Friday, 28 November 2014

Tales From the Crypt

Made by Amicus in 1972 'Tales From the Crypt' is a portmanteau horror movie consisting of 5 stories taken from the American EC Comics ('Tales From the Crypt', 'Vault of Horror', 'Haunt of Fear') imprint.  As is generally the case with the Amicus anthologies it stars a host of very familiar British actors of the day including Ralph Richardson, Peter Cushing, Joan Collins, Geoffrey Bayldon and Patrick Magee.

Eschewing the rural and gothic trappings of many Hammer movies Amicus set it's horror very much in the 'modern' era which for me at least has always made the presence of the Cryptkeeper a bit of an anachronism but in the form of Ralph Richardson that's not a difficult thing to overlook.  As ever with EC stories there is a strong moralistic undertone to each of the tales as various unrepentant murderers, cheaters, misers and general, all-round, cads receive their well earned comeuppances.

It's great fun, made quickly and slickly with a great cast indulging in some wonderfully hammy acting and a zombie Peter Cushing.  What more could anyone ever want from life.

You can buy it here or watch it below - Tales from the Crypt (1972) [DVD]

Enjoy

Thursday, 27 November 2014

The Crimson Blind and Other Stories

H. D. Everett
Wordsworth Editions

Mrs H.D. Everett was the last in a long line of gifted Victorian novelists who knew how to grip the reader through the invasion of everyday life by the abnormal and dramatic, leaving the facts to produce their special thrills without piling on the agony. 'I always know', says one of her characters, 'how to distinguish a true ghost story from a faked one. The true ghost story never has any point and the faked one dare not leave it out.' From the chilling horror of The Death Mask to the shocking violence of The Crimson Blind, from the creeping menace of Parson Clench to the mounting suspense of The Pipers of Mallory, these thrilling stories were enthusiastically received by readers and critics when they first appeared, and are sure to delight and terrify the modern reader in equal measure.

 Most every bit of information I can find online regarding Mrs H. D. Everett comes from this book's blurb and that isn't much.  She was a Victorian and Edwardian author very much in the tradition of time with a nice turn of phrase at times although the dearth of remarkably creepy tales here probably goes some way to explaining her obscurity.

There are some really interesting stories amongst the 16 tales but most suffer, at least somewhat, from a lack of refinement. I'm here though to talk about the good stuff and truly there were some particularly good bits.

The book gets off to a very promising start with 'The Death Mask' a wonderfully creepy tale of possessiveness from beyond the grave which unfortunately peters out into a pretty unsatisfying flop of an ending.  The following tale 'Parson Clench' takes a similar sort of theme, this time a recalcitrant and deceased vicar refusing to relinquish his parish and runs with it to create a ghost story that never really manages to raise any chills with a ghost that does nothing but sit there like a sulky child.

'The Wind of Dunowe' is fluffy and easily forgotten but 'Nevill Nugent's Legacy' had a very nice little dark twist to it but title piece, 'The Crimson Blind' refuses categorically to live up to it's early promise and 'The Fingers of a Hand' belied it's nicely creepy set-up with a feel good ending. 'The Next Heir' takes it's time to establish what promises to be a tale of fratricide, ancient nature spirits and sacrificial offerings before it all comes crashing down in the most uninteresting way possible this side of 'and it was all a dream'.

Fortunately at this point, just over halfway through the book, things take a turn very much for the better.  'Annes Little Ghost' tells a short and essentially pointless (as intimated in the story itself - see the quote in the blurb above) of a lonely childless couple adopted by a ghostly child.  'Over the Wires' is by far my favourite here as a soldier home on leave searching for his refugee love that he'd sent on ahead starts to receive strange phone calls from her.

'A Water Witch' offers the most straight forward tale of rural horror here as a pair of young women try to avoid unwanted attention from both the living and the dead. I'm always a fan of a dog tale (sorry) and 'The Lonely Road' is another feel good piece that leaves you smiling to yourself.

'A Girl in White' is one of the weirder tales here but one which feels very much like it was written as a feel good response to the horrors of first world war that hang over many of the stories in the collection as a wounded soldier finds love in a most unusual way. Indeed, war and injury again feature in what is easily the books oddest story, 'A Perplexing Case' as doctor's try to unravel the damaged minds of two wounded soldiers.

The lure of the wild west proves too much for our author in 'Beyond the Pale' which puts an English couple into an environment where they are subjected to the revenge of an affronted Indian shaman.

The final two stories return us to the impact of the war firstly on those left at home with the ghostly 'The Pipers of Mallory' and lastly on those serving with 'The Whispering Wall'.  Neither takes it's subject matter more seriously than a piece of escapist ghostly fiction probably should but equally they remain affecting in their stories of friendships made, broken and maintained.

As I said at the beginning, it's a mixed bag of goodies and it seems unlikely that Everett will ever be viewed in the same light as her contemporaries and peers within the ghostly and the strange but perhaps that doesn't really matter as in the lovely Wordsworth Editions we are allowed a glimpse of the outsiders and the also-rans and often that's where you'll find some real real gems.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Z for Zachariah

'Z for Zachariah' is a 1984 episode of the long running  BBC series 'Play for Today' adapted from the novel of the same name written by Robert C. O'Brien a decade earlier.

It tells the story of a young woman named Ann Burden (Pippa Hinchley) who, on her small farm in a remote Welsh valley complete with it's own weather system, has survived a nuclear war, and of her deteriorating relationship with the scientist, John Loomis (Anthony Andrews), who finds his way there.

'Z for Zachariah' is one of a number of shows produced around this time - 'Threads' being the most famous example - reflecting the nation's worries over the escalating nuclear arms race.

It's a gripping and absorbing piece despite it's slightly unlikely premise that, with the exception of a few early scenes featuring Ann's family (of which only the father, played by British TV stalwart David Daker, has any dialogue) is built entirely on the interaction between the two leads.  The tension is palpable throughout and is aided in no small part by the verdant claustrophobia of the farm and valley and by Geoffrey Burgon's score.

I think it's a shame that this has pretty much been forgotten by the world because it's really rather fabulous, in a bleak, uncompromising sort of way.  So, at the risk of depressing you all here it is in all it's radiation soaked glory.


Z for Zachariah - BBC Play for Today (1984) by ceyksparrow04

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Children of the Stones

'Children of the Stones' is a 7 part drama for children produced by HTV in early 1977.  It tells of the arrival of astrophysicist Adam Brake (Gareth Thomas) and his young son Matthew (Peter Demin) in Milbury (actually the Wiltshire town of Avebury), a small town situated within an ancient stone circle.  Milbury is run by the powerful Rafael Hendrick (Iain Cuthbertson) who in emulation of the Druid who built the circle is using it's powers to control the minds of the village's inhabitants.  As the series progresses it becomes apparent that something much greater, more terrifying and infinitely stranger is occurring.
'Children of the Stones' is a glorious piece of drama that still stands with the best British supernatural or science fiction drama.  From the off it chooses not to patronise it's audience (a rarity in TV made for children) and almost seemed to go out of it's way to be as creepy and as strange as possible - take the theme tune as evidence of this...



British comedian Stewart Lee is a fan of the series (and others of it's kind) and has produced a couple of things about it which I'm going to include here.

The first is a short piece from Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe in 2007 talking about the different ways children are represented in TV shows then and now.



The second is a fabulous 30 minute documentary for BBC Radio 4 which features contributions from cast, crew and fans. 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01n1rbx

Before you dig into all that though you can watch the full series on the player below or buy it from here - Children of the Stones: The Complete Series [DVD]

Happy day

Friday, 14 November 2014

Coil

Through the 90s and 00s I was besotted with the music of Coil and while the band might have come to an end with the passing of Jhonn Balance but the music he and partner Peter Christopherson made continues to sound as amazing as it ever did.

Coil were formed from the ashes of Throbbing Gristle and as fallout from Psychic TV.  Coil always felt like an intensely personal project and each release allowed a glimpse inside the lives of the two principal members.  Due in no small part to Christopherson's legacy at the heart of TG Coil were always tagged very much with the industrial tag and in many ways they wore that mantle with aplomb but their music contained a huge variety of influences and genres that were reinterpreted and recontextualised through Christopherson's synths and Balance's vision for the music which is monstrous, delicate, obtuse, intense, sparse, melodious, funny, achingly beautiful and all theirs.

As such their discography is a diverse and wondrous affair filled with gems and so to mark the 10th anniversary of Jhonn Balance's passing and also in memory of Peter I thought I'd share with you some of my favourites but first a short TV interview with them.

Hope you enjoy.












Thursday, 13 November 2014

Starlord


When I were a wee lad of 8 I was allowed, for the first time, to get a comic on order.  I'd been a perennial browser before then, picking up random issues of a variety of things like the war comics Warlord and Victor or the reprints of American superhero stuff such as Rampage.

Now though, very excitingly, I could pick one of my own to get every issue of.  Naturally I chose the one that was the newest on the spinner, Starlord.

Conceived as a sister comic for 2000AD Starlord was more expensive, was on better paper with crisper printing and had longer stories.  And oh the stories; the mutant bounty hunter Johnny Alpha in 'Strontium Dog', 'Planet of the Damned' about a passenger plane crashed on a hostile world inside the Bermuda Triangle, 'Ro-Busters' which brought the world Hammerstein and Ro-Jaws (a pun I quite literally only finally got about 2 years ago - I'm not proud of myself) and "Big Jobs!", the psychic teenagers of 'Mind Wars' and the time travellers in 'Timequake'.  In addition to these there were 2000AD 'Future Shock' style shorts such as 'Earn Big Money While You Sleep' and 'Good Morning, Sheldon, I Love You'.

I loved my comic, 'Strontium Dog' and 'Planet of the Dammed' in particular. 

It only lasted for 22 issues (and a couple of annuals) before the higher production costs forced it's merger with the cheaper to produce 2000AD which it was actually outselling.  I didn't really mind I just moved my allegiance over to that other comic and carried on reading.

Several of those old strips - 'Strontium Dog' & 'Ro-Busters' - have since been released in telephone directory sized collections which are well worth picking up but recently I had a hankering for 'Planet of the Dammed'.  I could remember the general gist and a few of the plot points but I was curious for more.  A quick search brought me too the website below.  A set of complete scans of each of the 22 issues (but not the annuals) waiting to be read.  It's best viewed on a tablet if you have one but whichever way you read it please do so.  It's great fun.

Starlord: The (not quite) Complete Scans.

Also, if you'd like a considerably more detailed look at the comic than my nostalgic witterings then please check this site...

A Brief Histroy of Starlord.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Other Voices 2

Listening Center
(Ghost Box GBX712)
7" Single

Listening Center is the musical persona of NYC musician David Mason.  For his contribution to the new Ghost Box series of 7" delights he has brought a short set of synthesizer ditties that invoke a sprightly library vibe alongside Vangelis-esque beats and a Kosmicshe-pop sensibility.

It's a wonderful pop record that feels like it should have been released a couple of decades ago but I'm glad it wasn't because back then I was all about the fast and the heavy and so would have never gotten to hear it.

(www.ghostbox.co.uk)

Monday, 10 November 2014

Other Voices 1

Brooks & O'Hagan
(Ghost Box GBX711)
7" Single

Ghost Box regular Jon Brooks (he of The Advisory Circle) here teams up with Sean O'Hagan of the High Llamas for two pieces of gentle, hazy, lazy sunshine pop or 'poptology' as my brain keeps insisting I call it.

Brooks' trademark hauntological tendencies are here giving the two tracks the feel of a 'Programmes for Schools and Colleges' countdown tune (which is no bad thing in my book) whilst O'Hagan's influence (and strings?) steers the music away from imminent lectures on 'Chemistry in Action' into the sunnier warmer climes of the gentle pop of The Free Design and The Beach Boys where instead you can feel chemistry in action. 

Singles were meant to sound like this.

(www.ghostbox.co.uk)

Moogies Bloogies

Delia Derbyshire & Anthony Newley
(Trunk TTT008)
7" Single

Here we have an unreleased collaboration between Delia and the multi-talented Anthony Newley created apparently as soundtrack pieces but remained unused due to his move to the US with then wife Joan Collins.

Side one is a whimsical slice of vintage Delia all nursery rhyme atmospheres and tooting melodies over which Newley has added a voyeuristic commentary all sung in his best mockney manner (think Blur's 'Parklife').  Lyrics here - http://wiki.delia-derbyshire.net/wiki/Moogies_Bloogies

Over on the B side is something much, much stranger. 'I Decoded You (Moogies Bloogies pt.2)' sounds unlike anything else by Delia that I've ever heard and for it's 1 minute 28 second run time it is filled with busy clangs and tootles before twisting suddenly into a calliope waltz; over it all Newley, in another (more 'cultured') accent, again signs a frankly creepy love song.  The notes on the reverse of the sleeve make the claim that musically this is an example of Delia sampling which seems reasonable and these folks are far more knowledgeable on this topic than me.

7 inch singles are rarely particularly cheap these days but they remain my favourite format and combining it with an unreleased rarity by a favourite musician makes this a real treat that's very much worth the asking price.

(www.trunkrecords.com)

(please note, that's not actually Delia (or Anthony Newley for that matter) in the video below but American composer and musician Suzanne Ciani)

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Quatermass and the Pit

If you were to ask me now which of the Quatermass is my favourite I don't think I'd be able to to chose between the full length TV series edit of the John Mills one and '...the Pit'.  In actual fact it'd be a close call between all of them but I think those two have the edge.

Adapted from the TV serial of the same name 'Quatermass and the Pit' is a 1967 Hammer movie with American actor Brian Donlevy stepping aside from the title role and Scotsman Andrew Keir taking up the mantle. 

The story finds Quatermass investigating a strange object found during excavations in a London tube station named Hobbs End where, with the help of paleontologist Dr Matthew Roney (James Donald) and around the hindering presence of Colonel Breen (Julian Glover), he uncovers an uncomfortable truth about humanity's past and unleashes a force that could ensure it has no future.

It's a classic piece of British sci-fi and Keir is perfectly cast as a gruff and exasperated Quatermass at odds with the beauraucrats around him and embroiled in events that are soon spiralling out of control.  It's beautifully constructed with the tension building right from the off until the electrifying climax.










Saturday, 8 November 2014

John Milton

Today, 8th November, marks the 340th anniversary of the death of British poet John Milton.

For much of his adult life Milton was a polemicist and civil servant (Secretary for Foreign Tongues) working for the revolutionary government of Oliver Cromwell.  After the reformation, in his early 50s, poor and completely blind Milton realised his lifetime ambition to 'write' (he actually dictated it to a number of assistants) an epic poem; Paradise Lost.  It is a stunning achievement that tells of Satan's rebellion against Heaven and the subsequent fall of man and the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.

Copies of the book are easy to come by but a decent reading of it on YouTube less so.  In it's place here is a short documentary on Milton's life and work presented by John Gielgud with readings by Ian Richardson.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Nurse With Wound

The story goes that in 1978 a Krautrock / Musique concrète obsessed signwriter named Stephen Stapleton was allowed some free studio time at a studio he'd been doing some work for.  Roping in a couple of friends they recorded the first Nurse With Wound album 'Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella' in around 6 hours. The album is a kaleidoscopic mix of improvisation, noise, industrial scrapings, synth swoops, abstract guitar, concrete elements and a healthy dada sensibility and offered to the world an uncompromising glimpse of things to come.

It wasn't however until NWW became a Stapleton solo project that the project really took shape.  Over the course of some 60 odd albums Stapleton has shaped NWW into a musical entity unlike any other.

Over the years Stapleton has molded NWW into a frankly bewildering variety of shapes.  From the nightmare soundscapes of 1982s 'Homotopy to Marie'.



Through the Dada playfulness of 'The Ladies Home Tickler'.



To the stark, droning, post-industrial beauty of 'Soliloquy for Lilith'



and 'Salt Marie Celeste'. (here in it's starker earlier version as 'Salt')



The beautifully cut-up word play of 'Echo Poeme Sequence No. 2'



and the Neu (ish) excursions into motorik Krautrock with Stereolab.



Stapleton's has been a musical adventure forged along entirely personal lines.  There have been many collaborators along the way who have been embraced under the Nurse With Wound banner - David Tibet, Colin Potter, Andrew Liles, Matt Waldron, Tony Wakeford, Jim Thirwell and more - but it is and always will be Stapleton's project to shape as his muse dictates and we wouldn't have it any other way.

To finish here is a small documentary shot a few years ago by Jon Whitney of the Brainwashed website visiting Stephen Stapleton on his farm in Ireland.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Moviedrome

One Sunday night in 1988 I sat myself in front of the TV to watch myself a film.  In those pre-internet days and with the mass reissuing of old horror movies on video still a while off and especially in the type of backwater I grew up in getting to watch an interesting film was pot luck and deciding if a film was worth watching in the first place called for careful disecting of the newspaper listings and maybe a cross reference or two with a handy copy of Denis Gifford's 'Pictorial History of Horror Movies'.  The newspaper listing for this particular movie would have said something along the lines of - Horror starring Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, and Britt Ekland. A policeman investigates a missing child on a remote and sinister Scottish Island.  It was fantastic.

Tonight was different.  The film marked the beginning of a new 'series' on BBC2 called Moviedrome whereby film-maker Alex Cox would introduce a different cult movie every week starting with 'The Wicker Man'.


Moviedrome soon became my absolute favourite thing.

For 11 series Cox and then Mark Cousins introduced amazing movie after amazing movie peppered with chances to rewatch ones I already loved and more than a few stinkers but mostly amazing movie after amazing movie.

Night of the Comet, Psychomania, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The California Dolls, Witchfinder General, Dead of Night, American Werewolf in London, Carnival of Souls, Excalibur and so many more.

A full list of the films shown as part of Moviedrome can be found at this link...

http://www.kurtodrome.net/moviedrome.htm

It's a real shame that a series like this is no longer showing.  When I talk to my students it depresses me that they have no idea about most of the wonderfulness that has gone before them which is unfortunate as there's much they'd love and taking folks out of their comfort zones and showing them something mad, fun, dangerous and inspirational has to be a good thing.  And Moviedrome for doing exactly that was a very good thing indeed.



Finally - a couple of  interesting little retrospectives on Moviedromne from Den of Geek and The Quietus.

http://www.denofgeek.com/movies/17364/looking-back-at-the-bbc%E2%80%99s-moviedrome

http://thequietus.com/articles/00351-the-quietus-remembers-alex-cox-s-moviedrome

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The House on the Borderland

William Hope Hodgson

A manuscript is found: filled with small, precise writing and smelling of pit-water, it tells the story of an old recluse and his strange home - and its even stranger, jade-green double, seen by the recluse on an otherworldly plain where gigantic gods and monsters roam.
Soon his more earthly home is no less terrible than his bizarre vision, as swine-like creatures boil from a cavern beneath the ground and besiege it. But a still greater horror will face the recluse - more inexorable, merciless and awful than any creature that can be fought or killed.


A few years ago I delved into the Carnacki stories written by Hope Hodgson.  They turned out to be an excellent set of excursions into the world of the supernatural investigator.  Hodgson's 1908 novel ' The House on the Borderland' has been on my wishlist ever since.

It tells of two men on a fishing holiday in Ireland who discover, in the ruins of a house near a great lake, a book which they take home and read. The book tells of the experiences of the, un-named, owner of, what must be assumed to be, the ruined house, his housekeeper sister, Mary and his dog Pepper. Over the course of the narrative several odd and, for the most part, deeply unpleasant events befall him such as his journey to 'the plain of silence' with it's surrounding mountains and their giant statues of gods, beasts and demons, his bedevilment on several occasions by swine creatures (similar to the one featured in the later Carnacki story, 'The Hog') and his witnessing of the end of the world.

It's beautifully imagined and written and you can almost feel the impact that the story had on the fiction to follow particularly on authors such as Lovecraft.  Throughout the novel Hodgson deftly keeps you unsure as to whether the reclusive houseowner is having a truly horrendous time at the mercy of the supernatural or if he is utterly insane and having delusional psychotic episodes.  The joy is that whichever way you decide the story is going it remains equally enjoyable.


Sunday, 2 November 2014

Blake's 7

Created by the (non Davros) creator of the Daleks Blake's 7 ran for 4 series (52 episodes) on the BBC between 1978 and 1981.  It tells the story of a small group of escaped convicts (some wrongly convicted, others not so) who find themselves in possession of a super powerful alien spaceship (Liberator) which they use to attack and harass the ruthless and totalitarian Terran Federation.

The crew (at first) consists of ex resistance leader Roj Blake (Gareth Thomas) who has been brainwashed and then framed for child molestation and becomes the nominal captain of the Liberator, Kerr Avon (Paul Darrow), a cold and conceited electronics genius, thief and coward Vila Restal (Michael Keating), pilot Jenna Stannis (Sally Knyvette), telepathic freedom fighter Cally (Jan Chappell), gentle giant Olag Gan (David Jackson) and Zen (Peter Tuddenham) the Liberator's computer.  As the series progressed various cast members left (including Blake himself) and were replaced by newer characters but it is this core crew that is most keenly remembered alongside the main villain the Supreme Commander of the Terran Federation Servalan (Jacqueline Pearce).

Blake's 7 was hugely popular in it's day and presented a more adult take on sci-fi than it's main sf competitor on the channel, Doctor Who, which was working it's way through the back half of Tom Baker's time in the TARDIS during the same period.  It wasn't without it's faults though.  In typical BBC style it's ambition far outweighed it's budget and so corners were inevitably cut leaving many of the sets and effects looking decidedly dodgy but the things it got right it did so with aplomb.  The cast are, for the most part, excellent and the characters display traits and behave in such ways that make them feel more real than is often the case with TV sci-fi. The writing is tight and the, for the most part, self contained episodes are satisfying to watch.  Most of all there is a moral ambiguity to the show.  The Federation is a deeply unpleasant and flawed system and the crew are right to oppose it but the manner in which they do so is always in question within the show.  There is rarely consensus amongst the crew and the relationship between them is always fraught.

As the series' progressed the show hemorrhaged both viewers and it's main cast with only Avon, Villa and the perspex computer Orac (also Peter Tuddenham - who also voiced a third computer in the series - Slave) which joins at the end of series 1) making it through to the end.  The series did however bring back one of it's main characters for the series 4 finale and ended the show in a powerful and enigmatic fashion.

For many it seems the flaws of Blake's 7 have taken precedence in their recollections of the series but for me it remains one of my most fondly remembered sci-fi serials.

The full series one has been playlisted below and underneath that is an un-televised 3 part documentary called 'The Making of Blake's 7'.

Buy it here: Blake's 7 - Series 1 [DVD] [1978]