Thursday 19 May 2011

House of Frankenstein (1944)

In 1938 Universal released their original Dracula and Frankenstein in a double-bill film programme. The box-office takings were so good that the studio started to make new horror pictures beginning with the Son of Frankenstein in 1939. By the early 1940's with horror films on the wane again, Universal had the great idea of combining their monster franchises in the hope of boosting profits. The resultant Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943) was a great success. Business logic therefore suggested that if even more monsters were stirred into the mix then takings would be even greater. Thus House of Frankenstein was born.

The plot of House of Frankenstein packs a lot into its 71 minutes running time. Dr. Niemann (Boris Karloff) is a crackpot scientist who escapes from prison with his hunchback friend Daniel (J. Carol Nash). Niemann has promised Daniel that he'll create a new body for him. Before Niemann does this he revives Dracula (John Carradine) and orders him to kill Bürgermeister Hussmann (Sig Ruman) who had caused the doctor's imprisonment. He then hides Dracula's coffin so that the vampire is destroyed by sunlight.

Arriving at Castle Frankenstein, Niemann finds the frozen bodies of both the Monster (Glenn Strange) and Larry Talbot, also known as The Wolfman (Lon Chaney Jr.). After thawing Talbot, Niemann promises to cure him but he really only wants revenge on his enemies. After more killings and a love story between Talbot and a gypsy girl, Ilonka (Elena Verdugo) everything is resolved by having the Monster come back to life, killing the hunchback and being chased by the usual mob of angry villages into some quicksand where he dies along with Niemann. Oh, the Wolfman is killed by his gypsy girlfriend too.

Directed by Earl C. Kenton, the plot moves at a terrific pace with plenty of incident and adventure and is never boring. Performances are all strong. I love the idea of Karloff, having played the monster in the first three Universal films, now ranting about how magnificent the creature is. Carradine makes a great Dracula, all world-weary and urbane even when he's in his outlandish cape and top hat costume. Chaney is good too but I find Talbot so full of self-pity that he becomes annoying and a little unsympathetic. Lionel Atwill is also fun, playing another in his long line of police inspectors.

The disappointment with the film is that the scene the audience is waiting for never arrives. The movie poster entices with its promise of five monsters all together but there is no interaction between any of the three main creatures. Dracula lasts all of around twelve minutes whilst the Wolfman and The Monster never meet at all. All the creature does is stagger around a bit at the end, kill someone and die again. The connecting thread through it all is Daniel's affection for the IIonka and his jealously about her relationship with Talbot and that's not developed enough to completely engage our sympathy.

What makes the film fascinating is that it has such a nihilistic ending. For a good portion of the film's running time we are watching bad people doing evil things. When we do eventually get to the love story the two people the audience might actually care about end up destroying each other. There's no happy ending, all the main characters are dead and there's no walk off into the sunset for anyone.

However this being a horror film franchise, there's always a sequel...

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Free Books!

I've been an avid eBook reader for well over eighteen months. I treated myself to the Sony Pocket eBook reader but, since Christmas, have moved onto the Amazon Kindle, which I prefer. Although I do buy eBooks, I also read a lot more classic and other out of copyright literature than I ever did in paper form. Partly it's because some of the larger novels are an inconvenience to carry about as 'real' books but also because the Internet has given us access to thousands of  neglected works that have been out of print for many years.

Amazon do a nice line in free eBooks, some are public domain, others are offered by budding writers either as a promotion or as an inducement for you to buy their other works. Many out of copyright books are available on Amazon for a small charge. There are also publishers who offer the complete works of a particular author for a few pounds and these might seem like good deals. However, many of these files are poorly proofread and formatted. Indeed, a good number don't even offer a useable table of contents, so that it becomes difficult to locate the work you want within a volume containing thousands of pages. Fortunately most, if not all, of these books are available for free somewhere on the web.

So here's my list, with comments, on the best eBook sites dealing with public domain and other free electronic literature.


This is my first port of call when searching for eBooks, free or otherwise. This meta search site will tell you in seconds if the book you're looking for is available, legitimately, for free online as well as any chargeable versions that may be on sale from a variety of eBook suppliers. For example, a search for the Henry James novel Daisy Miller brings up a number of free etexts from a variety of sources. However there's also an edition, published by Penguin, which will set you back £4.99. Presumably this version will contain a scholarly introduction and notes on the text. It's your choice if you think it's worth paying just under a fiver for the added content.


This is a great site which has some of  the best formatted eBooks available on the web. Run by a group of enthusiasts, the eBook library contains thousands of well-designed volumes  on a wide range of subjects. You don't even have to be a member to download material.  Some of the ebooks are truly stunning (There's a great Epub illustrated Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome)  The site is updated daily and, as it's based around an Internet forum, it's very easy to search for a particular book.  If you want to, you can join in and upload your own formatted eBooks (tutorials provided). Highly recommended.


This site boasts that they have "Over 20,000 rare and hard to find title in 10 formats". I might disagree about how rare some of the titles are, but for shear diversity, this site is pretty hard to beat. The website is updated daily and has a good search engine. I especially like the 'pulp' category. It was where I first came across such great 1950's hard-boiled crime writers as David Goodis, Charles Willeford and Ed Lacy (I was mainly attracted by the lurid covers which are also posted at the site). Munseys also has a pretty good horror and ghost fiction section, as well as a lot of  Science-fiction taken from such magazines as Thrilling Wonder Stories. Formatting is sound  but does tend to fall on the generic side. Books seem, for the most part, to be typo and error free but I've yet to come across an illustrated volume.

Project Gutenberg

The original eBooks site, created in 1971 by Michael Hart, now offers over 33,000 public domain eBooks. The website has moved with the times and now produces eBooks in a variety of different formats.  Many other websites create their own eBooks from texts supplied by PG.  I've found books here that are not available anywhere else for free. The formatting is very basic but they are all readable and are checked for spelling and other errors by an army of volunteers. There is also a PG Australia and a PG Canada which offer books not available from the main PG website. Remember that you are not allowed to download books if you live in a country where they are still in copyright.


Offers Project Gutenberg etexts in over 20 formats. Slightly easier to search than PG, each entry is accompanied by basic bibliographical information. One of the nicest things about this site is that it offers the chance for readers to post reviews of books they have read. Updates on Manybooks have been suspended whilst the site migrates to a new server. The last new book was uploaded at the beginning of April 2011.

Baen Free Library

If you're looking for something more up to date and your tastes turn towards hard/military science-fiction and fantasy, you could do worse than downloading a few novels from the Baen Free Library. Baen books run a subscription eBook service and this free library is a way of enticing you to subscribe.  Selection is limited but does include such names as Murray Leinster, David Drake and Fred Saberhagan. As a teenager, I would have probably loved these books but they don't do much for me now.

Sunday 10 April 2011

Trailers from Hell

I've always had a soft spot for a well-made trailer. In the early 1980's when home video first took off, one of the pleasures of hiring a film was to watch the trailers before the main feature. I'm not talking here about the glossy mainstream fare put out by such studios as Paramount or MGM but the scuzzy exploitation b-movies released by labels such as VTC or Hokushin (is that Patrick Allen's voice?).  These trailers were often better than the films they were promoting. I've never seen Dolemite but nothing could be better than this Rudy Ray Moore rapping preview  (Warning: Not Safe For Work).

Trailers from Hell is a site dedicated to this lost art. Exploring the fertile ground of  horror and exploitation film  the website is updated with a new trailer three times a week. Each mini-movie is accompanied by an optional commentary from a filmmmaker associated with the field.

The site was co-founded by director Joe Dante (Gremlins) and he, along with John Landis (An American Werewolf in London), provide most of the commentaries. However you can also hear the likes of Stuart Gordon (Re-animator) on The Thing with Two Heads or Guillermo del Toro on Dead and Buried.

It's a great way to while away an hour or so on a Sunday afternoon, (I was going to do the ironing). Surely you can't resist seeing the first screen appearance of Nicole Kidman in the classic teen-pic, BMX Bandits?

Only me then?

The Clinic (2010)

Australasia has produced many great horror films over the last thirty-five or so years. They range from the lyrical terrors of Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) to the more graphic splatter of Braindead (1992) or Black Sheep (2006). Actually, Black Sheep isn't that good but it's silly and fun and much better than the film under review here.

Set in 1979 ("before DNA testing"), The Clinic tells the story of heavily pregnant Beth (Tabrett Bethell) who is travelling across Australia with her fiancé, Cameron (Andy Whitfield) to see her parents just before Christmas. After the couple are run off the road by a dangerous driver they decide to stay in a seedy motel for the night. As Cameron can't sleep he goes into town in search of something to eat. When he returns he finds that Beth has gone missing and it seems that the motel owner knows more than he's letting on. 

Beth wakes up in a bath filled with ice and finds that she has had a caesarean-section and her baby is missing. Trying to escape the facility she comes across three other women in the same situation. It soon becomes clear that there's a fourth woman on the loose who is intent on killing Beth and her new companions. The race is on for the women to try and find their babies and escape before they all end up dead. There's also the mystery of the couple who watch every move of the mothers on CCTV and who seem to have a keen interest in who will live and who will die. 

The director, James Rabbitts, makes good use of the New South Wales landscape and sets up an air of suspense with the scenes at the motel. However once we get inside the clinic (which looks like an abattoir in the middle of nowhere) plausibility gets thrown to the wind as we are asked to accept that five women consistently make bad choices for themselves and for their newborn children. 

The Clinic is an uneasy mix of medical, slasher and backwoods horror, cutting from scenes of women in peril at the facility to Cameron's investigation into his girlfriend's disappearance. Plotting is all over the place, with one major character disappearing abruptly with a third of the picture to go. The film culminates with a huge info dump as the child-snatchers plans are revealed. You'll gasp, but not in a good way. There's also the obligatory nightmare sequence that's kind-of explained in the end, but just confuses the issue even further. 

There's not much more to be said without giving the plot away for anyone who wants to actually watch the damn thing. Suffice it to say that, as usual in contemporary horror films, there's a twist in the tale. But this one relies so heavily on coincidence that credulity is stretched to breaking point. At least the acting is OK.

Not recommended.

Gosh, has it been that long?

I must apologise for the delay in updating my blog. Soon after my epic post about the Folk Against Fascism concert I went on holiday and, for some reason, never got around to blogging when I returned home. However, things have changed.

I have suddenly found myself with more time on my hands and a renewed interest in writing about films, books and music. So, I'm starting this blog up again. I hope to post at least twice a week, if not more often. I know I have friends who will nag me if I don't keep to a regular timetable. Wish me luck.

Now, what shall I start with. I know...

Wednesday 5 May 2010

Up to the rigs, down to the jigs : FAFing around in London

I was in London at the weekend. It was a silly thing to do. I’m off to Chicago in two weeks and should have beeen saving my pennies instead of gallivanting to the big smoke. I was enticed down to the bright lights by a couple of events connected with Folk Against Fascism, an organisation dedicated to keep the far right out of folk music. Basically Nick Griffin and his odious party the BNP are trying to co-opt English folk music to further their fascist agenda. Most folkies are not too keen about this so have formed FAF as a means to combat this.

The main event of the weekend was to be a Village Fête held at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. There was to be face painting, a mystic fortune teller, a W.I. Cake Stall, a hook-a duck and lots of lovely folk music. It would all culminate in an evening gig starring Chumbawamba, Show of Hands and Bellowhead. It all sounded too good to miss.

Of course the organisers were asking for trouble holding the event on a bank holiday weekend as this ensured that it would be cold and rainy. I arrived (on a very crowded and slow) train around 3.00 in the afternoon to find that everyone was huddled in the foyer of the QEH sheltering from the showers and the bitter wind that blew across the Thames. The Oyster Ceilidh band were in full swing with Gordon Potts on calling duty. I met up with fellow Bellowhead forumites and we began folk musician spotting. We could have ticked many boxes in the I-Spy Book of Famous Folkies (if there was such a thing) there were so many about. Jim Moray was there, having been morris dancing earlier in the day. His sister Jackie Oates was in charge of the hook-a-duck and an almost unrecognisable Jim Causley was Kylie, the mystic fortune teller.

Later in the afternoon there was a free concert in the QEH foyer.Club Périphérique, a concert featuring folk artists who make use of the English tradition but season but with influences from world music. We missed most of this having to venture out for food but returned to witness the set from Dogan Mehmet a Cypriot-British fiddler and singer. He played both Greek and English tunes, his set climaxing with a great verson of Raggle Taggle Gypsies. I think he’ll go far and I’d love to see him again.

It was soon time for the evening concert. The first half started with a set from Chumbawamba. Those in the audience who only know them from their hit Tubthumping would have been surprised by the close-harmony singing and use of acoustic instruments. What won’t have been a surprise was their fierce condemnation of the BNP and their support for radical causes.

Next up was Show of Hands. I had never seen this band live before being put off by their albums which are not to my taste. It must be said that they put on a good show though. The trio are very slick and Phil Beer’s fiddle playing is brilliant. I won’t be hurrying to see them again though.

The second half was given over to Bellowhead punctuated by solo spots from Jackie Oates, Jo Freya and Tim Van Eyken. The band were on smashing form playing pieces from across their repertoire. As it was a seated gig excitement was kept to manageable levels. It’s not natural to listen to Bellowhead live and remain seated!

The evening ended with an encore of two songs sung by the whole ensemble and the audience who were given the words to Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy and another song whose name escapes me at the minute. It was a lovely ending but it would have been nice to finish on a rousing Bellowhead tune that we could all get up and bounce too but that’s not what the evening was about.

It was time to go home. I’d had a great evening but the best was yet to come.

Queering the Pitch

The other reason for my trip to London was to attend the Nowt as Queer as Folk day held at Cecil Sharp House on Monday. This consisted of two concerts which was described as a “reflection and celebration of all the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender artists performing today who have found voice through British traditional song and songwriting and the road journeyed to reach this point.” This all sounds a bit serious but nothing could have been further from the truth.

The afternoon started with Pimms on the lawn. It was still chilly out though so we stayed inside getting quietly merry! I’d never been to Cecil Sharp House and it reminded me of an old school building. Their library looked lovely and cosy with lots of old wooden shelving and that rarity, a microfiche reader-printer!

At 3.00 the afternoon concert began. It opened with a couple of songs by Stew Simpson, a name new to me. His songs were pleasant with intelligent lyrics. He also had a winning way with him declaring that he liked older men and was particularly keen on Roy Bailey!

The afternoon soon passed by with performances from some Newcastle folk degree students (fiddle tunes played with aplomb), Tim Van Eyken (what a great voice), Sam Lee (I loved his singing too), O’Hooley and Tidow (great songs and Belinda always make me laugh with her deadpan camp humour), Alexis Joshua (an acquired taste but his delivery was fascinating) and the ever lovely Jim Causley.

After a lovely home made meal it was back into the hall for the main evening event. Hosted by Tom Robinson the concert started at 7.00 and was meant to finish at 10.00. In the event we didn’t get out until past 11.00 but I wouldn’t have missed a second of it.

All the artists who had performed earlier in the day came back to do another slot. We also saw sets from Jo Freya, Gina Le Faux, Louise Killen and Roy Bailey. All these musicians had something to say about being gay and the attraction of singing folk songs.
It was lovely to hear Tim Van Eyken talk about how this gig felt like coming home to him as finally he could bring together two aspects of his life that had always been kept apart. More moving still was Gina’s story about how her life fell apart after a nasty homophobic article was written in The Sun Newspaper. Her songs were simple and direct with a touching honesty about them. She can also play a mean fiddle tune.

The most courageous performer there though was Louise Killen. She used to perform under the name of Lou Killen and sang with such folk legends as Peter Bellamy and Martin Carthy. This was her first public performance since her gender reassignment. Her voice may be a little weaker than it used to be but it was great seeing a living legend of folk sing traditional folk ballads.

The penultimate turn was Roy Bailey who at 75 is a little unsteady on his feet. Age has not dimmed his intellect or his radicalism though (if you ever get the chance, go and see him perform with Tony Benn). He talked about the early days of the gay liberation movement and being too scared to walk into a gay pub (a thing many of the audience there could relate to).

It was left to Tom Robinson to end the evening with a couple of songs before inviting the who company back onstage for a rousing version of Glad to be Gay. The evening ended with the sea shanty Haul away which was given modified gay friendly lyrics by some of the performers (Tim providing a very filthy couplet). It was most amusing to see Roy Bailey get all in a tizzy after being kissed on the lips by Stew Simpson.

And then it was all over and time to go home. I really enjoyed the evening it was a lovely supporting atmosphere. Everyone was very friendly and I came away feeling very empowered and I’m a right cynical old bugger.

Can we do it again next year?

(Apologies for the lack of pictures, I forgot my camera!)

Tuesday 6 April 2010

Gratuitous Doctor Who Blogpost

A work colleague told me that, as a rule, blogs containing Doctor Who content get more hits than those that don't. So I have an ulterior motive for writing about the new series of the programme which started last Saturday on BBC1.

Actually there is so much written about Doctor Who on the web that I don't really want to blog too much about it. If you want good reviews of both new and classic Who as well as discussions about other cult and vintage TV programmes may I suggest you bookmark Frank's Cathode Ray Tube blog. It's an excellent site with meaty, informative articles which discusses old TV and film from a cultural and historical perspective.

I'm a big fan of Doctor Who. I was born the same year the programme began and I watched it from an early age. I was never really scared of the monsters (although I wasn't too keen on the Axons) but loved the SF and horror aspects of the show.

The recent revival has been a joy and it's very gratifying to see Doctor Who mania sweep over the country again. I'm pleased to say that the golden age continues with a wonderful new Doctor in Matt Smith, an intriguing new companion (I'm sure Amy Pond isn't all she seems) and a fine script by Steven 'I-never-think-in-a-straight-line' Moffat. It was dead good.

This will be my last word on the matter.

Unless I need to improve my hit count.