Sunday, 26 July 2020

The Damned

These Are The Damned - Hammer, Oliver Reed
Released in the US as 'These Are The Damned' this is one of Hammer's rare forays into science fiction.  Most widely known for their horrors (50 of the studios 158 movies were in that genre) the studio occasionally veered sideways into sci fi often with very memorable results.  This darkly disturbing tale tells three sets of stories that weave in and out of each other before coming to a brutal and harrowing conclusion.

US tourist Simon (Macdonald Carey) is mugged in a Weymouth back street by a gang of leather clad "teddy boys" led by a very mod looking King (Oliver Reed) before running off on his boat with King's sister Joan (Shirley Anne Field) with the gang hot on their heels.  Meanwhile sculptor Freya Neilson (Viveca Lindfors) has moved into the cliff top home of beauraucrat Bernard (Alexander Knox) who works in the nearby facility and who seems to exert a level of power over various high ranking military officers.  And, locked in a bunker deep in the cliffs are a group of nine very polite but increasingly rebellious and ice cold eleven year old children who Bernard communicates with via closed-circuit TV.

Director Joseph Losey had been - and would be again - a director of art house movies who had studied under Bertolt Brecht and who would go on to create a close working relationship with Harold Pinter and this background in non-mainstream film-making is on display here.  The film is a strange mix of teenage rebellion movie, cold war paranoia and European art-house that make for strange bedfellows.  Very few of the characters have any redeeming features whatsoever and nobody comes out of it well, Bernard because of his utter dedication to his beliefs and his cold detachment towards the cruelty he's inflicting, King's violent nihilism and his incestuous protectiveness towards Joan which has driven her into the arms of the much older, chauvinistic, father figure in the form of Simon simply because he had been nice to her by offering his arm at a crossing and Freya, possibly the only truly moral person here and doomed because of it.

There is, of course, an inherent question within the statement of the title as we have to ask just who are 'the damned' and in a movie that is populated with children, with rebellious "teens" (Reed was 25 at the time) and establishment figures, with artists and intellectuals and with the bourgeoisie and the proletariat coming to an inevitable collision there can surely only be one answer.

Buy it here - The Damned - or watch it below.



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Thursday, 23 July 2020

Murder Mysteries

Neil Gaiman & P. Craig Russell - Murder Mysteries
Neil Gaiman
P. Craig Russell
Dark Horse

A lonely man in Los Angeles is told a unique tale - a passion play that sheds light on the events before the creation of the world! Constructing the Universe is a vast task - and up in Heaven, God has allocated roles to all of his angels, even if the roles of some are more ineffable than others. But when a murder takes place - the first murder - an archangel is assigned to investigate...Teaming a story created by comics legend Neil Gaiman (The Sandman, Miracleman, Harlequin Valentine) with an adaptation by acclaimed, multi-award winning artist P. Craig Russell (The Sandman, The Ring of the Nibelung), this is guaranteed to become an instant classic!

I first read this story years ago as a prose piece on one of Gaiman's collections and at the time it very much appealled to my inner goth who loves a tale of angelic violence and retribution.  This version is a graphic novel with the story illustrated by artist P. Craig Russell who has worked with the writer a few times over the years as well as with folks like Michael Moorcock (on Elric) alongside adapting older works by Oscar Wilde (Salome) and various operas.

Neil Gaiman & P. Craig Russell - Murder Mysteries

Neil Gaiman & P. Craig Russell - Murder Mysteries
The story here tells of the first murder and of it's investigation by Raguel, the vengeance of the Lord.  The majority of the book is set in Heaven so Russell gets to let his lovely art nouveau-esque style fly as he draws angels soaring on majestic wings amidst gleaming spires.  Outside of Raguel's tale there is a framing device set in LA that walks an almost perfect line between the sort of 70s and 80s LA serial killer vibe so beloved of movies and a Chinatown / The Long Goodbye neo-noir that is helped no end by Gaiman's outsider commentary.

It's a cool quick story with an interesting twist - several actually - on the usual.  I'm a fan of Gaiman's short stories and Russell is always worth a look.  His isn't the type of comic art I generally seek out - I prefer the more idiosyncratic art of folks like Kevin O'Neill, Eddie Campbell or Ted McKeever - but that doesn't mean I don't thoroughly enjoy it when I find it and it makes for as perfect a match here with Gaiman's words as it did years ago with Moorcock's.

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Sunday, 19 July 2020

The City of the Dead

The City of the Dead - Christopher Lee
Known in the US by the much more relevant name 'Horror Hotel', 'The City of the Dead' was made in 1960 by the production team of Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg who would, just two years later, go on to form the legendary Amicus studio.  Written by 'Night of the Eagle' screenwriter George Baxt, funded in part by Nottingham Forest FC and featuring Christopher Lee and Valentine Dyall (Doctor Who's 'The Black Guardian' and the voice of 'Deep Thought' in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) this British made movie, featuring predominantly British actors was set in the US with the cast adopting American accents (with various degrees of success) in order to maximise the movies appeal overseas.

The City of the Dead - Christopher Lee
It opens in the town of Whitewood, Massachusetts in 1692 where Elizabeth Selwyn (Patricia Jessel) is being burned as a witch whilst simultaneously cursing the town.  Along with her fellow devil botherer, Jethrow Keane (Dyall), she survives into the 20th century where she runs the mist wreathed towns sole mist wreathed hotel and sacrifices young, nubile virgins - women only, no men need apply - twice a year on two dates that seem peculiarly close together.  Into that hotel comes a young student working on her thesis on the devil worshipping witches of misty Massachusets who, while lying around in her negligee reading ancient tomes, begins to hear scary chanting from beneath the floorboards and surprisingly cool jazz from the hotel lobby before being dragged to her stabby, devily doom.  Hot(ish) on her mist wreathed heels comes her brother and boyfriend wondering why she hasn't been in touch for 2 weeks and it's not long before they too are caught up in the evil mist wreathed antics.

The City of the Dead - Christopher Lee
There's some lazy direction, watch out for two almost identical scenes in the mist wreathed street one featuring our doomed student Nan (Venetia Stevenson) and the other, her brother, Richard (Dennis Lotis), and the movie is generally a fairly sluggish affair. It does though look nice despite being seemingly entirely filmed in a studio,  the mist wreathed street and graveyard of Whitewood appearing suitably dilapidated and I've always thought there was definite Lovecraft-esque vibe to the movie no doubt a result of its American scriptwriter and his decision to locate the movie in Massachusets; the university could easily be Arkham's Miskatonic University and mist wreathed Whitewood could certainly pass for Dunwich and it's a shame he went with old fashioned witchery rather than fully committing and adding in an 'Old One' or two.

The City of the Dead - Christopher Lee
It's very much a transition into the Amicus aesthetic, with the mist wreathing, the aged buildings and the graveyard they are still firmly embedded in the gothic trappings that worked so well for Hammer but its contemporary setting, the focus on liberated(ish) young women, the university campus and the jazz soundtrack all show the nascent stages of a new sensibility and offer glimpses of the direction Subotsky and Rosenberg were going to push their brand of horror movie in once their new production company was up and running and as such what we get is an intriguing mish mash of slightly missed opportunities that is never less than watchable but equally is never more than either.



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Friday, 17 July 2020

The Children of the Pool and Other Stories

Arthur Machen
Tartarus Press

In his room in Gray’s Inn, London, at the end of the nineteenth century Arthur Machen had one of the most memorable mystical experiences of his life: ‘the wall trembled and the pictures on the wall shook and shivered before my eyes, as if a sudden wind had blown into the room.’ For days afterwards he went about in ‘a rapture of delight’. This encounter with another order of things reinforced his conviction that there is a world beyond the one where we usually walk.
The six stories in The Children of the Pool, reflect in their different ways this lifelong belief. The bookish recluse in ‘The Exalted Omega’, the kabbalistic artist in ‘Out of the Picture’, the holiday¬makers in a Welsh resort in ‘Change’, all encounter the truly uncanny, and cannot emerge unchanged. And in the other three stories Machen explores the edges of that unknown terrain, the human mind.


'The Children of the Pool' was (I think) the final work of Arthur Machen's long writing career.  It's a collection of 6 stories that all touch on the various preoccupations of his work that followed him through the years with the possible exception of 'The Tree of Life'.

'The Exalted Omega' that opens the book is the story of a lost and dispirited man who in his lonely digs (Machen's own) begins to hear voices and see flashes of light that offer tantalising glimpses into what appears to be the planning of a murder.  In the middle of this we are treated to a short diversion into the world of spiritualism.

The title piece is much anthologised and is an odd piece that like much of Machen's work tells of a thin place between the worlds that Machen spends much of the story explaining away.  I like these sort of stories, my habit is always to lean towards the supernatural explanations but I like the over earnest defences for rationality he makes.

'The Bright Boy' is a much more straight forward tale, if you can call a tale about the crimes of a morally repellent, seemingly unaging man with the physical appearance of a 7 year old boy (like an evil Gary Coleman) hiding in plain sight with his fake parents straightforward.  It's a story I've read before, and one I didn't think much of then or now.

The aforementioned 'Tree of Life' is a real anomaly as it's ostensibly the story of a bedridden land owner dictating the use of his land to his estate manager that has a rather lovely twist in the tail.

'Out of the Picture' is one I'm surprised I've not seen before.  It harks back to Machen's early love of Robert Louis Stevenson with a tale redolent of Jekyll and Hyde that I enjoyed it very much and, as I said, am surprised it's not been more widely anthologised.

The book ends with another hark back in the story 'Change' where we are witness to a tale of child abduction a la  'The Shining Pyramid' but with a more folkoric changeling twist to it.

It's a solid and engaging collection from a writer who knew his glory days were behind him but was still willing to put pen to paper and try to find a new angle and a new tale and it's always a joy to read that.

Available as an ebook from the publisher here.
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Sunday, 12 July 2020

Doomwatch

Doomwatch
If you were science fiction fan in the very early 1970s then there was a very good chance that you were one of the up to 13.6 million people who tuned in each week to watch 'Doomwatch'. Running for three series on BBC1 between 1970 and 1972 at which point Tigon Films stepped in and made a movie adaptation starring newcomers to the show Ian Bannen and Judy Geeson, written by future 'Survivors' scriptwriter Clive Exton and directed by Hammer regular Peter Sasdy (Taste the Blood of Dracula, Countess Dracula) who would also direct Nigel Kneale's 'The Stone Tape' that same year.

Created by the writing partnership of Gerry Davis and Dr Kit Pedler who had first teamed up on Doctor Who where the former was story editor and the latter the show's scientific advisor for which they created the iconic Cybermen who closed out the tenure of William Hartnell as the First Doctor in 'The Tenth Planet'. 

The Doomwatch group or the 'Department for the Observation and Measurement of Scientific Work' as they wisely avoided calling it was an agency tasked with investigating the excesses of science often in stories with a distinctly environmental slant. The movie continues that tradition as Dr. Del Shaw (Bennen) is sent to investigate the effects of an oil spill off the island of Balfe but once there he disovers a conspiracy to cover up a much more profound problem.

As was too often the case at the time the BBC in their infinite wisdom wiped the original tapes and so only 24 of the 38 episodes survive thanks to its Canadian broadcaster or as telerecordings and these are currently available as a box set here - Doomwatch - Series 1-3 The Remaining Episodes [DVD].

The movie is essentially a standalone feature and despite being made and released after the show had ceased broadcasting is a great introduction to a series whose themes have only increased in relevance over the years and is surely due a reappraisal if not a remake (other than the one made and then seemingly forgotten by Channel 5 in the late 90s).



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Thursday, 9 July 2020

Home

World's Beyond - Home
'Home' is an episode of the late 80s ITV series 'World's Beyond' which told stories based on the archives of the Society for Psychical Research.  We've featured another of their stories, 'The Haunted Garden', here in the past but unfortunately that video has since been taken down.

Written by Chris Menaul this is a haunted house tale starring Samantha Holland who some may know from her role in another similar story that we featured recently, 'Interference', and 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest's' Nurse Ratched, Louise Fletcher.

Karen Earl (Fletcher) is visiting her troubled daughter Perdita (Holland) who is home from school and staying with her grandmother Alice (Rachel Kempson) in a country cottage from which Karen wants to take her away.  Karen's arrival seems to trigger all manner of unpleasantness at the house - fires, flickering lights, smashed crockery and slammed doors.  Creeping around in the background is farm worker Joe (Warren Clarke) and local witch Miss Robertson (Brenda Bruce) who is entirely convinced that Perdita is at the mercy of 'forces'.

It's an odd sort of programme that at its end leaves you feeling like they've missed out a chunk of the story.  I suppose we can put the blame for this on a desire to remain true to the Psychical Society's reports but one has to wonder why the writer didn't make more of it and present a more coherent story arc but we are left with some interesting unanswered questions about motive and mindset to ponder while the credits roll.



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Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Damage

Rosalie Parker - Damage (PS Publishing)
Rosalie Parker
PS Publishing

Each of the stories that make up Damage represent a new take on the theme of difference and strangeness in human life. There are elements of traditional horror, fantasy and the supernatural, but also of beauty, humour, compassion and love.
Damage explores the fragility of life and love and how they can sometimes survive against the odds, despite the damage that is done to them. 

Rosalie Parker is the co-publisher of Tartarus Press (along with her partner Ray Russell), the editor of their regular anthology series 'Strange Tales' and the author of three collections of short stories, two from Swan River Press and this one from PS.  I've only ever read one of her stories before and have long been intrigued to read more.

The overall impression I got from the book is that Rosalie is definitely the co-publisher of Tartarus Press as throughout I kept flashing on various writers that they have championed over the years such as Robert Aickman, A.E. Coppard, Arthur Machen (of course) and others.  Now I say that to show that her writing shares a kinship with those not to imply any sort of unoriginality.  Like Aickman the strangeness in Parker's stories is normalised within the events or makes a sudden and decisive apprearance. Like Coppard there is a love of the rural and the bucolic, a hankering for the wild spaces and like Machen there often seems a bleed through from elsewhere, of thin places where the natural and the un-natural coexist.

The stories are fleeting and focussed never taking any longer than they need to tell their tale although I was left occasionally wishing they would linger slightly longer and tell a wider story.  Her writing is neat and sparse and the specificity of her prose allows her tales to unfold at an easy unhurried pace that made the book a joy to read

Damage is available at the link above and also from their much cheaper clearance site here which is where I bought mine from.  Be aware though I've read that some people have reported that the copies they received were damaged in some way but the three books I bought were pristine.

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Sunday, 5 July 2020

Night of the Eagle

Night of the Eagle Peter Wyngarde
Based on the Fritz Leiber novel 'Conjure Wife' with a screenplay by legendary 'Twilight Zone' writer Charles Beaumont, 'I Am Legend' author Richard Matheson and 'Circus of Horrors' writer George Baxt, 'Night of the Eagle' (or 'Burn, Witch, Burn!' in the US) is the story of Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde) a college lecturer and belligerent non-believer railing against belief in magic and the supernatural who discovers that his wife Tansy (Janet Blair) is a practicing witch who claims their perfect life is all down to her conjurings.  After forcing her to burn her paraphenalia he soon comes to regret his position as his life rapidly falls apart.

From the opening credits featuring a sole  staring, unblinking eye this is a singularly confrontational movie.  Accusations of favouritism, of cheating, of sexual assault, of violence, of naivety abound from the moment that Norman destroys Tansy's magical wards.  He's under constant attack, whether he believes it or not, from the very outset of the movie and it's only as his rationalist view of the world crumbles around him that he begins to tentatively accept that there are other forces at work but even then he tries desperately to cling to his scientific bias and attributes events and actions to hypnosis rather than magic.

Blair is more than a little histrionic as the devoted and terrified wife and Wyngarde in his first and only movie lead role has yet to fully develop into the flamboyant character he was to become by the end of the decade but makes for a convincing action hero if not a particularly convincing sociologist.  It feels a very loud movie due to the performances of both leads and the exhausting, overly insistent music but it builds it's atmosphere of menace with a stealthy ease and a measured pace that is simply irresistible.  When the titular night does finally arrive what could have been quite a silly ending is simple and effective (even if you can quite clearly see the birds lead at one point).

It's a real shame that this film has been overlooked so much by genre fans - I wonder if, like I did for a long time, many have looked at the title and written it off as a war movie in the vein of 'The Eagle Has Landed' or 'Where Eagles Dare' - because it has much to offer.  The magic in the film is subtle and the practitioners are shown to be entirely modern women not 'witchy' caricatures who are acting on entirely modern (for the era) impulses and the film itself has been crafted with care and attention to producing a story that leans heavily on the supernatural but retains just enough of an enigma to it that you leave still with questions left tantalisingly unanswered.

Buy it here - Night of the Eagle [DVD] [1962] - or watch it below.



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If you enjoy what we do here on Wyrd Britain and would like to help us continue then we would very much welcome a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain

Saturday, 4 July 2020

Zyklus - Gumbo Gulag

Zyklus is one of a number of nom de plumes adopted by Buried Treasure's head honcho Alan Gubby perhaps better known to Wyrd Britain readers as the person behind one of our favourites, Revbjelde.

This newest release is a lockdown compilation of some of Alan's older recordings, a collection of various tunes and tinkerings from the early 1980s through to the early 2000s.  The music here is considerably more synth led (dominated) than his more recent projects with a more overtly industrial vibe of the Cabaret Voltaire, early Coil and the harder edged synth pop varieties rather than the Throbbing Gristle soundscapes or Einsturzende Neubauten scrap iron clattery.  Equally I picked up a library music vibe and at various points of listening I could imagine this gracing the soundtrack of a dystopian early 90s cyberpunk movie and at others you can hear the influence of Alan's beloved BBC Radiophonic Workshop as the music offers a hazy glimpse of a futuristic technopolis of neon signs and milk bars.

I've a fair bit of Alan's music in my collection both from his Buried Treasure label and his previous Nanny Tango label and this one came as a real - and very pleasant - surprise.  My listening tastes are pretty eclectic now but I grew up listening to grindcore, anarcho punk and industrial so a darker edge is always welcome and it's definitely here. With the exception of Coil, who are never far from my CD player, I haven't really taken a stroll down these particular streets for a good long while and it was great fun to do so.



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Friday, 3 July 2020

Future Tense - The Story of H.G. Wells

H.G. Wells Future Tense
This very short documentary was made by the BBC in 2016 to commemorate 150th anniversary of Wells' birth.  Long regarded (along with Jules Verne) as the father of science fiction Herbert George Wells was a novellist, social commentator and futurist who contributed key works to the sci-fi canon - 'The War of the Worlds',  'The Time Machine', 'The Invisible Man' to name just three - and also, inadvertently, to the creation of the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was based on his 1940 progressive, humanitarian manifesto 'The Rights of Man'.

I love a documentary but I'm not going to lie to you, it looks like they knocked this one out in a hurry.  It's a ridiculously brief overview of a career that lasted some 60 odd years and produced so many pivotal works.  Its brief to the point that unless I blinked and missed it they didn't even talk about 'The Invisible Man' which you'd imagine would rate a mention or two but, much like the ghost story documentary I posted here the other week, as a quick fix it does the job and if you've no more than a passing knowledge of the life of this most important of authors then this will add a detail or two.



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If you enjoy what we do here on Wyrd Britain and would like to help us continue then we would very much welcome a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain