The essential guide to love gifts by Paul Bird
With the remnants of any Christmas money still burning a hole in your pocket or, more likely, the incurred debt causing you sleepless nights, Valentine's Day can prove a tricky time for those in possession of a horror buff partner. Flowers don't really cut it, and gifts of sweets just ain't ghoulish enough - unless it's candy skulls. Its time to think outside the chocolate box and look to some cultish, off the beaten track, items that will enhance any gore fan's collection.
First stop, Eureka Video and their excellent series of classic restorations. So far, Fritz Lang's Metropolis and Michael Powell's Peeping Tom have been treated to absolutely astonishing clean-ups before making their way onto DVD and Bluray. Metropolis, in particular, is an extremely exciting prospect for any cineaste as this version contains huge amounts of recently discovered footage lost for over eighty years. Despite the lamentable quality of these "new" scenes, even after restoration, it's a wonderful opportunity to see as close a version of Lang's early masterpiece as he originally intended. When coupled with a new recording of the original score and a small, but perfectly formed, collection of extras that give an in-depth context to the film this is a must have. Watching the new print of this film I've seen countless times before, in numerous versions, reminded me just how gripping and entertaining this film, nearly a century old, actually is. Eureka should be commended on their sterling work here.
No less impressive is the treatment Peeping Tom receives. Loathed upon release, the controversy the movie generated proceeded to ruin Powell's career and tattered the reputation of one of the UK's greatest directors. Of course, time has been good to both the film and Powell and reappraisal has shown Peeping Tom to a cunningly constructed and massively influential movie. Fifty years after its original release this is still a powerful experience that loses little of the controversial punch inflicted on an unprepared audience. Powell's genius here is that of understatement, showing little in the way of gore and destruction but focussing his gaze on the tragic psychological destruction wrought on the central characters. By making Mark, the titular serial killer, a complex and sympathetic character damaged by the cruel experiments of his father (played by the director and shown only on films Mark constantly watches when alone) Powell delivers a subtle message about the nature of cinema itself and implicates the audience as voyeuristic sadists craving the punishment of those they behold. It's uncomfortable, thought provoking and psychologically profound. Compare the subtle layering of innuendo and symbolism here to something more recent like Adam Green's similar Spiral and you see the levels of cinematic mastery on display here. This is utterly essential viewing for any horror fan and, with a restoration that looks as gorgeous as this, there's no excuse for not getting hold of a copy.
Eureka are planning a raft of classic restorations over the next year, including Brighton Rock, Don't Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth and, one of my favourites, Quatermass and The Pit. This could be a very good year indeed...
Staying with the classics, but moving towards a more literary vein, Nunkie Theatre Company has put together two DVDs of much loved M R James ghost stories. Stripping away all supernatural frippery and unnecessary shock value, these are straight tellings of the tales delivered in character as James himself. This is a simple affair; one man in a chair looking you in the eye and reciting the stories with a growing sense of impending horror. It is tribute to James' skill with writing, and the delivery of actor Robert Lloyd Parry, that you feel the stories out from the screen and wraps an icy grasp around your neck. Turn down the lights and give in to the immeasurable power of words and this is an extremely creepy experience. Watching these DVDs took me back to the BBC's classic A Ghost Story For Christmas and the excellent adaptations featuring Christopher Lee. However, for sheer simplistic power and atmosphere, these are by far the best versions of M R James' stories I've ever seen. The first disk, A Pleasing Terror, delivers Canon Alberic's Scrapbook and The Mezzotint - two excellent and loosely linked stories. The second disk, A Warning To The Curious, gives the titular caution along with the occult horror of Lost Hearts. With a third and final DVD featuring Oh Whistle, And I'll Come To You, My Lad and The Ash Tree planned for release later in the year, Nunkie have done James proud. The DVDs are available here where you can also find details of live performances of the shows.
If your beloved has slightly more eccentric tastes, Richard Elfman has got together with Legend Films to complete the original vision for his cult classic Forbidden Zone. Previously in black and white, Elfman had intended to have the film hand tinted in China but was unable to at the time due to budgetary constraints. I'm not normally a fan of colourisation, but here it's been done with full director approval and the pastel tones and immaculate print work very well. For the uninitiated, the movie is a surreal and decidedly non-PC musical romp based around the stage show of The Mystic Knights Of The Oingo Boingo - composer Danny Elfman's former band. Attempting to describe the plot, which involves an over randy Herve Villechaize and breast-grabbing Susan Tyrrell ruling over a secret dimension filled with scantily clad girls, the devil, a headless chicken boy (played by Bundy director Matthew Bright, and a whole lot of classic jazz. It's a heady, insane brew that not everyone will be able to stomach but is strangely addictive for those with a taste for the perverted. The DVD is available through Amazon and here at a reasonable price, but be warned that this release lacks some of the excellent special features on the original black and white DVD. Instead, we're offered a brief intro from the ever-grinning Richard Elfman, colourised trailers and deleted scenes and a really odd "Japan Promo" where Elfman attempts to relate some background to the film while being foiled by his magical hat. It's interesting stuff, but you're going to want both versions if you're a fan of the movie.
Finally, if you really want to get something special and have a foodie film buff close to your heart, you could do no better than to track down A Treasury Of Great Recipes by the legendary actor Vincent Price and his wife Mary. Published in 1965, Price has documented his culinary travels around the world in a superlative and lavish volume. Although many know him only for his film work, Price was a noted gourmet and art lover and this book represents him trying to bring the finest dishes from the world's greatest restaurants into the average person's kitchen. It's a groundbreaking and very beautiful book, lavishly illustrated and filled with anecdote and memorabilia such as menus or spaces to add your own favourite recipes. Despite the opulence and grandeur of many of the establishments listed here, the recipes are surprisingly simple, effective and plentiful. One thing I especially like about this tome (and at 400+ pages, it's a hefty book) is that Price is never pretentious about food. He's just as happy to list a recipe for his favourite type of hotdog or baked beans as he is to share preparations for Coquilles St Jacques Baumaniere. It's a great insight into a side of the man that we don't often get to see, but be warned - it doesn't come cheap. The book has been out of print for many years and current prices on Amazon start at around £80! Look around and you may get lucky, as I did, and find a copy for at least half that. If you're the type who reads cookery books in bed this is more than worth tracking down as both culinary and horror history.