Archive for the Reviews Category

Horror TV: From Anthologies to Series

Posted in Reviews with tags on March 30, 2010 by gobbets

There is always a lot of debate of what exactly falls into the ‘horror’ genre (as opposed to fantasy, sci-fi, thriller etc). In terms of television the definition is pretty fluid, and most shows of this type contain a fair portion of elements from each genre. However to be fully conversant with horror in popular culture, the medium of television is crucial as it gives us some of the best known (and most loved) characters in the genre. Horror TV has existed since the 50s, usually in the form of anthology series with a new story, new monster or scenario and new characters every week. Some of the better-known series are listed below:

50s and 60s
Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-1965)
The Twilight Zone (1959-1964)
The Outer Limits (1963-1965)
Dark Shadows (1966-1971)

70s
Night gallery (1970-1973)
The Sixth Sense (1972)
Kolchak; The Night Stalker (1974)

80s
Tales from the Darkside (1983-1988, produced by zombie legend George A Romero)
Tales from the Crypt (1989-1996)
Monsters (1988-1991)
The New Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1985- 1987)
Hammer House of Horror (1980)

However from the 90s we see a shift from Horror anthologies to serial television with long-range plots and season-length story arcs, extended analyses of key themes and ideas and recurring characters. There were still a few new anthology series launched in the 90s (The Outer Limits was revived from 1995-2002 and The Hunger ran from 1997-2000, Masters of Horror 2005-2007) but serial horror is now the most prominent form of horror TV. Listed below are some of the best horror series in the last 20 years:

The X-Files (1993-2002)
American Gothic (1995-1996)
Millennium (1996-1999)
Buffy (1997-2003) and its spin-off Angel (1999-2004)
Supernatural (2005-present)

This is not an exhaustive list but these series have had a significant influence on both the genre and popular culture. To help you get acquainted with them Gobbets will be providing you with guides to these series over the coming weeks.

Do you have a favourite horror series? Have fond memories of any of the above? Tell us about it!

The Wolfman: Lon Chaney would be proud

Posted in Reviews with tags , on February 25, 2010 by gobbets

Though film remakes have a reputation in horror circles of being unmitigated disasters (my hackles rise just thinking about Nicholas Cage butchering The Wicker Man!) I’m going to go out on a limb and say I love the new version on The Wolfman. Now the 1941 original starring Lon Chaney is an undisputed classic – but I think even the wolfman himself would howl with pleasure over this one.

The opening scene sends little shivers down the spine of the true fan who will immediately recognise the poem from the original:

Even a man who is pure in heart
and says his prayers by night
may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
and the autumn moon is bright.

The Victorian setting-  replete with misty moors, eerie manor house housing ghosts of the family’s troubled past, and the usual gaggle of gypsys and superstitious locals – is new, but works well to create the right atmosphere of mystery and suspense (and of course to capitalise on the craze for all things Victorian at the moment!).

The inclusion of Hugo Weaving as Inspector Aberline (more famous for his work on the Jack the Ripper Case!) adds another element of interest into an already full dance card of celebrated character actors. Anthony Hopkins plays an eccentric and increasingly sinister patriarch (no surprises there!) and Benicio Del Toro (a collector of original Wolfman memorabilia) has just the right hangdog look to play the confused, melancholy Talbot Jnr.

The ‘look’ of the wolfman is strikingly similar to the original – with Del Toro becoming the man-wolf hybrid made famous by Lon Chaney rather than the ‘large wolf’ type werewolf favoured by modern films. Interestingly it seems the hirsuit Del Toro made make-up artist Rick Baker’s job a little harder: “Where do you go from there? He’s practically there as it is! … going from Benicio to Benicio as the Wolfman isn’t a really extreme difference” (you can read the rest of the interview here).

The attention to detail in the set is amazing – it will take a few watches to really see all the curios scattered through the house – and the clues to the real mystery of the wolfman that are hidden in plain sight. And I’m certain the cinematographers had enormous fun setting up shots that mirror those from the original film, but with a wry twist here and there.

The Wolfman is no ‘prodigal son’ but a faithful heir to the Hammer throne.

The best bits: the scene in the asylum’s lecture theatre, and the bloody fingerprints on the piano keyboard.

Rating: 4 severed thumbs

‘Gravesend’ gives hope to series

Posted in Reviews with tags , on February 23, 2010 by gobbets

Being a big fan of Black House Comics’ The Dark Detective: Sherlock Holmes series, when I heard they were publishing a series of pulp-style novellas based in a world where the zombie horde has taken over I was ecstatic. A fantastic little Australian publishing house working in my current favourite genre – what could be better?

Well the excitement dulled somewhat as I traipsed all over the place looking for somewhere to buy Killable Hours, the first in the series. Until just a few weeks ago when their much awaited online store opened the only place you could buy Black House publications was from newsagents. And not very many newsagents had heard of them. So when I finally found it – 2 states later – I devoured it eagerly, like a zombie with a fresh, juicy hunk of thigh, only to be left – well – unsatisfied.

Clay Blakehills’ Killable Hours is set inside a law firm in Melbourne, just as the zombie outbreak is occurring. One of the lawyers brings his brand new virus to a team meeting and viola! instant zombies. Leaving aside for the moment that lawyers are more commonly associated with bloodsucking vampires than flesh-eating zombies, the pun in the title (on the phrase ‘billable hours’ – sheesh!) is cute, and the notion of zombie corporate lawyers has a lot of potential, but unfortunately it just isn’t realised here. There is a lot of action, but it tends to be of the: I killed a zombie, I nearly got killed by a zombie, I killed a zombie, Oh Dear! Look out! There are zombies! variety – which quickly becomes quite dull if the characterisation isn’t up to scratch. The protagonist is likeable and heroic just not very interesting, and that tends to sum up the whole book. There’s nothing wrong with it – but for someone who likes a bit of concept in their horror it’s just a bit blah. (Mind you – not everyone agrees with me – see this review at Scaryminds). That’s not to say there aren’t some good moments – a Senior Partner overcoming his shellshock to take to the zombies with a nine-iron is good fun – and the occasional updates from outside media and blogs that the characters find are creatively employed, but I was just a bit underwhelmed.

Enter Gravesend. Determined to give the series a second try, and encouraged by the fact I could just buy the new title online, my copy of Jason Fischer’s Gravesend arrived on Friday. I’d eaten it all up by Saturday and still wanted more – but this time in the very best of ways. Set in a small English town where a ragtag group of survivors have barricaded themselves in to wait out the apocalypse, Gravesend centres around teenager Tamsyn, and her fellow inmates as they struggle to establish a system of order and a new way of seeing the world in the wake of the destruction. In the best tradition of zombie horror (see Romero’s films or the terrifying 28 Days Later) the real monsters in this story are the humans themselves, and the core battle is not between the survivors and the zombies but between hope and resignation. Insightful social commentary, realistic characters and still enough gore to make it a zombie story, Gravesend was a real pleasure.

I was hesitant before – but now I can’t wait for the next in the series. I’ll just have to chew over some old meals while I’m waiting.