FIVE FILMS FROM...1992
(Directed by Peter Jackson)
Okay, so you're Peter Jackson, and you've just made a silly low-budget sci-fi horror with your friends ("Bad Taste"), which has unexpectedly become a big deal on the festival circuit and turned into a cult film. What do you do next? Well, Meet the Feebles actually, the filthy and funny Muppet satire. But what do you do after that? Meet Braindead, or Dead Alive in the USA, or Your Mother Ate My Dog in Spain. This splendidly OTT zombie comedy is alleged to have been (and perhaps still is) the bloodiest film of all time, with over 300 litres of blood sprayed across the screen during its running time! And yet despite that, It was nearly given a "15" rating in the UK, mainly because the BBFC saw what a jolly funny romp it was! Belly-laughs negates gore in Blighty, you see. The rest of the world apparently doesn't have much of a funny bone when it comes to genre, and various countries (like Germany and the USA) showed it in mainly censored versions, at least initially. Back to the set-up though, directed and co-written by Jackson, the plot is a clever mash-up of genre tropes and slapstick kiwi humour, with a dose of romance chucked in for good measure.
Set in 1950s New Zealand, Lionel Cosgrove (well-known soap actor Timothy Balme) is a decent mild-mannered chap, absolutely dominated by his hideous mother Vera (Elizabeth Moody). Vera blames Lionel for the premature death of her husband and won't let him forget it. However, Lionel shows some backbone and takes out local beauty Paquita Sanchez (Diana Peñalver) to the zoo. Vera sneakily follows him but gets bitten by a new exhibit (a stop-motion Sumatran Rat-Monkey). This causes her to deteriorate grotesquely, eat a dog (hence that Spanish title), and eventually, become a member of the Living Dead. She starts a zombie infestation, mostly centred on the Cosgrove manor. But Lionel has found out he has some real guts… and they're all flying off the rotary blades of his lawnmower! Where to start with this daffy dead-headed delight. It's bloody brilliant, as long as you're not expecting a serious zombie-apocalypse. The story is nuts (the Rat Monkey comes from "Skull Island". Yes, Kong's gaff!), there are plenty of quotable lines (Kung Fu Vicar: "I kick ass for the Lord!"), and the amount of gore and throwaway gags are astounding.
It also pleasingly, contains a bit of heart. For all the knockabout humour, it's quite sweet in places. The initially wimpy Lionel is easy to root for, as is his unlikely romance with Paquita. Balme also exhibits some superb comic-timing. Just check out his hilarious excursion to the playground with zombie baby "Selwyn", as he kicks the hyperactive little sod all over the place! That's another thing to enjoy, as Jackson plays hard-and-fast with zombie tropes. Selwyn? He doesn't come from a pregnant woman made into a zombie. He's the result of a zombie nurse and priest getting jiggy-with-it and a very quick gestation! For more showstopping "eew" moments check out the ear in the custard, and Lionel's "born again" confrontation. And of course, the lawnmowing scene is now legendary in the annals of genre "splat-stick". Sadly enough, it wasn't a big hit on its first run, but if you can see an uncut version, it still nails the horror funny-bone and has hardly aged. Fun fact: "Dr Bob" from the UK's "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!" designed the prosthetics and make-up! Great, great fun and showed the world a fraction of Jackson's grab-bag of talents before the Kong remake and LOTR
(Directed by Leslie Manning)
Most genre fans will be aware of the War of the Worlds scare that Orson Wells orchestrated just before Halloween in 1938. The radio drama emulated a news report about landing Martians, and a good percentage of the listening public bought it and promptly freaked out in droves. The UK equivalent didn't take place until 1992, when the good old Beeb caught everybody with their proverbial pants down with this “TV drama” and suffered years of abuse for it, instead of having it recognised as the work of brilliance that it was. It was directed by Lesley Manning and written by Stephen Volk, both of whom are now better known for other supernatural dramas. The real genius thing about Ghostwatch is that it was sold itself as a good-natured "live broadcast" from a supposedly haunted house. The clues that it was a piece of scripted entertainment were there, but only if you were looking for it or paid attention. Dame Judi Dench wasn't fooled because she knew the actress playing a medium and "scolded" her for ruining the premise. Otherwise, the show starred genuine celebrities who were well known for this type of factual programme. There was Michael Parkinson (the trusted waspish veteran interviewer), the husband and wife duo of Sarah Greene and Mike Smith (both well-known for kids TV and live reports), and Craig Charles (just before Red Dwarf but still known as a comedian and reporter). All of them were "playing" themselves, and although it might seem strange saying so, they do a surprisingly good job of it…
The actual "plot" takes shape as a live TV special that BBC1 is recording for Halloween. Parkinson helms the whole thing and interviews paranormal experts from the "safety" of a TV studio. He also remains in contact with the three presenters who are onsite at a seemingly ordinary urban house in London. The story is closely based on the Enfield Poltergeist case (recently filmed as The Conjuring 2), and other true-life UK ghost stories. The resident family are allegedly being tormented by a ghost called "Pipes" (because the mother says that hot water pipes were causing the ghostly banging noises. Hah!). The presenters slightly mock the situation, and viewers call in with other ghost stories. But it suddenly goes from a suspected hoax and bit-of-fun to the countries biggest unintentional seance, releasing an evil force. Yes, folks, this TV drama gave genuinely diagnosed PTSD to kids and adults alike! Because the "live TV" aspect is played out so expertly, viewers were unprepared for Sarah Greene to be pulled to her "doom", Parkinson to be possessed by a guttural ghost, and a "paranormal invasion "of Britain via its TV sets!
Achingly imaginative, it should have been repeated every year and hailed as a British classic. Unfortunately, the BBC had to apologise for making the unsuspecting members of the UK crap their pants, and the watching kids suffer from years of insomnia! It was only in later times that it became less demonised and more appreciated. Shudder, and other genre channels have had great success with it for a start. And it deserves it for many reasons. Allegedly the Blair Witch gang used it as a reference point when filming (although this was later denied). The show does a brilliant job of subliminally showing "Pipes" (as a bloody-faced spook) in some scenes. According to Manning, he appears 13 times, although most viewers can only spot nine if they try. It's no Haunting of Hill House, but it shows the early creativity and ambition of the project. It's worth pointing out that the performances of Greene and Parkinson, while not BAFTA-winning, also add a great deal of authenticity and atmosphere to the whole thing. It became a legend to genre fans of a generation, and it still exudes that quality. To this day, fans watch the show at 9:25 pm GMT every Halloween and tweet about it. From derided "experiment" to beloved drama, catch it when you can.
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth
(Directed by Anthony Hickox)
How many Hellraiser films are there? Come on, admit it, you don't know, do you? The correct answer is ten, with the last official one being Hellraiser: Judgement in 2018. We'll gloss over the variability of these entries (and whatever the future brings us). But "Hell on Earth" was the last one to play theatrically, and (to be honest) is underrated. Yes, it is a more Americanised and more commercial effort than the previous two films, but it's still hugely enjoyable with some cool moments. If Hellraiser brought Cenobites into the house, and Hellbound gave us a gloriously untypical version of Hell, then Hell on Earth gave us brand-new Cenobites fighting on streets and mocking God in church. How can you not react to that? We even get more background to the "Pinhead" origin story delivered into the bargain! Co-written by Tony Randel and Peter Atkins, it fell into the lap of Hickox, after his work on the Waxwork movies. Not without some finger-wagging from Clive Barker beforehand, to ensure the tone remained non-campy.
After the weird mix of US/UK nondescript locations of the first two movies, the plot for this one takes place in America (North Carolina to be exact). Douche club owner J. P. Monroe buys a hellishly carved artwork, called The Pillar of Souls. This is presumably the same cursed pillar that rose from Hell, after the apocalyptic shenanigans of Hellbound. Unfortunately, this includes the spirit of Pinhead, who has become freed from Hell's "rules" after being split from his human essence, Captain Elliott Spencer (Doug Bradley in both parts of course). He manipulates Monroe into murder to resurrect his body and then aims to raise an army of Pseudo-Cenobites to cause havoc across the land. But he reckons without the feisty resistance of TV reporter Joey Summerskill (an excellent Terry Farrell from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine). It is the most unashamedly commercial and slick entry in the franchise, which is mainly why it doesn't work for some people. But that doesn't mean that it strays too far from the mythology or sells-out in any way. Bradley comes to the forefront (always a good thing) and eulogises marvellously. There are some wonderfully poetic lines from Pinhead ("Human dreams... such fertile ground for the seeds of torment. You're so ripe Joey, and it's harvest time.") and it would be the last time a Hellraiser film would concentrate on him as the main antagonist.
While the film is a little uneven, it makes up for it towards the end when a club full of victims get graphically massacred, and Pseudo-Cenobites (half-human versions mocked up by Pinhead) start to stalk the streets. Particularly "Camera-Head" (zoom focuses into someone's skull) and "Piston-Head" (whole body juddering under the movement of a moving gear in his bonce). It takes away from some of the raw S&M motifs of the first films, but it's still enjoyably ghoulish and bloody. Farrell's "Joey" makes for a good Kirsty Cotton replacement (especially with her response to the priest who tells her that demons don't exist!) and a cool final girl. Even better is the brilliantly controversy-baiting moment where Pinhead storms a church and performs a nose-thumbing "Black Mass", outraging the priest within. It's not earth-shattering, but it's a nice continuation of the saga, and another chance for Bradley to shine in a lead role. There's even a clever little stinger that would have been fun to explore in more detail at a later date—still, rather good stuff and very much underrated.