Friday, November 29, 2019

More Books of Horror

Some more of the books that informed my love of horror and exploitation films.  First up here is David Pirie's The Vampire Cinema (1977).  This one I didn't originally borrow from my local public library - I instead read it in WH Smiths over several consecutive Saturday afternoons.  I couldn't afford to buy it, so had to hope that nobody else purchased it before I'd finished it.  Believe me, it wasn't easy trying to read an entire book without being spotted by the staff - I had to keep putting it back on the shelf and pretending to browse other books before going back to it.  I managed to read the bulk of it, but years later managed to obtain my own copy, the 1984 reprint shown above, from a remaindered book store.  Anyway, getting to the point, the book offered an interesting critical perspective on vampire films, putting them into an historical and cinematic perspective.  In terms of its critical approach, it is streets ahead of the Alan Frank books I looked at last time.  Most interestingly, it devotes a chapter to the 'Sex Vampire' of continental films, particularly those of Jean Rollin, which, at te time, was all new to me.  Equally interesting was the section on the 'New American Vampire', chronicling the seventies cinematic reincarnation of the blood sucker in US movies in films like the Count Yorga series, which often owed as much to Night of the Living Dead as they did to Hammer.  All in all, a hugely thought-provoking book.

The House of Horror (1977, reissued 1981 in the revised edition shown), offers an encapsulated history of Hammer films, covering not just their Gothic horror output, but also looking at their various crime, adventure, war and comedy pictures.  As well as looking at the films, it also offers detailed profiles of then Hammer owner Michael Carreras, director Terence Fisher and stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.  It also provides a comprehensive filmography with plent of technical details about the films.  Best of all, it is copiously illustrated with stills and publicity shots from the films, along with a selection of posters, including several mock ups for projects that never materialised.  Light on critical analysis, The House of Horror focuses on the history of Hammer Films and, as such, is an essential reference work for anybody interested in the horror genre.  It was one of a series of relatively inexpensive movie-related books released by Lorimar in the seventies.  Most focused on the various genres of exploitation cinema and all boasted a plethora of stills and publicity shots.

Finally, we have Carlos Clarens' Horror Movies (1967).  My copy is an early seventies UK paperback reprint of a book which, at one time, was quite highly considered.  It was one of the earliest serious critical works on the genre and as such, quite influential.  The book presents a very comprehensive history and analysis of horror films.  Its greatest strength lies in its coverage of the earliest days of the genre, looking at both silent horrors and early genre talkies.  When I first read it, this was all new to me and opened up a whole new cinematic world to explore.  It quickly becomes clear, though, that Clarens, like many other critics of the era is ultimately quite conservative when it comes to more recent horror films.  While praising the first few Hammer horrors, for instance, he is dismissive of their later output and repeats the myth that they made 'stronger' versions of their films for the export market, (it was actually one of their rivals, Tempean, that would insert topless scenes into the continental release versions of their films).  He is also lukewarm about both the emerging Italian horror film movement and the output of Roger Corman.  Nevertheless, the book includes a comprehensive filmography and a pretty decent critical analysis of the older horror films CLarens clearly preferred.  For him, their focus upon fantasy was prefereable to the more graphic and realistic depictions of horror presented by the newer pictures.

So, there you have it, three more reference works that proved highly influential on my enjoyment of horror films for a variety of reasons.  Obviously, the genre has moved on, leaving all of them somewhat dated, (particularly the Clarens book), but all are still worth reading if you can manage to get hold of copies.

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Thursday, November 28, 2019

Books of Horror

I thought that I'd take a look at some of the books which played significant roles in developing my interest in horror films, (and the wider cinema of the fantastic and exploitation movies).  Where better place to start than at the beginning?  The book on the left, Horror Films (1977) by Alan Frank, was the one that started it all off.  I must have been in my early teens when I discovered a copy in my local library and borrowed it.  The book opened up a whole new world to me - the only horror films I had previously encountered were some of the old Universal movies and a smattering of early Hammers that turned up on TV, (oh, and an encounter with cult British B movie Witchcraft (1964), which I'd found quite disturbing).  The book offered a whistle stop tour of horror films from the very earliest days of cinema to the then present day, (it ends with the 1976 King Kong).  But not just US and UK genre films - it also offered a commentary on various Italian, Spanish, Mexican and Japanese films.  It was here that I first heard of Paul Naschy and his series of Spanish werewolf movies, for instance.  All accompanied by some fascinating stills which just made me desperate to see these films, which back in the pre-internet, pre-home video era, wasn't easy.

In truth, the book offered little in the way of critical analysis, (although that mattered little to my younger self), instead providing a simple commentary on the films releases decade by decade.  Frank's definition of 'horror' was also pretty liberal, including both fantasy and science fiction films.  But it got me hooked.  So hooked that I ended up borrowing the library copy multiple times.  Eventually, it was re-issued in the edition shown above, which I eventually bought for a knock down price from a remaindered book shop.  In the meantime, I'd discovered another book by Frank in my public library: The Horror Film Handbook (1982).  This volume is organised quite differently, presenting an A-Z  by title series of capsule reviews of films, accompanied by production and cast details.  It also includes appendices covering some of the major horror stars, directors, writers and producers.  The reviews are often brief and quite superficial and its coverage is nowhere near as broad as in the earlier book, focusing on English language films.  What is clear is that Frank - who was a film buyer for ITV as well as a critic - was critically quite conservative.  Despite embracing the world of continental horror in the earlier book (quite unusual among English-language critics of the time), the Handbook makes clear that he had a problem with more 'modern' horror films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which increasingly fell outside of the template set by 'classic' (pre 1970) films. (Interestingly, in the five years between the two books, Frank had clearly revised his opinion of several films, with some that he had previously enthused over now getting short shrift).

Nonetheless, the book extended my knowledge of the genre further.  It also helped me start developing my own critical faculties, as I caught up with more of the films and found myself disagreeing with Frank's assessments.  I learned to analyse why I disagreed and to marshal arguments in favour of those I liked but he hated.  As with Horror Films, I borrowed the library's copy multiple times, before eventually buying the second hand copy seen above.  (There was a companion volume, The Science Fiction Film Handbook, also by Frank, which I've never managed to obtain a second hand copy of).  As I've indicated, neither book provided any real in-depth analysis of the films or genre, but they did provide a fantastic introduction to the horror film genre.  I still read my copies of both books - even in this age of the information super highway, they still offer a good resource for technical data and photographs.  They also chronicle some films which are virtually impossible to find anything about on the internet - obscure British seventies supporting feature Face of Darkness, for instance.  All-in-all, despite his critical shortcomings, I feel that I owe Alan Frank a real debt for getting me into the genre with these books.

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Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Press for Conspiracy

If I was of a paranoid turn of mind and believed in conspiracies, then recent developments in the current general election would have me getting mighty suspicious.  I mean, just as we reach the point when the Tory campaign went off the rails last time - the launch of their manifesto - and Labour seem to be gaining some traction in the polls, out of right field (it certainly wasn't from the left), we have the Chief Rabbi trying to re-ignite the whole Corbyn anti-Semitism business.  Convenient, or what?  It gave the media a new anti-Labour tack with which to fill their headlines for days after.  But I don't necessarily believe in such conspiracies.  That said, there is certainly a huge amount of anti-Labour bias in the media.  Whether this includes the BBC, I don't really know.  The thing to remember about the BBC is that it is - and always has been - the voice of the 'establishment'.  And right now, Labour aren't the establishment in the way they were in the Blair years.  But there is no doubt that Boris Johnson, as ever, is being given a remarkably easy ride during this campaign.  Despite the fact that he is a proven liar, given to unconstitutional acts, a philanderer of low morals, not to forget his racist and homophobic newspaper utterances, the media, especially the BBC, seem to treat him with kid gloves - in stark contrast to their treatment of Corbyn.  The only times that Johnson has been put under scrutiny and confronted by his own shortcomings and misdemeanours is when he has encountered the public, either on the campaign trail or during TV events like the recent Leaders Question Time.

I know I've been drifting back into politics here of late, something I've been trying to avoid because all the ranting isn't good for my blood pressure, but Hell, there's an election on.  Every day I watch the news with fascination, waiting to see how Labour's policies are going to be misrepresented next.  I know that the Tory manifesto, published on Sunday, contains little of substance (apart from 'Get Brexit Done!' repeated ad nauseum), it is remarkable how it has attracted so little media scrutiny compared to Labour's.  The media have certainly interpreted Labour's policies very liberally in order to generate scare stories of how anyone earning more than £80,000 will be paying 99% taxes or how their spending plans will bankrupt the country.  I'm eagerly awaiting to hear how they are going to make drug use and homosexuality compulsory and force every middle class family in the UK with a pare room let it to a family of immigrants.  'Free Love' on the NHS, perhaps, with doctors allowed ro prescribe prostitutes and rent boys for sex addiction, or even depression.  Public schools forced to take working class delinquents, the middle classes forced to wife swap with the working classes in order to ensure an equal distribution of 'crumpet' (be it male or female).  Who knows what they'll come up with next.  As others have commented before, it is amazing that Labour governments ever get elected in the face of such press hostility.

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Monday, November 25, 2019

Stalked by Jeremy Corbyn

I feel like I'm being stalked by a political party.  Some years ago I made a modest financial contribution to the Labour Party, thereby becoming a registered supporter.  Consequently, I've received all manner of emails from them about policy initiatives, campaigns and fund-raising drives.  But since the announcement of a general election, they've doubled down.  Hardly a day goes by without me receiving emails from Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and even Diane Abbot.  OK, I know that these are all part of a mass mailing campaign and identical emails go out to thousands of party members and supporters, but - until it became a daily event during this election - I still got a bit of a kick out of seeing an email from the Leader of the Opposition in my inbox.  While these sorts of things usually steadily climb to a crescendo, starting with communications from local party functionaries and culminating in getting an email from the leader himself, this has gone the other way.  I started by getting the emails from Corbyn and have now worked down to daily communications from the local Labour branch trying to persuade me to help the local candidate campaign in Crapchester.

Somehow, I don't see myself going out knocking on doors on behalf of the Labour Party.  It would feel to much like the day job, where I already spend far too much time having to deal with people on their doorsteps.  Which experience already tells me that most people in Crapchester most likely would be highly unreceptive to having people knocking on their doors asking for their vote. I strongly suspect that many of them are probably unaware even that there is a general election going on, such are the levels of political apathy I encounter.  But maybe I'm being too cynical.  Perhaps they are all geared up to vote, just waiting for that knock on the door from a candidate who can convince them that they are worthy of their vote.  Then again, maybe they are all being bombarded with emails from the candidates - election campaigns increasingly seem to be fought entirely online and through the media, with little evidence of actual, physical, campaigning on the ground.  But to return to the original point, while it is very nice of Jeremy Corbyn to keep emailing me, especially bearing in mind the fact is that I originally became a registered supporter so that I could vote against him in a leadership election.  Nice to know that he doesn't hold grudges.

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Friday, November 22, 2019

For Boys

My latest acquisitions.  After talking about the traditional British comics annual the other week, I succeeded in making myself sufficiently nostalgic to buy some examples.  I have to admit, that when I started browsing eBay for annuals, I had the idea that I was going to buy some late sixties TV21 or Captain Scarlet annuals, or perhaps a Valiant annual or two.  But the former two are surprisingly expensive, even in poor condition, while decent examples of the latter aren't always easy to come by.  So, I instead ended up buying three early sixties Eagle annuals and a 1967 Boys' World annual.  The latter of these, (the Boys' World weekly was a relatively short-lived companion to Eagle, which continued to issue annuals into the early 1970s, long after the weekly had ceased publication), I bought because it contains quite a few items about Triang Hornby model railways, including the 'Battle Space' range.  The Eagle annuals I bought because, well, the Eagle was the archetypal boys comic of the fifties and sixties and these three came in a job lot for less than fifteen quid.  Which is quite a bargain - pristine editions of the annual from this era can sometime go for fifty quid or more.  While these aren't pristine, they are in very good condition, (two even have their original dust jackets), with their spines intact and no pages torn or missing.

While I've had a quick perusal of these annuals, they are my early Christmas present to myself and I intend looking at them in detail when I'm off work during the festive period.  I'm definitely regressing to my childhood these days: model railways, seventies TV series and now old annuals.  Still, I need something comforting right now - it has been a traumatic week.  I mean, Spurs sacking Pochettino and replacing him with the Prince of Darkness himself, Jose Mourinho, earlier this week was a real shock to the system.  Let's face it, either one of those two events alone would normally have been deeply disturbing, but within twelve hours of each other?  Jesus!  As if that wasn't bad enough, while I was still reeling from this double whammy, on Wednesday morning, while reaching for the mouthwash, I knocked something else off of the top shelf in the bathroom and, in trying to catch it, knocked down the second shelf, sending stuff flying and ending up all over the floor.  I didn't have time to clear it all up there and then, so left it.  When I managed to get back to the house at lunch time, I noticed what I hadn't seen before: that the shelf had knocked a chunk out of the cistern lid (it is plastic).  So I determined to find all the pieces and repair it.  Which meant that I also had to find some suitable glue.  Now, I usually keep glue in the bottom drawer in the kitchen, but when I went to look, the entire drawer fell apart, depositing its contents all over the kitchen floor.  They didn't include the glue.  That turned out to be in the top drawer.  Anyway, I managed to glue together the broken fragments from the cistern lid, then glue the assemblage back into the lid.  You have to get up very close to see that it has ever been broken.  Now all I need to do is fix that kitchen drawer...

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Thursday, November 21, 2019

Voting for a Good Cause

I was watching one of those post-Children in Need programmes the other day, you know, the ones where some minor celebrity tells us how wonderful we've been for donating all that money.  It was the usual stuff, telling us how it is going to help little Timmy who lives in impoverished conditions in Birmingham or little Annie who is suffering from some rare disease in Crewe, (they all have to be in the UK nowadays, following last year's accusations of 'white saviour syndrome' with regard to patronising celebrity interventions in Africa), when it occurred to me that what they should be saying is just: 'stop voting fucking Tory'.  Because, like it or not, most of the problems they try to address via this annual charity bore, sorry, telethon, are the result of the 'austerity' policies peddled by successive Tory governments.  Let's not forget that under the last Labour government - and I'm sorry if I'm sounding like a party political broadcast here, but sometimes these things need to be said - child poverty in the UK had been virtually eliminated, the gulf between rich and poor was narrowing and we didn't have food banks. The fact that, since the Tories came back, child poverty has returned, the wealth gap widened and even people who work are forced to rely on food banks to get by, should tell you something.

I've never made any secret of the fact that I'm not a fan of Jeremy Corbyn - I think is a weak and indecisive leader lacking the qualities needed to lead Labour to electoral success - but I'd take him over the abominable Boris Johnson any day.  At least Corbyn appears to be a caring and sincere human being. I find it fascinating how his political opponents seem set on smearing him personally during this election campaign rather than attempting any in depth critiques of Labour's policies.  Could it be that they realise that these policies might actually address the concerns of many voters regarding such issues as inequality and poverty and fear that, unless they can distract them with personal attacks on Corbyn, people might vote for them?  Mind you, even these personal attacks are getting increasingly pathetic, mainly centering on attempts to label Corbyn an anti-Semite.  Whatever else I think of Corbyn, I'm certain he isn't an anti-Semite, (although he really hasn't done enough to be seen to be tackling the alleged problem of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party).  I mean, the latest attempt involved photoshopping am old image of him at an anti-apartheid rally to change the anti-racist slogan on his shirt to read 'Jeremy Corbyn is a racist endeavour'.  Really?  How crass can you get?  But back to the original point: if you want to contribute to Children in Need or any other charitable 'good ause', then just remember to to vote fucking Tory.


Tuesday, November 19, 2019

National Death Service

The other day I saw the government asserting that the reason for the latest crisis in the NHS, with A and E targets not being met and the like, is down to there being 'too much demand'.  Apparently, an unexpected cold snap, (although I'm not sure why anyone would be surprised to find November cold), has contributed to unexpected levels of illness and injury, leaving the NHS unable to cope.  It's an interesting concept, the idea that a public healthcare service should be subjected to the rigours of simple demand and supply economics.  As I recall from my brief study of economics, (I gave it up after the foundation year of my degree, in favour of history and politics), the solution to excessive demand for a product or service is to choke it off, usually by raising the price.  Obviously, the NHS doesn't have that option, (although, give the likes of Boris Johnson a few years in power and you never know), so how else could it 'choke off' demand when it becomes 'excessive'?  By denying the really sick adequate treatment, parking them on trolleys in corridors for hours on end without being seen by medical staff.  You know the sort of thing.  Of course, right now this is happening due to a lack of resources which is, itself, the result of under funding.

But what if this was a deliberate policy on the part of successive Tory governments, not to undermine the NHS for political reasons, but rather to turn it into an instrument of euthanasia for the lower classes?  After all, those most likely to use the NHS, especially during hard winters, are the poor, the infirm and the elderly.  All of whom, it could be argued, are a drain on society.  Damn it, most of them are probably claiming benefits as well.  So by culling them via the NHS, the government could save a whole shit load of money in terms of benefits, pensions and ongoing healthcare costs.  Moreover, if they vote at all, these people are also more likely to vote Labour, so the Tories would be denuding the opposition's vote as an added bonus.  Because, let's face it, the sort of people who vote Tory can afford private health care, have private pensions and never have to rely on benefits.  So, there you have it, I'd argue that what e're seeing is a repurposing of our National Health Service into a National Death Service.  Damn it, they've been using the media to normalise the idea that people routinely die when treated in NHS hospitals for years, so that people accept the higher mortality rates.  I mean, why else do you think that patients in TV hospital dramas suffer such a high attrition rate?  If we are to believe the likes of Holby City, then even going into hospital with an ingrowing toe nail could easily prove fatal.  When is Jeremy Corbyn going to start calling the Tories out on this, that's what I want to know.


Monday, November 18, 2019

Dreaming of a White Santa?

I very nearly found myself getting tangled up in the Craphester Christmas light turning on thing last Friday.  I really thought that I'd be in and out of the town centre with my shopping before it all kicked off.  But then I remembered that I needed to get something from Wilkinsons - which is situated right next to the epicentre of the event - so I found myself coming out of there just as it was all starting.  It wasn't so much the hordes of small children running around that bothered me, as the individual who apparently was acting as some kind of Master of Ceremonies.  He had what looked like a stick on white beard and was wearing a spangly white suit and matching bowler hat.  I mean, what's wrong with just having a traditional Santa?  Or maybe he was some kind of 'woke' Santa - rejecting the evil corporate Coca Cola inspired customary red costume in favor of the 'Demented Twat' look.  Anyway, for a nasty moment I thought that he was coming my way.  I prayed that he wouldn't approach me: it would have been hugely traumatic for those kids to have seen me tell 'Woke Santa' - or whatever the fuck he was meant to be - to fuck off.  But luckily he changed direction and I was able to escape back home and spend the rest of the afternoon watching Funeral in Berlin on Film Four.

Still, it could have been worse - those pillocks on stilts were wandering around the event as well and, in my book, they are always bad news.  As you might recall from some of my previous rantings, one such stilted bastard one smacked me in the face with a plastic fish on a string while I was minding my own business, walking through the town centre.  Since then, I've considered these wankers to be Public Enemy Number One.  They really have no business on the streets of Crapchester and I'm fully prepared to saw through their stilts if they come near me again.  The only positive I could see was that there weren't any of those bloody 'living statues' loitering around the switch on event.  They really are the pits, thinking that standing still constitutes entertainment.  I have to say, though, that this year's Christmas light display continues the downward trend of recent years here in Crapchester.  To be honest, it is all pretty shitty.  The lights get sparser every year, the side attractions ever thinner on the ground.  For the second year running, Santa's train is missing from the main shopping centre.  It used to be one the highlights of my year to see the teen aged job seekers forced to dress as elves for the duration, looking utterly miserable as they conduct kids on a miniature train ride past several fake reindeer and a sled. 

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Friday, November 15, 2019

The Book of How?

Having talked about annuals earlier this week, I thought I'd take another trip down memory lane and take a brief look at another variation on the format.  The Daily Mail Book of How? was a one-off variation on theme, being a sixties spin off from the popular children's TV series.  The copy I had was inherited from older siblings and a source of fascination throughout my childhood.  It was essentially a series of articles, all starting 'How...' which either imparted odd facts, or described how to make stuff, conduct experiments with household items or perform tricks.  None of them seemed very likely, (although 'How a Ha-Ha is an invisible barrier' turned out to be true - a 'Ha-Ha' being a type of sunken wall which can keep cattle out of a garden while not obstructing the view). 

I don't recall all the details of the 'How to' items, but one which stuck in my mind involved turning old vinyl records into flower pots - it involved heating them in an oven.  Strangely enough, my older sister wouldn't let me try it with any of her Beatles' albums.  Another involved 'How to tear a telephone directory in half'.  Again, it involved baking it an oven.  Needless to say, my mother wouldn't let me put the yellow pages in her electric cooker.  While I spent hours poring over the book, the only 'How to' article I ever put into practice was making a miniature rocking horse from two paper plates stuck together, (I think they were left over from my sister's wedding).  I've often thought about obtaining another copy and seeing if, as an adult, I could pout any of those articles into practice.  But, looking at prices online, it seems that the book is in danger of becoming 'collectible' and commanding ridiculous prices.  Which, sadly, seems to be the way with these things.

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Thursday, November 14, 2019

Creeping Christmas

So, here we are, heading into the 'most wonderful time of the year'.  Well, according to the TV commercials, at least.  Oh, and Crapchester  town centre, where the festive lights are going up and the temporary village of shonky looking sheds that constitute the 'Christmas Market' are appearing.  The latter keep coming back year after year, despite the fact that nobody ever seems to buy anything from them.  Probably because, in the main, they sell over priced tat.  Apparently, tomorrow marks the official 'switching on' of the lights in the shopping centre, so it must be Christmas, creeping up on us, as always.  As ever, none of this is putting me in a festive mood.  For one thing, it is still far too early: Christmas shouldn't start before December, in my opinion.  For another, I've got too many other things on my mind.  To the extent that I can't actually settle to do anything - I keep thinking about doing stuff, but never actually do any of it.  It doesn't help that there's this bloody general election campaign going on in the background - that alone is enough to kill any feelings of goodwill toward all men.  But, as ever, my work situation continues to dominate my thoughts.  I know, I know - I keep on about it but never seem to do anything about it, (in common with the rest of my life right now).

Which is fair enough.  Other than racking up National Insurance contributions for my pension, I really don't know why I'm still there.  Neither does anyone else.  Everyone - family, best friend, random people on the street - all keep asking me the same thing: are you still doing that bloody job?  I was asking myself the same thing last week, after wasting two days at a 'training event' (during which no training actually took place).  When it was over and I was back at home, I actually heard myself asking, out loud, 'What are you doing?' - those forty eight hours had made it clear that I really don't want to do the job any more and that I have nothing in common with my co-workers.  But, as ever, it is a case of convincing myself that it is OK to walk away, that financially I'm good for the foreseeable future without a job.  It's that loss of security that a job brings which holds most of us back from leaving, I'm sure.  Although, in truth, it is an illusion - the bastards can sack you at any time.  I also have the worry that, at my age, finding some sort of alternative employment could be difficult.  It isn't that I'm not looking into possible alternatives, but I have to be absolutely sure that I could actually be happy doing any of them - I don't want to be trapped in another dull and unsatisfying job.  So, there you have it - the latest update on my life.  As ever, nothing seems to have changed.  But hey!  Christmas is coming, so joy to all!


Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Werewolf Break

A while ago I briefly discussed William Castle's Homicidal here and mentioned its gimmick, the 'Fright Break', whereby patrons were given thirty seconds to leave before the climax and claim their money back.  Well, the 'Werewolf Break' from Amicus' 1974 film The Beast Must Die is a variation on this gimmick.  In this case, there is no option to leave and get your money back, but instead a chance to identify who the werewolf is.  In truth, The Beast Must Die needed all the help it could get - producers Amicus specialised in anthology films and their attempts at regular horror films with single stories always felt somewhat overstretched and full of padding.  This stab at a werewolf movie is no exception.  In their attempt to sustain a single plot for ninety minutes or so, Amicus decided to make a cross-genre effort, with the plot resolving down into a country house type Agatha Christie style situation, with the suspects confined on an island, their numbers gradually reduced by the resident lycanthrope, (much in the manner of And Then There Were None).  They also decided to make the main protagonist black, in the form of Calvin Lockhart's millionaire hunter obsessed with bagging a werewolf, in order to appeal to the Blaxploitation market.

In the end, this mix of elements doesn't really mix.  The film's biggest problem is the fact that we never actually see the werewolf clearly.  There are none of the transformation scenes one would normally expect from a werewolf movie.  It is also, for a horror movie, surprising light on blood and gore.  Indeed, as I recall, additional gore had to be inserted for the BBFC to give it an X Certificate, which was considered essential for the marketing of a horror film, (they had originally awarded it only a AA, which would have allowed children over twelve to see it).  Still, while lacking in suspense, The Beast Must Die does have a couple of decent action set pieces, a groovy sub James Bond musical score and a good cast, including Lockhart, Peter Cushing and Charles Gray.  Speaking of the cast, yes, that is a young Michael Gambon as Jan, one of the suspects in the 'Werewolf Break'.  He can be seen in supporting roles in a number of films of this ilk made in the early seventies.  Oh, and did you guess who the werewolf was?


Monday, November 11, 2019

The Annual

With TV and the High Street telling me that Christmas is in full swing, I've found my thoughts turning to that old British tradition: the annual.  Always at Christmas, as a kid, you'd get one or two annuals as presents.  If there was a weekly comic you read regularly, then you would inevitably receive its respective hard cover annual.  But popular TV series would also boast their own annuals - I used get given the Star Trek and Dr Who annuals, for instance.  My absolute favourites, though, were the Thunderbirds annuals, which were truly magnificent: not only were they packed with comic strips and text stories, but they had loads of fabulous features, presenting cutaways of various Thunderbird vehicles, bits of 'future history' filling in the background to the Gerry Anderson universe and various quizzes and puzzles.  The last of these that I owned was a combined Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet annual, (both series were long out of production bt then, but were stull being regularly screened on ITV), which was fantastic -even uncovering the secrets of Spectrum's Cloudbase!  While these albums bore a close resemblance to their source material, the same couldn't be said for the Star Trek annuals.  It was clear that the uncredited artist had never actually seen the original TV series - sure, the Enterprise looked OK, but its interiors only loosely resembled those of the TV show.  Moreover, the uniform colours were mostly wrong and, with exception of Spock, the characters bore only a passing resemblance to those on TV.  (Scotty, for instance, was blonde).

I later discovered that these annuals were actually reprints of the US Gold Key Star Trek comics series, which were otherwise unavailable in the UK.  The artwork, apparently, had been outsourced to Spain, with the only reference material provided to the artists being a series of publicity stills from the second pilot episode, (which had many differences from the series proper in terms of the uniforms and Enterprise interior, not to mention characters), and the very early series episodes.  Consequently, the artists had to fill in much of the detail themselves.  The reason the uniform shirts were coloured green (except for Spock, who was correctly shown with a blue shirt) was that the actual shirts, in stills, were green - it was the studio lighting which made them appear gold, (something you wouldn't know if you hadn't seen the TV show).  The stories were also pretty wild and woolly, being far more action orientated than the TV series.  Still, it was probably truer to the series than the other Star Trek strip, which ran in the TV21 comic, (this comic also published an often magnificent annual).  While the visuals matched the series better, the scripts were clearly written by someone who had never seen the series.

But most annuals featured unfamiliar artwork and writing.  The comics-based ones tended to be written and drawn by non-regular writers and artists.  Which was only logical, when you think about it: the regulars were all busy producing the weekly comic.  So, while your favourite characters were all there in the annual, they often looked and sounded slightly unfamiliar.  On the other hand, the stories were usually longer than those in the weekly comic and were entirely self-contained - no having to wait a week for cliffhangers to be resolved.  Some of the characters would also appear in text stories rater than strips, which was always a novelty.  Another interesting aspect of annuals was the occasional reappearance of characters who had been dropped from the weekly comic, often several years previously.  Sometimes you would get preponderance of one-off stories featuring non-regular characters - I recall this happening with one of the 2000 AD annuals.  Of course, it wasn't just comics and TV series that had annuals - Model Railway Constructor magazine issued an annual from around 1977 (dated 1978) onwards, (I have several of them).  These were interesting, as they were compiled from articles which hadn't been used in the monthly magazine.  Although these articles were, supposedly, all from the previous year, it was obvious that many were of considerably older vintage.

Annuals are still around - only today, I saw the 2020 Peppa Pig annual on sale in Sainsburys - but I'm afraid I'm too old to be given them as presents.  Besides, most of the old weekly British comics are long since defunct, (although, in the old days, that didn't stop them issuing annuals for years after their demise, sometimes reprinting old strips, sometimes with new stories).  Which is a pity, as I used to look forward to receiving them.  Some of them, like the Thunderbirds annuals, were absolutely fantastic and kept me entertained over a period of years when I was a kid.  I can see that I'm going to have to go onto eBay and try to buy myself a Christmas present or two...

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Friday, November 08, 2019

The Week in Chaos

It is weeks like this that make me thankful that I only work four day weeks these days.  I was so bloody tired after spending part of the week commuting between Crapchester and the West of England for a work course and the rest trying, unsuccessfully, to smear dog shit on that fat bastard's car in retaliation for him stealing my parking space and my car consequently getting covered in bird shit, that I ended up sleeping a large proportion of today away.  (On the subject of the shit smearing, I have to say that I was not being 'sizeist' in calling my antagonist a 'fat bastard'.  For one thing, he is.  For another, I feel that I have earned the right get sanctimonious about the weight of illegally parked wankers, having lost a significant amount of weight since being ill last year).  I have to say, that I feel a lot better for all that sleep.  Now, you might well be wondering, why the commuting for a course?  Well, I simply don't do overnight stays for work.  Under any circumstances.  Even if it means catching the milk train back home (is there still such a thing?) and getting up and back on another train three hours later, that's what I do.  I give up enough time to this lousy job, without wasting my own time.  If I'm not being paid for them, then work doesn't get my hours. 

Besides, I make it a rule not to socialise with the people I work with and if you do those bloody overnight stays, you are expected to.  I have nothing in common with this lot, other than the fact that we do the same job - and I really don't want to talk about work outside of working hours.  Not only do I hate my work, but it is deadly boring.  Not only that, but in a previous job I had to travel a fair amount - I've had more than my share of depressing budget hotel rooms and evenings spent in bland bars.  Not to mention all the time wasted in airport lounges.  Anyway, from Crapchester to the venue for this training course was easily commutable by train.  Or should have been, if it hadn't involved  GWR and two changes of train.  But that's another story entirely.  It wouldn't have been so bad if the training event had had any value or had been well organised.  It was, to be frank, the most shambolic and worthless event of its kind that I've ever attended.  honestly, if anyone in management ever has the temerity to accuse me of being 'disorganised' again, I'll remind them of this event: no wi fi or projector at the venue, meaning that the first day was cut short as there was no way to deliver some of the presentations.  On the second day, this lack of facilities forced a guest speaker to use their phone to give a presentation.  As someone with a teaching qualification who has regularly prepared lessons and schedules of work, I find this level of chaos offensive.

So, all that shit took up the first half of my working week.  The other two days were just a slog, complicated by fat bastard's parking antics.  Part of the fall out from the fiasco of Monday and Tuesday has been my launching a personal campaign at work for my organisation to cease forcing employees to attend training venues so far from their place of work, not to mention frequently difficult to get to.  Bearing in mind that, in common with other parts of the public sector, this is an employer which has spent the better part of a decade telling us that it can't afford to fund above inflation pay rises, I'm appalled by the waste involved in its training policy, as it is incurring significant costs in terms of paying for excessive travel, not to mention hotel bills and the like.  I'm not optimistic that I'll get anywhere, though, as I know from long experience that logic is an alien concept where my employer is concerned.


Thursday, November 07, 2019

A Fine Mess

I'm sure that most people would agree that the laws which now force dog owners to clear up their dogs' shit after them when in public is a good thing.  Certainly, it has meant far fewer plies of steaming dog shit on our streets.  No longer does one risk inadvertently stepping in the stuff, not realising before you go back to your house and end up treading it into your carpet.  Even if you did realise you had trodden in it, there was nothing worse than trying to get the bloody stuff off of your shoes.  But there is a downside to this lack of canine crap on our streets - it means that there's never a convenient lump of shit about when you want to smear some over some fat bastard's car.  Which is precisely the situation I found myself in today.  It was, as ever, all about parking.  The fat bastard in question lives on my street and he and his wife have God alone knows how many cars with which they clog up the resident's parking bays.  Now, I don't have a permit to parking these bays - you can never get a space there.  Instead, I pay considerably more for a permit to park in the permit holders' section of the car park opposite.  Meaning that I always get a space. In fact, I have a particular space I leave my car in overnight - it provides a degree of protection, being a corner space with walls on two sides of the vehicle and is just far enough away from the trees they have at that end of the car park to avoid getting bird shit all over it.  As I say, it has become my regular space - by the time I finish work the car park is mostly empty.

Unfortunately, various of those using the residents' parking on the street treat the car park as an overflow when it is full of the fat bastard's cars.  Actually, it is far bastard himself who is the worst culprit.  Despite knowing that he has no right to park there, as his permit doesn't cover it, he puts his car there overnight, relying on the fact that the parking wardens are unlikely to patrol there after six in the evening or before eight in the morning.  Of late, he has developed a penchant for parking in my space, despite knowing that I park there overnight.  Indeed, yesterday evening I arrived in the car park to find his car in my space and him waddling away as fast as he could, to avoid me before I could get out of my car and slap the fat pig's face so hard the apple would have fallen out of his mouth.  Consequently, I was forced to park in the next space, closer to the tree.  So, this morning, when I went to get into my car, guess what?  That's right, some bird had shit all down the driver's side,  To be precise, it had succeeded in covering the whole area between the front and rear doors.  Being in a hurry, I didn't have time to clear it off and, inevitably, I ended up with bird shit smeared all down the right sleeve of my coat when I got out of the car.  Now, I have no idea what kind of bird could possibly have deposited that much shit - I suspect one of the larger pterodactyls, possibly a pteranodon - but it got everywhere.

So, I was left brooding as to how I could get some kind of redress against fat bastard.  Obviously, in an ideal world, I'd get a big bird to shit all over his car - now back in the residents' parking - but with no trees near his vehicle, that seemed unlikely.  Then it occurred to me - get some dog shit and smear all over his car doors - especially the handles - and see how he liked that.   But, of course, thanks to well meaning public health legislation, there was no dog shit handy anywhere on the street.  Now, as I saw it, I had two options: either find another source of dog shit, or find an alternative.  As far as the former was concerned, I figured that I could wander round the neighbourhood until I found a dog walker carrying a plastic bag full of dog crap and try to buy it off of them.  But that might seem a little weird and I wouldn't want anyone to think that I was some sort of pervert.   With regard to the latter option, I could, conceivably, have used my own crap to smear his car and this idea had some appeal.  It would have made it so personal.  On the other hand, there is always the risk of police involvement, DNA tests and tracing it back to me.  So, for the time being, we're at an impasse with regard to fat bastard and his car.  But I haven't forgotten.  I'll get the bastard yet.


Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Horrors of the Black Museum (1959)

Despite having fallen into relative obscurity for many years, with no TV screenings and little information about it available in reference books, Horrors of the Black Museum enjoyed something of a renaissance and critical reappraisal in the wake of its home video release in the 1990s.  Consequently, quite a lot has been written about, so I don't intend to offer any lengthy appraisal of the film, but rather note a couple of aspects that struck me while watching it on Talking Pictures TV at Halloween.  One of the film's most notable pints is that, in contrast to Hammer's contemporary horror films, whose success Horrors was made to cash in on, it eschews their period settings and supernatural elements in favour of a contemporary milieu and a focus upon human sadism.  The murders depicted are, indeed, extremely sadistic, most infamously the binoculars which fire spring loaded spikes into a victim's eyes no sooner than the film has started. 

But the film isn't satisfied merely with presenting such sadism as being simply the result of a madman's own relish for inflicting and savouring such horrendous pain and death upon his fellow man.  It also seeks to explore how such atrocities are presented to an eager public as entertainment, who happily wait reports of the next atrocity while simultaneously affecting to be appalled by them.  Not only is the role of the press as hypocritical purveyor of sadistic pleasure highlighted - Michael Gough's crazed killer is also a respected crime writer responsible for a string of best-selling and sensational true crime books also also has a widely read newspaper column - but the film looks to indict the British public directly.  It is hugely significant that the climax is set in a funfair, with Gough's assistant - who he has hypnotised into carrying out many of the murders - scaling a Ferris wheel before leaping to his death.  He is is clearly presented as being just another garish spectacle for the entertainment of the fair goers - once he is dead, the gathered crowd immediately lose interest in what has just happened and quickly turn back to the other rides and sideshows in search of alterntive entertainment, as if nothing had happened.  (You would have thought that the police would have closed the fair and sealed it off as a crime scene). 

Much has also been made of the film's misogyny: all but one of the victim's are female.  Alongside this, there is an incredibly homoerotic undertow running through the film.  I say undertow, but while watching it again on Talking Pictures TV, I was surprised, bearing in mind the movie's age and the amount of censorship it suffered with regard to the violence of the murders, just how brazenly the homoerotic nature the relationship between Gough and his assistant is presented.  It all comes to a head when the assistant stars romancing a girl and, worse still, allows her into Gough's private 'Black Museum'.  Gough's fury at this 'betrayal', his obvious jealousy over the girl and his admonishments concerning the evils are women are anything but subtle.  Even less subtle are his references to the museum being their 'special place', let alone his passionate lecturing of his assistant on how their futures are inextricably linked and how he is destined to take over Gough's work.  Their final confrontation at the funfair also comes over as something of a lover's tiff.   Like I said, hardly subtle.

So, there you have it: a few thoughts on Horrors of the Black Museum, a still intriguing and occasionally disturbing horror film, which probably stands as the best of producer Herman Cohen's British produced movies. 


Monday, November 04, 2019

Commercial Christmas

I feel like I've been in transit for half the day.  Which, effectively, I have been.  And I've got it all to do again tomorrow.  I can't really go into any details, but as with most of the bad things in my life these days, it is work related.  Anyway, having got up at the crack of dawn today to catch the first of three trains, (there were another three back), I now feel completely drained.  The thought of doing it again tomorrow is even more tiring.  The fact that the whole exercise is utterly pointless just makes it all the more frustrating.  But most frustrating of all, it has left me at a loss as to what to write here today.  I'm sure I had an idea for today's post over the weekend, but today's antics and resultant exhaustion has seemingly wiped it from my mind.  So, I'm resorting to my usual fall back in such situations: a selection of old TV ads.  These are from 1989 and, as I've noticed that the festively themed commercials have started appearing already this year, they are from the Xmas season.

They are clearly from an ITV region other than the one I watched (Southern/TVS/Meridian) as I've never heard of Norman's Superstore, although it was obviously pretty big wherever these ads were shown.  The fact that the ad features Norman Wisdom leaves me deeply unimpressed.  Still, it was probably the only work he could get by 1989.  It gave me quite a start to realise that Sinclair were still marketing variations on their ZX micro computers as late as this, albeit reconfigured into a primitive games console.  The Hamlet ad is a classic of its kind and one of a long-running series.  It has a touch of class sadly lacking in many contemporary ads.  The Carling 'Treasure Hunt' ad is very much of its time - if you don't remember the Treasure Hunt TV series, where the hand held camera seemed relentlessy focused on Anneka Rice's backside as it followed her jumping off of things and running around a lot, then it will likely be mystifying.  The Quality Street ad emphasises the fact that, back then, you got a hell of a lot more sweets in the tin than you do now.  Another classic ad, featuring Neil Innes giving a good impression of a Max Bygraves-style crooner, the likes of which were still blighting our Christmases back then.  Finally, Michael Denison does his best Jeeves impression in a seasonal Croft Original commercial, once again, part of a long running series. 

So there you are - a commercial Christmas.  You never know, we might be back to normal by tomorrow.

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Friday, November 01, 2019

Where Have All the Pumpkins Gone?

So, I got it all done, after all.  My various Halloween projects, obviously.  The Halloween film review - of The Undertaker and His Pals - just about made it in, finally appearing yesterday evening.  I can't deny that the that the running length of The Undertaker and His Pals - sixty three minutes - influenced my decision to choose it as the Halloween film.  I really did feel that time was running out and that I'd bitten off more than I could chew, so the shorter the movie I had to watch, the better.  So it edged out the other main candidates, The Astro Zombies and The Embalmer - as they both ran closer to ninety minutes apiece.  I'm sure I'll get around to them in due course.  Anyway, after all that activity, Halloween ended up feeling anti-climactic.  Here in Crapchester, nobody seemed to want to make much of an effort.  In past years my street seemed to be full of pumpkins for days before Halloween - and they lingered for days afterwards.  This year, the pumpkins and other stuff didn't appear until yesterday afternoon and were gone again this morning.  They were also pretty sparse.  Still, the landlord of my local made an effort - there was a bloody skeleton sat in my favourite seat in the lounge bar.  The bony bastard didn't buy a pint all evening. 

Still, maybe everyone was too depressed by news of another General Election to be bothered to do anything for Halloween.  I mean, there are enough horrors to come, potentially, in the forthcoming election campaign.  Or perhaps they were all disappointed that Brexit didn't happen yesterday, so weren't in the mood to dress up as zombies.  After Halloween having been a damp squib, I can't help but suspect that the December election will have the same effect on Christmas.  Certainly, the result, whichever way it goes, will leave a lot of people feeling miserable, just in time for Christmas.  Personally, as I have no faith whatsoever in the British electorate, considering them to be a bunch of morons, I'm fully expecting us to end up with an extreme right-wing government for the next five years.  Which will leave me considering emigration.  Seriously.  The bank balance is looking very healthy right now and, if I were to sell my house, I could probably set up somewhere else and live comfortably.  Frankly, they should have set the election date for the middle of January - with any luck we would have had a cold snap by then which would have killed off a lot of the old codgers who voted for Brexit and think Boris Johnson is wonderful.  Just a thought.

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