Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Nick Drake

Today (19th June 2018) would have been the 70th birthday of Nick Drake. A musician eho, despite only releasing 3 albums during his life time to very little acclaim has, posthumously, become one of the most revered of his peers.

Drake was born in Burma in 1948 but grew up in Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire, England.  His musical career was understated due in no small part to his reticence to play live or be filmed.  After releasing three albums between 1969 and 1972 - Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter and Pink Moon - Drake's mental health had deteriorated to the point where he had to return to the family home where, on 25th November 1974, he took an overdose of antidepressants and died.

Since his death his music has been championed by musicians such as REM, Beck, Swans, Mars Volta & Norah Jones.  His three albums have become cornerstones of modern British folk and indie.

Buy them here...
Five Leaves Left
Bryter Layter
Pink Moon

Included below are two documentaries about Drake's life and music.  They cover much the same ground and are both very watchable but the first, produced by the BBC, has attained some notoriety amongst Drake fans for the slightly unflattering picture it paints whilst the second, a Dutch production, pays deeper attention to the music so I've included both to give you a choice.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

The Chemistry Lesson

Starring Alan Cumming and Samantha Bond 'The Chemistry Lesson' is an episode of the 1995 BBC anthology series 'Ghosts'.  The story concerns nerdy, needy (and more than a bit creepy) teacher Philip (Cummings) who turns to magic in order to seduce his married colleague Maddy (Bond) which soon spirals way beyond his control.

As you can imagine from the presence of the two leads it's fabulously acted by all involved with Bond playing an absolute blinder as the magic drives her in unwanted directions and takes a heavy toll on both her life and her psyche and Cumming increasingly lost as a man flailing against the extremity of the new reality of his callous lust.

The finished film is very much a modern take on the classic Hammer / Amicus witchcraft tale and in line with that there's a fairly 1970s sexual sensibility at work (perhaps also a reflection of the hideous 'lad culture' of the time).  The story (written and directed by Terry Johnson) builds beautifully with the tension rising unbearably to a harrowing climax that's only slightly spoilt by a vaguely heavy-handed coda.

NOTE - For those of you who are sensitive to that sort of thing please be aware that there is nudity.

Another episode from 'Ghosts', an adaptation of Elizabeth Jane Howard's 'Three Miles Up' can be found by clicking here.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

The Rituals of Infinity

Michael Moorcock
Arrow Books

It is nearly three decades since the discovery of the sub-spacial alternatives - twenty-four lumps of matter hanging in a limbo outside of space and time, each sharing the name of Earth.
Now there are only fifteen of them - the rest blown to extinction by the ruthless attacks of the D-squads. Even the surviving planets are doomed to a cruel, mutilated existence.
Standing between them and their final destruction at the hands of the merciless demolition teams is Michael Moorcock's zaniest hero - the brilliant, offbeat physicist Professor Faustaff.

In many ways I treat Moorcock books as a form of therapy.  They are one of the things I reach for when I'm feeling a bit down because they are fast, fun, are full of inventive adventure and are pretty much guaranteed to cheer me up.

'The Rituals of Infinity' or 'The New Adventures of Doctor Faustus' (which is an odd title as the main character is actually called 'Faustaff) is a multiple Earths story but not part of Moorcock's multiverse books.  Here we have a group headed by the aforementioned Doctor, a Doc Savage style pulp hero, dedicated to saving the now 15 Earths from another more shadowy group that seems hell bent on destroying them.  As he hops back and forth between Earths Professor Faustaff uncovers a conspiracy of cosmic proportions that results in a final act quite unlike anything else.

This is an early novel and it certainly isn't anywhere close to Moorcock at his best.  The story is pretty thin but the bonkers finale is a whole heap of fun and wraps the story up nicely.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

The Cicerones

This short film by The League of Gentlemen's Jeremy Dyson is an adaption of one of Robert Aickman's 'strange stories' and tells of a traveller's encounters with four 'cicerones' (guides) inside a cathedral.

Mark Gatiss takes the lead role as 'John Trant' a reserved and slightly stuffy Englishman of indeterminate age sightseeing his way across Europe who, in the great ghostly tradition of M. R. James, goes off in search of a  MacGuffin - in this case a painting of Lazarus - and instead finds himself at the centre of a much more unsettling experience among the columns and crypts of 'The Cathedral of Saint Bavon'. 

At only twelve minutes in length Dyson has mostly kept true to his source and this is a concentrated dose of Aickman ambiguity as we, along with Trant, are led deeper and deeper into the bowels of the cathedral as the tension builds from no overt source other than Trant's desperate need to find the painting before the cathedral closes, the macabre nature of the images he is confronted with and his reactions to the odd behaviour of the various people he meets.  As is the way of things with Aickman little is obvious, much goes unsaid and one is left very much adrift in exquisitely disquieting confusion.

If you wish to learn more about this most singular of authors you can find an interesting documentary about his life and work at this link and another (longer) adaptation of one of his strange stories - 'The Hospice' by clicking here.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Ride, Ride

'Tales of Unease' was a short lived series of supernatural tales based on stories from the horror anthologies of the same(ish) name compiled by John Burke (the second of which is probably best known for it's supremely creepy cover photo) screened in 1970.  To the best of my knowledge much of the series has been lost but one of the few remaining episodes is the first - 'Ride, Ride'.

Myles Reithermann stars as 'Arth' an art student who meets a mysterious young woman (Susan George) at a party who begs him to give her a lift home before suddenly disappearing along the way.

Story wise it's a bit on the slight side with Reithermann seeming a tad out of his depth as the lead and George has little to do except look ethereal.  There's some strong support from Janet Lees Price and 'The Omega Factor's' James Hazeldine but the half hour run time means they're both underused.  It is though an interesting little take on a fairly well used ghost story trope that does what it does well enough without overstaying it's welcome.


Wednesday, 23 May 2018

The Uncertainty of All Earthly Things

Mark Valentine

This is his first short story collection for five years and offers twelve previously uncollected stories and an unpublished journal of story ideas and reading notes. His fiction ranges from the Triple Headed King of Sancreed, Cornwall to the unknown god of Palmyra, from a Venusian commodore to the lost composer of Stonehenge, and takes us on a search for the cockatrice and a quest for books not found in any library.
All of the stories suggest that other dimensions may be encountered in the most unexpected ways, whether through the hymn-singing of an old tramp, or as part of a Shakespeare play. And in the previously unpublished ‘Notes on the Border’, Valentine explores bookshops, old churches, folklore and the uncanny, with insights into stories as yet unwritten..

This newest collection of shorts from Mark Valentine finds him exploring ephemeral landscapes of the unknowable and the inimitable.  Mark tells stories of the borderlands, of the thin places where glimpses are caught of the otherwheres or where the truly (un)lucky get to tread on soil unused to human feet.  He tells stories of those liminal places where a travellers only map would be the tales told of them.

In these handsomely presented pages - this is my first taste of Zagava's fare and huge kudos to them for producing a thing of real craft - we are introduced to faded gods and fading con-men ('To the Eternal One'), to musicians ('Listening to Stonehenge'), to artists ('As Blank as the Days Yet to Be') and to their devotees ('Goat Songs') who through their particular ways can open pathways to places and experiences beyond the mundane.  We are allowed a peek behind masks, both literal and figurative, of actors and audience alike as characters and character blur ('In Cypress Shades'), behind the mask of reality itself to worlds beyond ('The Uncertainty of All Earthly Things') and indeed behind the mask of the author as we are treated to extracts from Mark's diaries that reveal the genesis of some of his stories including some of his wonderful Connoisseur tales.

As ever with Mark we are taken on journeys both sinister and beautiful (often simultaneously) to places terrifying and beguiling (often simultaneously) in the company of the lost, the curious, the brave and the foolish and in each we can see ourselves as they react to the outrageous in deeply human ways.  It is this that for me is the true magic in Mark's writing in that as he conjures up the most deliciously unexpected experiences he presents them with such a beautifully real sense of humanity that they seem all the more genuine and all the more disturbing.


'The Uncertainty of All Earthly Things' is available in two limited editions from the publisher.
The numbered edition is available here and the (more expensive but extremely limited) lettered version is available here.

You can follow Mark's terrific Wormwoodiana blog here.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

New Radiophonic Workshop mini-documentary

Just uploaded to YouTube by the good people at Resident Advisor is a brand new documentary on the sonic wizards of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

For long time fans there's not really anything new here but featuring brief soundbites from the various members of the current touring band - Paddy Kingsland, Roger Limb, Peter Howell, Dick Mills, Mark Ayres and Kieron Pepper - as they prep for a performance alongside archive footage of Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram it makes for an interesting snapshot of the continuing legacy of these unique musicians.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

A Woman Sobbing

'A Woman Sobbing' was made for the 1972 BBC anthology series 'Dead of Night' and is one of only three episodes left out of the seven broadcast as part of the series.

Written by John Bowen (who had previously written the rural horror classic 'Robin Redbreast' and who would go on to script two episodes of 'A Ghost Story for Christmas') the story concerns bored and lonely housewife Jane (Anna Massey) who, frustrated by her quiet country life and annoyed by her brattish children, begins hearing the titular sounds coming from the attic. At first suspecting some elaborate plot on the part of her dull and aloof but essentially good natured husband (Ronald Hines) to drive her mad she soon starts to believe that the presence in the attic is of a more supernatural nature.

It is horrendously sexist in parts but also features a fantastically intense central performance from Massey who veers between vulnerable and vitriolic as the intensity of her experiences escalate and Hines who gives a sympathetic performance as a man out of his depth trying to help his wife through, what to him, appears to be depression or schizophrenia.  It is in that ambiguity of whether Jane is under malign influence or becoming increasingly unwell or perhaps both that the episode handles particularly well. There is a fairly obvious interpretation of the story that can be made from the title and the location of the sobbing but director Paul Ciappessoni manages, with the exception of one slightly out of place and heavy-handed moment towards the end, to keep away from any overt statements and we are left very much to make up our own minds.

Buy it here - Dead of Night (DVD) - or watch it below.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Judge Anderson: Year One

Alec Worley
Abaddon Books

The untold story behind Mega-City One's most famous telepath and Judge Dredd partner, Judge Anderson, in her first year on the job!
Mega-City One, 2100.  Cassandra Anderson is destined to become Psi-Division’s most famous Judge, foiling supernatural threats and policing Mega-City One’s hearts and souls. For now, she’s fresh out of Academy and Psi-Div themselves are still finding their feet. 
Heartbreaker: After a string of apparently random, deadly assaults by customers at a dating agency, Anderson is convinced a telepathic killer is to blame. Putting her career on the line, the newly-trained Psi-Judge goes undercover to bring the romance-hating murderer to justice, with the big Valentine’s Day parade coming up.
The Abyss: Sent to interrogate Moriah Blake, leader of the notorious terror group ‘Bedlam,’ Anderson gets just one snippet of information – Bedlam’s planning on detonating a huge bomb – before Blake’s followers take over the Block. It’s a race against time, and Anderson’s on her own amongst the inmates.
A Dream of the Nevertime: Anderson – a rookie no more, with a year on the streets under her belt – contracts what appears to be a deadly psychic virus, and must explore the weirdest reaches of the Cursed Earth in search of a cure. She must face mutants, mystics and all the strangeness the land can throw at her as she wrestles weird forces.

I thoroughly enjoyed the couple of early Dredd books that have appeared over the last few years (see here & here) and so when I noticed this one I couldn't resist and jumped right in.

Leaving aside the very inaccurate cover art that has left Anderson's uniform bereft of shoulder eagle and chain this is a fairly accurate rendition of the Anderson that we all fell for in The Dark Judges storyline.  She's irreverent and fearless but here is wracked with doubts over the judge system and beset by worries that she's not up to the job.  It's not something I really buy into.  the years at the academy would have weeded that out of her but it does add a dimension to her interior monologue that Dredd obviously lacks.

The 3 and a smidge stories collected here are solid action pieces with the psi judge taking down various rogue psychics, mutants and terrorists across Mega City One and the Cursed Earth.  Worley has a fairly solid hand on the craziness of Dredd universe but has kept a fairly tight rein so the Valentine Parade feels suitable OTT rather than just silly and Marion the cow-bot is a sympathetic character behind the John Wayne-isms.

As I said I found the soul searching to be a little forced and given too central a place in the stories but other than that this proved to be another successful and very readable collection of stories allowing us a glimpse at the unreported years of some of 2000ADs finest.

Buy it here - Judge Anderson: Year One

Sunday, 6 May 2018

The Plague of the Zombies

Made in 1966, just two years before George Romero revolutionised the genre, Hammer Studios gave the world what is perhaps the last great entry in the voodoo zombie genre.  'Plague of the Zombies' is the story of a small Cornish mining town plagued by a number of unexpected deaths.  To help him find the cause of this epidemic the doctor (Brook Williams) calls on the aid of his old tutor (Quatermass and the Pit's Andre Morell) who arrives to find a village in turmoil with even the Doctor's wife ('Servalan' herself Jacqueline Pearce) succumbing to the mystery affliction .

'Plague...' is in many ways fairly typical Hammer with it's period setting and it's backlot sets but behind this is a movie that is straining to break free of the confines of the studios reliance on the great monsters.  Beyond the shuffling creatures we have a story about class conflict and economic exploitation as the arrogant upper class Squire (John Carson) exercises power of life and (un)death over the villagers exploiting their lives and labours for his own greed while the educated gentlemen doctors strive to cure the plague and free the village.

With the exception of one rather vicious dream sequence it lacks much of the gore laden sensibility that would come to characterise the zombie genre but what we do have is a sympathetic script anchored by top notch performances from the cast - Morrell was one of the studios best and Pearce always shines even when, like here, her appearance is fleeting.  The end result is still very much a Hammer movie but one with an eye to where horror scripts would be heading in the coming decades. 

Buy it here - Plague of the Zombies (Blu-ray + DVD) [1966] - or watch it below.