Sunday, 23 September 2018

The Haunted Garden

'World's Beyond' was a late 1980's anthology television series of tales based on the archives of the Society for Psychical Research and it is perhaps the single most genteel and stereotypically 'English' thing I think I have ever watched.

Moments after hearing what sounds suspiciously like a plane crash terminally ill English rose Jennifer (Judi Bowker) meets an American pilot named Ben (Alex Hyde-White) when he unexpectedly walks into her garden one afternoon. Their decision to marry sparks concern amongst her family and friends who have yet to even see hm let alone meet him - although the vicar thinks he does have a familiar sounding name - but they make plans for the wedding all the same.

It features a cast of rock solid jobbing actors such as Bowker whose earliest acting credits are listed as the unlikely sounding pairing of starring roles in 'The Adventures of Black Beauty' and Franco Zeffirelli's life of Saint Francis of Assisi 'Brother Sun, Sister Moon', Hyde-White who is perhaps most known to bad movie fans for playing Reed Richards in Roger Corman's never released movie 'The Fantastic Four' and Moray Watson who gets all the best lines here and whose innate poshness means he has a filmography littered with characters listed as 'Major...', 'Colonel...', 'Lord...' and 'Sir...'  including as 'Sir Robert Muir' in the fifth Doctor serial 'Black Orchid'.

The final piece is a bit of an oddity.  In many ways it feels like a throw back to a very different era which I suppose it is given where the source material came from but it is a gentle little oddity whose ending will leave you with many questions of a practical nature but it has a charm of it's own and it's all so terribly, terribly nice.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

The Balloon

You now those mornings when you wake up wondering why-oh-why didn't that doyen of the brain freeze, Slush Puppie, ever make any public information films?  After all, frozen-ish beverage manufacturers are perfectly placed to warn children of the perils of road safety.

Well, you can now rest easy because they did make one.  Boy oh boy did they make one.

It features a very creepy clown (is there any other kind?), some balloons, some product placement, a fabulous proto-hauntological soundtrack by Andrew Hellaby (of freak folk legends 'Comus') and the deaths of several children about which nobody seems particularly concerned.

The UK had a great tradition of offing kids in public information kids by variously dunking them in dark and lonely water, locking them in abandoned fridges, holding sports days on railway tracks or throwing Frisbees at power stations and this is a fine addition to the canon.

Watch it at the link below.

https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-the-balloon-1981-online

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Chocky

John Wyndham
Michael Joseph

Matthew, they thought, was just going through a phase of talking to himself. And, like many parents, they waited for him to get over it, but it started to get worse. Mathew's conversations with himself grew more and more intense - it was like listening to one end of a telephone conversation while someone argued, cajoled and reasoned with another person you couldn't hear. Then Matthew started doing things he couldn't do before, like counting in binary-code mathematics. So he told them about Chocky - the person who lived in his head.

I have a slight thing about reading certain editions of books.  There are quite a few novels I'd like to read but haven't yet because I've not found one with the right cover art.  Chocky was one of them until I scored this rather lovely 1970 2nd impression hardback.

I've a long standing love affair with one Wyndham book in particular (the one with the plants) although I like many of them very much.  I'm a long time fan of (post) apocalypse literature so those books in his canon - The Day of the Triffids, The Chrysalids, The Kraken Wakes - are the ones that jumped out at me, Chocky less so.  A story of a kid with a telepathic alien chatting in his head never really appealed all that much but I always knew I'd get to it someday and despite my reservations I knew I'd probably enjoy it and I was right.

Chocky is very much what we'd now call a YA novel (but without twinkly vampires) which surprised me as I was kind of expecting something more in line with 'The Midwich Cuckoos' but this is a fairly gentle affair.  Most, if not all, the action happens off the page and we essentially get a second hand account with commentary from Matthew's father.

It's hugely enjoyable and is a very different sort of YA book that I just don't think would fly anymore which is a real shame because it's kinda lovely.

Buy it here - Chocky

Watch the TV adaptation here - Chocky

Thursday, 6 September 2018

3 Wyrd Things: Kemper Norton

For '3 Wyrd Things' I asked various creative types whose work I admire to tell us about three oddly, wonderfully, weirdly British things that have been an influence on them and their work - a book or author, a film or TV show and a song, album or musician.

Kember Norton Wyrd Britain 3 Wyrd Things
This month, Kemper Norton.

Kemper Norton is a Brighton based musician with his musical roots firmly planted in the myths, legends and folkore of his native Cornwall.  He describes his music using the deliciously ambiguous term 'slurtronic folk' which nicely encapsulates the scope of his sounds that tap into the same vein of hazily arcane arcadian imagination that runs through artists such as Vashti Bunyan, William Blake, Coil, Alan Moore and Current 93 and which in his hands has led to a body of work that has blended elements of all those mentioned along with a wider appreciation of the various byways and highways of modern cultural life into a bewitching and deeply idiosyncratic body of work.

Having recently welcomed a new addition to his family Kemper has been keeping an understandably low profile of late but with appearences at Cafe Oto (with Air Loom) on September 1st,  Brighton's The Rose Hill (with Alexander Tucker) on September 7th and the Wyrd Wild West Fest in Yeovil on September 22nd in the offing he seems to be making a return to music. His most recent album, 'Toll', on Front and Follow is available on both disc and digital from the label's Bandcamp page.


Reading 
Pat Barker : Blow Your House Down (Buy it here)

Pat Barker is most famous for her World War 1 “Regeneration” trilogy, which is a wonderful examination of masculinity, violence, class and trauma. Her second novel is a dark and melancholy study of the lives of a group of women making a living as sex workers in the shadow of a serial killer.

Warm, humane and empathetic as well as occasionally terrifying and bleak, Barker’s story foregrounds the economic, moral and personal choices and battles her female characters make and go through without judgement or salaciousness. The unnamed cityscape is harsh and haunted, and the fictionalised Ripper is presented as one more threat to add to the ones these women already face and deal with every day on the streets. A fantastic book.


Watching 
Under The Skin (Buy it here)

Familiar to many and already highly-regarded, this film only seems to develop in power for me as time goes by. The scene on the beach (fairly early in the film ) is astonishing and repeated viewings have not diluted the feelings of terror and sadness it provokes, or the way it seems to change its perspective and meaning.

It’s maybe the idea of the inhuman observing a human tragedy with a predator’s eye, and how the best of humanity (empathy, courage, love) ultimately means nothing when confronted by nature at its most potent and least forgiving. But I see (and hear) something new in it every time.




Listening 
Blah Records (e.g Beast Master Swegthousand Lee Scott feat Nah Eeto 2017 )

Blah Records has produced some of the spookiest, funniest, most inventive British hiphop I’ve heard in years.

Here’s a prime example, featuring label “honcho” Lee Scott at his surreal and pithy best and a great contribution from Nah Eeto. They seem to produce great stuff every week. Check out Black Josh, Milkavelli, and the rest of the crew.

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Tower of Evil

Also known as 'Horror on Snape Island' this early 70s horror has been credited as an early example of the slasher genre and certainly most of the elements are there, remote location, horny naked teens, lots of stabbing and slashing and a psychologically damaged murderer with a thing for pointy implements.

The film concerns two groups of teens - one group seen mostly in flashback thanks to some Prisoner-esque hypnosis techniques - who find themselves on the remote and rocky Snape Island, the first group for fun and frolics and the second for an archaeological dig.  Also accompanying the second group is a detective (Bryant Haliday) hired by the parents of the sole survivor of the first (Candace Glendenning) who is borderline catatonic and accused of her friend's murders.

Like the contemporaneous 'Death Line' ('Raw Meat' in the US) the film shows a definite move away from the gothic creature feature trappings of the Hammer productions into areas more concerned with societal changes and the rise of newer lifestyles which, it seems, will be drenched in blood; an idea that would be returned to again and again in films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a seemingly endless procession of Friday the 13th and Halloween movies and exploitation movies galore.  Unlike 'Death Line' though it doesn't have an actor of the calibre of Hugh Armstrong to lend pathos to the murderous maniac.

Despite being derided on it's initial release 'Tower of Evil' has aged remarkably well.  It's definitely a product of it's time and it gleefully engages in some, almost, equal opportunity sexploitation as there are bare boobs and bums - of both genders - galore including that of Robin Askwith who (thanks to the 'Confessions of a...' movies) has a bum that's been photographed more times than most people's faces - even in the age of the selfie. But it's well made and in amongst the campier actors there's a strong cast that includes such notables as Jill Haworth, Jack Watson  (Llud in Arthur of the Britons) Derek Fowlds (Bernard from 'Yes Minister'), Anna Palk ('The Earth Dies Screaming') and Dennis Price ('Twins of Evil') and a storyline that toys with the supernatural without ever fully embracing it leaving just a suspicion of what, perhaps, lies behind the murders.

Buy it here - Tower of Evil - Digitally Remastered [DVD] - or watch it below.

Saturday, 1 September 2018

The Sinister Ducks

The Sinister Ducks single cover art by Kevin O'Neill
In 1983 a trio of unholy gentlemen by the names of Max Akropolis, Capt. José Da Silva and Translucia Baboon, known collectively as 'The Sinister Ducks', decided to warn the world about their nefarious namesakes by releasing an obscure 7" single which is of course the perfect vehicle for doing so.

It is only after undertaking extensive research - typing the band's name into google - and some 35 years after they were already widely known - can the true identities of these campaigning troubadours finally be revealed as itinerant saxophonist Alex Green, guitarist David J (bassist with popular musical combo of a 'gothic' persuasion Bauhaus) and purveyor of menacing missives Alan Moore.

The artwork for this timely warning against these malcontented mallards was provided by regular Moore henchman, Kevin O'Neill and perfectly encapsulates their perfidy and who also provided a comic strip to further illustrate the degenerate deeds of the gangsters that graced the records flip side.

As governmental and social outcry with regard to these felonious fowl has been lacking of late Wyrd Britain feels that the time is right to revive this rallying cry against them.

Here are the lyrics so you can sing along with the video below...

Everyone thinks they're such sweet little things
Ducks, Ducks! Quack, Quack! Quack, Quack!
Soft downy feathers and nice little wings
Ducks, Ducks! Quack, Quack! Quack, Quack!
But there's a poison I'd like to administer,
You think they're cuddly but I think they're sinister.
Ducks, Ducks! Quack, Quack! Quack, Quack!
Ducks, Ducks! Quack, Quack! Quack, Quack!

What are they doing at night in the park?
Ducks, Ducks! Quack, Quack! Quack, Quack!
Think of them waddling about in the dark.
Ducks, Ducks! Quack, Quack! Quack, Quack!
Sneering and whispering and stealing your cars,
Reading pornography, smoking cigars.
Ducks, Ducks! Quack, Quack! Quack, Quack!
Ducks, Ducks! Quack, Quack! Quack, Quack!

Nasty and small undeserving of life.
Ducks, Ducks! Quack, Quack! Quack, Quack!
They smirk at your hairstyle and sleep with your wife.
Ducks, Ducks! Quack, Quack! Quack, Quack!
Dressed in black jackets and horrible shoes,
Getting divorces and turning to booze.
Ducks, Ducks! Quack, Quack! Quack, Quack!
Ducks, Ducks! Quack, Quack! Quack, Quack!

Forcing old ladies to throw them some bread.
Ducks, Ducks! Quack, Quack! Quack, Quack!
Who could deny they'd be better off dead?
Ducks, Ducks! Quack, Quack! Quack, Quack!
Look closer and you may recoil in surprise,
At web-footed fascists with mad little eyes.
Ducks, Ducks! Quack, Quack! Quack, Quack!
Ducks, Ducks! Quack, Quack! Quack, Quack!
Ducks, Ducks! Quack, Quack! Quack, Quack!
Ducks, Ducks! Quack, Quack! Quack, Quack!

(lyrics copyright to whomever owns them, presumably Translucia Baboon)



The flip side of this masterpiece of audio alarum tells a tale of the human equivalents of those avian anarchists in the shape of the late night jazz of 'Old Gangsters Never Die'.

The Sinister Ducks single old gangsters never die comic strip by Kevin O'Neill

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Sky

Sky (1975) title screen
Made by HTV West - who were also responsible for such wyrd wonders as 'Children of the Stones', 'Into the Labyrinth', 'Arthur of the Britons' and 'Robin of Sherwood' - 'Sky' is the story of a young man with solid blue eyes and strange powers found, buried under some leaves, in the woods who turns out to be a traveller from another time and dimension who has landed in 1970's Britain by mistake (as if anyone would go there on purpose).  Needing to find the 'Juganet' (a circle of power) that will enable him to complete his journey he co-opts the help of a trio of kids but ranged against them are the forces of nature in the shape of trees (leaves seem to particularly dislike him), wildlife and a spontaneously generated 'human' named Ambrose Goodchild (Robert Eddison) as the Earth tries to rid itself of this anomaly.

Sky uses his powers to stop Arby from leaving the cave.
Sky - the character - is an utterly alien presence who considers himself almost a god and views his helpers with a disdain bordering on contempt which makes him difficult to like.  We assume his motives are pure - he is the title character after all - but his manner is less than endearing.  Marc Harrison plays him with an ethereal otherworldliness that keeps him above and beyond his mortal helpers.

Written by the Doctor Who writing team of Bob Baker and Dave Martin the show is unapologetically odd. It makes no bones of it's contempt for the short-sightedness and self-destructive nature of contemporary society and like many of it's contemporaries it has at its core an ecological and almost neo-pagan sensibility that revolves around earth magic and, of course, ancient stone monuments.

Sky (1975) stonehenge
There are some definite pacing issues and it certainly could have benefited from trimming off an episode but it is, on the whole, a wonderfully disconcerting watch and another in that great 1970s tradition of making shows for kids that had the power to actually terrify them.  Scenes of Sky and his cohort being attacked by plants and animals soundtracked with a tumultuous, synthesised, atonal, sonic squall (courtesy of Eric Wetherell) are still as effective as they were 43 years ago and the series remains as disturbingly strange and enjoyable as it ever was.

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

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Alan Moore on the 20th Century

Alan Moore talks about the 20th Century
I became a fan of Alan Moore immediately on reading D.R.& Quinch and The Ballad of Halo Jones in 2000AD as a kid and I remained so over the intervening years with books like Swamp Thing, From Hell, Lost Girls, Miracleman, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and so very many more holding very dear places in my heart.

Here, in a free-wheeling discussion with journalist and author John Higgs, Mr. Moore gives forth on his theories of the artistic and cultural life of the 20th century via H.P. Lovecraft as a barometer of his time, the development of science fiction, politicians and pigs.

I will happily listen to Moore talk on any topic as he's always captivating and full of interesting connections and insights but here especially he is talking about things I find particularly fascinating and hopefully you do too.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

The Man with the Power

Boysie (Willie Jonah) and Brian (Johnny Briggs) in The Mind Beyond: The Man With the Power
We've previously featured another episode from the 1976 BBC 2 Playhouse series 'The Mind Beyond' on Wyrd Britain with the episode 'Stones', a very enjoyable rural horror about a politician's dangerously daft plan to relocate Stonehenge to London's Hyde Park.

This episode, 'The Man with the Power', was written by Evan Jones (who also wrote oddball WWII football movie 'Escape to Victory') this is the story of builders labourer Boysie (Willie Jonah) who discovers that the 'second sight' he inherited from his mother is getting stronger when he remotely experiences his colleague's (Johnny Briggs - Coronation Street's Mike Baldwin) automobile accident.  Awed by his gift and by the various reactions of those around him he embarks on a spiritual quest that leads him to the Devil and beyond. 

Adler (Cyril Cusack) and Boysie (Willie Jonah) gather herbs in The Mind Beyond: The Man With the Power
It's an odd one this.  Apart from a nicely twitchy turn by Geoffrey (Catweazle) Bayldon as a paranormal investigator and a show stealing appearance by Cyril Cusack as another sensitive the acting is pretty poor throughout with both Jonah and Vikki Richards, who plays his girlfriend Gloria, indulging in some serious scenery chewing.  The dialogue is clunky and the characters are pretty much universally unlikeable with Briggs' Brian (and others) spouting some dodgy 1970s racial politics.  There's an underlying theme of the responsibilities of power and the corrupting influence of material goods and a general gist that we are possibly watching the wilderness years of a new messiah but it's pretty clumsily done and the plot is generally unfocused repeatedly heading off in strange directions that are rarely fully explored such as Boysie's encounter with the old lady and the unexpectedly homoerotic turn that Boysie's ultimate meeting with the Devil takes.

But, with all that said, it did keep me watching; I just don't know why.

Did I enjoy it?  No, not particularly.  Would I watch it again? Maybe, but probably not.  Do I recommend it? Not really.  Yet, here it is.  Make of it what you will.

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Here Comes...Dredd

Bod was (most famously) a 13 episode animated series created in 1975.  It was based on a quartet of books by Joanne and Michael Cole (who also created 'Fingerbobs'), featured narration by John Le Mesurier and music by Derek Griffiths (including that instantly recognisable theme tune).  It's fabulous stuff and has deservedly earned it's place in the annals of children's television and in the hearts of successive generations.

Particularly it would seem in the heart of the animator behind HappyToast where it shares space with 2000ADs most iconic character Judge Dredd because he has created this most wonderful mash-up of the two which also features the Angel Gang, the four Dark Judges and a perfect Le Mesurier impersonation.

This has been around for a while now and deserves lots more love because it's a gloriously daft work of twisted genius and I absolutely adore it.