Earlier this week I had several spam free days. Spam as in unsolicited emails, obviously, rather than the processed meat. It was if all those Generals and the like in Nigeria had taken Christmas and stopped trying to get my help to unlock their bank accounts. As well they might, as the banks were closed for days with all those bank holidays. But the last couple of days it's been back. I had a similar experience with the nuisance phone calls - the one on the landline yesterday was the first since Christmas Eve and my mobile number hasn't bee troubled since the 21st of December. Mind you, I have to say that when I do get spam these days it is rarely of the traditional penis enlargement, Viagra or Nigerian bank scam types. These days I get pestered by 'mature' dating sites and, most recently, by people claiming that they can hook me up with beautiful 'milfs'. Do I really come over as being that desperate? I mean, is this what we've come to - the assumption that when a man reaches a certain age and is still single, the only women he can hope to attract are single mothers and divorcees with children? (Not that I necessarily have anything against either of those groups, but you know what I mean - this sort of spam just makes it seem so sad and sordid).
But what am I doing dribbling on about spam, I hear you cry - it's New Year's Eve, for God's sake, you should be doing some kind of retrospective of 2015, or speculating wildly about 2016. Ah, but everyone else will be doing that, so why should I waste my time in duplicating their effort? I'm tired of doing the same old thing here every New Year's Eve. Damn it, if anyone's interested as to what happened here in 2015, they can just look back through the archives. As for next year -let it be a surprise and not try to second guess it. Of course, some people have already landed in 2016, so have some idea of what it holds in store already. Thanks to the vagaries of international time zones, people out in the Far East and Australia are, to all intents and purposes, living a few hours in the future: for them, 2016 is here. We're living in the past. But back to the present - our GMT present, that is - right now the main thing perplexing me about the transition from 2015 to 2016 is whether or not to go down to my local to see the New Year in. The main deciding factor is going to be the weather - earlier it was horrendous, but seems to have calmed down now. So, I'll wait and see what it is doing in a couple of hours time before making a final decision. So, it only remains to wish those of you haven't already entered 2016 a happy New Year.
According to the TV, B&Q's January sale is now on - which is a bit odd as it is still December. Oh, hang on, apparently the Sainsburys' January sale is also on - they're all at, desperately trying to shift all that unsold stock from last year by 'slashing' prices, (in truth, I've rarely ever found a genuine bargain in these sales). This apparent illogicality of starting a January sale in December, (why not just call them 'Winter sales'?), is all part of the commercial contraction of Christmas I was rambling about the other day. By declaring that your January sale is starting in December, then you are effectively telling people that you think that Christmas is over and that they should stop relaxing and enjoying festivities and start spending their money instead. Mind you, with George Osborne's phantom 'economic miracle' in full swing, (according to the Tory lickspittle press), you have to ask why retailers are so desperate that they are having to bring their New Year sales forward to try and get customers into their shops? Surely it was 'spend, spend, spend' last year? Surely their profits can't be down in an 'economic recovery'?
Politics aside, these sales with their 'spectacular reductions' never seem to come at the right time of year for me - especially this year. 2015 has turned out to be a 'year of renewal' for me, in that an alarming number of household appliances and furniture failed on me and had to be replaced. Perhaps this is symbolic of some kind of change in circumstances and direction of my life. More likely, it simply reflects the fact that I bought a lot of stuff at the same time and it has all expired at around the same time. Anyway, over the past twelve months the hot water cylinder, my bed, my mattress, the flush button on the toilet, my DVR, my TV, even my watch, amongst other stuff, have collapsed and died on me, forcing me to buy replacements. Of course, there was never a sale on for the appropriate item when I had to part with my cash for the replacements, was there? About the only thing I replaced of my own volition this year has been my phone, or should I say phones, as I replaced both my mobile and land line phones. In neither case was there a 'phone sale' on, although I did manage to take advantage of some one off offers in each case. Still, if nothing else, a series of extended 'January' sales should mean that nothing else gives up the ghost on me - it will all wait until they are over. Bastards.
I really am losing track of which day it is - despite having established that yesterday was definitely Sunday, I still spent a large part of today thinking that it was Tuesday. But it wasn't. Today is Monday. Perhaps part of the trouble has been the fact that nothing seems to have changed from day-to-day. Even the news seems to have stayed the same: floods in the North. Whilst I sympathise with those affected, (my sodden kitchen earlier this year, the result of the hot water cylinder springing a leak, whilst minor in comparison, was dispiriting and disruptive enough to make me appreciate how much worse it must be when it is your entire house affected), the majority of the reporting - especially on TV - never actually gets to the real story, focusing, instead, on the effects of the flooding. That story, of course, is of the political decisions which have lead to Britain's flood defences proving to be utterly inadequate. Oh, I know that everyone keeps going on about how this flooding is 'unprecedented' the 'worst on record' and 'couldn't be predicted', but that's just nonsense. Have people really forgotten how large parts of Somerset were submerged only a couple of winters ago? Or the severe floods of a few years before that? The fact is that these weather patterns are becoming ever more frequent, yet still we seem utterly unprepared for them.
But the media these days seem to be so far in hock to the Tories that they appear frightened to point out the salient points: whilst the last Labour government increased spending on flood defences by 75%, the Tory-led coalition government cut spending on them, in line with its other cuts in public expenditure. This, despite the pig fucker's, sorry, Cameron's, promises when he was standing in his wellies with the cameras on him at one of the affected areas last time (and the time before) that his government was going to bolster those flood defences to stop it from happening again. Yet more broken Tory spending promises, the media should be screaming. But, of course, they aren't. Instead they are, yet again, letting the Tory bastards off of the hook. Just as they will again next Winter, or the Winter after, or whenever we next get these kinds of floods and the defences prove inadequate. Because if they were to challenge the Tories' record on this issue, they'd be ideologically 'off message' by suggesting that in some areas public spending is essential - trust me, the private sector isn't going to build effective flood defences for our homes: there's no money in it for them. And if public is better in one are, then it follows that it might well be in others, too. The fact is that the deplorable state of the nation's flood defences has provided a spectacular - and for those on the receiving end, traumatic and expensive - demonstration of the results of the Tories' policy of treating public spending primarily as a means for its private sector buddies to make a quick buck without offering any real service in return. But you won't hear any of that on the BBC or read it in most of the papers. So stand by for more floods and ever shittier public services all round. Happy New Year.
Well, how was it for you? Did the earth move, or was it just a regular Christmas for you? Apparently today is Sunday, two days have elapsed since Christmas Day itself. I must admit that I've completely lost track of exactly which day of the week it is - which is a sure sign that I've had a pretty decent Christmas. I did go out to my local pub on Christmas Eve, where I ran into some people I hadn't seen for a while and had a few pints with them. All-in-all a pretty enjoyable evening. I say evening, it was just past midnight when I finally left. Since then, it's all been about kicking back and relaxing - the only glitch being a movie I rented via You Tube refusing to play on my so-called 'Smart' TV. We got ten minutes in and then it froze. Any attempt to restart it resulted in the 'loading' message. In the end I was forced to watch it on my laptop. Even then, it would only play properly in the Edge browser. So, renting via You Tube isn't an exercise I'll be repeating in a hurry. Apart from that, I've caught up with a lot of old films and eaten too much - which is surely what Christmas is about, isn't it?
But now we're nearly at the end of the extended Christmas weekend, with only tomorrow'sdelayed Boxing Day bank holiday, (because the real Boxing Day fell on a Saturday this year), before we get into that stange hinterland that exists between Christmas and New Year. Even the media don't know how to handle it, with the half-festive, half-normal TV schedules reflecting the fact that whilst many of us are still off work, some have had to go back for a few days before the next bank holiday. It's the period when the move to try and shrug off Christmas and put it behind us starts to gather momentum. As I've noted before, I find it most perplexing that everyone spends so much time building up to Christmas, once the day itself has arrived, we can't seem to want to see the back of it quick enough. It's meant to be a time of joy and celebration, but increasingly, our leaders and media pressure us into cutting it short. Once they've got your money in the pre-Christmas build up and immediately post-Christmas sales, that's it - they want you back at work. I'm sure that's the real reason that the sales now start on Boxing Day rather than New Year's Day - so that they can end the holiday period earlier. I know that every year I hark back to this point, but Christmas is meant to be a twelve day festival, ending on twelfth night - surely if we went back to this and spread the celebrations out over the twelve days, it would all be much easier. Not only would the build up be less frenzied, but the neccessity for some people to work over some of Christmas wouldn't be such an issue, as they wouldn't be missing all of the celebrations. But hey, what do i know? In an ideal world we'd just take all twelve days off over Christmas and say to hell with it all. Impractical, but fun.
It's been a long, long time, but here it is: an all new edition of 'The Sleazecast', the first in over a year. It uses a similar format to the last couple I completed and, as befits the time of year, has a Christmas theme.
For something that only runs twenty five minutes, I have to say that it seemed to take an inordinate amount of time to record, sequence and edit together. It didn't help that, having updated my laptop to Windows 10, I found that the new operating system didn't support the older SAPI4 synthetic voices (one of which was the robot voice I previously used for Johnny Sexbot) - in fact, it doesn't seem to want to support anything other than the two voices the narrator software comes with.
So, faced with the choice either of trying to get my faulty old Windows 7 laptop up and running again, so as to access the older voices, or to find some kind of makeshift solution using the current machine, I opted for the latter. Using Audacity, I was able to manipulate the male narrator voice to make it sound more robotic. It still doesn't really sound like Johnny Sexbot but, bearing in mind that he exploded at the end of 'Unlucky for Some', my explanation is that this is the new, improved, Johnny Sexbot 2.0.
I must confess that the Johnny Sexbot sequences are a bit rough and ready - I just didn't have sufficient time to finesse them as I normally would, as I wanted to be sure of getting the programme up onto the Overnightscape Underground before Christmas. Speaking of which, the Overnightscape Underground is currently the new home of 'The Sleazecast', as they very kindly re-ran the older editions there, I felt I should give something back.
Anyway, you can hear 'A Sleazecast Christmas Carol' here, meanwhile, as I normally do, here's a track listing:
1: Opening Titles
2: Sexbot of Christmas Past (featuring Orson Welles as Scrooge);
3: Ghost Story for Christmas: The Stalls of Crapchester (part one);
4: Alarmist News: Santa's White Supremacist Christmas? (part one);
5: Sexbot on 34th Street
6: Ghost Story for Christmas: The Stalls of Crapchester (part two);
7: Alarmist News: Santa's White Supremacist Christmas? (part two);
8: Ghost Story for Christmas: The Stalls of Crapchester (part three);
9: Alarmist News: Santa's White Supremacist Christmas? (part three);
10: It's a Wonderful Sexbot (featuring James Stewart);
11: Scrooge: The Morning After (featuring Orson Welles as Scrooge)
12: Closing Titles
So, there you go, the sixteenth Sleazecast (or seventeen, if you include that 'I for Illusion' special, which wasn't really a 'Sleazecast' proper). Will there be more? Hopefully, yes. Provided that I have the inspiration, inclination and time, of course.
So, here we are. Christmas Eve. The day itself, which everyone has been exhausting themselves preparing for is only hours away. The shops have shut, so if you haven't managed to buy it now, you'll have to do without until they reopen. Which seems like it will be an eternity, but in reality, many will be open again on Boxing Day. I've been off work since about five thirty on Tuesday and I've already lost track as to which day of the week it is, which simply adds to the sensation of normal time being suspended, which you often experience over holiday periods. All my preparations are now done - decorations up, sausage rolls cooked, beer supplies stocked up and presents dispatched - so I'm on my sofa, drinking tea, eating cheese and crackers and watching Mondo Cane again, still captivated by Riz Orlotani's magnificent musical score.
I have to say that I'm feeling pretty smug at the moment. Not only did I have all my essential seasonal provisions bought well in advance this year, but, unlike last Christmas, when I was felled by an extremely bad cold the weekend before, I actually completed my seasonal web publishing plan. Not only did I get the annual Crapchester Christmas lights video up, but I also managed to complete a Christmas-themed story for The Sleazeand, most incredibly, record an all-new episode of 'The Sleazecast'. You can find the latter - 'A Sleazecast Christmas Carol' - over on the Overnightscape Central. I'll eventually get around to posting it properly here. It's hard to believe that producing twenty five minutes of audio can be so time-consuming, but I was up to four in the morning Tuesday into Wednesday night editing the last few segments so that I would be able to assemble the whole thing next afternoon.
So, I've done all the hard work, I spent the afternoon watching It's a Wonderful Life and getting all emotional over it again, (partly out of guilt, for the way in which I'd cannibalised a radio version of it to produce some puerile smut for the aforementioned podcast), and now I'm contemplating whether to go out or not. I haven't yet decided. But if I do, I think I'll head to my local for the first time in years on Christmas Eve. Last year I got dragged out by an acquaintance who insisted on going to a pub halfway across town where we didn't know anyone and which closed early. Not my idea of Christmas Eve fun. So, before I go, do I have any pithy seasonal thoughts to share? Not really, no. Just try to kick back and enjoy yourselves - and if you lower your expectations about Christmas, as I eventually learned to do, that will be much easier. After all, so what if it doesn't all go to plan and isn't 'perfect'? It doesn't really matter. See you on the other side folks. Happy Winterval.
Every year I say that I won't do this again - but nevertheless, here we are with this year's look at some of the fabulous Christmas lights of Crapchester. As usual, the weather intervened to ruin some of the planned footage. Also, some of the best displays were effectively inaccessible, as parking close to them was just about impossible. Despite these problems, I've still managed to recotrd for prosperity a handful of my favourites from this Christmas.
As ever, I'm now going to vow never to engage in this sort of exercise again. Until next Christmas, that is...
Christmas week. You can tell the big day is getting near by the TV schedules: normally on a Monday night, for instance, the BBC would be giving us Panorama followed either by a serious documentary or a serious drama. Today, we instead have a repeat of Miranda Hart followed by John Bishop's Christmas show - which is much the same as his regular show, but with tinsel. God forbid that anything serious should intrude on Christmas - everyone is desperate to keep it all nice and family-friendly, lest the festive season be spoiled by real life. Because we can't have that. The concept of a perfect family Christmas has become the Holy Grail in the UK these days - if anything upsets it, then the whole year is ruined. Or so it seems.
It's amazing how much we invest, not just financially, but also emotionally, in this one day of the year. Increasingly, I feel that the build up starts as soon as September and Autumn begins, so much so that nowadays I find it difficult to enjoy that season for itself. But all our hopes and aspirations, it seems, are invested in the twenty fifth of December each year - we must aspire to some kind of mythical 'perfect' Christmas, which involves families coming together and aspirational gifts being given and received. It's all about chestnuts roasting on open fires, mince pies, tinsel and wrapping paper. Except that the reality can never match up to the fantasised 'perfect Christmas' promoted by the media. The fact is that forcing entire extended families together in close quarters for several days once a year is a recipe for disaster, as tempers become frayed, old animosities magnified by enforced proximity and differences of opinion boil over into open hostility.
I gave up on family Christmases many years ago, as I was finding them far too stressful, (the final straw was a Christmas gathering which exploded into threats of violence over some imagined slight I wasn't guilty of commtting). Nowadays, Christmas Day is a time of solitary comtemplation for me, (along with a fair bit of lethaergy and debauchery). I feel a lot better for it. More than that, I've actually learned to enjoy the festive season again. In large part this is down to the fact that I have clear and limited expectations for it: it is no longer some miraculous time of the year during which everyone will be happy and all my desires fulfilled. That was always the problem for me - our family Christmases never matched up to the ones you saw in films and on TV, or read about in books. Everyone wasn't happy. They weren't all nice to each other. Instead, the usual bickering, bullying and pettiness carried on as usual, but seemed worse because everyone was meant to be enjoying themselves and demonstrating good will to each other. I remember many of the Christmases of my teen years, in particular, being thoroughly miserable - I couldn't wait for them to end. Perhaps if my expectations hadn't been so unrealistic, perhaps they wouldn't have been so bad. As an adult, I learned to control those expectations, not least becauase of my depression. I realised that the frustration of unrealistic expectations at Christmas simply fuelled the depression. Again, I've kept the black dog at bay since I scaled back my Christmases.
So, this Christmas, just try to keep it realistic - all your problems won't be solved, your hopes won't be fulfilled. Simply focus on enjoying yourself and maintaining your own space and it'll all be a lot easier.
It's 'unseasonably mild' as the meteorologists put it, right now. Which might be why, despite all the lights, decorations and trees, not to mention the seasonal songs blaring away in shops and on the radio, it just doesn't feel like Christmas. Indeed, if it wasn't for the intermittent strong winds and heavy showers taking the edge off of the temperature once you go outside, it would probably be balmy enough to feel like Summer. Whilst that helps with my energy bills (the heating is barely coming on at the moment) it means that it just doesn't feel like Winter - and Christmas is deeply rooted in Winter. All of our traditional ideas of Christmas involve wintry scenes - snow covered roofs, frosty days, snowmen and, above all, cold. So cold that everyone settles down inside in front of a roaring fire drinking mulled wine and sinilar bevereges. But when December feels like June, it is very hard to get into the Christmas mind set. Of course, this concept of Christmas only holds in the Northern Hemisphere - in the Southern Hemisphere right now, it really is Summer. For those who live below the equator, Christmas is always warm and sunny.
So, whilst we wonder how on earth we can cope with a warm Christmas, in, say, Australia, it is the norm. For them Christmas is less about roast turkey, sitting in front of the fire and the like, than having a barbecue in the back garden and going to the beach to enjoy the sun. Which is why, perhaps, Christmas doesn't seem to be such a big deal to them. Because, like it or not, the festival is inextricably linked to the Winter, having its origins (in Northern Europe, at least), in the pagan festivals which marked the midwinter equinox. Their purpose being to bring some light and hope into the darkest days of the year. When Christmas falls in the middle of Summer (as in the Southern Hemisphere) it rather loses its point. Perhaps they should think of moving the date of Christmas for those living below the equator, (obviously, the religious brigade wouldn't be happy with that, but tough, they hijacked the pagan festival for their own purposes in the first place, so why shouldn't we be able to move it around for our convenience?). But to get back to the original point, our whole idea of Christmas is very much based upon our expectations as to what the season of Winter should feel like. Take away the biting cold, the possibility of snow and the need to turn the heating up full and the whole of Christmas' raison d'etre starts to ebb away. Mind you, having said all that, there's always the possibility that the reason I don't feel Christmassy is that I still haven't gotten around to putting up my Christmas tree. Maybe if I do that, the unseasonable mildness of the weather won't detract from the seasonal spirit so much...
'Tis the season of Christmas shopping madness. Thankfully, I've got most of mine done already, but in the process I've had to brave the lunacy that reigns at this time of year in Crapchester's shopping centres. It's bad enough at the best of times, but when the festive madness takes hold of the shopping hordes then trying to buy anything frequently becomes a fight for survival. One of my perrenial pet hates at this and any other time of year are children's pushcairs. Don't misunderstand me - I have no problem with pushcairs when they are being used for their proper purpose: the transportation of small children. What I object to is when people use them as weapons to ram their way through crowded shopping centres and supermarket aisles. They're so fucking agressive! Not to mention self-righteous, clearly implying that because they have children they are somehow superior to us sad single bastards trying to buy our week's worth of frozen TV dinners. Except, of course, that under these circumstances their child is rarely in the pushchair - that's filled with shopping whilst the kid is being carried on one ofthose sling things. I honestly don't know why they don't go all the way and fix bloody great blades, Bodicea-style, to the wheel hubs and just cut the rest of us down as they sweep through the aisles.
The only thing worse than the pushcairs are those bloody mobility scooters - apparently the only disability or infirmity one has to possess to get to use one of these is to be grossly overweight. At least, that seems to be the case here in Crapchester. They go speeding around the shopping centre, forcing people to jump out of their way for fear that they'll get their ankles broken in a collision, (the bumpers are neatly arranged to be at ankle height, where they can do the most damage). This time of year they are even more dangerous as the fat bastards driving them are usually drunk on chocolate liquers and even more reckless. Actually, some of them brazenly weave around on their mibility scooters swigging from vodka bottles and puffing on fags - no wonder they can't bloody walk. In recent years I've found an increasing hazard posed by elderly wheelchair bound people being pushed around the shops by relatives, I suppose this is really just a variation on the pushchair business, except the wheelchair makes a bigger battering ram. Also, the infirm OAP always stays in the wheelchair - they just have all the shopping piled on top of them. I sometimes wonder if the people pushing them around really are relatives, or whether they've just gone to some care home and picked up some OAPS too senile to realise they are being kidnapped for the purposes of smashing through crowded shops. I'm convinced that sooner or later someone is going to use one of these wheelchair bound OAPs for ram raiding - waiting until the shops shut then shoving them through the shop window at high speed. They'd probably leave them there to be arrested by the police after grabbing as much loot as they could. The bastards.
The other film I rewatched over the weekend which has undergone a critical reappraisal over the years was Hammer's Two Faces of Dr Jekyll. By the time of its original release in 1960, Hammer had already enjoyed considerable commercial success with its versions Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy, so it seemed only natural that they should tackle another classic monster with an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Their treatment of Jekyll and Hyde turned out to be an even more radical reinterpretation of the source material than they had previously meted out to the other classic horror monsters. This time, however, the treatment seemed to leave both critics and audiences cold. Indeed, for its US release, Columbia passed the film on to AIP for distribution, with it playing variously under the titles House of Fright, or Jekyll's Inferno. This was an ignominious fate for what Hammer had clearly seen as something of a prestige picture, having brought in noted author Wolf Mankowitz to script the film and, eschewing its regular stars, cast stage ator Paul Massie in the title role.
For many commentators it was the presence of Mankowitz and Massie which were the problem, blaming the former's overly complicated script and the latter's variable and sometimes somewhat hammy performance. In retrospect, the film's 'problems' were rooted in the fact that it frustrated the expectations of critics and audiences, who were expecting another gory Hammer gothic horror. What they got was a far subtler psychological thriller which, as its title implies, explores the duality of human nature. The film doesn't even deliver the usual crowd-pleasing transformation scenes, as Jekyll turns into Hyde and vice versa. Mankowitz's script ditches virtually everything other than the central character(s), the Victorian setting and the central conceit from Stevenson's novel, instead opting for a convoluted plot in which all of the main characters mirror, to some degree or other, Jekyll and Hyde's duality. Jekyll's wife, for instance, is outwardly a prim Victorian lady, supporting her husband's work, but is revealed to actually be a sensuous woman enjoying an affair with Jekyll's best friend. The best friend, (a fine, against type performance from Christopher Lee), is revealed as a gambler, forever in debt and borrowing money from Jekyll to pay off creditors. Interestingly, his debauchery is eventually shown as being largely an affectation - he is unwilling and unable to descend to the depths of depravity enjoyed by Hyde.
The most radical alteration lay in the portrayals of Jekyll and Hyde. Here, the Doctor is portrayed as bearded, taciturn and anti-social, wheras his alter ego is younger, clean shaven, handsome and outwardly personable - a reflection of director Terence Fisher's obsession with the surface attactiveness of evil. In contrast to more traditional tellings of the story, which seek to absolve Jekyll of direct responsibility for Hyde's crimes, presenting the latter as an externalisation of Jekyll's dark side, in Two Faces Jekyll is allowed no such get out. Instead, he is keenly aware that far from being some seperate entity motivated by evil, Hyde is actually an aspect of his own personality and that the depravities he commits are merely an expression of Jekyll's own sublimated desires. Whilst Jekyll is effectively impotent in the face of his wife's betrayal with his best friend both figuratively and literally, his rage is internalised and it is clearly impliedthat he is unable to satisfy his wife sexually - Hyde is not only able to exact violent revenge on Christopher Lee, but also to sexually dominate and huniliate Jekyll's wife, dressing her as a whore and raping her. The film posits the question of which is worse: Hyde's wild, amoral abandon, acting neither with conscience nor regard for consequences, or Jekyll's emotionally repressed life, incapable of expressing his passion or even empathy for his friends and family, starving them of affection and understanding.
Clearly far more complex than most horror films of the era, in retrospect Two Faces of Dr Jekyll has much to recommend it. Sure, the plot becomes incredibly convoluted, as Hyde attempts to frame Jekyll for the killings of his wife and her lover, before faking his alter ego's death to ensure that Jekyll must remain sublimated. There's also no doubt that Massie's performance in both roles is sometimes a bit over-the-top, (the scene where, as Jekyll, he argues with himself, switching between the voices of Jekyll and Hyde is more than a little risible). But overall it is a handsomely mounted film, with director Fisher effectively contrasting 'respectable' society with the depraved gin joints, whore houses and opium dens of the 'underclass', which, like Jekyll and Hyde, coexist, the former generally refusing to acknowledge the latter. For many years this was a difficult film to see, rarely turning up on TV (I don't ever recall it being part of any of BBC2's 'Horror Double Bills' in the 1980s), although recently it has turned up on the Horror Channel several times as part of their Hammer seasons. This undoubtedly reflects the fact it has undergone a reappraisal and seems to be regarded as a flawed, but fascinating, part of the Hammer canon, which boldly tried to do something different both with its source material and the Hammer formula.
I'm fascinated by the way in which the reputation of some films changes over time: there are those hailed as instant classics upon their release, which, with the passage of time lose their lustre and fall into disrepute, by contrast, there are those which were villified on release which are now held up as masterpieces. Of course, these changes in a film's fortunes often have little to do with their actual quality and more with the changing whims of critics and developments in critical theory. Often it is simply changes in public tastes and attitudes which put once popular films out of favour. Over the weeken I watched a couple of movies which have suffered wildly oscillating reputations over the years. The first of these was Hitchcock's penultimate film, 1972's Frenzy, a film which had a lukewarm critical reception on release and which, by the time I first saw it on TV in the early eighties, was being dismissed as 'an old man's suspenser', a tired rehashing of some of Hitchcock's favourite things. More recently, it has enjoyed something of rehabilitation, currently being hailed as 'Hitchcock's last great movie'.
Personally, I could never understand why Frenzy had such a poor reputation for so many years. Sure, it isn't classic Hitchcock, but it is big improvement on jis previous two films, Topaz and Torn Curtain, far more obviously a Hitchcock movie than the flat and anonymous Topaz and far more suspenseful and coherent than Torn Curtain. Frenzy has much to recommend it, not least the way in which it vividly captures the London of the early seventies, providing a fascinating view of covent Garden when it was still a functioning fruit and veg market for wholesalers. It is the operations of the market which provide a background to the film's action and Hitchcock captures it in all of its colourful glory, bustling with life, its pubs full of colourful characters and snatched fragments of intriguing conversations. But the film's greatest strength lies in its portrayal of its villain. In Barry Foster's Bob Rusk, Hitchcock presents us with one of the most realistic cinematic serial killers up to that time. Unlike Norman Bates, Bob doesn't have conversations with the embalmed corpse of his mother, or rwitch nervously when around women. He has no esoteric hobbies like taxidermy. Bob Rusk is entirely ordinary, a market trader, one of the lads, a regular in his local pub, known by everyone, viewed as a friend by most. There is none of the quirkness or flamboyance which characterises most other cinematic psychopaths. Bob only betrays his underlying psychopathy in his casual callousness - he reacts without displaying any empathy or grief when hearing of the murder of a woman he knows, for instance - and, of course, through the fact that he rapes and murders women, strangling them with his neck tie.
It was perhaps this all too realistic a portrayal of a serial killer which put off critics in 1972, who were maybe expecting something more along the lines of Hitchcock's ostensibly similr, but quite stylised, Psycho from twelve years earlier. But in Frenzy he adopted the more 'realistic' approach of his more recent movies. Certainly, the murders we witness are realistic - being both protracted and ugly. The utter callousness shown by Bob in his disposal of the body of a sympathetic barmaid that the audience has grown to know and like is still quite shocking - her naked body (other than the necktie still tied around her throat) is concealed in a sack of potatos and uncremoniously bundled into the back of a lorry heading for the North of England. His coolness whilst disposing of the body (and, indeed, his general air bonohomie when interacting socially) contrasts disturbingly with the psycho-sexual frenzy he has earlier demonstrated whilst raping and murdering another victim. All of this must have seemed very un-Hitchcock like to viewers back in 1972. Another problem might well have been the lack of a truly sympathetic protagonist - Jon Finch's Blaney, who loses both his ex-wife and girlfriend to his supposed riend Bob, (who also frames him for the murders), is a maladjusted ex-serviceman, prone to violent outbursts and suffering from what we'd now call 'anger management' problems. But that's the point: if he was a regular nice guy hero, the police would never believe him of being capable of raping and murdering numerous women, just as they don't suspect 'regular guy' Bob.
Arthur LeBern, author of the movie's source novel, reportedly hated the adaptation, disliking numerous changes which included updating the action from the 1950s to the the present day, making the main character less sympathetic and the 'comic relief' sequences involving Alec McCowan's Chief Inspector Oxford and his wife's attempts at French cooking. But these alterations ultimately work well in the context of the film. The scenes with Oxford and his wife work surprisingly well and provide a much needed contrast between Bob's murderous misogyny (and Blaney's angry outbursts at his ex-wife) and a 'normal' relationship, which doesn't involve rape or violence. All-in-all, Frenzy isn't at all a bad film, arguably, its main 'problem' was to be ahead of its time for its more realistic portrayal (by the standards of mainstream cinema, at least) of psychopathy and sex crimes. It's a pity that it took so long for mainstream critics to reappraise it.
So, I finally connected my new Smart TV to the internet last night. I'm still not sure whether it was worth the effort - the IPTV channels and interactive services it has given me access to are hardly inspiring. Sure, I could now try my month's free trial of Netflix but, to be frank, I've never found any of their line-up particularly inspiring: a lot of the films and TV series they have are stuff I've seen free-to-air many times and wouldn't be prepared to pay to see again and their original series seemed to be aimed at a different audience to me. Apparently I could access Twitter on my TV now - I have to ask, why? I already access it on my phone and laptop and it is beginning to drive me up the wall on both of those devices. The problem is that you end up following people who seemed quite reasonable at first, but then start filing your Twitter stream with their increasingly irritating and ill informed opinions.
The trouble is that I feel uncomfortable with the idea of unfollowing them. I mean, it just seems so rude, the online equivalent of shouting 'Just shut the fuck up!" at someone in the middle of a conversation which they are dominating with their inane chatter. Which is why I thank the gods of Twitter for the 'mute' function, which allows you to block someone's tweets from your timeline without having to unfolow them - they'll never know you've done it! I'm convinced that most of the people who follow me have muted my tweets. Anyway, I'm about to mute a couple more of my followers - perhaps without their shit popping up on my timeline I'll find Twitter less irritating.
Anyway, where was I before that digression? The interactive services on my Smart TV, wasn't it? The best thing I've found so far is that I can now watch You Tube on my TV. Which means that I can see those dodgy and illegally uploaded obscure films I keep finding there on a decently sized screen, rather than squinting at them on my laptop. Even better, I can now watch my own home movies on widecreen TV. And I have been watching them on TV. At risk of sounding arrogant, I have to say that they look pretty damn good on that thirty two inch screen. Which is testament, not to my film-making skills, but to the quality of the inexpensive pocket camcorder that many of them were shot on: the resolution and picture quality is remarkably good. Not only that, but I can at last say that I've been on TV. Which is a huge boost to my ego.
I think it was Monday that, for the first time, it actually felt like a Winter's day to me. It wasn't that it was cold - so far, this Winter has been remarkably mild - but it was something about the light levels, (there's something quite unique about Winter sunshine, not just the fact that the sun is so low in the sky, but the 'thinness' and paleness of the light), the slight haze in the air and the way the skeletal limbs of the trees seemed to claw at the iron grey sky. All of which came as a stark reminder that it is December and we're rushing headlong toward Christmas and the end of another year. Christmas seems to have crept up on me this year and I feel totally unprepared. Sure, I've done the present buying bit - principally for my great neices - but I haven't even started getting in supplies for my own Winterval celebrations. Of greater concern, though, is the fact that another year is slipping by, with so much still undone. As ever, so many plans are unfulfilled. Although, at least this year I've actually made a start on some of my projects.
To a certain extent I won't be sorry to see the back of this year: so much has gone wrong. From having water pouring through my kitchen ceiling to the TV dying on me, via being stabbed by my old matress, a collapsing bed and flush button on the cistern disintegrating, it's been a trial. I've had to replace so many major household items this year it sometimes feel like I'm living in a different house. Then there's all the time I've had to spend on repairs after the hot water cylinder leaks and other damp problems, (the kitchen walls are still awaiting their repaint). And that's just the house - I've had to spend an arm and a leg keeping the car on the road this year, too. On top of all that, it's been an horrendous year at work. At least I seem to have beaten the work-related stress I was suffering in the Autumn, though. All-in-all, something of an Annus Horribilis. Not that everything has been doom and gloom. In a surprising (to me, at least) development, the podcasting seems finally to have found an audience. Moreover, as I've posted earlier, I seem to have become some kind of much loved internet 'celebrity' (a very minor, Z-list one). Most importantly, foe me at least, I seem to have gone some way to re-establishing an old friendship which I'd neglected for too long. Hopefully I can make further progress with that next year. But I'm getting ahead of myself: it's still this year and we've still got a good few more posts to go yet before we leave it.
Trip With the Teacher is probably one of the more notorious Crown International titles, with its mixture of bikers, school girls, rape, sexual assault, violence and murder. Indeed, these sensational plot elements, combined with poor sound, grainy film stock and production values which would have disgraced even the average seventies TV movie, Trip With the Teacher is the epitomy of US low budget, low rent drive-in fodder. Arguably both reprehensible and indefensible, the film nevertheless has some points of interest. Undoubtedly inspired by Wes Craven's Last House on the Left, Trip With the Teacher seeks to exploit the same basic formula of nice middle clas people being menaced by degenerate scumbag psychopaths. In this case, the nice middle class victims are four (somewhat overage) school girls on a field trip to the desert with their teacher, whilst the degenerates are a group of bikers they have the misfortune to cross paths with at a gas station. After their bus subsequently breaks down in the middle of nowhere, the school party makes the mistake of seeking help from the bikers, who have followed them from the gas station. Instead of towing them to safety, the bikers take the bus and its passengers to a remote abandoned cabin. After killing the male bus driver, they proceed to menace, brutalise, rape and murder various of the women, until the tables are turned. That's it, plot wise.
Any tension this scenario might have generated is fatally undermined by its fundamentally misogynistic approach. The fact is that the psycho scumbags are always outnumbered by their victims. Even after the bus driver is killed and the nice biker tied up, there are still five women - all unrestrtained - confronting only two degenerate bikers. Moreover, these two bikers seem to be armed only with a small knife. Realistically, the women could easily have overpowered them. Except that the film's scenario clearly perceives women as fundamentally weak, indecisive and passive. Whilst the film's publicity might talk up the idea that theteacher will go to extraordinary lengths to protect her students, in actuality, she remains essentially passive, being raped and spending most of the film locked in a room away from the students. It is only at the film's climax that she actually acts and stabs the surviving biker with a conveniently handy wooden stake. Even then, she only acts after he has been distracted by the good biker. The sudents likewise don't seem to grasp the fact that they outnumber their captors, instead employing their 'feminine wiles' to try and overpower them, (which provides more excuses for nudity), rather than simply beating the shit out of them. Not only does this situation rob the film of any real suspense or tension, it also prevents it from being anything more than a cheap sexploitation flick. The point of its inspiration, Last House on the Left, was to show the violent lengths to which ordinary, decent people will go if pushed far enough. Trip With the Teacher, however, denies its 'decent' characters any such reaction, assuming they will remain passive in the face of extreme sexual violence. Worse still, it implies that they provoked the assaults against them, (some of the girls openly flirt with the bikers early on and the film clearly feels that this makes them at least partially responsible for what follows), and that, to some extent, they are prepared to willingly participate in the sexual violence.
The film's greatest strength is the performance of Zalman King as the lead biker, Al. Clearly modelled on David Hess' portrayal of Krug in Last House on the Left, King's Al is a truly unhinged character: sniggering, leering and sometimes rolling around on the floor, clutching his head and howling in bouts of existential angst. He is also prone to unpredictablr outbursts of violence, usually directed at women although, when it comes to the crunch, he is a ruthless and cold-blooded when despatching his victims, (he crushes the elderly gas station owner, who has refused to be intimidated by Al, under a car by calmly kicking away the jack and later cooly drowns one of the girls in a stream). King provides the only real menace and tension in the film - the sequence when he chases an escaping girl through the forest is, in contrast to the cabin scenes, genuinely tense as he inexorably comes after her, never appearing to change his slow, deliberate pace. Al's relationship with the other nasty biker - his brother Pete - is also intererstingly drawn. When away from Al, Pete seems reasonably normal and relatively harmless, but when under his brother's influence, isapparently prepared to sink to any depraved depths in order to please Al.
Arguably, King's performance alone makes Trip With the Teacher worth watching - it almosts lifts it above being simply a piece of sleazy seventies sexploitation. But not quite. Nonetheless, it remains an outstanding example of the genre and is worthy of a viewing for that reason alone. It really is commercial exploitation film-making in the raw, the absolute bare bones of low budget movie making. Trip With the Teacher also stands as a fascinating time capsule of many of the attitudes of its era - particularly with regard to women. Sure, it's scuzzy and you'll feel dirty after watching it, but Trip With the Teacher will give you the real seventies schlock experience.
When you see the 'Crown International Pictures' logo come up at the start of a movie's opening credits, you know that you are about to sit through a slice of prime drive-in schlock. A contemporary of and clearly modelled on American International Pictures (AIP) - which it actually outlasted, AIP losings its identity after being sold to Filmways in the 1970s - Crown International's main business was the production and distribution of cheap exploitation pictures aimed squarely at the drive-in market. Their films are characterised by the use of grainy colour film stock, often tinny sound, discordant and often seemingly randomly applied electronic musical scores and casts of unkowns. occaisionally, you might vaguely recognise the leads, sometimes from TV, mostly from other low budget movies, (although, now and again, a genuine 'name' performer like Glenn Ford, Jayne Mansfield or Mae West will pop up). Active as a production company up until the 1990s and a distributor until 2003, Crown International now seems to be content to exploit its extensive back catalogue via DVD and TV sales. Thankfully, for me at least, Talking Pictures TV appear to have acquired the UK TV rights to Crown International's films and is busy showing them in late night slots.
I've already watched a number of their films courtesy of Talking Pictures TV and found them fascinating - particularly in the way in which their style barely seems to change. Beyond an increase in the amount of female flesh on display and the addition of slightly more graphic violence, their 1970s and 1980s output in pretty much indistinguishable from that of the 1960s. Of the movies I've seen so far, which have run the gamut from westerns to war movies, taking in biker flicks, teen sexploitation and science fiction, 1976's Death Machines is perhaps the most representative of the Crown International 'style'. In a tpical piece of marketing misdirection, both the trailer and the film's title sequence suggest a science fiction element which is barely present in what is more or a less a gangster/martial arts crossover. The plot is barely comprehensible, (due in no small part, to the fact that the villainous 'Dragon Lady' can seemingly barely speak English, rendering much of her expository dialogue incomprehensible), concerning the use of a mind-control drug to create three apparently unstoppable assassins, who are then used to eliminate the local opposition. Now enjoying a local monopoly on hit men, the Dragon Lady forces other local gangsters to pay her price for the use of her assassins to carry out their hits. As far as I could make out, she was in the pay of the Yakuza, who were using her activities as some kind of trial for a possible wider use of the mind control drug. Inevitably, she and her henchman double cross their paymasters.
The various hits carried out by the assassins result in sequences of trucks being driven into restaurants, shootings and, most spectacularly, an attack on a martial arts school, which leaves only one survivor, (who loses a hand in the attack). Being the only witness to their activities, the assassins keep on coming after him, which effectively forms the main part of the 'plot', such as it is. However, this aspect of the story seems to get forgotten about for long stretches of the movie, which keeps switching, seemingly at random, between proliferating sub-plots, which include the police investigation into the attacks and all the departmental rivalries and internal politics this involves, (there is a stock shouty police Captain - sporting a disturbingly inept make-up job - who keeps tearing strips off of the lead detective for not doing his paperwork), a romance between a nurse and the witness and the witness' post-traumatic stress. Random sequence follows seemingly random sequence: the assassins kidnap and rape a girl, Dragon Lady's henchman uses photos of this to blackmail her banker father, when this doesn't work, he blows the banker up; meanwhile, one of the assasins is captured by the cops, escapes, wrecking the squad room in the process, before winding up in a bar where he beats up a gang of over age bikers. Most mysteriously, a middle aged bum loses his temper and wrecks the bar the witness works in - for no good reason plot-wise.
Death Machines eventually rolls to an underwhelming climax, with the Dragon Lady and her henchman dead, but the now rebellious assassins still at liberty. Everything is shot on the usual cheap and fuzzy film stock with terrible sound and poor lighting. Nevertheless, the whole thing is, like most Crown International pictures, perversely entertaining. The scattershot arrangement of apparently random scenes and plot elements lends the thing a surreal feel. You can't help but suspect that at some point in the editing process the various film elements were scattered by a gust of wind and what could be salvaged were slapped together in a panic, creating an incredible kaliedescope of violence where the rules of cause and effect have no sway. Like all good schlock, it has an air of delirium about it - when it finally ends, you are left feeling as if you've awakened with a start from a half-remembered dream. Death Machines might well be bottom-of-the-barrel exploitation, but it is at least entertaining (and sometimes baffling) bottom-of-the-barrel exploitation.
Do you ever find yourself wondering if you are on the right side? In the wake of the commons vote to bomb Syria, I find myself truly despising some of my fellow 'terrorist sympathisers'. You know the ones I mean: the ones who have subsequently spent their time harassing and threatening MPs who voted in favour of bombing. I wouldn't mind, but they are sort of sanctimonious gits who otherwise spend their time banging on about the virtues of democracy and living in a free country. Untill, of course, things don't go their way. Yeah, I know, I'm sounding like someone who not only reads the Daily Mail but also makes crazed comments on its website. But, damn it, so many of these anti-war types are just so fucking self righteous. They probably do more to alienate potential allies than a million column inches in the Mail denouncing 'Trotskyite immigrant-loving insurgents'. It isn't just on the Syria issue: they jump on their high horses and start issuing their shrill declarations of how 'this is outrageous' across social media at the drop of a hat. They jump on any social justice, race relations, sexual discrimination or international war crimes bandwagon that rolls by. Oh, and if you in any way disagree with them, then you are a fascist and find yourself being denounced and bullied off of social media. Dissenting opinions, even from the left, especially from the left, are not welcome.
It's not that the issues they latch onto aren't necessarily important or worthy of campaigning about, but their activities are generally counter-productive, alienating the wider public and opening the whole cause up to ridicule. They are so concerned with their 'principles' and being seen to have the correct 'right on' attitudes that they dismiss and actively obstruct possible compromises and pragmatic approaches to finding solutions. Worst of all, they stifle any legitimate debate. Sadly, they just can't seem to see that their attitudes and approach to issues is as bad as that of those they claim to oppose. Getting back to the specific issue of Syria, I find it more than slightly ironic that people who oppose the killing of civilians by bombing and harp on about dead babies are also prepared to threaten violence against MPs and the families of MPs who voted in favour of the bombing. Not that you have to be a pacifist to be in the anti camp: I'm prepared to concede that military action against ISIS might be justified, but don't believe that the proposed bombing campaign will actually achieve anything in military terms - it offers no long-term solution to the problem. Moreover, in general, I think that violence should only be a last resort, (and only when faced with an immediate threat of violence oneself, not just because someone has done something you disagree with). Ultimately, whether or not to support the bombing campaign in Syria is a matter of individual conscience, for citizens and MPs alike. Corbyn was quite right to allow a free vote on the issue for Labour MPs. I think those who voted for the bombing were wrong, but I don't think they are evil baby-killing fascists. The self-rightous middle class new lefties really need to put things in proportion and accept that other people are entitled to hold differing opinions. Even if they are wrong.
A while ago I was predicting that Sleaze Diary seemed to be shifting from personal/editorial blog to a predominantly pop culture blog. Inevitably, things have turned out differently, as they always seem to around here. Since my prediction, the personal and political stuff has become prominent again, reflecting developments in my life and interests. Which isn't to say that things are now moving in the opposite direction to the one I predicted. The pop culture stuff, particularly the exploitation film side of things, has still been taking up quite a bit of my time, just not on this blog. For the past few months I've been producing the 'Schlock Express' podcast for the 'Overnightscape Underground', which is aimed at bringing the world of exploitation to a non-expert audience. With some success, I have to say. In the main, it draws on the stuff I've already posted here as the basis for the scripts. Nevertheless, recording and editing each edition is time consuming. On top of that, I haven't had much time of late to catch up with all the various low-rent movies I've got queued up. Hopefully, I'll be able to start getting up to date with my schlock backlog this weekend.
One of the things to come out of producing the 'Schlock Express' podcast is that I'm edging ever closer to trying to resume my original podcast series, 'The Sleazecast'. The main hurdle is in coming up with a new format which isn't as labour intensive as the last couple of editions turned out to be. I'm still working on that. Of course, if I wasn't spending so much time being a 'terrorist sympathiser', as our Prime Minister seemes to think that anyone who doesn't support the bombing of Syria must be, I'd have more time to produce all these podcasts, run The Sleaze, watch schlock movies and write this blog. An overriding theme of the 'debate' over Syria seems to have been that 'we can't do nothing - we must do something'. Which is utterly nonsensical, as doing nothing is always an option, albeit not neccessarily the right one, but it is an option - so if your entire argument for bombing someone is based on such a fallacy then, to be frank, you have no credible argument. It's like that other nonsense politicians like to spout: 'the status quo is not an option'. Of course it is a bloody option! You can say that it one you don't want to consider, but it still exists! Anyway, enough of these ramblings, I'm off to the pub.
Please support our annual Winterval Appeal by sending all your unwanted pornography to us - we promise that it will all go to a good home. Remember, in these days of austerity it is essential that our local perverts are able to warm themselves in front of a smutty DVD or video. So please give generously.
OK, I know that I sound like one of those people I profess to hate - you know who I mean, those gits who spend their time bemoaning how everything new in pop culture isn't as good as stuff from the past - but I have to say that the BBC's new Christmas idents, unveiled today, have to be the worst, ever. The prospect of having that bloody sprout turn up on my TV screen every time I tune into BBC1 for the next month or so is deeply depressing. I used to look forward to seeing what the BBC were going to do with their seasonal idents - I've lived through them all, from the infamous rotating Christmas pudding which replaced the old globe ident one Christmaswhen I was a kid, to the more recent ones featuring the likes of Wallace and Grommit and David Tennant's Doctor. I found all of them entertaining to one degree or another - not always for the reasons the makers intended, admittedly. I know it's early days, but so far this sprout one is even worse than the one with the giant snowball they did a few years ago, which I'd alwats thought the most boring of the recent Christmas idents.
The other thing which perturbs me about this new ident is the fact that it has been launched so early. I remember the good old days (I'm sounding like one of those people again) when the TV channels would wait until about a week before Christmas before debuting their special Yule tide idents and logos. This is the earliest unveiling I can recall - and all for the worst idents, ever. It's another symptom of 'creeping Christmas', where retailers and the media keep bringing forward the start of the festive season earlier and earlier, year by year. It's bad enough thhat municipal Christmas lights get switched on in November, but now we have the BBC proclaiming that Christmas is here on the first day of December by inflicting an animated sprout on us. I know that I bang on about this every year, but by allowing Christmas to keep creeping forward like this, its 'specialness' will rapidly become eroded. At least those of us who celebrate Winterval have an excuse for starting our festivities now - it is the start of Winter, after all - and trust me, we certainly won't be employing any bloody sprouts to publicise the celebrations..