Toxic Shock Syndrome

Shock Around the Clock 4
August 11-12th, 1990
Electric Cinema, London

“Whenever two or three horror fans are gathered together in my name, they will hold a festival, and the name of the festival shall be Shock Around the Clock”
—— The Book of Jaworzyn, Chapter 13, Verse 10.

Four hours before the doors opened up, people were already queuing up for the most eagerly anticipated event since whatever-the-last-eagerly-anticipated-event-was. Not that I was there at 8 am, I only asked someone at the front. Having spent 30 minutes trying to find somewhere to park, the editors of TC and ‘Sludgefeast’ arrived about ten to eleven, joining the advance party dropped off earlier to hold a place in the queue. Some frantic competitive ‘zine selling to the bored masses in the queue followed, honours ending about even, though I wasted half the income thus obtained buying other bits and pieces. I had just sold to the back of the queue when the doors opened and we were allowed into the new venue of the Electric cinema on Portobello Road.

The opening film was Roger Corman’s ‘Frankenstein Unbound‘, based on the book by Brian Aldiss. In it, Dr. Buchanan~ (John Hurt) is sent back in time to 19th century Switzerland, where Byron, Shelley & Mary Godwin are having their notorious party on the shores of Lake Geneva, and Something is killing local livestock and people. It will come as no surprise to learn of the presence of a Dr.Frankenstein… It’s typical Corman hokum, enjoyable in a mindless way, but every time it starts getting momentum going, it manages to screw things up – the worst case of this is having Michael Hutchence, lead singer of INXS and Kylie’s ‘friend’, playing Shelley (sorry, Cathy!). The audience found him highly amusing. Large amounts of picturesque pseudo-Swiss scenery (it was shot in Italy) give it a slight travelogue air – overall, it just about works thanks to some nice touches on the monster and imaginative use of optical effects.

Next up was ‘Blue Steel‘, reviewed in TC5 (I must admit the audience here seemed to like it more than I did), but preceded by a BBFC certificate, which provoked loud jeers from the audience. For some reason, this annoyed Stefan Jaworzyn, who came on afterwards and ticked us off in a pretty condescending manner – he seemed to think we were booing the film, when I, and I assume most people, were showing dislike for the BBFC. In any case, his reaction was a bit much given co-organiser Alan Jones’ quote in Time Out: “We do not show certificated or cut versions“. This was a lie, as ‘Nightbreed’ was definitely censored. Now, to be fair, I’ve always found both organisers very helpful and friendly in any personal dealings I’ve had with them, but they are perceived by many as egotistic and superior, not wanting to be regarded as one of the ‘fans’. This is a shame – with the access to films and guests they have already, if Shock could borrow the attitude of Black Sunday they’d have one hell of a festival. As it is, they don’t seem too bothered after the event sells out. End of polemic, back to the films.

The first real treat of the festival came on next – a preview reel for ‘Highlander 2 – the Quickening‘. Always difficult to get an accurate impression of such things, but it looks very expensive and very impressive. Set in 2024, after the collapse of the ozone layer, it stars Lambert and Connery again – how the latter fits in is unsure, given his demise in the original and his non-appearance in the promo reel – battling against Michael Ironside.

Every festival has it’s dog, and Shock’s was the next film, ‘Carnival of Souls‘. Made in 1962, before 90% of the audience was born, this newly-printed print may well be slavered over by the art-house horror crowd for things like ‘subtle black & white cinematography’ and ‘eerie, atmospheric restraint’. I found it dull, repetitive and almost totally predictable – imagine a Herschell Gordon Lewis film without the gore, and the acting toned down to the mediocre and you get my impression. Under different circumstances, I might have enjoyed it, but not here – I’d rather watch modern crap than antique crap!

I could cope with it, however, biding my time for ‘Miracle Mile‘, originally dropped but reinstated when the reaction at Black Sunday was so good. This film has provoked total unanimity across all audiences – again, undoubtedly the hit of the festival and I have yet to hear anyone say they find it less than superb. Personally, I found it even better on a second viewing – the beginning dragged less and the ending was more harrowing this time, knowing the outcome in advance. All I can do is repeat the advice given last time: go and see it.

Clive Barker swept in, signed some autographs, charmed the audience by making totally slanderous and 100% unprintable comments about Margaret Thatcher, and swept out, leaving us to watch ‘Nightbreed‘. Based on ‘Cabal’, it bombed in the States, thanks to an advertising campaign that made it look like a stalk ‘n’ slasher but is, more accurately, a monster movie – 200 or so of them, courtesy of some very impressive Image Animation work. It takes a while to really get going, but it gradually builds up a large head of steam. This is thanks to a surprisingly good performance from David Cronenberg, than the hero and heroine, who struck me as unconvincing. I enjoyed it – Barker said he was going for the slightly claustrophobic, set-filmed atmosphere of the Hammer films, and I reckon he succeeded.

A welcome break followed, and then Dario Argento arrived, via a side door to avoid the massed hordes of his worshippers. He got up on stage, said a few words in his limited English and was then lost to view for half an hour under a scrum of autograph-hunters. I went to the toilet. Came back in time for ‘Two Evil Eyes‘, a co-production between Argento and zombie-meister George Romero, with each directing a story ‘inspired by’ Edgar Allen Poe. Romero’s was first, and was disappointing – his strengths are in plot and characters, almost the opposite of Argento’s, and it needed more inspired directing to kick some life into a story that could have come from ‘Tales of the Unexpected’; a wife and her lover bumping off the husband to collect his inheritance, only to find him returning from beyond the grave. Scarcely novel stuff. The second half was Argento’s, with “The Black Cat”. Now, my feelings about Argento should be well known to you, but in all fairness, I have to say I liked this quite a lot. Although, again, the plot is an old one – a man kills his wife and walls up her corpse – it had some new twists, lots of typically flashy camerawork and more than enough gore, a substance strangely lacking up to now at the festival.

Hardware‘ came in at no.6, see last issue for details – although audience opinion on it was definitely mixed, I still find it an astonishing film given the minuscule budget (less than a million pounds), and the relative inexperience of Richard Stanley, the director. He’s only 24, give him twenty more years and he could be up there with Argento. Unfortunately, it looks like the film will be heavily cut, losing about 10 minutes, in the States anyway, after the distributors and censors have had their wicked way with it.

No such problems with the next film, because it has no distributor in the UK and is unlikely to get one, since it would be shredded by the BBFC. Mind you, if ‘Bad Taste’ can get through, maybe Peter Jackson and the censors share a sense of humour, in which case his latest epic, ‘Meet the Feebles‘, might yet be seen. It’s loosely based on ‘The Muppets’, with a troupe of puppets struggling to put on a variety show but there, the similarity ends, as Jackson gleefully slaughters every taboo within reach in a plot that would take several pages to summarise. You’ve got walruses having sex with pussycats, a junkie crocodile who’s a ‘Nam vet to boot (lovely flashback sequence), a shit-eating fly gutter journalist, a rat who makes porno movies (while selling smack to the croc on the side), a rabbit with AIDS, an elephant fighting a paternity suit brought by a chicken and a psycho hippo. Despite occasional weak points, it’s astonishingly inventive, wonderfully stupid and unbelievably gross, another cult classic in the making.

Maniac Cop II‘ – zzzzzzzzzzz….. And I think most other people chose this one to catch up on a few winks, in preparation for ‘Leatherface – Texas Chainsaw Massacre III‘ (I wasn’t the only person to look at the program and wonder what film ‘Acre III’ was, not having noticed it was merely the leftover from ‘Texas Chainsaw Mass-‘ on the previous line!). Directed by Jeff Burr of ‘The Stepfather’, it’s far better than the flaccid TCM II, returning to the spirit of the original, while fortunately dispensing with the flares. A couple driving through Texas encounter the family of cannibals, now extended to include a mother and a young daughter (that’s another child who’ll grow up totally warped!), and come off second best, at least initially. A healthily nasty streak runs through it, and it’s another one you are unlikely to see here, although I believe the Scala are planning to show it.

And that was that, for another year. 20« hours, 10 films, virtually all of them worthwhile at least for one viewing and we departed, leaving behind some vaguely miffed staff looking at the rubbish generated by keeping 450 people in a small space for 24 hours. The decision to move it to the Electric was a mixed blessing, the seats did have slightly more leg-room and the sound system was definitely better, but the place got far too hot very quickly and there was a lack of room to stand around and chat between, or even during, films. All in all, a worthwhile weekend, even if at £25 they’re in danger of pricing themselves out of the market.