed and described.  With a haunting visit to Cabrillo Island (where Arden really ramps up the atmosphere - it provides the basis of the hardback artwork) and the diverting trip to Powder Gulch (a ghost town which gives the paperback editions their imagery), the book also makes good use of a trip to Santa Barbara (utilising real locations, I was pleased to discover).

The central mystery - was there actually any treasure and where might Gunn have hidden it? - is well put together and the way the boys unlock the clues is nicely played, though I was amazed at all these businesses that just happened to have one-hundred-year-old documents lying around.  Aunt Matilda and Hans have decent sized roles - the latter participating in a few key scenes  - and Arden makes good use of the Christmas period, with the boys helping their parents/guardians put up the decorations and seeing them all over town, while the season adds a chill to the air.

As well written as always, this has some decent set pieces - especially the Santa Barbara and Cabrillo Island sequences - some nice touches of comedy (there’s a bit where Jupiter runs one way, only to see his compatriots coming the other way) and a mention for Ruxton University (where Dr Barrister, who the boys first met in The Mystery Of The Singing Serpent, works).  Although the ending is perhaps wrapped up a bit too quickly for my liking, this is a solid mystery that works well and gives each of the boys their moment to shine.  I would very much recommend it.
Armada format a paperback (printed between 1976 and 1979), cover art by Peter Archer
(cover scan of my copy)
Armada format b paperback (printed between 1980 and 1982), cover art by Peter Archer
(cover scan of my copy)

There were no internal illustrations for the UK edition which is a shame, since some of the set pieces used in the US hardback edition would have been ably served by Roger Hall.

Thanks to Ian Regan for the artwork (you can see more at his excellent Cover Art database here)

Monday 3 October 2022

New Nightmares - Horror Writing School

Alex Davis, the mastermind behind the fantastic Edge/Sledge Lit conventions at Derby Quad (which I've written about extensively, as you can see here) has now posted the modules in his latest online writing school.

I am thrilled to be involved with such a great line-up of writers and very happy to be putting on a module for "Plotting and Planning" alongside my dear old chum and plotting partner David Roberts

While we haven't finalised our event yet, we'll be going through the processes that have so far seen the creation of four thriller novels with the fifth just about to get underway. This will cover everything from the initial idea to creating a spine for the set pieces and how to put together compelling characters. There might also be a practical element where we plot out a novella in the session!

More details on the event link here and David & I hope to see some of you online.

I can guarantee it'll be fun and you never know, we might even teach you a new trick! Get your tickets and find out!

David & I in his study standing in front of the white board where we'd just finished bashing out the plan for what became ONLY WATCHING YOU.