Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Year in Pictures

OK, perhaps it's just me, but it definitely feels a bit milder this evening.  Which wouldn't be difficult as yesterday was freezing - so cold, in fact, that when I came out of the pub late last night the puke had frozen solid to the pavement, thereby creating a health and safety hazard.  But I definitely feel warmer this evening, although that could just be down to the hot bacon roll I've just eaten.  But to get to the point, I suppose it's time to engage in some kind of 2014 retrospective.  To be honest, most years seem the same to me, things happen, some good, some bad, but I can't say that I judge the year's 'significance' on their basis.  Consequently, to all intents and purposes, 2014 was just another year to me.  Except in one aspect.  This past year I've managed to catch up with a significant number of films which I'd pretty much given up hope of ever seeing in their entirety.  After years of having to make do with reading other people's reviews or watching trailers and clips, I finally got to see a trio of seventies low-budget classics from Lindsay Shonteff: Clegg, Big Zapper and Zapper's Blade of Vengeance.  I've written at length about these films already, so I won't rehash my opinions of them here.  Suffice to say that they were well worth the wait.

But I've also caught up with various other obscure and forgotten films, ranging from sixties golem horror It! to dismal seventies war flick Breakthrough, in which Richard Burton substitutes (badly) for James Coburn in a misguided sequel to Cross of Iron.  For all of these experiences I have to thank Google and its slack attitude to other people's copyright with regard to films posted on You Tube.  Provided a movie is pretty obscure or the ownership of its copyright is confused, then it can usually manage to remain posted for months, even years, before anyone claims that their rights are being infringed.  Foreign films (especially if they don't have an English language dub) stay up even longer.  (That said, English dubs of such films can stay up for much longer, as the copyrights of that specific version can be lost in the mists of time, or even lapsed completely).  Consequently, this past year also saw me catch up with all manner of wonderful Italian exploitation films, often dubbed into Czech, Hungarian or French.  I've reacquainted myself with Terence Hill and Bud Spencer, discovered their imitators 'Michael Coby' and Paul Smith, been deeply disturbed the 'sex comedy' To Be Twenty and marvelled at numerous peplums and war movies.  But it isn't just You Tube which has enabled me to catch up with Italian schlock: the arrival of Movies4Men on Freeview earlier this year has given me access to various spaghetti westerns, war movies and sword and sandal epics.  Not to mention the odd pirate movie.  It's been an education.

But why stop at Italian exploitation movies?  I didn't.  During the Autumn I took the opportunity to finally watch some of the films of Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy courtesy of You Tube.  Again, it was fascinating to finally see these films after years of only being able to read about them and form my own opinions of them instead of having to rely on those of supposed experts (some of whom, I now suspect, hadn't actually seen the films first hand themselves).  My journey of discovery hasn't been limited to films: as I recently mentioned, thanks to Radio 4 Extra, over the festive period I've finally been able to listen to those three faux Goon Shows Spike Milligan did for BBC Home Service during 1964-65.  Once again, these were things I'd given up hope of ever actually hearing for myself.  I know that this must sound pretty trivial as far as annual retrospectives go - talking about films I've seen - when so many other things were going on in the world: disappearing air liners, Russian aggression in Ukraine, the rise of ISIS, police shootings in the US, Ebola and the seemingly never ending violence in Israel.  But the fact is that I wasn't directly involved in any of those things - they might ultimately affect my life directly or indirectly, but I had no influence over them.  The stuff I've just been writing about are things I actually experienced and which directly affected me.  The films involved might not have been high art, but they do offer a glimpse into another world, in the case of the foreign films, a different culture.  They help us appreciate that there are other perspectives on cinema, other ways of viewing the world, remind us that there is more to the world than just our own narrow experiences.

Well, that's enough of my 2014 retrospective - bring on 2015!

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Monday, December 29, 2014

A Cold Day in December

I suppose that I should be engaging in one of those 'end of the year' retrospectives, being in the dying days of 2014 as we are.  Certainly, various friends and acquaintances online have being just that since Christmas.  But I don't quite fell ready for such nostalgia.  I'm sure the old year still has a bit of life  left in it, so I'll wait to see what happens.  Not only that, but I'm too cold to think straight, let alone write. Today was so cold that the frost lay on the ground all day.  On days like today, still suffering from the tail end of last week's cold, I just feel like going back to bed and hibernating.  Unfortunately, today I couldn't, as I had a BT engineer coming around with regard to that bloody unresolved phone fault.  Not surprisingly, when I spoke to said engineer this morning, prior to his visit, he confirmed that it sounded like an exchange problem and couldn't understand why he was being sent to the property.  Anyway, he did some cursory tests when he arrived to confirm what we already knew, before decamping to the local exchange to fix the problem.  Hopefully, this will be a permanent fix.  We'll see.

But it hasn't all been freezing cold and phone faults over the past few days.  I've also caught up with some films.  In some cases these were re-watchings of old favourites - I saw The Blue Max again yesterday, in part to compare and contrast it with Corman's Red Baron, which I watched on Christmas Day and which used the same locations and replica aircraft - but some were new experiences, most notably The Sex Thief.  A surprisingly good seventies British sex comedy, I'll hopefully look at this one in a bit more detail later on this week.  I've still got several DVDs to go, including the first colour series of Public Eye from the early seventies and the surviving black and white episodes of Callan.  As I get older, I'm clearly regressing, viewing-wise, into my childhood.  Modern TV drama might be far slicker, but increasingly, for me, it seems to lack the substance of these old shows.  I also have some stuff even older than me, in the form of the complete series of Edgar Lustgarten's Scales of Justice.  Quintessential late night TV viewing when I was a kid.  Maybe I'll get around to that 2014 retrospective tomorrow.  Apparently the weather is forecast to get mildet as the week goes on, so you never know...

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Friday, December 26, 2014

Boxing Day

I've never found a consistent use for Boxing Day.  In the past I've gone to the cinema on Boxing Day, been to sales, done DIY, rewritten web page templates, even gone to the pub.  This year, I went out and bought a newspaper.  That was it.  Believe me, even ten minutes or so exposure to the cold wind and freezing rain was enough for me.  I remember in the dim and distant past when I actually used to be involved in such things as family Christmases, it always seemed essential to get out of the house, for any reason, on Boxing Day, in order to preserve one's sanity and prevent outbreaks of violence.  After being cooped up together in the same house since at least Christmas Eve, by Boxing Day, tempers are getting frayed.  Most of the outbreaks of massive family arguments (including the one which finished family Christmases for me) take place on Boxing Day.  Spending Christmas on my own, as I do these days, I no longer have this imperative to get out of the house come Boxing Day, (although it took a few years to kick the habit), unless I've had a violent falling out with myself.

One of the great advantages of spending Christmas on your own is the lack of arguments over what to watch on TV - obviously, having sole control of the remote, I can watch whatever I please.  Surprisingly, in practice, this means that I frequently don't watch any of the main festive fare, preferring, as I did yesterday, to watch an old episode of Star Trek on CBS Action at one point.  (I did watch Dr Who, although I preferred my DVD of Roger Corman's Von Richtofen and Brown to any of the movies on offer and rounded of the day with Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman).  But, in an attempt to do something traditional on Boxing Day, I've just watched the BBC's big movie.  I have to admit that Avengers Assemble left me feeling that I'm really not the target audience for superhero films. Maybe if I'd seen all the films it was a sort of sequel to, I'd have engaged more with it.  To be honest, I was more excited by the opportunity presented earlier in the evening by Radio 4 Extra to listen to The GPO Show, one of three faux Goon Shows Spike Milligan wrote and appeared in for BBC Home Service in 1964-65.  It hadn't been repeated since Christmas 1964 and, of the three, sounds the most like a Goon Show due to presence of Harry Secombe as Neddie Seagoon and a script adapted by Milligan from an old Goon Show.  Various other Goon Show characters, including Minnie Bannister and Eccles also appear (although not named as such).  Interestingly, the 4 Extra announcer felt it necessary to give a warning along the lines of 'it wouldn't have been written this way nowadays', making me think that perhaps it contained what might now be considered racist characterisations and jokes (as do many radio shows of the era, including the Goon Show).  However, I can't say that I noticed any.  Clearly, the BBC fears that modern listeners are far more sensitive than they actually are.  Anyway, they've apparently already broadcast the other two shows (The Naughty Navy Show and the Army Show), so I'll have to catch up with those online.

I have to say, though, that the main thing that I've managed to do so far this Christmas is sleep, which has proven invaluable in my recovery from last week's horrendous cold.  I'd been having problems sleeping even before going down sick last weekend, but since I've stopped work, my sleep patterns have been far more healthy.  Which have resulted in me feeling far more healthy.  With copious amounts of whiskey keeping the cough at bay, I'm well on the road to recovery.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve

Here we are - Christmas Eve and still no offers of Panto.  Ah, it's been years since I cracked that old gag on here, (I believe it is copyright Spike Milligan circa 1959).  But it is, indeed, Christmas Eve and I'm sat here contemplating whether or not to venture out for a drink with friends.  On the plus side, if I do it will be the first time in years I'll have been arsed to go out on Christmas Eve.  On the debit side, that bloody cough without a cold is still doing its damnedest to ruin my Christmas.  There really is no reason for it to still be around - all the other symptoms have well and truly gone.  Whatever I end up doing, it's been a pretty decent Christmas Eve already - The Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn was on TV this afternoon and made an excellent accompaniment to my sausage roll baking.  I still maintain that it is the greatest Robin Hood movie ever made and that if Robin Hood did exist, we can only hope that he was like Errol Flynn.

I also caught the end of It's a Wonderful Life, (a film I recently overheard someone at work describe as 'crap', which, I think, says more about their emotional vacuity than it does about the merits of Capra's classic), which I hadn't seen in years.  For fuck's sake!  I've just had to waste ten minutes getting back on line after some idiot phoned me, knocking the router out in the process, this despite the fact that I had earlier asked said individual not to call me on the landline because of the aforementioned fault which BT seem either incapable or simply unwilling to fix.  Speaking of which, I've been forced to agree to a pointless engineer's visit on Monday as BT remain obsessed with ignoring the facts and instead trying to prove that my 'equipment' is at fault.  This, despite them agreeing that if the problem persists when using the test socket, this shows the problem lies outside the property.  But, they desperately add, our line test shows no fault, so it must be at your end (even though the aforementioned tests of their own devising show otherwise).  Obviously, there's no fault shown on the line because it isn't a line fault - line faults can't produce these symptoms, nor can defective equipment, only an exchange fault can.  But I've wasted far too much time on those clowns for now.  It only remains to wish everyone a Happy Winterval.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Oh Little Town of Crapchester...


The only part of my Christmas programme to survive the ravages of last weekend's cold, here's our traditional look at Crapchester's seasonal lights.  It was touch and go whether I would be able to salvage sufficient material from the footage I shot last week to put to together more than a few seconds but, somehow, I managed it.

I've also decided to count this as December's 'Monthly Movie', thereby bringing that project to a rather muted close.  The fact is that, apart from the fact that nobody bothers watching these films - they visit the posts, but apparently can't be arsed to watch the film - the way I feel now, I just don't think I'll have the time or energy to put together the December entry I'd planned before the end of the month.  Quite apart from the fact that I'm still tired from fighting that cold (the cough is still fighting a valiant rear guard action to try and ruin my Christmas), the supposed fix of my telephone service by BT has failed again (at least the third time they've 'fixed' it, only for the fault to reoccur within less than two weeks - just after they've marked the fault as 'resolved' thereby improving their figures, coincidentally), leaving me with the prospect of having to waste large chunks of my Christmas break chasing BT again. 

Speaking of said break - I finally finished at work today, but not before one last act of pettiness directed my way by what passes for a 'manager' in the office, designed, doubtless, to sour the time off I've had the nerve to take.  It never ceases to amaze me the way in which some people just can't see how badly it reflects on them, when they try to assert their non-existent 'authority' through such acts of petty vindictiveness.  But fuck 'em.  I don't have to put up with the bastards again until next year!

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Monday, December 22, 2014

Exhausted

So, the answer turned out to be Sammy Davis Jr.  The question being what it would take for me to start feeling seasonal.  I know that he's been dead for nigh on twenty years, but BBC4 had an evening devoted to him last night.  After spending the better part of the weekend sweating in bed or shivering on the sofa as I worked my way through the cold which hit me for six on Friday, it was a real relief to see Sammy doing his stuff.  Not that any of the archive footage of him had any actual festive connection, but I always tend to associate Sammy and the Rat Pack with Christmas TV screenings of their movies back in my childhood.  I always liked Sammy best out them all - he was a class act, just oozing talent and charisma.  He also did a Hell of a lot for the civil rights movement back in the sixties.  But the essential point here is that he has now managed to stir the embers of my Christmas spirit, just as it had reached its lowest ebb, (I'm not sure if that analogy makes any sense, but what the heck, this is my blog and its Christmas, so I'll mix whatever metaphors I like).

As you've doubtless gathered, I've recovered somewhat from that infernal cold - most of the symptoms have vanished, (although since about half past five this afternoon I've unaccountably started suffering coughing fits again), leaving me feeling exhausted.  My sense of taste is beginning to return to normal - over the weekend I might as well have been eating cardboard - and my temperature seems to have normalised.  Whilst this recovery is gratify, it came at the cost of sacrificing pretty much the whole weekend to fighting this infection.  Which means that I've had to abandon a lot of my plans for this week.  I was, for instance, hoping to slip another seasonally-themed story into The Sleaze before Christmas, but I just don't have time to write it now.  An attempt to revive 'The Sleazecast' with a seasonal special has also been abandoned and I have reams of video footage of local Christmas lights still waiting to be edited into a film.  This latter project is the only one I have any hopes of salvaging.  As well as being the now traditional look at the 'Lights of Crapchester', it will also likely be the last of our 'Monthly Movies' - I had something else planned for that, but the way I'm feeling right now, I doubt that I'll have the energy to put it together. 

One thing this bout of illness has taught me is that I can't keep on ignoring the encroaching years: I just don't have the stamina and energy I used to - even recovering from a cold has exhausted me.  I have to face the fact that I'm actually going to have to slow down with regard to creating content for The Sleaze, rather than just talking about slowing down, then upping my rate of output.  My body just can't take all the burning of candles at both ends required to maintain that output and do a full time job.  I'm convinced that the tiredness engendered by this lifestyle contributed to making me vulnerable to this cold.  Things are going to have to change.

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Friday, December 19, 2014

Not in The Spirit

Christmas is less than a week away and I'm not really in the spirit. It didn't help that I woke up this morning running a temperature and with a hacking dry cough. Various pills and lozenges have brought both of those symptoms under some kind of control, but today was still Hell. Not that I was in a festive mood before today. I'm afraid that the lengthy battle with BT to repair my phone line and dealing with the damp problems caused by the council's ivy, have really taken it out of me- which is probably why I was vulnerable to this cold. I did finally get round to erecting my concession to the festive spirit, my Christmas tree on Tuesday. By yesterday evening I'd finally finished decorating it, so unenthusiastic did I find myself regarding the process. Even as I was completing this desultory task, I found myself thinking ahead to how depressing it would be when I took the tree and decorations down on Twelfth Night. I can see this shaping up to be a very trying Christmas season.

Still, I'm hoping that a couple of days in bed over the weekend will see me over the worst of this cold. Sadly, for reasons too spiteful and tedious to go into to, I have to work the first couple of days of next week, depriving me of the opportunity for further bed rest. Thankfully, from Christmas Eve I'm off for a week and a half. Not really long enough, but I'm finding it increasingly difficult to take the leave to which I'm contractually entitled due to the objections of others, who seem to think that the whole organisation will grind to a halt if I have the audacity to take a week off. In today's public sector it is also getting far too dangerous to take sick leave (which I should have done today and probably next week too, lest your 'absenteeism' be used against you in bogus disciplinary proceedings which could result in dismissal. I kid you not. Management seem to have even more difficulty getting into the festive spirit than me, (not that this stops them taking their annual leave and calling in sick).

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Don't They Know It's Christmas?

There are millions of people in this world who don't celebrate Christmas: Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and Jews, to name but a few. (OK, I know that many adherents of those faiths might observe Christmas, but it isn't officially one of their religious festivals). But here in Crapchester the prevailing view is that there must be something wrong with them, that by simply not participating in another culture's festivals they are somehow dissing the whole institution of Christmas. At least, that's the impression I've been getting of late. For some reason, many people around here find it hard to accept that others might, for their own reasons, decide either to not celebrate Christmas, or just observe it in their own way. Personally, I don't observe Christmas as a religious festival. I'm an atheist, after all. To me, it is simply a traditional midwinter celebration which afford a convenient time to take a break from work. As such, I'm not much interested in many of the secular aspects of Christmas: cards, decorations or Christmas parties. But apparently that isn't right. My annual avoidance of the office Christmas party usually goes unremarked. But every so often it seems to upset someone and they try to get me to participate in some way.

This year was a case in point. The fact that whilst it was going on elsewhere I was at my desk working seemed to be problematic for some individuals. Perhaps they interpreted it as some kind of passive aggressive 'comment' on proceedings. In reality it was simply a case of me having work to do - I have this crazy idea that the quicker I can get my desk work out of the way, the sooner I can get back on the streets, do the main part of my work, finish and get back home. Besides, I wasn't alone, a friend and colleague who happens to be a Jehovah's Witness and doesn't celebrate Christmas was also working, (every year she gets people trying to cajole her into participating in the annual office Christmas rituals, despite her position being well known). I honestly don't know why some people find it so hard to accept that I'm simply not interested in and have no desire to engage with this particular seasonal ritual. The fact is that I simply don't enjoy such events - I find them stressful and pointless. However, I really have no problem with other people attending office parties, but personally, I'm not interested. I only get annoyed when people persistently ignore my non-interest and try to involve me in it - why is it so hard for them to grasp that some of us simply observe the festive season in a different way? It isn't illegal, you know.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Prescription Extremism

You have to wonder at some of the drugs currently being prescribed by Doctors, don't you? I mean, just look at the case of that UKIP candidate who has had to stand down after that recording of him making homophobic and racist comments emerged. Apparently it was all down to some pain killers he'd been prescribed - they'd caused a complete personality change, he reckoned. Jesus! You'd think stuff like that would be banned, wouldn't you? Then again, maybe it is - perhaps he just went to a dodgy GP. I think we really need to know if the medic who prescribed these so-called 'pain killers' was called Dr Jekyll? Was it actually some new form of his fabled elixir that he'd distilled into tablet form? (To be fair, if it was Dr Jekyll, then he'd likely be the great-great grandson, or something of the original, so they could have added their own twists to the potion). After all, how else can we explain a medical treatment which apparently turns the person taking it into a slavering beast, spewing racist and homophobic bile?

But really, what does the government propose to do about these rogue mad scientists masquerading as GPs to experiment on unwitting patients? How many more innocent politicians are going to be subjected to the ordeal of uncontrollable personality changes forcing them to do and say horrendous things that no normal human being would do or say? It makes you think, though - what dodgy medication is Boris Johnson on? Was Iain Duncan Smith a reasonable, compassionate individual, who was kind to the poor, children and cats, before being prescribed a new powerful 'decongestant' by his dodgy GP? Could it be that what passes for George Osborne's economic 'policy' is the result of a course of laxatives he was prescribed five years ago? What other credible explanations could there be for such bizarre patterns of behaviour? Stop these rogue mad doctors now!

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Ghosts of TV Christmas Past

Ah, it's that time of year when they start running trailers for those exciting special Christmas editions of regular TV programmes, in which we see what an exciting Christmas all our favourite characters are going to have. As I've said before, wouldn't it be more surprising if, one year, they all had the same sort of uneventful festive season that most of us enjoy in real life? But, of course, that probably wouldn't generate the kind of ratings TV companies expect over Christmas. So, instead, we get trailers for EastEnders which involve blazing rows, threats and, most intriguingly, cars skidding, on their sides, through the market. Personally, I put it down to the arrival of Linda Marlowe in the Square. Clearly, she really is in character as Harriet Zapper, gun-toting lady private eye from The Big Zapper and Zapper's Blade of Vengeance. I know that she must be in her seventies by now and that her character in the soap is meant to be suffering from dementia, but I still harbour hopes that she's going to pull a .357 Magnum out of her handbag and cause mayhem, as it turns out that she is Harriet Zapper, hired by Ian Beale to solve his daughter's murder and operating undercover as Shirley's long-lost mum. How else do we explain that car crash in the trailer? Maybe on Boxing Day she'll have a sword fight with Nick Cotton?

But I yearn for those TV Christmases of Yesteryear, you know, the one's when Val Doonican would spend Christmas Eve in his rocking chair, strumming his guitar and singing about Paddy McGinty's bloody goat. To be fair, he did that every Saturday night, but you could tell it was a special Christmas edition of his show because there was some tinsel on the set and they wheeled on a children's choir to sing a couple of saccharine seasonal songs with Val. They all had similar Christmas specials back then - if it wasn't Val Doonican it was the Black and White Minstrels or Des O'Connor. Singers weren't the only ones getting seasonal specials back then: every gameshow and sitcom had a Christmas edition, not to mention comics like Morecombe and Wise and the Two Ronnies. And they were all recorded during the Summer, usually as part of the regular recording blocks for each series. They just stuck some tinsel on the set, slipped in a few seasonal references and there you had it - a Christmas Special! The Two Ronnies even used to shoot alternate versions of the 'special', to replace the tinselly bits and Christmas-specific sketches with more generic material, so that the 'special' could be repeated out of season as part of the regular rerun of the series it was recorded with. Come to think of it, perhaps those TV Christmases past weren't so great. In fact, they were pretty crap, with the same old stuff warmed over and disguised as seasonal fare. Bah, humbug!

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Untrue Confessions

Did we really need the Senate Intelligence Committee to tell us that the CIA had used 'interrogation' methods that would be characterised as torture if used anywhere else, during the so called 'War on Terror'? It wasn't as if the CIA had been subtle about it at the time - 'water boarding' was being openly discussed in the media at the time. Former Vice President Dick Cheney not only admits that he (and the President) knew about it, but he seems unrepentant about it all, telling the press that the Committee's report is 'full of crap'. The thing that bothers me is the fact that certain sectors of the establishment in both the US and UK seemed so eager to resort to such tactics. The ease with which they were apparently able to reconcile their consciences as civilised members of modern democracies to the idea that it was OK to torture people, gives the impression that they were just waiting for sufficient excuse to drop their civilised facades and justify their reversion to barbarism. I remember those days, in the wake of the September 11 attacks, when such people felt emboldened enough to speak openly about the need to use torture. Most disturbingly, not all of them were kind of quasi-fascist right-wing nut jobs you expect to hold such repugnant views - there were a significant number of so-called liberals who apparently couldn't wait to try and intellectually justify the use of torture against alleged terrorists.

But the use of torture isn't just an affront to human decency, of course. It is also completely useless as a means of obtaining information from suspects. I know that Dick Cheney disagrees, maintaining that intelligence gathered via torture by the CIA helped foil other (unspecified) terror plots, but history disagrees with him. The fact is that many of the methods employed by the CIA, (sleep deprivation, 'water boarding', for instance) aren't so very different from the methods used by the likes of self-styled 'Witchfinder General' Matthew Hopkins to obtain confessions of witchcraft back in the seventeenth century. Clearly, such confessions must have been false - unless we believe in the existence of witchcraft. So, logically, it follows that if you believe in torture as an effective means of obtaining information, then you must also believe in the existence of witchcraft. Sadly, I suspect that Dick Cheney and his ilk might actually believe in witchcraft. But we don't even have to go back to the dark days of the English Civil War for evidence of the fact that torture doesn't work: just look at the number of false confessions obtained by various police forces (resulting in miscarriages of justice) through the use of extreme interrogation techniques. The fact is that most people will confess to just about anything if placed under enough pressure, let alone physical abuse. But, in truth, I think that those who use such practices are well aware of this fact, but choose to ignore it so that they can indulge their own predilections for violence under the justification of 'protecting' the rest of us. They should be ashamed of themselves.

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Sleepless in Crapchester

The exploitation film reviews have been rather dominating things around here of late, I know. This isn't a sign that I'm planning to turn this into a blog entirely devoted to such things. It is just that with all the crap which has been going on in my life of late, I've found it easier to write about movies than real life. However, things have moved on: the council have removed part of the ivy which was blocking my guttering and causing the damp disaster in my spare room. Whilst the issue isn't completely resolved yet, it has already improved the situation - when it rains, water is no longer pouring down onto my front door, so it and the door frame are no longer being warped by damp, making the door easier to open and close. It has also ensured that the damp problem in the hall way has been resolved. There have also been developments on the BT front, with my phone connection having apparently returned to normal. The problem is that this has happened before, only for the problems to reoccur within a couple of weeks. So, I'm taking some precautions to protect my broadband router, by installing an in-line surge protector (the problems have been caused by a defective line card at the exchange sending too powerful an electric pulse down the line to ring the phone - this was also knocking the router off line and, eventually, would have damaged it).

Mind you, whilst some problems are, apparently, on the way to being solved, others have manifested themselves: namely the power outages this terrace of houses have previously suffered have started reoccurring. To digress slightly, I often have trouble sleeping and even when I do sleep I suffer from disrupted sleep patterns, usually waking up two or three times in the course of the night. Which is why I found myself working on a story for The Sleaze at two thirty in the morning, when the power suddenly went, plunging me into darkness and cutting off by internet access. Now, my immediate reaction was simply to go to bed and try to sleep. But it occurred to me that I was probably the only person on the terrace awake at that hour and if I didn't report the outage, then nobody would until the morning, meaning that we'd all wake up to no power. So, I dutifully stumbled around, found the number for the electricity suppliers and rang them to report the outage, with the intention of then heading for my bed. However, I tarried in the living room, having decided to drink some water before turning in. At which point the phone rang. Puzzled, I tentatively answered it to find the electricity people on the line telling me that the engineer would be at the sub-station within the next half hour. Great, I thought, but why are you telling me? Because, it transpired, they wanted me to stay up and confirm to the engineer when my power was restored! I tried pointing out that he'd know if the power was back on because the local street lights would come back on. But no, despite my protestations that I had to go to bed and get some sleep, as I was the only one to report the outage, they apparently had to ensure my power was back on before the engineer could leave the area!

In the end I gave them my mobile number and told them to call me on that, promising that I would keep it by my bed so that its ringing would wake me! In the event, I only dozed until they called me at about four thirty - the bedside clock was back on, so I confirmed the power had been restored (it had been on for about half an hour by then) and finally got to sleep. Consequently, following my night of next to no sleep, I've spent today stumbling around like a zombie. Right now, I feel exhausted. But I know that when I finally get to bed, I'll be wide awake again. Anyway, the moral of all this is that it really doesn't pay to be neighbourly and try to do everyone else a favour; it will only inconvenience you. Hopefully, something like normal service will be resumed here tomorrow.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The Blood Beast Terror (1967)



Having mentioned The Blood Beast Terror recently whist discussing The Body Stealers, I thought it might be an opportune time to take a longer look at my favourite completely barking mad Tigon film. Blood Beast Terror sees Tigon in full mock Hammer gothic mode, complete with period setting and even Hammer's main star, Peter Cushing, in the lead. And there the resemblance ends. In place of the typical Hammer gothic horror's tight plotting and obsessive explorations of the insidious nature of evil, we instead have a meandering plot whose various elements - Cushing's pernickety policeman investigating a series of murders, Professor Mallinger's experiments, murky goings on involving Mallinger's butler and the African prologue are slow to come together. Indeed, at first it isn't clear what's going on, as, after the aforementioned prologue, we find ourselves confronted by a violent murder and dumped into the middle of an ongoing plot. The viewer confusion this results in is not necessarily a bad thing - it certainly creates an immediate sense of intrigue - but it presages what is to be a feature of the film: an overly episodic structure in which we are constantly being introduced to entirely new sets of supporting characters and new locations, which ultimately hinders any coherent plot development.

But to get back to the beginning: the murder we witness after the opening titles turns out tobe the latest in a series of brutal slayings on 'the common' somewhere in the London suburbs. The victims are drained of blood and show the signs of having been attacked by some kind of wild animal. The police, in the form of Cushing's Inspector Quennell and Glyn Edwards' Sergeant Allen, are baffled. So baffled that Quennell seeks advice from noted local naturalist Professor Mallinger (played by Robert Flemyng, replacing Basil Rathbone, who died, at the last minute), who lives at the local manor house - with his beautiful daughter - where he regularly gives evening lectures to students from the local university. At this point, the red herrings start to proliferate - an obviously shifty Mallinger dismisses Quennell's theory that a large bird of prey couldbe responsible for the killings (the only, insane witness, jabbers on about 'wings') yet is quickly revealed to own such a bird, which his shady looking and acting butler regularly provokes by poking it with a stick. Later, Mallinger is seen putting on a protective mask to enter a mysterious, brightly lit and humid room. On top of all that, Mallinger's daughter, Clare (played by Wanda Ventham, mother of both Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch in real life and Sherlock's on screen mother in the TV series) has a fit and faints at the sight of a fake spider placed on her arm as part of a student prank. What does it all mean?

Well, what it means, obviously, is that Mallinger has succeeded in breeding a giant death's head moth which takes human form as his 'daughter'. Unfortunately, her need for human blood means that she has to keep murdering men - first seducing them in her human form before turning into a moth to kill them and drink their blood. Like I said, obvious really. Equally obviously, Mallinger is now engaged in creating a mate for her. Quite why he created 'Clare' in the first place is never really explained. The 'how' is alluded to at various points - the larvae seen being collected in the prologue have something to do with it and we later learn that the larval mate will have to be nurtured on human blood, as had 'Clare'. Which point presumably 'explains' the ability to take human form and the thirst for blood. The message of the film here is clear: beware of libidinous, liberated women who take the sexual initiative - not only will they lure you to your doom, they aren't even 'proper' women. They're giant moths in disguise. 'Proper' women, in this world, are clearly chaste and demure, like Quennell's teenaged daughter.

Said daughter is another character introduced late in the film and whose main purpose seems to be being imperilled by 'Clare' and Mallinger. She at least fares better than other characters, like the pith-helmeted insect collector from the prologue, who turns up in London to visit Mallinger and looks set to be a major character before being abruptly killed by the moth woman. Later on, a young gardener meets a similar fate, having been briefly built up as a potentially significant character. The film also takes various bizarre diversions, including a visit to the morgue tended by comic relief Roy Hudd and an amateur dramatics macabre play staged at Mallinger's house by the students. None of which helps the narrative flow, which finally judders to a halt when Mallinger flees the manor with his 'daughter' and assumes his alternative identity of 'Mr Miles' in far flung Surrey. New narrative threads then have to picked up as Quennell - travelling incognito with his daughter as holidaying bank manager Mr Thompson - follows Mallinger's scientific equipment to Surrey and books into a country Inn. New characters proliferate before a conclusion is reached.

All of which probably makes Blood Beast Terror sound like an unholy mess of a film. Which, in many ways it is. Yet it contains so many incidental pleasures - not to mention the sheer lunacy of its central conceit - that I find it impossible to dislike. Amongst those incidental pleasures is that, despite an obviously low budget, the production values are quite good, with the Victorian setting effectively evoked through a series of well chosen locations. That said, there are times when the film's sense of period go awry - its grasp of history seems shaky, for instance. Whilst the conversation at a Scotland Yard case conference seems to obliquely refer to the Jack the Ripper murders being a recent event, putting the date in the late nineteenth century, the Police Commissioner is seen using a quill to write with and Sergeant Allen still seems to view steam locomotion on the railways as a novelty! The low budget means that the monster itself is only briefly glimpsed - even then it is woefully unconvincing. The actors, for the most part, keep commendably straight faces. However, at the demented climax, which sees Quennell build a bonfire - as moths are attracted to heat and light - which the giant moth obligingly flies into, briefly turning back into 'Clare', before turning to ashes, Sergeant Allen queries: "How are we going to write this up, Sir? They'll never believe it at the Yard." To which a somewhat bewildered looking Quennell replies: "They'll never believe it anywhere!" The note of exasperation in Cushing's delivery of the line seeming to sum up his feelings about the whole film.

As I indicated at the outset, Blood Beast Terror remains a firm favourite with me - despite the fact that it leaves numerous loose ends hanging. But perhaps it is that ramshackle plot and meandering narrative which appeal to me, not to mention its sheer novelty value. Where else can you find a film where Sherlock's mum turns into a giant blood-drinking moth? Which leads us, finally, to the unanswered question implicit in the movie which perplexes me most: was 'Clare' a woman who sometimes turned into a moth, or a moth that sometimes turned into a woman?

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Monday, December 08, 2014

Tarzana - The Wild Girl (1969)



Some films require no further explanation beyond their trailers. Tarzana is one such movie. The title alone gives you a pretty good idea of what you'll be getting: a female Tarzan, orphaned in the jungle as a toddler after a plane crash which kills her parents. The amount of female flesh on display in the trailer gives you an even better idea of what is about. What better excuse for gratuitous displays of female nudity could there be than a jungle adventure about a wild woman? Wouldn't it be natural that, growing up with no human contact, she'd have no inhibitions or knowledge of civilised mores like clothes? Well, maybe. But the fact is that the film is simply about titillation - even the supposedly 'civilised' woman who is part of the group searching for Tarzana bares her breasts at regular intervals, (most hilariously at the climax when she does it to reassure Tarzana that she and the hero are the wild girl's friends and can be trusted), on the flimsiest of pretexts.

But back in 1969 it wasn't always easy to get naked breasts past the censors if you didn't want your movie labelled as pornography. UK producers tended to go for those naturist 'documentaries' (which were purely educational, obviously). Carry on Camping got away with it via the device of Sid James and co watching one of said documentaries in a cinema. Italian producers, by contrast used the device of presenting it as an adventure picture, with the nudity being integral to the storyline. Hence Tarzana. In truth, the trailer contains all of the film's 'highlights', particularly in terms of nudity. That said, I have watched an incredibly scratchy UK language version and can tell you that it is an almost entirely studio bound and very tatty looking affair that takes forever getting anywhere. Padded out with lots of stock footage of lions, elephants and other wild life, it includes the usual (for the period) patronising portrayals of African natives. Tarzana herself, played by the very lovely Femi Banussi, has surprisingly little to do (except wander around near naked, of course) - until the final twenty minutes or so, she doesn't even have any interaction with the rest of the cast. Most of her scenes prior to this are shared with a chimp and concern her following and spying on the expedition sent by her millionaire Grandfather to find her. Some rare location shots show her (or, more likely, her stunt double) swinging through the tress, Tarzan-style. However, rather than a jungle, the location looks remarkably like some Autumnal woods outside Rome.

I wouldn't say that Tarzana is complete waste of time - if you like beautiful ladies wandering around the jungle in a thong, dancing wildly or just gratuitously taking their clothes off, it's undoubtedly well worth ninety minutes of your time - but it has little to offer in terms of narrative, character, direction or production values. That said, despite being wholly unoriginal, Tarzana does exercise a certain fascination while it is on, with its typically ropy dubbing, in the English language version, adding to the amusement already inherent in the poverty row production values. It's certainly entertaining, but probably not quite in the way the makers intended. If you aren't into rickety old exploitation movies like this (and the pleasures they hold) then just stick to the trailer.

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Friday, December 05, 2014

The Body Stealers



Sometimes you watch a film, find it mildly diverting, then forget about until you come across some mention of it in print or on the web and you find yourself asking - why all the hate?  Such is the case with Tigon's 1969 pulp science fiction thriller The Body Stealers.  If you are to believe the critics (both professional and amateur) this is the worst British film ever made - a worthless farrago with a lame script, poor pacing and threadbare production values.  However, when the film turned up on TV for the first time in years, on Movies4Men last Saturday afternoon, I was left wondering just where all that vitriol had come from.  It certainly isn't the worst British film ever.  Not even close.  Damn it, even Tigon made worse films than The Body Stealers - what I've seen of Zeta One, for instance, indicates even poorer production values, dialogue and performances.  Sure, The Body Stealers is, by no stretch of the imagination, a great movie.  It probably isn't even a good movie, but it is surprisingly entertaining in a barking mad sort of way.  In fact, I'd say that it was my second favourite completely insane Tigon film after their delirious giant moth horror flick The Blood Beast Terror.

In fact, The Body Stealers has much in common with The Blood Beast Terror: a meandering plot in which various characters you think are going to be significant are swiftly (and somewhat arbitrarily) killed off, a mysterious beautiful woman who isn't what she seems (alien in Body Stealers, giant moth in Blood Beast) and a cast of well known British actors looking all at sea, (Robert Flemyng features in both, whilst George Sanders as a General in Body Stealers looks even more bewildered by the script that Peter Cushing's police inspector had in Blood Beast).  But, unlike the Victorian era set Blood Beast Terror, The Body Stealers has a contemporary setting and its portrayal of the very late sixties makes for a fascinating cultural time capsule, particularly with regard to sexual politics.  Despite only having third billing, future Barrett Homes salesman Patrick Allen actually plays the lead character, a sort of freelance sex pest called Bob, who is called in to investigate a series of mysterious disappearances of parachutists.  Bob is apparently incapable of even walking past an attractive young woman without attempting to seduce her, make some kind of sexist comment or simply ogle her.  Amazingly, to twenty first century eyes, he never seems to get slapped or reprimanded for sexual harassment.  Indeed, his behaviour is seen as some kind of acceptable norm.  It's clear that women really love this kind of attention - when they reject him, they're just playing hard to get.

Even Hilary Dwyer's lady scientist is ultimately unable to resist his 'charms' (even though he's simultaneously attempting to get his leg over - to use the vernacular of the time - with alien temptress Lorna) - she might wear glasses, look down microscopes and come up with vital scientific evidence, but it is clear that her place is to be entirely subsidiary to the male characters.  Only Lorna is allowed to be more proactive and show herself superior to (some) of the men - but she isn't really a woman: she's an alien whose apparently human female form is merely a fa├žade.   Fascinatingly, 1969's idea of an irresistable male sex bomb who can seduce both lady scientists and alien temptresses is a middle aged man with a penchant for wearing cardigans.  This theme is bizarrely continued with Allan Cutherbertson's senior civil servant 'working late' with his secretary - the sight of the one-time straight man to Tommy Cooper and Terry and June being undressed by a young girl in her underwear is something you'll never forget.

Whilst it is true to say that the plot of The Body Stealers makes no sense,  (surely there must be less conspicuous ways for technologically advanced aliens to kidnap parachutists than dematerialising them in mid-air whilst they jump), and that the production values and performances often leave something to be desired, (the NATO base looks suspiciously like the Shepperton Studios office block and their 'laboratory' is curiously devoid of scientific equipment, whilst Maurice Evans' utter contempt is all too evident when announcing that he's 'from the planet Migon'), but that would be to miss the point.  The film's true pleasures lie in its attention to the little details of life in late sixties Britain: the seedy hotel full of sales reps who drive Ford Cortinas, the manual telephone switch boards, the afore-mentioned casual sexism and that curious, uneasy, co-existence of tradition and new-fangled 'grooviness' (embodied in Allen's clearly establishment troubleshooter who adopts many of the trappings of the 'swinging sixties' in order to 'pull birds').  It takes us back to a time when the military used Ford Zodiacs and Zephyrs as staff cars (they use MkIIIs in the film, but I know from my childhood memories that by that time the real military were using the bigger and boxier MkIVs), and Hillman Imps were still considered fashionable.  Hell, not only does The Body Stealers feature Neil (brother of Sean) Connery's only film appearance other than OK Connery, the alien spaceship is the Dalek flying saucer from the Daleks Invasion Earth film.  On top of all that, it also has the most groovy sixties musical score.  What's not to like?

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Thursday, December 04, 2014

More Doom and Despondency

OK, so things did get worse yesterday, despite my hopes on Tuesday that things could only start improving after the damp disaster in my spare room caused by the council's ivy blocking my guttering.  In addition to it being another cold and miserable day, Wednesday also saw me reversing into someone's car, in an uncharacteristic lapse of concentration.  Luckily, I was able to locate the parked vehicle's owner and we exchanged insurance details.  The sad thing here though, was that the lady whose vehicle I'd dented (not badly, I'm glad to say) was surprised that I'd not just driven off and left it, as neither she nor anyone else had witnessed the incident.  Is this the kind of world we're living in these days?  A world where people's expectations of their fellow men are so low that failing to stop at an accident is considered the norm?  Believe me, she wasn't being cynical, it's just that her experience had left her thinking that everyone is a potential bastard who won't own up to their mistakes.  Trust me, I'm not happy at the effect this is likely to have on next year's insurance quote, but surely I can't be alone in thinking that my behaviour in exchanging details isn't just common decency?   

Right, things have just got worse.  The phone fault which BT supposedly fixed has reoccurred again. This is the third time it has been 'fixed' as a result of my complaining and the third time it has reoccurred within days.  Basically, instead of ringing normally, the phone gives one long continuous ring, simultaneously knocking out my broadband.  It also prevents my answerphone from working.  Which is probably why I've heard nothing from the council about the ivy or the insurance about the collision.  Despite the fact that I've carried out their checks which show the fault can't lie inside my property (it persists even when only the test socket is used), the only actual written responses I get from BT are to aske me whether I've done these tests and to keep trying to get me to agree to an entirely unnecessary engineer's appointment - as I keep telling them, according to their own guidelines, if the tests show the fault lies outside the property, this would be completely inappropriate.  According to non-BT telecoms people I've spoken to, the fault's symptoms mean that the fault lies at the exchange.  But trying to tell BT this is seemingly impossible, as they ignore everything I tell them. 

This week has turned very introspective and gloomy, I know.  I'll try and lighten the mood next time. 

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Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Dampening the Mood

There are days when one feels oneself being pushed to the edge of despair.  Today was one such day.  After spending a large part of this year putting right various bits of damage caused by the damage to my roof incurred during last Christmas's storms, upon going into the spare room this lunchtime for the first time in a few weeks, (it's a spare room so, obviously, I don't go in there regularly) I discovered a huge patch of penetrating damp on the outside wall, with the paint blistering off like an extreme skin disease.  The cause of this damp was easily identified: the ivy which plagues the side of my house had crept back around the front corner, blocked the guttering and sent torrents of water down the brickwork at the front during the last month or so of heavy rain we've had to endure.  The ivy emanates from the council's park land which adjoins my house.  Over the years I've had to get them to cut it back several times due o the damage it does to my brick work.  The roofer who repaired my roof was also of the opinion that it had contributed to the damage there - by lifting some of the slates at the edge of the roof it had made it easier for the high winds to dislodge them. Perhaps I should try to claim compensation from the council.

Anyway, having spoken to them on the phone, the council have undertaken to cut down the offending ivy.  It would be even better if they killed the evil stuff off at the roots (which are on their land) but they never seem willing to do this.  Clearly, until they do this, there is little point in me trying to repair any of the internal damage as, until the external cause is resolved, the damp will just reoccur.  In the meantime, all I can do is run my dehumidifier in the spare room to keep the moisture down and prevent further mould.  I wouldn't mind, but it was only a couple of years ago that I repaired the plaster and repainted that wall.  I've also only just resolved the damp problems in my hall way downstairs, (also the result of the ivy blocking the guttering, it transpires).  If I'm lucky, once it is all dried out, the damage in the spare room will be confined to the paintwork and the plaster will be intact (this was the case the last time I had a similar problem, that time caused by a leaking overflow pipe).  To cap it all, today was also freezing cold.  Surely tomorrow must be better?     

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Monday, December 01, 2014

The Lights are Coming on All Over Crapchester...

Well, it seems to be official: Christmas has started.  It seems that the media have decided that noe that it is December, the festive season is officially open.  Which means ever more intensive attempts to sell us stuff.  After the horrors of the entirely spurious (in the UK, at least) 'Black Friday' (I still don't see how we can have a 'Black Friday' when we didn't have Thanksgiving the day before), today we had 'Cyber Monday'.  Not, as I thought it might be, the day the Cybermen invade or, indeed, the day that the Cybermen do their Christmas shopping.  Instead, it the day when retailers try to convince us that we just have to buy these online deals now.   The fact that most of these 'deals' are neither that good nor exclusive to 'Cyber Monday' is neither here nor there.  You just have to buy, something.  Anything.  Naturally, I've ignored 'Cyber Monday'.  I exhausted myself over the weekend fighting the crowds to buy my great nieces their presents and wrap them.  (For complex logistical reasons, it was necessary that I had their presents, bought, wrapped and despatched by Sunday).  I might have been knackered, but at least I could feel smug at having completed a huge chunk of my Christmas shopping before December.

But it isn't just the media who appear to have decided that Christmas has arrived: the decorations are going up everywhere.  Sure, I know that the municipal lights and decorations have been up in town centres for what seems an age already, but today I walked into my office to find decorations up.  Actually, I have to say that I hate Christmas decorations in the workplace - inappropriate and unprofessional.  Seriously, I detest the attempt to make the workplace seem something it isn't: cheery and welcoming.  It's a lie.  But getting back to the point, today was the day that all those external lights on people's houses seem to have been switched on en masse.  From what I saw today, many of the old favourites are back, but I'm hoping to see some new stuff - not just the really amazing artistic displays, but some really crap stuff too.  You know what I mean, the sort of displays which look as if someone has loaded every Christmas light, illuminated Santa, glowing reindeer and flashing elf into a blunderbuss and then fired it at the front of their house, creating a random spattering of lights.  Personally, I don't put my decorations (such as they are) up until about a week before Christmas - and I restrict myself to the interior of the house.  This isn't because I'm a total curmudgeon, it's just that when I was a kid nobody put up their decorations until, at the earliest, mid-December, with many (like my family) waiting until a bit later.  So, you see, I'm just a Christmas traditionalist.

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