Friday, 3 November 2017

The Art of Horror Movies - An illustrated history


Of all the genres of movies there are, none has produced movie posters that are as colourful and lurid as those created to sell the humble horror movie. In fact, the more humble the horror movie, the more lurid the cover. Some of history's greatest movie posters are reprinted in this sumptuous coffee table book that spans from the earliest silents right through to Resident Evils and Underworlds that were around and about at the cinema in recent times.

Considering the length of the publishing process, no book can ever hope to be completely up to date, but considering that the art of the movie poster is dying on its feet with the advent of photoshop and video screen advertising, this may the last book to celebrate the art of the nasty poster for nasty movies.



It's not just filled with posters for the likes of Nosferatu, The Curse of the Werewolf and (ahem) The Human Centipede, there are some original pieces that celebrate the likes of The Masque of the Red Death, The Mummy and Pan's Labyrinth.

There are words as well, though they rarely amount to half the page and don't really tell any hardcore horror or movie poster fan anything that they didn't already know about or didn't really need to know about. The words, though, are not what books like this are about. The pictures are the thing and it's unlikely that you're going to find a more comprehensive and visually appealing collection of horror movie poster art anywhere.

Horror art is always going to be something of an acquired taste and certainly this book's audience is going to be limited by the subject matter, but if you've acquired that taste then there is plenty here to enjoy.

So, with Halloween just over and Christmas on the horizon, treat the gore-lover in your life to this hefty tome of bright, black and red-drenched cinematic horror delights, the like of which we are unlikely to see again.



Saturday, 26 August 2017

At the centre of the universe, on the planet Midworld, lies the Dark Tower. It alone keeps the darkness and the monsters from invading all of the worlds in known space. The Man in Black, evils sorceror Walter, wants to destroy the tower, allowing the demons in and harnessing them to make him ruler of everything. To this end, he is kidnapping children from Earth who have mental powers known as 'shining'. These powers can be harnessed to destroy the tower, but the latest unwilling recruit falls into the hands of Roland Deschain, the last of the noble gunfighters and a man who has dedicated his life to killing the Man in Black.

THE DARK TOWER is Stephen King's magnum opus, a tale that spans several volumes and tries to combine many of his earlier works into some sort of cohesive narrative. The King Cinematic Universe, if you will. Considering the scope and scale of the source material, it was never going to be easy to pare it down into something that would satisfy as a single movie. An epic TV series would have been much more like it. However, what we have is the movie and it has been a long, hard road getting to the point where there is something on the screen bearing the name THE DARK TOWER.

Before we go any further, it is worth pointing out that the film is not bad. It's not going to rock anyone's universe, but it is far from the train wreck that some reviews would have you believe. Of course, if you are invested in the source works then having it all squashed down into this one film, and with only a 95 minute running time at that, would probably have been unacceptable no matter how good it was. That it is entertaining enough without ever being anything even remotely special was never going to be good enough. There is quite clearly a whole heap of backstory that a single flashback to a previous meeting between Roland and Walter cannot ever hope to cover.

Idris Elba is perfect casting as gunslinger Roland, being immediately tough, laconic and honourable without having to do anything to prove those things. His presence immediately screams 'hero' whilst the script tries to make him a flawed and reluctant one, without much success. Ranged against him is Matthew McConaughey's Walter, a magician who wouldn't be out of place on a Vegas stage, but who gets to do some nasty stuff to people along the way. Considering the power that he has, it is hard to see why he keeps sending incompetent underlings to do the things that he could achieve easily. The fact that his power is so immense makes the climactic showdown between the two somewhat anticlimactic, despite Roland's assault on his New York stronghold being filled with some pretty good action licks. In fact, whenever Roland gets the guns out, the film improves immensely.

Despite coming originally from the pen of Stephen King, there is relatively little horror on show. A couple of CGI demons are dealt with fairly quickly, Walter's army are rat creatures that wear ill-fitting human skins and the wizard doesn't mind torturing kids to destroy the tower that stands in his way, but this film is more interested in being a fantasy actioner. There are some vaguely amusing fish out of water antics when Roland crosses over to modern day New York from a post-apocalypse Midworld and Elba manages these with perfect timing, but there is a plot to get through and character development takes a big back seat to that. The rivalry and hatred between Roland and Walter is barely explored, so much of the impact is lost.

The film looks good and the direction is straightforward enough not to get in the way, but it also adds nothing in the way of visual excitement. A few sly references to other King works (Oh, there's It or Christine) won't cut it.

Sure to disappoint King fans and especially fans of his longest work, THE DARK TOWER is an OK time passer that never quite rises to the challenge of what it ought to have been.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Game of Thrones journals - The second coming.

So, you're innocently going about your business when you are struck by the greatest story idea ever (TM). You know that you're never going to remember it, so you reach into your backpack/ briefcase/ handbag (delete as appropriate), whip out your pen and your trusty journal and jot it down.

That's what should happen, but let's be honest, what really happens is you scrabble around looking for anything that you can write with and write on. Well, one of those problems has been solved with style with the arrival of these new Game of Thrones journals.

The first four in the series were embossed with the crests of the Great Houses, but this second set has gone for other symbols that are hugely important in the world of Westeros in George RR Martin's fantasy behemoth. The first is the Iron Throne, the thing that all the fuss is about and that everyone's fighting over in the first place. Next up is the seal of the King's Hand, bestowed on the most trusted advisor to the King and therefore making them the second most powerful person in the whole of the political mess. Following that is Night's Watch, denoted by the bulk of the giant wall that they defend against the Winter and the terrible things that it brings with them.  Last, but far from least, is Valar Morghulis, represented by the most famous white door in the whole of written fantasy.

That's all well and good, but a notebook's a notebook's a notebook I hear you say.

I don't hear you say that? I could have sworn I heard you say that. Well, these aren't your common or garden notebooks. The covers are not just attractively embossed in silver and gold (and yes, white) colour on faux leather jackets, but they come with inner covers bearing scenes from the show itself (Tyrion graces the Hand of the King insert whilst Arya turns up in the Valar Morghulis edition.

That's not enough, you cry. My, you are a demanding bunch aren't you? OK, so how about the fact that the paper is pretty good quality, thick and lined and not likely to bleed your ink through to the next page. How about the fact that the ribbon page marker comes as standard and an elastic band holds it shut when you're not frantically writing down your own thoughts and ideas that are so much better than that George RR Martin could ever come up with (if in fact he ever comes up with anything more anyway, since he doesn't seem to be all that on time.  Just to finalise the deal, there's a nifty little document pocket at the back for you to stash useful and interesting snippets for future reference.

 Suffice to say that they're just a bit classier than your usual 99p efforts from the newsagent and might be just the thing to inspire you to George RR Martin levels of success with the most famous fantasy series on the planet, the most successful TV show on the planet and a shedful of deadlines that you just don't seem to be able to get around to meeting.

Or you can just sit there running your hands lovingly over those oh so attractive covers crooning "Who's a pretty book then?" Your choice of course.



Saturday, 20 December 2014

MODERN SCI-FI FILMS FAQ - by Tom DeMichael

Another book in the FAQ series addresses one of our favourite subjects, science fiction movies. Considering we call ourselves the Sci Fi Freak Site, that shouldn't come as any great surprise to anyone.

Also not coming as a surprise to anyone will be the reservations we have over the title and subtitle. There are still no frequently asked questions in this book and we still don't know what they mean by 'all that's left to know about...', in this case time travel, alien, robot and out-of-this-world movies since 1970.

With this book, though, we also have larger reservations about the content than the previous entries we've tried (Doctor Who and Stephen King Films). It's not that it's hard to read; the writer's style is clean and easy to read and doesn't distract from the content at all. It's the construction that we don't understand.

Each film starts with a synopsis and then has some afterwords, analysis, box office and anecdotes. Nothing wrong with that, but it's the amount of room devoted to each that confuses. Take the entry for INCEPTION for example - the plot synopsis runs to seven pages whilst the rest runs to two. That seems to us to be entirely the wrong way around. Admittedly, INCEPTION is a film with a dense and twisting plot, but does anyone really need every twist and turn to be laid out for them? And that's the problem. If you've seen (and loved in most cases) the films then you'll know them well enough to not need to read a detailed synopsis of what happens. If you're going to see the film then you're not going to want to know all the twists and plot spoilers that are included. We found ourselves skipping the synopses altogether and reading only the 'afterwords'. Since these are the smaller sections and seemingly obsessed with box office receipts and not a lot else, the 380 page count gets a lot, lot less.

More interesting are the opening section on the literary roots of the genre (i.e. some important sci fi writers whose work has been recently adapted), science fiction movie spaceships and notable sci fi movie personages. Since these are not simply regurgitating plots, they have more interest.

It's hard to know who this book can be aimed that who won't be disappointed by it, and that's a big problem.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA VAULT by Paul Ruditis

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA is one of the most lauded television shows of recent years. Notice that we left out the qualifier 'science fiction' in that? That's because the redefined version of a camp 70's STAR WARS wannabe was a genuine phenomenon that crossed the critical divide from genre into the mainstream. That might not be such a big thing nowadays with the success of the likes of GAME OF THRONES and other HBO shows, but it was big at the time.

So, if you were one of the people who loved the show (and if not, why not?) then you could do a lot worse than getting your hands on this lavishly illustrated book that starts with that camp 70's wannabe and goes right through to the doomed spin-off CAPRICA and the tv movies that tried to extend the magic.

There's only a couple of hours' reading time here and the devoted fan won't learn a lot that they didn't already know, but the words aren't what books like this are all about. The production art and set designs are crammed onto every page and there's more than enough to satisfy even the most hardened Galactica buff. And just in case you weren't convinced that this is all about the images, there are a couple of envelopes inside the front and back cover stuffed with pull out images like Ralph McQuarrie's poster, comparisons of ships of the fleet and the development of the cylon warrior.

The design of the book and the gatefold cover make the £20 cover price seem like a bargain. It's coming up to Christmas, so if you have a frakkin' Galactica fan in your life your present problems could just have been solved.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Know Your Sci Fi Computers?

So you think that you know your science fiction computers? Sure which ones you could trust in a pinch? Well, follow the link below to a pretty neat info graphic (no, we don't know what that means either, but the kids do) that will tell you all you need to know about trusting those pesky bunches of isolinear logic circuits.

Fictional Computers Good vs Evil

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

SCI-FI CHRONICLES - Aurum Press - Out 2nd October

It's not often that we open something that we've been sent to review and let out very unmanly fanboy squeals, but that is exactly what happened when we opened the packaging on SCI-FI CHRONICLES. Our very first impression was 'Oh my God, it's beautiful'. The cover is a lush patterned black with a rendering of Hal 9000's eye lens and some very shiny lettering that just isn't done justice by the image alongside.

But, the beauty of this book doesn't just stop at the cover. It is lavishly illustrated throughout with glorious colour images. They're not huge, but there are so many of them. Each entry is illustrated with small icon images with some of the larger subjects getting two or four pages devoted purely to the pictures.

You need a lot of pages to get all of that onto and SCI-FI CHRONICLES has more than 570 of them (though admittedly 40 of those are dedicated to the index and the credits.

With so much information now readily available on our electronic devices at the swipe of a finger, encyclopedias like this one are much harder to come by, so it's to Aurum's credit that they are willing to even produce the book, let alone do such a good job on it. There are 27 listed contributors, all of whom seem to have a passion for the subject.

And it's a wide-ranging subject too, since the book doesn't restrict itself to just one medium. There are landmark books, films, TV shows, comics, video games and even characters and personalities all contained within. Isaac Asimov shares space with The Day The Earth Stood Still and Jack Kirby. Steven Spielberg jostles elbows with King Kong and Halo. Even with half a thousand pages, it can't be all-encompassing, but we've yet to come up with one entry that we thought ought to be featured that wasn't. The detail is more of a sketch, an introduction to each subject, but you'll know whether you're interested in finding out more about each by the time that you reach the end of the page.

It's not perfect, though, surely. Very nearly. The chronological structure makes it a little harder than necessary to find your subject of choice if you're not interested in reading it as a narrative and the index is a touch fiddly to find the main article of choice. The chronology also stops in 2009, which suggests that there has not been one single book, film, video game, graphic novel, character or creator who has emerged in the genre in the past five years. That seems a little hard to believe.

The space devoted to each entry can be a little obscure as well. Blade Runner, visually the second most influential film of all time, shares its page with the book Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep and mention isn't even given to the excellent video game version and the not quite so excellent KW Jeter sequels. This means that the most influential movie in the genre since Metropolis actually gets less page space that soggy submarine series Seaquest DSV!

Also, any book that states as fact that Tom Baker was the third Doctor has to lose some credibility points.

All of which is nit-picking. The fact is that we have lost hours to this book already and we've had it for less than two days. It has become our favoured reference book of choice and has pride of place on our shelves. That is seriously not bad going.

The £25 price tag might seem a little steep, but take a look inside and you'll probably fall as instantly in love as we did. Also, it's a book that you will go back to time and time again. And it's the kind of gift that your science-loving significant other would thank you for and mean it.

The lovely folks at Aurum have promised one lucky winner a copy of this book absolutely free, so trot on over to www.scififreaksite.com and take part in our giveaway.