Thursday, September 18, 2014

Witchcraft




Having mentioned this in the previous post, I thought perhaps this was an opportune time to present Witchcraft as a 'random movie trailer'.  I haven't seen this film since I was a child.  It rarely turns up on TV, although I believe that it has been available on DVD in recent years.  I can't say that I recall many plot details - I know that it concerns a notorious witch returning from the grave to persecute the descendants of her persecutors and that the whole thing is triggered by these descendants (who are property developers) trying to redevelop the graveyard where she was buried - but I do remembered that it scared the hell out of me.  It was the scene Vanessa, the reincarnated witch, appears in the backseat of one victim's car, first being glimpsed in the rear view mirror, which really freaked me out.  My father had an estate car, so travelling in the backseat (as I generally did at that age) meant that I wasn't immune from witches appearing behind me in the car.  For weeks after seeing that film I'd keep anxiously glancing in the rear view mirror, too scared to actually turn around and look into the tail gate section.

Atmospherically shot in monochrome by Hammer regular Don Sharp, Witchcraft was probably the best of a number of low-budget movies co-produced in the UK by the Robert Lippert and Jack Parsons.  Several were directed by Sharp (including Curse of the Fly) and most were written by Harry Spalding, (sometimes, as on The Earth Dies Screaming, masquerading under a pseudonym).  Interestingly, both producers owned small independent cinema chains, Lippert in the US and Parsons in the UK.  Lippert - who, in the fifties had co-produced a number of films with the pre-gothic Hammer Films -  had a distribution and finance deal with Twentieth Century Fox, which ensured that the pictures had decent releases, often making up double bills.  Prior to Witchcraft, Parsons' best known production was probably the notorious Cover Girl Killer, with Harry H Corbett as a murderer targeting pin up models.  In addition to its other virtues, Witchcraft is also notable for giving Lon Chaney Jr what was probably his last decent film role.

One day I really must catch up with Witchcraft again and see if it still creeps me out.  Even if it doesn't, it still stands as a minor genre classic from the days when you could still make professional-looking movies on low budgets and get them into cinemas.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Forgotten Films: The Vulture

For many, many years, all I knew of the 1967 British horror film The Vulture was one magnificent still in a book about horror movies.  It depicted a skeleton sat in front of some kind of control panel.  Details of the film were scant: a plot synopsis in Alan Frank's Horror  Movie Handbook, involving a scientist transforming himself into a half-man, half vulture creature in order to avenge an ancestor's death made it sound like a cross between The Fly and Witchcraft, whilst the cast list looked decidedly bizarre, including Broderick Crawford and Akim Tamiroff.  I tried to find out more over the years, but most reference works didn't even mention it.  Those that did were dismissive of the film, affording it only brief mentions.  Moreover, it never seemed to turn up on TV - no matter how many hoary old B-pictures BBC2 dredged up to keep their Saturday night horror double bills going, The Vulture was never among them.  However, a couple of weeks ago I finally got the chance to watch the entire movie. 

Sadly, it couldn't live up that still.  The Vulture turns out to be typical of the low-budget horror films being put out by a variety of independent producers during the sixties, looking to cash in on the success of Hammer Films.  Many of these were produced to order to make up the lower half of a double bill and I'm sure this was the case here, although I've never been able to find any details as to what it went out with when first released.  Unfortunately, like a lot of these latter-day B-movies, The Vulture's ambitions outstrip its resources.  It's running time is padded out with lengthy dialogue scenes in which dull characters recite dull plot expositions as if by rote.  Nobody expresses surprise at the bizarre ideas about teleportation being spouted by the middle-aged scientist hero - or the fact that he is able to extrapolate such theories on the basis of having heard a report that a local woman had seen a half man, half bird creature emerging from a grave in the local churchyard.  This is a B-movie world where the local mad scientist can build a nuclear reactor in his basement without raising suspicion, (or requiring planning permission).  Consequently, despite only running 91 minutes, the film feels interminable.

When the monster does appear, (and we have to wait until around the half way mark for this), all we see are a pair of giant talons coming down on the shoulders of its victim, before they are pulled off skywards, their remains to eventually be found in a giant cliff top nest.  Finally, in the closing minutes, we finally glimpse the creature - Akim Tamiroff in a bird suit, flapping his 'wings' around as he menaces the heroine at the film's (anti) climax.  Even then, the camera stays in as close as possible to try disguise the ridiculousness of the monster.  The plot, such as it is, involves Tamiroff using nuclear power to teleport himself into his ancestor's grave (where he was buried alive with his pet vulture) to retrieve some coins, but getting his molecules mixed up with the vulture in the process.  He then periodically uses his nuclear-powered teleportation device to transform into the man/vulture hybrid to take revenge on the descendants of the family who persecuted his ancestor.

The film isn't entirely without interest.  It's the last film of veteran British film and TV director Lawrence Huntingdon, (he died a couple of years after completing it).  The Cornish locations are nicely photographed, (although it is a Cornwall populated by lots of Americans claiming to be Canadian, probably on account of the fact that it was partly financed with US and Canadian money), and, like many of the British B-movie horrors of the era, provides a fascinating glimpse of sixties Britain in all its non-swinging and un-psychedelic glory.  It all looks slightly run down and seedy, an impression enhanced by the muted colours and low light levels, (in common with many of these movies, it seems to have been shot in late Autumn or Winter).  It also pulls something of a shock by killing off the biggest name star - Broderick Crawford - halfway through its running length.  Clearly, the film wasn't well-regarded even at the time of its release: in the US only a black and white print was distributed, with the colour version only being seen on TV some years later.   Oh, and that still which fascinated me?  Well, the scene it is taken from comes near the end of the movie, when the hero finds his way into the villain's nuclear reactor fitted basement, where he finds Tamiroff's assistant's skeletonised body sitting at the controls.  Quite why this has happened is never explained - presumably we're meant to assume that he suffered an overdose of radiation which, as we all know, turns you into a skeleton.  Well, it was the sixties...     

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Charity Muggers

'Cancer won't care if you throw this in the bin'.  So said the back of the envelope from the charity Cancer Research which had appeared, unsolicited, on my door mat the other morning.  Good, I thought, that means I'll have no qualms about putting it in the bin.   Which I did.  Don't misunderstand me - I have no wish to denigrate the work of Cancer Research.  It's a great cause and they do great work.  But the reality is that most charities represent great causes and do good work.  But I can't support them all.  I have neither the money, the time nor the inclination.  But that doesn't stop them bombarding me with unsolicited mail.  Which would be fair enough, except that now - as witnessed by the aforementioned envelope - they are trying to guilt-trip me into contributing.  I really do object to this sort of approach.  Fine, tell me about all the good work you do, but don't try and make me feel like an evil bastard if I choose not to make a contribution.  There is no doubt that charities are becoming ever more aggressive in their collection tactics.  I've lost count of the number of times I've been accosted by various of those 'chuggers' in my town centre at lunch time.  Some weeks I dread going to the newsagent to buy a newspaper, the bastards are so persistent.  They just won't take 'no' for an answer, forcing me to be openly rude to them in order to get the message through.  No matter how good their cause, that really doesn't give them the right to invade my privacy as I walk down the street and try and intimidate me into contributing to their cause.

But nowadays you aren't safe in your own home.  They come around knocking on your door - usually when you've just got in from work and have finally sat down to catch your breath.  It used to be those bloody energy company representatives trying to get you to change suppliers making pests of themselves this way, (and, like the 'chuggers', failing to get the message that you aren't interested - I've been forced to shut the door on several of the most persistent offenders).  Only last Friday, around six o'clock, I was just settling down to watch an old episode of Kojak on ITV4, (a rare treat, as they usually show Kojak in the daytime schedules, when I'm out at work),  after a tough week at work, when there's a bloody knock on the front door.  I seriously considered ignoring it.  But it was too obvious that I was in and I was afraid that they'd just keep bloody knocking.  So I answered the door, to be confronted by someone from the Red Cross.  Somehow, I managed to remain polite in the face of his attempts to engage with me through small talk and his spiel about the organisation, until he finally got the message that I'm simply not interested and I was able to go back to trying to unwind in front of the telly.  (I have to say here that their attempts to engage you by asking what the red cross symbol means to you  comes over a simply patronising, which doesn't help). 

The proliferation of these increasingly aggressive charity collectors raises a wider issue - that of the whole role of charity.  Personally, I object in principle to the whole notion of charity.  Issues as important as cancer research, child protection,  famine relief and so on, are, frankly, far too important to have to rely upon the whim of individual donors for their finance.  The only way that progress can be made in these areas is with the full power of the state behind them.  That's what I pay taxes for.  Sadly, this government thinks differently, wanting to shift the burden of providing such services from the public sector to charitable organisations.  Hence the growth in these charity collectors harassing us every hour of the day.  Of course, some people might think that the easiest way to get rid of these charity collectors is to give them some money.  However, that could prove to be a mistake.  My mother, who is in her eighties, supported a couple of charities back in the day.  Now, when she is living on a pension, she finds herself bombarded with phone calls from these same charities, trying to get her to give yet more money she can't afford.  Something I find pretty disgraceful.  Like I said, don't misunderstand me, I've nothing against the charities themselves or the causes they represent.  But I do object to their collectors and their tactics.

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Down and Out

I haven't moaned about Google and its destruction of my web traffic for a long time now.  But as, today, it seems to have decided that I should get no traffic whatsoever, I thought that I'd abandon my planned post and instead make another public attack on the tax dodging, privacy invading, copyright infringing corporate behemoth that Google has become.  The most ludicrous thing about the total lack of visitors today is that only a couple of weeks ago The Sleaze was enjoying a fantastic run of popularity.  But, as I've noted before, these days there is always a price to be paid for such success: no bit of good fortune can ever go unpunished by Google.  Part of the problem is that as soon as Google sees that you are gaining some kind of popularity, they decide that they are entitled to piece of that pie.  Which, in practice, means that they start sending you e-mails offering all sorts of deals and discounts on adwords, implying that if you activate (or reactivate in my case) this service, you'll attract lots more traffic.  They also clearly hope that you'll then start taking their ads on your site.  Either way, Google gets to make money from your site.  Now, I once ran a trial with adwords and it brought me no traffic whatsoever.  It simply isn't suited to a site like The Sleaze.  So, I shut down the account.  But, as I've indicated, they keep coming back and trying to get me to reactivate the account.

Maybe it's just coincidence - as many SEO types keep telling me - but every time they make one of these approaches and I ignore it, my traffic from Google falls off of a cliff.  And guess what?  That's right, at the height of my recent bump in traffic, I got such an e-mail, which, as usual, I ignored.  Since then, traffic has gone into rapid decline.  Today is the worst day in over a year - tonight, for example, there hasn't been a single visitor since 18:44.  That's more than three hours.  Utterly ridiculous!  To put that in perspective, only a few years ago, we were getting 15-20 unique visitors an hour.  It seems clear, that in attempt to convince me that an advertising campaign is essential for the site's survival, my pages have been deranked from their most popular keywords and buried so deep in search results that nobody can find them.  If the usual pattern prevails, in another week or so I might start to see some recovery as they accept that, once again, their bullying isn't going to work.  I'm simply not interested in using adwords again. 

Compounding this problem is that fact that Google is increasingly filling the first pages of search results with sites which aren't necessarily the most relevant, but have 'authority', in other words big corporate sites like Amazon, Ebay and the like.  In the past, search terms like 'political satire', say, for which we ranked highly, seemed immune to this trend.  Sure, such search terms don't bring much traffic, but is fairly steady.  However, when I checked these results the other day, I found them dominated by entries from non-satire sites like the Huffington Post, which simply mention political satire.  Genuine satire sites had largely been relegated to page two or three, (we're still hanging in somewhere near the bottom of page one).  If you run the same search on Bing, for instance, you'll find all the actual satire sites present and correct, as they should be.  But as  far as Google is concerned, the Huffington Post is an 'authority' site which, although it isn't a satire site, mentions the search term, so that gives it priority over more relevant sites in the results.

If this means that small, independent, non-ad carrying sites are killed off, well, tough, seems to be Google's attitude.  As far as they are concerned, they are the web and they get to decide what is and isn't relevant to your search.  Which means, in practice, that they get to decide what the average web user can or can't see.  Their near-monopoly in search means that they can effectively impose their vision of the web, which seems to be a glorified shopping mall full of bland and mediocre sites with scraped or spun content, on the world.  This latest 'punishment' they've handed out to me has, to all and intents and purposes, killed The Sleaze.  There's no point in having a site that nobody is allowed to see.  Trust me, if I relied upon The Sleaze as a revenue source, then I would have been forced to fold it two or three years ago.  However, it isn't a commercial site, so I struggle on, no matter how soul-destroying it is to see the traffic I spent years building being stripped away and original content going unread.  If nothing else, sheer bloody mindedness means that I won't be bullied off of the web by Google.  My site has been around longer than them and at least uses original material rather than ripping off other people's material to make money.  So, come on you evil bastards - you've killed my traffic, but I'm still here, what are you going to try next?  Bring it on, bastards.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Och Aye the Noo

Well, it could have been worse. I refer, obviously, to Cameron's visit to Scotland to rally the troops of the 'No' campaign.  Not that his display of mock concern at the possible break up of the Union wasn't sickening enough, (in truth, his main worry isn't the break up itself - which would conveniently get rid of lots of Labour MPs and all those pro-European Scots - rather that he'll be blamed for it).  But it wasn't as bad as I'd envisaged it.  I'd feared that we'd see Cameron, in a kilt, leading a pro-UK parade down the streets of Edinburgh, tossing a caber, with George Osborne at his side playing 'Scotland the Brave' on the bagpipes.  I feared that he'd then follow up this display of his Scottishness by delivering some stock Scottish phrases like 'Och aye the noo' and 'Hoots mon' in those plummy Old Etonian tones of his, before demonstrating that he wore nothing under the kilt by flashing his 'wee dirk'.  That really would have killed the whole 'No' campaign stone dead.

Thankfully, none of that happened and the 'No' to Scottish independence campaign still lives.  Not that I'm implacably opposed to Scottish independence - if I thought that a 'Yes' victory would forever taint Cameron as the Prime Minister who presided over the break up of the Union and precipitate the fall from power of him and his appalling government, I'd happily go North of the border and stuff the ballot boxes with 'Yes' votes.  But, sadly, I suspect that the slippery bastard would still wriggle out of taking any responsibility for such an outcome - he'd inevitably pass the blame on to someone else.  Probably the last Labour government.  Or the unemployed.  Or the disabled.  Definitely public service workers.   If the Scots do vote for independence, though, does that mean that we might see an increase in racial abuse directed against Jocks living in England?  After all, if Scotland is independent, then they'll be immigrants, coming down here, taking our jobs, claiming our benefits.  The tartan bastards - we should round them all up and deport them!

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Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Guns of the Living Dead

I was watching The Walking Dead the other day, when it occurred to me just what a bleak and pessimistic view of humanity it presents.  I'm up to The Governor driving his tank into the jail. (I know that if you don't watch The Walking Dead that will be utterly meaningless, but trust me, it's important to the rest of my musings.  So, for the sake of argument, just take my word for it, The Governor is the bad guy and Rick and his people living in the jail are the good guys).  This episode, like the whole of the previous series, assumes that in the face of the zombie apocalypse, the survivors will simply fight amongst each other for the remaining resources, killing each other as if the world still has living people to spare.  Personally, I'd like to believe that the survivors might co-operate a bit more.  After all, there's safety in numbers and establishing some kind of society with all its attendant support systems would surely improve everyone's chances of survival in the face of hordes of flesh eating zombies.

Of course, the series is set in the US and one could argue that it represents a dire warning as to the effects of widespread gun ownership.  Thanks to the lack of restrictions on the ownership of firearms, following the rise of the zombies, everyone is armed to the teeth with every imaginable form of gun.  Is it any wonder that the survivors end up shooting each other more than they do the zombies?  They're just trying to maintain what was normal behaviour before the apocalypse.  On the other hand, it could be argued that The Walking Dead is an endorsement of US gun culture - after all, how could the survivors have defended themselves against the slavering hordes of the living dead if every man and his dog didn't already own a gun before the apocalypse?  Nevertheless, I still think people would be more co-operative in the face of such a crisis, (and I'd argue that the historical communal responses to natural disasters or wars would bear this out).  Mind you, having established just how depressing the show's view of humanity is, I don't intend stopping watching it yet.  It's very well made and acted and, best of all, really conveys well a post-apocalyptic sense of isolation and the idea that the entire world has been knocked back to square one.  However, there is one thing which continues to bother me - why don't Rick and his people find an island somewhere (not necessarily off shore: one in a lake or large river would do) to establish their community?  Surely that would represent a far more secure location?  Straightforward to clear of zombies, easy to subsequently keep zombies off of (I'm sure they can't swim) and defensible against hostile rival groups of survivors.  I know that's what I'm going to do come the zombie apocalypse.

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Monday, September 08, 2014

Nazi Business

Sometimes I don't know whether to laugh or cry.  Over at The Sleaze we've spent the 'silly season' having fun with conspiracy theories, coming up with a run of stories expounding the most ludicrous and extreme conspiracies - based on current news stories - possible.  Or so I thought.  I'm sure you can imagine my surprise when, having written a story in which a crackpot conspiracy theorist claims that the true history of World War Two has been supressed and that the Nazis were really the good guys, I stumbled upon the website of some deeply unpleasant neo Nazis which was running pretty much the same story, but as fact rather than satire.  Now, as ever, I'm not going to name the site in question or provide a link as I'm not prepared to give these bastards any publicity, but take my word for it, reading even only a handful of items there was a real eye-opener as to just how deluded and detestable these bastards are.  I mean, I've always known they weren't nice people, but it isn't until you start reading their ignorant bile in detail that it become clear just how unpleasant these white supremacist neo Nazis actually are.

What really gets me is the tone of self-righteous indignation they adopt when reporting such things as: 'Jews and Race Traitors Release Plan to Shut Down Neo Nazism'.  Really?  Most sane and decent people will be congratulating them.  Believe me, many of my family fought a war to 'shut down' old school Nazism and were hailed as heroes for doing so.  Quite why you'd want to be associated with neo Nazism is beyond me.  But of course, it's all a conspiracy and World War Two was really about the Allies being stooges for those nasty Jews who wanted to oppress those nice Nazis.  Like I said: deluded.  The most disturbing aspect of the site I looked at was the pure, unadulterated hatred it exuded.  Hatred toward anyone who wasn't a white, misogynistic, racist reactionary.  Reading doesn't just make me ashamed to be the same race as these people, but ashamed to be the same species as them.  To return to my original point, the fact that what I think is ludicrous satire is peddled as serious fact by these clowns is more than slightly depressing. It just goes to show that some things are beyond satire.  Really, I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

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Friday, September 05, 2014

The View From the Lake



Another quick holiday movie.  This one is nothing more nor less than moving wallpaper - well, slightly moving.  It's simply the view across a lake to a stately home, (not Sleaze Towers, obviously - it isn't anywhere near grand enough).  There are lots of waterfowl making noises and flapping about, whilst various types of livestock wander around the far side of the lake.  Nothing really happens.  Which is good.  Not to mention relaxing.  Sit back with a mug of tea and watch it on a loop...

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Thursday, September 04, 2014

Uncharitable Thoughts

Another day, another example of the Tories' policy double-think in action.  This time we have the 'Minister for Civil Society' (no, I didn't know that was an actual ministerial brief either) telling campaigning charities that they should 'stick to their knitting' and stay out of politics.  Now, whilst that might seem like exactly the sort of thing you'd expect a Tory minister to come out with, the fact is that this government has spent the better part of the past four years trying to involve charities in politics.  An integral part of Cameron's 'Big Society' and his government's 'Austerity' programme is to cut both state spending and the size of the state to outsourcing many aspects of policy delivery to charities, particularly with regard to things like low pay, housing and unemployment.  Now, if that isn't politicising charities, I don't know what is. 

Of course, what the minister has in mind are those charities who dare to challenge government policy, particularly their policies with regard to benefits and poverty.  Whilst, arguably, charities should be politically neutral, the fact is that in certain areas of charitable activity, it is impossible for them not to touch on politics. Poverty, as previously mentioned, is one such area where this government has become highly sensitive to what it perceives as criticism of its policies by charitable organisations. However, when you are trying to alleviate poverty, identifying and eliminating its causes are going to be core activities and the fact is that, right now, this government's own policies are steadily driving down wages and living standards.  So commenting on government policy is pretty much inevitable for some charities.  In view of the minister's comments, though, perhaps they should knit their comments and criticisms in the form of an Aran jumper.  maybe that would be more acceptable for him?

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Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Love to Hate

Perhaps we should only follow people we don't like on Twitter.  Bear with me on this, I haven't suffered some kind of breakdown caused by being unfollowed by friends on Twitter.  My point is that we tend to follow friends, celebrities we like (but don't - and never will - know personally), and people recommended to us by Twitter on the basis of the aforementioned people we follow.  Consequently, we tend only to see opinions we agree with and things which won't offend us or challenge our preconceptions in our Twitter streams.  I'm well aware that the overwhelming majority of people simply want their social media experience to be warm and reassuring, there's no doubt that only following the like-minded results in a pretty anaemic Twitter stream at times.  Think how much more challenging it would be to have a Twitter stream full of stuff which gets you foaming at the mouth?  That said, being subjected to an apparently unending stream oh bile and hatred, (which would be the most likely outcome of following people whose opinions you dislike), would also be highly traumatic and likely to turn most people off of Twitter for life.

Whilst I don't actually follow anyone I hate, I do make a point of looking at the Twitter outpourings of a few individuals who, to me at least, represent everything which is wrong with Twitter users: self-righteous self promoters who jump on every 'right on' bandwagon to promote themselves and establish their 'liberal-intellectual' credentials.  These are the people who have an opinion on everything, especially popular culture, and just insist on letting the rest of the world know about them.  Except that they aren't just opinions: they are fact - and if you don't agree with them then you aren't just wrong, but also a misogynistic, homophobic fascist.   To be perfectly honest, I don't read their bile to expose myself to alternative views and challenge my preconceptions, but rather to reassure myself that I'm not as big a prick as any of them are.  It isn't just on Twitter that I keep up with these kinds of people - there are also a few blogs I read which are written by people I find loathesome.  Often they are involved in feuds with other individuals - I sometimes end up following their blogs as well.  Not that I like them because they hate the first undesirable, but because I think that they are a prick as well.  It's quite refreshing to watch two of these idiots metaphorically knocking seven bells out of each other.  So, there you have it - it's like they say: a little bit of what you despise does you good.

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