Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Zombie Wicker Women - (FrightFest 2011 Part 4 in 3D)

Ladies and gentlemen, the first few lines of this blog are in 2D – however you will still need your 3D glasses...
It’s a fine crisp Saturday morning as yours truly s(troll)s with some purpose and several egg McMuffins in his stomach toward the Empire cinema for the third and final day (for this young handsome attendee at least) of FrightFest 2011. I am scheduled to go troll hunting at 11am. A bit early for that sort of thing you say? Well if you can get your mind out of the sewer for 5 seconds I will clarify – really! The trolls I am interested in this morning are of the Norwegian kind; they are big mean, hairy and dangerous (and no they are not exchange students from Oslo).

Monday, 10 October 2011

A Quantum (Leap) of Solace - (FrightFest 2011 Part 3)

Once again, this blog contains explicit name-dropping. Those of a nervous celebrity disposition are advised to read the following with extreme caution.
FrightFest Day 2 (Friday).
I finally succumb to Twitter and get myself an account. I’m persuaded by the promise that a selection of FrightFesters tweets will be projected onto the Empire’s screen between films. (Like that ever happened). I peruse through some of the suggestions for celebrities to follow (on Twitter you understand, not literally – I haven’t resorted to actual stalking – at least not yet). Amongst the obvious suspects I initially select; Stephen Fry, Sarah Silverman, William Shatner etc, etc, there is Jonathan Ross, or @wossy if you prefer.  Anyways, I choose to follow Mr Ross and his morning tweet pops up:
“Good morning. It’s unpleasant weather in London. I am glad I’m not a fox”
Without a moment’s thought I reply:
“@wossy You should get yourself down to FrightFest sir. Weather proof fun!”   
And think no more of it. Then shortly after, I receive a notification on my iphone: “jonathan ross (@wossy) replied to one of your Tweets!”
“we are going tonight!!”
I’m stunned. Me, a novice at this Twittering lark and here I am bantering with Jonathan Ross (ok, so one tweet doesn’t exactly constitute ‘bantering’, but be fair, it’s still a fine start to my Tweeting career).

Monday, 5 September 2011

Yes Prime Minister - I'm off to Frightfest! (FrightFest 2011 Part 2).

WARNING: this particular entry contains frequent and explicit examples of name-dropping. If you are easily offended by shameless gratuitous references to celebs (albeit mostly from the horror genre) then please read on at your own discretion knowing you have been duly warned...

So, having failed miserably to acquire Diana Rigg’s autograph (last blog entry dear reader, do try and keep up), and having spent far too long hobnobbing with Alastair McGowan I trudged back to my hotel on Leicester Square. On route I completely ignore that fine English thespian Simon Williams, currently playing Sir Humphrey Appleby in Yes, Prime Minister in the West End, who passes me by not once but twice, by the theatre, clearly hoping I will whip out my autograph book and Sharpie and offer them to him. But what Mr Williams doesn’t realise is, this little autograph book of mine is brand new and is yet to garner a single paw print from anyone. And, (no offence Simon) but I wanted my little sky-blue book’s first time to be with someone a bit, well, special. Thinking about it though, Simon might very well have been waiting for Ms Rigg rather than hoping to be recognised, in which case I’m very sorry I didn’t approach you Mr Williams, and I sincerely hope Alastair McGowan didn’t keep you too long (he does go on a bit).
Not a Mexican Director / Producer
Ditching the unsigned stills of Ms. Rigg from ‘Theatre of Blood’ back at the hotel I proceed with purpose and renewed optimism around the perimeter of the building site that is currently Leicester Square toward the Empire Cinema, home to FrightFest for the next five days. My agenda is simple: to watch fifteen horror films in the next three days and nights; and to get my photo taken with as many celebs as possible along the way. Tonight Matthew I will be a celeb stalking tart. Now when I say celebs I mean primarily people of some note within the horror genre itself, but of course anyone remotely recognisable from further afield will also gain my polite and courteous attention. (cont'd...

Monday, 29 August 2011

Emma Peel and the case of the fake moustache (FrightFest 2011 Part 1)

WARNING: The following blog contains frequent and intense use of alliteration that some readers may find upsetting. You are therefore strongly advised to reasonably refrain from reading this recent review. Thank you.   
As I start to type this dear reader, FrightFest 2011 will be well into its fourth day of five of fearsome fantastic fare at the Empire Leicester Square. I attended this festival of ferocious filmic fun for three days this year. During this gloriously, gory, gallows-humoured laden time I gorged myself on numerous new horrendously horrible highlights heralding from the UK and the rest of the planet. 

From its modest beginnings back in 2000 this festival has grown in both size and reputation and is now the biggest event of its kind in the UK. From the relatively humble beginnings at the Prince Charles Cinema off Leicester Square, to the Odeon West End on the square where it in turn progressed from the 500 seater screen to its 800 seat bigger brother downstairs and then ultimately in 2009 moving into the prestigious Empire Leicester Square. It cannot be underestimated what a delicious delight it is for both the eyes and ears to be able to watch horror films on such a magnificent expanse of screen (25 ft high and 60ft wide) in pin-sharp definition with booming sound. How so dear reader? Well my friend, in comparison, back in the grim and dark 80’s we were sat at home on our sofas screwing up our eyes (literally) trying to discern what (allegedly) diabolical moral challenging shenanigans were being portrayed through the wobbly tracking, snowy grain, garbled squelchy sound and squashed pan and scanned images from our fifth-generation dodgy VHS copies of the so-called ‘video nasties’.  Of course nowadays the internet can provide the dedicated horror aficionado with downloads of practically anything – legal or otherwise (or so I’m led to believe dear reader), but nothing compares with the collective experience of sharing FrightFest’s delightfully dreadful cinematic pleasures with an auditorium crammed full of fellow fear fan boys and girls, together with a generous sprinkling of actors, directors, producers and technicians thrown in for good measure. Unless, that is, they constantly nip to the toilets during the film, instigating unwelcome impromptu Mexican waves from their unfortunate row sharing neighbours... (cont'd...

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Time for Tubby bye bye's...

I used to be given chocolate bars from a fat cinema usherette nicknamed ‘Tubby’.
There, I’ve said it, and now that it’s out in the open I feel much much better, so can we move on now please? Look it was a long time ago, I was probably only 2 or 3, and it’s not like my parents weren’t with me at the time. Must I explain myself further? Ok, for the sake of closure, ‘Tubby’ was a barrel-tummied man with brylcreemed thinning hair and a kindly disposition, who worked at the Biograph cinema in Wilton Road in Victoria. Often, when passing by with my parents (we lived literally around the corner in Gillingham Street) I would regularly be presented with a bar of confectionery whilst ma and pa would converse with my chubby chocolate benefactor. About what they would chat I couldn’t say, I was probably far too busy munching on my cocoa gift to care. What became of ‘Tubby’ (his real name will remain a mystery for ever more I’m afraid), I know not, but the cinema he presided in front of was demolished in August 1983. I don’t recall ever actually entering that particular palace of delights; however that may not have been such a bad thing given that it went on to become an establishment largely frequented by men looking to entertain each other rather than by whatever happened to be flickering across the silver screen before them. (Apparently the queue for the gent’s toilets was consistently long throughout most screenings). Did ‘Tubby’ still preside over the Biograph during it’s rather notorious final few years – I really cannot say – but to me he will always have a special place in my early childhood memories as ‘Tubby’ the chocolate giver.
As for the cinema he ushered for, the site is now a rather swanky, utterly soulless hotel. Incidentally, the B+B my parents ran just around the corner in Gillingham Street, The Albion, would itself go on to acquire a modicum of notoriety itself thanks to a certain ex-politician / popular author and his (alleged) dalliance with a lady of easily purchased virtue. (Of course this took place well after we’d left this establishment you understand; we would never have tolerated such lurid behaviour on our watch.)
Right dear reader, I must leave you here as I’m off to FrightFest at the Empire Leicester Square tomorrow to gorge myself (not on chocolate from rotund usherettes) but instead on the latest horror films from around the world. We shall resume these little soirees as soon as I return. I think for out next outing we’ll head up to the West End and see what’s playing there....
Till then, take care, and remember – never, ever, accept sweets from strangers.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Pasta á la Noddy

Again, so soon? People will talk you know... Oh well let them! Don’t know about you, but I’m really looking forward to this film seeing as I’m a HUGE Slade fan. No that’s not a miss-print, you did just read that I am a HUGE Slade fan – or at least I WAS (caps lock getting a good workout isn't it?) back in January of 1975. Okay, so to continue with the awkward expositional opening paragraph if you don’t mind, today it’s the turn of the Metropole Cinema in Victoria Street to provide our cinematic pleasure in the form of ‘Flame’, a gritty little film charting the rise and fall of a fictional rock band played by the very real glam rockers from Wolverhampton known as Slade. For some reason my mum and I were both into Slade at that time – why – well, as it was January that would have meant we’d just experienced: “It’s CHRISTMAAAAS!”  (poetic licence is employed with this Slade gag – ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ by Slade which features Noddy Holder’s iconic rasping battle cry to turkeys up and down Britain was actually released in Dec 1973 but I couldn’t resist it so sue me) Actually, I didn’t really mean that so please read that as please don’t sue me. Talk about treading on egg-shells, you readers are so pedantic. Now I’ve gone and lost my original thread – you see you wind me up and this is the result – a blog that rambles even more than the previous ones. (cont'd...

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Tristan Fry is not my dad.

Ah, there you are, I’m so glad you came back! Have you been queuing long? Anyway here we are outside the New Victoria cinema in Wilton Road SW1 - but then you knew that already otherwise you’d be around the corner at the Metropole, or the Biograph, or maybe even the Cartoon Cinema in the station (see previous blog if you’re just joining the back of the queue).
So we’re here today to see a double-bill of ‘The Golden Voyage of Sinbad’ coupled with a film whose title, along with the entirety of the plot, sadly escapes me. All I can remember about this second feature is that there was a scene set in a large dusty yard involving numerous cars circling around and around (accompanied by large clouds of dust). Title anyone? Answers on a postcard please and the first correct one pulled from the hat gets a free box of popcorn (or a packet of toffee Butterkist, Butterkist, rah rah rah...you remember how that old cinema advert went don’t you – or did I imagine it in the haze of some Orange Kia-Ora*and wine gum-fuelled hallucination?).
But I digress, it’s a habit of mine and one I’m afraid you’ll just have to get used to if we are going to remain friends. Anyway it’s 1973, I’m 5 years old, and I’m admiring the cheap ring on my finger which my mum has just bought me from Woolworths (aka ‘Woolies) just along the road. I have no idea why I wanted this cheap piece of costume jewellery, so please don’t read anything whatsoever into this nugget of detail. In fact this tiny insignificant piece of metal is destined to play no further part in this blog as I drop it down between the seats in the circle of the New Victoria before the house lights dimmed that day whereby it disappears forever – a bit like Woolworths. Now this particular Woolworths closed some years before the ‘great collapse’ towards the end of 2008. The pain that was felt across the country when the lights finally went out in every remaining store was nothing compared to the hammer blow to the heart when our local branch shut up shop forever. Practically everything I’d ever owned in those formative years had come from the shelves of that fine establishment. (For years after its closure I looked upon the Edgware Road with pure jealousy as it still had its Woolies - back then it also boasted the largest cinema screen in the country at its delta on Marble Arch). Today on Edgware Road where once there was Woolworths there’s now a Waitrose and the once magnificent Odeon Marble Arch is now a giant rabbit warren made up of 5 hutches. There’s an Argos and a Wetherspoon’s public house on the site of MY Woolies these days, whilst the New Victoria is now the Apollo Victoria Theatre and is home to the musical ‘Wicked’ (which in my opinion it most certainly isn’t - to use the vernacular of the young people of today). cont'd...

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Ming the Merciless

If, by any chance, you one day happen to bump into that esteemed English thespian Christopher Lee (CBE), aka Count Dracula, aka Count Dooku (but not Count Duckula), would you be so kind as to ask him the following question on my behalf: “Mr Lee,Funny Man’ - why?”.
Welcome dear reader to my first posting on my blog of eternal stench (an alternative title I’d seriously considered at one time). In fact, I found choosing a title for my blog far harder than composing these inane disconnected ramblings of gibberish and nonsense you see swimming before your tired straining eyes. Allow me if you will to share with you some of the alternative titles I’d originally considered for my blog - it might give you a flavour of what you could be letting yourself in for should you choose to subscribe to future postings – or, on the other hand (and far more likely) it will convince you beyond all reasonable doubt to click ‘exit’ and instead search Google for pictures of cats that look like Hitler.
Potential blog titles:
1.   Popcorn and wonderment (conveying the sensory essence of the cinema experience). Rejected for being too pretentious, cuddly, and vaguely sounding like a phrase from a poor-man’s Ray Bradbury.

2.   CINEMAyhem (clever huh? See what I did there – combined the word cinema with ‘mayhem’ to reflect the fact that most of my favourite films involve mayhem of one sort or another). Rejected for sounding too gimmicky and for giving potential subscribers the impression that I can’t control the CAPS lock on the LAPtop.

3.   Crazy Ralph’s unheeded warnings of doom (a reference to the original first two instalments in the 'Friday the 13th' franchise - a 'guilty pleasure' amongst many that I'll be sharing with you in time...

4.    Invitations to the curious (with apologies to M.R. James for plagiarising his ghost story entitled ‘A warning to the curious’. Again a reference to all things scary, spooky, frightful and a tad pretentious too me thinks (or thought).
Ok that’s enough: you get the picture I’m hoping? There were of course countless other variations using words such as: ‘fearful’, ‘fright’, ‘monsters’, ‘maniacs’ and quite frankly more over-used examples of alliteration than you could shake a short slightly severed silver stick at. But I finally settled on Fleapits and Picture Palaces’ in order to convey my fondness and unabashed nostalgia for the many cinemas that I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of frequenting from an early (and clearly formative) age, and the (alliteration alert!) memorable moments of mayhem and magic I’ve witnessed within them. So come with me dear reader if you will on a journey – not into the ‘Twilight Zone’ (at least not yet anyway), but back in time to the very early 70’s (that’s the 1970’s smarty pants and I’ll make the jokes ok?) where, with the help of the Ghost of Christmas Past, we can see a small boy standing on the concourse of Victoria railway station by platform 19 with his father...
The boy is slightly podgy, with a big round face, a kindly disposition, but a rather unfortunate hair cut architecturally inspired by a pudding bowl. The gentleman by his side has curly hair threatening to turn grey beyond the high English forehead, a sharpish nose, an equally kindly disposition and a very well spoken tone as he requests for one adult and one child to be admitted to the cinema below.
Both these photographs were taken in 1933 when this marvellous palace of delights was called the Victoria Station News Theatre. By the time my dad and I came along it's name had changed to the Victoria Station Cartoon Cinema (but I suspect little else had changed).So here you go; this is where my love of cinema started. That’s also where my love of Kia-Ora orange squash and Rowntree’s Fruit Gums began. It’s probably also where my tooth decay started to form as well come to think of it. But from these humble beginnings and all that...in this case the (very) humble special effects which helped Flash Gordon’s spaceship escape the evil monochrome clutches of Ming the Merciless in just the nick of time each week using a technique I’ve since come to understand as ‘a bit of string and a sparkler’ - eat your heart out ILM, chew on that CGI, screen it BFI – sorry got carried away there for a moment with abbreviationitis (LOL). Where was I? Oh yes, after Buster Crabbe (always thought that name sounded vaguely cruel to our crustacean friends) had shown the merciless Ming no, erm, well mercy I guess it would invariably be time for Mr Stan Laurel and Mr Oliver Hardy to bounder onto the silver screen and cause me to have tears of laughter streaming down my cheekbones where they would begin to collect in a pool on the weird square-shaped top of the Kia-Ora orange container. A news trailer would temporarily dampen my mood before another instalment of my favourite animated wild-life documentary series exploring the timeless struggle between feline predator and rodent prey - more commonly referred to in popular culture as Tom and Jerry – would get those slightly podgy cheeks smiling once again.

Now just before we leave that delightful little palace of delights and that 3-4 year old boy with his mouth full of gums (disease?) I must just share with you one single solitary sliver of a memory, like a shard of glass from Superman’s ice-palace decanter of knowledge, which for some reason has remained with me till this day – no doubt at the expense of something useful. I recall watching a documentary one afternoon above platform 19, in colour and up to date for the time, about a man travelling across America chasing migrating birds or something (it was nearly 40 years ago dear reader), and basically he lived on cold baked beans eaten straight from the can. Sorry, I’ve now got this image of Marlon Brando’s head hovering in a greenish tint in front of a caped Christopher Reeve in his Arctic ice palace: “My son, if you are to live on this planet called Earth I must impart to you knowledge of a man who drives across America chasing birds and eating baked beans (see separate shard of glass marked:’ protein pulses in tomato sauce’) from the can that contains them”. Anyway (this is beginning to feel like one of those meandering Ronnie Corbett monologues), when the film showed us a close-up of the aforementioned gentleman scooping up a great spoonful of Heinz’s 57 varieties into his bearded-framed mouth, two boys about three rows behind my father and I both exclaimed “uuurgh!” in unison. I have no doubt this was a genuine instantaneous response with no hint of pre-meditated audience disturbance intent, but the chubby usherette promptly threw them out. Clearly I was shocked by this miscarriage of justice and would no doubt have stood up and defended my fellow cinema-goers were it not for the fact that my gob was probably glued shut with an adhesive layer of wine gum – and I was only about 3 and I’m not sure my opinion would have held all that much sway.
The Victoria Station Cartoon Cinema closed on 27th August 1981 in order for the Victoria Place shopping plaza to be built. I reckon if you visit Boots today you just might be standing on the site of the old cinema.
Until next time then dear reader, the house lights have come up, so please exit the auditorium and I'll see you here sometime soon for the next installment.  
P.S. Remind me to explain the Christopher Lee (CBE) question next time we meet as well will you? Ta very much.
 (Both photographs from the National Monuments Record.)