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.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

The Hill of Dreams

Arthur Machen
Parthian Books

Lucian Taylor believes he has been damned through contact with an erotically pagan world—or possibly through something degenerate in his own nature—in this critically acclaimed horror story. Moving to London to shake off his fears of being trapped by the dark imaginings of a creature inside him, Taylor soon finds his hallucinations becoming increasingly real. An important and moving work, this story is one of the first explorations in fiction of the figure of the doomed artist.

I always knew I'd get the urge to read this at some point but it's been some time coming.  I've read and loved a chunk of Machen's shorts which is my preferred delivery vehicle for tales of the unusual and the uncanny and I generally find longer formats to be a bit of a drag.  I knew I wanted to get into this one though and had been on the lookout for a nice old copy but whilst on holiday last November I came across the Library of Wales edition and decided the time was right.

The Hill of Dreams is a semi autobiographical tale that relates the journey of a young man, Lucian, the son of a lowly Welsh parson on his quest to find beauty through literature and his subsequent descent into madness and drugs.

I'm guessing there were some raised eyebrows back in Machen's home town when the book was published both at the depictions of the inhabitants of Lucian's home town - surely some of Machen's acquaintances saw themselves in the unflattering characters - and also by Lucian's fate and any suspicions regarding Machen's life in London, so far away from his native Caerleon.

There is much beauty in the book.  Machen's prose is, of course, exquisite and the tale he tells rings with sad truths and evocative grace but, for me at least, the central figure is the book's failing.  I found I didn't entirely want Lucian to find the beauty he was so desperate for as I didn't think he deserved it or was capable of recognising it if he had.  He is pompous, self-absorbed , dismissive and haughty, blind to the kindness of those around him and hyper-critical of their foibles and failings.  He seems unable to find any joy or heart in his quest which ultimately contributes to his downfall as he slides deeper into depression and delusion.

It's an undeniably powerful work that took me to places that I truly did not expect but I can't, at the end, claim to have entirely enjoyed it. It was an experience unlike any other and I'm glad to have had it but I'm fairly sure it isn't one I'll repeat.

Buy it here - The Hill of Dreams (Library of Wales)