Sunday, 18 February 2018

Asylum

Made (and released) in 1972 'Asylum' is perhaps one of the least celebrated of Amicus Productions' portmanteau movies and undeservedly so. It's framing story tells of the arrival of Dr. Martin (Robert Powell) at the titular establishment where he is challenged by Patrick Magee's Dr. Lionel Rutherford to interview the inmates and identify the hospital's previous head who has been committed there following a breakdown.

The frame and the four tales that follow are all written by Psycho author Robert Bloch and whilst eschewing the more gothic trappings of the Hammer movies still drink from the same well with stories concerning voodoo, soul transference and magic.

Over the course of the movie we are treated to performances from a host of  Wyrd Britain film legends.  As well as the already mentioned Jesus of Nazareth we also have Professor Van Helsing, Catweazle, Willow MacGregor, Professor Victor Bergman and Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus alongside a host of other great actors that I wasn't able to think of an easily identifiable role for such as Charlotte Rampling and Sylvia Syms.

Director Roy Ward Baker, who had previously directed 'Quatermass and the Pit' and 'The Vampire Lovers' for Hammer and various episodes of ITC spy-fi series like 'The Saint' & 'The Avengers' and would go on to direct another Amicus anthology 'The Vault of Horror', brings a practised eye to the proceedings and the end result is nicely claustrophobic with rare narrative logic for the telling of the stories and a brutally satisfying ending.

Buy it here - Asylum (1972) ( House of Crazies ) - or watch it below.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

The Furthest Station

Ben Aaronovitch
Gollancz

There have been ghosts on the London Underground, sad, harmless spectres whose presence does little more than give a frisson to travelling and boost tourism. But now there's a rash of sightings on the Metropolitan Line and these ghosts are frightening, aggressive and seem to be looking for something.
Enter PC Peter Grant junior member of the Metropolitan Police's Special Assessment unit a.k.a. The Folly a.k.a. the only police officers whose official duties include ghost hunting. Together with Jaget Kumar, his counterpart at the British Transport Police, he must brave the terrifying the crush of London's rush hour to find the source of the ghosts.

I do like it when a new Peter Grant book turns up which they do fairly often and now adding to a workload that already includes a comic book series the good Mr. Aaronovitch has commenced a series of Rivers of London novellas.

Peter is called in by his transport police friend Jaget to investigate reports of various people getting harassed on the trains by what appear to be ghosts.  With help from his niece Abigail, his ghost hunting terrier Toby and, of course, Detective Chief Inspector Nightingale they are soon on the trail of a time sensitive case.

It's every bit as fun as this series usually is.  Aaronovitch is a hugely personable writer and how could you go wrong with a book that contains lines like, "Don't get me wrong, I like the countryside.  In fact some of my best friends are geological features.'

With each and every book I become increasingly enamoured of this series and I've just discovered much to my bank accounts dismay that since I last looked not 1, not even 2 but 3 graphic novel collections have emerged.

Buy it here -  The Furthest Station: A PC Grant Novella (PC Peter Grant)

Click the label below to read the Wyrd Britain write ups of the previous entries in this series.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Dark Encounter

Taken from 'Shadows', the mid 70s series of supernatural tales for children, 'Dark Encounter' is an interesting addition to one of the YA cornerstones of Wyrd Britain fiction. Written by Susan Cooper what we have here is a short tale that seems to exist in the same storyworld as her 'The Dark is Rising' novels.

The story tells of an actor (Alex Scott) returning to the town where he was evacuated to during WWII and where he meets a quartet of unusual folks (including Brian Glover) in an old windmill and is made to confront his fears of both trees and 'The Dark'.

There really isn't all that much here; the story is crammed into the limited run time, the effects are entertainingly rudimentary and the acting - with the exception of Shelagh Fraser (Luke Skywalker's Aunt Beru) - is very overdone but it makes for an interesting artifact and an intriguing addendum to the novels.

Buy it here - Shadows - The Complete Second Series [DVD] - or watch it below.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

And Now For My Next Trick

'And Now For My Next Trick' is an episode of the children's supernatural TV series 'Shadows' first screened in October 1978 and written by the creator of Sapphire & Steel, P.J. Hammond.

It stars British television staple Clive Swift as Mr. Devine, a down on his luck magician reduced to playing to rooms full of the bored children of formidable parents such as Jacqueline Pearce (Servalan from Blake's 7), who suddenly finds himself in possession of three magical eggs.  Blind to the consequences of his new found luck he embarks on an attempt to relaunch his flagging career.

As you might expect from a writer like Hammond this is a nifty little tale although perhaps a little moralising with an ending that's particularly brutal for a children's show.

Buy it here - Shadows - The Complete Third Series [DVD] - or watch it below

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Electric Music Machine

Elizabeth Parker
Regular visitors to Wyrd Britain will have noticed that we have a fondness (to say the least) for the work of the good folk at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.  We think they were the single most culturally important musical organisation of the latter half of the 20th century and here, for your viewing pleasure, we have a short documentary from the later days of the Workshop.

The glory days of the Workshop were far behind them by the time this film was made in 1985 (with additional footage of Attree filmed in 1988 - kudos to Youtube commenter dunebasher1971 for that info) and many, but certainly not all, of the famous names had moved on but it still features folks like Elizabeth Parker, Roger Limb, Dick Mills, Peter Howell, Malcolm ClarkeJonathan Gibbs and Richard Attree the first five of whom produced some astonishing music whilst there - I must claim almost total ignorance of the last two chaps.

It makes for an interesting artifact and insight into the work of a less well documented period of this pioneering department. Personally I love a behind the scenes documentary and getting to watch composers I truly admire at work is particularly satisfying.

Enjoy.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Stones

'Stones' was written by Malcolm Christopher (a joint pseudonym for Sir Malcolm Bradbury & Christopher Bigsby) in 1976 for the BBC 2 Playhouse series 'The Mind Beyond'.  It tells the story of a government minister's plan to move Stonehenge from Salisbury Plain to London's Hyde Park in an attempt to boost tourism and of the various forces that think that maybe this isn't what you'd call a good idea.

In common with much of Malcolm Bradbury's work 'Stones' is set predominantly in the realms of academia and here we find scholar Nicholas Reeve (Hammer Studios alumni Richard Pasco) in the midst of writing his book on Stonehenge whilst unbeknownst to him or his wife (Judy Parfitt) their young daughter Rebecca Saire (who would later briefly appear as Professor Quatermass' missing granddaughter, Hettie, in the 1979 John Mills revival) is having dreams and visions related to the henge and the unfolding plan for relocation and it soon transpires that she's not the only one.

The always wonderful John Wells as the linguist Porton gets many of the best lines and the film also features Gerald James (who many Wyrd Britain readers will know from a very similar role as George Tully in the 2nd Sapphire & Steel assignment (The Railway Station) as another henge researcher, Caradoc Hobbes, and, for the Grange Hill devotees out there we have Mr. Bronson himself, Michael Sheard as the police inspector.

'Stones' is a witty and thoroughly enjoyable excursion into the realms of ancient magic and druidic language with it's cap tipped towards the works of Nigel Kneale and Arthur Machen and to then contemporary series such as 'Children of the Stones'.  Its obviously very limited budget laid serious constraints on the production but the end result is worth every penny they spent and every minute you'll spend watching.

Enjoy.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

The Hill of Dreams

Arthur Machen
Parthian Books

Lucian Taylor believes he has been damned through contact with an erotically pagan world—or possibly through something degenerate in his own nature—in this critically acclaimed horror story. Moving to London to shake off his fears of being trapped by the dark imaginings of a creature inside him, Taylor soon finds his hallucinations becoming increasingly real. An important and moving work, this story is one of the first explorations in fiction of the figure of the doomed artist.

I always knew I'd get the urge to read this at some point but it's been some time coming.  I've read and loved a chunk of Machen's shorts which is my preferred delivery vehicle for tales of the unusual and the uncanny and I generally find longer formats to be a bit of a drag.  I knew I wanted to get into this one though and had been on the lookout for a nice old copy but whilst on holiday last November I came across the Library of Wales edition and decided the time was right.

The Hill of Dreams is a semi autobiographical tale that relates the journey of a young man, Lucian, the son of a lowly Welsh parson on his quest to find beauty through literature and his subsequent descent into madness and drugs.

I'm guessing there were some raised eyebrows back in Machen's home town when the book was published both at the depictions of the inhabitants of Lucian's home town - surely some of Machen's acquaintances saw themselves in the unflattering characters - and also by Lucian's fate and any suspicions regarding Machen's life in London, so far away from his native Caerleon.

There is much beauty in the book.  Machen's prose is, of course, exquisite and the tale he tells rings with sad truths and evocative grace but, for me at least, the central figure is the book's failing.  I found I didn't entirely want Lucian to find the beauty he was so desperate for as I didn't think he deserved it or was capable of recognising it if he had.  He is pompous, self-absorbed , dismissive and haughty, blind to the kindness of those around him and hyper-critical of their foibles and failings.  He seems unable to find any joy or heart in his quest which ultimately contributes to his downfall as he slides deeper into depression and delusion.

It's an undeniably powerful work that took me to places that I truly did not expect but I can't, at the end, claim to have entirely enjoyed it. It was an experience unlike any other and I'm glad to have had it but I'm fairly sure it isn't one I'll repeat.

Buy it here - The Hill of Dreams (Library of Wales)

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Buried Treasure - Rare Psych, Moogs & Brass - Remixed

Over the past few years Wyrd Britain's good friend Alan Gubby has been responsible for unearthing and releasing some stunning artefacts from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop archives both in conjunction with Jonny Trunk over at Trunk Records (Alan was instrumental in their two John Baker releases and the more recent Delia Derbyshire 'Circle of Light') and on his own Buried Treasure label where he's released another John Baker collection - the astonishing 'Vendetta Tapes' - and various other neglected gems such as electronic music pioneer Alan Sutcliffe's EMS Synthi explorations.

One of the first things we bought from Buried Treasure was another of their archive digs of electronic music of a slightly different form in the shape of 'Rare Psych, Moogs & Brass' a collection of undeniably funky and downright groovy 'big band grooves, moog synths, psychedelic funk, dub disco & more produced between 1969 & 1981' collected from the Sonoton Music Library.  We're suckers for library music here at Wyrd Britain and this collection of rarities became a fast favourite.

Now we are very pleased to tell you that Buried Treasure has released a companion volume to that album of remixes featuring tunes by the amazing folktronic ensemble Revbjelde, Jung Collective, Zyklus, Monoslapper, Buff Plaza & the frankly gloriously named Jazz Spanky (most - if not all - of which involve Alan in some form or other).  Just like it's parent volume this set is a toe tapping, bum wiggling, head noodling assemblage of tumescent delights that twist and turn the originals into various flavoured cocktails of sleazy, loungey, dancey, acidy, groovy, psychy gold.

If that's got your tastebuds tingling then hit the player below to have a listen or click through to the bandcamp page where you can download the remixes for a paltry £3 or the original CD with the remixes download thrown in for the bargain price of £8 - be quick though at the time of writing there were only 6 left.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 24

Stephen Jones (ed)
Robinson

For nearly twenty-five years The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror has been the world's leading annual anthology dedicated solely to showcasing the best in contemporary horror fiction. Comprising the most outstanding new short fiction by both contemporary masters of horror and exciting newcomers, this multiple award-winning series also offers an overview of the year in horror, a comprehensive necrology of recent obituaries, and an indispensable directory of contact details for dedicated horror fans and writers.
The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror remains the world's leading annual anthology dedicated solely to presenting the best in contemporary horror fiction.


I don't often do modern anthologies - for no other reasons really than I don't find them very often and I have more than enough old ones here to keep me going  - but I came across this one recently and it caught my eye due to the presence of Mark Valentine and Reggie Oliver, the first being a writer I like very much and the second being one I've wanted to check out for a while now.

The collection is bookended by two long reviews of the year (2012) with the first being a what's happened and the second a who's died.  Neither of these interested me much so I skipped them in their entirety. Of the stories, of which there are 22, they are generally pretty sound, which you should hope from the title of the anthology.  There are some big names included here, Neil Gaiman provides a poem which didn't do much for me but I'm generally not much of a poetry buff,  Ramsey Campbell provides a great fun, witchy bingo story full of cackling old women and Joe R. Lansdale has a fairly tasteless and unpleasant zombie tale.

Of the others there were a few standouts, Mark Valentine's 'The Fall of the King of Babylon' is a dark fantasy with interesting and unexpected tinges of Mervyn Peake and of Robert E. Howard's Solomon Kane stories, Steve Rasnic Tem's 'Waiting at the Crossroads Motel' had me singing a theme tune to myself (if you're a Brit of a certain age you'll know the one - if not) but offered up a satisfying piece of Loveceraftian mischief whilst Glen Hirshberg's 'His Only Audience' was an interestingly open ended slice of devilish whimsy.  The rest were all readable to varying degrees with none standing out as particular stinkers and provided a suitable distraction as I navigated new year with a stinking cold and has left me quite curious about the other year's collections.

Buy it here - The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 24 (Mammoth Books)

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Shades of Darkness: Seaton's Aunt

Written by Walter de la Mare in 1922, 'Seaton's Aunt' is a psychological horror which tells a tale of cruelty and familial abuse and, perhaps, of psychic vampirism.

Arthur Seaton is a rather meek and nervous boy, bullied at school by his classmates and at home by his domineering aunt.  Following a small kindness he invites the more vigorous and popular Withers home for the holiday where the visitor is shown the deeply unhealthy relationship between the boy and his guardian and is brought into Seaton's confidence regarding what he believes to be his aunt's 'true' nature.  Further visits, as an adult reintroduces Withers to the household and the depths of the antipathy that exists between it's residents.

Adapted in 1983 as part of a little known anthology series, 'Shades of Darkness' this version features Mary Morris as the titular character.  More widely known in Wyrd Britain as the old shaman Panna in the Doctor Who episode Kinda and, in the episode "Dance of the Dead", as one of the many inhabitants of the Number Two chair in The Prisoner, here she turns in an outrageous performance filled with sarcastic vitriol and scenery chewing grandiosity.  As Seaton and Withers, Adam Lal and Joshua de la Mare as the young versions and Paul Herzberg and Peter Settelen as the adult provide sympathetic portrayals of the two very different men but all pale next to Morris' gothic harridan.

Until the final act this is a fairly faithful recreation of the original and when the change, which does rob the story of much of it's supernatural ambiguity, happens I found I didn't really mind all that much with the televised ending being perhaps being as characteristic of the time it was made as much as the, arguably much better, original ending is it's own era and they both conclude with the same devastating final statement.

The version below has embedded subtitles, there is a version on youtube without but that's because the bottom quarter of the screen has been removed.  I found the subtitles to be fairly unobtrusive and hopefully you will too.
The actual film is 51 minutes long with the last 10 minutes of the video below being a loop back to the beginning.