Tuesday, 24 May 2016

No Gothic towers, no shuttered windows...

Greetings, Ghostwatchers!

Just a quick heads-up that if you happen to be in the vicinity of Newcastle Castle Keep's Great Hall on Friday 17th June, at around 7pm, you might like to check out a very special screening of Ken Russell's Gothic, presented by Novocastria Macabre, in association with Screen Demons Horror Film Festival - and set to feature a must-see Q&A with screenwriter and Ghostwatch creator, Stephen Volk, and David Pirie, author of A Heritage Of Horror.

Not only will the occasion mark the 200th Anniversary of that rather inspirational evening at Villa Diodati, Switzerland, but also the anniversary of the film's production, having taken place exactly thirty years previously, in the summer of 1986...

The year is 1816 and poets Byron and Shelley, Byron's doctor Polidori and Shelley's mistress Mary Godwin (later to become his wife) gather in a villa on Lake Geneva and dare each other to write ghost stories. The results, Polidori's The Vampyre and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, become the foundations of the horror genre. In Ken Russell's recreation of that fateful night, the young Romantics hold a demonic séance and descend into a sex and opium-fuelled nightmare world.

Lovely stuff. Tickets are around £13 per person, and more info on the event can be found here.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

... Did you say that?

Greetings, Ghostwatchers! Following on from our recent piece on Samhain Magazine, we were lucky enough to speak to its creator, John Gullidge on how the publication came to be, his thoughts on our favourite Hallowe'en Hoax, and what he's up to now...

Hi, John - what are the origins of Samhain, and what did you personally set out to achieve with the publication?
Samhain came about when I was made redundant from my job as a reporter on a weekly newspaper in Exeter. I’d been passionate about horror movies from about the age of 12 and by the time I started Sam I had already amassed quite a collection of horror film books and magazines which I suppose were the key inspiration behind it. In addition, through writing the cinema column on the newspaper (which I coincidentally continued to write after I was made redundant) I had amassed quite a collection of press kits (which in those days were primarily made up of 10x8 black and white stills and 35mm colour transparencies) which would prove invaluable in illustrating Sam. I also had contacts at the various film distribution companies so it was relatively easy to get hold of info/press kits, etc. regarding forthcoming horror movies.

The name Samhain was a no-brainer given my healthy obsession with Halloween and I kind of liked the way it was obscure enough to not be obvious what the mag was about (on reflection, probably not a great selling point).

My then-girlfriend, who was a brilliant artist, did the cover art for the first 7 issues, but the inside of the early issues really was the most basic form of cut-and-paste, although thinking back, that was pretty much how the newspaper I worked on was put together. How times have changed! The very first print run of Issue #1 (I think, 500) were hand coloured on the cover (the dripping blood on the logo) by yours truly with felt pen!

I was also lucky with the first issue in that a dear friend of mine happened to be friends with the editor of the Pamela Armstrong Show, a daytime chat show that went out live from BBC’s Pebble Mill Studios so I was booked to appear with Clive Barker who at the time had just directed Hellraiser. The experience wasn’t great given that Armstrong (clearly the founder of the Kay Burley school of questioning) spent pretty much the whole interview turning it into a slanging match on the evils of horror movies, but Barker was great and of course eloquent, and said some very complimentary things about Samhain (which I used as quotes for years to come!). Also on the same show was the legendary Samantha Fox!

I don’t think I personally set out to achieve anything with [the magazine], just put something back into the genre that had given me so much pleasure but it’s nice to think it was at the forefront of that fanzine explosion that occurred around that period.

What was the reach for Samhain, and how was it distributed?

Initially it was just distributed to specialist shops (that sounds so dodgy!). We did pick up a distributor (Diamond Comics, I think it was) who got it slightly further afield but it was primarily mail order and subscription. Funny to see copies now going for quite a bit on eBay, so hopefully I’ll be sitting on a nice little nest egg when I eventually come back to the UK.

How was the layout for the magazine designed? Do you recall which software/methods were used to create each issue, and did this evolve over time?

The big change in the design came when my friend Scott Bartlett came on board. He was and still is a whizz with computers and he hooked me up with my first Apple Mac and I’m guessing we must have used PageMaker or something similar but my memory is pretty vague. We’re talking about literally half a lifetime ago!

The mag itself was printed and collated at this ancient printing press at the bottom of this dingy alley in the back streets of Exeter. Scott and I would often pull all-nighters in the days running up to press deadline and then I’d often be collating the pages together through the night. The machinery was very archaic and often the finished magazines would be trimmed at odd angles resulting in tons of rejected copies and some uneven ones (which I nicknamed, "Toblerone Copies"). Issue #8 saw a full colour cover introduced and as you rightly pointed out in the article, Issue #60 saw a completely different look as we changed printers. 

Rob Zombie, Singapore - John Gullidge

You've mentioned that you were a fan of Ghostwatch prior to the first DVD release in 2002. Did you catch it on the night of transmission? Did you personally find it scary, thought-provoking, or something else entirely?

I vividly remember the night Ghostwatch was transmitted as I was organising a haunted house for some friend’s children and their friends at a large house out in the country situated, suitably, right next to a church graveyard This was one of those milestone moments in my life in that it was the first time I put on anything like this, but this was the seed of what would become my career in later life. Because I was organising the event, I didn’t watch it on the night but taped it and watched it when I got home. I do remember some of the teenagers who were at the haunted house I had put on were watching it downstairs while waiting to go through the haunted house, and one girl in particular was very scared by it almost to the point of hysterics. 

How did Richard Middleton's Ghostwatch article for the magazine originate?

I’m afraid there’s nothing desperately exciting about how the article came about. We had a number of contributors (of whom Richard was one) who would often just say, “Do you want an article on...” and in the case of Ghostwatch as I was such a huge fan I do remember saying, "Yep, make it as long as you want and if need be we can run it over a couple of issues", which was something we occasionally did but very rarely did something run over three issues.

Why do you personally think Ghostwatch has endured for so long?

I think the remarkable thing about Ghostwatch was how ahead of its time it was. I think I’m right in saying this was way before the trend for shows like Most Haunted and indeed a lot of the reality GoPro and “event” kind of TV we now take for granted. The use of celebs playing themselves was also fairly unique, and in fairness to them, they did a pretty good job. And of course the setting, moving it away from a traditional spooky old house. This was back in the pre-multi channel days when people still talked about a show after transmission, and it also was pretty ahead of its time in the UK, at least for Halloween-themed television, which back in those days was limited to the occasional horror film.

Samhain was proudly described on the cover as being "Britain's Longest Running Horror Film Magazine" - what led to it going out of print, and how many issues were there in total?

There were 72 issues in total of Samhain spanning something like 13 years. Its demise came about simply because I had the opportunity to go backpacking around SE Asia for a year and I just felt like a change. Websites were all the rage and that didn’t hold much interest for me, so the appeal of travelling won the day! It was also ironic that I should have travelled around SE Asia as that is now where I’ve been living for the past 6 years, through a completely unrelated series of events.

For the past 6 years, I’ve been living in Malaysia where I manage a live are attraction at a theme park. I work for a company called The Sudden Impact! Entertainment Company who produce live scary entertainment around the world and through the job I have worked in attractions in the UK (Warwick Castle), The States, Mexico, Indonesia and Australia.

The attractions are often based on licensed brands such as Van Helsing, The Mummy, Tomb Raider, Saw and this July we are opening a new live attraction based on the Ghostbusters franchise.

I’m also passionate about photography and take a lot of pictures of our cast in their makeup and costumes as well as attending numerous cosplay events in KL as a photographer, I recently made my cosplay debut as Walter White from my favourite TV show Breaking Bad.

Given that I’m something of a technophobe, a return to magazine publishing would probably not be something that would ever happen but through the job I am still very much involved in the horror genre albeit in a different line of work. I still watch horror movies avidly but as I don’t have a permanent home, my collecting has pretty much gone on the back burner, although I do still avidly pick up anything I can find here on my favourite movie, Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (Asia’s great for picking up unusual unlicenced items).

I’m keeping the name of Samhain alive though through my photography, and last year I signed up on the crowd-funding for Rob Zombie’s new film, 31 (set at Halloween, of course). If you stay for the end credits, somewhere in the “thanks to” section, it should say, 'John “Samhain” Gullidge'.

Anyone from the Samhain days want to get in touch, please feel free to fb message me.

Just to say a big thank-you to John for his time in contributing words and photographs to this interview, and for helping out [in a roundabout way, as far back as 2011!] with our previous article, too. Cheers!

... And try not to have sleepless nights.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Samhain #59-61

Despite a suitably enigmatic aura, the shadowy spectre of Samhain Magazine still looms heavy in the scope of deep, Ghostwatchian research. Now sadly out of print, the monthly publication (described as Britain's Longest Running Horror Film Magazine) once covered many a genre gamut – from TV to Film, Horror to Fantasy, and beyond.

In the Nov/Dec 1996 issue, began a three-part special on Ghostwatch compiled by writer, Richard Middleton. And this week, after many years of searching, we finally tracked down Part One of the series, at long last completing the set!

Issue #59 serves as a thorough and gripping intro to the Ghostwatch phenomenon (and reaction thereof), teasing an extended interview with producer, Ruth Baumgarten, in which she reveals that, among other examples, The Late Show's format initially proved useful in shaping the final narrative (unsurprising, as my personal all-time favourite documentary – Mary Harron's sublimely atmospheric 1989 Batman Special – was indeed part of this strand).

Issue #60 concludes the interview with Ruth, and segues into a second with writer, Stephen Volk.

On Page 12, you might notice one of the earliest known breakdowns of the total number of phone calls to the BBC Switchboard that evening – according to Ruth: over one hundred thousand during the peak five minutes, and an estimated one million in total..!

There is also an interesting quote from interviewer, Richard, in which he posits how at the time, an official BBC VHS release may have proven to be an 'antidote' to the Ghostwatch effect – i.e. the more times you see something, the less frightened you remain. Despite the suggestion being an entirely logical one at that, nevertheless, with no less than two DVD releases of the film released to date, for the most part, this doesn't appear to have considerably lessened the show's impact, thus far – if anything, quite the opposite, ironically. Ruth also discusses the idea of a post-broadcast 'decompression zone' – something that both Sarah and Mike discussed in so many words, during their interview for the doc.

Steve reveals his inspiration for attempting to capture a feeling of suspense in being trapped inside the house in Foxhill Drive (in his own words, similar to that of a 'siege') was partly inspired by Hitchcock's The Birds, and also The Haunting, Night Of The Living Dead, and even the legendary Quatermass – which too features experts adrift in a swell of potentially dangerous new discoveries.

And how/why these words have yet to become more frequently quoted, I'll never know... "It's not sadistic people who write horror stories, it's neurotic people." - Stephen Volk, 1996

Issue #61 features just two pages, that nicely rounds off Steve's interview and brings the article to a close. On Page 25, there may even be one of, if not the very first seed of what ultimately became the short story sequel, 31/10.

Curiously, across the fleeting spread of these issues, the magazine itself goes through some fairly noticeable changes. Issue #59 is a standard A4 size, whilst #60 is marginally smaller by at least a couple of centimeters. Issue #61 retains the reduced size, but also features a brand-new logo, a slightly-revised layout, and what appears to be a different paper type!

But enough with my antiquated fascination with dehydrated pulp – what is most important here, of course, are the words, and certainly quite a bit to be gleaned in the above. And boy, am I a sucker for lo-res, monochrome VHS screen-grabs – somehow, they just seem even more... authentic. And not to mention, reminiscent of the very era in which these interviews were gathered, evoking the undoubted tangible fascination in then-discovering precious new facts pertaining to the film itself.

... How times have(n't) changed.

Until next time, Ghostwatchers... try not to have sleepless nights.