Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Creeping Through the Forest



It's that time again - Monthly Movie time.  Once again, this is also, effectively, a holiday film, but as the footage was shot in September, I thought I'd count it as part of the 'Monthly Movie' project.  This was shot at the Highland Water enclosure near Emery Down.  The path actually does a complete circle and it is possible to access the other side of the ford seen in the August Monthly Movie by taking one of the many paths which branch off of it.  However, I didn't get to that path.  In fact, I didn't complete the circuit of the main path.  I became so spooked as I walked around the enclosure that I abandoned the walk half way (hence the abrupt ending to the film) and hot footed it back to my car. 

As you can see, it was broad daylight, and the only other living things I encountered were two ponies, but there was something about the atmosphere of those woods which really disturbed me as I walked through them.  It didn't help that only a couple of days before I shot this, there had been a murder in another part of the New Forest, (the scene of which, coincidentally, I had unknowingly driven past several hours after the incident), and, as I rounded the bend in the path after the ponies, I noticed, deep in the trees, a tent of some kind.  Clearly, someone was living rough in the enclosure.  Bearing in mind that at this point no arrests had been made in the murder case, I became somewhat uneasy.  My sense of uneasiness grew as, after I passed the tent, I became convinced that I could hear someone or something moving parallel to me in the tees, although I couldn't see anything.  When I couldn't hear the distant crackling of fallen twigs and branches breaking as something moved over them, there was just an eerie silence.  At which point my nerve broke and I hurried back to the car (as I was the only one parked in the car park, I had assumed I was alone there), and drove a few miles down the road, to an enclosure with more people in evidence.

Not surprisingly, the film reflects my sense of unease, with some dark and foreboding music (courtesy of Kevin MacCleod), heightening the sense of tension as I creep, hesitantly, through the forest.   

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Monday, September 29, 2014

All Our Yesterdays: Reactionaries Cut

Shock!  Horror!  Pass me the smelling salts!  Jimmy Savile was seen in an old edition of Top of the Pops repeated on BBC4! Won't somebody think of the children?  Heads must roll at the BBC for this outrage!  This apparent desire to completely edit Jimmy Savile out of history and popular culture is fast reaching Orwellian proportions.  Yes, I know he was probably an evil sex offender (let's not forget that he was never actually convicted of anything) and generally just a creepy fucker, but whether we like it or not, it is fact, recorded on video tape, that he was, during his lifetime, a popular TV presenter and frequently hosted Top of the Pops.  This insistence that he be, literally, edited out of the programme's history is a disturbing attempt at rewriting history.  Not that the situation is going to get any better: now that Dave Lee Travis has been convicted of being a groper, he'll have to be edited out, too.  It's getting to the stage where future generations will think that Top of the Pops was hostless.   It isn't just Top of the Pops affected, of course.  The BBC has undoubtedly burned every recording it had of Jim'll Fix It, whilst the conviction of Stuart Hall and Rolf Harris for sex offences means that It's a Knockout!, Rolf's Cartoon Time and Rolf's Animal Hospital have joined it on the bonfire.  Not to mention footage of every guest appearance Rolf Harris ever made on other people's programmes.

Huge swathes of our popular culture archives are in danger of being lost simply because a few Daily Mail readers get an attack of the vapours whenever they see the image of a dead alleged sex offender.  Strangely, I didn't see them complaining when the bastard was all over our TV screens whilst he was alive - that's when he gave many of us the creeps.  At least now we can watch him safe in the knowledge he's dead and buried.  The worry is that this hysteria might translate to trying to rewrite history to remove any individual that the mob deems 'offensive'.  Imagine if every piece of World War Two newsreel footage had every mention of Adolf Hitler cut from them?  If Hitler couldn't be represented on stage or screen because of public outrage over his crimes?  An extreme (and probably impractical) example, I know, but it illustrates my point.  We really can't go around editing people out of history just because they've dome things we find offensive.  But sadly, this sort of thing is par for the course these days.  Let's not forget that, when he was Education Secretary, bonkers Tory Chief Whip Michael Gove merrily attempted to use the schools curriculum re-edit history to a British Empire-centric narrative, glorifying the achievements of Britain.  Not to mention his attempts tore-cast World War One as a 'just war' and glorious victory for Britain.  Hell, the Tory party has spent the past few years rewriting recent history to convince people that it was profligate government spending rather than reckless lending by the banks which caused the recession and that, consequently, public spending has to be cut in order to service the private debts run up by the financial sector and its wealthy backers.  Compared to lies on that scale, editing Jimmy Savile out of the popular memory is nothing.,

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Uninteresting Times

You know, it occurred to me yesterday, whilst writing about my sense of listlessness this week, that since I've been back at work after my Summer leave, the only remotely interesting thing which has happened to me was my car remote locking not working.  Not permanently not working. Just temporarily, at a specific location.  The other week, you see, I found myself parked in one of those strange blackspots where the signal from a car's key fob is blocked, so that the remote locking won't work and you have to lock and unlock the vehicle manually.  Which is a pain.  I've no idea how common these blackspots are - I'd heard of them, but this was the first time I'd encountered one myself.  Apparently, they are caused by some electronic device in the are putting out a signal on the same frequency used by the remote locking systems of cars so powerful that it blocks them.  Faulty TV signal boosters and wireless TV signal distributors are amongst the worst culprits, I'm told.

Anyway, I was left asking myself: is this what my life has come to - when my car not locking remotely counts as an 'interesting' or even 'bizarre' incident?  No wonder I've been feeling listless of late.  I remember the times when I seemed to encounter the strange and intriguing on a daily basis.  Perhaps the problem is that I've become too set in my routines.  I always see to be visiting the same places and seeing the same old faces (and having the same desultory conversations with them).  Clearly I need to make some changes and bring some excitement back into my life.  I used to know people who were unpredictable and, frankly, certifiably insane.  They scared the crap out of me, but they were never dull and I felt alive around them, (and scared).  I used to go out of my way to drive down roads and lanes I'd never travelled on before, just to see where they led.  I really need to get back to that.  If I can find the energy, that is.  That's the trouble with feeling listless - seeking excitement requires too much effort.  We'll see.

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

On the Turn

Well, here we are, nearing the end of a listless week.  I just haven't been able to settle to anything or kindle any real interest in any of my ongoing projects, let alone work.  I knew I wanted to write a new story for The Sleaze, for instance, but, despite having a pretty good idea of what I wanted to write, I just couldn't get down to writing it.  In the end I settled for re-working some older material from here, topping and tailing it with some new stuff to provide it with a topical frame.  Lazy, I know, but I have to say that the end result was much better than I could have hoped for - not brilliant, but not at all bad.  (As an aside, the story in question has gone on to confirm that the current cabinet minister who excites the strongest reaction in people is Iain Duncan Smith - write something disparaging about him and there are a whole army of haters out there who will come and read it.  Which is fair enough.  He deserves it - he really is the epitome of the completely out-of-touch Tory bastard with his relentless crusades and against the poor.  No other minister stirs up such a hostile reaction, not even Gove).

But to return to the original point, I really don't know where his week's listlessness has come from. Maybe its down to the fact that the season is now clearly turning.  Despite the sunny start to September, it is beginning to feel more like Autumn, particularly in the evenings.  It's getting dark earlier and there's a distinct Autumnal chill in the air.  It is also beginning to smell like Autumn, as the laves begin to fall.  All of which can't help but  make one nostalgic for those balmy days of Summer (well, July, when it was sweltering, rather than the damp August which followed).  It reminds us that we're inevitably heading for Winter and will have to wait another year for Summer's warmth to return.  Not that there's anything wrong with Autumn.  I've always much preferred it to Winter or Spring, which are all too frequently ill-tempered and changeable in weather terms.  Lacking Winter's bleakness and Spring's false promises, Autumn is, I find, a far kinder and friendlier season.  But enough of these seasonal musings.  Hopefully I'll be able to shrug off this listlessness soon and get back on track.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

We Like to Watch, Apparently

We're going to end up watching people wanking off over pornography - and probably wank off ourselves over them wanking off.  It's the way 'entertainment' is going these days.  Indeed, it is the logical (not to mention inevitable) eventual outcome of Channel Four presenting as 'entertainment' the sight of ordinary viewers watching television.  I mean, really, is this what TV entertainment has come to - watching strangers watching TV, on our own TVs?  The worst thing is that this programme is, in some misguided quarters, considered cutting-edge , award winning TV.  Quite why anyone would think that listening to some bunch of idiots you don't know airing their opinions on the TV programmes they are watching is entertaining is beyond me.  Damn it, I don't even want to hear my own opinions when I'm watching television - I just want to watch it in peace! But to get back to the point, why should anyone care what others think about what they are watching?  Are there people out there so lacking in confidence that they feel a desperate need to have their own opinions (hopefully) validated by a bunch of strangers on TV? 

The last time I felt that way was in the playground.  You remember those days, don't you?  When, as children, there were always these TV series which were 'must watch'?  Everyone watched them, or so you thought.  So if you didn't see them, then you weren't 'normal' and weren't part of the group.  You found yourselves excluded from the conversation in the breaks.  Worst of all, all of the cool kids watched these shows, so if you didn't, you had no chance of being cool.  At least, that's how it felt at the time.  But I grew out of those feelings.  I had no choice.  My parents didn't watch a lot of those programmes so, in those days of single TV set households, I didn't watch them.  Conversely, we watched a lot of stuff which nobody else seemed to, but which was also pretty good, teaching me the lesson that just because something isn't popular, doesn't mean that it isn't worthwhile and vice versa.  I was also allowed to watch some pretty weird and wonderful stuff ranging from Spike Milligan's 'Q' series (my father was a fan), through the Out of The Unknown science fiction anthology series, to various old black and white horror and science fiction movies.  None of which my contemporaries at school had seen, so I could describe these wondrous films and shows in loving detail to them, making them envious.  But to return to my original point, if nowadays we think that watching other people watch TV is, in itself good TV, then it really is only a matter of time before we believe that the most entertaining way to enjoy sex is by watching other people masturbating over internet porn.

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Plague of the Living Dead

The authorities in Sierra Leone are declaring their recent weekend 'lock down', supposedly to combat the spread of Ebola, a success.  I say 'supposedly', because it is quite obviously more evidence that what's happening in West Africa is actually the start of the zombie apocalypse.  I ask you, what better way of dealing with the living dead is there than declaring that the entire civilian population are confined to their homes for forty eight hours?  Quite obviously, under such circumstances, the authorities can safely assume that anyone out on the streets during this period is a zombie and mow them down in a hail of bullets before decapitating and incinerating them.  After all, as zombies are entirely without the power of reason or free will, they wouldn't understand any of the broadcasts and posters telling them to stay inside.

Of course, there's no guarantee that this tactic will stop the spread of the zombies completely.  In fact, it could even help create more, if some of the families forced to remain in their homes already included at least one member who was already 'infected' and 'on the turn', then the 'lock down' would create the ideal conditions for them to 'infect' the rest of the group.  With the authorities focusing on destroying the zombies out on the streets, then these new zombies would go undetected, emerging only once the 'lock down' was lifted and everyone had been lured into a false sense of security.  Consequently, I don't think that we should feel confident that the authorities have got this zombie outbreak under control, just because it is so far confined to West Africa is no reason for complacency.  Unless Italian zombie movies have lied to me, it is all too easy for the infection to spread - all it takes are a few zombified stowaways or crewmembers on freighters calling at West African ports for the zombie apocalypse to go global.   You've been warned!  

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Still Together

So, it turns out that we can't get rid of the Scots after all.  It isn't as if we didn't do our best to get them to go, sending David Cameron up there and everything.  But still they bloody voted 'no'.  So we're stuck with them.  Not even a trial separation.  But not to worry, in the wake of the referendum, Cameron has been telling us that it is time for us to build a better UK.  Which sounds like a great idea - when is Cameron going to resign?  Surely the resignation of him and his dreadful government is prerequisite for the establishment of a 'better' UK.   Hell, it would make me feel better.  There's been much talk today of how the UK won't be the same, despite the 'no' vote in the Scottish referendum, how it is time to transfer power away from Westminster and decentralise government.  Fine talk, but I somehow doubt that it will be translated into action any time soon.  The reality of UK politics is that parliament jealously protects its position as the UK's sole sovereign decision-making body, reluctant to concede any real power to any other institutions, even if, as with local councils, they are elected bodies boasting the same kind of democratic legitimacy as Westminster.

Sure, Scotland will likely get 'Devo-Max' as a way of staving off any further calls for independence, but I don't envisage either this government or any successor government including the Tories, giving any significant degree of power back to the other regions, let alone Wales and Northern Ireland.  Their corporate masters wouldn't like it - more democracy creates the threat of more pesky regulations, more accountability and more politicians to try and bribe, smear and coerce into subverting democracy in the interests of rapacious capitalists.  To be honest, I doubt that the Labour Party would be in much of a hurry to implement greater local autonomy in the event of forming the next government - they'd doubtless cite the economy as a priority and put further devolution plans on the back burner.  In fact, the Labour leadership seems so scared of offending the Daily Mail it refuses to challenge the current economic orthodoxy of cutting state spending, making any radical policies on the part of a Labour government highly unlikely.  So, much as I'd like to see a greater devolution of political power in the UK, I don't see it happening any time soon, despite today's outpourings.  I'm sure there will be plenty of enquiries and committees set up to explore possible structures for regional government and that these will spend years, if not decades. producing reports, but their true purpose will be to slow the process down and dampen public enthusiasm and expectations for the proposals.  OK, I know I'm a cynic, but I've seen this sort of thing happen all too often in the past.

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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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