Telly Terrors

With only a week to go until Halloween, it’s time to sit in a dark room with some popcorn and get suitably terrified. Only, with the glut of premier TV horror available to fans of guts ‘n’ gore, that dark room doesn’t necessarily have to be a cinema anymore.

Sure, with ‘The Babadook’ and Joe Hill adap ‘Horns’ treating scary movie fans in the run-up to All Hallows’ Eve, the state of horror cinema isn’t looking too shabby – this week anyway. But with UK fans having been treated to the first outing to ‘American Horror Story’s suitably freaky ‘Freak Show’ this week, there’s as much chance – if not more – of being wigged out by the terrors in the tellybox.

american horror story

^ That guy is obviously nightmare-worthy, and will haunt the dreams of any sensible adult – let alone any unfortunate kiddies who tune in after bedtime, in a similar way Pennywise all but ruined my formative years after I stayed up too late one Sunday night in the ’90s.

Even so, if you haven’t caught the awesomely alarming anthology antics of Jessica Lange and co. (and Lange’s singing is sure to give you night terrors even if the homicidal clown doesn’t), you’ll be able to find some top quality horror without leaving the house thanks to TV’s recent embrace of entrails and entropy.

tv terror

‘The Walking Dead’ may be one of the biggest shows of the moment (and rightly so) but there is plenty more gore for TV fans to gorge on. ‘Sleepy Hollow’ adds a fantastical spin, ‘Bates Motel’ riffs on Hitchcock for a noir-ish serial killer origin story, while Bryan Fuller’s deliciously stylish ‘Hannibal’ is an all-the-trimmings feast for Lecter fans.

The genre has even carved a bloody niche on Netflix, with ‘Hostel’ man Eli Roth guaranteed a final third season for his hit-and-miss ‘Hemlock Grove’. Meanwhile, Guillermo del Toro’s vampire saga ‘The Strain’ is already proving infectious, whilst Eva Green lent a magnetic malevolence to Sky’s ‘Penny Dreadful’ which will hopefully deliver on its promise second time around. Even this year’s critical darling ‘True Detective’s crime saga was spun with Southern gothic, its denouement a descent into Hell itself.

Why all the post-watershed horror, why now? I don’t care, basically. Not since ‘The X Files’ followed in ‘The Twilight Zone’s bloody footsteps 20 years ago, keeping us up all night with classic episodes like ‘Squeeze’ and ‘Home’, has TV been in such a fantastically frightening state.

Halloween countdown starts here!

The Ting Tings Do It Again

Flashback to 2008 and dancefloors across the UK (and beyond) had pop fans giddily renouncing their birthnames, bopping along to The Ting Ting’s pop hit ‘That’s Not My Name’.

The duo’s debut album ‘We Started Nothing’ brought them to the attention of Jay-Z, but the follow-up was panned. However, with a new disco strut to their sound, Katy and Jules may be on to a winner that takes listeners – no matter what their names – back to the dancefloor.

Check out my thoughts on new album ‘Super Critical’, which is released on Monday and coincides with new single ‘Do It Again’, and then have a bit of a boogie around your bedroom to ‘Wrong Club’, the best song on the album and with a slick vid to boot:

Trailer Tuesday: Scary Movie

With only a couple of weeks until Halloween, it’s time to dig out that copy of ‘Hocus Pocus’ for its annual viewing. Of course, ‘The Shining’ and ‘The Exorcist’ and all those canon-classic horrors will get a look-in too (although there will always be a slot for Thackery Binx), but wouldn’t it be nice if a terrifying new tale was waiting in the wings, ready to trick-or-treat us in time for the 31st?

Well, horror fans rejoice. Indie hit ‘The Babadook’, the Australian horror that has received rave reviews from critics, is finally set to scare UK audiences upon its cinema release this week. Set around a mother and child facing a storybook bogeyman come to life, it’s apparently the best screamer for some time. Catch it this weekend in case it changes your Halloween costume plans – or scares you enough to cancel Halloween.

Doc Who Dalek Scarf Offer

Winter is coming…

Wrong genre show, but the oncoming dark nights and cold snaps are an inevitability as we approach November. So it’s time to dig out your dusty old scarves in an effort to keep warm on the daily commute, or for when you’re on patrol in a graveyard with a trusty stake at your side. Oops, wrong show again.

doctor who scarf

Thanks to the folk over at Lovarzi though, you’ll be able to keep warm in true geek style this winter with their dastardly decorated Dalek scarf – a must-have for any Whovian, surely? And even better, for TODAY ONLY, you’ll receive an extra 15% off this officially licensed product when you use code DALEK15D at checkout.

Whether you’re the big fan in your household, or you know a Doc Who devotee who’d love to find this in their Christmas stocking, the time has come for Time Lord accessorising. Stay warm across space and time, kids!

Gaga: Pop Maverick or Art Pretender?

In 2010, I shelled out on eBay tickets for a Lady Gaga show in May when I’d seen her perform mere months before in the same city. Post-‘Bad Romance’, she had the pop world in her pocket and her bonkers but brilliant Monster Ball justified the hype: trashy, flashy, eccentric and exhausting, it was nevertheless a tour de force showcase of a premier pop talent. I couldn’t wait to see what she’d do next.

For me, this stretch in 2010 was Gaga’s defining pop moment; she may very well outdo herself and deliver on her promise in coming years, but nothing that has followed has topped Stefani’s ‘Fame Monster’ era. Unsurprisingly, for an artist who changes tack on a daily basis, there have been flashes of that brilliance in everything since – but just as many face-palm faux pas. The meat dress, the Madge ‘Born This Way’ controversy, the pretentious pre-hype waffle surrounding ‘Artpop’ – all of this and more has detracted from someone I still believe is (or at least has the potential to be) the great fucking pop juggernaut who threatened to dominate Planet Pop four/five years ago.

lady gaga artrave

Having skipped the ‘Born This Way’ ball in 2012, only a brief hesitation preceded my purchase of tickets to Gaga’s ‘Artrave’ tour in support of her least successful album to date, ‘Artpop’. Gaga’s pop pursuits have always had a touch of genius about them, with frequent clever references in debt to our pop culture DNA; however, my issue with ‘Artpop’ is that, while two-thirds of it (if not more) stands up as a solid pop album, the hyperbole would have had you thinking it was going to change the world. Gaga is great and her lofty ambitions are admirable, but a song like Bjork’s ‘Hyperballad’ has previously blended pop sensibilities with artistic intentions a lot more skilfully than, say, an ‘Applause’ or R. Kelly duet. Therefore, the album couldn’t fail to disappoint.

That said, catching Gaga in a live environment was an exciting proposition after four years. Could the spectacle live up to the Monster Ball, or would the arty-farty pretensions get in the way?

Thankfully (and I’m sure the free-flowing, overpriced Birmingham NIA beer helped), Gaga’s ‘Artrave’ was a blast. Sure, there’s the semi-dressed dancers, multiple costume changes (everything from seashell bikinis to fishnets-and-bra combos) and all the other OTT frills one would expect, but it’s a blast of a pop concert and ‘Artpop’s overlooked coulda-been-singles sound better live than they do on record. ‘G.U.Y’ is an early highlight, as is the vintage triple-whammy of ‘Just Dance’, ‘Telephone’ and ‘Poker Face’ which is confidently dispensed with just a quarter of the way in.

artpop lady gaga

As ever though, she truly shines – and surprises – when the crazy pop façade is stripped and she sits at the piano. ‘Dope’ and ‘You & I’ display her strengths as a vocalist, and she does her gay pride thang during a piano-and-vox rendition of ‘Born This Way’ when she invites a young fan and his boyfriend to sit either side of her as she pounds the keys. She came in for criticism after ‘Born This Way’, with some of her gay fanbase not taking the song as a compliment and rather voicing their dislike that she’d ‘volunteered’ herself as their defender; her constant references to gay rights and other causes in interviews may come off as annoying, but it’s hard to question her sincerity as she reads the fan’s heartfelt letter then hugs him to her as she belts out her anthem to her little monsters.

The midsection shows off her musicianship, but pop thrill seekers get their money’s worth before the show wraps up. Things get dark and sexy with ‘Judas’, ‘Aura’ and ‘Alejandro’ before she gets all jazzy and pimps out her new Tony Bennett collaboration with her cover of ‘Bang Bang’. Then it’s time for the big finale, when she appears as a dayglo K-Pop raver and brings the house down with ‘Bad Romance’ (surely still one of the best pop singles of the millennium so far) and the off-the-wall ‘Swine’.

So, the consensus? Faith is restored. While the music isn’t exactly breaking boundaries but doing its perfectly fine job of making pop fans dance, the Lady’s formidable presence, charisma and talent (yep, believe it) means her future is still exciting to me. Who knows what she’ll come up with next?

Bright Stars

Dark nights are drawing in, which means the Stars will be shining brighter for longer…

no one is lost

The new record from Canadian indie-pop band Stars, ‘No One is Lost’, is set to drop in the UK this November. Two years on from their sixth record ‘The North’ – and a decade on from their seminal, swoonsome ‘Set Yourself on Fire’ – the band’s return is a welcome one for fans of their unabashedly romantic, emo-eloquent heartsongs.

Having caught them live in a quarter-full room in Wolverhampton, December 2012, I think it’s pretty safe to say that their star isn’t blazing bright in the UK unlike fellow Canadian art-rockers Arcade Fire, with only clued-in indie fans having sought out the band’s music. However, first single ‘From the Night’ is the band on fine form and will hopefully support my recommendation in encouraging music fans (think Metric covering The Smiths if that helps) in seeking out these bright bright Stars.

Trailer Tuesday: Getting the Disney Feels

After last week’s heroic ‘Big Hero 6′ trailer comes another new tease from Disney. Although the House of Mouse is entering a potential new golden era, thanks largely one suspects from the creative leadership of John Lasseter, ‘Inside Out’ officially bears the stamp of Pixar which is even more cause for excitement.

‘Brave’ was an interesting but flawed diversion and ‘Cars 2′ suffered from sequel-itis (although ‘Monsters University’ was great fun!) so it’s about time we got another cast-iron Pixar classic to stand head and shoulders alongside ‘Toy Story’, ‘Wall-E’ and ‘Up’ – and the totes emosh ‘Inside Out’ could be that very movie.

It takes the offbeat idea of the primary characters being emotions belonging to a little girl and gifts it a script from ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ scribe Michael Arndt and an inspired geek-bait voice cast, including Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling and Bill Hader. If you’re not already excited, then the sweet trailer tribute to golden Pixar moments is sure to win you over…