Sunday 20 November 2016

Interview with Michael Baker by David Kempf

Michael Baker is a talented magician who has combined two great things that go together - Magic and Halloween. Michael has brought back a classic magic trick The Vampire Block Escape. As an amateur magician, I really appreciate owning a great trick the way it was always meant to look. Now you can see for yourself why magicians in England and America are praising this talented artist.

When did you first become interested in magic?

I was about seven years old. I received a magic set for Christmas. After playing with it a bit, it found its way to my closet. My uncle saw it and decided to show me the cool magic that could be done with “my” stuff. I was hooked at that point.

How did you get involved in fantasy/horror themed tricks?

This probably started very early on, and very likely with a book called “Spooky Magic”. From a very young age, I loved Halloween, and all things monsters. Combining the two was a natural occurrence, and although I would include magic that leaned toward horror on occasion, I did not totally theme my shows in this way for quite a number of years.

How did you go about finding venues to perform?

This really began by getting known first as a magician. Aside from the inclusion of a horror or geek routine or two, the opportunity to work a full horror illusion show came much later when I was asked to become part of the entertainment at a large Halloween haunt in Birmingham, AL.

I worked this month-long venue for ten years. Once I had established myself, I then wrote a majority of the shows, created the illusions used, and built them and the stage sets. I had the opportunity to work with some other great acts, from fire dancers to sideshow freaks. Even though we built these shows on a shoestring budget (we wanted the majority of the paycheck going into our pockets!), it was a great opportunity to be very creative. In that regard, we were basically given carte blanc.

Tell us about your version of The Vampire Block Escape. 

The Vampire Block Escape is a classic trick. A wooden block is placed into a tube-like box, and locked in place by a spike that runs through the sides of both the box and the block. As I was increasing the list of items that I could build, I naturally wanted to include as many spooky Halloween effects as I could. But as with all the props that I make, I wanted to give the Vampire Block Escape my own spin.

Typically, these were a bit cartoony in appearance, either stenciled ghosts, bats, against a full moon. Every version I saw seemed more appropriate for kid shows. I wanted something a bit darker, and well, “cooler”. Giving the thing a more “Victorian goth” look was more in line with how most adults would envision a vampire, so I had to first give them a scarier vampire. A block with a bat just wasn’t going to cut it. I came up with the face, somewhat based on Nosferatu, and a bit of the vampire from “Salem’s Lot”. That’s a scary vampire!

The box (tube) needed to be more than a box with random spooky stuff painted on it. Even though it had to still be a square tube in order for the trick to work, I painted the front to resemble a toe-pincher coffin and gave the top a more gothic appearance. I had to opt for a slightly different method in order to pull off the look, and I think it all came together nicely. I have made these for several years, in three different sizes, and they continue to be popular sellers.

Is Halloween your busiest time of the year?

Regarding shows, when I was a full-time performer, it was definitely one of them. Working the haunt was actually easier than say, booking a month of shows at different venues, such as happened at Christmastime. Halloween was still quite busy, because I worked the haunt almost every night through the month, but I was still booking other shows during the day and early evenings.

These days, I do not try to book shows, as I am more of a magic builder now. But, I do still manage to get involved with a handful of Halloween events each year. As a builder, I have a busy time leading up to the holiday, as my line of Spooky/Halloween items sell well as other magicians add new magic to their own Halloween shows.

What are your favorite horror books?

I’ve never been much of a novel reader, but I am a huge fan of technical books. Books on special effects make-up, illusions that lean toward the horror themes, behind the scenes stuff on films, running haunted houses, and obviously, anything on the Spookshow masters like Bill Neff, and the Baker brothers (no relation).

What are some of your favorite horror movies?

First love is definitely the classic Universal Monsters. I also love the Hammer Films Dracula series with Christopher Lee. I saw most of those at our local Saturday Horror matinee. But, I will always have a place in my heart for the older B horror movies. Our local TV had a Saturday midnight monster show called, “Acri Creature Feature”. As young teens, my brother and I were even on that show as “Creeps of the Week”. To us kids of that era, this was akin to winning the World Series of horror.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment as a magic/ illusion designer?

I think just being able to make a 30+ year career doing what I love is accomplishment enough. All the milestones along the way are just part of that bigger picture.

Do you have any advice for new magicians?

Read books. Read books about magic. Read about the tricks, and read about the history. The current trend is to find info online and learn “visually” via video. While there is some good info to be found that way, I feel that books give the magic student a higher level of learning. (Forgive the following gender-specific statements. Both male and female are assumed inclusive.)

The reason is simple. When a magician reads a book to learn a trick, he has no choice but to envision himself in the role of the protagonist. He automatically imparts some of his own character into that role. From that point on, the magic comes from within, and is part of his soul.

When a magician learns a trick by watching a video, he adopts a role of mimicking the person he sees on the video. He becomes an imitation of that other magician, and risks never bringing forth the magic from within himself.

What impact has the internet had on revealing the secrets to magic tricks?

The arguments are relative. Years ago, magicians were all up in arms over books that exposed magic tricks. Decades later it was the video that became the demon. Now, it is the internet. Of course, with the internet, information travels further and faster. But, the amount of information increases proportionately. The information regarding magic is out there for anyone to find it, but by and large, the only people finding it are those interested in magic, and perhaps a few bored people who haven’t yet settled in on better ways to occupy their time. There may be a few of those out there who want to bust the magicians, but most normal people won’t waste their time, and still prefer to be entertained by magic.

The one true problem with magic on the internet is that anyone can post anything, without any governing on quality. There is going to be a lot of crap, but it’s really a bell curve, I think. The bad is balanced by the really good stuff, but most is going to fall somewhere in between.

The way I see it is, most people feel more comfortable in any conversation if they know something about the topic at hand. When the lay public encounters magic on the internet, it gives them more of a reason to engage me in conversation. I see it as opening doors that may not open by themselves.

What are your current projects?

Right now, it’s a balance between working on standing requests and exploring new items to make. My business is the epitome of a cottage industry. Because I work from my home, in a very small workshop, I am limited by how much I can produce at any given time. If I make an item that proves popular, it typically sells out and then I get requests to make more.

But, I don’t want to simply crank out the same stuff day after day. I could get a job in a factory and do that. In order to satisfy the artist in me, I have to be creative. I have to work on new projects that I find interesting. Fortunately, I have been able to do a lot of that. One of my customers, who is also now a very good friend, has over 200 different items that I have made. I don’t think too many other builders can say that… at least they aren’t that crazy! Ha!

Please in your own words write a paragraph about yourself & your work. 

If I was to describe myself, it would be to say that I am an artist at heart. I have reinvented myself a few times in my life and explored different vehicles by which to express my art. My early career aspirations were to 1) be a chef with my own restaurant. I then became 2) a performing magician. Now, I am 3) a builder of high quality magical apparatus (fancy term for trick boxes). In all cases, I think I have been successful, even if only as a big fish in several small ponds.


Monday 14 November 2016

Competition: Win All Through The House on DVD

All Through The House is released on DVD November 21st And to celebrate we have a great competition for you and 3 copies on DVD to give away.

Fifteen years ago, a peaceful Christmas neighborhood was engulfed by fear when five-year-old Jamie Garrett was mysteriously taken from her bedroom never to be seen again. Now on Christmas break, Rachel Kimmel comes home from college to find her neighborhood struck again by a reign of terror.

A violent killer is hiding behind a grisly Santa mask, leaving a bloody trail of slaughtered women and castrated men to the steps of the Garrett house. Rachel finds herself in a horrifying nightmare as she discovers the twisted secret behind the mask.

Win This:
All Through The House [DVD]

To enter all you have to do is answer this easy question...

Competition Closed

Terms and conditions
1. Closing date 02-12-16
2. No alternative prize is available
3. When the competition ends as indicated on this page, any and all entries received after this point will not count and emails blacklisted due to not checking this page first.
4. Winners will be chosen randomly and will be informed via email.

Tuesday 1 November 2016

Film News (UK): Horror Channel to broadcast eleven film premieres for November

Sky 319 / Virgin 149 / Freesat 138 / Freeview 70

Horror Channel will be screening eleven weekend film premieres this month, including the UK TV premieres of Brandon Cronenberg’s darkly disturbing skin crawler ANTIVIRAL, Tommy Wirkola’s crowd-pleasing, carnage-driven DEAD SNOW 2: RED  VS DEAD, Jon Knautz’s demonic gem THE SHRINE, Tyler Shields’s stylish mash-up of Scream and La Femme Nikita, FINAL GIRL, and Ben Kital’s underground possession thriller BENEATH.

There are also network premieres for Matthias Hoene’s ultra-splatter comedy horror COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES starring Michelle Ryan, Wes Craven’s demented classic THE HILLS HAVE EYES, Leigh Janiak’s acclaimed HONEYMOON starring Harry Treadaway and Rose Leslie, John Grissmer’s gloriously gruesome slice of ‘80s slasher, BLOOD RAGE, Steve Miner’s hilarious cult favourite HOUSE, and Eugenio Martin’s Spanish/British train-terror, HORROR EXPRESS, which stars Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Telly Savalas.

Full details of premieres in transmission order:

Fri 4 Nov @ 21:00 – COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES (2012) * Network Premiere
There’s Geezer Gore galore in what director Matthias Hoene calls Evil Dead 2 meets Withnail & I. Workers on a Docklands building site uncover a burial ground sealed up in 1666. However some of the corpses aren’t Brown Bread at all, and before you know it London’s East End is infested with hungry zombies. Can bank robber brothers Terry and Andy Macguire get to the Bow Bells Care Home, run by their granddad, in time to rescue everyone? The Raspberry Ripples are under siege with only their Zimmer frames and wheelchairs to kick some zombie Khyber Pass. Would you Adam and Eve it? Richard Briars and Honor Blackman are amongst a sparkling Brit cast.

Sat 5 Nov @ 22:50 – HORROR EXPRESS (1972) *Network Premiere

Alexander Saxton (Christopher Lee), a British anthropologist researching in the Russian Far East, boards the Trans-Siberian Express with his latest discovery, a frozen specimen he hopes to prove is the missing link. But passengers begin to turn up dead, and terror engulfs the train as Saxton and his partner, Dr. Wells (Peter Cushing), struggle to contain a mysterious -- and increasingly murderous -- force with the power to control minds.

Sun 6 Nov @ 21:00 – ANTIVIRAL (2012) *UK TV Premiere

In a dystopian near-future, Caleb Landry Jones stars as Syd, a haunted young man employed by a corporation which markets celebrity viruses. His employer has an exclusive licensing arrangement with the world's biggest female star, Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon). One day Syd is given the important job of picking up a sample of a new disease she has. Obsessive and addictive, Syd injects himself with it and finds that the sickness he shares with Hannah is more serious than he thought. Also stars Malcolm McDowell.

Fri 11 Nov @ 22:55 – THE SHRINE (2010) *UK TV Premiere

Three reporters sneak off to an isolated Polish village, eager to investigate the disappearance of a backpacker. They arrive on European soil to find hostile villagers and a strange fog hovering over the neighbouring forest. A foray into the woods leads to the discovery of a horrific artefact and the unfolding of equally horrific events. This is demonic forces, served up European style.

Sat 12 Nov @ 22:45 – THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977) *Network Premiere

Wes Craven followed his compelling cult classic The Last House on the Left with this violent morality tale about a bloody war of attrition between two families. The Carters travel across the Californian desert in search of an inherited silver mine. Stranded in the middle of a former nuclear testing site, their attempts to find help lead them into the territory of a savage family of cave-dwelling cannibals. No one is spared from the ensuing nightmare as the family's "values" are clearly drawn and anything goes in a race to survive.

Sun 13 Nov @ 21:00 – FINAL GIRL (2015) *UK TV Premiere

Ever since she was a young girl, Veronica has been groomed by her mentor to become a lethal assassin, with her sights set on devil-may-care murderers who think they are above the law. Her latest targets are a pack of wild child American Psychos who love nothing more than hunting distressed female prey in the woods. But when the wolf pack is manipulated into picking Veronica as their latest victim, they learn pretty fast they chose the wrong girl. Famed photographer Tyler Shields makes an impressive feature debut.

Fri 18 Nov @ 21:00 – BENEATH (2013) *UK TV Premiere

When environmental lawyer Samantha (Kelly Noonan) returns to her childhood home to celebrate her coal mining father George's (Jeff Fahey) retirement, she is persuaded into volunteering to work with him in the mine on his last day. When drilling triggers a cave-in, panic starts to set in. As they frantically search for a way out, something unknown seems to take over their bodies one by one, causing them to strike out against one another violently. Is there something truly evil down below, or is it all in their minds?

Sat 19 Nov @ 23:00 – HOUSE (1986) *Network Premiere

A cult horror comedy that went on to spawn three sequels, Roger Cobb (William Katt) is a best-selling novelist trying to get over the end of his marriage and the mysterious disappearance of his son. When Cobb’s aunt commits suicide, the author moves into her home. Initially, he enjoys the solitude, however he soon begins to realise that the house is haunted. Eventually the evil zombies in the house force Roger to endure a harrowing journey into his past…

Sun 20 Nov @ 21:00 – HONEYMOON (2014) *Network Premiere

Young newlyweds Paul and Bea travel to a remote, romantic lake in the country for their honeymoon. Shortly after arriving, Paul finds Bea wandering in the forest for no apparent reason. As her behaviour gets increasingly peculiar, he begins to suspect something more sinister than sleepwalking took place deep in the woods. Harry Treadaway (Control) and Rose Leslie (Games of Thrones) give captivating performances as a couple taking new love to disturbing depths.

Fri 25 Nov @ 22:45 – DEAD SNOW 2: RED VS DEAD (2014) *UK TV Premiere

Director Tommy Wirkola improves on his Nazi zombie original in clever ways that don’t betray the core conceit of witty and heartfelt non-stop action. Sole survivor Martin crashes his getaway car in the mountains after fighting SS officer Herzog for control of the vehicle. Waking up in hospital Martin discovers he's blamed by police for all his friends' murders, and he's had Herzog's severed arm attached to his shoulder by mistake, meaning he now has the zombie creating power; something which will come in use when Herzog's dead army advances towards the small town of Tarvik.

Sat 26 Nov @ 23:00 – BLOOD RAGE (1987) *Network Premiere

Twins Todd and Terry seem like sweet boys - until one of them takes an axe to the face of a fellow patron at the local drive-in. Todd is blamed for the bloody crime and institutionalised, whilst twin brother Terry goes free. It’s now ten years later, and as the family gathers around the table for a Thanksgiving meal, the news comes in that Todd has escaped. But has the real killer in fact been in their midst all along? One thing’s for sure; there will be blood and rage! Shot in 1983 but not released until 1987, the cult classic was re-cut and shown in theatres as Nightmare at Shadow Woods.

TV: Sky 319 / Virgin 149 / Freesat 138 | Freeview 70 | |