Sometimes things happen which leave us feeling utterly humbled. I had such an experience recently when a fellow podcaster, Ruben Scharde, devoted an entire podcast to me - in a good way, I hasten to add. I say devoted to 'me' when, of course, it was actually devoted to the podcasting works of 'Doc Sleaze', my online alter-ego (well, one of them). When it first appeared on the Overnightscape Underground, I approached the show with some trepidation: usually when I see my 'name' in the title of something it means that I'm about to get flamed because someone has taken offence at something the Doc has done or said. But my fears were unfounded. In fact, Ruben was full of praise for my old podcast 'The Sleazecast' - which is currently being rerun on the Overnightscape Underground - and my various contributions to the 'Overnightscape Central' group podcast. Apparently, he had found them both entertaining and thought-provoking - and I'm very glad that he did. That's usually the point behind my various outpourings on the net - the shock, offence and surrealism are there to try and make people question received wisdoms, ingrained prejudices and established assumptions. Sadly, there are a significant number who just can't get past the offensive bits, which is why it is so gratifying to come across someone who does.
But, as I said at the top of the post, it was a humbling experience to hear my old broadcasts analysed and praised by someone on the other side of the world - someone I've never even met in person. Obviously, I'm also deeply flattered by the whole experience. Does this mean that I'm now some kind of internet celebrity? Or, rather, does this mean that Doc Sleaze is some kind of internet celebrity? Will I be virtually mobbed on message boards and Twitter? Probably not. Even if I was an internet celebrity, it, thankfully, wouldn't have anyimpact in the real world. That's the great thing about the web, especially if you use an alias, as I do: it allows you a degree of anonymous fame. People might know the online name and persona you use, but they don't know you. As a very private person, that suits me perfectly. The other thing which came out of Ruben's very generous appraisal of my podcasts was just how strange it is to re-encounter an earlier version of oneself, as I did listening back to my old shows, something prompted by his podcast. I'm afraid that I rarely listen back to my podcasts once I've edited them into their release versions, so it was quite startling to hear me from two or three years ago. It brought home the fact that, even over a relatively short period of time, we do change, challenging the illusion of the continuity of the self with which we like to deceive ourselves. I suppose it's a bit like when The Doctor encounters his previous regenerations in Doctor Who - it is simultaneously both him and a seperate, different, individual. All very strange.
God knows what made me think of The Trygon Factor, but I've just found myself fruitlessly searching for to see if it is available on DVD or as a download. There isn't even a bootleg copy up on You Tube - although I did find a German trailer and some excerpts (including the one above). The Trygon Factor is one of those half-remembered films that ITV would show on a Sunday afternoon when I was a kid - they were a welcome relief from the usual seventies Sunday TV regime of religion, classic serials and general worthiness. I haven't seen it decades and, as I said before, I can only vaguely remember it as being a very bizarre crime movie in which Stewart Granger investigated a bunch of dodgy nuns who were carrying out robberies. Interestingly, the sequence above is one of the few I remember in detail. Even as a child, it seems, it was the kinky bits that caught my attention. Actually, I think it was the fact that a film being shown in the daytime schedules (on a Sunday) contained what I recognise now as being effectively a BDSM sequence (as we'd call it today), which is what made it stick in my memory long after other details had faded away. To make it even kinkier, it turns out that the shadowy figure with the Giallo-killer type leather gloves on who gropes the tied up girl, is eventually unmasked as a woman. Bondage and implied lesbianism together on a Sunday afternoon!
You've probably noticed that everyone is speaking German in the clip, even true blue silver fox Stewart Granger. The Trygon Factor was an Anglo-German production featuring an international cast and both English and German versions exist. It was effectively part of the 1960s cycle of German 'Krimis' based on the works of Edgar Wallace, (this one was apparently loosely based on Wallace's Kate Plus Ten). In stark contrast to the low-key Wallace adaptations produced in the UK by Merton Park Studios, the German films emphasised the bizarre, otlandish and grotesque aspects of Wallace's novels, setting them in a strange version of England which seemed to be made up of equals parts of Agatha Christie country house murder mysteries, foggy Jack-the-Ripper London and sleazy Soho clubland. The Trygon Factor, as I recall, adds in various swinging sixties tropes as glamourous fashion photographers and lots of girls in their underwear, (something else you tended not to see on a Sunday afternoon). There's also a slight science fiction angle, as I seem to remember the gang of robber nuns using some kind of fantastical multi-barrelled gun to break into bank vaults. I think it is clear by now that the whole thing was barking mad. My abiding memory of seeing it for the first time was astonishment as what started out as a typical British crime movie of the type that was frequently to be found in the daytime schedules (It even starred Stweart Granger, a staple of such movies), took bizarre turn after bizarre turn. Mind you, I also remember thinking even then that Granger looked a bit old to be racing around in a sports car and trying it on with scantily clad young women. Nowadays, of course, I see him as a role model, giving hope to middle aged men everywhere.
Anyway, I'd dearly love to see this film again and can only hope that it might trn up on Talking Pictures TV or Movies4Men - they've turned up several other movies I'd vaguely remembered seeing and enjoying on TV in my childhood, so hope springs eternal.
Internet trolls and online abuse - it's a subject I just keep coming back to, I find the phenomena endlessly fascinating. Particularly fascinating is the way in which every new type of social media is quickly turned into a conduit for the anger and frustration of the trolls and their ilk: blog comments, message boards, Facebook, Twitter - I've seen them all used to berate, bully and abuse individuals. I'm always astounded by the things which set the bullying off - you'd think that it would be triggered by some kind of serious issue, but no, more often than not it is because someone - usually a complete stranger to those doing the abusing - has simply expressed an opinion the trolls don't agree with. For some reason, this sends them apoplectic with rage. For example, I was recently reading about a woman whose only 'crime' was to say that she didn't want to have children - she suddenly found herself on the receiving end of quite appalling abuse on Twitter from complete strangers. (Quite why so many people felt so strongly about a personal choice made by an individual they didn't know eludes me - it isn't a crime not to want children. I've never felt the urge to reproduce my genes either- I don't think that makes me evil or reprehensible. It also doesn't mean that I hate children. I don't, I just don't want any of my own).
But I digress. Not all internet trolling is quite as extreme or as vicious. Most of it is much lower level and, to be frank, consists of people being dicks. You know the soert of thing I mean: the pedants in message boards or blog comments who insist in correcting even the tiniest inaccuracies in the postings of others, using the most supercilious tone possible; the idiots who just can't help making snide comments in response to postings (they probably think they are being witty - they aren't); and the contrarians who, as a matter of principle, disagree with anything anyone else says, usually in the most offensive way possible. But, this sort of thing isn't unique to the web. Not even the vicious social media type of bullying. In the past, it took the form of poison pen letters and offensive grafitti sprayed on people's houses. The web has simply made it easier, quicker and less risky: you no longer have to find out the victim's address, waste money on stamps or run the risk of getting caught in their garden with a spray can of paint. The low level type of trolling is still prevalent in real life. It often takes the form of pub bores. Earlier this week I had the misfortune to have to put up with my local's resident bore, Ted (not his real name, but close enough). It occurred to me afterward that Ted operates just like an internet troll: disagreeing with anything anyone says in an attempt to establish his (non-existant) intellectual superiority, disparaging opposing views in patronising and offensive terms and hijacking conversations. The latter is the bit I find most irritating - it frequently becomes impossible to have a conversation as Ted keeps butting in and derailing it, effectively turning it into an argument. Oh, and he's an instant expert on everything. Ted is one troll I wish would go online and bother people - at least there I could probably get him banned from the virtual equivalent to the pub's lounge bar or, at the very least, block him. Sadly, that just isn't possible with real life trolls.
I was half listening to some kind of audio hagiography of Margaret Thatcher on the radio the other night as I was drifting off to sleep when they got to the bit about how the 'Iron Lady' was just human like the rest of us. It's a sequence common to all such biographies - after we've established how tough, uncompromising, hard working and efficient the subject was, (usually adding in how bold they were in pursuing unpopular policies or taking political risks), you get the segment where they try to humanise them, with anecdotes from colleagues about how they were kind to small animals or performed ingognito at children's parties. In the case of Thatcher, we were presented with the likes of Kenneth Clarke and Matthew Paris telling us, in astonished tones, how Mrs Thatcher, when she was Prime Minister, once made them a cup of tea! Apparently that showed that she was really just and ordinary housewife, even when she was in the midst of destroying the coal industry and creating mass unemployment. But all that was OK, because she was really human.
To which my response was to think that the same thing could be said of Hitler. It's well documented, after all, that, even in those dark last days in the bunker, Hitler was always nice to his secretarial staff, regularly taking tea and crumpets with them. He was also very nice to Geobbels' children, often reading them bedtime stories. Presumably, following the logic of the Thatcher programme I heard, this somehow exonerrates him from the war crimes that he was responsible for. I mean, what do the concentration camps and attempted genocide matter - he liked children and was good to the ladies in the typing pool. Whilst it is always good to remind ourselves that even ruthless dictators are also human beings, it is important to remember that this still doesn't absolve them of guilt. It's all too easy to demonise the likes of Hitler, turning them into inhuman monsters, as if by dehumanising them somehow seperates them from us, making them 'special cases'. Establishing that they were still human beings, who still did mundane things like the rest of us, still had feelings, still loved and grieved and cried, reminds us that they aren't 'special cases', different from us because they were inherently evil - they started off just the same way as the rest of us, as ordinary people. But it doesn't alter the heinousness of their deeds. In the case of someone like Thatcher, learning that she was 'just human', makes the callousness of her policies even worse. Sure, she wasn't Hitler (despite my earlier analogy) but she still destroyed a lot of communities and ruined a lot of lives. Worse still, her policies fatally eroded the better values of our society, putting materialism and personal gain above care and compassion. All whilst making tea for Kenneth Clarke.
Notable mainly for featuring three generations of horror icons, (classic monster Boris Karloff, Hammer Dracula Christopher Lee and Euro horror favourite Barbara Steele), Curse of the Crimson Altar is a typically barmy late sixties Tigon production for which I have a real soft spot. Not quite as deliriously insane as another Vernon Sewell directed Tigon horror, the contemporaneous Blood Beast Terror, Curse nevertheless has its moments. Most of these involve an especially bizarre performance from Micheal Gough as the red-herring mad butler and a series of strange dream sequences experienced by hero Mark Eden. Whilst quite eerily shot, these do come over more as some kind of S&M fetish party, (large men dressed in what appears to be bondage gear wander around with various implements of torture, with the whole thing presided over by a green painted Barabara Steele sporting a ram's horn festooned headress), rather than a supernatural experience.
Adding to the fun is Boris Karloff's occult historian, pushed around in a wheelchair by a black clad, sunglasses wearing, mute bodyguard. With witches' curses, evil ancestors exacting revenge across the centuries, a spooky old house and strange and arcane rituals, it's fair to say that Curse of the Crimson Altar throws everything into the mix in its quest for chills. That it never really succeeds in raising a fright in no no way lessens its entertainment value, as bizarre incident piles upon bizarre incident. Moreover, as if aware that the film couldn't deliver in the horror department, the producers also included a dollop of swinging sixties decadence, with a wild party full of semi-clothed young people, plus some brief nudity from the leading lady. Despite their top-billing, Lee., Karloff and Steele actually have little to do in the film, with most of narrative being carried by bland leads Mark Eden and Virginia Wetherall. Of the three horror icons, only Karloff seems to be enjoying himself, gleefully hamming it up at every opportunity. Ultimately, the film is stymied by its refusal to carry through with its supernatural plot - the dreams turn out to be drug induced hallucinations which, along with various murders and other strange incidents, are revealed as part of crazy Christopher Lee's plot to avenge the execution of his witch ancestress Lavinia (Barbara Steele), by killing the descendents of her accussers. That said, it does try to have its cake and eat it in one final barmy scene as Lee, trapped atop the burning house, turns into Barbara Steele before being consumed by the flames.
Curse of the Crimson Altar used to be a taple of the BBC's late night horror movie seasons, but in recent years it seems to have vanished from view. Never a fan favourite and generally dismissed by critics, Curse is no classic, nor is it a strong example of Tigon's output from the period. Neverheless, when watched under the right circumstances it has a curious charm and some sequences do create an agreeably uneasy atmosphere. Moreover, like most of veteran director Sewell's output, the whole thing is very professionally put together.
More childhood TV memories - this time it's How, one of Southern Television's most popular and long-running programmes. A children's TV series of a kind they no longer seem to make, How was 'must watch' viewing for me as a kid- one of the few ITV programmes I watched rtegularly, in fact. Running from 1966 until 1981, it was notable for beinging together two of Southern's stalwarts: Jack Hargreaves and Fred Dineage, who appeared in most episodes. In fact, the presenting line-up stayed pretty stable for the programme's run. The demonstrations to illustrate the solutions to the various 'how' questions posed always fascinated me and, I have to say, I found Hargreaves far less avuncular and far more interesting here than he ever was on Out of Town.
There was even a tie-in book, published in either the late sixties or early seventies - The Daily Mail Book of How - which offered more explanations to various questions of 'how' and illustrated how you could do such things as turning unwanted vinyl records into bowls by heatiing them up so they became malleable enough to mould. In common with, I suspect, every other child in the UK I was never allowed to test out any of these supposedly practical solutions, as they were deemed too dangerous. I wasn't even allowed to test out the solution to 'How Can You Tear a Telephone Directory in Half' because a) my father unreasonably wanted to use the Yellow Pages and b) because it involved baking the directory in the oven, which my mother was convinced would result in the house burning down. Sadly, I lost or misplaced the book many years ago. Perhaps I should try and track a copy down and try out some of the stuff in it...
Before we get back to the schlocky movies and other usual business of this blog, I feel I must digress to more serious business. I've decided that I have to address the whole business of the recent terror attacks in Paris. The knee jerk reactionary furore which has followed this appalling business has itself been almost as appalling. Particularly the conviction of our political leaders that the best way to respond to acts of extreme violence is to commit even more extreme acts of violence yourself. As I've grown older, it has become ever clearer to me that violence simply begets more violence, it becomes a vicious circle which becomes ever wider and destroys more and more lives. When it comes to combatting amorophous terror groups like ISIS, it is highly questionable whether conventional military tactics will be effective. It's all very well bombing ISIS-held parts of Syria and Iraq, but what exactly is this achieving? The likes of ISIS don't have conventional military or civil infrastructures to denude and disrupt. Ordinarily, bombing would be expected to reduce the enemy's military capability, reducing their ability to attack us. But the problem with ISIS is that they don't have a conventional military capability - as Paris has shown, they only require a handful of operatives to cause widespread chaos and fatalities. You can bomb Syria and Iraq as much as you like and it won't reduce that sort of capability.
The problem with things like ISIS are that they represent an idea or philosophy which, for one reason or another, appeals to a particular group of people at a particular time in history. Conventional military action can only 'treat' the symptoms, to truly defeat terror organisations of this size, you need to deploy other tactics to try and undercut their support. You have to try and understand why all those disaffected young Muslims are prepared to blow themselves up and gun down innocent civilians in the name of ISIS, rather than pursue other avenues of protest. In order to do that, we have to do the unthinkable: ask ourselves what we, as a society, are doing to so alienate the people who become suicide bombers and terrorist gunmen, that they feel that violence is their only recourse? I know that people don't want to here this sort of thing, insisting that we're the victims and this makes it sound as if we were 'asking for it'. But the sad fact is that terrorist organisations prey upon young and disaffected individuals, offering them something which these individuals clearly feel that society doesn't: a sense of belonging, of worth and comradeship. They give them the belief that they have the power to change society, despite being made to feel insignificant by the community. To take an example, the Provisional IRA typically appealed to Catholic youths in Northern Ireland who had no jobs, no hope of a job in the foreseeable future and saw all the instruments of government dominated by the protestants, consequently perceiving them to be entirely oppressive. By joining the IRA they became 'someone', they had the power that a gun gives you and felt they could now strike back at their oppressors.
It's no different with the current Muslim extremists - the people they recruit to do their dirty work feel that they have no investment in the societies they attack. Bombing towns and cities in the Middle East will only serve to reinforce this feeling and strengthen their sense of grievance. It's their hearts and minds we need to battle for if we want to 'win' this war. Sure, I know the government likes to talk about combatting the 'radicalisation' of young Muslims, but other than harassing anyone they deem a 'radical', this doesn't seem to be achieving much. Which isn't surprising, as it doesn't address he fundamental issues: why do they feel so disaffected, what is it about modern society which so alienates them? I'm not saying that we need to radically change our way of life to appease potential terrorists, but perhaps a bit more accommodation and tolerance, so as to make all UK citizens feel that they belong and are valued, might help. Ultimately, we'll have to come back to this issue, like it or not. Unless we can totally destroy ISIS, as the Romans did to Carthage in order to end the Punic Wars, razing the city to the ground, killing the men folk and selling the women and children into slavery, then the bombing won't work. In fact, it will just deepen their resolve, as the Blitz did with UK in World War Two. But even then, that lesson went unlearned - what was our response to the Blitz? That's right, bombing the shit out of Germany's cities.
There are times when my laziness proves beneficial. Several years ago the tube started going on my big old widescreen TV, (everything started going green), so I replaced it with a new, al singing, all dancing full HD flatscreen TV. Which itself gave up the ghost yesterday evening, without warning it just switched off in the middle of something I was trying to watch and wouldn't switch back on. As it was the only TV I owned, this was a bit of a blow, But then I remembered - I did have another TV: the faulty old one, which had sat stored in a cupboard for years. I'd kept meaning to either take it to the dump or arrange for some people who recycle old electrical appliances to take it way. But somehow I never quite got around to it - so there it was, covered in dust and lurking in a cupboard. So I hauled it out, manhandled it into the living room and plugged it in - incredibly, it worked. of course, it is so old that it doesn't have a built in digital tuner, so I hooked it up to my HD recorder and, lo and behold, I had sound and vision. Green tinged vision, but I was at least able to complete my interrupted viewing.
There's something decidedly strange about watching HD channels on a non-HD TV. Not just a non-HD TV, but not even an LED or LCD TV. The old steam powered tube's resurrection was short lived, as, unable to fix the old flatscreen (I had vainly hoped that it might be something simple like the fuse in the plug, but no such luck), I was forced to buy a new one today. There's only so long that I can watch TV with everyone tinged green. Due to the bizarre pricing policies and offers practiced by electrical retailers, I found that it was actually cheaper to replace my 24" full HD TV with a 32" full HD TV rather than a new one of the same size. I can't say that I really wanted a larger screen - it really is a bit of monster - but decent 24" full HD TVs seem to be ridiculously expensive right now. So I'm now the proud owner of 32" Hitachi smart TV with full HD. I must say that the picture quality is excellent. It might seem strange to say tis, but black and white stuff looks especially good on it, with a nice crisp monochrome image. Hopefully, this TV will last longer than is predecessor, which didn't even notch up five years, (needless to say, it waited until it was out of warranty before it died). If nothing else, this whole business has taught ne that I should never throw anything away.
This sequel to Million Eyes of Sumuru is a completely different kettle of fish to its predecessor. Whereas producer Harry Allan Towers had succeeded in stifling much director Lindsay Shonteff;s characteristic cinematic style in the earlier film, here he seems to have left Shonteff's successor behind the camera, Jesus Franco, to his own devices. The result is pure, full on Franco - and not bad Franco (as in most of the films he directed for Towers), but surreal and psychedelic Franco, as seen in Venus in Furs (also, ironically, a Harry Allan Towers production). Indeed, Venus in Furs and Girl From Rio share both Brazilian locations and cast members, leading me to suspect that the Rio sequences in the former might have been shot at the same time as those for the latter.
But to focus on Girl From Rio - stylistically, it is completely different to the first Sumuru film. Whereas the earlier movie was basically an exotic crime thriller, played largely for laughs (particularly with regard to the heroes), Franco's film boldly strides into James Bond territory, with the villain's lair featuring stylised, boldly coloured and minimalistic sets, her minions wearing striking, albeit entirely impractical, skimpy costumes and a much more conventional, square jawed hero. There's still plenty of humour on display, but it is much better integrated into the plot than it had been in the first film, with much of it provided by George Sanders' secondary villain, Masius. Indeed, it has to be said that Franco succeeds in eliciting an excellent performance from the veteran actor. By this late stage in his career, Sanders' performances were all too often characterised by weariness, as he went through the motions with his stock suave villain schtick. Maybe it was the tropical climate in Rio, perhaps he had a good pay cheque, whatever the reason, for Franco Sanders provides a lively and drily comic performance, seemingly enjoying every moment of his turn as a master villain who 'doesn't like to be crude' and consequently doesn't like having to watch his henchmen's brutal 'interrogation' techniques. At one point he hides his eyes during the beating of a character, at another he chuckles as he reads a Popeye comic rather than watching his henchmen beat and partially drown one of Sumuru's agents, played by Maria Rohm. He even gets away with delivering a variation on an old Laurel and Hardy phone gag - 'It's a long distance from Spain', his female assistant tells him as she answers the phone, 'I know that,' he replies, 'but who is it?'.
Girl From Rio also looks superb, with excellent cinematography, (Franco keeps his penchant for the zoom lens firmly under control), and moves at a cracking pace. The locations are used to great effect, with Franco contrasting the gaiety of Rio and its carnival, pulsing with colourful life, with the anti-septic emptiness and silence of Sumuru's all woman city, Femina. Whilst Rio is depicted as lush with greenery and composed of older, whitewashed buildings showing every sign of being lived in, Femina is all glass and concrete, with nothing moving and no indication that any of it is remotely habitable. Where Rio has a constant background of music and human noise, the only background noise in Femina is that of the wind whistling around the vast, empty buildings. Perversely, the only parts of Sumuru's city which show signs of life are her elaborate, high tech torture chambers. Which brings us to another area where Girl From Rio delivers in a way that Million Eyes of Sumuru (and, indeed most Towers productions) failed to - that of the perversity, decadence and torture which is always implied by this type of film. Here, though, Franco gives us the full on kink with some of the goings on in the torture chamber - all presided over by a clearly aroused Sumuru.
Of course, Girl From Rio isn't without its faults. Despite fantastic design, costumes and art direction, which give the film a glossy, expensive look, Towers' typical cheapness is visible at the film's climax, where it is obvious that the budget wouldn't run to blank rounds, so the warring factions have to simulate things like recoil as they fire their weapons, with sound effects dubbed post production. Moreover, the destruction of Femina is simply represented by lots of coloured smoke drifting past the camera. Richard Wyler is also somewhat wooden as the hero and, despite being played straight, is often as ineffective as Frankie Avalon and George Nader were in the first film, as he finds himself a pawn in the conflict between rival villains Sumuru (played once again by Shirley Eaton) and Masius. The plot is somewhat perfunctory, with Wyler sent to Rio having supposedly absconded with ten million dollars of his employer's money. The idea being that this will attract Sumuru's attention and induce her to abduct him, so that he can penetrate Femina and rescue the millionaire employer's daughter who is being held there. Masius, however, proves to be a fly in the ointment, determined first to the obtain the phantom ten million, then to use Wyler against Sumuru in a plot to steal her riches. But the details really don't matter - the plot is simply there as a device to allow Franco to deploy his superb visuals.
If Girl From Rio never quite matches Franco's Venus in Furs in conjuring up a dream like atmosphere, where reality constantly seems to be in danger of melting away, at times it comes close, particularly in the scenes of Wyler and his female sidekicks escaping from the torture chamber , running through fog filled corridors. As I've made clear elsewhere, I'm ordinarily not a fan of Franco - he turned out far too much dull, low budget dross, often with perfunctory direction in his career - but I'll concede that when he's good, he's very good. A handful of his films achieve a bizarre blend of the art house, psychedelia, eroticism and, well, just downright lunacy. With these, he achieves heights of film making that most other commercial directors can only dream of. Of course, cynics might suggest that in a career that saw him direct over 150 movies, the law averages dictated that at least some of Franco's movies had to be good. By contrast, I prefer to believe that Franco was a decent film maker who simply decided that, most of the time, earning a living took precedence over his art, hence the amount of hack work he did as a director for hire. But sometimes he took the trouble to lavish a little more care and, in the process, succeeded in producing true schlock poetry.
"Chester Crown Court heard the victim was tricked by Newland and only realised what had happened when she ripped off her blindfold and saw Newland wearing a prosthetic penis."
You just can't make this stuff up, can you? As the trial of a woman who posed as a man to have sex with another woman she met on the internet, (and persuaded the victim to wear a blindfold during their meetings so as to keep up the deception), closes with her being jailed for eight years, I can't help but ponder what the British sexploitation film industry of the seventies would have done with such material. A film about gender role swapping suburban swingers might well have been the next logical step for Derek Ford after tackling wife swapping and groupies. That said, strap on dildos and blindfolds sound like the sort of thing that might have turned up in Sex Clinic. Indeed, with their penchant for producing sex movies with scenarios 'ripped from the headlines', (the Sunday tabloid headlines, that is), I can imagine Hazel Adair and Kent Walton rushing a sensational piece of low budget smut into production if this story had happened in 1976. The idea of a predatory lesbian with a fake penis exploiting innocent young girls would have fitted in well with the homophobic undercurrent which seems to be present in Adair and Walton's sex films.
But, without wishing to trivialise the trauma suffered by the victim in the real life case, there can surely be little doubt that the stuff which came out during this trial would have provided excellent material for a British sex comedy. The opportunities for his trademark reaction shots that discovering a fake penis beneath a dress would have provided Robin Askwith don't bear thinking about. That said, devising a scenario in which Askwith might actually encounter a strap on dildo wearing male impersonator might have been problematic - but I have faith in the abilities of seventies sex film writers to come up with something convincing. Maybe there could be a twist in the plot by which Askwith's character pretends to be a woman to infiltrate a nurses' home, or something, then, whilst still impersonating a woman, is forced to pretend to be a man, wearing a fake penis so as not to give his original deception away. Or something like that. The comedic possibilities are endless.
If nothing else, this trial has reinforced the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction. As I said at the outset, you just can't make this sort of thing up. Actually, you could, but it would be dismissed as being ridiculous. But when all's said and done, ignoring the dramatic and comic possibilities of the trial's bizarre revelations, the reality is that we've seen a tragedy played out - not just for the victim, but for the perpetrator as well, who, I can't help but feel, needs help much more than an eight year jail sentence.
UK TV ads must pay well - as if the likes of Kevin Bacon, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Al Pacino, Arnold Scharzenegger and Harvey Keitel plugging everything from bread to insurance weren't enough, I've just seen Jeff Goldblum fronting a Currys-PC World commercial. Surely he has something better to do with his time? Isn't there another Independence Day movie in the works? Surely he must be in that - it must pay better than a TV ad for a British electrical retailer? Still, I suppose that as none of these ads are ever likely to be seen in the US, then they all feel safe that their reputations won't be affected. The Goldblum advert is part of a Christmas campaign, so Goldblum's appearances for Currys-PC World might just be seasonal. Which brings me to my main point: the arrival of Christmas. Or Winterval, as we like to call it here.
With monotonous regularity, the season of goodwill just keeps rolling around. That said, perhaps it is just my imagination, but this year the season's start seems to have come a little later than usual. It also seems to be somewhat more muted than usual. Perhaps its this never-ending recession - or are we in one of those economic recoveries that nobody but the super-rich seem to notice - but the mood, so far, seems pretty down beat. I haven't even noticed any Christmas trees going up in shops yet, although the decorations are up in Crapchester town centre - apparently they are being officially switched on soon by some minor 'celebrity' or other that I've doubtless never heard of before. (The heady days when we could afford the likes of Ted Rogers, Marti Caine or a professional Grant Mitchell lookalike to turn the lights on are long gone - Crapchester council even cancelled this year's municipal firework display, pleading poverty). But no matter - TV has been valiantly flying the flag for an early start to Christmas, with both channel Five and True Entertainment merrily screening Christmas-themed movies in their daytime schedules since October. Indeed, there's even a temporary channel on Freeview - True Christmas - entirely devoted to Christmas programming for the duration of the season. Needless to say, I haven't bothered retuning my Freeview box. So, there you have it: Christmas has officially arrived - John Lewis have run their Christmas commercial, which these days seems to be the official starting point for the festive season.
It is possible to see The Million Eyes of Sumuru as the Holy Grail of schlock movies: a film directed by Lindsay Shonteff and produced by Harry Allan Towers, two of the titans of British exploitation film making. Sadly, the film never really lives up to such expectations, with the hand of producer Towers seeming to have had the most influence on the finished product. Loosely based on a Sax Rohmer story, Sumuru presents us with a kind of female Fu Manchu in the title character, (played by Shirley Eaton), apparently hell bent on world domination via her all-female army. Ranged against her are a pair of hip CIA agents played by George Nader and Frankie Avalon, who are working for British spy chief Wilfred Hyde White. Which is where the film's problems begin - anyone who had seen Towers' Fu Manchu films, (which starred Christopher Lee and were played quite straight), might have expected this Rohmer adaptation also to be a straightforward crime thriller - with science fiction and horror elements - played out in exotic locations. Well, they got the exotic locations, with most of the action unfolding in and around Hong Kong. However, Eaton's steely performance as the villain is undercut by her opponents being mainly played for laughs - her triumphs are demeaned as her adversaries are so ineffective. Her stature is further demeaned by actually being defeated by what amounts to the comic relief.
The lack of dramatic tension this situation creates seriously hampers the film, as does a meandering, confusing and overly complicated plot which never seems to get anywhere. The collision of Hyde White's usual bumblings, Avalon and Nader's comic antics with scenes of Fu Manchu-style tortures (Nader is suspended and whipped in Sumuru's dungeon), various cold blooded murders (including a man being strangled by a female minion's thighs) and climactic action scenes which involve both soldiers and Sumuru's amazons being mown down in large numbers, reinforces the impression that two different films have somehow been edited together. Which is, effectively, what happened, with producer Towers, according to Shonteff, having heavily re-edited the film in post-production. Consequently, whilst some of Shonteff's trademark odd camera angles and zany humour is still present, it is highly diluted. Although by no means a typical Shonteff movie, the comic secret agents and general parodying of the spy genre looks forward to Shonteff's later Bond knock offs like Number One of the Secret Service, whilst the strong female characterisations - they are far more capable than their male equivalents - prefigure his Big Zapper movies. Indeed, it could be argued that the film's uneven tone prefigures Shonteff's later work, which often feature wild and abrupt shifts in tone, from cartoon-like comedy to extreme violence. However, in those later films the shifts in tone seem deliberate and add to their feverish quality, whereas in Sumuru the changes in tone feel jarring and frustrating. Moreover, in his later films, Shonteff tends to match his often bizarrely talented heroes with equally bizarre villains, avoiding the sense of mismatch which pervades Sumuru.
Having said all of that, The Million Eyes of Sumuru is still an entertaining enough film. It's certainly better than, say, Five Golden Dragons, a similar Towers produced movie shot in Hong Kong at around the same time, which pedestrian in its execution and has an even worse mix of a comic lead and serious crime plot. It's also far better than most of the movies Jesus Franco directed for Harry Allan Towers in the late sixties and early seventies, most of which are plodding and dull. To be fair to Franco (and I'm not really a fan), Towers as producer seemed to stifle most of the flamboyant touches which make some of his other films entertaining, much as he did to Shonteff on Sumuru. Shonteff also gets some decent performances from his cast, most notably Eaton, for whom the film is something of a career high, cast against type as both a villain and a brunette. Klaus Kinski also gives a surprisingly good account of himself in an unusually comedic supporting role, (much of which apparently ended up on the cutting room floor, courtesy of Towers). Wilfrid Hyde White plays the Wilfrid Hyde White character, whilst Frankie Avalon plays the Frankie Avalon character. George Nader, an actor whose reputation would be forever (and unfairly) scarred by having appeared in the notorious Robot Monster, gives a perfectly decent performance within the constraints of the characterisation imposed by the script, which requires him to oscillate between comic relief and conventional hero.
Sumuru was successful enough to spawn a sequel: 1970's Girl From Rio, this time directed by Jesus Franco. Starring Eaton again, this features an entirely new supporting cast. I haven't yet caught up with this one, so whether it again features an awkward fusion of comedy and pulp thrills, or whether Towers this time just stuck to the thriller elements, I can't say. Hopefully, once I've seen it, I'll be able to enlighten everyone.
So the Twatterati have been grossly offended again over the weekend. Twice, in fact. I spent the latter part of my Sunday morning in bed reading on my mobile, with increasing incredulity, the breaking 'news' that Corbyn's alleged failure to bow his head sufficiently when laying a wreath at the Cenotaph had caused outrage in the twittersphere and that this has come on top of their being offended by the previous night's episode of Doctor Who, which had shown a plane being shot down by a missile. Obviously, this latter incident was a heinous offence against taste, as it came only a week after a real Russian airliner had crashed, killing everyone on board, (although the cause of the crash still hasn't been established - it might have been a terrorist bomb, or it might have been the Zygons, like in Doctor Who). Obviously, the BBC should have scrapped the episode, just in case the Zygons were behind the airliner atrocity, (even though the aircraft incident was the resolution of the previous week's episode and viewers would have missed the resolution of an ongoing storyline), after all, as one particularly moronic tweeter demanded: 'Don't Russian lives matter?' Of course they do and in that spirit, here and now, I'm going to condemn Dave for having shown The Hunt for Red October on Saturday afternoon - a film which includes a sequence where a Soviet submarine is destroyed and the entire crew killed. For God's sake - don't Russian lives matter? Don't they know that only a week before a load of Russians had died? Albeit in a plane, not a submarine. Moreover, the Russians in the sub were Soviet-era and therefore a bunch of commies. So their lives probably didn't matter. Besides, they weren't even real. Just like Doctor Who wasn't real.
As for the Corbyn business - utterly idiotic. Despite the fact that the video footage of the ceremony clearly shows him bowing his head, what would it matter if he hadn't? It certainly wouldn't have been as disrespectful as photoshopping a poppy onto one's lapel, so as to look caring, as Caneron had done, (does this mean that there are no photos anywhere of the pig fucking bastard being respectful and wearing a poppy?). Not that the fact of the video evidence has bothered the right wing press, which have picked up the baton from the twitter twats and run with it. The question I'd like to ask the cretins who started the Corbyn business on Twitter is why there were watching the Cenotaph ceremony on TV in the first place? If they really care so much about respecting the dead of previous wars, why the fuck didn't they get their fat arses down to their local remembrance ceremony, eh? No, you just couldn't be fucking bothered, could you, you disrespectful bastards. I know your sort - parading around ostentatiously displaying the biggest poppy you can find on your lapel, so that everyone knows that you are even mort sanctimonious and caring than all the other hypocrites. You scumbags are one of the many reasons why I never wear a poppy. That's right, I don't fucking wear one! How disrespectful is that, eh? You see, I'm exercising my freedom of choice - something you morons keep telling me that all those people you are 'respecting' fought a war to protect. (Moreover, I don't feel the need to advertise whether or not I've made a charitable contribution - that's my personal business).
But you know what I think is really disrespectful? Forget the angle of Corbyn's head - it was the Queen farting during the ceremony. Everyone could hear it, even though they started playing the 'Last Post' early to try and cover it up. I mean, I know that I didn't actually watch the ceremony (I was in bed - how disrespectful is that, eh?), but I definitely know that it happened. I should have started a hashtag #queenfarts, but, to be frank, I had better things to do - like getting on with my life. This whole weekend twitter nonsense has just reinforced what I've been saying for a long time: you should have to possess some kind of licence to be allowed onto the web. Something which can only be awarded after you've passed a test to establish a minimum level of intelligence, a sense of humour, the ability to detect irony and a normal threshold for being offended. Really, it's the only way to avoid this kind of idiocy.
Today, I wasted forty five minutes of my life stuck in traffic, as the centre of Crapchester became gridlocked for no apparent reason other than it was raining. It's a peculiarity of the inhabitants of this town that, as soon as a single drop of rain falls, they all pile into their cars and congest the roads. I just wish they wouldn't do this on a miserable November Friday when all I want to do is get home. I often ponder as to how much of my life I waste in such situations. It is profoundly frustrating when what should be no more than a ten minute drive (at most) turns into an ordeal like this. The worst part was when I thought that I'd finally cleared the worst of the congestion and was actually within sight of the car park where my car 'lives' overnight, only to find myself reduced to a crawl once again as, thanks to Crapchester's one way system, I hit the other end of the traffic queue. But, as I said, I shudder to think of the hours I've wasted stuck in traffic and all the better things I could have been doing.
Having inflicted today's misery on you, I'm going to change tack completely and talk about ITV executives' incredible whingeing about the BBC as part of culture secretary John Shittingdale's enquiry into the BBC and what it should be doing. The whole thrust of their submission seemed to be that their viewing figures were declining because the BBC had some kind of unfair advantage over them due to its public funding. They demanded that the BBC not be allowed to buy-in US formats or movies in future. I was left thinking, why the fuck don't you just try making programmes people actually want to watch, if you want to arrest the decline in your popularity? The business about the BBC not being allowed to buy in US formats left me mystified: right now the main bought-in format the BBC has is 'The Voice', which hasn't actually done anything ratings-wise against its ITV competition. The fact is that the format currently kicking 'X-Factor's' ass in the ratings is 'Strictly Come Dancing' - a format developed by the BBC and widely sold to overseas broadcasters. The fact is that ITV's decline is entirely down to its lack of originality and poor scheduling. Add to that its rush to produce 'lowest common denominator' programming so as to appease advertisers and it shouldn't be any wonder that ITV is losing viewers. Speaking personally, I can honestly say that there isn't anything I watch regularly on ITV's main channel. That isn't snobbery on my part, it is simply the fact that ITV's output is generally shit and clearly not aimed at my demographic, (or any other demographic, it seems).
Of course, this is just another manifestation of the hoary and discredited old theory that the private sector gets 'crowded out' by the public. It's absolute nonsense - always has been, always will be. If ITV can't 'compete' with the BBC for viewers, it has nothing to do with the fact that the BBC has a guaranteed income from the licence fee. The fact is that the kind of programmes the BBC makes are, in general, the kind of things that ITV wouldn't make, as they'd be considered too risky or too niche. If they happen to strike a chord with the viewing public, whereas ITV's supposedly more commercial and populist fare doesn't, then all that bashing the Beeb will achieve is dumbing down British TV even more. Perhaps ITV needs to engage in more audience research, be bolder in its commissioning and stop being risk averse. After all, the BBC these days has been cowed by the Tories to the point that it is far less willing to take risks than ten or twenty years ago, yet its programming is still consistently far more innovative than ITV's.
David Cameron's attempts to find the best free porn sites is plumbing new depths with the latest proposed 'snooper's charter'. I ask you, what other reason could there possibly be for the government demanding that ISPs keep a record of everyone's web browsing history for twelve months, if not to identify what everyone's favourite smut sites are? Don't be such a cheapskate, Dave - if you want the kinky stuff involving pigs, you are just going to have to get your credit card out. But, joking aside, even in its supposedly 'toned down' form, this Bill still feels incredibly creepy to me. Whichever angle you come at it from, it still amounts to mass surveillance. It doesn't matter whether the authorities ever access that data they want the ISPs to retain, the fact is that it is still being collected: your every movement online is being recorded. Combine that with the amount of surveillance we're already being subjected to from surveillance cameras and we have a system of monitoring the general populace which would have been the envy of the old Soviet Union. Which is ironic as, when we faced a more concrete threat in the form of the Soviet Union, this sort of thing wasn't considered either necessary or desirable.
Yet now, faced with the amorphous and ill-defined threats of 'international terrorism', 'Islamic fundamentalism' and all the other terms that politicians like to bandy around to justify increased security measures, we apparently have to turn ourselves into a technologically advanced facsimilie of our old foe the USSR. Not that all this supposed security actually makes us any safer. Terror attacks (the type devised by real terrorists, not the kinds of fantasists that the police and Security Service spend their time harassing) are actually very difficult to stop. Real terrorists don't plan them on public forums like Facebook and Twitter, or known 'extremist' websites. They probably don't use the web for planning purposes at all. It's a great tool for promulgating propaganda, but the web is just too open and insecure for plotting terrorist outrages on. I think that part of the problem is that, in recent years, our leaders have been seduced by the notion of 'big data' - the idea that if you can gather enough information about a given subject or activity, it is possible to create statistical models which can accurately predict future trends and behaviours. Which, again, is a pretty creepy idea. It is also an idea which is overly optimistic as to the ability of statistical analysis to actually deliver such results.
Of course, there is another burning question related to the 'snooper's charter' which still hasn't been addressed is that of cost. Collecting and storing all that data is going to cost the ISPs money - who is going to foot the bill? Sadly, I think that the answer to that will be - us. It's inevitable that the ISPs will pass these costs on to their customers, in the form of higher monthly bills. Which effectively means that we'll end up paying for the privilege of being snooped on.
Originally titled Dr Terror's Gallery of Horrors in order to try and cash in on the popularity of Amicus' first anthology film, Dr Terror's House of Horrors, Gallery of Horrors, (variously, and pretty much arbitrarily, retitled The Blood Suckers and Return from the Past for various rereleases), pretty much represents the bargain basement of exploitation movies. Designed entirely to cash in on the success of another producer's title and format and exploiting the names of two clapped out horror icons - John Carradine and Lon Chaney, (it's typical that the film couldn't even recruit old time horror stars of the first calibre, like Karloff. Lorre or Rathbone, settling instead for second stringers like Carradine and Chaney) - to give it a sheen of credibility, Gallery of Horrors doesn't have an ounce of originality, let alone quality. But what else can we expect from a movie directed by David L Hewitt, the man behind The Mighty Gorga and many other ultra low budget exploitation items? Hewitt's productions were very much in the tradition of Hollywood's poverty row studios like Monogram or PRC, but with even sparser resources at their disposal.
Like its near namesake, Gallery of Horrors is an anthology film, featuring five stories, headline stars Chaney and Carradine only appear in one story apiece - although Carradine also acts as host, introducing each story - with the rest of the unknown cast playing multiple roles. Sadly, none of the stories are any good, with obvious 'twist' endings, atrocious dialogue and acting to match. Regardless of where or when they are supposed to be set, the cast make no attempt to adopt appropriate accents or speech patterns and the same rudimentary sets and props are on view. The second episode, 'King Vampire', for instance, is, according to Carradine, set in Victorian London, but apart from a few references to Scotland Yard and vaguely period costumes, there's little evidence to back this up, with the cast speaking and behaving like a bunch of mid-sixties Californians. This episode also underlines the film's utter paucity of production values, with the 'exterior' scenes shot against a black backprop with a few props like lampposts in evidence. Carradine's introductions often seem completely divorced from the episodes they precede: he describes 'Spark of Life' (with Lon Chaney) as being set in mid nineteenth century Edinburgh, yet everyone wears contemporary clothing, Chaney has a very 1960s looking telephone on his desk and there aren't any Scottish accents in evidence. It also has nothing to do with bodysnatching, despite Carradine's claims.
The movie climaxes with a segment entitled 'Count Dracula', which rewrites several arbitrarily assembled segments of Bram Stoker's novel and culminates with a 'twist' ending revealing that Johnathan Harker is really a werewolf and is at Castle Dracula, not to sell the Count Carfax Abbey, but to usurp him as the area's local monster. Clearly inspired by the 1931 Lugosi Dracula, it mimics the Universal film's first appearance of the Count at the top of a flight of stairs and throws in those villagers with blazing torches who used to rampage through the climaxes of Universal's monster movies. Even the Burgemeister is there, complete with Tyrolean hat, lederhosen and bad accent. Although Mitch Evans as an ineffective Dracula is awful, this is probably the film's strongest segment. Certainly the graveyard and mausoleum sets are far better than those in other segments and, shrouded in fog, form the basis of some quite atmospheric sequences. But it isn't enough to save the film, which is, overall, terrible.
That said, it is quite mesmerizingly bad - you find yourself drawn in and just have to keep watching. The fact that the entire thing is studio bound and shot on cramped, minimalist sets which seem at odds with the widescreen photography, (all of the exterior shots and scenes of blazing destruction are stock footage from Roger Corman's House of Usher), gives it a strange, clammy and dislocated atmosphere. Everything seems to be taking place in some sort of limbo, which has no connection to the 'real' world. Indeed, there is no evidence that any 'outside' world exists (not counting the stock exterior footage) - only blackness can be seen through the windows of each set. It is endless night in the world of Gallery of Horrors. The disjointed dialogue and stiff acting performances just add to the surreal feeling. The thing that Gallery of Horrors most resembles are those early TV dramas, which were often broadcast live, made on tiny, cheap sets and which substituted talk for action. None of which actually redeems Gallery of Horrors in any way - it is still a bottom-of-the-barrel slice of exploitation.
If you've ever wanted to watch a film in which David Niven takes illicit photographs of other men's cocks, then The Statue (1971) is most definitely for you. Whether this Anglo-Italian co-production - which is meant to be a 'daring' sex comedy - represents a low point in Niven's career is questionable in view of some of his late period movies such as Rough Cut, Escape to Athena or Vampira. Nevertheless, it does represent a truly bizarre choice of vehicle for one of the UK's most popular film stars. The premise of the film is simple: Nobel Peace Prize winner Niven's sculptress wife creates a huge nude statue of him, perfect in every detail, except that the genitals aren't his. Naturally, Niven decides to find out whose they are and proceeds to try and view the bacon bazookas of every man he suspects his wife might have had an affair with. This results in bizarre and, to be frank, quite disturbing scenes of Niven in a steam bath, contriving to peek under other blokes' towels, rushing the stage at a 'happening' and trying to snap the leading man's cobblers with his telephoto lens and attempting to pull his chauffer's trousers off. All of which means that he appears to onlookers to be some kind of middle aged predatory homosexual - which the film's makers seem to think is absolutely hilarious.
It would be easy to dismiss The Statue as a cheap and infantile sexploitation piece if it wasn't for the fact that, on a technical level, it is very well made. Indeed, the calibre of the cast - which includes not just Niven, but also Robert Vaughn, John Cleese, Virna Lisi, Tim Brook-Taylor and Graham Chapman - attests to the fact that it must have had a pretty decent budget. To be fair, most of the cast - especially Niven and Vaughn - give excellent comic performances. The problem is that the script gives them nothing to work with. Let's be frank, you'd expect a film about a man hunting down the owner of the alien cock being attributed to him in stone would consist of wall-to-wall knob gags. But no - there's not a single knob gag or cock-related double-entendre as far as I can recall. Nobody describes the statue as a 'monumental cock up', there is no sniggering talk of 'magnificent erections' and nobody brings up the issue of 'choppers' when the statue is 'castrated' and the offending member stolen. Truly, a missed opportunity. I mean, it was made in 1970, by which time I don't think that anyone would have batted an eyelid at such smut in an adult rated film. Damn it, the average Carry On movie or Bond film of the period had more in the way of knob-related innuendo than The Statue has.
Quite apart from its lack of laughs, the film contains several implausibilities which severely undermine the plot. First up is the fact that Niven doesn't at first notice that it isn't his knob on the statue - this has to be pointed out to him by a female assistant. Now, I'm pretty sure that most men can recognise their own bits and would instantly detect an imposter in such a situation. (OK, I know that we're usually viewing it from an unusual angle, but nonetheless, you always know your own). Eventually it is revealed that Lisi's model for the offending member was actually Michaelangelo's 'David'. Which presents a real problem. The reactions of people to the counterfeit cock seem to imply that it is, at the very least, above average in size, (the housekeeper, for instance, drops the tea tray when she sees it), yet, as we all know, Michaelangelo's sculpture is quite modestly endowed. (The Ancient Greeks associated a large penis with uncouthness and savagery, believing that a smaller penis denoted intellectual refinement and civilised values in its bearer). One sequence in the film is interesting as it reminds us of the benefits brought by the modern technology we now take for granted. Wanting a picture of his 'old man' for comparative purposes, Niven finds himself forced to drop his trousers and pants in a public photo booth and then wait for the four shots (each, presumably, showing his todger in a different pose) to be developed. Nowadays, all he'd have to do would be to take a quick 'selfie' of his nether regions on his mobile phone, in the privacy of his own home. (With the added advantage that if he wanted to share it, he could attach to a text, tweet or facebook post, rather than having to rely upon Royal Mail, as he would have had to do in 1970).
The Statue was one of those films which used to turn up on late night TV a lot back in the days when I was too young to be allowed to stay up and watch it. Consequently, I was glad to be able to finally catch up with it, hoping that it wouldn't live down to its poor reputation. Sadly, it did. As I've already mentioned, it isn't that it is a badly made or poorly acted film, it is simply let down by a very weak script which misses just about every opportunity for real laughs. It seems that the writers were trying to eschew the obviously smutty opportunities for satire. However, the 'satire' on show is very weak and heavy handed. It isn't just the knob jokes that the script fails to exploit - it keeps setting up what you think will become running sources of humour, but then seems to forget about them: Virna Lisi's uncertain grasp of English, for instance, or the whole business of the artificial language, Unispeak, which Niven has devised, which would seem to be a rich source of potential humour. But both are quickly forgotten. Still, the film has some pleasures - Niven's comic performance, Vaughn's portrayal of a smarmy, opportunistic US Ambassador, some nice views of early seventies London and Riz Ortolani's typically breezy score, which includes the annoyingly catchy theme song, 'Charlie'. But none of these are enough to compensate for the poor script which ultimately scuppers the whole endeavour.