Sunday, 27 November 2022

Nebulous

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Nebulous' from BBC Radio 4 and starring Mark Gatiss.
It's 2099 where following various environmental disasters which have reduced human knowledge, changed the Earth's orbit, split much of the UK into islands and vastly reduced the human population we find Professor Nebulous (Mark Gatiss), destroyer of the Isle of Wight and head of KENT (Key Non-judgmental Environmental Taskforce), investigating environmental dangers as he attempts to restore the world while also taking in laundry to supplement their funding.

Nebulous ran for 3 series on BBC Radio 4 between January 2005 and June 2008 with the first episode being remade in 2019 as the animated pilot you can see below.

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Nebulous' from BBC Radio 4 and starring Mark Gatiss.

The show is an affectionate spoof on the cornerstones of Wyrd Britain such as Quatermass, Doctor Who and Doomwatch and indeed the finale of the pilot episode revolves around a notable reference to The Day of the Triffids movie.  It features a strong cast including the likes of the series' writer and producer Graham Duff as Rory Lawson and the great David Warner as Nebulous' nemesis Doctor Klench alongside guest stars such as David Tennant, Peter Davison and Kate O'Mara. Not every joke lands cleanly and episodes are often a little too crammed for their own good but such is the curse of the radio play with it's need to avoid dead air but the series as a whole is a thoroughly enjoyable pastiche of the type of shows we champion here which deserves it's place alongside them.

You can watch the animated pilot below with the rest of the series available to own on disc or download from your retailer of choice or you can listen to them here -  https://archive.org/details/nebulous5

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Tuesday, 22 November 2022

Dusky Ruth & Other Stories

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Dusky Ruth & Other Stories' by A.E. Coppard.
A.E. Coppard
Penguin

Beyond that woeful 1970's soft porn image that (dis)graces the cover this is another delightful collection of gently bucolic and occasionally supernatural tales from the pen of a master.

I've read more than a few of these stories before in the modern collection I reviewed here the other year such as the lovely title piece, the gently strange 'Adam & Eve & Pinch Me', the devious humanity of 'Weep Not My Wanton' and the gossipy comraderie of 'The Field of Mustard'.  Betyond those are other treasures such as the fairytale of 'The Bogey Man', the delicate familial love displayed in 'The Cherry Tree', the love story of 'Polly Morgan' and many more.

Coppard was a true master of the short story.  Few of the stories in his collections are particarly weird or supernatural but I recommend them unreservedly to devotees of both as he was blessed with an imagination imbued with a pastoral fecundity that allowed it to roam paths trod and untrod through the countryside that fueled it.

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Sunday, 6 November 2022

Mr Nightingale

'Mr Nightingale' is an episode of the 1977 BBC1 series 'Supernatural' where an initiate tells a story ro gain membership of the 'Club of the Damned' and here it's the story of an Englishman (Jeremy Brett) in Hamburg on business staying with a local family who discovers he has a double or does he?  Dum Dum Duuuuum!

With very limited sets but a solid cast pulled from the supporting casts of such Wyrd Britain delights such as 'Countess Dracula' (Lesley-Ann Down), 'Doomwatch' (Bruce Purchase & Donald Eccles) and 'The Tomorrow People' (Mary Law) and a workable, if slightly hackneyed, story it could have worked but unfortunately doesn't and the lion share of it's failure must be borne by it's lead.  Brett is very much of the Vincent Price school of acting and has never seen a piece of scenery that he didn't want to chew.  Here he's dialled all the way up to 11 and utterly manic in the role of the increasingly doolally title character but his performance elicits cringes and sniggers rather than any empathy .

I hadn't intended on posting this here as in all honesty I thought it was really quite awful but as it would have been Brett's 89th birthday this last week I thought I'd embrace the opportunity and besides someone may enjoy it.

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Friday, 4 November 2022

Titus Groan

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Titus Groan' book one of the Gormenghast trilogy by Mervyn Peake.
Mervyn Peake
Vintage

Titus, heir to Lord Sepulchrave, has just been born, he stands to inherit the miles of rambling stone and mortar that stand for Gormenghast Castle. There are tears and strange laughter; fierce births and deaths beneath umbrageous ceilings; dreams and violence and disenchantment contained within a labyrinth of stone.
Starts with the birth and ends with the first birthday celebrations of the heir to the grand, tradition-bound castle of Gormenghast. A grand miasma of doom and foreboding weaves over the sterile rituals of the castle. Villainous Steerpike seeks to exploit the gaps between the formal rituals and the emotional needs of the ruling family for his own profit.

This book / series has been on my must read list pretty much since I learned of it's existenceand I knew that one day I'd get the urge to read it and that day finally arrived.  Was it worth the wait? Yes, pretty much but I wasn't as blown away as I'd hoped to be.

Titus Groan is the freshly born heir to the House of Groan, the ruling family of the monolithic castle of Gormenghast and surrounding country.  Gormenghast is a place of ritual where every action is governed by centuries of ritual and heritage that permeates through it's labyrinthine corridors and highly stratified hierachy.   Into this system comes the self serving, psychopathic figure of Steerpike, a kitchen boy with his eye on something more for himself, something better.

It's a richly imagined and intrically plotted novel of Machiavellian intrigue going head to head with the immovable force of entrenched tradition.  It is though very slow,  so slow in fact that I actually jumped when some 200 pages in a character fell over but in it's inexorable advance we get plenty of time to watch the progression of Steerpike's plans and to marvel at his callous, unflinching manipulation of those around him.

It's a book unlike anything else I've read with a bold and frankly astounding vision at it's heart and I wish I liked it more than I did but really I've never been much of a fantasy fan but like it I did and I'm looking forward to book two to see where this long, drawn out introduction to the gothic environs of Gormenghast and it's inhabitants leads.

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Sunday, 30 October 2022

The Mutations

Wyrd Britain reviews The Mutations (Freakmaker) starring Donald Pleasence & Tom Baker.
Made in 1974 by Cyclone & Getty Pictures Corp and occasional director Jack Cardiff - more famous for his work as a cinematographer for the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and John Huston - 'The Mutations' (also known as 'Freakmaker') is the story of a mad scientist by the name of Professor Nolter (Donald Pleasence) who's attempting to create a plant / animal hybrid by feeding rabbits to a tree and by kidnapping and experimenting on his own students.  Helping him in these endeavours is  freak show owner Mr Lynch played, under heavy prosthetics, by Tom Baker in a very familiar looking outfit and who 2 months and 4 days on from the movie's release make his debut as The Doctor.

Wyrd Britain reviews The Mutations (Freakmaker) starring Donald Pleasence & Tom Baker.
Truly it's a bit of a mess and really only composer Basil Kirchin who provides an often beautifully dissonant but also groovily jazzy and filmic score and the various cast members populating the freak show come out of the movie with their heads held high.  Pleasence and Baker are both reliable enough and the fabulous Jill Haworth ('The Haunted House of Horror', 'It!' & 'Tower of Evil') is reduced to a little more than a bit part with the leads being given to the woefully wooden Brad Harris and Julie Ege neither of whom have the charisma or the acting chops to carry the film.

Cardiff isn't much of a director and after a promising start the film begins to lag and the monster when it appears is hysterically bad but beyond the creature feature there's a rather lovely little riff on Tod Browning's masterpiece 'Freaks' that's bursting to get out but never quite manages too.


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Sunday, 9 October 2022

The Trollenberg Terror (The Crawling Eye)

"Didn't you see? His head! It was torn off!"

Written by legendary Hammer Films screenwriter Jimmy Sangster and released in 1958 'The Trollenberg Terror' (or 'The Crawling Eye' in the US) is the story of an investigation into the deaths linked to an inexplicable, unmoving, radioactive mist on the side of Mount Trollenberg (not actually) in Switzerland.  Doing the investigating is intrepid US troubleshooter Alan Brooks (Forrest Tucker), intrepid journalist Philip Truscott (Laurence Payne) and intrepid mind reading sisters Anne (Janet Munro - The Day the Earth Caught Fire) and Sarah Pilgrim (Jennifer Jayne - beloved of us here at Wyrd Britain for being the pseudonymous screenwriter (as Jay Fairbank) of Tales That Witness Madness and Son of Dracula).

What we get here is a good old fashioned alien invasion movie with shades of 'X the Unknown', 'Island of Terror' and 'Night of the Big Heat' and like all good creature features it's a load of B movie tosh littered with cliches, rubbish monsters - in this case a giant eyeball with tentacles - and a heroic, fiery last stand which, of course, is everything one could want in a monster movie.


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Thursday, 22 September 2022

Look Around You

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Look Around You'.
When people talk about the golden age of British television comedy you can be fairly sure they're about to rehash tired old cliches about everything from 'Hancock's Half Hour' and 'Steptoe and Son' to 'Fawlty Towers' or 'Only Fools and Horses' but personally these shows and their ilk left me cold.  I was entirely the wrong generation and of a very different inclination to find any of them at all funny.  For me comedy first properly grabbed my attention with 'The Young Ones' but my golden age includes shows such as 'The Day Today', 'Brass Eye', 'Jam', 'Spaced', 'Black Books' and the hauntological fever dream that was 'Look Around You'

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Look Around You'.
Created by Robert Popper and Peter Serafinowicz 'Look Around You' was, in it's first series, a note perfect and fabulously daft pastiche of the types of daytime educational shows that you half watched when the TV was wheeled into the class in school or which you stared at uncomprehendingly over a snotty tissue when home ill. The second series featured longer episodes in the pop-science style of 'Tomorrow's World' that introduced the country to amongst other things The Petticoat 5 "the computer made by women for women", synthesizers and rap music.

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Look Around You'.

As fun as the second series is, it's that first series of 10 minute shorts (plus the double length pilot you can watch below) that's the gem.  The pair perfectly captured the cheap and cheerless nature of these shows and each episode is filled with incomprehensible experiements, lingering shots of beakers, wires and oscillators, absurdly named equipment, grimy 1980s landscapes, bearded scientists and pencils, pointing.  It's an obvious labour of love that no matter how often I watch it never fails to evoke disquietingly flu-like feelings of nostalgia.

"Please ensure you have your copy book at hand as you'll be asked to take down notes from the screen at various points throughout the programme."


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Sunday, 18 September 2022

The Earth Wire and Other Stories

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Earth Wire and Other Stories' by Joel Lane published by Influx Press.
Joel Lane
Influx Press

Joel Lane (1963–2013) was one of the UK's foremost writers of dark, unsettling fiction, a frank explorer of sexuality and the transgressive aspects of human nature. With a tight focus on the post-industrial Black Country and his home city of Birmingham, he created a distinct form of British urban weird fiction.
His debut collection, The Earth Wire was first published in 1994 by Egerton Press and is reissued in paperback by Influx Press for the first time in over twenty-five years.
Love and death. Sex and despair. The Earth Wire is a thrilling, disturbing examination of the means and the cost of survival.

Unfortunately I never got to read Lane's stories when he was alive but I know he was held in high regard by a number of folks I know and admire so when I heard that some of his work was being reprinted by Influx Press I grabbed two of the collections that intrigued me the most.  

This first collection was originally published in 1994 a time most assuredly reflected in the pessimism at the heart of many of the stories.  These are stories formed out of the stifling confines of - at that point - 15 years of Tory government. When to be poor or to be different was to be less and when for many people - myself included - to be anything other was to be as impossible as it was unthinkable.  Lane's characters exist in the dark and claustrophobic confines of a post Thatcher Britain that has fallen even further into dismal fascistic hell than it thankfully did. Confronting Lane's characters isn't the mask of gurning buffoonary we are currently subjected to but the shaven headed, booted thuggery we came to know in the 70s and 80s returned.  

These stories though aren't solely social and political fiction this is weird fiction of the highest order.  Taking his cues from the likes of Robert Aickman and M. John Harrison Lane's characters exist in worlds of confusion, delusion, transformation and hallucination.  His stories are succinct and beautifully strange often dropping us into a broken reality tantalisingly familiar yet deliriously other.

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Thursday, 15 September 2022

Who is David Tibet?

Who is David Tibet? - Wyrd Britain
Today I'd like to share with you this lovely little film made in the run up to the opening of musician, poet, publisher and painter David Tibet's first US art exhibition at the California State University, Fullerton, Begovich Gallery titled 'Invocation of Almost'.

The film, made by Reypak Creative and commissioned by the university to, I assume introduce Tibet to a wider audience likely unfamiliar with him and his work in all it's many forms, features contributions from Tibet himself along with exhibition curators Jacqueline Bunge and Shaun Richards along with various fans of Tibet's work and provides a tantalising glimpse of what looked to have been a fantastic and lovingly assembled exhibition of his work.


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Tuesday, 13 September 2022

The Last Days of New Paris

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Last Days of New Paris' by China Mieville from Picador.
China Mieville
Picador

It's 1941. In the chaos of wartime Marseille, American engineer - and occult disciple - Jack Parsons stumbles onto a clandestine anti-Nazi group, including surrealist theorist André Breton. In the strange games of the dissident diplomats, exiled revolutionaries, and avant-garde artists, Parsons finds and channels hope. But what he unwittingly unleashes is the power of dreams and nightmares, changing the war and the world forever.

I've read and tried to read a few of Mieville's books over the years and have struggled and failed with most but made it through 'Kraken' which was interesting but I must admit I found it really slow going.  I spotted this one a little while ago and it kind of jumped out at me on the shelf so I thought as it's essentially a novella - and I really do love a novella - I'd give it a go.

Jumping between two points in time it tells the story of a Jack Parsons initiated occult event in Paris in the early days of the Nazi occupation that results in the manifestation of various surrealist artworks and of the effects of that event and the arrival of these 'Manifs' and the Nazi's own demons on the city some 10 years later.

It's nicely written and whilst all the moving parts are in place the story never really gets up a head (made of) steam but at it's heart this is a pure pulp romp very much in the spirit of 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' and lets be honest here Jack Parsons, a pioneering rocket scientist and an Aleister Crowley devotee occultist, is a fantastic Indiana Jones substitute but this is a Mieville pulp romp with higher aspirations formed from the always intriguing intellectual premise of art as a weapon because, as it says on Woody Guthrie's guitar, "This machine kills fascists".

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Sunday, 11 September 2022

The Restless Ghost

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Restless Ghost' from Dramarama, Spooky.
Based on the story of the same name by Leon Garfield, a staple of many a ghostly anthology, 'The Restless Ghost' is the story of two young lads, Bostock (Stephen Rooney) & Harris (Jonathan Jackson), who decide to play a trick on the old sexton (Wilfrid Brambell) who stops them scrumping apples by dressing up as the ghostly drummer boy (Matthew Peters) who reputedly haunts the graveyard.

Unlike a number of the other 'Spooky' episodes that launched the long running Dramarama series this one isn't actually all that spooky with it's studio sets and it's very old fashioned storyline but it holds together well and has some solid performances from the cast (even the kids) which is rounded out by Colin Jeavons, an actor with strong wyrd credentials having appeared in the likes of Doomwatch, Doctor Who, Kinvig and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy but who will probably be most widely remembered alongside Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes as Inspector Lestrade in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.


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Tuesday, 6 September 2022

Mischief Acts

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Mischief Acts' by Zoe Gilbert.
Zoe Gilbert
Bloomsbury Circus

Herne the hunter, mischief-maker, spirit of the forest, leader of the wild hunt, hurtles through the centuries pursued by his creator.
A shapeshifter, Herne dons many guises as he slips and ripples through time – at candlelit Twelfth Night revels, at the spectacular burning of the Crystal Palace, at an acid-laced Sixties party. Wherever he goes, transgression, debauch and enchantment always follow in his wake.
But as the forest is increasingly encroached upon by urban sprawl and gentrification, and the world slides into crisis, Herne must find a way to survive – or exact his revenge.

Zoe Gilbert is the author of 'Folk' a book I've had in my hands a bunch of times but never actually got around to buying and reading.  This, her second novel, however was waving at me from the new release pile in the shop and insisted on being taken home and read.

The book takes the form of a series of vignettes all relating to the ever shrinking wood that's home to Herne the Hunter and various associated spirits.  Her stories tell of Herne's genesis, his capricious nature and his waning influence through the ages on those who interact with the wood.  Some tales work better than others, some are more developed, some feel more instinctive and some a little clumsy.

In the end though what we have is a love letter to the woods and to the myths, the legends and the histories that reside within them in much the same way as Robert Holdstock's sublime 'Mythago Wood' cycle did.  It tells the story of our relationship with our history and with the natural world and finds us very much wanting before injecting just a hint of optimism into it's green and growing wooden heart.

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Sunday, 4 September 2022

Virgin Witch

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Virgin Witch' from Tigon British Film Productions.

Starring Anne and Vicki Michelle 'Virgin Witch' is the story of two sisters who have run away from home to become models but instead find themselves embroiled in a coven of witches run by Patricia Haines and Neil Hallet

One of the final films produced by the venerable Tigon British Film Productions - home of 'Witchfinder General' and 'The Blood on Satan's Claw' - it really is a load of sexploitation tosh and if there's an award for the director most successful at getting their actresses out of their clothes then Ray Austin must have been in the running in 1972 with the first 8 shots of the movie all being of topless women - although Pete Walker would perhaps have given him a run for the title with 'The Flesh and Blood Show' which opens with Luan Peters answering the door and running around her flat completely naked for several minutes. 

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Virgin Witch' from Tigon British Film Productions.
The story, such as it is, is entirely secondary to the nudity as Austin shoehorns in as much nubile flesh as possible.  His direction is turgid and neither of the Michelle sisters have either the chops or presence to front the movie but I suspect their acting skills weren't top of the director's mind when they were hired and both have subsequently disowned the film.  Anne would, a year later, go on to appear as a member of 'The Living Dead' biker gang in the wonderful 'Psychomania' while her sister would appear in the gloriously trashy 'Spectre' and find fame in the dire 'Allo, 'Allo!' which she really should disown.  The movie, after a slow start, does eventually pick up the pace and makes an attempt at forging an ending that while intending to evoke the hallucinatory, bacchanalian, orgiastic excess of a 1970s idea of a witches sabbath instead just looks utterly daft and the whole thing just fizzles out. 

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Wednesday, 31 August 2022

The Modern Antiquarian

Wyrd Britain reviews Julian Cope's 'The Modern Antiquarian'.Made in 2000 two years after he published his book of the same name this film finds Julian Cope back on the road again visiting some of his favourite prehistoric sites.

His journey takes him to Cornwall, the Isle of Lewis, Orkney, Aberdeenshire, Silbury Hill and Avebury as Cope enthuses about his love of the stones and the circles and his beliefs surrounding their use and their construction.  He's an engaging host and makes some intriguing observations and assumptions which makes for an interesting watch.

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Monday, 29 August 2022

The Fall of Koli: Rampart Trilogy 3

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Fall of Koli' by M.R. Carey
M.R. Carey
Orbit Books

The Fall of Koli is the third and final novel in the breathtakingly original Rampart trilogy - set in a strange and deadly world of our own making.
The world that is lost will come back to haunt us . . .
Koli has come a long way since being exiled from his small village of Mythen Rood. In his search for the fabled tech of the old times, he knew he'd be battling strange, terrible beasts and trees that move as fast as whips. But he has already encountered so much more than he bargained for.
Now that Koli and his companions have found the source of the signal they've been following - the mysterious "Sword of Albion" - there is hope that their perilous journey will finally be worth something.
Until they unearth terrifying truths about an ancient war . . . and realise that it may have never ended.

And so we come to the conclusion of Koli's tale as our charmingly naive and endlessly good hearted hero attempts to make good on his dreams.

Having been cast out of his village into the almost certain death of an Ingland covered in murderous flora and fauna and having journeyed with his three companions to the lake where London had been before Koli finds himself at the 'walls' of The Sword of Albion, source of the message the travellers had been following.

Now, I'm going to be very careful here not to give away any spoilers as this is, of course, a pivotal moment in Koli's story and what we have is a book very much of two halves. For me much of the first half was a bit of a jarring change of pace but one proved necessary by the second where Koli is finally presented with the opportunity he's been searching for in an ending that is as bittersweet as it is triumphant.

Finally, I've definitely said this before in my reviews of Carey's books - and it seems likely I'll say it again - but for me he's the true successor to those writers of the end times and beyond - the two John's in particular - that we revere here at Wyrd Britain.  His work, whilst very much his own, is rooted in tales of Triffids, Tripods, Chrysalids and Cuckoos and personally I adore them for it.

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