Monday, August 31, 2015

The Projected Man (1966)

Long dismissed as being little more than a poverty row knock off of the far better known The Fly, The Projected Man isn't without merit in its own right.  It certainly has an interesting pedigree, co-produced by an uncredited Richard Gordon, (prolific producer and financier of low budget horror movies) , executive produced by Michael Klinger (later to produce Get Carter amongst other high profile British movies in the 1970s) and Tony Tenser (shortly to form Tigon) and directed by Ian Curteis, (then a TV director, but later to rise to fame as a TV writer, whose credits include The Falklands Play).  It also features US actor Bryant Halliday, (something of a fixture in Richard Gordon's movies during this period,) in the lead, supported by British soap opera regular Ronald Allen and stage actress Mary Peach, (who, for contractual reasons, had top billing).  Despite the combination of these talents, The Projected Man lacks the boldness and delirium of other Compton horror titles from this period, never quite able to rise above its status as a supporting feature.

Undoubtedly, this is down to the unoriginality of the script's ideas, epitomised by its passing resemblance to The Fly.  To be fair, this resemblance doesn't really extend beyond the basic idea of a scientist using himself as the subject for his matter transmission experiments and ending up transformed into a monster.  Unfortunately, the story the screenwriters assemble around this idea isn't terribly original, either, substituting a revenge plot set against the background of internal politics and financial skulduggery at a scientific institute for The Fly's simpler tale of scientist getting his comeuppance after overreaching himself.  Unlike Al Hedison in The Fly, Bryant Halliday doesn't get his atoms mixed up with an insect and then just  lurk around his home laboratory, instead being disfigured and turned mad after an experimental error during his 'test transmission', before rampaging about and murdering those he holds responsible for sabotaging his project at the scientific institute. 

The institutional background of The Projected Man was a feature popular in British science fiction thrillers of the era.  Whilst their US equivalents were either lone mavericks working in their basements or fully paid up government scientists with hi-tech facilities, British movie scientists usually worked within the confines of research institutes - sometimes government funded, but usually backed by research councils, shady companies, private foundations (usually equally shady) or fabulously wealth (and shady) individuals.  Always, they would find themselves harassed by bureaucrats demanding results and their work would be threatened by budgetary restraints.  Such is the case in The Projected Man, where Halliday's project is under threat from the institute's director because it isn't getting results.  Which, inevitably, results in Halliday calling in an outside expert (and old flame) in to help him find out why the animals he 'projects' all die shortly after rematerializing, before hastily scheduling a new demonstration for the director and the institute's financial backers.  Of course, it goes wrong - but due to sabotage.  It turns out that the director is in cahoots with the shady businessmen backing the institute to discredit Halliday and have him fired, so that they can steal his research for themselves.

Interestingly, Halliday remains oblivious to this subterfuge as he prepares to 'project' himself into one of the backers' houses unannounced, so as to prove his technology, instead focussing his suspicions on assistant Ronald Allen, who not only works directly for the institute, but has also started romancing his old flame.  His mistrust of Allen results in him using his secretary to assist him and, of course, she makes the fatal mistake during the transmission process which results in him materialising, not in the target house, but on a nearby building site.  Here, he disturbs a group of robbers attempting to break into a nearby furriers, inadvertently killing them with a single touch - as well as the disfiguration, a side-effect of the accident is to give Halliday an electrified touch.  Whilst a sub-plot involving the police investigating these deaths now starts, Halliday himself stumbles back to the institute, where he finally uncovers the plot against him, after overhearing the director's phone conversation with one of the shady financiers.  Whilst there, Halliday kidnaps his secretary - who is now clad only in her underwear for reasons too unlikely to go into - and somehow succeeds in taking her to his flat, (clearly, horrifically disfigured men carrying unconscious semi-naked girls through the streets at dead of night, isn't an unusual sight in that part of London, even when local police are already scouring the area for a multiple murderer) , where he tries to get more information from her about the director's shenanigans.

It all builds to the expected finale, with armed police helpless to stop an electrified Halliday from claiming further victims, before a climactic and explosive conflagration back at the lab.  Incredibly, The Projected Man packs all of this action and plot into just seventy seven minutes.  Unfortunately, because it spends so long establishing the office politics of the institute, the plot against Halliday and the motivation of the various participants, Halliday's transformation and his revenge plot, which really should have been the main thrust of the film, is severely delayed and seems very hurried in its execution, (although this might also be due to the film production running behind schedule and the original director replaced, possibly leaving some scenes unfilmed).  More valuable time is taken up with police inspector Derek Farr's murder investigation and repetitive laboratory scenes.  That said, the whole background of the internal politics of the institute are actually one of the film's best realised aspects, firmly grounding the subsequent fantastic events in a real world of budgets and workplace rivalries undoubtedly familiar to audiences.  The whole thing is briskly edited and the cast play it commendably straight, giving surprisingly good performances.  Whilst clearly intended to be the bottom half of a double bill. (which it was in the US, supporting Terence Fisher's Island of Terror), The Projected Man still deserves better than simply to be dismissed as a Fly knock off.


Friday, August 28, 2015

The Earth Dies Screaming (1964)

I was familiar with the title of this movie long before I ever saw it.  A regular fixture in the late night TV schedules of the early seventies, I was far too young to be allowed to stay up and watch it - but the title promised much and the synopses in the TV listings promised even more.  According to them it told of the earth laid waste by alien robots, opposed only by a tiny band of survivors. Incredibly, it did all this - alien invasions, decimation of the human race, brave fight backs - in a running time of just over an hour.  By the time I was old enough to watch it, The Earth Dies Screaming had vanished from the schedules, along with many of its low-budget brethren, their main crime being that they were in glorious black-and-white. 

The film has a very variable reputation amongst horror and science fiction fans, with many focusing on its obviously very low budget and wonky alien robots.  So, when I finally caught up with it, I was pleasantly surprised to find it a reasonably well-crafted and suspenseful film which makes the most of its limited resources.  Another Robert Lippert-Jack Parsons coproduction, The Earth Dies Screaming benefits considerably from the presence of the great Terence Fisher in the director's chair.  One of a trio of low budget science fiction films Fisher directed during his mid-sixties fall from favour at Hammer, The Earth Dies Screaming is often held up as 'proof' that the director, who had made his name directing Hammer's first cycle of Gothic horrors, was ill at ease with the science fiction genre. Which, I feel, is a somewhat unjust judgement upon the film.  Whilst it is true that the subject matter of the film never allow Fisher's usual preoccupations with the sexuality of evil and ineffectiveness of reason without faith in the face of evil to take flight, he still manages to achieve a number of effective set-pieces, focusing on the horror, rather than the science fiction, elements of the scenario.  Certainly, it is a far, far better film than his other two efforts in the genre (1966's Island of Terror and 1967's Night of the Big Heat, both made for Planet Films).

Arguably, Fisher's lack of interest in the science fiction aspects of the film are actually one its biggest strengths.  His perfunctory use of them allows the film to move at a reasonable pace, unencumbered by long expository scenes full of the pseudo-science usually to be found in sixties science fiction movie.  Indeed, we never even see the 'invasion' and subsequent wiping out of most of humanity is confined to a pre-titles montage of stock footage of trains, cars and planes crashing and a few shots of people dropping dead at a station. Fisher starts the film proper by throwing us straight into the action, with our hero driving through a lifeless British countryside, through villages populated only with dead bodies, as he tries to figure out what has happened (he was test flying an experimental high altitude aircraft at the time of the attack and landed to find these scenes of desolation).  Undoubtedly, budgetary considerations were a motivating force behind this economical opening, but Fisher makes the most of it, building up our identification with the hero as he, like us, tries to figure out what is going on.

Inevitably, our protagonist runs into other survivors, including Dennis Price and Thorley Walters, and they hole up in a village pub.  At which point the film seems as if it is about to settle into that staple of British low budget science fiction movies: the 'cosy disaster story' where everybody huddles in a pub and endlessly discusses the terrible things going on outside, whilst not actually doing anything.  Fisher, however, uses this segment of the film to stage a number of highly effective suspense sequences, ranging from an unsuspecting young pregnant woman being watched through the window by an eerily motionless robot as she works in the kitchen, to the sudden and unexpected return to life of a character previously killed by one of the robots.  (Not only do the alien machines have the touch of death, but they can also remotely revive their victims as eyeless zombies).   In addition to the alien menace, the group also finds itself threatened by internal strife, with Dennis Price's characteristically suave and snide criminal cad intent upon double crossing his companions.

The film builds to a tense climax, with Fisher switching between two different groups of characters, both facing grave danger from the aliens, but unable to aid each other.  Having figured out that the robots are controlled via radio transmissions from space, two of the survivors locate one of their transmitters and attempt to destroy it.  Simultaneously, the rest of the group, supposedly safe in an abandoned military installation, find themselves menaced by the robots and a zombified Price.  Fisher racks up the tension, switching between the two groups, one trying to evade the robots guarding the transmitter, the other apparently helpless to ward off the relentlessly advancing alien menace.

Fisher's disinterest in the science fiction elements results not only in a briskly moving film, but also gives the whole thing a pleasingly enigmatic quality.  The aliens controlling the robots remain unseen and their motivation in poisoning the earth's population largely unexplained.  Just as in real life, there is no neat wrap up which conveniently ties up loose ends and explains everything satisfactorily.  The elements the survivors do work out - the radio control of the robots and the fact that the aliens had used an airborne poison to kill everyone (the survivors had all been in sealed environments with their own air supply at the time of the attack) - seem to be arrived at by the characters naturally and logically, without resort to laboured and awkward exposition.  Fisher's direction is ably assisted by Elizabeth Lutyens' eerie and jagged musical score and Arthur Lavis' crisp monochrome photography.  All-in-all, The Earth Dies Screaming is no classic of the genre but, thanks to Fisher's efforts, it does stand out as a superior B-picture and, at just over an hour long, it doesn't outstay its welcome.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Oh, What's the Bloody Point?

Don't worry, despite the title, I'm not in the depths of depression or having a breakdown.  'Oh, what's the bloody point?' was, of course, the last entry Kenneth Williams made in his diary before taking a fatal overdose of barbiturates.  Whilst an open verdict was returned by the coroner's inquest into Williams' death, those words certainly indicate that he was a man at the end of his tether: tired of life, growing old and probably feeling that the various avenues of life were increasingly closed for him.  That said, perhaps his overdose was just an accident, rather than suicide.  After all, we've probably all uttered something similar at times of emotional stress, without it presaging an attempt to take our own lives.  I certainly seem to recall spitting out something along the same lines many, many years ago, when I young, foolish and careless with my heart - the stimulus being the announcement of a girl I was seeing that she wasn't just seeing someone else, but was going to marry them.  (It really shouldn't have come as a surprise that she was seeing someone else or getting married - in retrospect, my casualness about the relationship must have made it seem to her that: a) I wasn't interested in an 'exclusive' relationship and b) that I wasn't interested in a permanent relationship, which she clearly was.  To be fair, on the latter point she was right: at that time in my life the idea of a permanent or even just long-term relationship seemed horrifying.  Now, I'm not so sure).

But I'm straying from the point, which isn't to rake over the cold ashes of the dim and distant past.  I was reminded of the Williams quote the other day, when I came across an article on the web in which various atheists, agnostics and humanists explained what they thought the 'point' of life was and how they gave their lives 'purpose' in the absence of religious faith.  Many of their answers were interesting, but the ones I admired the most were the ones who eschewed the notion of 'purpose' altogether.  The apparent need of many people to feel that their lives should have 'meaning', 'purpose' or a 'point' has always fascinated me - it is something I've never really understood.  I can understand people who want to achieve some life's work for which they will be remembered after their death - it is a way of giving a gift to posterity or making a lasting contribution to the human experience.  But that's somewhat different to wanting life to have a point to it.  Surely simply being alive and staying in that state is a purpose in itself?  On a purely biological level, the only purpose of life is to perpetuate itself - reproduction to ensure the survival of the species. (I must admit, that I'm not sold on this - I feel no necessity to perpetuate my genes or my species.  Surely it must be the scorpions turn to be the dominant species?) Perhaps life's only 'purpose', in cosmic terms, is to battle entropy and temporarily stave off the eventual heat death of the universe, (according to the third law of thermodynamics - I think it is the third, feel free to correct me - all energy will eventually be reduced to heat, the lowest level of energy, which cannot be transformed into any higher form of energy: except by living beings and even then only temporarily).   Personally, I've never had a problem with my life being 'pointless': I feel no 'higher calling' or 'greater purpose'. I simply exist.  Which is the crux of it - the existence of life and human consciousness is, in itself, something of a miracle. A miracle we experience on a daily basis.  So we should enjoy it for what it is, while it lasts.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Gloomy Outlook?

There's a part of me that's saying 'For fuck's sake, is it any wonder that the Met Office has lost its contract with the BBC after the dismal job it did for me last week?'  (As you may recall from last week's rantings, the weather kept doing the opposite to whatever the Met Office had forecast, making the planning of activities during my holiday near impossible).  But there's another part which feels that this is simply another reminder of just how 'quality' is being replaced by 'convenience' in contemporary Britain.  For all its faults, the Met Office brings a huge amount of expertise and experience to TV weather forecasting.  No matter how wrong they might turn out to be, (and, to be fair, forecasting has become far more reliable in recent years), you at least know that the Met Office's weather forecasts are based upon vast amounts of scientific research and complex computer modelling based upon the best available data.  The prospect is that this will be replaced by some service provider which has won the BBC contract simply because it conveniently put in the lowest bid.  Which doesn't really fill one full of confidence for their forecasting. Just what data or methodology will this new low-budget service base its forecasts upon?

I'm tempted to tender a bid myself.  I'm sure that my bit of seaweed nailed to the garden shed door will be just as accurate an indicator of weather patterns as whatever methods any of these other potential bidders might utilise.  (Although I have heard rumours that one of them uses a pine cone, which I'm worried might have a bit more sensitivity than my seaweed).  Alternatively, I suppose, I could just lie.  After all, as Billy Connolly once advised TV AM weather girl Wincey Willis, people don't really want to be depressed by a bad weather forecast first thing in the morning: 'Just tell them it's going to be a fucking scorcher out there - it'll cheer them up.  If they really want to know what the weather's like, they can just look out of the window.'  No doubt this new service will also have to be more 'entertaining' than the current forecasts, if trends in the rest of TV output are anything to go by: I can remember the times when science programmes, say, were actually serious, nowadays, by contrast, they seem to have to be an extension of the light entertainment division.  It's all photogenic presenters, glitzy graphics and jokey asides.  'Dumbing down', some might call it.  Anyway, I've just checked the seaweed: wet, so it'll be rain tomorrow, for sure.  You see if it isn't. 

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Right Offended

Over the weekend I discovered the existence of something called 'Redwatch'. This is an online 'service' apparently run by rabidly right wing loonies, purporting to 'name and shame' ;Reds' throughout the UK, including in the media and online.  For the purposes of these kooks the term 'Reds' seems to encompass anybody who is a member of trade union, been on an anti war demonstration, been on an anti-Nazi demonstration, remarked in the pub that they thought that Hitler bloke had been a bit extreme or has been polite to a member of an ethnic minority.  Indeed, the worst crime anyone can commit in their eyes. it seems, is to be 'anti-racist'.  (Which begs the obvious question: if these jokers were on holiday on the Costa del Sol, would they be OK with it if a bunch of local Spanish skinheads came and beat them up, calling them 'English cunts' and telling them to 'fuck off back to where you came from'?  After all, it would just be an example good old honest racism, which they must be in in favour of, if they hate 'anti racists' so much, after all.)

Anyway, the whole thing is chock full of photos of people on demos and picket lines, all identified as 'Reds'.  Not only are they named, but often address is included (I have no idea whether these are accurate or not - hopefully not).  But the most offensive thing about 'Redwatch' is that it doesn't mention me anywhere - not under my real name, (I've been on a few picket lines and demos and can frequently be heard in pubs preaching the need for armed insurrection in order to overturn the capitalist tyranny), nor as 'Doc Sleaze' in the internet 'Reds' section.  For fuck's sake, what does an old leftie have to do to get condemned by right-wing nutters these days?  I mean, it's a badge of honour to become a figure of hate for these bastards.  A badge of honour, incidentally, which I would wear with pride alongside those I have for my pissing off of the 'Paul is Dead' brigade and a certain self-styled vampire hunter and his acolytes. Sure, I've been disparaged on a few neo-Nazi message boards for some of my stories over at The Sleaze, but that just isn't the same as being condemned as a 'Red' by a bunch of rabid racist dingbats.   OK, I know that most of the 'Redwatch' site doesn't seem to have been updated since 2013, its Twitter feed has been suspended and its judgement as to what constitutes 'left wing' is highly suspect, (it 'names and shames' knee-jerk reactionary right-wing radio shock jock Jon Gaunt as a 'Red', for instance), but I still feel insulted by its failure to include me on its lists of dangerous leftist subversives.

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Friday, August 21, 2015

Meandering Around

Damn, I've been getting introspective of late, haven't I?  I blame my recent lack of sleep. Despite being on holiday, I seem to have been sleeping less than I do when I'm at work.  I think the problem is that I am on holiday: I get home exhausted from a day wandering around far flung places, then sit down and start working on some other project, thinking 'hell, it doesn't matter if I spend half the night finishing editing this podcast - I don't have to get up for work tomorrow.'  Then, of course, I get up the next morning and go gallivanting off somewhere else on only a few hours sleep, exhausting myself more, before coming home and starting the cycle all over again.  I did try to get some extra sleep in the other evening - I even switched my phone off so as to avoid being disturbed.  Not surprisingly, I didn't sleep, I started doing something else, then forgot to switch my phone back on until the next afternoon, to be bombarded with a backlog of texts.  (I have a theory that people sending texts know when your phone is off and deliberately send them then, so that you are inundated when you switch your phone back on.  By contrast, when your phone is on all day, as mine was today, nobody bloody tries to text you.  I bet that as soon as I switch it off, the buggers will start texting.  Really, there must be an app somewhere for telling if a recipients phone is off.) 

To get back to the point, (if, indeed, there was a point, I'm pretty sure I had one when I started writing this), it's probably time that I started steering this blog back to its regular content: films of dubious quality, political rants and, well, whatever else it is I manage to fill these pages with (we passed the 2000 post mark the other day).  Being back at work next week will probably help - with no holiday travels to enjoy, I'll be forced to write proper posts here to fill the emotional vacuum.  That said, I'm back on holiday for another week after that, so my reader(s) will undoubtedly then have to endure another week of trivial and frivolous posts about nothing in particular. Like this one.  To be honest, right now I can't even think of a piece of pop culture trivia to rant about, I've become so disconnected from my usual routines these past two weeks.  Which is undoubtedly a good thing - the whole point of holidays is to break out of our regular routines.  Something I'm very proud of is the fact that, over these two weeks, I haven't picked up a paint brush or filled any cracks in the walls.  DIY has been off the agenda, (although I did buy some stuff to skim some of the dodgy plaster work, but that's for a future project and I haven't even opened the container yet), which has been relief as I've spent virtually every other day off I've had this year engaged in redecorating or repairs.  No doubt I'll get back to that next week, as well.  OK, I've wittered on enough to make what looks like a post, so I'll shut up for now.   


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Life's Reject Pile?

The only problem with being on holiday is that, during all those long walks across moors, through forests and along beaches, I have lots of time to think.  To be more accurate, I have lots of time to brood on things.  It's a bad habit I have - every time unexpected things crop up, I start brooding over how they will impact my life (I inevitably convince myself that it will be negatively) and what they might signify, (in reality, nothing at all, but when I'm in one of these moods everything seems to be a portent of doom).  This week, there's been no single occurrence which has set me off, but a series of relatively minor things got me feeling that my life has been a failure in so many areas.  Time and again, it seems, various efforts and enterprises just seem to reach a dead end and wind up in life's reject pile.  This applies equally to both my work and my private life.  Worst of all, I fear that I'm too old to change and put myself onto a more rewarding path. Or so I've been telling myself during those walks.

And yet, the reality is that it isn't all doom and gloom.  Despite my propensity for beating myself up over my failures, the fact is that in some areas I seem to be making positive progress.  For instance, my old podcast series 'The Sleazecast' is now being run over at the Overnightscape Underground - to positive feedback.  Moreover, I've just started putting together a new series of podcasts for them: after many delays, I've nearly completed the first episode of 'Schlock Express'.  Plus, I'm in the early stages of working on a new edition of 'The Sleazecast'.  In the real world, I'm within touching distance of paying off my mortgage and I'm already looking into reducing my work commitments.  Most significantly, over the past week or so, I've been making a concerted effort to reconnect with an old and valued friend.  I've been hugely remiss in failing to keep in touch with them outside of exchanging festive and birthday greetings.  As I grow older I'm learning to value genuine friendships more.  I don't have many close friends and this particular individual is one of the few people I've ever felt a real connection with, whose company never bores or irritates me and who I trust implicitly.  Thankfully, my efforts have been reciprocated, although their life has changed radically since I last had a proper conversation with them, (this was one of the things that fuelled my brooding - it left me feeling that everyone else's lives were moving on whilst mine remained stalled), I'm hopeful that we can re-establish our friendship properly.  From a purely selfish perspective, I badly need to feel that I've got someone trustworthy in  my corner again.

So, despite all the brooding and negativity going through my mind, I think that I've managed to convince myself that there are still plenty of positive things going on in my life.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Non-Moving Pictures

So, I spent the better part of the day wandering around plains and forests and the like.  But not filming them.  Indeed, my regular reader(s) might well have noticed the lack of holiday films this year.  In previous years, by this point in my holiday, I would have inflicted several home movies on you all.  But this year I just haven't seen anything I've felt like filming.  Part of the problem might well lie with the fact that I've been mainly revisiting old haunts which I've already filmed from every possible angle.  I just can't think of any new way to video these places.  Maybe I should try going somewhere different, but part of the point of a holiday is to relax oneself and these are all places which I know will do just that.  Why take risks and go somewhere which might prove stressful?  Besides, this year it is familiarity which I crave - it brings me reassurance that everything is OK.  (although it probably isn't).

Anyway, with regard to the holiday films, or the lack thereof this year, you aren't quite off the hook yet.  First off, there's still part two of my holidays to come: whilst I'm back at work next week, I'll be back on leave the following week.  There's always the chance that I'll find something to film then.  Secondly, I already have a load of footage from that day off I took in June, which I still haven't used yet - inevitably that's going to become a holiday film when I have time to edit it.  Plus, I have been taking lots of photos during my holidays this year, so I could yet inflict those on you all.  Then there's my recent foray into wildlife photography: today I filmed some ants I encountered.  And a caterpillar.  I'm sure there's a film in there somewhere.  I've already sent some of the ant film to my friend Little Miss Strange in order to pre-empt her threats of texting me a picture of a dead rat, (don't ask, all you need to know is that she lives up to her nick name).  So, you've been warned.   

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Monday, August 17, 2015

Lifeforce Revisited

Having feature Lifeforce as a 'random movie trailer' on Friday, I subsequently had the opportunity to re-watch the entire film - the longer 'international' version - over the weekend.   Whilst I don't think I did it a disservice in the previous post, it was interesting how much of the film - in its early sequences at least - actually works reasonably well.  The initial space-set scenes, whilst they go on too long, are atmospheric and intriguing, setting up all sorts of questions - most of which are never adequately answered.  Easily the best part of the movie is the subsequent section set at the space research centre in London.  These build up a real atmosphere of impending doom, with Halley's comet ominously dominating the night sky (which, in reality, it didn't do on its 1986 visit).  Indeed, director Tobe Hooper succeeds in conjuring up a real 'late at night' feeling for this section of the film.  The subsequent awakening of the naked space girl and her attack on the security guard are well handled, as are the subsequent scenes when an autopsy is attempted on the security guard, with predictably disastrous consequences. 

Unfortunately, with the entrance of Peter Firth's Colonel Cain (from the SAS, although 'that's not for publication, kindly ignore that last remark', as he tells the assembled press as he arrives at the space centre), the film begins to go seriously off course, with his pointless search for the escape space girl and the consequent trip to a secure mental institute in Yorkshire fatally slowing down the film's pace and completely derailing its narrative drive.  This, along with a welter of flashbacks and clumsy expository scenes, compromise the movie's confusing middle section.  A series of abrupt jump cuts between scenes give the impression that whole scenes had been cut (they had) and the viewer is left suspecting that they might have been better than what was left in or, at the very least, might have clarified the increasingly confused narrative.  Lifeforce gets back on course with the apocalyptic climax, which is well staged and almost saves the film.  Add to this some shockingly poor dialogue and over-the-top performances from Firth, Frank Finlay and Patrick Stewart (the worst offender) and it is obvious that the film never stood a chance at the box office.  The most restrained performance by a mile is that of Steve Railsback.  Unfortunately, as he's nominally the leading character this leaves a vacuum at the centre of the film which other cast members try to fill by over-acting like crazy.

The visual image everyone takes away from Lifeforce of course is that of Mathilda May as the naked space girl.  Whilst I've often spent the running time of a film idly wondering what the attractive lead actress might look like unclothed, whilst re-watching Lifeforce I found myself pondering what Mathilda may might look like with clothes on.  Not that she wasn't incredibly beautiful in the film but, as I've noted elsewhere, it is remarkable how the novelty of female nudity in a film wears off when it is a constant for nearly two hours.

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Friday, August 14, 2015

Lifeforce (1985)

The most expensive British made movie at the time of its production, Lifeforce seemed to have everything going for it: a name American director in Tobe Hooper, who had successfully graduated from the cult horror hit The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to helming a major Hollywood hit with Poltergeist, a cult favourite novel - Colin Wilson's The Space Vampires - as a source, and a cast of reliable British actors including Peter Firth and Frank Finlay.  But somewhere along the way something went very, very wrong.  Maybe its the ludicrous dialogue, ('That's rather unfortunate', muses the Prime Minister, after hearing that the Home Secretary has been killed by space vampires), perhaps it is the wild overacting of the likes of Frank Finlay and, well, everyone else, or maybe the shaky characterisations (Firth's SAS officer stalks around London in a raincoat behaving more like a Scotland Yard Inspector in an Agatha Christie novel than a soldier), but the whole thing is hilariously and gloriously funny.

Everything is so misjudged and over-the-top - the main female character (European art house favourite Mathilda May) spend the entire film stark bollocking naked, for instance, (leading to suggestions that they should simply have called the film Nude Vampire Girl from Outer Space).  The meandering plot, which encompasses an ill-fated space mission to investigate Halley's Comet, the nude space vampire invasion, and a lengthy diversion to a lunatic asylum amongst other things, really doesn't help.  Whilst, like the source novel, the film is clearly trying to pay homage to Bram Stoker's Dracula with many of its set pieces and plot developments, they are poorly structured, often leaving the viewer somewhat bewildered as to what's going on in the middle portion of the film.  That said, it rallies toward the end, with a spectacular climax set in Central London which resembles the finale of Hammer's 1967 film adaptation of Nigel Kneale's Quatermass and the Pit to an actionable degree.

None of it makes much sense, but it is hugely entertaining.  To be fair, the film's narrative problems were exacerbated by pre-release editing which removed several explanatory scenes - these were restored for some of the subsequent VHS/DVD releases.  I've seen two different edits on UK TV showings - the longer version does make slightly more sense.  On the film's plus side, the big budget is clearly in evidence, with excellent special effects and production values.  If only they'd been backed up by surer direction and a better script, Lifeforce might have become a British science fiction classic.  As it stands, it's a wonderfully camp piece of entertainment, which is well worth watching.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Another Week, Another Scapegoat

Apparently its all down to those illegal immigrants.  That's the message I've been getting from Tory party central of late.  Their plans to cut benefits to young people - it's because too many illegal immigrants are fraudulently claiming these specific benefits.  Falling standards of living?  Well, according to the Foreign Secretary, that's down an influx of illegal immigrants as well - that's why we have to fight them on the beaches, or at least, in Calais.  Because if any more of them come here then we'll all have to take pay cuts or lose our jobs and houses.  It really is pathetic - just another set of scapegoats on the Tories' seemingly never-ending merry-go-round of scapegoats.  The fact is that these benefits cuts and this country's falling living standards are an integral part of the government's economic policy - it's just their public rationale for it all which keeps changing.  First of all it was because of the need for austerity which, in turn was because of the economic crash supposedly caused by the Labour government's allegedly profligate spending.  Then the disabled, the unemployed and other benefits claimants fault - they were are evil, idle and worthless according to Tory propaganda.  Now it's down to illegal immigrants.  What next, austerity is essential because of the threat of alien invasion?  The mind boggles.

Sadly, a significant proportion of the public seems to buy this nonsense, never questioning why austerity's raison d'etre keeps changing, instead just meekly accepting further misery and changing the focus of their hate.  Hate which, of course, should be directed at the government, but with their shield of right wing media deflecting it all, they just sail on, continuing to implement their neo-liberal agenda.  An agenda which has at its heart, in case you've forgotten, the belief that we in the West need to 'harmonise' wages, living standards, employment practices and the like with 'emerging' economies like China and India.  Obviously, in practice 'harmonise' means that our wages and living standards have to fall to their level and working practices resemble their sweat shops, with no health and safety, no employment rights and certainly no worker representation.  It's interesting that China has become the neo-liberals preferred model for the future of capitalism - a communist dictatorship which effectively practices state-sponsored capitalism.  Moreover, with all those recent currency devaluations - along with other problems - China is looking less and less like a suitable role model.  But who am I kidding - it is all the fault of those bloody immigrants really, isn't it?


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Happy Holidays

If I haven't mentioned it before, I'm on holiday this week.  And next week, for that matter.  Not that these were actually the weeks I wanted to take off, but, for various work-related reasons, I was pretty much bounced into taking them off (I'd rather take my main Summer break later in August - the weather is usually better).  Consequently, it all feels as if I've been rushed into taking my break without having made any proper plans.  Add to that the fact that, despite forecasts to the opposite, I've so far had to endure two consecutive days of rain.  To make things worse, despite originally indicating that next week would be sunny, the Met Office has changed its mind and decided that it will rain, instead.  All of which means that my entire break could prove to be a washout.  The only possible bright spot is that I also have the August Bank Holiday week off - perhaps early September will bring better weather.  Yes, I know, that means that I'm off for two weeks, back at work for a week, then off again for a week - it's all down to the fact that my taking my usual consecutive three weeks off in late August, early September last year caused such offence to some managers that I decided to split it this year.  Stick that in your pipes and smoke it, is my attitude.

So, as a result of all this nonsense, I ended up spending a rainy day on the beach, walking up and down a narrow spit of shingle to look at a lighthouse and a castle.  At least the poor weather meant there weren't many kids about and that it was easy to park.  I also discovered that you can get stronger 4G coverage at Hurst Point than you can get in many parts of Crapchester.  I'm hoping for better weather tomorrow, so as to enable me to take a long ramble around part of the New Forest I haven't visited in a while (and maybe take in another beach).  What my holidays - which will, hopefully, consist of my usual drift around bits of the South Coast and adjoining areas - will mean in practical terms is that posting around here might become a bit intermittent over the next couple of weeks.  Whilst I'm off wok I'd like to take turn my creative energies to a couple of other projects. That said, I'll be trying to keep The Sleaze updated with a couple of new stories.  I'm also hoping to find time to watch some more reprehensible movies, which, as ever, I'll faithfully write up here.  Anyway, that's enough rambling for now.  Back to my holiday.

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Monday, August 10, 2015

Starship Invasions (1977)

Generally regarded as a low-budget attempt to cash in on the success of Star Wars and Close Encounters, this 1977 Canadian made effort from producer/director/writer Ed Hunt is actually a reasonably entertaining piece of schlock.  Clearly seeking to combine elements from the two bigger budget movies, the scenario for Starship Invasions sees the Earth - unwittingly - at the centre of a conflict between two rival factions of aliens.  The Legion of the Winged Serpent - who all dress in natty black uniforms emblazoned with the aforementioned serpent - are led by Christopher Lee's Captain Rameses and come from a dying planet.  Consequently, they are hell bent on conquering the Earth and establishing a new home here.  To this end, they fly around in their saucers abducting humans for scientific experiments to establish the planet's suitability for their occupation and to determine the human's weaknesses.  By contrast, the white clad Intergalactic League of Races is dedicated to non-intervention in the affairs of primitive planets and instead peacefully observe humanity from an undersea golden pyramid.

Interestingly, all of the aliens are telepathic, meaning that all of their dialogue is overdubbed and non-synced, leading one to suspect that the budget didn't run to properly post-synced sound. However, the human characters all speak normally, so this was clearly an artistic, rather than a budgetary, decision.  That said, after all those Hammer Draculas Christopher Lee had done where he only snarled, it must have been a novelty for him to play a non-speaking lead who actually had dialogue.  Joining Lee as a token 'name' actor is nominal lead Robert Vaughn as a UFO-believing astronomer whose assistance is sought by the League after Lee's treachery puts their base out of action.  Both Lee and Vaughn do what they can with the tepid script and bland dialogue - Starship Invasions certainly isn't the worst film that either of them made at this stage in their careers, but it is still slightly surprising to find them in a low budget Canadian science fiction film. 

But it isn't the script or cast which make Starship Invasions a better-than-average piece of schlock.  Rather, it is the surprisingly good special effects.  Both the miniatures and process work are well above average for a film of this era and budget.  The various flying saucers are actually pretty convincing when in flight or interacting with humans.  The dogfights between the saucers of rival factions over Canada are reasonably convincing whilst the climactic space battle between the League and the Legion's saucers is very well realised.  Whilst it might be assumed that the film was originally aimed at younger audiences, it does include a number of disturbing elements liable to traumatise children, particularly the Legion's ability to make their human subjects commit suicide so as to keep their encounters secret: a sympathetic farmer shoots himself and a wife kills her husband and young son before bloodily taking her own life.  The Legion's nefarious plans culminate with them placing a satellite in orbit which emits a 'suicide ray', causing outbreaks of violence as people hit by it go mad and commit murder-suicides.  Scenes of streets strewn with bodies and crashed cars, with patrolling soldiers trying to keep order are surprisingly effective.

All-in-all Starship Invasions is a quite professionally made piece of hokum.  Sure, it isn't hugely original and doesn't really have enough plot to fill out its ninety minutes, or so, of running time, but it is at least entertaining.  More than slightly barmy in its plot details, (apparently you can repair technologically advanced spaceships with a few circuit boards from a Toronto office building), with the realistic Canadian locations contrasting sharply with the slightly Flash Gordon serial-type alien base interior, Starship Invasions shouldn't just be dismissed as another direct-to-VHS dud.  The effects work and the game performances of Lee and Vaughn lift it well above the average poverty-row B-movie.  Moreover, with the flying saucer designs and alien encounters drawn from the 'real life' accounts of alleged abductees and witnesses, the film succeeds in tapping into the world's collective pop culture, giving the whole thing a curious feeling of hyper-reality.


Friday, August 07, 2015

The Terrornauts (1967)

One of a pair of low budget movies based on pulp science fiction novels made by Amicus in the late sixties, (the other being They Came From Beyond Space, based on Joseph Millard's novel Why Do The Gods Hate Kansas?), The Terrornauts is based on Murray Leinster's The Wailing Asteroid, as adapted by British New Wave science fiction author John Brunner.  For a film running barely more than an hour, it packs in a lot of incident and ideas.  Unfortunately, the miniscule budget means that they poorly realised and never fully explored.  The whole thing feels as if it would have been better served as a four part Dr Who serial with Patrick Troughton, (it would probably have had a bigger budget).  The plot involves a financially-strapped scientific research project - utilising the down time of radio telescope - which is searching for radio signals of alien origin.  On the verge of losing their funding due to a lack of results, they suddenly detect a signal from somewhere in the asteroid belt.  Their entire lab is subsequently abducted by a flying saucer which whisks them off to the source of the signals: the 'Wailing Asteroid', which turns out to be a fully automated base constructed by a now extinct race of technologically advanced aliens.

All of which sounds quite exciting - and it would be if the special effects, even by the standards of the time, weren't so rickety.  The miniatures work, for example, falls well below the standard of the contemporary Gerry Anderson TV series like Thunderbirds, whilst the robot custodian of the asteroid base is far less convincing than a Dalek.  These budgetary limitations severely hamper subsequent plot developments, which see the occupants of the lab subjected to a series of tests in order to measure their intelligence - these seem overly simple, if not perfunctory due to the lack of resources available to the film makers.  Advanced alien technology such as a device to enable knowledge to be directly transmitted into the brain is realised in the form of a rubber bathing cap with wires attached, whilst a Star Trek-style matter transporter comes over as a poor conjuring trick, complete with flashes and smoke.  Eventually realising that they have been brought to the base in order to use its weapons systems to defend the Solar system from a race of alien marauders who lay waste to star systems (including those of the asteroid's builders), two of the party are given a glimpse of what lies in store for the earth if they don't succeed via the aforementioned matter transporter.  They find themselves transported to a bleak and devastated planet whose inhabitants (green skinned aliens wearing what look like bath mats on their heads) have been reduced to savagery as a result of alien attacks.

They get back to the space station just in time to see the arrival of the alien fleet.  The battle between the station and the fleet of alien ships is where the film finally overreaches itself completely, with blazing plastic rocket ships flying about the screen.  All of which makes the film sound like a complete loss.  However, The Terrornauts has considerable charm.  One can only assume that the film was originally made with a younger audience in mind - it really wouldn't have looked out of place in ITV's children's TV schedules of the era - with its clunky-but-quite-cute robot, 'Boys Own Adventure' action and comic relief characters including a tea lady and a prim accountant.  Indeed, it is the eccentric casting which gives it much of its charm: where else could you hope to find Charles Hawtry (as the accountant) and Patricia Hayes (as the tea lady), battling aliens in space?  Their comic turns sit rather awkwardly with leading man Simon Oates' (later to star in the BBC's Doomwatch TV series) straight (and rather stiff) performance.  Best of all, cast wise, it co stars Stanley Meadows, a face recognisable to all lovers of sixties British movies and TV series - for me he's always Inspector Keightly in The Ipcress File - in one of his biggest film roles.  If not exactly a classic, The Terrornauts is at least entertaining, packing a lot into its running time - and, at just over an hour (the version I saw, at least - it apparently had an original running time of seventy five minutes), it never outstays its welcome.


Thursday, August 06, 2015

Italian Tune Up

It seems that I was right to be worried about the car's smoking exhaust - a trip to the garage has revealed a split in some hose or other, which is connected to the exhaust system.  It's repairable.  Not cheaply, mind you and the part can only be supplied by a main dealer - and they can't get it to the garage until tomorrow.  It could have been much worse - it could have been a fault with the injectors, which would have been hugely expensive to rectify.  In the meantime, tired of all that soot in the exhaust system, I gave the car an 'Italian Tune Up' yesterday.  This entailed parking up, putting it into neutral and booting the accelerator pedal.  The results were spectacular - huge clouds of soot blowing out of the tail pipe and rolling away like low flying thunder clouds.  There was so much soot expelled that it left a huge black mark on the tarmac behind the car.  Suffice to say that I won't ever be able to shop again the Crapchester Tesco store after doing that in their car park.

Not good for the environment, I'll admit, but it was bloody good fun, taking me back to my younger days.  If you are wondering about the presence of soot in a car exhaust system, it is simply the residue of unburned diesel fuel.  When under 'full load' (going uphill or accelerating rapidly) diesel engines typically 'overfuel', injecting more diesel into the cylinders than can be properly burned - that's what the black smoke you sometimes see coming out a diesel vehicle's exhaust whilst going up a steep hill: unburned fuel being expelled in the form of soot.  Most modern diesel engines employ various technologies to minimize the amount of such emissions - it is part of my car's system which has failed, resulting in a build up of sooty deposits in the exhaust, which are now being blown out when the engine is under load.  The result of the 'Italian Tune Up' and the work done by the garage today, the smoke levels this afternoon were far lower.  Once the repairs are completed tomorrow, I hopefully won't be gassing the unfortunate motorists behind me as the car lays down a smokescreen every time I go uphill.  That said, choking a few cyclists with my emissions was quite amusing...


Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Off Narrative

You remember that poll, don't you?  Of course you do - was that poll of people supposedly eligible to vote in the Labour leadership election.  You know - the one which showed Jeremy Corbyn out in front and which the right-wing press gleefully plastered all over their front pages.  The same poll which the BBC seemingly spent weeks slavering over.  See, you remember it now.  The media had a field day, using it as an excuse to dredge up various 'experts' and Labour right-wingers to pronounce on how this poll, if repeated in the leadership election results, would lead to a split in the Labour party, electoral disaster and the collapse of the British left.  Fast forward to last weekend and another poll, again supposedly of a sample of people eligible to vote in the leadership election, was published.  This time it showed a clear lead over Corbyn for Andy Burnham.  Now, you could easily be forgiven for not remembering that poll.  It didn't seem to get reported anywhere.  Not even that bastion of impartiality, the BBC, could be bothered to cover it.  None of the right-wing press ran articles telling us what consequences of a Burnham leadership might be for the party.

The problem, obviously, was that it didn't fit in with the media's 'narrative' with regard to the Labour leadership election.  Which, put broadly, is that after a 'disastrous' election defeat, the Labour membership 'seeks comfort' in a 'lurch to the left', resulting in its implosion and inevitable decline as an electoral force.  More of a right wing wet dream than a 'narrative' really, but that's how they've decided to frame this whole contest in their 'reporting', despite the fact that it has little to do with the actual facts, (I've gone into the 'disastrous' defeat and 'lurch to the left' elsewhere and won't rehash those arguments here), but that's the point of such 'narratives' - if it doesn't fit, ignore it.  Which effectively puts the media on the same level as conspiracy theorists, who exclude everything which doesn't fit their world view in order to maintain their pet theories.  But that's the problem with the modern media - instead of reporting and analysing the facts and see where that leads the story, they seem to want it to follow some pre-set 'narrative' which reinforces pre-existing stereotypes and prejudices.  Clearly, they think that those who consume their 'news' are too stupid to come to their own conclusions based on the reported facts, (or, more likely, fear that they will come to the 'wrong' conclusions), and need to be 'led' through the news via an artificial 'narrative'.  And what doesn't fit, won't get reported.   

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Monday, August 03, 2015

Virgin Witch (1972)

A film I know only by reputation - and it's a bad reputation at that.  Effectively a sex movie/horror cross over, Virgin Witch is often dismissed by horror aficionados as poverty row smut.  Indeed, the trailer's focus on sex and nudity make it pretty clear that its aimed more at the dirty raincoat market than pure horror fans.  But the fact was that, by the early seventies, horror alone simply wasn't enough to sell a genre movie, sex was increasingly injected into the formula to widen their appeal.  Around the same time Virgin Witch was in production, Hammer, the 'respectable' face of British horror, was gleefully adding copious quantities of bared boobs, bums and lesbianism to its standard gothic fair in titles like The Vampire Lovers, Lust for a Vampire, Twins of Evil and Vampire Circus.  Sex certainly proved to be a more effective additive than Kung Fu, which they tried in Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires.  When it comes to vampirism, it's like Count Mitterhouse observes in Vampire Circus as he seduces another woman, shortly before being staked: 'One lust feeds the other'.

But to return to Virgin Witch, the film's main interest to me is that it is another product of the film-making alliance of wrestling commentator Kent Walton and soap writer Hazel Adair.  Walton hides behind a pseudonym (Ralph Solomons), whist Adair is only credited a co-writer of the theme song (she apparently didn't admit to writing the film until 1975).  Like Sex Clinic, Virgin Witch utilises a scenario ripped from the Sunday tabloids of the seventies - the likes of the News of the World , Reveille and Tit Bits were seemingly obsessed with suburban witches covens and middle class Satanists during this period, (when they weren't 'exposing 'sex clinics').  Besides, like a 'sex clinic', satanic rites give plenty of excuses for full frontal nudity and kinky sex.  Also in common with Sex Clinic, Virgin Witch features a director who appears to be slumming it somewhat.  In this case it is Ray Austin, a highly successful TV director who started off arranging the fight scenes for The Avengers, before directing episodes.  Virgin Witch also has the distinction of having been distributed by Tigon - a fact which has often been used by horror fans as evidence of that company's decline in the period running up to its sale by founder Tony Tenser.

If you want to know more about Virgin Witch, Gav Crimson has an excellent and very detailed analysis of it over at his site.