Wednesday 30 August 2023

Flavours of the Months: July/August 2023...

Tomes of Terror, a menagerie of monsters, and some rubber-burning donuts is just some of what's been setting the tone of my July and August 2023...

Click "READ MORE" below to see this month's looks, sounds, vibes & flavours...


The Walking Dead: Dead City - created by Eli Jorné, this six-part spin-off puts Maggie and Negan together as they enter a zombie-infested New York City in order to rescue Maggie's son Hershel. Now, I'm a huge fan of The Walking Dead, but there's no denying the franchise is well past its heyday and AMC have practically driven the entire thing into the ground at this point. Dead City has some cool ideas and some nifty city-based sequences, but straying beyond the central protagonists we once again find ourselves with a pretty generic villain, more cookie cutter cannon fodder good guys, and a pointless mute girl clogging up the plot and taking away screen time that could have been far better used with flashbacks exploring Maggie's troubled relationship with her rarely-seen son Hershel. He's supposed to be the entire reason for Maggie's dangerous trip to NYC, so why do we see so little of them on-screen together and even just Hershel in his own right?

There are good bits and some nice scenes of complex morality, but some of these ideas are merely teased and then abandoned, while some moments of abject silliness really distract the viewer. It's certainly not as terrible as TWD: World Beyond or Tales From The Walking Dead, not by a long shot, but Dead City also falls short of what could have been.

Jack Ryan: Season 4 - the final season of Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland's adaptation for Prime Video. I wasn't as gripped this time around compared to the excellent season three, but this was nonetheless a very good watch, drawing to a close four very solid seasons that boasted good writing and characters.

Muscles & Mayhem: The Unofficial Story of American Gladiators

Garth Marenghi's Dark Place - created by Richard Ayoade and Matthew Holness, this comedy show from Channel 4 originally aired in 2004 for a mere six episodes, but has gone on to become a cult favourite (there's even Rocky Horror style screenings where fans cosplay as the characters). Every now and then I pull the DVD off the shelf and gleefully sweep through the handful of episodes.

The Bride of Frankenstein (Blu-Ray) - it's often been considered that the sequel is better than the original, but upon reflection I'd still opt for the original 1931 film as the superior film. While this sequel has better filmmaking craft and scale on its side, the story and plot do feel a little less fresh and self-contained than the original, which tells a much better story overall. Still though, despite suffering from feeling more like a continuation than its own complete tale, this is a cinematic classic.

The Wolf Man (Blu-Ray)

The Creature From The Black Lagoon (Blu-Ray)

Son of Frankenstein (Blu-Ray)
- despite being a bit overlong (100 minutes rather than the more usual 70), this was a really good film with lots of highlights. Bela Lugosi steals the entire movie as Ygor, a body snatcher who survived a hanging (and now has a broken neck bone distending his flesh), but there's also some other really nice touches throughout. When the Monster encounters his reflection for the first time, he's initially unaware that it's himself and then comes to realise that he is hideous to himself and he doesn't look like 'normal' people ... it's a wonderfully performed sequence by Karloff, all without dialogue, just physicality and grunts. There's also a moment between the monster and Basil Rathbone's son (the grandson of Frankenstein, if you will), when the little kid puts out a hand to help the monster to finish climbing a ladder and the look on Karloff's face says so much in that moment. Also, Lionel Atwill as the one-armed Inspector is superb (I wonder if he was part-inspiration for Dr Strangelove?) Fantastic stuff.

Ghost of Frankenstein (Blu-Ray) - now onto the fourth film in the Frankenstein franchise, you can see the rot beginning to set in, but considering just how great the first two were, and how solid the third one is, it's going up against a high bar. Reining it in at a more reasonable and brisk 67 minutes, Ygor once again steals the show, however Lon Chaney Jr as the Monster works fairly well. He can't compete with Karloff, but considering the backstory of gentle giant Chaney and the child actress Janet Ann Gallow (he cared for her a great deal and they became firm friends), the scenes with the Monster and the little girl hold a real impact and sweetness. The stuff involving Ludvig Frankenstein (the other son of Frankenstein!) is a bit of a stretch, but it was a good flick all said and done.

Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman (Blu-Ray) - Bela Lugosi now plays the Monster, but he doesn't suit the role. It's interesting to note that this is where the classic 'Frankenstein walk' came from, as the Monster was rendered blind at the end of the previous movie. Written by Curt Siodmak (The Wolfman), this movie is pretty weak as a Frankenstein movie, but is very strong as a Wolfman movie, teaming the two beasts into one movie (the Universal Monsters were the original cinematic universe, many decades before the Marvel Cinematic Universe). We're now having to work quite hard to justify yet another scientist going mad with the power of God to once again reanimate the Monster, but despite some weaknesses this is a pretty solid movie, especially when viewed more from the POV of the Wolfman.

House of Frankenstein (Blu-Ray) - Glenn Strange now takes over the role of the Monster, but gets next-to-nothing to do. However, with Karloff returning to the franchise (albeit as the mad Doctor Niemann, replete with Hunchback sidekick), there is some good stuff to be chewed on. The opening portion of the film acts as a latter day sequel to the Dracula films (with John Carradine in the role) running in fast forward for the first twenty-or-so minutes before the film changes direction suddenly and refocuses its attention on the Wolfman and his continued attempts to be cured of his Lycanthropy. There's an interesting subplot involving a runaway Gypsy girl who tags along with Niemann and the Hunchback, the latter of whom naturally begins to fall in love with her, only for him to jealously realise she is much more enamoured with the wounded soul of Larry Talbot (the Wolfman). You can see the repeating mechanics of the franchise, but even at this late stage there's still some really good material to enjoy.

House of Dracula (Blu-Ray) - Dracula now features more prominently as yet another mad Doctor seeks to cure him of his blood affliction while simultaneously hoping to also cure the Wolfman. There's another Hunchback assistent in this one, but now the role is played as a female nurse. A little more work on the script could have fleshed out her character, perhaps adding a deeper love triangle of sorts between her, Larry Talbot, and the other nurse (who is not so 'afflicted' and therefore 'more beautiful'). Again, Glenn Strange has very little to do, much more of a 'prop' than a character (Karloff feared this would indeed be the case, hence why he left the role after three movies), and the tropes of the franchise are plain to see, but even still there's plenty of fun to be had.

Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (Blu-Ray) - inevitably, given enough time, a franchise or genre will resort to self-parody, and here we are. That said, it is a genuinely fun movie with classic slapstick and vaudeville humour from the titular comedy double act (the latter in particular), and even Glenn Strange finally gets much more to do as Frankenstein's Monster.

Futurama: 2023 Season - supposedly production season 8, but is confusingly called anything from season 8 through 11 depending on how the episodes have been organised, counted, and broadcast in various territories. We're a few episodes deep now and it's been a bit of a mixed bag. Some have been hilariously inventive, while others have fallen a smidge flat, but it's very good to have the gang back together again after yet another heroic resurrection from cancellation.

Hannibal: Season 1, 2, & 3 - the three seasons originally broadcast between 2013 and 2015, so I'm coming to this quite late, but with fewer shows worth watching these days (despite a huge selection of choice) it was a good time to catch up on this one. Considering just how bad so much screenwriting has become in recent years (a glaring example would be Disney's content factory of quantity decidedly coming before quality, or Netflix's buggering-up of The Witcher, or Prime's costly folly of The Rings of Power), it's a refreshing experience to find Hannibal so well written both in terms of character and plot.

The pacing is pretty on-point for the most part as well, coming down to the discipline of writing for a network show - in this case NBC. Content restrictions are strangely evident, to be fair; despite some pretty intense gore and violence being commonplace throughout the show, swearing and nudity are taboo to a degree that is tonally bizarre (yet entirely normal for the curious way American network television approaches its material). Having recently found myself wanting for a really binge-worthy show to dig in to, this discovery from a few years back has been a joy to watch (even when it gets particularly gruesome). One's suspension of disbelief is occasionally tested as the second season gets into its later stages, and there is an increasing air of pretentiousness that creeps into the sumptuous visuals and layered dialogue as we move into the third season, which is far too talky and ponderous in its earlier episodes (which, at the time of writing, is around about where I am in the story), but these are only small quibbles.

The Gymkhana Files - 2018 documentary series about the filming of the tenth 'Gymkhana' stunt driving film starring the late Ken Block.

Le Mans: Racing Is Everything - 2017 documentary series about the world famous road race.


Guns n Roses "Hard Skool" and "Shadow of Your Love"

M83 "Fantasy" (album)

Alice Cooper "White Line Frankenstein"

Return of the Living Dead (soundtrack album)

The Jam "A Town Called Malice"

Transvision Vamp "I Want Your Love", "Baby I Don't Care"


Mafia (Xbox Series S) - a 2020 remake of the 2002 videogame. I had played the other two games in years past, so it was nice to catch up with this new version of the original. As with the other games in the franchise, the open world is pretty empty in many regards, serving only the quite linear main campaign. This has always been a frustration with the franchise, even if Mafia III did try a little harder to engage with the format, but despite that this was a good play. Shorter than I expected, and with a couple of sloppy mission moments here or there, but it certainly gets a thumbs up from me.

"TerrorTome" by Garth Marenghi - written by Matthew Holness (under his pseudonymous alter-ego character name), co-creator of Garth Marenghi's Dark Place (see above), this horror comedy novel is a lampooning of cheesy genre writing. Combining genuinely good writing by Holness with the tropes and outlooks of the writing of the Marenghi character, who is in-turn self-referenced through the horror author character of Nick Steen in the stories, TerrorTome elicits out-loud laughter. The Marenghi character writes like someone who is low on talent and exceedingly high on ego and ambition, riffing their own versions of other's works.

Some references in TerrorTome hark to films like Psycho and Halloween, while key touchstones for stories include Stephen King's The Dark Half and Clive Barker's Hellraiser. The latter, in particular, involves a grotesquely humorous man/machine tryst as horror author Nick Steen gets into a sadomasochistic affair with a possessed typewriter. Very silly and very entertaining, this is an impressive balancing act of Holness' eye for well-written parody and Marenghi's penchant for self-centred nonsense-as-great-art.

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