Friday, June 29, 2018

Prequels: An Unnecesary Evil

You know for sure that a film franchise has run completely out of steam when they start peoducing prequels.  It's an admission that there is nowhere for the series to go - every conceivable idea, plot twist, reversal of expectations and character development has been exhausted.  Or maybe it is just that the most recent sequel has been such a stinker that it has killed the series stone dead at the box office.  Either way, no further forward motion is possible.  But we just know that the studios and distributors can't leave it at that - they always think that there is some way to squeeze a few more profits from even a stone cold dead franchise.  Hence the prequel, a format which is admitting that you are creatively bankrupt.  You can't move the story forward or develop the characters so you instead go backwards, turning what was a slim backstory in the first movie into a full blown film in its own right, telling a story that the original creators obviously didn't think worth telling.  Prequels are laborious affairs, inevitably destroying any of the mystery surrounding the origins of popular characters, thereby rendering them mundane.

The prequel is up there with the 'origins story' as an utterly pointless exercise which insults its audience's intelligence.  Both are also evidence of poor story telling skills: back story and origins are things which the skilled writer will subtly filter through to the audience as part of their story telling.  We don't need to be bludgeoned with it all in laborious  detail.  Besides, by their very nature prequels are predictable: they can have only one end point - the beginning of the movie they are prequelling.  Consequently, the central character(s) can never be in any real peril - we know that they have to survive, otherwise the rest of the series is negated. Take Butch and Sundance: The Early Years, a film generally considered the first proper Hollywood prequel, (although there is an argument to be made for 1946's The Brute Man being a prequel to House of Horrors, except that it isn't at all clear that Rondo Hatton's 'Creeper; is the same character in each film), there is no dramatic tension because it has to end up with that train robbery which opens the original.  It's existence also underlines the purely opportunistic motivation which lies behind the making of sequels:  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was a huge success, the ending of which cunningly precluded the possibility of sequels which might damage its reputation.  It might have taken the frustrated Hollywood executives a few years to figure out how to grind some more money out of the property, but they finally did when they came up with the idea of a prequel.  And they haven't stopped doing it since.

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Thursday, June 28, 2018

Pop Culture Puzzle

I remember when pop culture was fun.  It was something you enjoyed, maybe talked about a bit, explored any sub texts and tried to put it into a wider cultural context.  Nowadays there seem to be endless reams of speculation written about what the latest episode of whatever the current pop culture 'sensation' was actually 'about'.  Everything that might have been a clue as to the way overall story arcs might play out is pored over in minute detail.  Every little thing is seized upon for its possible significance: no dialogue can possibly be taken at face value, no plot development can possibly be what it seems.  Which is all very well, but it is essentially reducing the programme in question to the level of a crossword puzzle and turning the viewing experience into a problem solving session.  If that's how some people derive pleasure from their pop culture viewing experience, then fair enough.  But I remember the 'good old days' when everyone would be discussing the merits of the cinematography, lighting or acting after watching a film. 

Part of the problem - if it is a problem - is that so much pop culture these days is consumed in the form of long-running TV series, where maintaining audience interest in the narrative flow from week-to-week is crucial.  One way to do this is by engaging the audience in this puzzle solving game.  The same is true, to a certain extent, with contemporary block buster movies, which are often part of an ongoing franchise, with audiences encouraged to pick over each individual movie for clues as to what will be in the next.  I've mentioned before that there's a part of me that misses the old days of TV before over-arcing story arcs rarely existed and episodes were pretty much self contained.  It meant that you never had to worry about missing an episode, as there was no ongoing story line to keep up with.  It's the same with films - I like them best when they are self contained units.  Hell, back in the day, even when they made sequels which eventually became loose series, nobody really cared about story arcs and continuity.  Half the fun in watching sequels back then was seeing which characters had been recast and which bits of the previous film's plot had been conveniently forgotten about to allow the new film's story to work.  Ah, those were the days when you just watch stuff and simply enjoy it!

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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Seen it All Before

It occurred to me the other day exactly what the current state of film and TV has been reminding me of: Hollywood studios in the late forties and fifties.  Most specifically, I realised that the kind of stuff currently being hailed as 'brilliant' and 'innovative', is actually the modern equivalent of Universal Studios policy of exploiting its existing properties by grinding out low budget B-movie series derived from them.  Basically, what happened during the forties was that Ben Pivar, head of Universal's B picture unit decided that their low budget properties would have a greater chance of success if they could ride the coat tails of earlier, more expensive and popular properties.  Hence, the 1933 Boris Karloff version of The Mummy was seized upon as the basis for a whole series of pictures.  Now, whilst financially successful and hailed as a horror classic, the truth is that the Karloff Mummy is something of a slow moving bore, with little in the way of action or even suspense.  It did, however, spawn a 1940 'sequel', The Mummy's Hand, which incorporated a lot of stock footage from the original and featured Tom Tyler as the titular monster.  It was a much more action orientated, not to mention horrific, film than the original.  It was also a huge box office success.  Not surprisingly, Pivar used this movie as a template for three increasingly poverty stricken sequels, all incorporating plenty of stock footage from the first two films.

The other Universal monsters received similar treatment - unable to sustain individual movies in their own right, they found themselves bundled together in a series of cheap, but profitable, sequels, (often incorporating stock footage from their more expensive predecessors).  Other new B-movies included spin off s from more established series: The Spider Woman Strikes Back, for instance, featured Gale Sondergaard playing the titular villainous character, a version of whom had recently been Basil Rathbone's adversary in Sherlock Holmes Meets the Spider Woman.  She even had a henchman  in the shape of Rondo Hatton, who had played a similar role in another Sherlock Holmes film, The Pearl of Death, albeit under a different character name.  Indeed, the latter was then himself spun off into a brief series, reverting to his original character name of 'The Creeper'.  Throughout the fifties, the studios changed tack slightly, simply turning out overt remakes of existing properties, only this time with added colour, cinemascope or 3D.  You get the idea - originality was abandoned as Hollywood struggled against competing forms of media, cutting costs and hoping that what had been successful a few years ago might be successful again if repackaged the right way.

The similarity to current trends is, I think, obvious - studio film production seems dominated by remakes and rehashes of existing properties, be they Star Wars or some once beloved TV series that some star or 'auteur' thinks they can 'reimagine' better than the original, (Man From Uncle, The Lone Ranger, CHiPs, Baywatch, Star Trek - the list is seemingly endless).  TV is now in on the act, as well, with many of the currently much vaunted 'must see' series showing on the various subscription channels little more than rehashes of existing properties.  There's yet another reworking of Star Trek, for instance.  Then there's the current critical darling, Westworld, which is an elephantine over extended reworking of a seventies movie that was able to more than adequately tell the same story in ninety minutes.  There are plenty of other examples currently in productions with a new version of Hawaii Five O still  running and a TV version of Lethal Weapon, not to mention Lost in Space (yet again).  There are more threatened, including a new Magnum PI, not to mention, God forbid, a TV series 'based on' Three Days of the Condor - if that isn't desecration, I don't know what is.  Where's the originality, the new ideas?  Do we really simply want to watch retreads of stuff that is still being rerun elsewhere on a daily basis?  But originality is a risk - there's no guarantee that anyone will watch it.  So, for the money men, redoing something that has already been a proven ratings winner seems a safer bet.  At best this simply serves up predictable mediocrity, at its worse it gives us travesties which, for commercial purposes, carries the name of an established movie or series, but is actually somebody else's crock of shit in disguise, trying to trade on other peoples' earlier successes.  It's another reason I don't subscribe to the likes of Netflix: I've seen it all before.  Usually done better.

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Monday, June 25, 2018

Unseen Must See TV

Apparently, everyone is watching Love Island.  Except that they're not.  I mean, I'm not - and I'm pretty sure that Mrs Miggins from the Pie Shop isn't either, (although she is bedridden from the nose down, (that's a Blackadder II reference btw) ).  Don't you just hate all that bollocks the media like to whip up about how everyone is watching whatever the current 'big thing' is, when, in reality, you don't know anybody who actually does watch it?  What they really mean is that they and all their media buddies are watching it, failing to grasp that they don't actually constitute a typical sample of the average TV viewing audience.  Even The Guardian does it theses days:  if its columnists aren't warbling on about Love Island (which, I assume, they watch 'ironically'), then they are gushing forth on whatever's currently 'big' on Netflix or whatever the current favourite subscription service is.  I even heard a debate on Radio Four the other day during which it was suggested that BBC News should report on 'reality' TV like Love Island so as to make it 'more relevant' to 'young people'.  Jesus Christ!  That's so moronic on so many levels, not least  in the implication that the only sort of 'news' the 'young' are interested in is 'reality' TV wank.

It also supposes that Love Island is sufficiently popular that 'reporting' on it could actually draw in viewers.  Sure, I know that the debut of the latest series was the most watched programme on ITV2, EVER - but let's face it, if ITV2's viewership gets into double figures then it is considered a major success.  Which, of course, brings us back to my perennial complaint about all of these supposedly popular 'must see' programmes: the fact is that relatively few people actually are watching them, meaning that they simply aren't true popular successes.  In this age of digital TV, TV on demand, streaming and the like, viewing is so fragmented, that even the most popular of shows on the major terrestrial networks can only dream of getting the kinds of viewing figures which were seen in the pre digital era.  TV is no longer the truly communal experience it was during the sixties, seventies and even eighties, when you knew that just about 'everyone' had seen whatever the TV event of the week was.  The fact that the likes of Netflix refuse to give out viewing figures for individual shows is a sure indication that their actual viewing figures are nothing like those seen in the days of traditional TV.   'Everyone' most certainly isn't watching these programmes.

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Friday, June 22, 2018

Women of the World (1963)


I don't know about you, but it's Friday, the end of another trying week, and I find myself craving some Mondo.  So, here we have the opening titles of the 1963 classic Mondo Women of the World.  Made by the same team that brought us Mondo Cane, the original Mondo which birthed the entire genre, Women of the World is, compared to their earlier efforts, a tad disappointing.  With its focus narrowed just to the subject of the female of the species and their differing roles in different cultures, it lacks some of the free wheeling outrageousness  of its immediate predecessors.  Not surprisingly, to contemporary audiences the whole approach of the film comes over as somewhat patronising, if not misogynistic.  But what else would one expect from a sixties Italian exploitation film?

Nevertheless, like the first two Mondo Cane films, Women of the World is beautifully filmed, capturing many remote and exotic locations in their full glory at a time when seeing such things in widescreen colour was still a novelty for most cinema audiences.  Living in an age when no corner of the world is any longer so remote that it can't be invaded by hipster back packers, it is hard to remember that, not so many years ago, there was a time when the only way to experience such places was through the cinema screen.  Much of the footage used in Women of the World was, supposedly, left over from the shooting of Mondo Cane. Like the earlier film, Women of the World was marketed on the promise of naked female flesh and sex - in reality, what's served up is pretty tame, especially by contemporary standards.

In what was to become the established Mondo 'format', the last part of the film turns to more serious subject matter, touching on such things as cosmetic surgery, Arabian women risking life and limb to collect battlefield shrapnel to sell as scrap metal and even the Thalidomide scandal.  As with ll Mono movies, to what extent the footage shown is genuine and how much was staged by the film makers is questionable.  Although, living as we do, in an era when so called 'reality TV' has blurred the lines between what is real and what is fake on our screens, this seems an increasingly irrelevant question. There is supposedly an English language version of the film with an 'amusing' and 'ironic' narration by Peter Ustinov, but I've never yet encountered this.  The only English language versions I've seen have all featured the same anonymous narrator.   As it stands, Women of the World remains a fascinating time capsule of early sixties western European attitudes, not just toward women, but also so called 'primitive cultures'.  It was a time when the world seemed bigger and more mysterious and western civilisation was still confident of its global political, economic and cultural hegemony.  How things would soon change.

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Thursday, June 21, 2018

Taking Back the Streets From the Street Entertainers

I told one of those 'living statue' idiots to 'fuck off' the other day.  I mean, what else was I supposed to do when the arsehole suddenly jerks his arm out at me as I'm walking past? I wasn't in the best of moods to start with and I was running late for the Toy Train Fair, so was in a hurry to buy a paper before setting off.  He really should think himself lucky that I'm on all that medication for high blood pressure - a few months ago I might have decked him.  Which would have served him right for blighting the local town centre with his supposed 'act'.  I have never understood what the bloody point of a grown adult standing around in public pretending to be a statue is.  If it's meant to be entertaining, it isn't.  If it is meant to be some form of artistic expression, again, it isn't.  What it is, is boring and moronic.  Like most self-styled 'street entertainers'.  They really should be prosecuted under the Trades Description Act as there is nothing remotely entertaining about them.  Unfortunately, with the annual Crapchester Festival in full swing, the local town centre is awash with these dicks.  As if the usual bad singers and out of tune guitarists aren't bad enough, they are now joined by armies of jugglers, acrobats and living bloody statues.

I have never understood why the council thinks it a good idea to unleash these freaks and weirdos on local shoppers on a regular basis.  If it isn't the Crapchester Festival, then it's the run up to Christmas which finds the main shopping centre awash with these menaces to society.  I recall some years ago having a set to with some twat on stilts who had smacked me in the face with a plastic butterfly they had on a string while I was trying to do my Christmas shopping.  I ask you, what the fuck was that about?  Can't a man go about his business in a public place without being assaulted by some twelve foot tall wanker?  If I'd had a wood saw with me, then I would, quite literally, have cut them down to size.  But, not being some attention-seeking shit head with delusions of being a 'street artist', I tend not to wander around in public with random tools on my person.  Nor do I walk on stilts, hit people with plastic insects or pretend to be a statue.  You know, I used to think that we had it bad when the town centre was full of those 'charity muggers' harassing everyone as they tried to go about their business.  But at least you could tell them to 'fuck off' without fear of opprobrium.  Judging by the looks I was getting from old ladies and the like after the 'living statue' incident, telling self-styled 'street entertainers' to 'fuck off' is considered beyond the pale.  Is it any wonder the country is going to the dogs.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Satan's Slave (1976)


Back in the days when it seemed impossible to actually see, I remember that Satan's Slave had something of a bad reputation, seen as a prime example of how the once mighty British horror genre had declined to the level of threadbare B-movies made by low-rent movie makers more at home in sexploitation.  (All of which conveniently ignored the slide into sexploitation territory of the last Hammer Gothics, which were sold as much n the promise of naked female flesh as they were horror).  Consequently, when Satan's Slave turned up on the BBC some years ago, becoming, for a while a regular fixture in the late night schedules, along with a couple of other Norman J Warren horror films, I recall being pleasantly surprised at the fact that it was actually a pretty decent horror film.  A more recent viewing on the Horror Channel left me slightly less enamoured than before, but still feeling that it has, in the past, been an unfairly maligned film.

While there's nothing especially innovative about the plot (young girl manipulated by evil relatives in attempt to resurrect her burned at the stake witch ancestress), but it does sport a decent enough twist (on the first viewing, at least) toward the end, and is all played with conviction by a decent cast.  This is headed by Michael Gough in an a remarkably restrained performance, (although he does sport dome alarming facial hair, as if in compensation for his uncharacteristic restraint), as the heroine's evil uncle).  Eschewing the sort of bizarre performance he generally specialised in when appearing in low budget horror films, Gough makes Uncle Alexander a deceptively charming  character, the archetypal kindly uncle, (of course in this sort of film, that tells the audience that he is bound to turn out to be part of a coven of Satan worshiping necromancers), whose avuncular exterior is inevitably revealed to be concealing a ruthless and homicidal cultist.  The supporting cast includes Candace Glendenning and Martin Potter, both actors who, for a while seemed to be perpetually on the verge of becoming something big, but instead had careers which petered out in low budget movies and supporting roles.  (Both had been in the historical epic Nicholas and Alexander, while Potter had also appeared in Fellini's Satyricon and had just played the title role in the BBC's memorably violent and revisionist Legend of Robin Hood).   Both give decent performances here, particularly Potter as Gough's psychopathic son.

Shot mainly at the same country house in Surrey previously used as the main location for Virgin Witch, director Norman J Warren makes the most of the Wintry colours of the locale to help create a suitably dank and brooding atmosphere.  The often visible frosts on the lawns and the gathering shadows of the grounds build up a sense of menacing isolation as Glendenning finds herself progressively cut off from her former life.  Warren, who had hitherto been known primarily for sexploitation films, is a more than competent director who makes the most of his meagre resources.  (On the basis of interviews with him that I've read and seen, he comes over as just about the nicest person to have worked in British exploitation films).  There's no doubt that his direction brings a certain style to the film which belies its low budget and the shock sequences are all handled very effectively with, in places, some genuine suspense.

Like many similar films of the era Satan's Slave was made so cheaply that, at various points, members of the crew appear as extras, often as hooded cultists, although script writer David McGillivray (another sexploitation veteran) appears twice, once in a dream sequence as a puritan priest supervising the torture of a naked young woman, then again as a modern day vicar presiding over a funeral.  While this seems to be underlining one of the film's themes of events of the past reflecting those of the present, it was, according to McGillivray, completely unintentional, the dream sequence being part of a reshoot conducted over several weekends some time after the main shoot - he was simply the only person available to play the puritan.

The dream sequence is significant, as it ties the film, thematically, to other British horrors of the seventies, presenting the idea that more often than not, the supposed forces of 'good' use fighting evil merely as a pretext to subjugating and abusing attractive young and sexually active women, (making them no different to Potter's present day character who opens the film with the attempted rape and murder of a young woman).  (Hammer's earlier Twins of Evil is probably the prime example of this theme, with its puritan witch hunters burning at the stake every young woman possessed of a cleavage that they can find).  In this respect, 'good' is revealed a being merely the flipside of 'evil' which, in the case of Satan's Slave, at least, is intent upon suppressing youth, in the form of Glendenning, by using her as a means to resurrect the past, in the form of her evil ancestor.  Or perhaps I'm reading too much into cheap B movies?

Subtexts aside, Satan's Slave provides a solid enough eighty six minutes of exploitation and stands as a superior example of the independently made horror films which sprang up in the UK in wake of the demise of Hammer, Tigon and Amicus.  It also stands as a fine example of Norman J Warren's directorial abilities - a director who, if he had been active ten years earlier or even ten years later, might well have enjoyed a higher profile career.  But such was the nature of British film making in the seventies that even the most talented of directors found exploitation as the only outlet for their creativity.

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Monday, June 18, 2018

All the Fun of the Toy Train Fair

So, I went to that toy train fair on Saturday, ended up spending a couple of enjoyable hours there.  There was lots to get nostalgic about, with lots of sixties and seventies model railway stuff both running on the layouts and on sale on the many trade stalls.  I even bought a couple more utility vans from one of the traders there.  When you model the Southern Railway or BR Southern Region you can never have enough GUVs and CCTs - virtually every passenger train seemed to have at least one of either as part of their formation.  Speaking of the traders who attended the fair, I have to say that their prices on second hand stuff was, by and large, far more realistic than those being sought on eBay.  Bearing in mind that, as I gathered from the traders at the fair, business for them has been down of late, is it any wonder that many of those over priced items on eBay are going unsold, with no bids at all on them?  But enough of the second hand model railway equipment, lets get to the main reason I was there: the trains themselves.  I was pleased to find that, unlike a regular model railway exhibition, the layouts on display at the train fair weren't all exhibition standard permanent layouts (the same ones you often see from exhibition to exhibition), where you are lucky if you see a single train move every hour.  The emphasis was on actually running trains (and lots of them) on 'loose laid' layouts, where the track isn't permanently fixed down and scenery is minimal.

I didn't take any pictures or video - not only did just not feel right to be doing so, but I was too busy watching the trains.  There were a couple of large 'loose laid' OO layouts I particularly liked, one was a two rail Hornby Dublo based layout (unusual, as most Dublo layouts at exhibitions are three rail, indeed, there was another three rail Dublo layout there, one well known on the exhibition circuit).  The other was a Triang Hornby based layout utilising, if I'm not mistaken, the old Triang Super 4 track.  The great thing about Super 4, which hasn't been produced since the early seventies, when it was superceded by System Six, which, in effect, is still the standard Hornby track system, is that the rails have such a deep profile that even very old models with coarse wheel sets are able to run on it.  I've often thought that I should have used it on my layout for this very reason - you can obtain large quantities of it very cheaply and it looked much better than I remembered it from when I was a kid.  But it wasn't all OO scale layouts - there were a couple of Triang TT3 based layouts, vintage Hornby O Gauge, American Lionel trains, even some indoor live steam.  All in all a pretty interesting and entertaining line up.  Certainly, it helped lift my spirits after a pretty crappy week.  If nothing else, it solidified my feelings that it is this older model railway stuff, from the sixties, seventies and early eighties which interests me most, rather than the new super-detailed stuff, and that's what my own layout needs to focus on.

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Friday, June 15, 2018

The Eye of Satan (1988)


The fifth, I think, feature film produced by Cliff Twemlow and his Manchester-based ultra low budget movie outfit is a fascinating gangster/horror crossover, mixing shoot outs and fist fights with Satanism and the occult.  Although The Eye of Satan, like many direct-to-video releases of its era, looks more than a little rough around the edges, it is a far more polished production than Twemlow's first, GBH (1983) and stands as a testament to how far he and his associates had progressed in such a short period of time.  As ever, Cliff takes the lead but, instead of the kind of heroic hardmen he usually portrayed, this time around he's Kane, a Satanic mercenary and hitman, in search of a stolen occult artefact.  Not only does he wield a number of huge guns during the course of the movie, he also kills several people with his bare hands and invokes a fair bit of paranormal phenomena, including making his eyes glow green.  Oh, and he has a pet black panther.  Now, in theory, Kane should be the villain of the piece, a ruthless killer and servant of Satan devoted to the triumph of evil.  But it is to Twemlow's credit that he emerges as the closest thing to a hero in the film.  It isn't that he's in any way likeable, but, unlike most of the other characters in the movie, he at least has a moral code he adheres to - an evil moral code, but nonetheless a recognisable set of principles which guide his actions.  (He doesn't like people who are cruel to animals, for instance, nastily offing a couple of duck hunters).  Thanks to Twemlow's considerable screen presence and charisma, Kane dominates the film, exuding an aura of menace, even when he isn't actually doing anything.

With the exception of Kane and the two cops trying to make sense of the bizarre and bloody goings on, virtually all of the other main characters in The Eye of Satan are either morally compromised, utterly venal, untrustworthy, duplicitous or just downright nasty self serving bastards.  Everybody is seemingly double crossing everybody else, supposed partners in crime scheme against each other, even religious hatreds are thrown into the mix as Jewish middle man Bronstein clashes with Arab terrorist Camille.  All of which complicates the plot endlessly.  Indeed, toward the end of the film so much is going on that it becomes somewhat confusing, with some of the bad guys heading over to Kane's place to try and ambush him there while he's still finishing off their henchmen at Camille's country house.  Somewhere in the middle of all this, Kane finds time to deal with a priest and an occult investigator brought in by the cops, before going back to his pad to deal with Camille and Co.  Oh yes, before that he has to deal with another ambush by another group of villains he crossed at the beginning of the film, (they owed him money so he shot up the coffin at the funeral of one of their family).  Of course, in the midst of all this, Kane's real mission is to recover the titular 'Eye of Satan', a jewel stolen from a Satanic altar in Africa, which turns out to be in Bronstein's possession.  I hope that's all clear!  But all these confusing plot developments ensure that there is never a dull moment in The Eye of Satan.  Running at well under ninety minutes, it moves at a breakneck pace, packing in an astounding amount of action and incident.

Keeping things moving was director David Kent-Watson, a Twemlow regular who had already directed GBH and Target: Eve Island for the Mancunian.  His direction brings an air professionalism to the film, conjuring up a tense atmosphere which permeates the movie with with a plapable sense of unease and menace. Bearing in mind the miniscule budget he was working with, Kent-Watson also achieves some memorable and highly effective sequences.  These include the startling opening, with Kane gatecrashing a funeral, beating up a priest and shooting up a coffin, a subsequent sequence of a character being stalked along a mist wreathed river by the panther (or is it the panther?) and the climactic shot of Kane transforming into the panther as he attacks Bronstein.  The dissolve effect used for this latter shot is actually pretty well done and is typical of the surprisingly good effects work achieved by Twemlow and his team on their tiny budget.   Especially notable is the glowing green eye effect for Kane, apparently achieved using a set of contact lenses made by Twemlow's brother (he was an opthamologist).  As ever with Twemlow productions, the supporting cast are more than adequate, turning in creditable performances.  Regulars John St Ryan (playing Camille) and Maxton G Beesly and Brett Paul (as the cops) are especially good.  Ryan is all smooth menace as the philosophical terrorist, while Beesly and Paul bring a warmth and compassion to the rumpled, overworked and frequently bemused police detectives trying to piece everything together.

As ever, I'm not trying to claim that The Eye of Satan is some kind of lost horror classic, but it is a hugely entertaining B-Movie.  The very fact that, bearing in mind the meagre resources they had to hand, it is a miracle that Twemlow and his crew ever got The Eye of Satan made, let alone that the final product actually looks like a professionally made film.  But that's what I love about Cliff Twemlow (and other UK low budget film makers of similar ilk) - they loved the idea of making films so much that they simply wouldn't let anything stop them from making their own.  Moreover, they were determined to make British exploitation films (which had once been the bedrock of the British Film Industry) at a time when such films were being derided and written out of UK cinema history.  It took balls to make and market such films at a time when the industry itself was obsessed with producing worthy but dull 'heritage' pictures which supposedly embodied the 'spirit of Britishness'.  In terms of quality, The Eye of Satan is easily as good as many of those direct-to-DVD low budgeters which turn up on the Horror Channel.  You know the ones I mean: they are usually set in a single location with a minimalist cast, directed by just graduated film students with pretensions of art.  They spend an hour and a half implying all sorts of horrors, but nothing ever really happens.  Well, believe me, in The Eye of Satan, things certainly happen.  In fact, it could easily have been an especially good episode of the old Hammer House of Horror TV series.  (I know that this series has its admirers, but I always found most of its episodes frustratingly underdeveloped, with obvious 'twists' and little in the way of action or real horror).  Look, at the end of the day I know that at times it doesn't entirely make sense (something not helped by the poor sound quality on the version I saw), but The Eye of Satan is actually a lot of fun.  It's certainly worth eighty or so minutes of anyone's time.

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Thursday, June 14, 2018

Dreams, Exploitation Films and Tinplate Trains

Well, I tried taking a long sleep, but when I woke up, everything was as shitty as it was before.  The sleep itself was very enjoyable.  Sleeping usually is these days - as I've mentioned before, the medication I take for my blood pressure results in some very vivid dreams.  Indeed, it is getting to the stage that I'd rather stay in bed and enjoy the dreams than get up and face my real life.  Which is a dangerous situation to be in - I really need to break the cycle.  But the dreams are getting ever more seductive: I was the captain of a ship in a recent one, for instance, a far more interesting job than my actual one.  Speaking of which, I think I've finally come to a decision about the job, but I need a little more time to turn it all over in my head.  Anyway, I'm thinking of going to a model train fair this weekend in an attempt to lift my spirits - I'm still undecided, but I'll see how I feel on Saturday morning.  I'm finding a lot of solace in model railways these days - I'm sure that it's a variation of retreating into the past that many people find comforting as they grow older.  The things that made us happy in childhood seem ever more attractive: they take us back to simpler times, when life seemed far less complicated.  Which it was, of course.  As children we had no responsibilities - all of those were borne by our parents who, no doubt, spent their time nostalgically thinking back to their childhoods.

So, yes, I'm in full retreat these days: if it isn't model railways, it is the old films I remember from childhood.  Not to mention the films which intrigued me, but I wasn't allowed to watch: I've caught up with so many of those now!  Another category of old movie I'm fascinated by are the ones I used to read about in movie books I borrowed from the library when I first started getting interested in horror and fantasy films, but could never get to see.  These were the titles too obscure or just downright unsuitable, to turn up on TV.  Reading about them led me even further afield, from unobtainable foreign horror films to slasher flicks to smut and every form of exploitation known to man.  Now, slowly but surely, I'm tracking them all down as I regress back to my misspent youth.  And you know something?  When I retreat back into this world of childhood passions, I'm happy.  It's got to the stage now that looking longingly at pictures of lovingly restored Hornby Dublo locomotives has supplanted pornography as my top online guilty pleasure.  Which is odd, as most of the restored Dublo you see is three-rail, while I'm most definitely a Triang two-rail man, (most first encounter with model railways was an older brother's Triang train set).  But hey, they are exquisitely beautiful.  Clearly, I'm going to have to make every effort to get to that model train fair...

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

What Cannot be Cured...

A shitty day.  Made unbearably shitty by something that many would consider trivial, but which has upset me greatly.  A neighbour's cat, who had been missing for a couple of days turned up dead this morning, apparently having been hit by a car.  Getting upset over the demise a  cat, particularly one that wasn't even mine, might seem strange.  But I was very fond of that cat - he was a frequent visitor, in the way that cats are.  Indeed, when I was stuck at home ill earlier this year, he became a constant and reassuring presence.  (He couldn't believe his luck in finding someone home during the day that he could pester.  Interestingly, when I went back to work, he adjusted his visiting hours, turning up in the evenings instead).  Never the most demonstrative of felines when it came to affection, (he was downright stand-offish at times), he nonetheless always made it clear if he liked you.  I grew to look forward to his visits, his aloof attitude and antics always amusing me.  He'd wander all around the house, rummaging through cupboards and boxes (what he expected to find, I don't know), a pattern he repeated in just about every other house he visited (he was well known locally).  Consequently, with his passing, a little bit of joy has gone from my days.  And there doesn't seem to be much of that, these days.

Nothing, it seems, can go right for me at the moment.  I spend most days feeling tired and out of sorts, my body constantly reminding me that my recovery is far more fragile than I care to admit.  I'm back doing a job I hate, but can't decide what else I should be doing.  Which is symptomatic of the main malaise in my life right now: that I seem to have become incapable of making any kind of meaningful decisions.  My illness seems to have made me more cautious and risk averse than ever.  I really just don't know what to do for the best right now.  You know, despite my determined self-sufficiency, it is at times like this that I just wish that someone would reassure me that everything is going to be OK.  But that isn't what happens with people like me: instead of turning to outside help, we just pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and carry on as best we can, hoping that we can find some route out of whatever is troubling us.  This is one of those times when I think that I should just walk out of my front door and keep on walking.  Do you ever fell like that?  It's a recurring fantasy I have about simply walking away from life and starting afresh somewhere else, where nobody knows me and there are no preconceptions about me.  My past would no longer be like a burden, constantly weighing me down and dictating my future.  Alternatively, I'd like to go to bed and sleep long enough that when I awoke everything would have changed for the better.  Or that the past year, or so had been a dream, that I'd just paid off he mortgage and dome the sensible thing of resigning from work and spending the next six months sitting on a beach, thereby reducing my stress and avoiding the resulting ill health.  But none of that is going to happen, so I'm just going to have to grin and bear it until this mood passes and I can think straight again.  Like they say: what cannot be cured must be endured.

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Monday, June 11, 2018

World Schlock

It's a funny thing, but every four years I think that I'm going to enjoy the World Cup, yet by the time it actually arrives, I find that I'm not really interested.  Indeed, I frequently end up resenting the amount of time it takes up on TV and the resulting disruption to the schedules.  This a stark contrast to my younger days, when I looked forward to many of the matches, making sure thatmy personal schedule was synchronised with their kick off times.  Back then, the whole thing seemed to have a kind of carnival atmosphere, which I happily soaked up during the tournament.  It's hard to say when it changed for me, but, at some point, the sheen seemed to have worn off of the World cup, for me, at least.  It wasn't that England's performances (when they made the finals) got worse and worse  - like all Englishmen I'm used to that and, to be frank, expect it.  Perhaps it was the increasingly obvious FIFA corruption which surrounded the event, or the increased naked commercialisation of it all.  I don't know.  I just know that I stopped enjoying it.  As I said, every four years, for a while, I'm able to fool myself into thinking that I'm still enthusiastic about the World Cup, that this time it will be different and hold my attention.  But this false enthusiasm quickly dissipates and I find myself seeking alternative entertainment for the duration.

So, this time around I've been busy lining up some movies to watch (or rewatch), not all of them schlock, either.  But having something novel to watch is always a good when England are playing of course.  I remember that during England's opener against Italy in Brazil 2014, I was able to moderate the horrors of their performance by simultaneously watching the fake Terrance Hill/Bud Spencer movie (actually starring lookalikes Antonio Cantafora and Paul L Smith) We Are No Angels.  It was a cathartic experience.  This time around I've got some Italian cannibal movies lined up, not to mention a rewatch of Norman J Warren's Satan's Slaves.  I've been warming up for the main event by catching up with a slice of British schlock I've been trying to see for a while.  I don't want to spoil it, but suffice to say that once I've finished watching it, I'll hopefully be bringing you a write up of another dose Cliff Twemlow starring wholesomeness.  (From what I've seen so far -it's a cracker, better than his debut, GBH).  As I've said before, I really need to get to grips with writing up my recent schlock viewing.  Hopefully, the World Cup will give me the chance to do so.

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Friday, June 08, 2018

Undercover Cop Out

So, while I've spent the week feeling exhausted, all sorts of things have been happening in the real world without me commenting on them.  Let's kick off with that whole Lush business, where the cosmetics store chain decided to launch a campaign to draw attention to the current investigation into the misdemeanours of deep cover police officers, (there have been numerous cases of them infiltrating things like environmental groups under assumed identities and acting as agents provacateurs not to mention marrying female activists and fathering children under these false identities).  They did this through a series of provactive window displays involving police tape and displays apparently labeling police liars.  I must admit, that when I first saw one of these window displays I was somewhat taken aback, initially not realising what it was about.  But, it's a fair enough campaign - this is an issue which has dropped out of the headlines of late, but raises legitimate concerns as to how far we can trust our own police and how accountable they are,

Unfortunately, not everyone seems to agree and a disturbing counter campaign, which effectively said that the police were above criticism emerged.  Most worryingly, much of it seemed to be conducted by police officers, not just on social media, but in the real world as well, with off duty officers allegedly visiting Lush stores and 'persuading' staff to remove the displays.  Which, surely, is as clear a abuse of their position as you can get.  Anyway, in the face of this campaign of intimidation Lush have, sadly, decided to suspend their campaign. Which is a pity - it makes a refreshing change to find a retail chain getting involved in a campaign with a social conscience.  If nothing else, it has highlighted the dangerous attitudes toward the police that permeate much of the media and public, that they are beyond criticism and must be blindly supported.  Any attempt to hold them to account when they step over the line into possible criminality has to be brutally repressed.  Is it any wonder that, in recent years, the police seem to have been, quite literally, getting away with murder?

Stepping away from the controversy, we also had a couple of celebrity deaths this week.  Peter Stringfellow was the one who seemed to get the biggest headlines.  In The Sun, at least, to whom he seemed some kind of icon.   He was their kind of guy.  'HE SHAGGED WOMEN!'  'HE MADE WOMEN GET THEIR TITS OUT!' 'HE PROBABLY SHAGGED THEM UP THE ARSE!'  Yeah.  Fuck off.  I once saw Peter Stringfellow on the street in London, more than twenty years ago.  He looked like shit.  In fact, the Queen Mother, who I had seen minutes before, as she swept past us plebs in her official Daimler, looked far better - and she was about a hundred and seventy then.  And had probably just been taken out of a freezer, (the truth is that she died somewhen in the eighties, but they froze her body and thawed her out for official appearances - they operated her with strings to give the impression of life - before sticking her back in the freezer). 

The other celebrity death of the week was more significant for me:  Glynn Edwards, aka 'Dave the Barman' from Minder.  Despite being best remembered for the latter role, he was a constant fixture in a host of British films and TV series from the sixties onwards, always turning in enjoyable performances.  He was in everything, from featured roles in Get Carter and Zulu to schlock classics like The Blood Beast Terror and The Playbirds. (His police sergeant gets to deliver a classic piece of understatement in Blood Beast Terror, when he remarks to Peter Cushing's Inspector, after they have destroyed a blood sucking woman-turned-giant moth by lighting a bonfire, which, being a moth, she flies into, that 'they'll never believe this at The Yard, sir').  He also got to play a lead role when he played one half of Burke and Hare, which also featured his then wife, Yootha Joyce.  I never met Glynn Edwards.  In fact, I never even saw him in the flesh, as I had Peter Stringfellow.  But my dad knew him.  Back in his pre-fame days, of course.  Like my late father (and myself), Edwards was a native of Salisbury and his parents ran a pub that my dad, in his younger says, drank in, which was where he met a young Glynn Edwards.  He actually followed Edwards' career with some interest, as he had, apparently, seemed the unlikeliest of potential successful actors.  But he was a success, becoming one of the most recognisable and reliable of his generation of character actors, showing his versatility in a wide range of roles.  And, as 'Dave the Barman' (the character was actually called 'Dave Harris'), he achieved a kind of immortality.

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Thursday, June 07, 2018

Exhausting Times

So far, this has been another of those weeks I feel like I've been sleep walking through.  The various disruptions to routine haven't helped, ranging from an almost forgotten dental appointment today, to the bizarre saga of my car's replacement exhaust which blighted the early part of my week.  With regard to the latter, I took the car in to one of those 'fast fit' type places on Friday, to be told that they couldn't get the parts until Saturday, so could they hang on to the car until then?  Which was fine as I didn't need it again until Sunday.  You can guess the outcome - I got a phone call on Saturday afternoon to say that the parts wouldn't be available to Monday.  I repeated that I needed the car on Sunday.  In the end, I had to take it back and drive it on Sunday with its falling apart old exhaust.  I dropped it off again on Monday morning, emphasising that I would need it for work by the afternoon.  Yeas, you've guessed right again, when I went back after lunch, they hadn't even started the job.  I then had to pretty much stand over them while they replaced the exhaust.

Quite apart from leaving me wondering just why it seemed so difficult to get a replacement exhaust for a Ford Focus (the commonest car on the UK's roads) in the first place, let alone fit it, (supposedly it had something to do with it being a diesel, the whole experience ensured that I started the week feeling exhausted, (no pun intended).  I wouldn't mind, but it was a bloody expensive exhaust, too.  Which undoubtedly had something to do with the fact that it was a diesel.  For once, a trip to the dentist proved cheaper than a visit to the garage.  Still, at least the clouds of black smoke the car had been prone to cough up seem to have vanished, thereby vindicating my belief that they were primarily down to an accumulation of soot in the old, failing, exhaust.  But, to get back to the point, this has been another of those spectacularly unproductive weeks where my apparently constant state of exhaustion has left me completely unmotivated and incapable of doing anything.  But to look on the bright side, it is nearly the weekend and it is officially Summer at last.  So there's something to look foeward to.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2018

New Arrivals


I'm afraid that, for reasons too tedious to elaborate upon, I'm really not in the mood to post anything substantive at the moment.  So, today I thought that I'd instead provide a sneak preview of the latest addition to my roster of model railway locomotives.  Yeah, I know, the layout is still incomplete and I've already got several ongoing loco projects, but here I am buying another vintage model.  This one, bought from a charity via eBay, is the Trix model of the British Railways Standard Class 5 (or 'Class V' as Trix insisted upon referring to it).  I acquired it cheaply (I was the only bidder) because, I suspect, it was listed as untested and there was no guarantee tat it was a runner.  However, it ran straight out of the box when I received it - hesitantly and jerkily, but it ran.  The mechanism needs servicing and a thorough clean, which I haven't had time to do yet, then it should run smoothly.

Trix is pretty much the forgotten ready-to-run model railway manufacturer of the sixties.  Nowhere near as well remembered as either Triang or Hornby Dublo, the brand struggled into the seventies before expiring.  Perpetually beset by financial difficulties, Trix never had the extensive range of products its rivals could muster, but it did produce some interesting models.  Not least this one, the only model of the prototype made until Bachmann introduced theirs in the 1990s.  Buying Trix locomotives can be tricky, some have coarse wheel sets, some fine scale and some are three rail, while some are two rail.  This model was produced in both configurations, (this one is, obviously, two rail to be able to run on my system) and has the later fine scale wheels (which, again, allows it to run on my Code 100 track).  I'm guessing that it was manufactured circa 1966-69 (based on the pick ups and wheel sets, not to mention the style of the box).  Although one of the easier to find Trix locos, the Standard Five often sells for high prices - Trix is highly collectable these days - so I was glad to get this one for a very reasonable price. 

It needs some minor attention before I run it in properly - not just the aforementioned clean and service, but the linkage between loco and tender needs attention and I need to replace the Peco-type couplers with the Triang-type.  Once that's done, I'll hopefully have some video footage of it in action to post here and will also be abe to take the opportunity to look a bit more closely at Trix and its products. 

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Monday, June 04, 2018

Captain Sinbad (1963)


This is an example of how we should never go back and watch movies which were childhood favourites: our memories of them frequently turn out to be quite different from the reality.  Captain Sinbad was a 1963 German fantasy film, presumably intended as a somewhat belated cash in on the RAy Harryhausen effects-driven Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, from 1958.  With its American director and star and international supporting cast, the film was undoubtedly aimed at a global market.  I remember it turning up on UK TV when I was a kid, I couldn'y have been much more than eight, so it must have been the early seventies (I also saw it in colour and we didn't have a colour TV set much before then.  I remember being dazzled by the colourful settings and special effects, which included a multi-headed dragon, giant Rocs and a sorcerer whose arms extended elastically in an attempt to steal a ring from the villain.  It lingered in my memory, but never seemed to turn up on TV again.  At least, not until I was an adult and made the mistake of watching it again.

The magic was definitely gone on that second viewing.  The effects were revealed as shoddy and cut rate.  That dragon, for instance, which, in my memory had been some terrifying creature on a par with a Ray Harryhausen stop motion dinosaur, turned out to be a rubbery, stiffly moving puppet.  The effect with the stretching arm was woefully obvious in its execution and the whole thing seemed disappointingly set bound.  As played by Guy Williams, Sinbad was a bland hero, (just as bland as he'd been Zorro and Lost in Space), lacking any swash, let alone buckle.  Only Pedro Armendariz, (of From Russia, With Love fame), gives a spirited performance as the villain.  It was all hugely disappointing - like when the Wizard of Oz is revealed to just be a man behind a curtain.  That said, the film still had an agreeably dark tone to it and some wonderfully macabre touches - the villain is rendered invulnerable by having his heart kept locked away in a tower guarded by various monsters. The climactic scenes where Sinbad has to fight a giant fist before getting and destroying said heart has a certain surreal and delirious feel to it.  Quite why this trailer is in black and white (despite the announcer boasting that it was in colour), I don't know.  So, here's another, brief, promo for the film in glorious colour:

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Friday, June 01, 2018

Impasse

I'm just coming to the end of a week off of work, taken mainly because I still had leave that I had to use or lose.  Normally, I would have managed to get all sorts of things done, objectives achieved and all that.  Yet, instead, I've been indecisive as what to do all week, achieving very little.  I kept feeling that I should be doing something, but could never agree with myself as to what, exactly.  Consequently, I found myself at an impasse with myself, ending up doing nothing much.  All of which is consistent with my life in general at the moment: I seem to be incapable of making any kind of meaningful decisions on my future at present, prevaricating and procrastinating myself to a standstill.  All I do is convince myself to postpone making any decisions to some later date. It's all very frustrating - I know that I want and need a change in my life: I really am in a rut, doing the same things, watching the same things, even visiting the same websites over and over again.  Of course, at the heart of it all is work.  I'm still in the same old job, which I'm increasingly uncomfortable with, worse still, it has become crystal clear just how repetitive and boring it is - the only challenge left is somehow finding the motivation to get out of bed every working day.

It's clear that if I'm tired of the job, then it is equally tired of me.  I'm being ignored by my management (to the extent that another manager has questioned whether they are adequately discharging their duty of care toward me with regard to my health) and it seems obvious that they just don't know how to handle my situation or what to do with me.  I think that they are hoping that I'll just go away.  Which I might - it's just that I can't make a decision on that, even.  I keep prevaricating over trying to use my PGCE and try to get Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) to pursue a new career in education.  I had a spurt of activity regarding this, then ran out of steam.  The trouble is that there is a part of me which questions whether that is really what I want to do.  Unfortunately, though, I can't decide what it is I'd rather do.  All I know is that, right now, I'm working purely for financial reasons, but I also know that the situation can't continue for much longer.  But before I can move on, I have to break this impasse and just do something, anything, which lifts me out of this rut I find myself in.

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