5 Haunting Horror films based on true stories (aside from Amityville Horror).

When I started researching this I was expecting to find a glut of films that would fit this category in the 70s and 80s. There were a couple but they were a bit tenuous (The Exorcist). It seemed more like a nugget of a real-life event was taken and then turned into something completely different. I suppose this way no one extra had to be paid. This changes in the early 2000’s and from 2005 onwards we have had a continual stream of Horror Movies based on ‘real events’. This has culminated in the Conjuring films, based on the accounts of the Warrens.

Below is a list of 5 films that are based on alleged real paranormal events:

1.       An American Haunting (2005)

Events: in 1817 the Bell family started to suffer an alleged haunting by a ghostly witch. It started when the head of the family, John Bell, came across a strange animal in his corn field. Shocked by the animal’s appearance he opened fire, the animal vanished. That night for the first time, the family were bombarded by a beating sound on the side of their home. From that point on the haunting got worse.

The noises continued. Sometimes outside the house, other times in the same room as members of the Bell family. Many people as well as the family reporting the sounds as well as seeing and feeling things within the house over several years.

Whatever the entity was that was haunting the family it made its final attack in 1820, when it allegedly poisoned and killed John Bell. Laughing loudly as he took his final breathes. It is said that the ghost returned in 1828 for a short time but was not heard of again after that.

This is regarded as one of the earliest and most wide spread hauntings in American History.

Film: The film has got an interesting cast with Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek and several up and coming actors at the time. It has an interesting modern wrap around mechanism as access into the period setting. It also maintains the actual, relative down beat, ending of the legend but condenses the haunting period of years to what feels like months. While the film maintains the haunted happenings the scares and tension never really amount to much, it was only a 12 (PG-13).

It was an interesting exercise in period drama horror, however I think this would have been better if it had either been more stylised (ala Sleepy Hollow) or tried for some harder edged scares and content (ala Annabelle Creation).

2.       The exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

Events: The film is based on the tragic events that lead to the death of German woman Anneliese Michel. She dies in 1976 suffering from malnourishment and dehydration after months of being subjected to exorcist practices.

After suffering a seizure at the age of 16 Anneliese began to suffer increasing periods of depression. These low points and neuroses began to become focused on religious artefacts. A huge concern for a girl that came from such a religiously devoted family. Soon both she and her family became convinced that she was possessed by something evil. After several attempts the family convinced two priests that she needed intervention.

This started the exorcisms that eventually led to her death. Following her death her parents and the two priests were prosecuted for murder. They were found guilty of negligent homicide. This also forced the Catholic church to distance itself from the case and change its stance to state that she had been mentally ill and not in fact possessed by an evil force.

Film: They take a leap with this film as the story is told in retrospect, dealing with the court case that follows the death of Emily Rose. This is not a film about whether they can save the possessed girl, we know the answer is no. The film spends more time dealing with the question of whether she was possessed at all. It’s an interesting conceit and that isn’t fully explored. If they had had the confidence in the audience, it would have been a better film. However, they never want to completely condemn the priest.

In a better film, he would have been played as a more unreliable narrator. There would have been more uncertainty about whether she was possessed or if the priest hadn’t been obsessed due to his religious zeal.

That said, the film is good fun and the core cast are mostly good. This is a solid possession horror film with an interesting concept. The frustration is that this had the potential to be something more and elevate the genre and story into a classic.

3.       The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)

Events: of all the ‘True Events’ on this list, this is the one that has the most holes. This is the first but not the last appearance of the Warrens on this list and their paws are all over this.  The haunting was alleged to have focused around the House and son of the Snedecker family, who was suffering from a form of Cancer. Minor events were reported but nothing of great note. That is when the Warrens got involved and the story became ‘clearer’.

The entity harassing the family was supposed to have been linked to the previous use of the house as a mortuary. It was stated that there were several employees of the mortuary that practiced necromancy and necrophilia. It was the spirits of these people that were returning at the heart of the events.

This did lead to several grander events. This included the son attacking his cousin and being held in a mental health ward for a period. However, following Ed Warren’s death in … several people linked with the investigation and the documenting of the events admitted that Ed told them to embellish what they knew in any way they could think of to make it scary.

The House is still occupied and the current occupants have frequently stated that they have never experienced any paranormal activity.

Film: The movie has a couple of well-placed scares and some moments of tension, however the overall film is very pedestrian. The facts from the true events are close enough regarding the house and its history. However, elements of the family are changed for safety. The focus on the main son having cancer is reduced.

There is little to say about this film really. It’s competently made, the acting is sufficient and its creepy at times but it just feels very run of the mill and safe for this genre. It’s a shame really because again, like the Exorcism of Emily Rose, this has the potential to add an element of ambiguity and tension with a just a few changes. Could the son’s illness have been at the root of the events? Could it be suggested in the film that this was a hoax to raise money to cover medical costs.

It’s worth checking out if you are a fan of the genre but there are better films on this list.

4.       The Conjuring (2013)

Events: Ah the Warrens. The couple that have now become synonymous with modern haunted house movies, thanks mostly to this film. As is usually the case, the story the Warren’s tell is very different from the truth the family have sated. The Perron family lived in the house at the heart of the story of a decade and the hauntings were spread over this while period.

The haunting was centred around the spirit of an alleged witch called Bathsheba Sherman who died in 1885. There is little evidence that she was in fact a witch, however it was alleged that she killed several infants as sacrifices to the devil. The haunting took on several aspects for the different inhabitants. Some saw apparitions, others were physically attacked but all the heard the noises and voices.

The haunting was never fully resolved. The case may have been closed by the Warren’s however after the Perron’s sold the house in 1980 there were further reports of ghostly activity. This is an event that I think deserves a more attention and possibly a closer adaptation of the story.

Film: Forgetting the alterations of the history this was a return to form for haunted house films. I really enjoyed the tone and feel of the film. It’s has an excellent sense of creepiness and uneasiness running through it. There are some incredibly well placed and paced scares that are incredibly effective.

The strength of the film is in the first two thirds. The build-up of the family dynamic and the relationship that grows with the Warrens. This investment in characters underlines the tension and scares. However, this is partially undone by a clichéd and overly dramatic finale. This will most likely be regarded as a milestone in horror history however it just falls shy of becoming a horror classic. I won’t even go into the dreadful sequel and Annabelle spin-offs. This Franchise has such potential but is being squandered on cheap jump scares and poorly written and preposterous characters.

5.       Deliver us form Evil (2014)

Events: The book ‘Deliver us from evil’ written by Lisa Collier Cool, chronicles the supernatural cases of former New York Police officer Ralph Sarchie. It is set up to be like the real life X-files. It covers a number of cases of possession and ghostly attacks that are alleged to be related to crimes that were left unsolved. Of course, they have been solved by Sarchie but the truth would not be accepted by the public.

Sarchie has appeared on several podcasts, radio and TV shows to promote the book and Film, telling his tales of the supernatural that lives in the Bronx. Demon neighbours, ghostly vengeful brides and the exorcisms that were carried out to save the people involved. Its sounds like he was a busy guy, maybe the Bronx is over a hell mouth and they would have been better off with Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Film: Eric Bana is a New York cop that starts to uncover a conspiracy of soldiers possessed by demons from the middle east. The plot is a little daft and the direction is not subtle in anyway however this odd combination of horror and cop drama is fun if not scary. Bana is committed to the role and is sufficiently brooding and earnest about it all. It does all fall a part in the finale, as they usually do. If these events are alleged to have happened I am sure that someone in the media would have noticed.

A fun film for Halloween or with a few beers but not a solid recommend.

Dr Strange or: How I stopped worrying and learned to love the Mouse

Last night, while talking about the new Star Wars film a friend of mine mentioned that she hadn’t seen and wouldn’t watch The Force Awakens or the Last Jedi. I can understand this if her reasoning was that she wasn’t a fan of Star Wars or Sci-fi but when I asked why she stated “I hate Disney.” Now that is a pretty strong statement. To hate something, anything is a definitive position so I wanted to know more about how she had gotten to this point.

When I asked, she explained that Disney was a cynical money making machine that takes any property it can get its hands on an rape it for every penny. The properties she was most update about and used as examples were Winnie the Pooh and Robin Hood. Getting to the core of it she felt that Disney was responsible for taking elements of British Culture and repackaging it or Americanising it and then selling it back to the younger generation.

During the discussion, she asked, why can’t anything be kept sacred and just have the purest form be given to each generation? I have my own opinions on this and as I drove home I thought about it more and why I’m actually ok with Disney and how they treat properties. I am a fan of the Marvel movies and have enjoyed all of them, to varying degrees. However, despite some missteps one of the things that I think Disney has always been spot on is the characterisations and adaptations of the main characters. They have evolved the characters but kept their soul.

As I do with most things I broke it down into different elements, which I have highlighted below. These are probably commons sense but they are worth repeating.

Evolve or die, but keep the essence

When my friend mentioned the fact that Disney had ‘raped’ the Winnie the Pooh books and that the A.A. Milne estate should not have sold the books, something very important struck me. I haven’t read the Winnie the pooh books since I was a kid. Also, that I am more familiar with the Disney version than the original, not that I think they are that different. Is this a bad thing? No, the fact is that is if the Disney version did not exist then the original would probably be lost to time apart from the few that pass the stories or books down the generations. However, that would not last forever.

The fact that several generations have had newer, glossier versions has meant that they have been introduced to the characters old and new from Hundred-acre wood. Each iteration a slightly updated version, keeping it relevant. The Key however, and this is what Disney have cracked, is keeping the essence of the character. Pooh Bear is not the only character that has survived through evolution.

To provide an example of both sides of the coin let’s look at a couple of other characters. The best one I can think of in recent years is Sherlock Holmes. I don’t think any other character has benefitted from evolution. The original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are great and worth being read, more on that later, but a stuffy Victorian detective is not an easy sell to a modern audience. So over time you have had different versions, each providing something new to the mythos while bringing the old to a new audience. In the 80’s we had Spielberg’s ‘Young Sherlock Holmes’ and Disney’s ‘Basil the great mouse detective’, I’m a fan of each and it was the former that introduced me to the original stories.

However, the most successful evolution of the character has come more recently with the BBC series Sherlock. The essence of the character has been maintained but they have moved the setting to modern London. This has stood head and shoulders over the American versions (Sherlock Holmes movies and the Holmes TV series) not because its British but because it has better writing and acting. This version has reignited interest in the character and the concept of the great detective.

Let’s look at the other side of the coin and a character born in the same period, Tarzan. The film released in 2016, The Legend of Tarzan looked glossy and well-made but it was a flop. Having seen it I can understand why. While the special effects and acting were all good, the story was so A to B simple that it may have engrossed an audience in the 1930’s but something more needs to be done for a modern audience. I would even go so far as to state that the Disney version (1999) is a better version and story. So, the character of Tarzan is little known by younger people and if is at risk being considered an anachronism and being cast aside. This is tragic as the character and concept are fantastic and in the hands a good writer and director I can imagine a modern telling making an interesting social commentary on nature vs. nurture, what it is to have mixed heritage and / or how the modern social class structure treats people.

The point is, that without these modern versions the character of Sherlock Holmes would become irrelevant, just as Tarzan is at risk of being. In this fickle world if you’re not relevant then you get taken over by other characters that are. This means that some amazing parts of culture past get lost and forgotten. I could add in a list here of so many great characters that have fallen by the wayside because they either failed to adapt or evolve (think The Shadow vs Batman or Alan Quartermaine vs. Indiana Jones). 

Grant Morrison provided a Limbo world for such characters in the DC universe. Introduced in Animal Man #25 and then expanded upon in Final Crisis. This concept is further explored in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. These forgotten characters are all in there, waiting to be rediscovered and given a new glossy coat, ready for a brand-new audience.

Gateway drugs

With new iterations of characters not only do we get more relevant versions, more people are made aware of the original source material. The newer versions are a gateway and that is a good thing. In all cases the original and / or the best iterations of things do not go away, they are always there. However, if they are presented to you directly then you need to be given a map.

Consider Winnie the Pooh and Sherlock Holmes again. The original stories for each are really good and should be visited again and again by old and new audiences. Yet, do you think sales of the books of these stories would be as high-without BBC’s Sherlock or Disney’s Winnie the Pooh? Of course not.

As I mentioned above I was introduced to the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories after seeing ‘Young Sherlock Holmes’. I now have a wonderful Hardback collection that I dip into now and then. As a kid I don’t think I could have been sold on Sherlock and his detecting solely on someone telling me about them. In order for me to get through the older language and story structure I needed to already be invested in the character. My first taste was free, I had to work to get more and it was worth it.

The same can be said of Winnie the Pooh. The books are great but in the market of so many children’s books why pick up one book about a little bear over another? Well, if your child has seen the Disney version then they will choose Pooh Bear, probably the better choice. If they love those books then hopefully they will pass them on.

More than that it will hopefully open the doors to other literature that they may not have thought about otherwise, as they get older. A.A. Milne might lead to Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl. Or Conan Doyle might lead to Raymond Chandler and Ian Fleming. I am willing to bet that more people reach these other authors and stories via modern films and comics than picking them up directly.

As a final note, regardless of what you think about the 2001 – 2003 Lord of the Rings films it cannot be denied that those films opened a door to both Tolkien and Fantasy Fiction for a whole new generation. Book sales soared and people got hooked. There is a knock-on effect. Without those films, we would not have ‘Game of Thrones’ or ‘The Shannara Chronicles’. You can enjoy these both as books and TV shows.

Selective selection

A further point that my friend made was the absolute glut of merchandise that Disney produce to sell to kids. As well as all the half-hearted cash-in tie ins and spin-offs. Now as a comic book geek, I am very used to this mentality and how to deal with it. While I completely understand her point, there is a truth that must be accepted, Disney is a business and it is supposed to make money. It will produce whatever it can to make money it is up to us as consumers to vote with our money.

I know that I can go into almost any supermarket in the western world and buy some form of Disney merchandise. Does that mean that it’s all top quality and worth having? Not at all. It is therefore up to me to select what I buy and what I buy for my kids. Buy quality and what matters to you. If you want a bath towel with Cinderella or Yoda on, you can. If you don’t want to dilute your version of a character then simply walk on by.

There is no point getting upset about merchandise or add on products, they will always exist. However, you can use them to enhance your pleasure or ignore them. That is up to you.

Change is coming

Before we finish I want to acknowledge that I understand that not all versions of a character are very good or in some cases even appropriate. I have used English and Western characters for my examples because that is what I grew up with and relate to. However, I am very aware that Hollywood and Disney have butchered and converted characters form other cultures into western versions. This has been and still is a weakness of character evolution and adaption in almost all formats.

However, change is coming. There is a wave of young creators that understand that diversity is a part of adaptation and evolution. Several cases of white washing have occurred and been called out by audiences in the last few years. The loudest being for 2017’s adaptation of Ghost in the Shell. A weak adaptation was affected further by western casting over obvious Asian choices.

We live in a much more diverse and varied world and audiences have started to make their preference known. We are about to enter an era of new diverse characters or old characters evolving to remain relevant. The next version of Sherlock might not be your Dads Sherlock but that doesn’t mean either version is incorrect, just that they are part of an ongoing story of evolution.

The question is who will be at the forefront of this next era of diversity in character evolution or truer adaptation? Time will tell, but lets come back to Disney. In 2018 we have Black Panther (which I am so excited for) with a majority black cast and African setting. Not something we would have got even 10 years ago. Beyond that we have got the live action Aladdin which is casting Middle Eastern and Asian actors to tell this story of Arabian Nights. That’s not to say that we are there yet there is lots of work to be done and it needs to be handled with quality and sincere productions.

I hope for a world in which my 4-year-old daughter has access to the Winnie the Pooh books and the Holmes stories. Yet she also has exciting new characters and new iterations of old characters that have been evolved to meet the desires of future audiences and say something interesting about the world they now inhabit.

Summary

The great thing about fiction is that it’s like water. It can be poured into any container, mixed with other things, even change form to fit what you want it to do but you can always take it back to its essence. Disney have poured water into many different containers and diluted it with all kinds of things. In some cases it’s become something amazing other times a stodgy mess – but the pure water will always be there for anyone that wants to take a drink.

Fact or fiction in entertainment

In October, I spent a lot of time thinking about how we, as viewers, process scares in horror films and how they have evolved over time. This flows nicely into what I will be covering in November. Earlier this year I read the book, The Amityville Horror by Jay Ansen. It was a fun and at times unnerving horror novel, however the thing that kept resonating with me was the fact that this was supposed to be an account of a true event in people’s lives. Knowing that added an element of horror however as I read on it disturbed me more and more.

It highlighted something that happens again and again in entertainment, more so in films that books. The facts of the story are adjusted, amalgamated or even omitted. Sometimes the essence of the story survives other times it gets lost in the script rewrites and editing. What does that mean for the people that lived through the events? Do we get an accurate view of events?

I have learned over time that regardless of facts, perception is truth for most people. If a film or book states “Based on True Events” then some (most?) will take that to mean that this is the truth. So when it gets questioned or fault is found in the film this then gets mixed in with questioning the validity of the true events.

There is a Hollywood version of history in which every story follows a three act structure and, for the most part, reaches a satisfying ending. I am sure that anyone reading this will be able to attest to the fact that real life is not that simple.

In November I am going to take a look at The Amityville Horror. First as a historical event, the complicated mix of fact and fiction that has become the legend. I will then be looking at how this has been represented in the media. As a follow up I will also be investigating how this event, the novel and the first film changed the direction of Haunted House films.

Spiritualism and Entertainment

The idea of a life after death has fascinated and enthralled cultures all over the world throughout history. From the Egyptian Pharaohs being buried with all their worldly possessions to take with them, to the Fox sisters starting the spiritualist movement in 1848. It’s a core part of what makes us Human, the curiosity about what happens ‘next’.

For so many centuries knowledge and teachings on the spiritual were the remit of religious leaders building up or preying on an ignorant populace. This moved from churches to village and concert halls with the spooky Victorians and the Fox sisters. Access to knowledge and demonstrations of the afterlife started to spread. As is usually the case it was quickly realised that this could be a source of entertainment and more importantly, wealth. So of course, spiritual meetings and séances moved to theatres where tickets could be sold. The seats filled with people all seeking something; entertainment, a better understanding or just maybe a message from a passed loved one.

Nothing exists without an opposite also being created as a reaction. So, as the popularity of these spiritualist faith meetings grew organisations started to pop up using scientific processes to prove that these mediums and spiritualists were real or frauds. The most notable organisation in Britain was and still is The Society for Psychical Research (SPR), founded in 1882.

From their own website (www.spr.ac.uk):

“The first scientific organisation ever to examine claims of psychic and paranormal phenomena. We hold no corporate view about their existence or meaning; rather, our purpose is to gather information and foster understanding through research and education.”

This is not to say that they are cynical sceptics, far from it. Many are looking to validate an experience or belief with some scientific evidence. Others are believers desperate to experience something paranormal.

Over the decades though notable individuals have stood alone in their attempts to prove that most if not all of it is fraudulent activity. The most famous being Harry Houdini. Houdini sought solace in spiritualism following the death of his mother, only to prove each medium he visited to be a fraud using his knowledge of illusions. He became so set on his course that it ruined his friendship with Sir Author Conan Doyle.

Conan Doyle, a member of the society for psychical research, was a dedicated believer publicly speaking passionately on the subject. He went to the extent of supporting and vouching that the Cottingley Fairy photos were genuine. Seriously, go and google these photos and you will start to see why Conan Doyle’s reputation started to tarnish as he got older.

Obviously neither man concretely proved their case before their death, as the arguments still go on between believers and sceptics. However, interest in the subject started to wane during the second world war, only being the interest of dedicate followers and old women reading tea leaves.

It was not until several high-profile cases of supernatural activity (The Amityville Horror and the Enfield Haunting) erupted into the world media and pop culture in the 70’s that things changed again. This became kick started the ‘satanic panic’ and the paranormal came on to everyone’s radar once again. This resulted in paranormal celebrities springing up. In the UK we had Uri Gellar and in America there was Ed and Lorraine Warren.

Ghosts and ghost hunters had appeared on the silver screen since the earliest horror films. Movies were one thing but people were clamoring for evidence of the real thing. However, it would seem that no one was willing to take the final step and take the risk of putting the practices of the SPR or even the Warrens on mainstream television. Not until 1992 at least.

On October 31st 1992 the BBC broadcast Ghostwatch a TV drama designed to look like a live broadcast. It used known TV presenters, not actors and a ‘live’ on location broadcast from a family’s haunted house. The show caused controversy and has become a cult sensation in Britain when it was banned for 10 years. However, it has one more legacy that can’t be ignored.

It was the jumping off point from everything that had gone before. All that desire to see a ghost, proof of an afterlife or just a quick scare … but based on ‘scientific’ evidence was funnelled through the fictional drama of Ghostwatch to become every ghost hunting show that has come since. In the UK I would refer in particular to ‘Most Haunted’, which started in 2002.

Since the early 2000’s dozens of Ghost Hunting shows have started on channels all over the world. They’re cheap to make and fun to watch. I doubt these mediums, spiritualists or ghost hunters will go away any time soon. They will just find a new medium through which to present their case and make some money. However, the question remains, whether in a church, theatre or on TV have they proven the existence of ghosts?

Do you believe?

I will be going into a lot more detail on Ghostwatch in the next episode of 20th Century Geek, when I talk with the writer and creator Stephen Volk. After that I will be looking at the other side of the coin and talk to several close friends about their own supernatural experiences.

If you have any stories please send them in (20thcenturygeek@gmail of use the contact us page) or find me on Twitter (@20thcenturygeek).

Zombies!

If someone asked you to describe a Zombie I’m pretty sure you would detail a decaying corpse shambling along in tattered clothes, driven only by its need to eat human flesh. A creation of a virus, chemical mishap or just maybe there being no room left in Hell. That is the accepted modern take on a Zombie. How that came to be though is not completely clear.

The reanimated dead appear in literature dating back thousands of years in different interactions. The most common origin for the modern iteration comes from the Island of Haiti. In these traditions the Zombie is a person brought back from the dead using magic to act as a slave to whoever resurrected them. This very often gets lumped in with the generic understanding of Voodoo, although Zombies have no actual basis in the Voodoo belief system.

In fact the Haitian Zombie beliefs are a mixture of different belief systems brought over by enslaved Africans and incorporating belief systems that existed in the “New World”. These ideas and beliefs became a part of popular culture in the 1920s, when America occupied Haiti between 1915 and 1934. During this time stories emerged from soldiers on the island of Zombies and how they were created and used by the inhabitants. These garnered so much attention that a book was written on the subject in 1929, The Magic Island, by William Seabrook. Following this further research was done on and around the folklore and actual case studies form the island. The result was more books and articles being published, further raising awareness of the supernatural creature.

So that’s how the walking dead entered the American conscious, but they were still to evolve, or decay if you prefer. The first time a Zombie appeared in a film was “White Zombie” in 1932, which sticks with the Haitian traditions. In fact the distributors used the case studies that had been published in the films marketing, mixing real life fear with the Horror of the film.

In the following decades Zombies would appear in several films, but a closer representation of what we know as the modern Zombie would appear in the Horror comics of the 40s and 50s. These depicted decaying bodies returning from the grave, usually to exact revenge on someone. The design was there but these were not referred to as Zombies out right. Also, they usually had a level of conscious or intelligence that would soon be stripped away.

It is not until “Night of the Living Dead” in 1968 however that we get the first sight of a shambling flesh eater. Were these Zombies though? Romero didn’t think so to begin with. In the film and its marketing, they are never referred to as Zombies. They are called Ghouls, which is a different creature of myth altogether.

It was only after the film was released that the media started to use the term when reviewing or describing the film. This was then picked up by the film maker and his audience. By the time “Dawn of the Dead” in 1978 was released the term was accepted for what we know today.

This of course has evolved since then and the name Zombie is now synonymous with the undead flesh eating walking corpse. There have been several sub-interactions that have sprung up in the decades since Dawn of the Dead. In the 80s “Return of the living dead” (1985) brought us brain eating Zombies. More recently we have had the introduction of the running Zombie in films such as “28 days Later” (2002) and the “Dawn of the Dead” (2004) remake. The original Zombie form does occasionally pop up again though. Most notably in the 1988 Wes Craven film “The Serpent and the Rainbow”.

Whether in the fore or back ground of a story Zombies can be used to have an impact on an audience. They have become so popular for simple low budget gore horror films as an easy way to get some splatter on screen (too many to name!). They are also used as a satire of who we are as a society at our base level (Dawn of Dead – 1978). Or most recently and possibly the most popular vision is the Walking Dead in both its comic and TV format. Delving into what we would do after the Zombie Apocalypse and survive the inevitable collapse of society?

It would seem quite appropriate that as a creature of horror and storytelling, since they shambled into pop culture almost a hundred years ago, they just won’t die. So what are the Zombie films you need to check out? I have put a list of the top 10, in my opinion, below:

1.    White Zombie (1932)

2.    Night of the Living Dead (1968)

3.    Dawn of the dead (1978)

4.    Return of the Living Dead (1985)

5.    The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

6.    28 days later (2002)

7.    Shaun of the dead (2004)

8.    Dawn of the Dead (2004)

9.    Quarantine (2008)

10. Zombieland (2009)

 

Werewolves and Werewolf Movies

Stories of people changing into animals, especially wolves, have been a part of cultural mythos since ancient Greece. Those are the ones that have been written down; it is very likely that these stories go back even further. Some suggest that a story appearing in such similarity in such vastly different parts of the world can be taken as evidence that these creatures are real. However, I think it says more about the human condition than the existence of supernatural beings.

Wolves and bears were the apex predators in remote early civilisations. So it was no wonder that they were seen with such reverence and that people wanted to emulate or turn into that. In fact the word Berserker comes from the name given to crazed Norse warriors who wore Bear skins into battle. They were called Bear Shirts, taking the strength and viciousness of the animals into battle.

This idea of taking on the aspects of an animal have survived and been co-opted into other myths, such as the vampires. In addition to this the structure of the story started to take form and the monster went from being a figure to revere to one of fear. It stopped being something that people wanted to take on to become a curse that was laid on them, something that they could not control and would now manifest with the cycle of the moon.

In fact this linking with the lunar cycle became so embedded as an idea that is was accepted as reality at one point. You will have head the cliché of the crazies come out on a full moon, in fact the word Lunatic actually comes from this very idea.

So what changed in us for the story to change? Well, we grew up, become civilised and repressed our animal urges. The stories of the beast being unleashed had shifted from being one of warrior bravery to representing the release of violent sexual desire. This is the story structure that becomes standard with the birth of film. The person that became cursed is usually lusting after someone but cannot have them because the beast would be let loose. Finally they have to be put down or be sacrificed to prevent the beast from attacking again (The Wolf-man 1941)

It is only in the latter half of the 20th century that the animal side starts to be represented as something that could be embraced. The sexual awakening of the 60s and 70s made it ok to be more promiscuous, and so the beast becomes a sexual release to be revered once again (The howling). This is reclaimed in later films when not only the animal but the cyclical nature of the change is taken on by female werewolves in Ginger Snaps (2000).

Werewolves may not be as sexy as Vampires or as satirical as Zombies but they definitely have more to say about us as a society. What we want and how we are now more that civilised animals repressing primal animalistic urges that get released in different ways such violent or extreme sports, hunting, sexual perversions or even something as simple as loud music and sweaty dancing. After all, underneath art we all just a little bit of an animal.

To celebrate the first vs. battle (American Werewolf in London vs. The Howling) I have compiled my list of 10 werewolf movies you should check out.

1.       The Wolfman (1941)

2.       Curse of the wolfman (1961)

3.       American Werewolf in London (1981)

4.       The Howling (1981)

5.       Silver Bullet (1985)

6.       Monster Squad (1987)

7.       Wolf (1994)

8.       Ginger snaps (2000)

9.       Dog Soldiers (2002)

10.   The Wolfman (2010)

90s Cartoon theme Songs (by J-Man)

I grew up in the 90's. By the time my little eyes and ears could comprehend what they were being subjected to, the era of mad animation had already begun. The 1990's were a colourful time, from the acid induced dance music to the sugar and additive-laden neon sweets and drinks. Luckily the animated shows we were given were no different.
Accelerating from the successful franchises of the 80's, most of which made money from the toy and merchandise tie-ins, the animation of the 1990's seemed to blast full speed with style, irreverence and a no holds barred approach to the premise of new shows.

But no matter which show you loved the most (or simply just watched because you didn't have anything better to do while you eat refreshers and drank panda pop) the first and most resonating taste of a cartoon is its theme. And the 90's gave us some wonderful themes.

*Be warned, if you begin looking up some of these themes on youtube it's very likely you will succumb to the endless black hole of intro's. Just as Scott and I did.*

The list of catchy choruses, magical melodies and bouncing bass lines are endless. I have a special affinity for theme songs. There is something potent about the tiny snapshot of music purpose-built to set the tone of a show. Each one is like a 30 second score, encompassing the feel, the energy and often the premise of the show to come. Those of you who have stepped foot in Super Shakes will probably have noticed a handful of themes in the shop playlist (In between copious amounts of Seal). So if I took the time to go over every jingle that puts a smile on my face then this would be an incredibly long blog. [Though honourable mentions go to any theme without lyrics such as Doug, Rugrats, Ren and Stimpy; and to superstar composer Danny Elfman]
For the purpose of time and sanity I'll instead present to you 3 observations during my time in the infinite back-to-back session of intro videos. So if you are simply a curious party or are in the process of creating your own authentic sounding 90's theme song, keep these in mind.

Rule 01: 90's keep it brief

Apart from the quality of the animation and the steady decline of muscular He-Men, a new trend also occurred - swifter intros. Just as every comic is somebody's first, the same applies for cartoons with their self contained stories and repeatability. Because of this many 80's shows began with an intro that was in itself a prologue, as is the case of the hilarious and infectious opening to Ulysses 31. [Check it out here - https://youtu.be/OZ4c1X5ene8 ]
But once we past the invisible decade barrier, things start to get more straight to the point.
Maybe it was because the old style was beginning to feel tired, maybe it was to simply shave an extra minute and a half off the total run time. There is a good chance that it was because as we merged into the era of lunacy and (Ani)maniacs there was no story structure.
"Mama had a chicken! Mama had a cow! Dad was proud, and he didn't care how!"
Enough said.

Rule 02: Ducks have Soul

The musicianship behind theme tunes is often passed by. Since most of the themes are over and done with in 30 seconds, a lot of these gems and respective artists don't get to become as recognised as the 30 seconds (or less) of effort that goes in to most modern pop songs. And although there were many thematic changes to soundtracks as time progressed including Guitar riffs getting more fiery and saxophones (unfortunately) dissipating, one trend I did notice was that shows with ducks had a passionate theme that few competed with.
Lets begin with Duckula (Which began in the 80's but waddled into the Nine-zero's). Beginning with a dark and spooky backstory and blackened images, all is blasted away once the vocals burst in. I get the impression if the theme was a minute longer we would have some glass shattering vibrato on our hands. At several points there are moments when it is as if the microphone they used cant actually handle the singing. Kudos to the composers for making the very silly premise of this show get glossed over by the energetic theme.
From Duck vampires to Duck crusaders, namely DW - Darkwing Duck. This Noire-styled big-billed master of surprise had a hearty theme too. In order to even attempt to replicate the pipes on this performer you have to fill your lungs first. You can just hear the force in their voice as they repeat the title of the show, to the point where when the second verse comes in the whole song seems muted in comparison. But so do many things after you listen to this theme a few times, its hefty.
Then in 1996 as if there weren't enough rich vocals and duck centred animations; along comes The Mighty Ducks. Not the rousing live-action family comedy starring a handful of young actors (Including the future Foggy Nelson from Daredevil sporting virtually the same haircut). This is jacked up, colourful, anthropomorphic ducks playing hockey, and the theme is just as mighty. The entire song seems to be shouted and the eager singer can barely get the first sentence finished without adding some vocal flair. The incredible intensity of this theme leaves no doubt about the final statement "Ducks Rock!".

This correlation between bombastic birds and soulful songs doesn't end there. A post millennium show Duck Dodgers has a theme performed by none other than world renowned welshman Tom Jones. And if thats not enough, need I mention one of the the most catchy themes of all - a Tale of a rich Duck who famously dives into his vault of Gold coins? I'm sure you can hear it in your head already. [If not click here to develop a tick that makes you "Woo-Oo" impulsively anytime you hear the title of the show - https://youtu.be/9DXo5haNd9M ]


Rule 03: Repeat the title as many times as possible

It goes without saying that if you want someone to remember your brand, you need them to remember the name. It's quite possible this marketing tactic was discovered in the late 80's. Pick 5 cartoons that ran in the 90's, and sing the theme. (Feel free to do it in your head if you don't want to look like a Freakazoid at the coffee shop). I'd bet that you said the title of the show at least 3 times. Yes it's intended and yes it almost seems silly once highlighted (Try the theme game again with 5 HBO shows; it's very different. I'm betting on 0), but it also puts a recognisable time stamp on our cartoons, a loveable paradigm of silliness.
This may have most memorably begun with a group of adolescent-genetically irregular- Japanese covert martial arts practicing-amphibians. Yes Leo, Donnie, Mikey and Raph's unquestionable chant, which although formed in the late 80's ran deep into the hearts, minds, and dreams of 90's kids everywhere. Brought to life by the mastermind of mindless repetition Chuck Lorre (See Two and a Half Men & Big Bang Theory - J-Man), who may have unintentionally begun a more overt tradition for shows created afterwards. Notably Earthworm Jim, W.I.L.D Cats, Hey Arnold and Rocko's Modern Life all follow the formula that shouting the title is key to a good theme.
You can see this method working in the Spider-Man cartoon series (Theme co-written by Media Mogul and Power Rangers creator Haim Saban). The words are repeated to the point that the synthesised vocoder chanting goes askew into saying Spider-anything. It's almost as if the singer was exhausted or Joe Perry(Of Aerosmith)'s face melting guitar was tiring them out. I used to think that at one point he was saying Spider-Glider in reference to hobgoblin showing up on screen, but it works for any word you can cram into those syllables. Spider-pamphlet. Spider-burger. Spider-spleen. You get the point.
And as if to prove that the musicians and melody makers behind all of these knew what they were doing - See Exhibit B - Bucky O' Hare. The action packed, detailed crammed opening doesn't forget to add the secret sauce; the name Bucky O' Hare is mentioned various times as are most of the other characters. But as we reach the end there is a very self aware moment where after definitely screaming the name several times one vocalist asks the other "Did you say Bucky?" as if they have a quota to fill. Without a beat his colleague replies "I said Bucky." and they both harmonise for a final "Bucky O'Hare!". This not only adds another few name drops to the counter but is a wonderful little giggle at themselves and the absurdity of their job.

To sum up, Memory can be measured by recall, recognition and relearning. With the constant barrage of names and vivid images drilled into our heads several times over before we have even seen the show - our capability to recite, recognise and build on our knowledge may explain why 90's shows and their themes were so (literally) unforgettable.

- J-Man

(@TheMindofJMan)

When did the 20th Century truly end? (by Orie Enav)

I’m a 21st Century boy. Forgive me! At the tender age of only 28, the vast majority of my experience with popular culture happened after the Y2K bug reset civilization as we know it. Of course, I watched and enjoyed many films and TV shows prior to that calamity, but my teenage and university years were solidly based in the 21st Century. However, was the year 2000 really such a turning point that we should differentiate between what came before and after as significantly different? Or did other events serve as those defining watershed moments?

I’m not the first to point this out, and I’m sure I will not be the last, but the years we define “Centuries” as are pretty arbitrary. To say that the world of 1899 was materially different from that of 1900 is absurd, with exception that the latter had the devastating misfortune to end without Oscar Wilde living in it.  More likely, the 20th Century truly began, first incrementally with developments like the ubiquitous availability of motor cars and cinema, and then with a bang at the outset of the First World War. But we’re not here to talk about that.

My own experience is of the transition from last century to our current one, and despite how we all want to party like it’s 1999, nothing much happened then that affected our culture. For that, we must look to the major transitional events of our lifetimes.  Apologies to those too young to remember; luckily, movies are here to teach us about our own history.

1989

The 20th century was forged, defined and consumed by war. As The War to End All Wars drew to a close and the next World War loomed, it became clear that we were in for a period of instability that was largely unprecedented. Following the German and Japanese surrender, old alliances melted away as the strongest allies squabbled over the spoils, and the Cold War Era began.

Propaganda methods developed in the first half of the century were never more evident than in popular culture. Forget about asking the people to buy T-Bonds, if you want to gain support (and funding) for your proxy wars in Asia and the Middle East, you need to win over the hearts and minds of the electorate. Superman and all his friends fought the Nazis; once that threat diminished, they were replaced by those damn Reds from Russia.

Indeed, 20th century American cinema is dominated by action flicks where the enemy is Russia. James Bond fought the Russians, Rocky fought the Russians, the Manchurian Candidate taught us to mistrust our neighbours more than Joseph McCarthy ever did.  Only pinko commie types like Gene Roddenberry was willing to even consider a benevolent Russian character for the small screen. However, in 1989, that all changed.

Interbellum

When the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Hollywood lost its easy target, an enemy we could all understand. The world rejoiced, as a new era of peace was ushered in. Our popular culture was suddenly dominated by some of the best romantic comedies ever made as people turned away from enmity to think more introspectively. Human stories dominated every genre: Superman battled American billionaires; the Friends gang had time for coffee and promiscuity; even the calls were coming from inside the house. Battlestar Galactica, a tale about the struggles of humanity to survive against a foreign alien race of murderous robots, concluded in 1980.

When discussing which Star Trek series is best, as Trek fans so often do, they usually omit the original series from consideration. It was a different time, they say, the effects and the budget were so limited that they could barely produce episodes. Of course the stories were often lame and lazy, they needed to sell accessible entertainment in an age where TV sci-fi was in its infancy! Well, while the former excuses the visual aspects, the latter does not. Obviously there are some standout episodes, but Star Trek hit its popular and qualitative stride from The Next Generation onwards, particularly in later seasons. The bulk of TNG’s best episodes take place after its second season, starting in 1990. The Star Trek we know and love, with challenging moral quandaries and thought experiments that only Science Fiction can provide, flourished in the years after the cold war ended, during a time of peace and prosperity, a time for self-reflection. This was when, culturally, the 20th century truly ended.

2001

So when did the 21st Century begin? Of course, the answer is unquestionably 9/11. A period of relative peace prevailed for a glorious decade, particularly when the Yugoslav Wars concluded and Europe finally seemed unified. Then the planes hit and we awoke as if from a dream to find the world is as ugly beyond our borders as it has always been within.

The external threat narratives returned to our entertainment, only this time the enemy was different. Muslims, Arabs, and terrorists dominated Hollywood stories in a way they had never before. America, as a concept, returned to the forefront not just a political focal point but as a cultural touchstone. Our heroes fought bad guys, always foreign, scary, and brown.

Even our science fiction, intended to be above it all in the lofty heights of philosophy, radically changed. Battlestar Galactica relaunched, but now the story was prototypically post-9/11, in which a great calamity has befalling humanity and the enemy is hiding within. Before 2001, Star Trek embarked first into Deep Space Nine and a sweeping and nuanced wartime narrative, the ups and downs, the surges, victories, defeats, tertiary beneficiaries and tenuous alliances. After 9/11, Enterprise addressed what happens once Earth has been attacked, and a desperate struggle to root out an enemy in a dangerous and unfamiliar territory.

As history moves on and the wars around the world continue, the shock and awe in our entertainment has diminished. It is evident in the Marvel Cinematic Universe how the culture is shifting from clear heroes and villains to more sophisticated plots (even if they don’t always make much sense). For example, the First Avenger fights the Nazis: easy. Then the Avengers, once assembled, fight aliens: again, Easy. But then the Avengers fight themselves in Civil War, over questions of power and consequences.

I will discuss my observations on how the media we consume lags behind the zeitgeist in a separate article, perhaps on the DragonFruit blog. Suffice it to say that the watershed moments of our popular culture are excellent resources for determining the boundaries of our centuries, and nothing of interest whatsoever happened on January 1st, 2000 except for a lot of epic hangovers.

Why I think Action Movies are important.

There are a slew of essays, books and podcasts that provide an academic or more serious analysis of films. These cover everything from how they reflect the state of society at the time, the hidden meaning inserted by the director or even how philosophical or religious undertones can be interpreted. These cover almost every genre, from Horror, hard sci-fi, melodramas and more recently superhero films. The one genre that I think gets a raw deal is “Action”.

Action films often get written off as dumb fantasy escapism for teenage boys, with bad plots and wooden acting. I want to revisit this as a concept and ask if this is actually all they offer. Don’t get me wrong I’m not making a case for all action films to be considered deep, artistic representations of the human condition. As with Horror, melodrama and superhero films, there are those that deserve attention, those that should be enjoyed as entertainment and then there those that should just be forgotten (Mr Seagal, I’m looking at you!).

The action film, in the form we know it today, evolved from the disaster, revenge and cop films of the 70’s. The everyman and down trodden hero was replaced by muscle bound supermen. The gritty car chases and small scale fights were overtaken by epic explosions and one man army killing sprees. However, that in itself is an interesting point to make. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jean Claude Van-Damme, or the Austrian Oak, the Italian Stallion, The Swedish meatball and the Muscles from Brussels were all, ironically, the embodiment of the 80’s America; Big, Loud and full of attitude; shoot first ask questions later and any number of other clichés. Action films and their stars became the representation of this decade much more than any other genre.

This raises a further point I would like to highlight. It is often discussed that Horror films are used to explore the underlying fears of a social group of society in general. However, like fear these films and the themes are more personal, at least when done well. Easy examples are “Dawn of the Dead”,

I suggest that more than almost any other genre, Action films react to real world events quicker and more evidently on larger scale, representing the state of America at least, if not the world:

Reagan became President in 1981; we get the Reagan era and the larger than life supermen action stars already mentioned. You also get a range of mainstream Cold War propaganda films like Red Dawn (1984), Rocky 4 (1985) and Rambo 3 (1988). Seriously, go check out the politics behind the Rambo sequels, it’s fascinating when you consider where we are today.

The fall of the Berlin wall and Soviet Russia led to more diverse action films. There was no longer a dread super-villain hanging over the world, so while maintaining bombast and the larger than life stars of the 80’s we get more diverse heroes. Keanu Reeves (Point Break 1991, Speed 1994), Nic Cage (The Rock 1996, Con Air 1997, Face/off 1997) make it to the A-list. We also get new foreign stars and directors coming into American Cinema, like John Woo (Hard Target 1993) and Jackie Chan (Rumble in the Bronx 1995).

The tragic events of September 11th 2001 led to some believing that it was the end of the action genre. However the reality was the birth of less bombastic and more introspective actions heroes like Jason Bourne (Bourne Identity 2002) and Daniel Craig’s James Bond (Casino Royale 2006). It was a time when Heroes felt guilt for their actions and having to deal with the consequences.

Finally, we have had the economic crisis of 2008 and the small world mentality that has grown from this. These events have led to a nostalgic hunger for “better, simpler times” and the resurgence of the old bombastic simpler Reagan era heroes. Actors in their 50’s and 60’s becoming action stars in The Expendables (2010), Taken (2008), The Last Stand (2013) and even Arnie coming back to the Terminator Franchise (2015).

The question now is how will the action genre react to Trump’s presidency and the rise of isolationist politics? Will Hollywood continue its liberal leanings or pander to the beliefs of the masses? The point is, Action films can be used as a great barometer of the state of the western world.

That was a quick look at how Action films can be tied into and be related to real world events. Now let’s take a look at something just as important, the quality of the action. There are a million and one low budget action films which rely on bad gun battles and poorly edited and choreographed fights. However, from time to time we get a film that presents the violence as ballet like, each shot and move a thing of brutal beauty. The Lobby shoot out in The Matrix (1999) stands out as an epic and beautifully constructed sequence. Check out any 80’s or beyond Jackie Chan film to see some of the best choreographed comedic martial arts on film. Try Terminator 2 for one of the best running gun battles / car chases in modern cinema between a van and a helicopter.

All of these and every other great fight scene takes month’s to conceive, stage and pull together, with skills from so many different departments. The stuntmen, the special FX team, the actors, the cinematographer and the editor are just a few of the people that have to get it right for a fight scene to get the heart racing.

As a final note I would also like to mention the most important part of all this, the heart of the film, the characters involved. In the cases of the best action movies, the reason that the fight scenes, gun battles or car chases have such an impact is that the audience cares about the characters in peril. Without this the action can be cold, hollow or just plain bad.

Consider John Rambo in First Blood, yes the ambushes and town invasion are great to watch but they are also heart breaking as you follow Rambo being forced down a path that can only end in ruin. When he breaks down at the end, it all floods out and his vulnerability is laid bare. Rambo wasn’t an angry vet out for revenge; he was a lost soul reacting to events in the only way that he knew how. Say what you will about Stallone but by the end of

Deep, I know but consider Die Hard. Why is it one of the best action films of all time? Yes, the special effects and action are well staged, the script is sharp and Bruce Willis is pretty much pitch perfect.  Technically that sounds good but on an emotional level all of that builds to create a story in which I am invested and I really care whether John McClane makes it out of Nakatomi tower. If one of those elements hadn’t worked I’m not so sure it would be as fist pumpingly iconic. It would have been ‘Under Siege’ or one of the other lesser Die Hard knock offs.

Do these films deserve Oscars? Probably not

Should they get more attention for the skill that is involved in making a good action film, never mind an iconic one, or how they affect us and what they say about us? Most definitely!

This has been a bit of an action ramble I admit but I feel the point is more than valid. Action films are designed to entertain first and foremost. Done well, they will. However, with just a little more thought and kicking away some of the rubble you can find that these films represent so much more. Hopefully one day someone with way more knowledge and skill than me will take up the challenge and Action films will get the representation they deserve.

 

British Invasion Review: Neil Gaiman's "The Sound of her Wings"

Like Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman produced what can be considered his statement of intent issue after completing the initial arc on his primary series, and being asked to carry on. However, that is where the similarities end. While Morrison moved away from the main character of Animal Man to have a look at the weirdness of the wider world, Gaiman turns inward to take a direct look at The Sandman.

After breaking out of his capture and re-establishing himself as the master of dream, Morpheus is depressed and feeling lost. Just as it is acknowledged in Gaiman’s Black Orchid, Morpheus echoes the feeling that the end was an anti-climax. After taking his revenge and being away for so long where does he stand? The whole issue circulates around this issue with a conversation between Morpheus and his Eternal sister, Death.

Death in this series is very different representation that we are used to. In this case Death is represented by a young cute Goth girl. She has been around a long long time and has the wisdom of ages. However, she isn’t going to be direct with her knowledge and wisdom other than to tell Morpheus to stop moping.

From this perspective we can break the issue into three acts. We start with several pages of Morpheus ‘moping’ and contemplating his place in the universe. These pages have minimum dialogue but are filled with expression.  This is typical Gaiman, giving his stories room to breathe and using the art to tell the story.

The second act starts when Death strolls into the story and starts a conversation with her Brother. We learn more as the conversation progresses about the two and the relationship between them. Death is the older sibling and is coming by to tell her brother to sort himself out, stop moping and get back to what he does best. In one conversation the universe escalates to start introducing The Eternals and provide more nuggets of history for the characters.

The conversation leads to the third and final section when Morpheus is talked into accompanying Death as carries out her job.  We experience a series of lives ending both old and young, one incredibly young. It is during this section that Gaiman starts to bring his theme to the fore, as Morpheus starts to understand his place and what he needs to do next. It becomes clear that this isn’t just Morpheus on this journey; Neil Gaiman is on the same journey and excising the constraints of the first story arc. By the end of the story both Morpheus and Gaiman have come to a clear conclusion, while they may have responsibilities they can carry them out in whatever way they want.

This issue is a real turning point for Gaiman. There may have been independent success before this but this is the point at which Gaiman cracks the code and realises that he is able to apply that same approach and style to everything he does. The series could have ended with the first arc and been a well-crafted fantasy horror story set on the edge of the DCU. Following this issue we are off the edge and Gaiman is free to make the series whatever he wants it to be. That is why this is the statement of intent for Neil Gaiman; in itself it is an interesting single issue, in the context of the whole series it is a conversation that sets up everything that comes after.

"Elvis Presley" Review

When I decided to review an Elvis album for this blog it struck me how much expectation I bring to anything Elvis. Elvis is so ingrained in pop culture appearing in so many forms, accurate and parody, that I have a very specific image in my head of what to expect. To me, rightly or wrongly, this is the rhinestone spattered jumpsuit glad Vegas Elvis. It was because of that image that I actually decided to review this album, his debut album, 1956’s “Elvis Presley”.

I should quickly highlight that I am actually reviewing the 1999 reissue with a couple of bonus tracks. I thought this would give me a wider selection of songs from this period. Additional Elvis songs are always a good thing, right? Erm … no.

Of the 19 tracks on the album two thirds are pretty much standard 50’s fair. They feel and sound like they could be released by almost any of the similar country rock’n’roll stars of the period. Although Having Elvis sing them with his distinctive voice does make them more interesting. While they may be interesting they are not the kind of songs that would inspire a generation to scream and shout or for musicians to go and create something new. They feel safe, which when you realise that this is a debut album starts to make a little sense. Elvis may become the king of rock’n’roll but he is starting by introducing himself with something that people know. Of these there was one standout worth mentioning, “One sided love affair”.

Being safe is one thing but doing covers is one step further. This album contains several covers that I recognise from other artists “Blue Moon”, “tutti Frutti”, “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and “Blue Suede Shoes”. While the first group of songs were fine, two of these covers (“Blue Moon” and “tutti Frutti”) are awkward and feel incredibly out of place. These two songs are so clearly not designed for Elvis’s voice that I could not listened to them a second time. Shake, Rattle and Roll is an enjoyable step up, fitting the Elvis style but still does not completely feel like an Elvis song. The final cover however is great. Elvis’s version of “Blue Suede Shoes” is classic and does exactly what it is supposed to do. It introduces what Elvis can do with a recognisable song. As a song it is catchy and a lot of fun.

However, there is something amazing on this album, “Heart Break Hotel”. This is an incredible song and one of my favourite Elvis songs. This song alone stands out as a flash of brilliance and a glimpse of what Elvis would quickly produce on a regular basis.

As an album I found this disappointing. As a milestone for Elvis it is interesting but by no means essential. Throughout the album there are moments demonstrating what he could do but the majority of the songs feel like they are being held back, kept at a level that was already common for this kind of music. The standout is Heart Break Hotel which is the turning point, the siren call that Elvis is something different. I enjoy Elvis as an artist but listening to this album confirmed something for me. I am not an Elvis fan. I really enjoy the “best of Albums” but I don’t have a need to go beyond that. In some way’s this is a little sad, on the other it means I can enjoy that best of album, knowing that I really do think this is the best of this work.