The Walking Dead Week – in case you missed it

So, the first episode of season 8 of The Walking Dead has landed and it was a stonker.

Yes, you may say that it’s impossible to keep the pace up without finishing the whole story this season. That’s not the point. Let us have our moment. Our moment of suspended disbelief that we aren’t going to have two episodes dedicated to a character that, right now, we’ve never seen before.

In case you missed the build up, here are a handful of articles from the last week covering all things The Walking Dead:

Surprising appearances of The Walking Dead stars

Weird and Wonderful Merchandise – Part 2

Video Game Review – The Walking Dead: Michonne (Telltale Games, 2016)

All the trailers

The Walking Dead: The Board Game (Z-Man Games)

The Walking Dead: The Game – Season One (Telltale Games, 2012)

The Walking Dead: Road To Survival (Scopely, 2015)

Top Moments of The Walking Dead TV Show

The Music of The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead: Weird and Wonderful Merchandise

Fear The Walking Dead: Series 1, Episode 1 (Scott Dow, 2015)

The Walking Dead Week – All the Season 8 trailers

San Diego Comic Con Trailer

When The Walking Dead Season 8 trailer landed a couple of months ago,  we were promised a lot without really finding out too much that we didn’t either now or expect.

The series returns in full next week on October 22nd and the hope is for an increase in pace over the previous series.

The over-arching feeling with this trailer is that Season 8 will be full of pace, a clear reaction to the backlash from Season 7. The Negan into ‘All Out War’ story arc is probably the most interesting in the comic book series and in hindsight it felt a bit like they didn’t want a huge blow-out of fun by racing towards the war part too fast. What we ended up with is a season that felt entertaining but failed to keep the pace. With interest dropping throughout the first half of the season, they ended up with viewing figures around that of Season 3, indicative of the waning interest in something Fox considers to be a flagship show.

Season 8 looks like the series will get a much-needed shot of adrenaline. The hope is that there will be a big push to the end of All Out War will probably happen throughout the series.

The big reveal was the final shot of a much older Rick hobbling around with a walking stick and a big old beard. This is absolutely no surprise to the enthusiastic comic readers, who know that at the end of the All Out War story arc we get a jump forward of several years to a community very different to the one we know. This clearly has to happen, but it remains to be seen in what order. One theory is that they could set the entire series there, with the remainder of the All Out War storyline told through flashbacks. This would negate the extremely slow pacing of the several issues where everyone is happy and content in a newly-stable world, but it would probably ruin the fun of the conclusion of All Out War.

The big question for Fox is whether or not they think the series will last that long.

New York Comic Con Sneak Peek

A couple of weeks ago at New York Comic Con there was a huge panel and that included a sneak peek at a scene with Carl Grimes. It’s one of those annoying sneak peeks that reveals almost nothing whilst still being a sturdy reminder of all the small things fans love about the series.

We see Carl searching an abandoned gas station for supplies, before realising he isn’t alone. An anonymous man is heard rambling about nothing, seemingly talking to himself. Weaving between cars, he works out where the voice is coming from and as the scene finishes we see him resolving to make a move, raising his gun and shouting “Hands up!”.

And scene.

It doesn’t really match up with a particular point on the timeline and could sit anywhere in the series. Essentially, they’re screwing with us.

New York Comic Con Panel

This is a pretty long video, totalling over 50 minutes. They cover a lot of ground so it’s impossible to summarise everything, but a few things were mentioned that are of interest. Here’s the best bits:

  • There will be a cross-over between The Walking Dead main series and sister series Fear The Walking Dead. Show creator Robert Kirkman said: “There is one character that is going to go from one show, that I will not name, to another show, that I will not name. This is a huge event in the world of The Walking Dead.” This will have fans of the main series scrambling to catch up on Fear, which has managed to lose 7m viewers in its. He seemed to hint that this would take the form of a backstory for a main character in the main show playing out in Fear The Walking Dead, though he was suitably vague.
  • Andrew Lincoln said on Rick Grimes in Season 7: “(He) gets his strut back.” Which is what we want to hear.
  • Jeffrey Dean Morgan said about Negan: “He brings a little special spice… This year we get to explore some slices of what Negan’s past is. Robert created this guy that makes it hard to not like him… He has a certain flair and panache that is needed… And he’s f*cking smart!” It’ll be interesting to see what parts of his history we get to explore this season.
  • Carol is ready to fight. And bake.
  • Enid actress Katelyn Nacon was a featured member of the panel. This could be a great thing or a terrible thing for the character. Enid seems out of place alongside Rick, Carol, Jesus, Negan and Daryll. She’s either going to get promoted to a more prominent role, or she could be about to bite the dust and is getting a bit of glory before she disappears from our screens.

It is essential viewing for all Walking Dead fans and it covers a lot of ground. It’s like the best episodes of The Talking Dead you’ve ever seen. Apart from maybe the one after Glenn died.

The Walking Dead Week returns to Cinema, Etc.

The Walking Dead returns to our screens on Monday 23rd October(or a day earlier if you’re in the US!). It will fill a void that Fear The Walking Dead has been attempting to plug since the Season 7 finale back in April.

Over the next week there will be a handful of articles covering different aspects of the show to hopefully whet your appetite ahead of what promises to be the most entertaining series we’ve seen yet.

First up is a summary of everything we’ve seen from the trailers and other preview material. I really hope you like The Walking Dead…

Maggie (Henry Hobson, 2015)

Post-apocalpyptic zombie horror film Maggie was screened as the opening film of the UK Festival of Zombie Horror Culture at Phoenix Cinema in Leicester in November 2015. The film stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as Wade, a man whose daughter Maggie, played by Abigail Breslin (best known for her performance in Little Miss Sunshine), has been infected by a zombie virus. Having been bit, she has fled home to protect the rest of her family. The film opens with Wade finding his daughter, who has been missing for two weeks, and taking her home to his wife. It then follows her slow transformation towards “the turn”, and the affect that has on her and her mother and father.

Drop Undead

Drop Undead

One thing we’ve come to expect when watching an Arnie film is an over-the-top performance with lots of one-liners and a handful of big set pieces. These are not present here. Instead, we get Arnie in an extremely restrained mood, and the result is perhaps the most convincing performance of his career. As one of the first films announced after his return to film from his political career, this was a perfect choice and is a great advert for more roles in a similar vain as he moves into the next phase of his career.

Breslin also shines in a complicated role where a girl is facing certain death. Having attempted to go through this on her own, she is desperately in need of her father. This complexity isn’t easy to pull off but she does it well, showing an increasing amount of fear as she gets further infected.

Where the film falls down is its slow pacing. It draws us in at first, but a slow pace clearly designed to explore the emotional side of the key characters paves the way for a few too many “switch off” moments. Admittedly, there is no room for a big stand-off and that kind of thing would have been out of place, but montages of time passing are easy to put together and allow the viewer to disingage for a couple of minutes.

Overall, well worth watching for the chance to see Arnie’s acting credentials and as an interesting angle on the genre.

Maggie is available on Blu-ray and DVD now.

UK Festival of Zombie Culture (Phoenix Cinema, Leicester, 14/11/2015)

I’m off to the UK Festival of Zombie Culture, an annual event held at Phoenix CInema and Cafebar in Leicester.

There are six films on offer today:

Maggie
Nightmare City
Darkest Day
Me and My Mates vs the Zombie Apocalypse
Cooties
A Mystery Sixth Film

There’s also a ton of special guests, book signings, talks and The Arcade of the Dead to check out. It’s going to be a great day. I’ll report back later with how it went.

Top Moments of The Walking Dead TV Show

Before you start reading, this is obviously going to be full of spoilers. So if you aren’t right up to date with the end of Season 5 then you’re probably better off just going elsewhere. You’ve been warned.

The Walking Dead TV series has been on our screens for five years now and there have been some great moments. The show has generally been exceptional throughout bar a couple of dull moments – including the entire second season – but the length of the show has allowed the writers to really explore the zombie horror genre in a way never before attempted.

This article highlights a handful of the high points so far.

Rick Finds Out (S03E04 – “Killer Within”)

The main goal for Rick throughout the entire series is to protect his family. This is the moment Rick finds out Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), his wife, has died in childbirth. The group had finally got to the point where they had some level of stability and it was obvious that his hope was that they could remain in the prison and he could start to raise his child in some kind of normality.

Andrew Lincoln’s acting in this scene is absolutely top drawer. The finishing touch comes at the end as he finally breaks down and falls to the floor, amongst the other zombies, representing that his reason for living has died. It was a poignant moment that reminded the viewers they weren’t just watching a zombie action series.

Zombie Merle (S03E15 – “This Sorrowful Life”)

Because it made Daryl cry, which sort of made us cry.

The Death of Hershel (S04E08 – “Too Far Gone”)

The shocking death of a beloved character in any series is always hard to take, but the nature of Hershel’s death was up there with the worst. He had been on a journey from the first time we met him and was the father figure to many of the central characters, not just his actual daughters. The upside of it was that the hatred for The Governor grew even more, making Michonne’s revenge even sweeter.

Rick’s One-Liner (S04E16 – “A”)

Rick (Andrew Lincoln) has been the focal point of the entire the series, as he has grown from small-town policeman to the authoritative sheriff-figure he has become. Along the way, he’s also provided us with some great one-liners. None were finer than the final line of Season 4 when the survivors had found themselves tricked into a corner at Terminus. As the cliffhanger approached and viewers wondered how they were going to wind it up, Rick chirped up with the line “They’re going to feel pretty stupid when they find out… they’re fucking with the wrong people.”

The only shame was that some airings of it changed the profanity to “screwing”, which doesn’t bode well for Negan. Also, this same episode featured an attempted rape of a 12-year-old boy and Rick chewing a man’s throat out. That was fine for TV, by the way.

Season Five Opener (S05E01 – “No Sanctuary”)

We thought the group would be fine after a determined rallying cry from our main man, but twenty minutes into the following season opener we were again watching from behind the cushions as four main character (Rich, Daryl, Glenn and Bob, the latter of which suddenly seemed a bit of a red coat) stared death in the face. That would be death by beheading, by the way. As the executioner made his way along the line, some brilliant acting from our four heroes galvanised the scene to breaking point, only for Carol (Melissa McBride) to save the day. What a way to welcome us back to the world for another 16 episodes.

A cheap way to get into The Walking Dead at your own pace is the Season 1-4 boxset, available on Blu-Ray for a reasonable price now. Of course, this is already out-of-date and will become even more out-of-date as more episodes are released. Another alternative is to get Amazon Prime Video, which is home to the series.

The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, 2014)

As it’s the second of two consecutive Friday 13ths in early 2015 (there’s another one at the end of the year too, right after Halloween too – we’re being spoilt!) – I thought I’d watch and review a new(ish) horror film. The Babadook was only released in 2014, but it has become an instant hit amongst fans of the genre.

Set in Australia, the slowly unravelling story brings us into the life of a single mother Amelia (Essie Davis) and her ill-behaved son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). With Samuel struggling to sleep at night and every other option exhausted, Amelia allows him to pick a book of his choice for her to read to him before bed time. However, when he picks out a mysterious and disturbing pop-up book called The Babadook, their lives quickly spiral out of their own control and into the grasp of the eponymous character from the book.

Stylistically the film has it spot on. To keep in with the tone of the film and depressing nature of the situation, there’s rarely any clothes worn that aren’t somewhere between black and grey. The general environment is drained of colour, with the low saturation levels adding to the dreariness.

The physical book looks horrific in itself, and the slow reveal of the uniquely designed Babadook adds to the tension. I was thankful that it didn’t resort to what many horrors go for these days – a quick reveal of a poorly CGId evil character that instantly destroys any inkling of suspense or terror. Kent clearly has her finger on the pulse and is well versed in what makes horror fans tick.

A woman realises she and her son ren't in the correct screening for Frozen Sing-a-long.

A woman realises she and her son aren’t in the correct screening for Frozen Sing-a-long.


The story is also surprisingly deep for a supernatural horror film. In its short running time of just over 90 minutes, we are nonetheless completely absorbed in the reality of the situation. This is only achievable through some well thought-out characterisation and some convincing performances from the two lead characters. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the support cast – clearly a choice was made to keep the pace up and the running time short by minimising any kind of depth to the friends and relatives of the lead woman. In particular, a seemingly key character is introduced in the form of her work colleague Robbie (Daniel Henshall), but he is abruptly forgotten about after about 35 minutes. I’m not saying it’s necessarily a bad thing, but I acknowledged it immediately and I was left thinking about which option was better.

Of course, horror films live and die by how much they can make you jump out of your skin. There is no problem with that here and my gut instinct is that it will thrill even the most hardened horror fan. I suggest you bring a pillow if you’re easily spooked.

If you’re in your supermarket tonight and need to get a last-minute horror film, then The Babadook is the one I have to recommend. It’s readily available for £10.99 in at least two of the big UK supermarkets and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff, 1971)

Wake in Fright, Ted Kotcheff’s disturbing 1971 drama, is the story of a lost weekend of toxic self-discovery for John (Gary Bond), a young middle-class English teacher in the middle of the Australian outback. Though he plans a trip to Sydney over the Christmas break to see his beautiful girlfriend, a series of bad decisions leads him into a catastrophic mess of a weekend of gambling, hunting and alcoholism with some new acquaintances of dubious moral conscience. We go on the awful journey with him, as he gets chewed up and barely spat out the other side, all in the isolated nothingness of Bundanyabba.

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And I thought I was watching a Harvey Dent origin story.

Gary Bond’s excellent performance is paired with an equally excellent one from Donald Pleasence, an alcoholic doctor who exists without working, taking his purpose from a relentless alcoholism. His enthusiasm for misbehaving is the catalyst that leads our main character further down a slippery path, just when we hope he’ll pull himself out of it. It’s a show stealer, and to compliment this his Australian accent is flawless.
The colour wash throughout the day scenes are scorching hot yellows, reds and oranges. It’s a clever technique to make you feel the heat. You can see the sweat dripping from the sun-baked characters, and can almost smell the day-old stench of alcohol on their hungover breath. Frankly, by the end of the film I wanted a shower.

The main talking point is a ten-minute scene that depicts an awful kangaroo hunt that the main party of four go on. The Masters of Cinema release dedicates a lot of time to it in the booklet and on-disc features, and will do it more justice than I can manage. All I’ll say is that it’s truly horrific, especially knowing it was basically just the filming of a real kangaroo hunt. Sickening stuff.

I strongly recommend this one. Just don’t watch it if you’re a fan of kangaroos.

Wake in Fright is available now on Masters of Cinema Blu-Ray and DVD.

Frankenstein Created Woman (Terence Fisher, 1967)

Terence Fisher’s 1967 Hammer Horror film Frankenstein Created Woman was screened as the opening film of the Mayhem Presents The Created Woman weekender at Broadway in Nottingham. It was a perfect way to kick off the festival.

Fisher had spent his career making a name for himself as a director of great Hammer Horror titles, including The Mummy, Dracula and The Hound of the Baskervilles. This film came towards the end of his career (he was 63 at the time), by which point he was clearly a very accomplished and well-established director. Despite this, there is nothing stale about this picture.

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He relied again on Peter Cushing to take the role of Baron Frankenstein, a tried and tested appointment. Yet it isn’t Cushing that takes centre-stage. Playboy centrefold Susan Denberg is absolutely brilliant as the shy and physically scarred Christina, whose body is the subject of Frankenstein’s latest experiment. Fusing her body with the soul of her deceased lover Hans (Robert Morris), she becomes a schizophrenic femme fatale, with a personal vendetta to murder those responsible for his death. Her role has two sides and both are played perfectly, though she is obviously more at ease with the second more sexually-confident character.

The film has a few loose points. It is responsible for one of the worst court scenes in cinematic history, in which Hans is sentenced to death for a crime with no evidence and no witnesses, even though the judge knows he is innocent, essentially because his father was a murderer. It’s in there for necessity and Fisher tries to see it through as quickly as possible. Elsewhere, three men essentially allow themselves to be killed, in reality because if they’d tried to struggle they would have easily overcome their attacker. Apparently it’s much easier to just lie still in shock and take the inevitable.

It’s probably not the best Frankenstein-based story ever told, but with a great performance from Denberg it is one that is worthy of the franchise and I recommend checking it out if you’re a big fan of the series, or indeed of Hammer Horror in general.

Frankenstein Created Woman is available on Blu-ray now.

The Toxic Avenger (Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz, 1984)

What a terrible disappointment. The Toxic Avenger was a film I watched when I was probably far too young to see such graphic violence. Sometimes, when you revisit films like this, you’re pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately, despite my anticipation, this wasn’t the case with The Toxic Avenger.

Set in Tromaville, the film stars Mark Torgl as Melvin Ferd, the janitor at a local fitness centre. Melvin is portrayed as a complete moron, with his low self-esteem trumped only by his lower intelligence. He is openly despised by everyone in the whole town for this, but in particular by two steroid-addicted gym-goers Bozo and Slug, who it is established early on are also murderers, of course. There’s a bit of a bit of light-hearted bullying where Melvin accidentally kisses a sheep whilst wearing a tutu, and he runs out of a window on the first floor, falling head-first into an inconveniently-positioned toxic waste lorry. From then on the story becomes really ridiculous. To cut a long story short, Melvin becomes a mutated unflinching powerhouse of a monster, and goes on a vigilante rampage across the town, killing anyone he deems to be immoral. They’re quite easy to spot, because they’re usually laughing sinisterly, holding a gun or a knife, doing Class A drugs, deliberately driving into children on bikes, or are doing all of these things and are called Bozo or Slug.

By the time he started dating Sara, who must be one of the worst-acted and most offensively-portrayed blind people in the history of cinema, I was contemplating turning it off. I just don’t know what the message was. Blind people can have a relationship too, as long as the person they are seeing has been hideously disfigured in a contrived toxic waste accident? People with bizarre deformities and burns scars could get lucky as long as the person they love is blind and doesn’t know what they look like? Either way, it’s a poor message.

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The story is unfathomably far-fetched, which I guess is the point, but it’s so poorly acted that it never looks anything more than a homemade film where someone with a camera has assembled a bunch of friends to act out his flimsy story. Everything is hammed up beyond comprehension, and the characters are so black and white you wonder whether directors Kaufman and Herz think everyone watching needs every detail to be spelled out as obviously as possible. Perhaps its enduring success as a B-Movie horror classic is down to the fact it is so mind-numbing, and that’s what the people who keep watching it are looking for.

The one saving grace for it is the special effects, which are clearly a cut above everything else on offer here. The transformation scene was pretty gruesome and realistic, and the scene where Bozo and Slug drive a poor child off his bike to his horrific death was startling and effective. It’s a shame that this is juxtaposed with such dreadful acting and some ridiculously chosen music, which is either camp 80s pop rock, or classical music. Nothing in between.

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It’s also interesting comparing the then-horrific violence to what is regularly on television today. In the preceding years, things like crushed skulls, burst eyeballs and dismembered bodies has gone from something that would potentially see a film banned to standard fair for the likes of The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. Clearly at the time a film like The Toxic Avenger would sell itself on the depicted violence, whereas now it is becoming a quirk of cinematic history as we become desensitised to what we deem shocking.

One good reason to buy is the plethora of bonus features on offer on this 88 Films release, including trailers, interviews, worthwhile commentary from the director, two lengthy introductions, and a whole different Japanese cut of the film. If you are a huge fan of the film then these would make it a worthy repurchase. There’s also the intro credits for the Toxic Crusader cartoon series, which I vividly remember from my childhood. Like the film, though, I ended up underwhelmed by my memory not living up to the reality.

I’m sure there’s something for someone in this, but I’m not that someone. I applaud 88 Films for releasing a home-video transfer worthy of the fans, but I can’t endorse the film because it’s just so bad. I really can’t believe that this film holds a rating more than 10% higher than, say, Home Alone on Rotten Tomatoes (65% to 54%). This is proof enough that you can’t account for taste. Or lack of.

The Toxic Avenger is available now on 88 Films Blu-ray.