Thanks to the hard-working team at the National Media Museum, this year’s event was another highly popular and successful weekend.
On Friday I sadly missed the screening of television ghost story ‘The Treasure of Abott Thomas‘ due to late running trains, but did make it through in time for a double bill of modern fantasy films:
Sunshine (2007) [IMDB]
Directed by Danny Boyle, this sci-fi story is set in an unspecified future, when the Sun has begun to die. The story is set aboard a spaceship sent to re-start the star.
It is clear from the start that this is no ‘Armageddon’ or ‘Deep Impact’ and as things start to go wrong, it is inevitable that most of the crew won’t survive even the first leg of the journey. The frequent twists and turns, and very well researched science make most of the film gripping viewing – but sadly towards the end it takes a turn for the unnecessary, and the conclusion is far too overplayed – a nice ambiguous ending would have suited the film a lot better.
300 (2007) [IMDB]
A chance to see this sword-and-sandal fantasy epic on the massive IMAX screen was certainly one not to miss and it looked amazing.
Despite the political criticism, the film is very well made and sets new heights for both graphic novel and sword-and-sandal films to come. The almost complete use of CGI is surprisingly effective and combines with an effective soundtrack.
Come Saturday we just managed to make it in in time for the first screening
Basket Case (1982) [IMDB]
This improbably daft and gory piece of 1980s New York cheese was shown in all its uncut glory in a surprisingly good looking print and was certainly worth getting up for.
Forbidden Planet (1956) [IMDB]
The classic 1950s sci-fi film, Forbidden Planet stands up amazingly well today with some good looking effects and a very cleverly written storyline. The 35mm print looked fantastic, and the 50 year old special effects still had the power to wow an audience, decades before CGI came in. Probably the highlight of the weekend.
Twins of Evil (1971) [IMDB]
A product of Hammer’s near exploitation days, this daft and quite disjointed film somehow remains watchable throughout, and is one of Hammer’s most entertaining productions. Director John Hough was in attendance, and after the film he spoke about working with the friendly and meticulous Peter Cushing, the quiet and reserved Dennis Price, and the mischievous Collison twins. He also mentioned some of his other film work, including directing Orson Welles and Sophia Loren, as well as his two failed attempts in the years after Hammer’s demise, to lead a coalition to buy out and restore the company. A unique and fascinating chance to hear this director speak.
Read the full Mondo Esoterica review.
Suspiria (1977) [IMDB]
There is not much I can say about this true classic of Italian horror. Screened on a good looking 35mm print, there were a few slight cuts to the goriest scenes (it was an old British cinema print, and had the original BBFC cuts from the 1970s) and some dropped frames, but it was more than watchable, and sounded deafeningly good.
Sunday rolled around after Saturday (as usual) and the last day of the festival:
Vincent Price’s Dracula (1985) [IMDB]
Not available on DVD, this is a rarely seen 50 minute ‘documentary’ about the real Vlad Tepes, and how Bram Stoker turned him into the most famous vampire in history. Alongside a variety of clips from Dracula films, some surprisingly epic battle scenes that appeared to be taken from a Turkish movie and some Mondo Cane style footage of ‘contemporary’ Rumanian rituals, there are some amazingly (and presumably intentionally) cheesy sequences with Vincent Price himself in a Gothic castle set. Very enjoyable, and the 16mm film print looked surprisingly good.
Threads (TV) (1984) [IMDB]
Made in the height of the Cold War, this television drama sought to vividly portray the effects of a nuclear war on the normal working people of a British City (in this case Sheffield). The first half effectively builds characters and sets the tone, with news reports of the growing crisis in the background to most scenes. The second hour starts well, with the devastating effects of the blast being shown in an uncompromisingly grim way, unfortunately, the final quarter sees the setting jump forward over a decade, turning from facts into overly pessimistic speculation. A rather disappointing ending to what was probably one of the best (and most terrifying) television dramas ever screened)
The Woman in Black (TV) (1989) [IMDB]
Susan Hill’s novel had all the ingredients of a classic ghost story, and Nigel Kneale’s television adaptation brings them very successfully to the screen, with a few clever changes that actually help to make the story better (the idea that Arthur Kidd is already married, with children before the story starts makes his targeting by the Woman in Black more plausible). Genuinely scary in several places, with a good atmosphere throughout, this was certainly worth coming to see – its absence on DVD in the UK is more than criminal.
Countess Dracula (1970) [IMDB]
The weekend drew to a close with one of the first of Hammer’s exploitation ‘blood and breasts’ films. Not as fun as Twins of Evil, it still makes for a decent watch thanks to the exploitation elements, and Hammer’s typically impressive Gothic castle sets. Certainly not the best film of the weekend, but a good way to draw it all to a close, and worth watching on a very good looking 35mm print.
In all, a very enjoyable weekend, with no complaints. I’m already looking forward to what 2008 has to offer!