Saturday, 21 April 2018

The Scarlet Soul: Stories For Dorian Gray

Mark Valentine (ed)
Swan River Press

"Yet it was watching him, with its beautiful marred face and its cruel smile." — Oscar Wilde

Art, obsession, love, lust, sorcery—ten contemporary writers respond to the imperishable themes of Oscar Wilde’s great Decadent romance, The Picture of Dorian Gray. What happens when a face, a form, an uncanny force changes everything we thought we knew? What survives of us when we stray into a borderland of the mind, where our deepest urges seem to call up remorseless powers?

Whether in fantastic imaginary realms or in the gritty noir of today, these new stories, all especially written for this anthology, take us into some of the strangest and darkest places of the psyche. These ten boldly original portraits in the attic take many disturbing forms, revealing strong truths about the secrets of our selves, our society, and our very souls.


I don't quite know what it was about the book but from the moment the teenage me saw the bright yellow 'Complete Works of Oscar Wilde' with it's Aubrey Beardsley illustration (of 'Salome' if memory serves) I desperately wanted to read it.  It was a very out of character choice as at the time my reading materials of choice were post apocalypse sci fi, beat fiction and underground comics so when I saw, what I presumed to be, a book of drawing room farces sporting that stark and stunning erotic cover art I just couldn't resist.  I can't remember much about the whole but I do recall enjoying various shorts and trying, failing and skipping the plays but mostly I remember 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' and the impact it made.  I became mildly besotted with it, nothing about it was like anything I'd read beyond those tedious group reads they make you do in school but living the lifestyle I did and with no knowledge of what to follow it with it lapsed into memory and it was many years before I pursued more literature of it's kind.

In his introduction Mark Valentine relates his own entanglement with the book and of his fascination with it's themes of identity, behaviours and destiny before handing us over to the ten authors chosen to reflect and reinterpret these themes.

Reggie Oliver (photo by R.B. Russell)
Reggie Oliver opens the book proper with a search for 'Love and Death' as art and life collide with terrible results.  I have long harboured a desire to read some of Oliver's work as I'd heard nothing by praise but my only previous encounter was a M.R. James pastiche which moved me not but here finally I see what the fuss is about as this is a fantastically powerful tale.

Caitriona Lally's 'This is How it Will Be' is certainly no less powerful but it's story of identity loss (or perhaps identity theft would be a more appropriate term) comes with the extra frisson of frustrating believability as it reduces you to uncomfortably berating the narrator for her passivity, her malleability and her gullibility in the knowledge that in doing so you are, perhaps, behaving no differently from her new friend.

Lynda E. Rucker's 'Every Exquisite Thing' is a tricksier affair that chases love or at least the ghost of it to various locations only to find it unknowing and disheartening .  It seemed to me to speak of hidden lives and the reinventions of self and of a futile desire for stability amidst change.

John Howard
I've had the great pleasure to read a few things by John Howard over the last couple of years and he never disappoints.  His stories are often gut-wrenchingly acute dissections of life and love and in 'Speck' he takes us on an exploration of lives and identities used and discarded, of the callous disregard of others and of innocence and kindness.

D.P. Watt's tale of psychic vampirism, 'Doreen', is a jarring contrast to the subtlety of the previous and feels in many ways to be a hark back to the macabre tales of old but with a touch of the Beryl Cook in it's cast and milieu.

Rosanne Rabinowitz brings us right up to date with a harrowing and odd tale of two women caught up in the upsurge of racist idiocy that followed the E.U. vote in 'All That's Solid' while Avalon Brantley offers a tale redolent of Victorian houses filled with artistic gentlemen of impeccable manners and indulgent habits. Of discussions over brandy and cigars and of falls from grace as inevitable as they are improbable.

Timothy J. Jarvis' story within a story - that great tradition of the ghostly tale - 'The Yellow Book' layers the weird and the mundane to create an oddly soap operatic folk horror whereas in 'A Labyrinth of Graves' John Gale offers a tale of love, jealousy, rage, regret and longevity as we are offered fleeting glimpses of the long existence of a god and the mutual impact of the life and death of one particular devotee.

The book ends with 'The Anatomy Lesson of Professor Stebbing' by Derek John a light footed and fun steampunkish yarn concerning the titular 'scientist' and his machine to modify and manipulate the soul.

When I begun this book I was definitely expecting a parade of stories more directly linked to the original but what I got was something far more diverse and significantly more interesting.  There are moments when the link seems particularly tenuous but once you accept this the quality of the individual pieces shines through and what you get is a set of thought provoking and hugely enjoyable stories by a group of very interesting new (to me at least) writers assembled by one of the pre-eminent writers of (and about) the weird working today.

Available direct from the publisher.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Music Has The Right To Children

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the debut Boards of Canada album, 'Music Has The Right To Children'.

The work of two brothers, Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin, Boards of Canada have carved a uniquely enigmatic path through the world of electronic music.

The record is a mesmerisingly oneiric and disturbingly beautiful meditation on childhood and memory.  It's detuned and hallucinatory qualities derived from vintage synthesizers, treated voices and library melodies provided the template for the entire hauntology movement.

It is an album that was born from half remembered memories, childhood fears and hazy nostalgia that exists in a place that is utterly timeless.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

The Thirteenth Reunion

Hammer House of Horror was an anthology series created by the titular studio and ITC Entertainment (home of shows such as The Prisoner, Jason King and The Saint as well as the various Gerry Anderson programmes) broadcast in 1980. Somewhat appropriately there were 13 episodes made each with a different writer and cast and exploring the various plot favourites of the Hammer Studios such as satanism, murder, witchcraft and voodoo but stripped of the gothic trappings that characterised the movies which makes it perhaps more redolent of Amicus Productions.

'The Thirteenth Reunion' was the second episode on the series and was written by Jeremy Burnham (co-writer of the amazing 'Children of the Stones') and directed by Peter Sasdy (director of Nigel Kneale's brilliant 'The Stone Tape' and various Hammer movies including 'Countess Dracula').  It tells the story of a reporter's investigation of a health farm and of the secret society that lurks behind it's facade.

The episode isn't entirely successful as it never quite seems to decide whether or not it wants to be scary or funny and winds up not really being either.  It does have it's moments though and some really good casting with Warren Clarke providing what's possibly the best scene of the episode and Doctor Who regular Kevin Stoney is an imposing presence as the doctor in charge. The main problem is lead actress Julia Foster who strives valiantly but seems like she would be far more at home in a sitcom (which is in no way meant to be an insult) and certainly doesn't conform to the body type they keep branding her as and which they've hidden under some truly hideous costume choices.  The end result is certainly not of the best remembered episodes of the series (I'm sure we'll get to them in due time) but with a pedigree like the one that Burnham and Sasdy bring it was an irresistible choice for sharing here and the big reveal when it comes is fun.

Buy it here - Hammer House Of Horror - Complete Collection [DVD] [1980] - or watch it below.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Holy Terrors: A Collection of Weird Tales by Arthur Machen

Arthur Machen
Tartarus Press

A collection of weird tales by Arthur Machen featured in the portmanteau film Holy Terrors by Obsolete Films.
Contents: The Cosy Room, The White Powder, The Bowmen, Ritual, The Happy Children, Midsummer, Afterword, The Friends of Arthur Machen

Penguin Books published a collection of Machen's writings under the title 'Holy Terrors' in 1946, this isn't it.  This one is a recent collection from Tartarus Press that takes it's name and it's contents from a recent portmanteau film featuring the 6 short stories reprinted in this book (see below for the trailer).

Perhaps the most well known Machen tale here is the alchemical experimentation of 'The White Powder' although the inclusion of 'The Bowmen' perhaps challenges that but then is it famous as a Machen story or as the myth of the 'Angels of Mons'.  We also get the enigmatically pagan 'Midsummer', the reportage of 'Ritual', the quietly powerful 'The Happy Children' and an unexpected crime caper in 'The Cosy Room'.

At 70 pages it makes for a quick but enjoyable read that offers a fleeting insight into the scope of Machen's imagination if perhaps not into the best of it.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

The Day of the Triffids (1981)

It's 1981 and I'm an 11 year old geek besotted by science fiction, comics and Hammer horror movies and into my world arrives a show about the end of the world and walking, killer plants and there begins an obsession that continues to this day.

Brought to the screen by producer David Maloney, who had previously been responsible for the first three series of Blake's 7 and who with a different hat on had directed several Doctor Who serials during the 60s and 70s including the classics  Genesis of the Daleks and The Talons of Weng-Chiang, this version, unlike the previous Howard Keel fronted version - which you can watch here - is a pretty faithful adaptation of the novel.

John Duttine plays Bill Masen who, whilst recovering from eye surgery resulting from a close encounter with a triffid's stinger, fortunately misses out on watching the spectacular meteor shower that blinds the majority of the worlds population.  Travelling through a desolated London he rescues Josella Playton (Emma Relph) before joining forces with a group of fellow survivors with plans on how to survive the catastrophe; plans derailed somewhat by the arrival of Jack Coker (Maurice Colbourne).

The end result is a fantastically atmospheric and bleak adaptation with some terrific performances from Duttine, Colbourne and Relph (who after a slightly stiff start improves noticeably through the series as she relaxes into her character).  The triffids are well realised if a little tottery and aren't particularly frightening but then they were never the main jeopardy in the story, that was always the other people.

Many of the TV shows beloved of Wyrd Britain - Children of the Stones, The Owl Service or The Changes - screened originally when I was a bit too young to be watching (or remembering) but this one, like Sapphire and Steel and The Quatermass Conclusion was mine.  I remember being there to watch it and being utterly mesmerised by it. I loved it on first viewing and still do today.

Buy it here - Day of the Triffids [DVD] [1981] - or watch it below.





Tuesday, 3 April 2018

A Twist in the Eye

Charles Wilkinson
Egaeus Press

Throughout the sixteen stories collected in this remarkable book Charles Wilkinson explores themes of place, ritual, identity, death and transmutation with a rare, if not utterly unique, confidence. They are enigmatic but never vague, dreamlike but never illogical, horrifying but only occasionally visceral. Few writers can write ‘weird’ with so convincing a voice.

I first read a Charles Wilkinson story in issue 35 of Supernatural Tales, it was a thoroughly enjoyable slice of weird fiction with an ending that I thought arrived far too suddenly which slightly marred the experience.  I was really impressed and invested in a copy of his collection issued by Egaeus Press back in 2016 and having spent the last two days immersed in it I'm still impressed, with reservations, but definitely impressed.

There are two or three obvious touch points to Wilkinson's writing - Robert Aickman, Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood - and from the first he takes the sense of the strange in the mundane and in the liminality of new homes, guest houses and childhood abodes and in the unapologetic stylistic conceits of the jump cut endings and an oblique take on narrative flow.  From Machen and Blackwood in particular we see an embracing of the elsewhere and the otherhere.  The worlds within and beyond the natural where soul, spirit and anima are as ephemeral, as elusive and as dangerous as smoke.

As for my reservations well it remains the same as from my first reading.  Wilkinson crafts a beautifully realised story into which we are dropped and instantly and wonderfully submerged and there are storyworlds here that I could happily inhabit for days but with Wilkinson the ending is apt to burst through at any moment jarring us back into the mundane world.  It seems to me that many of his ideas could do with a bit more room, a novella (or even longer) would allow his ideas room to stretch and for their conclusions to arrive more organically and with a more deliberate pace.  But, and I want to stress this next part, this is just a reservation.  I adored this book and if I read another one half as good this year I'll be very happy indeed.

Available from the publisher at the link at the top of this review.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Ripping Yarns: The Curse Of The Claw

Ripping Yarns was a series of, well, ripping yarns created and written by Michael Palin and Terry Jones to pastiche the 'Boys Own' adventure stories of their youths.  Among their targets were staples of the genre such as PoW stories, country house murder mysteries, public school hi-jinx and, in the case here, curses from the remote parts of the British Empire.

Taking a playful swipe at W.W. Jacobs' 'The Monkey's Paw', 'The Curse of the Claw' is the story of Sir Kevin Orr, newly widowed on his 60th birthday, who receives unexpected visitors who break his lonely vigil and to whom Kevin tells the story of the curse.

It's a gentle and fairly typical piece of post-Python comedy, very much of it's time and certainly not the best of the series but it retains much of it's charm and Palin is always very watchable.

Buy it here - Ripping Yarns - The Complete Series[DVD] [1976] - or watch it below.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

In A Glass Darkly

J. Sheridan Le Fanu
Wordsworth Editions

This remarkable collection of stories, first published in 1872, includes Green Tea, The Familiar, Mr. Justice Harbottle, The Room in le Dragon Volant, and Carmilla. The five stories are purported to be cases by Dr. Hesselius, a 'metaphysical' doctor, who is willing to consider the ghosts both as real and as hallucinatory obsessions. The reader's doubtful anxiety mimics that of the protagonist, and each story thus creates that atmosphere of mystery which is the supernatural experience. 

This is my first time digging into a book full of Le Fanu's stories and I found it to be a bit of a pick 'n' mix.

The book tells 5 stories from the files of Dr. Hesselius, an occult detective of sorts, although he himself appears only in one of tales with the 5 being presented as being posthumously selected from his archives.

It's the final story here that's undeniably the most renowned and justifiably so.  'Carmilla' is an unsettling tale of vampirism which while lacking in suspense due to the delivery method (it's told by the 'victim') it manages to hold a tantalising level of menace.

At the other end of the scale is 'The Room in Le Dragon Volant' a frankly risible locked room mystery that was a chore to plough through.

The opening two stories, 'Green Tea' and 'The Familiar' are odd little tales of manifestations induced by overindulgence and guilt and neither tale really sparkles although the latter has the edge but it's the fourth story, 'Mr. Justice Harbottle', that was probably the great surprise of the book with it's deliciously macabre tale of a corrupt judge and his unearthly comeuppance.

I have to admit I struggled a little with this book; mostly with Le Fanu's now quite dated prose style - which had never previously been an issue when encountering his stories in various anthologies - but also because I just didn't think all that much of the opening story, 'Green Tea', ground to a halt and put the book down for a while.  When I returned to it more prepared for it's idiosyncrasies I got more out of it and with the exception of that lousy crime story it proved to be an enjoyable read.

Buy it here - In A Glass Darkly (Wordsworth Mystery & Supernatural) (Tales of Mystery & the Supernatural) by Sheridan Le Fanu ( 2007 )

Monday, 26 March 2018

The Wish Dog and Other Stories

Penny Thomas & Stephanie Tillotson (eds)
Honno

The Wish Dog and Other Stories takes you into the realm of the unknown, the ghostly and the gothic, in a colourful kaleidoscope of half-glimpsed shades.
The title story, The Wish Dog conjures up a fetch – a lifetime companion much wanted; Harvest is a haunting reworking of Babes in the Wood; Sovay, Sovay tells of a Grand Guignol actress who loses her head to a dream of romance and returns with a thousand stories to tell to her bewitched audience; in Broad Beach a man who has had a close encounter with death has dreams that seem larger than life – what he wants most is to run, like the athlete he watches at the tideline each day.
Other tales feature a ghostly mansion in a Merthyr park, a lonely soldier permanently on guard, the angel of death and a would-be suicide, a lonely Inuit asleep on a mountainside, a row of small wet footprints on floorboards…
Open the pages if you dare, but don’t forget to look behind you.

There seems a little confusion over themes in this book.  The introduction opens with the question of 'What makes a good ghost story?' and the cover refers to 'Haunting tales from Welsh women writers' and I wonder if this perhaps explains the variety in the stories here with many going down the path of the supernatural while others offer a story with a wider interpretation of the world 'haunting'.

Of those in the latter camp Nic Herrriot's 'Convention is the Mother of Reality...' is the undeniable stand out with it's delicately poignant tale of ageing and friends both real and ... other and Gillian Drake's 'Seashells' is a quick but satisfying story of both person and place finding each other.

Of the former there are a few which go in too heavy handed or are just a bit too clunky to conjure up any chills but in amongst them is the folk horror of Sian Preece's 'Harvest' and the jealous spirit of the 'Caretakers' in Jo Mazelis story both of which provide engaging diversions.

I like coming across unexpected ghost stories and in the case of this unassuming volume it proved to be mostly for the good as there was very little here that I didn't enjoy, much that I did and a few that really shone through.

Buy it here - The Wish Dog: Haunting tales from Welsh women writers

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Horror Express (1972)

A joint UK / Spanish production Horror Express pairs the Wyrd Britain dream team of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing with Kojak himself, Telly Savalas, on a Trans-Siberian train journey.

Vaguely based on the sci fi classic 'The Thing From Another World' (later remade by John Carpenter without the last three words in the title) it's the story of English anthropologist Professor Sir Alexander Saxton (Lee) returning home with his prize archaeological find, the frozen remains of an early humanoid creature that he believes to be the evolutionary  missing link which defrosts and begins killing the passengers by draining their brains using it's glowing red eye.

Despite it's giallo origins the film has a heart that is pure Hammer  - with those two stars how could it be anything else - but mixed in with a slightly more sci fi storyline than is usually the case with these things that reflects the source material.

Cushing and Lee are, of course, fantastic with a chemistry honed by decades of collaboration and friendship but the cast are generally strong; Savalas bristles with machismo as the Cossack Captain, Silvia Tortosa is effortlessly cool as Countess Irina Petrovski and Alberto de Mendoza is in full on starey, glarey mad monk mode as Father Pujardov.  The end result is a fun and frolicsome horror movie made on a relatively small budget that makes good use of the confines of its setting to build tension and also to ground the movie as it's more outrageous elements are introduced.

Buy it here - Horror Express [DVD] - or watch it below

Sunday, 18 March 2018

The Monkey's Paw (1988)

One of supernatural fictions most well known tales, W.W. Jacobs' 'The Monkey's Paw' has, since its original publication in 1902 in 'The Lady of the Barge', been parodied, pastiched and adapted many times in shows as diverse as The Simpsons, The Twilight Zone, Ripping Yarns, The X-Files, The Monkees and perhaps most recently Inside No. 9.  It's three wishes storyline and theme of being careful what you wish for has obvious and very enticing appeal for storytellers but has rarely been bettered in the telling than in Jacobs' story.

The version presented here is a fairly low key production from 1988 with a cast of little known actors of whom perhaps the most recognisable is Alex McAvoy who played the teacher in Pink Floyd's 'The Wall'.  It's a faithful adaptation with a nicely claustrophobic setting that despite its limited run time isn't afraid to strike a leisurely pace and allow the tension to build to its dread climax although it does perhaps miss the mark slightly in reproducing the horror of that moment in the original.

Monday, 12 March 2018

The Last Steamer and Other Strange Tales

Bob Mann
Longmarsh Press

For several years, Totnes writer and Longmarsh Press founder Bob Mann has given to friends and family a short story at Christmas, instead of a card. These are mainly of a supernatural nature and are firmly rooted in his knowledge of the locality and its history and culture. Now he has decided to share some of them with a wider audience.
The Last Steamer and Other Strange Tales contains weird visions, disturbing ladies, long-vanished music and mysterious time slips, mainly set in recognisable buildings and terrains.


I found out about this collection of folky / ghosty tales via a post by Mark Valentine on his fantastic Wormwoodiana blog.  His write up made this sound like a very enticing prospect with elements of M.R. James and Arthur Machen.  I'm always on the look out for new, interesting things to read so I nabbed a copy.

It is an intriguing read consisting of stories written mostly in the stead of Xmas cards which for the most part feature Bob himself in an almost occult investigator type role reporting on various ghostly visitations, unearthly phenomena or eerie circumstance in and around the area of Totnes, Devon.

There's not much to most of the stories but there are two in particular that stand out.  The title piece is an intriguing little tale of a ride on a phantasmal steamer and the book's longest story, 'Early Music', which aside from some, let's say, clunky sexual politics is a fun story of love expressed across time and recognition achieved.

Mark is certainly not wrong in drawing parallels with James and Machen as each shows a clear influence but in the end it's all a little well mannered and lacking in bite and what we have is a relatively charming collection that offer an insight into one man's hobby.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Injection (vol.3)

Warren Ellis (writer)
Declan Shalvey (artist)
Jordie Bellaire (colours)
Image Comics

An archaeological dig in Cornwall has gone very wrong, very quickly. And Maria Kilbride has her hands full already, as the effects of the Injection begin to dig in. So Brigid Roth, her old comrade from the CCCU, gets hired to go to a stone circle in the middle of a moor, under a granite tor, to find out why a ritual murder might have torn a hole in the world. What is the Cold House?

The first two volumes of this series quickly established themselves as being amongst my favourite books.  Taking it's inspiration from various Wyrd Britain faves such as Quatermass, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, Thomas Carnacki and Doctor Who it certainly rings all our bells.

After the Maria Kilbride (Quatermass) and the Viv Headland (Sherlock) stories of the first two volumes for this third one Irish computer type Brigid Roth does her Doctor Who thing and goes visiting a stone circle in Cornwall that has both a dead body and Maria's attention.  Upon her unorthodox arrival Brigid finds the circle to be very interesting indeed and there's a mysterious old professor with two students who seem suspiciously like henchmen hanging around.  When things inevitably go wrong it does so with almost apocalyptic effect.

As ever Warren has crafted a witty, immersive and downright exciting tale this time melding modern and ancient technologies in the manner of the best Nigel Kneale scripts.  There's a little bit of 'The Stone Tape' in there along with some 'Quatermass Conclusion' and a tiny smattering of Kneale's short story 'Minuke'.

The art team are on fire here particularly on the latter parts of the book when things start to kick off - just check out that image to the left there - although I did wonder why a newly unearthed stone circle would be so grassy.

As I said earlier, by the end of book 1 this was already a favourite and the two subsequent volumes have confirmed and strengthened this opinion and I'm only sorry that with only two books left in the series we are now past the halfway mark.

Buy it here - Injection Volume 3

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Three Miles Up

Elizabeth Jane Howard wrote 'Three Miles Up' as one of her three contributions (along with ‘Left Luggage’ and ‘Perfect Love’) to 'We Are For The Dark: Six Ghost Stories' a collaborative book with Robert Aickman published in 1951.  Other than these Howard only ever wrote one other story of the supernatural, 'Mr Wrong', which is a crying shame as her take on the genre is very much in line with her previously mentioned collaborator and we all know how far he developed the genre.

'Three Miles Up' is by far the most famous of her 4 tales turning up in numerous anthologies and it's easy to see why it was chosen for adaptation both in terms of budget constraints as it's all set in the very enclosed environment of a canal barge travelling through a sparse and desolate landscape and in the inscrutable power of the story.

The original tale sets two friends, one recovering from a breakdown, on a canal holiday that they are woefully ill-prepared for and soon fall to bickering before the discovery of a young woman asleep near the canal who agrees to travel with them sets them down a very different path canal.  The TV version made for the short lived mid 90s series 'Ghosts' changes some elements of the story making the two men brothers (played by Douglas Henshall & Dan Mullane, with Jacqueline Leonard playing the mysterious Sara) and adding in a slightly confused and overwrought back story regarding the death of their mother that allows the actors chance to chew some scenery and for the director to bring the story to a more definite close than the more powerful and enigmatic ending of the original.

If, like me, you are a fan of the original story I doubt this version will take it's place in your affections but it's an interesting attempt at updating and filming one of the finest takes on the modern supernatural tale.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Arthur Machen's 'The White People'

Born 155 years ago today Arthur Machen was a Welsh writer and mystic;  the vicar's son from the former Roman settlement of Caerleon in Monmouthshire who transformed a Celtic pagan sensibility and a love of the bucolic and the arcane mysteries of his rural childhood home into an array of bewitching and beguiling stories.

Never one for anything as simple as a ghost story Machen's fiction tells of places and people outside of the normal, of contact with the ephemeral and of the importance of the mystical.

Of all his works there are perhaps three that stand above all others. His debut novella 'The Great God Pan', his semi-autobiographical novel 'The Hill of Dreams' and the terrifying supernatural masterclass of 'The White People'.

I heartily recommend that you track down and read all of these (especially the last as it's my personal favourite) but in the meantime I thought I would share with you this lovely video by Rosalie Parker and Ray Russell of Tartarus Press who here present an abridged reading of 'The White People' augmented by music from Ray.

'The White People' is included alongside many other core Machen stories in this lovely collection from Penguin Classics - The White People and Other Weird Stories (Penguin Modern Classics)

Enjoy

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Death Line (aka Raw Meat)

Known - in the US - as Raw Meat this is a 1972 movie made by AIP and starring the brilliant Donald Pleasance as the cynical and tea obsessed Inspector Calhoun and the always watchable Norman Rossington as Detective Sergeant Rogers who are investigating the disappearance of a politician (James Cossins) from Russell Square tube station.  The pair are aided in their search by two students, Patricia (Sharon Gurney) and Alex (David Ladd), who were the last people to see him alive.  What they find are the two last surviving descendants of a colony of Victorian railway workers who had been abandoned in the tunnels after a cave in and had resorted to cannibalism.

As well as being an often pretty gory cannibalistic horror of the type that would become increasingly popular with horror directors as the decade wore on - The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes - Death Line also has at it's core an exploration of UK class and social structures with various tiers of British society coming into conflict; from Christopher Lee's cameo as threatening upper class MI5 agent, Stratton-Villiers, through the new, young, bohemian, middle class students, to the working class coppers and the under class of 'The Man' and 'The Woman' literally feeding on those above them.

Please don't start thinking of this as a po-faced piece of social drama it is a bitingly visceral and often very funny movie with Pleasance and Rossington in fine form and with Hugh Armstrong giving an astonishing performance as 'The Man' that instills weight and pathos on a character that could have been horrendously one dimensional in the wrong hands.

Death Line is a neglected and very much overlooked gem with some notable admirers, Guillermo del Toro and Edgar Wright amongst them, that deserves to be recognised as, if perhaps not a classic of the genre then certainly as an important (and hugely enjoyable) contribution and as a signifier of the direction horror cinema was going to head over the next decade or so.

Buy it here - Deathline AKA Raw Meat Full Uncut Version DVD REGION 2 Donald Pleasence Christopher Lee 1972 Horror DVD Death line - or watch it below.

PS - for those of you put off by the two and a half hour run time as shown on the video, the film is actually only 87 minutes long at which point it loops back to the beginning - I suspect to confuse the YouTube bots so it doesn't get pulled.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Judge Dredd: Year Two

Michael Carroll, Matt Smith, Cavan Scott
Abaddon Books

Rookie Year's Over
Mega-City One, 2081. Judge Joe Dredd’s been on the beat for a year. He’s made tough calls, tackled hard bitten perps, and seen the consequences of his choices come back to bite him. 
But he’s not done learning yet. Dredd’s second year on the sked will see him back out in the Cursed Earth, where right and wrong are questions that go beyond the easy answers of the Law; he’ll tackle an apparent serial killer—or more than one?—targeting journalists; and he’ll take his first real beat down, leaving him bent and broken with only his badge and his conviction to protect him.

I read the first of these Dredd prose collections a couple of years back and quite enjoyed it - my review is here.  I had some problems with the rapidity of Rico's descent into corruption - to go that far under in a year seemed very unlikely - and in the first story here he's been arrested and is on trial and he's not the only one.

Tarred by their shared genetic heritage Dredd also finds himself under intense SJS scrutiny as he's packed off to the worst possible sector and then out into the Cursed Earth and all of this is just in the first of the three stories.  Indeed, Michael Carroll's 'Righteous Man' proved to be my favourite of the trio and that's no slight to the others as I pretty much enjoyed the hell out of this book.

2000ADs editor Matt Smith takes over for the second story - 'Down and Out' - as echoes of the Dredd movie (the good one) abound with him injured and making his way up (and then down again...and then up another) block full of gangers before the book closes with Cavan Scott's 'Alternative Facts' which, with it's thinly veiled Trump presidency plot, offers up a murder mystery, serial killer, fake news plot and a cathartic ending.

There's nothing here to shake the Dredd world to it's core but then that isn't really the point.  It's just a fun romp into the mysterious early years of our favourite fascist lawman.

Buy it here - Judge Dredd Year Two

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Asylum

Made (and released) in 1972 'Asylum' is perhaps one of the least celebrated of Amicus Productions' portmanteau movies and undeservedly so. It's framing story tells of the arrival of Dr. Martin (Robert Powell) at the titular establishment where he is challenged by Patrick Magee's Dr. Lionel Rutherford to interview the inmates and identify the hospital's previous head who has been committed there following a breakdown.

The frame and the four tales that follow are all written by Psycho author Robert Bloch and whilst eschewing the more gothic trappings of the Hammer movies still drink from the same well with stories concerning voodoo, soul transference and magic.

Over the course of the movie we are treated to performances from a host of  Wyrd Britain film legends.  As well as the already mentioned Jesus of Nazareth we also have Professor Van Helsing, Catweazle, Willow MacGregor, Professor Victor Bergman and Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus alongside a host of other great actors that I wasn't able to think of an easily identifiable role for such as Charlotte Rampling and Sylvia Syms.

Director Roy Ward Baker, who had previously directed 'Quatermass and the Pit' and 'The Vampire Lovers' for Hammer and various episodes of ITC spy-fi series like 'The Saint' & 'The Avengers' and would go on to direct another Amicus anthology 'The Vault of Horror', brings a practised eye to the proceedings and the end result is nicely claustrophobic with rare narrative logic for the telling of the stories and a brutally satisfying ending.

Buy it here - Asylum (1972) ( House of Crazies ) - or watch it below.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

The Furthest Station

Ben Aaronovitch
Gollancz

There have been ghosts on the London Underground, sad, harmless spectres whose presence does little more than give a frisson to travelling and boost tourism. But now there's a rash of sightings on the Metropolitan Line and these ghosts are frightening, aggressive and seem to be looking for something.
Enter PC Peter Grant junior member of the Metropolitan Police's Special Assessment unit a.k.a. The Folly a.k.a. the only police officers whose official duties include ghost hunting. Together with Jaget Kumar, his counterpart at the British Transport Police, he must brave the terrifying the crush of London's rush hour to find the source of the ghosts.

I do like it when a new Peter Grant book turns up which they do fairly often and now adding to a workload that already includes a comic book series the good Mr. Aaronovitch has commenced a series of Rivers of London novellas.

Peter is called in by his transport police friend Jaget to investigate reports of various people getting harassed on the trains by what appear to be ghosts.  With help from his niece Abigail, his ghost hunting terrier Toby and, of course, Detective Chief Inspector Nightingale they are soon on the trail of a time sensitive case.

It's every bit as fun as this series usually is.  Aaronovitch is a hugely personable writer and how could you go wrong with a book that contains lines like, "Don't get me wrong, I like the countryside.  In fact some of my best friends are geological features.'

With each and every book I become increasingly enamoured of this series and I've just discovered much to my bank accounts dismay that since I last looked not 1, not even 2 but 3 graphic novel collections have emerged.

Buy it here -  The Furthest Station: A PC Grant Novella (PC Peter Grant)

Click the label below to read the Wyrd Britain write ups of the previous entries in this series.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Dark Encounter

Taken from 'Shadows', the mid 70s series of supernatural tales for children, 'Dark Encounter' is an interesting addition to one of the YA cornerstones of Wyrd Britain fiction. Written by Susan Cooper what we have here is a short tale that seems to exist in the same storyworld as her 'The Dark is Rising' novels.

The story tells of an actor (Alex Scott) returning to the town where he was evacuated to during WWII and where he meets a quartet of unusual folks (including Brian Glover) in an old windmill and is made to confront his fears of both trees and 'The Dark'.

There really isn't all that much here; the story is crammed into the limited run time, the effects are entertainingly rudimentary and the acting - with the exception of Shelagh Fraser (Luke Skywalker's Aunt Beru) - is very overdone but it makes for an interesting artifact and an intriguing addendum to the novels.

Buy it here - Shadows - The Complete Second Series [DVD] - or watch it below.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

And Now For My Next Trick

'And Now For My Next Trick' is an episode of the children's supernatural TV series 'Shadows' first screened in October 1978 and written by the creator of Sapphire & Steel, P.J. Hammond.

It stars British television staple Clive Swift as Mr. Devine, a down on his luck magician reduced to playing to rooms full of the bored children of formidable parents such as Jacqueline Pearce (Servalan from Blake's 7), who suddenly finds himself in possession of three magical eggs.  Blind to the consequences of his new found luck he embarks on an attempt to relaunch his flagging career.

As you might expect from a writer like Hammond this is a nifty little tale although perhaps a little moralising with an ending that's particularly brutal for a children's show.

Buy it here - Shadows - The Complete Third Series [DVD] - or watch it below

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Electric Music Machine

Elizabeth Parker
Regular visitors to Wyrd Britain will have noticed that we have a fondness (to say the least) for the work of the good folk at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.  We think they were the single most culturally important musical organisation of the latter half of the 20th century and here, for your viewing pleasure, we have a short documentary from the later days of the Workshop.

The glory days of the Workshop were far behind them by the time this film was made in 1985 (with additional footage of Attree filmed in 1988 - kudos to Youtube commenter dunebasher1971 for that info) and many, but certainly not all, of the famous names had moved on but it still features folks like Elizabeth Parker, Roger Limb, Dick Mills, Peter Howell, Malcolm ClarkeJonathan Gibbs and Richard Attree the first five of whom produced some astonishing music whilst there - I must claim almost total ignorance of the last two chaps.

It makes for an interesting artifact and insight into the work of a less well documented period of this pioneering department. Personally I love a behind the scenes documentary and getting to watch composers I truly admire at work is particularly satisfying.

Enjoy.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Stones

'Stones' was written by Malcolm Christopher (a joint pseudonym for Sir Malcolm Bradbury & Christopher Bigsby) in 1976 for the BBC 2 Playhouse series 'The Mind Beyond'.  It tells the story of a government minister's plan to move Stonehenge from Salisbury Plain to London's Hyde Park in an attempt to boost tourism and of the various forces that think that maybe this isn't what you'd call a good idea.

In common with much of Malcolm Bradbury's work 'Stones' is set predominantly in the realms of academia and here we find scholar Nicholas Reeve (Hammer Studios alumni Richard Pasco) in the midst of writing his book on Stonehenge whilst unbeknownst to him or his wife (Judy Parfitt) their young daughter Rebecca Saire (who would later briefly appear as Professor Quatermass' missing granddaughter, Hettie, in the 1979 John Mills revival) is having dreams and visions related to the henge and the unfolding plan for relocation and it soon transpires that she's not the only one.

The always wonderful John Wells as the linguist Porton gets many of the best lines and the film also features Gerald James (who many Wyrd Britain readers will know from a very similar role as George Tully in the 2nd Sapphire & Steel assignment (The Railway Station) as another henge researcher, Caradoc Hobbes, and, for the Grange Hill devotees out there we have Mr. Bronson himself, Michael Sheard as the police inspector.

'Stones' is a witty and thoroughly enjoyable excursion into the realms of ancient magic and druidic language with it's cap tipped towards the works of Nigel Kneale and Arthur Machen and to then contemporary series such as 'Children of the Stones'.  Its obviously very limited budget laid serious constraints on the production but the end result is worth every penny they spent and every minute you'll spend watching.

Enjoy.