Sunday, 28 September 2014

Lifeforce (1985)

Bit of a guilty pleasure this one and I'm sure that some of you are now arguing it's inclusion on a page about British weirdness.  Yes, American director (Tobe Hooper), American screenwriter (Dan O'Bannon) and American finance (Cannon Films) but based in Britain, filmed in Britain with a predominantly British cast and based on a British Book (The Space Vampires by Colin Wilson) and, well, it's just got the right vibe.  For my money this has always felt almost like a homage to the Quatermass movies.  The spectre of the Lord Bernard is hovering over the whole thing.

Space Shuttle 'Churchill' (see, British) is on a mission to investigate Halley's Comet but discovers a spaceship within it's tail and brings the three humanoid life forms they find on  board, one woman (Mathilda May) and two men (Bill Malin & Chris (brother of Mick) Jagger), back to Earth.  The three soon wake and proceed to suck the 'lifeforce' out of everyone they come into contact with and beam that energy back to their ship whilst completely ignoring prevailing societal conventions regarding the wearing of clothing.

Battling against them are sole survivor of the Churchill, Colonel Tom Carlsen (Steve Railsback) and the SAS colonel sent to investigate, Colin Caine (Peter Firth). Patrick Stewart in one of his last pre-superstardom roles also makes an appearance.

Lifeforce is in no way a particularly great (or even good) film but, for me at least, it's got that certain something that keeps me coming back for more.


Friday, 26 September 2014

Twins of Evil

This, the third instalment of Hammer's Karnstein Trilogy, is a film that I have adored since before I first saw it. I was already a fan having read the House of Hammer comic adaption by Chris Lowder and Blas Gallego in the early eighties in an 'annual' called 'Dracula's Spinechillers' - the Twins of  Evil strip can be downloaded as a PDF from Alison Nastasi's site here - and absolutely loving it.  When I finally saw the movie it was everything I had hoped for.  Peter Cushing in full vampire slaying mode, debonair and despicable vampires and typically for Hammer at the time beautiful young ladies ripe for defiling.

Predating the two earlier Karnstein movies, Twins of Evil tells of the arrival in the town of Karnstein of orphaned twin sisters Maria (Mary Collinson) and Frieda (Madeleine Collinson) sent to live with their Uncle Gustav (Peter Cushing).  Unfortunately for the twins the town is plagued by two evils, Gustav and his zealous, puritan, witch-hunting 'Brotherhood' and the lascivious then vampiric actions of Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas). There is though the distraction of dashing school teacher Anton Hoffer (David Warbeck).

Cushing is at his fire and brimstone best here playing somewhat against type as a deeply unpleasant man who has been consumed by his beliefs and who can no longer see goodness in the world and refuses to accept anything other than his own 'truths'.  Thomas plays his Count Karnstein as louche and arrogant; brash and overconfident in his taunting of Cushing's Brotherhood, contemptible in his search for vampiric immortality, his callous disregard for others and his corruption of Frieda.  Neither of the Collinson twins display great acting ability but (with a few notable exceptions) this was never a key requirement for Hammer's early 70s leading ladies.

There are, of course, far better made, far better written and far better acted Hammer films but I just really love this one.  It's fast, overblown and fun and is one of a few films I can rely on to entertain me when nothing else is doing the trick. 

Enjoy.



Buy it here - Twins of Evil [Blu-ray]

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons

Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's Century 21 Productions were responsible for producing a whole host of marionette science fiction adventures through the 1960s; Fireball XL5, Stingray, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, Joe 90 and The Secret Service.  Whilst Thunderbirds is arguably the best remembered of these it is Captain Scarlet which holds the place in my heart.

The Captain works for an organisation called Spectrum that is based out of a hovering headquarters called Cloudbase crewed mostly by people holding the rank of captain and who are conveniently named after the colours of their clothes - Captains Scarlet, Blue, Black, Ochre, Magenta and Grey.  They have one superior - Colonel White and one subordinate - Lieutenant Green.  Working alongside them are the five pilots of the Angel Interceptors called Destiny Angel, Harmony Angel, Melody Angel, Rhapsody Angel and Symphony Angel.

The villains of the piece are the Mysterons (voiced by Donald Gray), a sentient computer society who Captain Black (also Donald Gray) mistakenly blows up thinking they are hostile.  Vowing eternal revenge the Mysterons transmute Captain Black into their agent, giving him a five o' clock shadow and a vaguely sweaty complexion in the process - seriously who could resist a sweaty puppet with stubble - and use him to exact their revenge.

One of the first victims is Cary Grant soundalike Captain Scarlet (Francis Matthews) who has been assigned by Colonel White (Donald Gray again) to protect the World President.  As a result of the Mysteron's shenanigans the good Captain is murdered, resurrected as a Mysteron agent, killed again and then resurrects as his old self but with the added bonus of now being indestructible and all in the course of a 30 minute first episode.

As far as a show made with puppets who aren't heavy enough to walk properly and can't go through doors because of the strings  this is the most filmic of the Gerry Anderson series. I always found Thunderbirds to be more than a little smug with their private island and their massive rockets hoarding their advanced technology in order to 'help' people instead of making the technology more widely available so that folks will have rescue equipment to hand and not have to wait for some rich kid in a big green frog rocket to turn up.  You get none of that sort of nonsense with Captain Scarlet.  This is all about the action and chicks flying rockets and shiny rubber caps with drop down microphones and the shooty shooty and the booming VOICE OF THE MYSTERONS!

Spectrum is green!




And please remember it's not just marionation, it's supermarionation.


Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The stamps of Wyrd Britain

I was browsing through one of the piles of books next to my chair the other day and found a stamp that my partner's aunt had sent to me; the David Tennant one from the Doctor Who set that the Royal Mail released for the 50th Anniversary.  I've no particular interest in stamps but it got me thinking about other commemorative ranges that would fit in with the Wyrd Britain ethos.

Here are some of the ones I found (they're in no particular order). I think some of them are quite wonderful and please if you know of any others then feel free to add them to the comments.

50th Anniversary of Children's Television
Folklore
Magical Worlds

Classic Carry On and Hammer films
British Fairs
Children's TV Classics
Doctor Who
Europa, Horror Stories
FAB The Genius of Gerry Anderson
Magical Realms
Mythical Creatures (drawn by Dave McKean)
Harry Potter House Crests
Roald Dahl
Science Fiction, Novels by H.G. Wells
Lord of the Rings
Sherlock Holmes
Thomas the Tank Engine
World of Comics

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Sapphire and Steel

It's July 1979 and I'm 9 years old and on holiday with my mother and brother in a caravan pitched up on a campsite wrongly called Happy Valley near the town of Porthcawl on the South Wales coast. It was without a doubt the most boring holiday I had been on up to that point.  The place had nothing going for it.  The beach was next to the river estuary so all manner of unsavoury things would bob past you as you swam and the caravan site itself had two types of entertainment for the kids; some swings and a port-a-cabin with a small black and white television in it.  It was there, having wandered in out of desperation, that I first saw an episode of Sapphire and Steel, the first episode of the second series (the one on the railways station), and I was gobsmacked!  I walked around whistling 'Pack up your troubles' for the rest of the holiday. When we got back from holiday slightly stricter viewing restrictions were reinforced so it was years before I saw how that particular assignment ended - and wow what an ending.

2 years later though I was considered old and weird enough to watch more scary TV (prompted in no small part I suspect by my mothers love of Horror films and her knowing her weirdo eldest son was someone she could enjoy them with) and so (I've just looked this up) on the day after my 11th birthday I sat down to watch my second episode of S&S and the first episode of series 4 (the photography one).  Over the next 4 episodes I proceeded to have the living daylights scared out of me and develop not a fear exactly but a sort of nervous dislike of having my photograph taken that remains with me to this day.

I was hooked!

Sapphire (Joanna Lumley) and Steel (David McCallum) are the creation of TV scriptwriter P. J. Hammond (who had previously worked on Ace of Wands) and over the course of 6 series of varying length between July 1979 and August 1982 fought the evils that exist within the corridors of Time and which are determined to break through into our world.

Who and indeed what Sapphire and Steel are is never clearly explained but they are certainly not human and are 2 of 127 agents of some sort of higher power all of whom have 'elemental' code names.  Some of these are listed in the iconic opening credits but we only meet two others during the series, the jovial man mountain Lead (Val Pringle) and the 'specialist', Silver (David Collings - who, trivia fans, had previously been the dubbed voice of Monkey).

A very dapper David Collings
Sapphire is insightful and charming, Steel is cold and focused.  They both display incredible powers and for the most part seem unconcerned with explanations and in some instances those around them instead simply proceeding to deal with the issues at hand as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

The six series - each dealing with a single storyline - are beautifully made, unremittingly creepy, downright odd and bloody wonderful.   There has never been another TV show like this and there probably never will be. You will obviously have your own favourites from amongst them but for me it's series 2 & 4 that are the stand outs and will always be at the top of my list.  Having said that though I'm quite partial to series 1 & 6 and 3 & 5 are alright too.

All six are included in the player below and if you'd like to support the creators (and Wyrd Britain too) you can buy it here - Sapphire and Steel: The Complete Series (Repackaged) [2008] [DVD]

Enjoy.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Doctor Who: The 50th Anniversary Collection: Original Television Soundtrack

BBC Radiophonic Workshop (and others)
(Silva Screen Records SILCD1450)
4CD

OK, an admittance right off the bat.  These folks are my musical heroes so I'm probably not going to be particularly critical here.  I think the people who made up the Workshop are amongst the most important figures in electronic and experimental music particularly in the UK if not worldwide and it must be said that a lot of that is down to the work they did on one particular TV show.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary Workshop archivist Mark Ayres has been sifting and cleaning two and three quarter discs full of Radiophonic Workshop Doctor Who cuts for each of the 7 Doctors that they were affiliated with.  There's special sounds and incidental music galore from each of the main Workshoppers associated with the show and it's absolutely glorious although during a concerted listen even I can find myself getting a little sick of the various versions of the theme.

The last disc and a bit is taken up by six cuts from John Debney's orthodox but not wholly awful soundtrack to the 8th Doctor's movie and then an entire disc of Murray Gold's entirely not my cup of tea soundtracks for Doctors 9, 10 & 11.

It's the first lot that are of interest here though and they absolutely do not disappoint.  If the names Delia Derbyshire, Brian Hodgson, Tristram Cary, Paddy Kingsland, Dick Mills, Roger Limb (and so many more) mean anything to you then you are going to have a blast with this album.  If they don't then perhaps you need to rectify that frankly shameful state of affairs and this'd be a hell of a good place to start.
(www.silvascreenmusic.com)




Doctor Who: 11 Doctors, 11 Stories

Various Authors
(Puffin Books)

This is a walloping great tome of a book featuring 11 stories covering 11 Doctors from a gaggle (11, funnily enough) of name writers for teens and adults.  It's a pretty solid experience all told with each author putting in a pretty robust performance.

Opening the proceedings is Eoin Colfer with a nippy little rooftop romp over Victorian London against kiddie stealing space pirates.  Blatant Peter Pan-isms abound made concrete by a very cheesy ending.

Michael Scott's 'The Nameless City' is a fun Lovecraftish old ones tale that sticks the second Doctor and Jamie against some very old Time Lord enemies  whilst Marcus Sedgwick sends #3 and Jo to ancient Norway to swap a spear before finding themselves amongst nascent gods and a carefully laid trap.

Philip Reeve sticks 4 and Leela up a very large tree that wants revenge for something he's not going to do for quite some time and 5 with Nyssa in tow heads to wartime US and removes two alien species - one happily, the other not so - from a small town.  6 and Peri come face to face with the Rani at an Elvis wedding and 7 manages to rewrite the universe and make the Daleks benign.  8 on the other hand goes up against a sentientish alien spore that's turning all organic matter into itself.

There's a lovely idea at the heart of Charlie Higson's quite bloodthirsty ninth Doctor story set between the two times he asks Rose to travel with him.  Derek Landy on the other hand goes all out with the silly as 10 and Martha are stuck inside an awful sub Enid Blyton novel that, much to the Doctor's disgust, Martha had read as a kid.  Then, finishing the lot, Neil Gaiman sends the Doctor and Amy up against another bunch of ancient enemies who have evicted the people of Earth.

In all a light and fast read aimed firmly at the YA market (and sad old DW geeks like me) but also an entirely enjoyable one.
(www.puffinbooks.com)

Friday, 19 September 2014

Psychomania (1973)

"How do the dead come back mother?  What's the secret?"

If I tell you that the quote up there was my ringtone for a couple of years then you'll know that I am a bit of a fan of this fantastically odd little movie.  Zombies, bikers, Beryl Reid, (a cameo from) John (Sgt. Benton) Levene, black magic, a toad and George Sanders - who incidentally committed suicide not long after leaving a note that read - 'Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck.' - it's a veritable tick box of wonderful.

The film tells of Tom Latham (Nicky Henson) the leader of  'The Living Dead' a hell raising biker gang and the son of a satanic witch played admirably against type by the fabulous Beryl Reid (if you dispute the word fabulous then go watch her performance as Connie Sachs in the original 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' TV series).  It is through her and her butler, Shadwell (Sanders) that Tom learns the secret he's asking about above and soon he and his gang are putting it into practice and returning to life to terrorise the locals by killing coppers, trashing supermarkets and driving through walls.

It's a gloriously, wonderfully, joyously, awful film full of hammy performances, cliched dialogue and clunky special effects all held together with silly humour (including characters with names like Hatchet, Gash and Chopped Meat) and a fabulous soundtrack by John Cameron and I absolutely love it!

Perfectly ridiculous horror.

Enjoy



Buy it here - Psychomania (DVD + Blu-ray)

Thursday, 18 September 2014

A Matter Of Life And Death (1946)

Today marks the 100th Anniversary of the birth of cinematographer and director Jack Cardiff.  Cardiff worked with some of the all time greats of cinema, Powell & Pressburger, Hitchcock, John Huston and Orson Wells to name a few.

Of all the films he worked on, one has come to stand head and shoulders above the rest,  Powell & Pressburger's 'A Matter of Life and Death' (or Stairway to Heaven in the US).

Released in 1946, 'A Matter of Life and Death' tells of a British bomber pilot Peter Carter (David Niven) who unexpectedly survives a jump from his stricken Lancaster Bomber with a damaged parachute and as a result finds himself both in love and on trial, possibly in an 'Other World' (note their avoidance of the word 'Heaven' in contrast to the US title) or possibly in his own damaged mind, fighting for his right to live.

It's a poignant and beautiful film filled with imagination and stunning to look at.  The viewer is left unsure just what the reality of the film is and in awe of the skill and the panache with which it was made.



Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Neil Gaiman
(Headline)
(HarperAudio)

Every now and again it's fun to dip into Gaiman's worlds and see what he's been up to. This one is fairly safe ground for him telling - in flashback - the story of the time when he and the family of 3 ladies who lived down the end of the lane accidentally brought a grey thing into the world and then sent it away again.

In a lot of ways it felt like a kids book but with some decidedly adult scenes dotted throughout. The version I got was the audiobook as read by the author and it was, as you'd expect, nicely done and it very much lent an extra autobiographical feel to the proceedings in support of the first person narrative.

It was an enjoyable trip, not for me on a par with his best but still bags of fun.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Music For Children (Schulwerk)

Carl Orff & Gunild Keetman
(Trunk Records JBH048CD)
CD

This is a collection of 3 LPs dating from 1958 of musical teaching methods devised by Carl (Carmina Burana) Orff and Gunild Keetman and here restaged in English by Margaret Murray who makes excellent use of the talent of the children of the Italia Conte School, The Children's Percussion Ensemble and Chorus of the Children's Opera.

What we get is a tangle of folk songs, nursery rhymes, speech exercises and percussion pieces all designed (in ways I'm too lazy to discuss here) to teach the kids the rudiments of music.  Whether they would work or not I have no clue but what I do know is that it's fantastic fun to hear.

Orff and Keetman
The rhythmic pieces are melodious tangles of glockenspiels, metallophones, drinking glasses, tambourines, cymbals and drums.  Other instruments, such as lute, recorders and double bass, make appearances throughout and the whole has the air of some sort of mediaeval mummers play as filtered through the stones of Avebury or via an incursion of 'Time' in an episode of Sapphire & Steel.

Margaret Murray
It is frankly glorious stuff, partly ecstatic and partly massively creepy - a group of children chanting the name 'Deadly Nightshade' had me giggling and reaching for the rewind to hear it again and again.  Only for it to then be eclipsed by the simultaneous chants of 'Mad as a Hatter' and 'Let the piper call the tune' (tracks 16 and 17 respectively at the Juno link below).

It's magnificently odd, deliciously creepy and beyond all that it's fantastic fun and I don't think I'll hear a better album this year.

The album is available from Trunk Records - click the link for lots more info on the album 

or alternatively you can listen to the whole thing here (recommended but be aware the player can be slow to load)



or click the vids for a quick sample.


Monday, 15 September 2014

England: The Other Within

If you're ever able to visit Oxford there are two places that you absolutely need to go to.  First, head to The Museum of the History of Science to have a look at it's collection of scientific instruments; the microscopes alone took up a couple of hours of my visit. Then, head down the road to the frankly phenomenal Pitt Rivers Museum where I pretty much guarantee you will be blown away by the sheer volume of fascinating ethnographic artefacts on display.


The Pitt Rivers Museum
What I'm here to point you towards today though is a project and website connected with The Pitt Rivers Museum called England: The Other Within.

England: The Other Within was a  project concerned particularly with the artefacts and documents held within the museum of English origin.  It offered the researchers an opportunity to detail those artefacts and present them to visitors within a context other than that of the wider ethnographical collection.


The website is a collection of  articles discussing topics such as the various English folklorists (of the likes of Margaret Murray and Edward Lovett), death related artefacts (accessories, food & jewellery) and scrimshaw.  Alongside these are a whole host of 'object biographies' detailing those artefacts of English origin held in the collection and with titles like 'Slug on a thorn' and 'Tylor's bewitched onion'. Seriously, who could resist a look?

Some of the writing is a little dry but on the whole this lovely little website is well worth your time and rewards both a casual skim through and deeper investigation.


Sunday, 14 September 2014

The Day Of The Triffids (1962)

I'm going to be coming back to The Day of the Triffids a few times over the course of this blog, mostly because it's one of my favourites of favourites.  I have a collection of different editions of the novel and read it pretty much once a year and have done so for many years (I'm reading it now).  My love of it didn't start with the book however.  It didn't even begin with the fantastic 1981 BBC adaptation although that certainly cemented it. It began with the flawed but wonderful 1962 movie that bears very little resemblance to the book.

Howard Keel (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Dallas) plays Bill Masen, changed here from a British triffid expert into an American seaman,  who, due to surgery on his eyes, misses the meteor shower that blinds most of the rest of the world.  He meets a young schoolgirl - Susan (Janina Faye - who had previously appeared in Hammer's Dracula) and together they travel through France and Spain meeting several other sighted people along the way (including Mervyn Johns', Coker and Nicole Maurey's, Miss Durrant) all the time threatened by the alien plants brought to earth in the meteor shower.  So far so completely different to the plot of the book.

There is a further story running parallel to the adventures of Bill, Susan and Miss Durrant set on a lighthouse where secluded, alcoholic, scientist Tom Goodwin (Kieron Moore) and his wife Karen (Janette Scott) fight a triffid that spits poison and kills.  There's no connection between the lighthouse sequence and the main storyline of the film due to this entire section being written, shot and edited in after the main storyline proved to be too short.  It also provides a (frankly absurd) conclusion to the story as the bickering pair discover the Triffid's secret weakness which will enable the world to fight back and reclaim the planet.

I can't even begin to tell you the number of times I've seen this film.  In the early 90s it became a drunken tradition to watch it on Saturday night after the pubs shut.  It's horribly flawed and with the exception of a couple of names and the walking plants it has almost nothing in common with it's source material but there's something about it I've always loved and probably always will.

buy it here - Day of The Triffids (1963) [DVD] - or watch it below.


The Day of the Triffids (1963) - Feature by filmgorillas

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Geoff Love and his Orchestra

The first album I ever bought was a copy of 'Star Wars and other Space Themes'  by Geoff Love and his Orchestra.  It was about 1979 and I bought it in a jumble sale in the next town along from the one I grew up in.  I think I paid a staggering 10 pence for it but I can't be sure.  I remember my mother looking at it disdainfully and asking what on Earth I wanted it for which even at the time - at the grand old age of 9 - I thought was the stupidest question ever.  I mean look at it.  It's beautiful



Almost everything about it was designed to ever so slightly avoid copyright infringement.

She relented and I walked home the happiest kid in town and only got happier when the needle hit the groove.  I cannot begin to tell you the joy this album gives me.  The version of the Doctor Who theme is to die for and Star Trek isn't too far behind.  This was the beginning for me of a love for rearranged cheesy lounge music that has never gone away.

A good few years later a friend - now sadly no longer with us - turned up at my house with a gift he'd dug out of the back of a cupboard where it had languished for about a decade.  He handed me the carrier bag and my breath caught in my throat as I pulled the ugliest LP cover ever made from the bag.


But, oh my.  the track listing.  The perfect, and I do mean perfect, sister album to the one I already had.

It's another frankly awesome experience of the finest aural cheese.  The drum break in Batman is blistering.  Steve Austin never sounded so kitsch, Wonder Woman would still be shaking her star spangled booty and Spider Man is doing anything a spider can but he's doing it with a strut.

There are a couple of odd choices in there that don't really live up to the superhero billing.  Dick Barton, The Saint and Blake's Seven not really living up to the title but album run times need to be filled and there were only so many superhero films and TV shows.


It was on the frankly insane 'Close Encounters...' album - credited to Geoff Love's Big Disco Sound - that Blake's Seven (check out the copyright free Liberator on the album sleeve) really came into it's own.  Along with the Omega Man theme it's the highlight of a collection of very unlikely disco reconstructions of sci-fi themes.

Through the rest of his career Love continued to churn out the reworked themes.  Westerns, TV shows, disaster movies all felt his baton waved over them.  The Bond one is another to look out for.


He also did many, many more albums of love themes, kids music, etc.  there's a banjo one, several with Shirley Bassey and the one with my favourite title 'The Biggest Pub Party in the World: 36 Boozy Ballads' which is one of the most 1970s British sounding titles ever.

Anyway,  if you live in the UK and have ever looked in the record racks of a charity shop you will have seen many of Geoff's albums.  I counted 23 in one box once. Most of them are pretty awful but in amongst them are some real gems like the ones above.  So, to celebrate Mr Love and his busy, busy orchestra here is a mix I've made featuring some of my favourites from the 4 albums I've shown you up there.  Hope you enjoy.