A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

One of those films that just got past me, I’d never seen A Nightmare on Elm Street until picking up the original VHS online recently.  I went with the VHS as this original pre-cert version is apparently the only uncut UK release.  I had seen the second sequel A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (which I remember liking) on its original cinema release but that remained my only exposure to the series.  Nowadays of course the first film is considered a horror classic, Freddie Krueger is an icon (though he’s just “Fred” Krueger in the titles here) and writer/director Wes Craven is considered one of the masters of the genre.  Let’s say I had high expectations.

Sadly, if this ever really did seem like a great movie, the years haven’t been kind.  That’s not to say it doesn’t have its moments and in places it shows signs of real horror movie class but even at its strongest it goes back and forth between creepy and inept.  The concept is a great one, a variation on the usual “teens in danger” slasher flick.  A group of kids from the same neighbourhood start having nightmares in which they’re being stalked by the same monster, a freakshow-faced hat-wearing razor-clawed psychopath.  Turns out their dreams are haunted by the demonic ghost of a dead serial killer.  That villain too – the aforementioned Freddie Krueger , as played by Robert Englund – is an undeniably great movie monster but here just too often comes across as a bloke in a lame Halloween costume.

Talking of Halloween, there’s obviously a John Carpenter influence here, which can only be a good thing.  It’s most apparent in Charles Bernstein’s synth soundtrack, which although not in Carpenter’s league at least helps establish an atmosphere (end title song Nightmare by 213, however, sounds like a bad demo that can only have been included by accident).

The biggest downside is the acting which, including that of a young Johnny Depp, is ropey throughout despite the best efforts of Englund and Hollywood stalwart John Saxon.  The writing doesn’t help, with Craven’s awful dialogue leading to some truly cringe-worthy mother/daughter interactions.  There’s also an odd moment with a talking digital watch which is worth looking out for (as if Craven had thought “There’s bound to be talking watches by the time this is released.  I mean, come on, they’ve got calculators on them now.  Calculators!“).

Of course, the film looks good and there are great scenes.  In particular the two iconic bedroom “kills” – one Exorcist-like sequence has a character being thrown about the ceiling, another ends with a bed erupting in a fountain of blood.  By the final act though, it’s all definitely falling apart.  A montage which is supposed to take place over just twenty minutes sees the heroine expertly carrying out about a day’s worth of DIY (part of a sequence which has gained in unintentional humour by having become the apparent inspiration for much of Home Alone) and the actual denouement is just silly.

As a piece of pop culture history, A Nightmare on Elm Street is definitely worth checking out.  You might, like me, want to see what all the fuss was about – just go in with your expectations suitably tempered.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

A Nightmare on Elm Street: original pre-cert ex-rental VHS, picked up online for £8.00 in decent playable condition.

 

Prince: Chaos and Disorder (1996)

ritualobjectsofsightandsound.wordpress.com - chaos and disorder

In amongst everything being written about Prince (my thoughts here), this album hasn’t had much of a mention – even this review was largely written up before the news of his death.  A pity, as Chaos and Disorder really is an unjustly overlooked gem which is well worth searching out, particularly if you’re a fan of his rockier tendencies.

Part of the career-damaging run of contractual obligation releases towards the end of his symbol/AFKAP phase, Chaos and Disorder was not a success.  It spawned only one minor hit single and barely troubled the album chart here in the UK.  However, of all those releases, from 1993’s Come to 1999’s The Vault: Old Old Friends For Sale, this is by far the most interesting.

Opening the album, the title track is in-your-face heavy funk rock at its best, the arrangement having started life as the end-jam from early live versions of Peach.  Lyrically though, it’s a social commentary-led close cousin to the likes of Sign O’ the Times and Lovesexy‘s Dance On.

Prince as guitarist is to the fore throughout – Zanalee is straight-up blues rock while The Same December and Into the Light are spiritual psych-pop numbers which would not sound out of place on Around the World in a DayDinner With Delores, the aforementioned hit, is more of the same, a great wee track cut from the same cloth as Starfish and Coffee.

Of the eleven tracks only the more overtly commercial, poppier funk number I Rock Therefore I Am and the bizarrely cod-country tinged Right the Wrong don’t quite cut it but there’s still enough outrageous instrumentalism going on to keep things interesting.  The closing track Had U (a slight song, built on a Mellotron-like guitar and vocal), is ostensibly a relationship number but we know it’s really about Warners, with the last words on Prince’s final album under his original contract for the label being “fuck you – had you”.

PCADA

1996 tape in good order, £8 online (late 2015).  Unavailable in any format for a while but look out for that cynical reissue programme anytime now …

 

 

Just look at the state of this place (Part 2)

I know, right?

It was Tapes For My Walkman.  Then it was Tapes For My Walkman and Tapes For My VCR.  Then it was Tapes For My Walkman (incorporating Tapes For My VCR).  Now it’s Ritual Objects of Sight and Sound.  It was going to be Ritual Objects but that was already taken, dammit.

All the old Tapes… content is here.  I haven’t quite got my head around what I’m doing with the blog in general just at the moment, other than celebrating the physical format.  Or something.  There’ll be the same kind of writing as before on the same kinds of subjects as before, with an emphasis on all things analogue – though CD and DVD will get more than just a look-in, I should imagine.  The horror!  I know.  Calm yourself.  Wipe away your hipster tears with your hipster pocket kerchief before they befoul all of the hipster lotions and unguents in your hipster beard and bear with me.

Just look at the state of this place …

You may recently have noticed a slight change hereabouts. Hideously-titled sister blog Tapes For My VCR has been subsumed by Tapes For My Walkman. There are various reasons for this, chief among them the fact that I was finding it difficult to keep the separate blogs individually updated on any kind of a regular basis, so I thought if I lumped them both together I’d be able to keep up a reasonable writing schedule. Of course, since making this change, I haven’t uploaded a bastard thing.

There are various reasons for that, too. Problems with my latest album release, unexpected gigs, other writing that needed/needs tending to. Prince died.

A quick scroll through this blog will give you a hint that Prince is kind of a big deal to me. His death gave me pause, which I mean quite literally, certainly in terms of writing this sort of thing. Once I did write about it, I found the result was more of a personal-and-musicianly piece, so I published it over on my personal/musicianly blog, Channel Nowhere (if you want to check it out, click HERE).

I’ve currently got a dozen or so posts sitting half-written. I’m looking at finishing them up now so there could well be a few updates in quick succession over the next few weeks. Also, since combining the two existing blogs has shifted focus away from the original concept, there’ll likely be some other changes – starting with a new title.

Then again, there’s always the possibility I’ll just ditch the whole thing. Try not to let the suspense interfere with your tea.

The Ultimate Warrior (1975)

There was none of your internet when I was a wean, none of your streaming, your satellite or cable TV, or indeed your video tape cassettes.  The telly was three channels, eventually four; great late-night movie programming, for sure, but that was your lot.  Much of my enthusiasm for films, particularly sci-fi and the likes, was stoked by reading about them.  I’d pore over the features in my dad’s back issues of Photoplay (the Empire of the ’70s) while all but memorising the likes of Denis Gifford’s Monsters of the Movies and especially Alan Frank’s Sci-Fi Now.

Sci-Fi Now was published on the back of the upsurge in popularity of “fantastic” genre films in the wake of the then recent successes of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  A slim volume – basically an extended essay on science fiction movies and their history – it served as my introduction to The Final Programme, Fantastic Planet, The Cars That Ate Paris, Death Race 2000, A Clockwork Orange … the list goes on.  There were loads of pictures too, most of them on the enticing side of weird.  I was fascinated by these movies, most of which I wouldn’t see for years.  Which brings me to The Ultimate Warrior – Frank is enthusiastic about Robert Clouse’s post-apocalyptic thriller (“an excellent and atmospheric movie”) while noting that the film’s violence was “pervasive and not for the squeamish”.

So, recently I sat down to watch The Ultimate Warrior for the first time.  Over the thirty-plus years since I first read it I’ve seen many if not all of the films from Frank’s book which had sparked my interest, most of them years ago and some of them now firm favourites.  It seemed unlikely that The Ultimate Warrior could live up to that kind of expectation.  As it turns out, while I won’t say it sits beside the very best in the genre, it’s a good film.

New York city of the near future (well, 2012) has been overrun with gangs and general lawlessness in the years following a worldwide ecological disaster which has rendered all food crops non-viable.  One city block is controlled by Baron (Max Von Sydow) who heads a peaceful community numbering among its members his pregnant daughter (Joanna Miles) and her husband, a botanist who has developed fertile plant seeds.  Also in the ranks is a young Stephen McHattie.  The rest of the neighbourhood is controlled by William Smith, whose villainous character is saddled with the name Carrot.  Yul Brynner stars as Carson, a sort of wandering mercenary who throws in his lot with Von Sydow’s group as their head of security.  He is tasked by Baron to take his daughter and son-in-law – and more importantly the crop seeds – to an island safe haven.  Cue plenty of fighting and a lengthy game of cat and mouse through the disused subway system as Carrot gives chase.

Firmly in the “deserted city streets” school of post-apocalyptic sci-fi, the film looks good and is competently directed by Enter the Dragon helmer Clouse.  Yul Brynner is good if oddly cast in a very physical role.  The jazzy score struggles to settle – slightly mismatched to the visuals in places, in others, such as a street chase scene, lending greatly to the atmosphere.  The film’s inconsistencies come close to derailing it – protagonists Brynner and Von Sydow – with their respective Russian and Swedish accents – are supposedly from the USA, the biological pandemic which has brought civilisation to its knees seems also to have somehow rendered guns and motorised transport unusable and the strange introduction to Brynner’s character – he stands motionless in the street for days until someone hires him – goes unexplained.  It seems to be setting up some kind of mystical martial arts hero as per the film’s title but once he’s on board with the Baron’s people, Carson is a perfectly normal guy – just one who’s particularly useful with a knife.  Surprisingly, the film isn’t nearly as violent as Alan Frank’s observations in Sci-Fi Now might have us believe.  While there is some grisly imagery, much of the actual cut and thrust, as it were, occurs off-camera.

There is a hint of optimism in there but with its bookending montages of stationary-shot landscapes and its largely grim view of human nature, The Ultimate Warrior is a downbeat, slightly melancholy film.  That atmosphere lends it weight beyond its limitations.

Tapes for my VCR: The Ultimate Warrior

Original UK Warner’s big box pre-cert release. Online purchase for £11.00

Alan Frank's Sci-Fi Now

Alan Frank’s Sci-Fi Now. Not sure if this is my original copy – it rings a very vague bell that I had to pick up a replacement in the dim and distant past.

ZZ Top: Fandango! (1975)

Following 1973’s Tres Hombres and released in 1975, Fandango! was ZZ Top’s fourth album. Again produced by Bill Hamm, here the 34 minute running time is divided between a live side and a studio side.   The studio cuts are a match for Tres Hombres in quality but the live element stops it quite equalling its predecessor’s status as a classic.

The three live tracks that make up the first side are good, rough and raw.  Kicking off with Texas Blues perennial Thunderbird (curiously credited to ZZ Top though it’s a Nightcaps cover) and Jailhouse Rock, it’s a covers-heavy set with the only originals a retread of Rio Grande Mud‘s Backdoor Love Affair and a new song Back Door Love Affair No. 2, both here in a medley with Willie Dixon’s Mellow Down Easy and John Lee Hooker’s Long Distance Boogie.  These are enjoyable enough, hard rocking numbers but it’s all fairly heavy-handed, particularly in Backdoor Medley, and the overall effect is one of “you had to be there”.

The six track studio side, however, is a thing of wonder – it’s no mystery that half of the cuts here made it to 1977’s The Best Of ZZ Top. The side kicks off with the brilliantly titled Nasty Dogs and Funky Kings which is a perfect piece of ’70s rock.  Then there’s Blue Jean Blues.  One of the great electric blues ballads, its melancholy air serving as a backdrop for one of the finest blues leads you’ll hear.

Balinese offers up a slice of straightforward Southern rock before the loose-limbed Mexican Blackbird, with its killer slide and affectionately unromantic lyric  (“If you’re down in Acuna and you ain’t up to being alone/Don’t spend all your money on just any honey that’s grown/Go find the Mexican Blackbird and send all your troubles back home”).

Heard It On The X is a propulsive paean to the Mexican radio stations of the ’60s, all of which were known by call signs beginning with an X.  Tush is one of those songs that always seems to have been there (it was probably the Girlschool version I knew first). A stone cold classic.

The part live/part studio format isn’t one that’s easy to get right. ZZ Top tried it again in 1999 with the underrated XXX.  Cream did it in the ’60s with Wheels of Fire, though that was a double with one disc studio and one live; in the ’90s, both Sabbath and the Stones garnished live albums with a couple of studio cuts (Reunion and Flashpoint respectively) but the only other “half-and-half” release which really got it right, that I can think of, is Loudon Wainwright III’s Unrequited (released, like Fandango!, in 1975.  Maybe it was a thing).   The two types of performance and recording often don’t really gel and that’s the issue with Fandango!  The studio side is so damn good you can’t help but want more.

ritualobjectsofsightandsound.wordpress.com - ZZ Top: Fandango!

Original Warners paper labels issue, about £4 online.

Love You Till Tuesday (1969)

It’s been a cruel few weeks for music fans.  David Bowie’s death was, for me, robbed of some of its impact coming so soon on the heels of Lemmy’s.  Although I was a fan of Bowie’s work, it was more from a position of admiration than any real kind of emotional connection or visceral appeal (unlike Motörhead).  Nonetheless, he made at least two of my favourite albums (Scary Monsters and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, if you must know) as well as co-producing one of my absolute all timers, Lou Reed’s Transformer.  And the iconography is undeniable – he was David fucking Bowie.

I wasn’t sure what I could write about him or which release to look at but I’d recently picked up a copy of this late ’60’s curio.  It’s something of an oddity which is fitting, more so when considering the sheer variety which characterised his career.

Love You Till Tuesday was conceived as a promotional film by Bowie’s management in 1969 after his first label dropped him.  It seems likely that it was meant for some kind of cinema distribution, probably as a supporting short (that used to be a thing).  In the end it never surfaced, at least not until this 1984 video release.

Nine songs feature in the 28 minute running time, some drawn from Bowie’s Deram debut album plus new recordings Ching-A-Ling, When I’m Five, The Mask and Space Oddity.  Directed by Malcolm J. Thomson (his only directing credit).  The music is typical childhood-and-love obsessed English psychedelic pop of the day, with a more polished Syd Barrett flavour.

Visually, this is mostly Bowie plus an occasional minimal cast miming in a parade of ’60s’ fashions, often against a stark white background.  That’s “mime” in the sense of “lip synch” but also, at one point, in the full-on Marcel Marceau way of things which makes for an … uhm … fascinating (?) watch on the spoken word piece The Mask.

When I’m Five sees Bowie acting in the slightly cringeworthy manner of an infant to a cloying lyric while Let Me Sleep Beside You is a great pop rock number with a straight forward performance clip complete with prop guitar.  Ching-a-Ling features Bowie in backing vocal/rhythm guitar mode and is a pleasant enough piece of psych/folk-pop kitsch, a showcase for Hermione and Hutch (Bowie’s then girlfriend and music partner respectively, presumably under the same management).

The original version of Space Oddity jars a little due to familiarity with the classic version.  The music production is rougher and rootsier, there’s a flute solo, and the visuals are almost cynically “groovy” with sexy spacebirds and that.  Still it’s interesting and is the highlight here, worth checking out by dint of originality if nothing else.

Although of interest largely as a curiosity, Love You Till Tuesday does point towards Bowie’s future groundbreaking tendencies.  I’m not aware of another project quite like this one from the period, and the “video album” – which is essentially what this is – was still more than a decade away.

Tapes For My VCR - David Bowie Love You Till Tuesday

Original 1984 Spectrum sell-through release, about £4 online.