Saturday 30 November 2013


Barry Forshaw - Out now – published in paperback by Auteur Publishing. 102 pages, RRP £9.99.

To coincide with the 25th anniversary of the publication of Thomas Harris’s novel ‘The Silence of the Lambs’, Auteur Publishing have released a new addition to their Devil’s Advocates series. Author Barry Forshaw begins with a look into the origins and inspirations for writer Thomas Harris’s first foray into the twisted mindset of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, (‘Red Dragon’ 1981) and the subsequent film adaptation by Michael Mann. He then dissects the world-famous follow-up novel and Oscar winning screen interpretation directed by Jonathan Demme and continues on his dissection of the Lector legacy with the resulting ‘Hannibal’ and ‘Hannibal Rising’ novel and films (not forgetting the almost entirely forgettable 2002 film RED DRAGON), and ending up with the current television series: ‘Hannibal’.
Little is known about the less than prolific (5 novels in 38 years) author Thomas Harris. Refusing to give interviews or even do book signings, the most significant detail we do know is that as an editor and reporter he covered crime-related events and he spent time at the F.B.I. researching serial killers for his second novel: ‘Red Dragon’(1981). Whilst there he (naturally) came across the case of our old friend, the famous farmer fiend from Wisconsin, Ed Gein. Forshaw wastes little time in wheeling out the well-known and well-worn influences Gein had on both Robert Bloch’s novel ‘Psycho’ and Hitchcock’s cinematic masterpiece. However, to his credit, Forshaw also includes lesser known works such as Jack Smight’s NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY (1968), and suitably tips his hat to the giallo works of Bava and Argento in particular in filmic influences.

From ‘Red Dragon’ we got the (first) film version: MANHUNTER (1986), directed by Michael Mann, and the first onscreen incarnation of Lecter (Lecktor) in Brian Cox. Arguments rage to this day when comparing Cox’s understated (and non-American accented) reading of the now (in) famous character with Anthony Hopkins’ Oscar-winning performance. Personally, I prefer Cox and Mann’s MANHUNTER to Hopkins and Demme’s SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (heck, I even prefer Ridley Scott’s HANNIBAL to SILENCE as a film) and, unlike author Forshaw’s belief – this is based on having seen the films in the cinema on their initial releases rather than just on retrospective ‘in-hindsight’ home viewings. In fact after coming out of the Odeon Leicester Square having attended the opening night of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS I can still recall the overwhelmingly deflated sense of disappointment.
Despite this opinion, I found Foreshaw’s analysis of the film intriguing - albeit a tad over-complementary - and I will now revisit the film with renewed vigour.

Overall, it’s a quick punchy and intelligent read, even if the author does over-employ the term ‘de-rigueur’, and it offers some fascinating interpretations and theories into the phenomena of ‘Hannibal the cannibal’ and how Thomas Harris’s literary creation has seeped into the mainstream consciousness. 

*** (out of 5 *)   

Paul Worts

(This review was originally published on the Frightfest website.) 



Monday 11 November 2013

PIN (1988)

Directed by Sandor Stern, Starring: David Hewlett, Cynthia Preston, Terry O'Quinn. Horror, Canada, 1988, 98mins, cert 15.

Dummies and ventriloquists have a history of terrible and terrifying collaborations: Michael Redgrave (DEAD OF NIGHT); Anthony Hopkins (MAGIC); Keith Harris and Orville.
In this lesser-known Canadian example of the dodgy dummy sub-genre, Terry (THE STEPFATHER) O’Quinn is a ventriloquist paediatrician who employs an anatomically accurate medical dummy - resplendent with muscles and organs - to explain the wonders of the human body to his little patients. Nicknamed Pin (after Pinocchio), the dummy exerts a fascination and an increasingly unhealthy hold over Dr. Linden’s son, Leon. His sister Ursula, although younger, is under no illusions that Pin only talks when her father is in the room – but Leon has no other friends and uses Pin as his confidant. Back at the old Linden homestead, whilst their doctor father is testing them with maths questions before bedtime, mum is following after them with a Hoover and covering all the chairs with plastic sheets. It’s not a healthy environment. Then again, back at the medical centre, one of Dr. Linden’s nurses is utilising Pin’s anatomical accuracy for self gratification (presumably Pin’s ‘stiffness’ isn’t confined to his overall build). Meanwhile, prepubescent Leon and Ursula are perusing a porn magazine and speculating on “the need”. Ursula informs her brother that she: “Can’t wait till I’m old enough. I think I’m REALLY gonna like it”. Sure enough, at 15, Ursula (Cynthia Preston) has developed just such a reputation judging by the graffiti on Leon’s High-school locker. She is then caught by Leon in a parked car at the school prom indulging “the need” with a fellow student. Leon (David Hewlett) unceremoniously pulls the unfortunate chap from the car and proceeds to kick him in the “need” area.

Then their parents are killed in a car crash and brother Leon decides that ‘Pin’ should come and live with them: and to give Pin a make-over and one of father’s old suits...
This is a film that had always been on the periphery of my vision and yet somehow I’d never previously got around to watching it. It’s a modestly effective psychological thriller which manages to generate some skin-crawling suggestive inappropriateness. Terry O’Quinn reprises his creepy STEPFATHER (1987) performance as ventriloquist Dr. Linden, culminating in a supremely disturbing scene where he casually invites his son to watch as he performs an abortion on his daughter Ursula. Both Cynthia Preston and David Hewlett give convincing portraits in challenging roles as the grown-up siblings Ursula and David. Director Sandor Stern (who wrote the screenplay for the 1979 AMITYVILLE HORROR) adapted the story from a novel by Andrew (THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE) Neiderman. As is so often the case with screen adaptations, events unfurl at a rapid-fire pace in order to tell the story (particularly the character-forming early years of Ursula and David), but once these vignettes (essential to the plot) are dealt with, the narrative settles down and Stern displays a steady hand with the potentially risible source material. PIN is an unsettling, measured piece (nothing like the misleading shock-fest the trailer promises), but one which provides some memorable images, decent acting and a haunting final image which lingers well past the end-credits.              

*** (out of 5*)

Paul Worts

This review was originally published on the FrightFest website.