Kim Newman dares to check out this weekend's Classic Sci-Fi event
By James Whittington, Thursday 14th April 2022
Kim Newman

Respected journalist, film critic, and fiction writer Kim Newman takes us through the celebrated B-movies joining Horror for our Classic Sci-Fi Weekend event running from 16th-17th of April.

The Horror Channel returns to a decade riven with fears of devastating climate change, imminent global war, mutating diseases and general paranoia... albeit in black and white, with miniature effects and make-up masks rather than CGI and the kind of urgency that means world-menacing phenomena can be invoked, allowed to run rampage and then dispelled in well under ninety minutes of crisp, sometimes poetic, sometimes bombastic melodrama.

The times weren't really simpler, and neither were the movies if we pay close attention to what's always going on beneath the surface... where malign rocks run out of control and lost civilisations plot against us, or worry about the bugs under the microscope growing to titanic size and terrorising fleeing humans, often picking out tight-sweatered female laboratory assistants for particular attention while stalwart military men, scientists and civilian administrators do their best to restore the balance of nature.

Whether from Outer Space or Deep Below, the monsters are coming. And we're ready to sock them on whatever they've got that passes for a jaw. Buckle in for a wild - possibly atomic! - ride.

It Came From Outer Space (1953)
This opens with a blazing meteor zooming out of the screen (originally in 3D) to crash into the desert and then spins an eerie, unusual story (a screen original by Ray Bradbury, hence a few stretches of 'poetic' voice-over) about 'xenomorphs' stranded in the Arizona desert (yes, this is where the Alien franchise got the name from). The one-eyed, tentacled, fog-shrouded beings are barely-glimpsed, but the film makes extensive, precedent-setting use of the distorted subjective camera looming over screaming humans to convey the monster's point of view. Unlike most flying saucer scare films, the script is somewhat sympathetic to the aliens, who mainly aren't a threat to anyone and (like E.T.) just want to go home. However, one of the crew turns out to be a psycho who memorably impersonates the heroine, swanning about the edge of a crater in a chic evening dress while wielding a mean raygun. It has the tinny domestic scenes and off-the-peg performances typical of early '50s s f, but director Jack Arnold does wonderful things with the natural eeriness of the desert setting.

Tarantula (1955)
Professor Deemer (Leo G. Carroll) synthesises a formula designed to increase the growth of livestock. Struck down with a deforming disease which is a side-effect of exposure to the formula, he loses control of the experiment - and a spider grows to giant size. Director Jack Arnold returns to the desert for one of the best creepy-crawly monster movies of the 1950s. Mild-mannered Carroll, namechecked as 'over a barrel' in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, is an unusually well-intentioned mad scientist, going the monster route as his features expand lop-sidedly before the business with the giant spider kicks in. John Agar is a two-fisted small-town hero and Mara Corday makes a fetchingly imperilled lab assistant, though the monster is actually done in at the end by napalm dropped from a jet-fighter by a young Clint Eastwood, who plays his entire part with a pilot's mask over his lower face. Stills tend to make the monster look like a giant puppet, but that only appears in a few inserts - for the most part, the creature is plated by a genuine arachnid optically inserted into the landscape or rampaging across miniature sets.

The Mole People (1957)
Though they didn't quite catch on in the way the Creature From the Black Lagoon did, the Mole People were one of Universal Pictures' serious attempts to expand their monster pantheon in the 1950s - the big-eyed, clawed, snouted critters featured in a photo-comic book that commands high prices on ebay and have been reproduced in licensed 'Universal Monster' action figure form alongside much higher-profile fiends. One hindrance to their pop culture visibility is that in the film they're mostly background minions, and all the drama is carried by other characters. In a throwback to the 'lost race' adventures of yore, intrepid John Agar and Hugh Beaumont delve deep into caves under a glacier and discover a civilisation of albino Sumerians complete with winsome handmaiden (Cynthia Patrick), imposing High Priest (Alan Napier, 'Alfred' to Adam West's Batman) and prophecy of doom. As is often the case, a hidden society lives undisturbed for millennia but revolt and natural disaster break out twenty minutes after contact with the modern world.

The Deadly Mantis (1957)
After an opening reel which consists of military stock footage and urgent narration about the United States' Northern defences - lots of planes flying over arctic wastes - an early instance of global warming exacerbated by volcanic eruption cracks open the ice... and a monster escapes. On the model of Them! and The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, the barely-seen fiend terrorises a few isolated communities and causes air and shipping disasters before we get a good look at it and realise it's a giant praying mantis. Note that the titles of the earlier films didn't give away the surprise the way The Deadly Mantis does. In the finale, the ravening insect mounts an attack on New York, counterintuitively crawling though a Manhattan Tunnel rather than flying over the skyscrapers. By 1957, a rigid formula had been laid down for giant monster movies and this sticks to it faithfully, with extremely stiff human actors like Craig Stevens and William Hopper in uniform or labcoat. However, director Nathan Juran and an expert effects team stage several unnerving creature encounters and rev up suspense - the idea of a big mantis is at once silly and disturbing, and again a combination of puppetry and nature footage creates a convincing illusion of monster menace.

The Monolith Monsters (1957)
The threat in 1950s science fiction was often animal (dinosaurs and big insects) or vegetable (pod people, the Thing From Another World)... but it could also be mineral. Here, a meteor crashlands in the much-invaded Southwestern desert and grows in size whenever it gets wet... leading to impressive, unusual, weirdly fascinating sequences of jagged black rocks growing like crystals in a sped-up nature film, becoming towering crags (ie: monoliths), then breaking apart and toppling over, often into rivers or during rainstorms so the whole creaking, crackling, creeping thing starts up again. Hero Grant Williams, the sometime Incredible Shrinking Man, is staunch and heroine Lola Albright gasps in horror and a rare nonsexualised alien menace, but they're upstaged by the metamorphic rocks. It's one of several monster movies in which paying attention during science lectures proves essential to mankindís eventual fightback against potential extinction. The next logical step was an evil liquid, which duly turned up in the classic The Blob.

Ever wanted to see what Sense-Sphere Marble Vinyl looked like?
Posted in News, Thursday 19th May 2022
DrWho_TheSensorites_3D_Exploded 02

"They are hostile, these Sensorites, but in the strangest possible way..."

Demon Records presents a narrated TV soundtrack from the very first series of Doctor Who, The Sensorites starring William Hartnell as the Doctor.

The TARDIS lands on board a spaceship, in orbit around a planet known as the Sense-Sphere. The Doctor and his companions learn that the human crew have been imprisoned on their craft by the Sensorites, who blame them for the introduction of a fatal disease. When the Sensorites steal the TARDIS lock, the travellers are forced to go with the aliens to their planet and attempt to broker peace between the races. But ...

Celebrate the music of Alan Silvestri thanks to Silver Screen Records
Posted in News, Thursday 19th May 2022
Alan Silvestri Album

From small beginnings in 1974 as a local cinema and university event, Film Fest Gent has grown yearly in stature and is now recognised as one of the major destinations for the film industry. A vital component is the celebration of film music in the shape of the World Soundtrack Awards which honours the very best composers at work in the world of cinema.

In 2015, renowned Hollywood composer Alan Silvestri was lauded for his outstanding contribution to screen music in a career which extends over forty years. With over 100 film and TV credits he has created memorable music for many of the most revered and profitable films of the modern era including Back to The Future, ...

Escape from New York score to be released on red vinyl
Posted in News, Thursday 19th May 2022
EFNW Red Vinyl

Originally released on the 31st of July 2015, the vinyl edition of John Carpenter's classic 1981 thriller, Escape from New York mirrored the expanded CD release from 2000, with over 20 minutes of previously unreleased music plus music from scenes deleted from the final print and original dialogue highlights.

The masters for that CD were re-mixed from the original multi-track session tapes by long-time Carpenter associate Alan Howarth making it a true unmissable release.

Silva Screen Records will re-release this score on red vinyl for the first time on May 27th.

. ...
Would you experience The Leftovers?
Posted in News, Thursday 19th May 2022
The Leftover Covers

Issued on limited edition white vinyl is Max Richter's emotive and minimal score to Damon Lindelof's TV series The Leftovers which is about a post-apocalyptic global event where 2% of the world's population disappears without explanation. Richter's approach explores the feelings of the protagonist's family, the Garveys, through intimate, small-scale music.

He tackles this psychological landscape by bringing a ritual quality to the score, while themes of departure and loss are represented by a sense of sonic decay, relying on the instrumentation of a few sustained tones on pianos, harps and celesta.

Max Richter is a classically trained composer that defies bo...

Doctor Who soundtrack now in orange!
Posted in News, Thursday 19th May 2022
Doctor Who Series 1 and 2 Soundtrack

Back by popular demand having been originally released in 2013 on black vinyl, the now classic soundtrack to Doctor Who Series 1 and 2 has been repressed on coloured vinyl for the first time thanks to Silva Screen Records.

The enduringly popular music to Doctor Who Series 1 & 2 features some of Murray Gold's finest work alongside two songs from Neil Hannon (The Divine Comedy), Song For 10 from 2005's Christmas Special and Love Don't Roam from The Runaway Bride.

Gold is one of the most popular British composers working in film and TV with successes including Alien Autopsy, Casanova, Shameless and Mischief Night.

This new editi...

Horror Channel continues to unlock The Vintage Vault this June with Sunday night classic genre double-bills
Posted in Features, Thursday 19th May 2022
The Vintage Vault-1

This June, Horror Channel once again journeys into the history of genre cinema with The Vintage Vault, presenting double-bills of classic sci-fi and horror films every Sunday night.

The vault is unlocked on Sunday June 5th with Nathan Juran's Ray Harryhausen inspired 20 Million Miles to Earth. This is paired with Fred F. Sears' rampaging alien bird yarn The Giant Claw. Then on Sunday June 12th, we have The Monolith Monsters, in which the world is attacked by thirsty giant crystals, followed by the beastly mutant classic The Deadly Mantis.

On Sunday June 19th, the brilliantly lurid The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), directed by Terence Fisher, hits our screens, followed ...

Horror Channel launches assault of premieres for June plus further seasons of Farscape
Posted in Features, Thursday 12th May 2022

Ryan Simon's British supernatural chiller Demon Eye, starring Darren Day, and Liam Fox, and Brad Baruh's Coen-sequel mystery thriller Night Drive, starring AJ Bowen and Sophie Dalah, both receive Friday night UK TV premieres on Horror Channel.

There are also channel premieres for John Carpenter's cult classic Assault On Precinct 13 and Finnish-German sci-fi Nazi horror spoof Iron Sky: The Coming Race, directed by Timo Vuorensola (Iron Sky) and starring Udo Kier, reprising his role as Adolf Hitler.

Plus, cult classic Farscape returns with the channel premieres of Season 3 and 4. This Australian-American Sci-Fi TV series, created by Rockne S. O'Bannon, has proved a big hit with Horror...

Wyrmwood: Apocalypse - Blu-ray review
Posted in Reviews, Saturday 30th April 2022
Wyrmwood ApocalypseWyrmwood: Apocalypse
101 Films
Certificate 18

Zombie cinema is a genre that's literally dying on its feet. Restrained by its own concept strong or original movies of the undead are few and very far between. The TV series The Walking Dead and all its spin-offs has ensured that every possible avenue of interest or uniqueness has been followed. Wyrmwood: Apocalypse is a brutal and bloody entry and attempts to deliver a more violent and relevant to today's de-sensitised audience.

In a zombie infested Australian wasteland, hard-edged soldier Rhys (Luke McKenzie) - who uses zombies as fuel for his barbie - dedicates his days to tracking down and capturing s...

From Rob Savage comes Dashcam
Posted in News, Saturday 30th April 2022

Rob Savage's provocative new horror Dashcam will be released in selected UK cinemas on Friday June 3, by eOne and will be available for digital download from Monday June 6. Savage, who was the genius behind Host in 2020 seems to have tapped into what makes found-footage such a chilling genre and this time has turned the tension up to 11!

Dashcam follows Annie Hardy on a crazy horror road trip. Viewed through her livestream, this abrasive musician's night takes a dangerous turn after she agrees to help transport a frail elderly woman out of town. As you can guess, things don't go to plan and a surreal road-trip begins to unfold...

Written by Gemma Hurley, Rob Savage and Jed Shepherd ...
The Boy Behind the Door - Blu-ray review
Posted in Reviews, Friday 29th April 2022
The Boy Behind the Door CoverThe Boy Behind the Door
Acorn Media
Certificate 15

This title crept up on me, I knew little about it so went in blind, came out the other end disturbed, challenged and I have to admit, a bit emotional. The Boy Behind the Door takes a very sensitive subject, that of child abduction and the evils which go along with it, and ramps it to an extreme and intense level.

Twelve-year-old Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) and best friend, Kevin (Ezra Dewey) are abducted on their way home from school and taken to a house surrounded by miles of bleak, dark country in every direction. Bobby manages to escape his confines and quietly navigates the dark h...

Interview with Stewart Sparke, director of Book of Monsters
Posted in Interviews, Friday 29th April 2022
Director Stewart Sparke watches a scene

A birthday bash becomes a bloodbath when monsters escape from a supernatural storybook, leaving a group of teenagers to fight for their lives and shut the party down in the UK TV premiere of Book of Monsters on May 16th on Horror. We chatted to its director, Stewart Sparke about this fun, retro-filled fright-fest.

HC: Did you know from a young age that you wanted to be a film director?

SS: I remember first realising that I wanted to make films during one of many viewings of The Mummy (1999) on VHS in my bedroom on an old 15" TV. I became quite obsessed with the film and tried to make all my friends come over to watch it ...

Dare you see The Boy Behind The Door?
Posted in News, Tuesday 26th April 2022

The Boy Behind The Door is the dramatic and evocative feature film debut from writing-directing duo David Charbonier and Justin Powell. This Shudder Original from the talented team - who went on to create the critically acclaimed horror The Djinn - has been described by the NME as 'practically flawless' and is now set for its UK Blu-ray, DVD and digital release, from Acorn Media International.

The film, set for its UK physical premiere on 2 May, is unrelentingly fast-paced and conjures up the nerve-jangling sense of dread of a childhood nightmare. A night of unimaginable terror awaits twelve-year-old Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) and best friend, Kevin (Ezra Dewey) when they are abducte...

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