Friday, 27 February 2015

Discovering Scarfolk

Richard Littler
Ebury Press

Like half the internet I've been regularly tuning into the twisted wonderfulness of Littler's Scarfolk blog.  It's a series of snippets of life in the titular 'town in the North West of England that did not progress beyond 1979'.  It is a fabulously funny satire on an era in British life that quite frankly was twisted, terrifying and definitely out to get you.

The tantalising prospect of a real world dead tree version of the blog has been gestating for a while now and it's eventual arrival was greeted with much excitement.

Dutifully I trotted down to the only bookshop in my little city to grab a copy and couldn't find it.  Where was the nice big art book showing off all Littler's mangled, funny and intricate artworks?  Turns out it was by the counter and was the size of a paperback, albeit one with the price tag of an art book.  Oh well, the art still looks good and there's lots to read so what the hell, it's nearly Xmas.

The art is indeed lovely, if a little blurry (possibly deliberately) and it's been placed into a narrative about a man adrift in Scarfolk and searching for his lost sons and therein lies the second problem.  The story feels underdeveloped and often like a teenagers version of a Monty Python script full of slightly embarrassing attempts at offbeat and dadaesque humour.  The narrative isn't a terrible idea and it does provide a fun framing device for the images bu it's just a little, well, forced.

The images though are as fabulous as you could ever hope them to be, full of invention and the darkest of humour and each one is a joy.  What they needed though was for the whole thing to be given the the size and scope of a nice large coffee table art book to allow full appreciation but truthfully, in that books absence, this one will definitely do.

For more information you know what to do.


Thursday, 26 February 2015

Grandville: Noel

Bryan Talbot
Jonathon Cape

The fourth volume of Talbot's wonderful anthropomorphic steampunk tale (you can read our reviews of the other three here) of the badger copper Detective  Inspector LeBrock has him once again heading off to Grandville (Paris) to investigate the disappearance of his housekeepers niece who has fallen under the influence of a charismatic unicorn cult leader.  Once there he crosses paths with his lover Billie with life changing results, a French academic with an interest in the true face (or should that say species) of Christ and a doughface (human) private detective named Chance Lucas who is also on the trail of the cult leader.

As seems to always be the case since the death of the lion Emperor Napoleon XII in the first volume, Grandville is in turmoil as the humans make a bid for equality (lead by two familiar Gallic, mustachioed figures - see below) and the cult makes a move to insert itself into the tumultuous political fabric.


As ever it's a rollicking good tale layered with beautiful art.  A joy to read and, with the final volume another two years away, one to savour.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The Girl With All The Gifts

M.R. Carey
Orbit

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite, but they don't laugh.

Over the years I've read more than a few things by Mike Carey.  From his fun run on Hellblazer through Lucifer, Unwritten, various one shots and assorted library rentals to his 5 Felix Castor novels.  For the most part they are well worth reading I do have a real preference for his sci-fi / horror work to his superhero stuff (which pretty much applies across the board for me). So, when I heard about this new novel I was tentatively intrigued.

As much as I enjoyed the Castor books they did feel a little like they were an extension of his work on Hellblazer just with extra added man on penny whistle action and after 5 of them I didn't really want to read another.  So, I had checked up just enough to know that it wasn't part of that series but knew nothing other than that little bit in italics up there ^.  The title and cover image had me thinking that what we had here was a sort of 'Chrysalids' or 'Midwich Cuckoos' sort of thing but on reading it becomes quickly apparent that it's far more of a 'Day of the Triffids' deal.

It tells of Melanie, an unusual girl in unusual circumstances who has lived her short life alternately alone in a cell or strapped to a wheelchair in a classroom until, along with her favourite teacher, two soldiers and her least favourite scientist, she is forced into travelling across a post apocalyptic England.

Melanie is a warm hearted genius, deeply besotted by both learning and Miss Justineau - the only adult who has ever shown her any compassion.  She is unaware of her own history or why she is kept strapped to her chair at gunpoint.  When the circumstances change she becomes capable and savage in equal measures; unsure of the truths being revealed to her but acknowledging,  processing and embracing them.

The other characters are very much stock supporting cast - hard bitten sergeant, nervous recruit, noble teacher and devious scientist - and there very much to provide purpose to Melanie's physical journey and partly her mental one although in many ways the Melanie we end the book with is simply a more experienced version of the one we meet at the start, still a romantic dreamer trying to, if not cram the lid back on Pandora's box, then at least to civilise it's contents.

I'm not entirely convinced I'm in sync with all the gushing plaudits that litter the books cover but it certainly was an engaging read.  It felt like a hark back to the days when British authors seemed to take an inordinate amount of pleasure in ending the world in a multitude of imaginative and unusual ways.  This is, in the opinion of this reviewer at least, a fine thing as I love those books and if you share my feelings then I think this is a journey you'd also enjoy.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Dead of Night (1945)

Ask me what my favourite film is and you're going to get a list and a whole host of qualifying remarks; 'Amelie' because it's beautiful and poignant and lovely and funny. 'Dredd' because it's everything I wanted it to be. 'The Quiet Earth' because it has a crazy man in a dress holding Jesus hostage with a shotgun and I kinda named my record label after it. 'The Warriors' because they had nowhere to run so they came out to play. 'Tremors' because it's a note perfect pastiche of the old creature features. 'The Long Goodbye' because Elliot Gould. 'Singing in the Rain' and 'The Wicker Man' because one is the greatest musical ever made and the other is the most unlikely. And so it goes.

However ask me what my favourite horror movie is and you'll get one categorical answer, 'Dead of Night'.  Don't get me wrong there are others that I absolutely adore; 'Dawn of the Dead', 'An American Werewolf in London' and 'Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell' to name just three but above and beyond them all is 'Dead of Night'.

Made in 1945 by Ealing studios it was the first British horror movie made following the second world war and the British governments ban on making horror movies.  A portmanteau consisting of 5 ghostly stories told by the various party guests at a remote house; stories prompted by the arrival of architect Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) who reveals that he has experienced this exact event before in a recurring dream.

The 5 tales are of varying seriousness ranging from the frankly woeful golfing story (based on a H.G. Wells tale) through the initially frivolous but ultimately creepy children's party story, the fairly run of the mill bus crash tale (from an E.F. Benson story) with it's great pay off line, the chilling haunted mirror and above and beyond them all Michael Redgrave's turn as a deranged ventriloquist and the fractured psychosis of the movies finale.

It is the most British of movies.  It's filled with crisp accents and jolly, well mannered and thoroughly English people telling their simply ghastly stories and I adore it.

"Just room for one inside, Sir."

Watch it here: http://www.veoh.com/watch/v87902984jRrcN5AB

Buy it here: Dead Of Night (Ealing) - Special Edition [1945] [Blu-ray]

Saturday, 21 February 2015

The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band

The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band formed in the early 60's and via The Magical Mystery Tour, a residency on the children's television show 'Do Not Adjust Your Set', a series of wilfull and wonderful albums and the one hit single they cemented their place at the heart of all that was eccentric and British at the time.

For those of you only familiar with the pop majesty of Urban Spaceman then the sea side postcard, vaudevillian, dada, pranksterism of the rest of The Bonzo's music may come as a bit of a shock but it's a shock well worth experiencing and this documentary is as good a place as any to start.

Vivian Stanshall: The Canyons Of His Mind

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

The Bishop of Hell & other stories

Marjorie Bowen
Wordsworth Editions

Another in the fabulous Wordsworth Editions Tales of Mystery and the Supernatural.  This one is the work of a lady by the name of Gabrielle Margaret Vere Long writing under her most prolific pseudonym Marjorie Bowen in the early 20th century.

The stories here show a writer of singular imagination and the ability to distill her story into a very neat parcel.  These stories tell of dreams ('The Fair Hair of Ambosine'), obsession ('The Crown Derby Plate'), revenge ('Florence Flannery'), greed ('Elsie's Lonely Afternoon'), cruelty ('The Bishop of Hell' & 'The Scoured Silk') and more.

I think it a grave disservice that the lady is not more celebrated as these are a fine selection of excellently crafted tales of the supernatural.

- There are a large number of her short stories and a novel listed for free reading on the following website - 
https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/bowen/marjorie/https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/bowen/marjorie/

Sunday, 15 February 2015

The Day of the Triffids (2009)

After the sheer ridiculousness of the Howard Keel movie and the faithful reproduction of the BBC's glorious 1981 version this new BBC remake attempts to update the story to modern times and falls quite a long way short of the mark.

It keeps the barest of the bones of the original story and around the blindness and the plants it builds the various strands of it's own story including political machinations, media spin, eco-terrorism and a quest for fatherly approval.  Along the way we learn that you can survive a plane crash by hiding in the toilet with some life jackets, nuns are nuts and that Triffid venom cannot penetrate tiny wooden slats.

It is a mess but it's a mess with a bit of a budget so for the most part it looks quite nice.  If it had ditched most of the political and familial faff and focused itself on a story of survival in a destroyed world perhaps it would have been a more enjoyable ride.

Still, I'm a Day of the Triffids fanatic and any version is better than no version so here in all it's dubious glory (and with embedded - possibly - german subtitles)  is the 2009 mini series.
(or you can buy it here -
Day Of The Triffids (Single Disc Edition) - The Complete BBC Series [DVD] [2009] )

Friday, 6 February 2015

Hell's Belles (The Adventures of Brenda and Effie: Book 4)

Paul Magrs
Headline Review

Penny is running away from a life of domestic strife and into mysterious Whitby - where she hopes to find herself. But in her quest for self-discovery, Penny may have stumbled on something far more sinister: the gateway to hell. For Whitby is no ordinary seaside resort, and all that keeps the evil at bay are Brenda and Effie - two very unusual old ladies. When a film crew comes to town to remake the sixties schlock horror movie Get Thee Inside Me, Satan, Brenda and Effie suspect something strange is afoot. Female lead Karla Sorenson is reprising her role and she doesn't look like she's aged a day. Surely that's not possible? Then there are the disturbing rumours surrounding the original movie - a cult classic that is, quite literally, spell-binding. As events spool out of control, Penny's new boss Robert draws her deeper into the movie's peculiar mystery. But can it be stopped before all hell breaks loose?

And so for the fourth time we venture into the hellish environs of Whitby where Brenda and Effie continue their mission to protect the town from evil.

This time a remake of an old Hammer style horror film comes to town along with its vampish star, Karla Sorenson. Brenda has history with her, and with the original movie, but the old memory is not what it was. Soon Sorenson is bewitching the local men whilst the film, at the behest of dark forces, begins to bring both secrets and old acquaintances or into the open.

I wasn't as absorbed by this one as I was with the others but truthfully I don't think it was the book's fault I was just a little preoccupied. It was fun, silly and very much in the spirit of the others in series. Another gem in a series that has been nothing but gems although maybe this time out it's perhaps more of a midget gem from one of Brenda's bags of pick 'n' mix.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The Phantom Raspberry Blower Of Old London Town

For anyone growing up in the UK during the 1970s and 80s 'The Two Ronnies' show was a TV staple.  Running between 1971 and 1987 the show, featuring the double act of Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett, was a massive and enduring success with audiences of up to 20 million viewers at it's peak.  The show was essentially sketches - tricksy wordplay being a particular favourite (four candles) - and monologues - Corbett's rambling attempts to tell a simple joke - but many of the series also featured a serial story, several episodes of around 9 or 10 minutes each that ran through the series.

Two of these series have stuck with me through the years.  I'll return to the second one sometime in the future but the one I want to show you today was my favourite as a kid, a Jack the Ripper parody called 'The Phantom Raspberry Blower Of Old London Town '.

Presented by 'Chopper Films' and starring amongst others, Vincent Prance, Peter Cushion, Miles Behind, Willy Eckerslike, Lydia Dustbin & Norma Stitz (it was the 1970s). 'The Phantom Raspberry Blower' was written, according to the credits, by 'Spike Milligan and a gentleman'; the gentleman in question being the hugely productive Ronnie Barker.  It tells the story of a Victorian London terrorised by a cloaked and top hatted figure who 'stuns' his upper class victims by 'blowing a raspberry' (making a farting noise (it was the 1970s)) at them.

As was often the case with British comedy of the time it includes some pretty suspect 'humour' (some decidedly dodgy stereotyping at the expense of anyone who isn't a heterosexual white British male)  that leaves a bitter taste on modern palettes.  Spike Milligan's hand in the script is obvious (possibly never more so than in the scenes referred to above) and the sight of two Queen Victoria's skipping hand in hand across a park is pure Milligan and would have been very much at home in any of the Q series.

There are moments that raised a smile and it was interesting to watch the whole thing together for the first time especially as I had no memory at all of how the thing ended. If you're a Spike fan or a Two Ronnies fan it's probably still worth checking out as you'll no doubt be fully aware that things are going to get quite near to your knuckles in a fairly typical display of crass 70s stereotyping and there are a couple of sniggers per episode.  If you're not then I suspect there's little here to change your mind as for the most part it all feels fairly hackneyed, a little bit aimless and with all allowances for the time it was made put aside the casual racism and sexism begins to grate quite quickly.

Here it is though in all it's dubious glory for you to make up your own minds.

Update - Embedding has been disabled but the video is available after the jump...

https://youtu.be/TWTnQRYZ3jc