Monday, April 28, 2014


I resisted the urge to download "THE WEB OF FEAR" and "ENEMY OF THE WORLD" at the time but waited until the DVD release. . . and now finally I've just now watched "THE WEB OF FEAR".  While the story still lacks episode three, it is still one of the biggest DOCTOR WHO finds in the past quarter century.  "ENEMY OF THE WORLD" is the first full lost story rediscovered since 1992 but, while a priceless find, it still pales in my mind compared to the restoration of most of "THE WEB OF FEAR" to us.  Previously, all we had of the story was episode one and, since the very first time I saw it over a decade ago, "THE WEB OF FEAR" has been one story which I always dreamed most of seeing in its entirety.  The first episode has been one of my favourite Troughton episodes all this time.  So, it was with particular joy and fandango-dancing that I learned of it's (almost total) rediscovery.  Now, as wonderful as all this is, it still leaves one open to a very real danger; such skyrocketing expectations usually result in an inevitable disappointment.  How can something built up so much in one's mind ever measure up?  While I never harboured delusions that the story would be some sort of lost masterpiece, I had always hoped that it would be as good as the first episode was.  So, it was with a sense of realistic optimism that I sat down to view this lost story.  And happily, I can honestly say it is one terrific fun-fest!
"THE WEB OF FEAR" is the sequel to the Yeti's first appearance in "THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMEN" the year before.  The first episode (which we've always had) finds the Doctor (Patrick Troughton), Jamie (Frazer Hines) and Victoria (Deborah Watling) landing in contemporary (circa 1968) London after the TARDIS was temporarily stranded in space and covered in thick cobwebs.
  They find themselves in a strangely deserted London underground which is crawling with Yeti.  All of London has been evacuated and a small military group is bivouacked inside the underground trying to come up with some way to combat the seemingly-impervious furballs who are being controlled by the Great Intelligence (from the original story).  Also returning is Professor Travers (Jack Watling . . . yes relation) and his scientist-daughter Anne (Tina Packer); the Prof met the Yeti and the Doctor in Tibet 30 years earlier (in "THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMEN" storyline).  Travers got hold of the last surviving Yeti and a control sphere; he sold the robot to a museum which has had the Yeti on display ever since.  Sadly for London, Travers' tinkering with the control sphere reactivates the Yeti  and starts the whole mess up again.  The Doctor, the military (led by Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart) and the Travers meet up in the underground where they all become hemmed in by the Great Intelligence's web-fungus (the beloved Troughton-era foam machine) and try to think up ways to beat the foe. 

Between the dark and candlelit spooky museum and the dark and darker London underground, episode 1 was always a Hammer Horror-like tour de force with splendid camerawork and a good dose of the gothic creeps.  The rediscovery of all but episode 3 shows off the splendid direction of Dougie Camfield which remains at a very high standard throughout.  The lighting, for once, is kept very dark but still light enough to see everything that's going on.  Most of the six episodes take place solely in the London Underground with only a brief foray topside for a street battle between the Yeti and the military; this sequence gives the Yeti the same opportunity the Daleks and Cybermen had to trod the streets of London (but without visiting the monuments).  Camfield, as usual, provides an action-packed battle sequence which is top notch.  The pace throughout all six episodes never flags for a second and there seems to be no evident padding despite the story's length.  Sadly, the only episode still lost is the third which has been the "holy grail" of DOCTOR WHO fans because it features the very first appearance of Nicholas Courtney as Lethbridge-Stewart the future Brigadier.  Episode 3 on the DVD features the audio paired with still photographs as a reconstruction.  Now, many of these reconstructions can be torture to sit through but this one somehow is quite good as these things go.  Naturally, I'd much rather have the original episode but this reconstruction is passable and not painful at all.  

One of the most revealing things about the rediscovery of these episodes is just what a fantastic companion Anne Travers (Tina Packer) would've been.  If I remember correctly, she was at least briefly considered for just such an outcome.  Oh, if only the Doctor and Jamie had grabbed Anne Travers and pulled her into the TARDIS while accidentally-on-purpose leaving Victoria behind with the Professor!  Victoria was always a rubbish character (through no fault of Deborah Watling) who did little but cringe and scream and whine a lot; this was the way she was written and there's not much Watling could do with the character under those circumstances.  Victoria is actually the stereotype of what the general public thinks a DOCTOR WHO companion is like.  Anne, on the other hand, would've made the perfect companion; as played by Tina Packer she's a brilliant scientist as well as demonstrably brave and built for action scenes.  She's a Liz Shaw about 2 years early.  Of course, the makers of DOCTOR WHO didn't know how to handle Liz Shaw's character so they probably would've been just as at sea with Anne Travers.  Funny how they never seemed to have trouble creating a very capable woman character when she was a guest star but not when she was a recurring character -- although they did get it right with Zoe soon enough.  Alas, for us and for Anne Travers, however, it wasn't to be.  
"THE WEB OF FEAR", while not great art, is a great six-episode thrill ride with robot Yeti firing web guns in a London Underground flooded with fungus (soap suds) in a classic example of the tried-and-true DOCTOR WHO base-under-siege story.  And I, for one, am extremely thrilled that it now exists once again for all of us to view from behind the sofa. 

Wednesday, April 02, 2014



We undead tend to move a little slow therefore the activity on this blog has been a little sparse so far this year.  Will I be able to rectify that?  I don't know as yet but this is my first shot across the bow:  the new(ish) DVD from LOST's Daniel Roebuck (you've got a little Arznt on ya) and JOHN DIES AT THE END's Chuck Williams. 
Already nominated for a Rondo Award (see the "Vote in this year's Rondo Awards" link down there on the right hand column to vote now), DR. SHOCKER'S VAULT OF HORROR is something of a follow-up to their 10th anniversary DVD "HALLOWEEN:  THE HAPPY HAUNTING OF AMERICA" double disc extravaganza.  This new DVD is more of the same; a trick-or-treat bag stuffed full of treats which focus mainly on horror collecting.  Roebuck once again hosts as Dr. Shocker; his loving tribute to the late great TV horror host Dr. Shock (Joe Zawislak) whom he watched (as did I) on Philadelphia's Channel 17 ("The Great Entertainer" and purveyor of today's "Antenna TV" network).  Chuck Williams returns as the dim-witted Igor. 
While I didn't have the DVD in time for last year's Halloween festivities, I surely plan to re-watch it when October rolls around because, like so many other great Halloweenie-themed DVDs of recent years (HALLOWEEN:  THE HAPPY HAUNTING OF AMERICA, THE WITCH'S DUNGEON, THE COMPLETE BOB WILKINS CREATURE FEATURES, GROTESQUERIES and the re-released THE ZACHERLEY ARCHIVES and HORRIBLE HORROR:  THE SPECIAL EDITION).  In fact, there's a gloriously growing pile of Halloween-themed DVDs which celebrate the season and I couldn't be more pleased about it.  It was such a DVD (Something Weird's MONSTERS CRASH THE PAJAMA PARTY) which, in fact, decided me on buying my first DVD player back in 2000!  But back to Dr. Shocker . . .

Roebuck and Williams (as the Doc and Igor) provide a short comedy introduction on a horror set which fans of the original Dr. Shock will instantly recognize as very similar to his 1970s MAD THEATER and HORROR THEATER set.  As seen in the picture above, there is the painted-stonework wall behind with a framed painting of Dr. Shocker while in front of the pair of ghouls is a long counter -- all this instantly calls back my youthful viewing of Dr. Shock.  Then we go into the meat of the DVD:  a 45 minute-or-so documentary called MONSTERMANIACS celebrating the "Monster Kid" generation who grew up watching classic (and not so classic) monster movies on TV when the "Shock Theater" package was released to TV horror hosts like Zacherley and Vampira. 
This love of horror grew into an adult mania for collecting all those vintage horror collectibles which they couldn't afford when they were kids.  A rather heartfelt autobiographical piece by Roebuck himself introduces a host of other like-minded horror collectors as well as such luminaries as director Guillermo del Toro and Rob Zombie. 
This documentary is narrated by fellow LOSTie Jorge Garcia and, as I said, focuses strongly on the iconic magazine FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND as well as the much-loved and rather shady CAPTAIN COMPANY ads which always featured in the back pages of the mag hawking scads of horror merchandise. 

We get to see in the DVD not only the ads but also the actual collectibles such as the classic BIG FRANKIE,
the beautiful Aurora monster model kits,
the 8" bendable monster figures,
the rather affordable Topstone monster masks
and the outrageously unaffordable (to a kid back then) but mesmerizingly-fantastic Don Post monster masks. 
And much, much more.  After all, Roebuck himself curated his very own Forrest J. Ackerman-like monster collectible museum so he knows of what he raves. 

While the MONSTERMANIACS documentary only goes on for about three-quarters of an hour, there is a wealth of special features which bring the total viewing time to over two hours.  I actually wish many of the special features had been edited into the body of the documentary because they relate directly to the topics covered.  

Particularly I speak of short features on the Imagineering Inc. make-up kits which featured the well-remembered "Scar Stuf" and "Vampire Blood" (which was recalled when it was thought it made a group of children ill when it turns out they actually all had the flu!). 

Imagineering Inc. also made everything from those plastic vampire teeth to an early semi-make-up/semi-appliance kit called "THE FACE" which featured plastic appliances (much like what would become commonplace in movie-making a decade later) which you could apply to your face and then blend in with make-up to transform yourself into a werewolf or a skullface.

There is a live on stage presentation at a horror convention focusing about the Captain Company products hosted by Daniel Roebuck with a panel including Donald F. Glut (author of my beloved 70's horror comic book THE OCCULT FILES OF DR. SPEKTOR) as well as Don Post Jr.  There is also a live on stage comedy production which itself has been nominated for a Rondo Award:  FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN - THE PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE"! 
Introduced by Bela Lugosi Jr. and Ron Chaney, the comedy skit features a parody of presidential debates with candidate the Frankenstein's Monster going against the Wolf Man (Roebuck in full makeup) and it's genuinely funny for once!  Next we have Roebuck and Williams hitting the road for "A PARANORMAL TOUR OF HAUNTED HOLLYWOOD" and then a tour of the Arizona Gillman's impressive horror collection centering around, of course, THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON.  A funny gag reel as well as a 3-D photo gallery of Roebuck's horror museum
(3-D glasses are included in the DVD case as well as a membership card to the Dr. Shocker fan club and an autographed (by you) photo.  Rounding out the festivities is a superb short film perfect for Halloween viewing:  Sky Soleil's "HOW MY DAD KILLED DRACULA" starring (naturally) Daniel Roebuck in a truly wonderful short film which would make a perfect Halloween double-feature with FLIP. 

As you might have guessed, DR. SHOCKER'S VAULT OF HORROR is a whole lot of fun for anyone who loves horror and Halloween.  The dvd itself took five years to make relying on donations from horror fans themselves and the love and care really shows in this terrific celebration of the monsters we all love.  You really should check it out.