Them! (1954; USA; B&W; 94m) ∗∗∗∗ d. Gordon Douglas; w. Ted Sherdeman, Russell S. Hughes, George Worthing Yates; ph. Sid Hickox; m. Bronislau Kaper. Cast: James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon, James Arness, Onslow Stevens, Chris Drake, Leonard Nimoy, Dub Taylor, Fess Parker. That ol’ cinematic devil the A-bomb has spawned a colony of giant murderous ants bent on destroying humanity in this, the seminal big bug movie (an obvious and oft-credited influence for ALIEN among countless others). Influential sci-fi thriller capitalises on paranoia surrounding radiation fallout from the testing of atomic weapons – here mutating ants into giant killers. Arness and Whitmore make effective leads and Gwenn is good as the eccentric scientist. Good use of sound and lighting to maximise thrills. Fans of the later ALIENS (1986) may find certain similarities in the bug hunt. The sound that the giant ants make as they approach their prey is a recorded chorus of bird-voiced tree frogs (Hyla avivoca) of the southeastern US. Received an Oscar nomination for Best Special Effects. Warner’s highest-grossing film for the year. [PG]
Island of Terror (1966; UK; Eastmancolor; 86m) ∗∗ d. Terence Fisher; w. Edward Mann, Al Ramsen; ph. Reginald H. Wyer; m. Malcolm Lockyer. Cast: Peter Cushing, Edward Judd, Carole Gray, Eddie Byrne, Sam Kydd, Niall MacGinnis, James Caffrey, Liam Gaffney, Roger Heathcote, Keith Bell, Shay Gorman, Peter Forbes-Robertson, Richard Bidlake, Joyce Hemson, Edward Ogden. A scientist searching for a cure for cancer unleashes deadly bone-eating monsters on a tiny Irish island. Cushing manages to maintain his dignity in an otherwise overwrought and silly blend of sci-fi and horror. Judd is poor in the lead and the monsters are more comical than scary. One that respected director Fisher would have wanted to forget. [PG]
Ghost Breakers, The (1940; USA; B&W; 85m) ∗∗∗½ d. George Marshall; w. Walter DeLeon; ph. Charles Lang; m. Ernst Toch. Cast: Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, Richard Carlson, Paul Lukas, Willie Best, Anthony Quinn, Noble Johnson, Paul Fix. A radio broadcaster, his quaking manservant, and an heiress investigate the mystery of a haunted castle in Cuba. Hope and Goddard look to repeat the success they had with THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1939) and largely succeed. Hope is more assured here and his one-liners are sharper. The set-up is a little protracted, but the payoff in the haunted castle is suitably spooky. Top class art direction by Hans Dreier and Robert Usher adds to atmosphere. Based on the play by Paul Dickey and Charles W. Goddard. Previously filmed in 1914 and 1922 then remade as SCARED STIFF (1953). [PG]
Cat and the Canary, The (1939; USA; B&W; 74m) ∗∗∗∗ d. Elliott Nugent; w. Walter DeLeon, Lynn Starling; ph. Charles Lang; m. Ernst Toch. Cast: Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, John Beal, Douglass Montgomery, Gale Sondergaard, Elizabeth Patterson, George Zucco, Nydia Westman, John Wray. When an eccentric family meets in their uncle’s remote, decaying mansion on the tenth anniversary of his death for the reading of his will, murder and madness follow. The archetypal haunted house comedy thriller with Hope in a career defining role as the reluctant hero and Goddard making an effective debut as the heiress who is being victimised. Some nifty one-liners from Hope mix with effectively spooky atmosphere heightened by cinematographer Lang’s superb use of lighting. Sondergaard is also excellent as the mysterious housekeeper. Goddard and Hope would re-team for a follow-up a year later in the similarly themed THE GHOST BREAKERS. Based on the play by John Willard. Previously filmed in 1927 and remade in 1978. [PG]
HEAVEN SENT / HELL BENT
2 episodes / 119m / 28 November & 5 December 2015
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Rachel Talalay
Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jeanna Coleman (Clara), Donald Sumpter (The President [Rassilon]), Ken Bones (The General), Maisy Williams (Ashildr [Me]), T’Nia Miller (Female General), Malachi Kirby (Gastron), Clare Higgins (Ohila), Linda Broughton (The Woman), Martin T Sherman (Man), Jami Reid-Quarrel (Wraith), Nick Ash (Wraith), Ross Mullen (Wraith), Nicholas Briggs (Voice of the Dalek), Jami Reid-Quarrell (The Veil).
Plot: Trapped in a world unlike any other he has seen, the Doctor faces the greatest challenge of his many lives. One final test. And he must face it alone. Pursued by the fearsome creature known only as the Veil, he must attempt the impossible. If he makes it through, Gallifrey is waiting… Returning to Gallifrey, the Doctor faces the Time Lords in a struggle that will take him to the end of time itself. Who is the Hybrid? And what is the Doctor’s confession?Comment: Heaven Sent is an experimental episode in that it is practically a single-hander for Capaldi set in a Matrix-like world from which he is looking for an escape. The most impressive aspect of this story is that Capaldi holds the attention throughout with a tour-de-force performance and the direction and photography conjure up nightmarish visuals. When, in Hell Bent, we finally move to Gallifrey, the scale increases and the focus turns toward the Doctor’s attempts to rescue Clara from her fate in Face the Raven. In doing so he also tries to unravel the mystery of the Hybrid. Many options are touted for the identity of the latter and this is left pretty much open-ended. There are some moments that will have long-term fans cheering and others that will have them fuming. This closing two-parter is nothing if not challenging. On the whole it delivers a conclusion that should satisfy most. Series 9 has been a strong one, but one in which Moffat’s high level concepts and sometimes confusing narrative may have left some of the show’s broader audience cold. I for one would like to see the balance tip back toward simpler, plot-led sci-fi mysteries with the occasional high concept story next year.
Thing from Another World, The (1951; USA; B&W; 87m) ∗∗∗∗½ d. Christian Nyby; w. Charles Lederer; ph. Russell Harlan; m. Dimitri Tiomkin. Cast: Kenneth Tobey, Margaret Sheridan, Robert Cornthwaite, Douglas Spencer, James R. Young, Dewey Martin, Robert Nichols, Eduard Franz, John Dierkes, William Self, Sally Creighton, Edmond Breon, Paul Frees, David McMahon, James Arness. Scientists and American Air Force officials fend off a blood-thirsty alien organism while at a remote Arctic outpost. Although it plays loose with the source material this is a tense, well scripted and acted sci-fi that bears all the hallmarks of producer Hawks despite being directed by his long-time editor Nyby. Arness in heavy make-up is “The Thing” and Spencer’s warning to the world “Watch the skies” captures the political paranoia of the period. Eerie score by Tiomkin. Based on the short story “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell Jr. Re-issue version runs 81m. Highly influential it was remade in 1982 by John Carpenter who followed the source material more closely. This in turn generated a prequel in 2011. [PG]
SLEEP NO MORE
1 episode / 45m / 14 November 2015
Writer: Mark Gatiss
Director: Justin Molotnikov
Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara), Reece Shearsmith (Gagan Rassmussen), Elaine Tan (Nagata), Neet Mohan (Chopra), Bethany Black (474), Paul Courtenay Hyu (Deep-Ando), Zina Badran (Morpheus Presenter), Natasha Patel (Hologram Singer), Elizabeth Chong (Hologram Singer), Nikkita Chadha (Hologram Singer), Gracie Lai (Hologram Singer).
Plot: Video recovered from the wreckage of Le Verrier Space Station details how the Doctor and Clara became entangled in a rescue mission. As the footage plays out, a horrifying secret is uncovered, one that might threaten the life, sanity and species of anyone who watches. Comment: Experimental episode using the popular found-footage horror genre as the basis for a confusing monster takes over space station story where the viewer is never sure if what they are seeing is real, fabricated or imagined. The sandmen are a creepy design and the inter-cutting between shifting viewpoints helps keep the tension high. Capaldi is looking increasingly at home as the Doctor now, having settled down his characterisation. I’m not really sure I got the whole thing and will probably need to re-watch to dig out some of the subtexts, but I did enjoy this episode for its willingness to bring a new twist to a more traditional Who plot, which it executed pretty well..
Halloween (1978; USA; Metrocolor; 91m) ∗∗∗∗½ d. John Carpenter; w. John Carpenter, Debra Hill; ph. Dean Cundey; m. John Carpenter. Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Nancy Kyes, P.J. Soles, Charles Cyphers, Kyle Richards, Brian Andrews, Arthur Malet, Tony Moran, John Michael Graham, Nancy Stephens, Mickey Yablans, Robert Phalen, Brent Le Page, Adam Hollander. A psychotic murderer institutionalized since childhood for the murder of his sister, escapes and stalks a bookish teenage girl and her friends while his doctor chases him through the streets. Carpenter’s landmark slasher movie spawned many sequels and imitations, but none can better this masterclass in building tension through visuals and tight editing. Carpenter also contributed the eerie soundtrack. Curtis’ first feature film. Extended version runs 101m featuring footage shot during the filming of its sequel HALLOWEEN II in 1981. Remade in 2007. 
Eiger Sanction, The (1975; USA; Technicolor; 123m) ∗∗∗ d. Clint Eastwood; w. Hal Dresner, Warren Murphy, Rod Whitaker; ph. Frank Stanley; m. John Williams. Cast: Clint Eastwood, George Kennedy, Jack Cassidy, Thayer David, Vonetta McGee, Heidi Bruhl, Reiner Schone, Michael Grimm, Jean-Pierre Bernard, Brenda Venus, Gregory Walcott, Candice Rialson, Elaine Shore, Dan Howard, Jack Kosslyn. A classical art professor and collector, who doubles as a professional assassin, is coerced out of retirement to avenge the murder of an old friend. Lame spy story is not one of Eastwood’s best efforts but is rescued by spectacular and thrilling mountain-climbing scenes. Eastwood did all of his own stunts. Based on the novel by Rod Whitaker (as Trevanian). 
Fog, The (1980; USA; Metrocolor; 90m) ∗∗∗∗ d. John Carpenter; w. John Carpenter, Debra Hill; ph. Dean Cundey; m. John Carpenter. Cast: Adrienne Barbeau, Hal Holbrook, Janet Leigh, Jamie Lee Curtis, John Houseman, Tom Atkins, Nancy Kyes, Charles Cyphers, George “Buck” Flower, Jim Haynie, James Canning, Ty Mitchell, John F. Goff, Regina Waldon, Darrow Igus. A Northern California fishing town, built 100 years ago over an old leper colony, is the target for revenge by a killer fog containing zombie-like ghosts seeking revenge for their deaths. Creepy, atmospheric and with more than its fair share of shocks. Carpenter nicely ratchets up the tension and a game cast keep the viewer engaged. Eerie score by Carpenter heightens the fear factor. Remade in 2005. 
Last Man Standing (1996; USA; DeLuxe; 101m) ∗∗½ d. Walter Hill; w. Walter Hill; ph. Lloyd Ahern II; m. Ry Cooder. Cast: Bruce Willis, Bruce Dern, William Sanderson, Christopher Walken, David Patrick Kelly, Michael Imperioli, Karina Lombard, Ned Eisenberg, Alexandra Powers, Ken Jenkins, R.D. Call, Ted Markland, Patrick Kilpatrick, Luis Contreras, Leslie Mann. A drifting gunslinger-for-hire finds himself in the middle of an ongoing war between the Irish and Italian mafia in a Prohibition era ghost town. Cartoon violence abounds in this tale of cross and double-cross. Willis is effective, but it is difficult to connect with any of the characters. Re-working of Akira Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO (1961) (story by Ryûzô Kikushima and Kurosawa), which in turn was remade as FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964). 
THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT (1955, Exclusive/Hammer Film Productions, UK, 82 mins, B&W, 1.66:1, Mono, Cert: PG, Sci-Fi Horror Thriller) ∗∗∗∗∗
Starring: Brian Donlevy (Prof. Bernard Quatermass), Jack Warner (Insp. Lomax), Margia Dean (Mrs. Judith Carroon), Thora Hird (Rosemary ‘Rosie’ Elizabeth Wrigley), Gordon Jackson (BBC TV producer), David King-Wood (Dr. Gordon Briscoe), Harold Lang (Christie), Lionel Jeffries (Blake), Sam Kydd (Police Sergeant), Richard Wordsworth (Victor Carroon).
Producer: Anthony Hinds; Director: Val Guest; Writer: Richard H. Landau, Val Guest (Based on the television play by Nigel Kneale); Director of Photography: Walter J. Harvey; Music: James Bernard; Film Editor: James Needs; Art Director: J. Elder Wills; Special Effects: Les Bowie.
The film that launched Hammer Films’ foray into the horror genre. At the dawn of the space age the British Rocket Group launches three astronauts on an experimental mission. Their ship loses contact with Earth and subsequently crash-lands in the English countryside. Professor Bernard Quatermass (Donlevy) is intrigued to discover that two of the crew are no longer aboard. It soon becomes clear that the mission’s sole survivor, Victor Carroon (Wordsworth), is desperately ill and is rapidly being consumed by the alien organism that killed his fellow astronauts.
The body horror theme of a parasite infecting humans was to become a staple device in much of the later sci-fi genre surfacing with films such as ALIEN, THE THING and numerous stories from TV’s Doctor Who utilising the theme very effectively. Here it is realised through a brilliant portrayal of a man possessed by Richard Wordsworth. His internal turmoil is effectively conveyed by the actor in a manner that recalls Karloff’s monster in FRANKENSTEIN. Val Guest keeps the tension high and the story lean, whilst James Bernard delivers a haunting score.
There has been much written about Brian Donlevy’s suitability for the role of Quatermass and there are times when his histrionics are a little over-bearing as he attempts to capture the professor’s driven personality. Margia Dean is equally unconvincing as Wordsworth’s wife. But Warner adds some fun to his portrayal of the everyman detective inspector, which brings a welcome lighter element to the story. There are also small roles for such favourites as Thora Hird, in a memorable cameo as a homeless lady who encounters the creature, and Gordon Jackson as a BBC producer keen to ensure the show goes on in the Westminster Abbey conclusion.
Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass stories would prove very popular on both small and big screen and a sequel, QUATERMASS 2 (again with Donlevy), followed in 1957. However, it was 1967’s QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (this time with Andrew Keir as Quatermass) that would become the most successful adaptation and impressive production.