Monday, 31 August 2020

John Peel's Record Box

This lovely little documentary from 2005, a year after his death, tells the story of of the life of legendary British DJ John Peel via the contents of a box of 130 7" singles that he kept under his desk separate from the thousands of other records and CDs that made up the collection.  You can find a list of the contents of the box here.

Featuring contributions from his family, fellow DJs and a host of music luminaries such as Pete Shelley (Buzzcocks), Billy Bragg, Jack White (The White Stripes), Tsungi Rai & Poko (Misty in Roots), Mark E. & Brix Smith (The Fall), Laurie Anderson, Feargal Sharkey and Damian & John O'Neill (The Undertones) and loads more.

It's a nice tribute to the man and of a life lived in music.

We miss you John.


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Sunday, 30 August 2020

The Ash Tree

The Ash Tree 1975 - M.R. James - A Ghost Story for Christmas
'The Ash Tree' was the fifth and final (for three decades) M.R. James adaptation made for the BBC's annual 'A Ghost Story for Christmas' strand.  Like its predecessors (and two of its immediate successors) it was directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark who here is joined by the writer David Rudkin fresh from scripting 'Penda's Fen' the previous year.

In James' original story - published as part of his 'Ghost Stories of an Antiquary' in 1904 - Sir Matthew Fell is responsible for local woman Mrs Mothersole being hanged as a witch, having seen her cutting branches from the Ash tree outside his bedroom window, but not before she lays a curse on him saying "There will be guests at the Hall" which, as curses go, on the surface doesn't seem that bad.  Unsurprisingly Sir Mathew soon reaches his grisly end and the story switches to his grandson, Sir Richard, who soon finds himself in a similar sort of pickle as his gramps.

The Ash Tree 1975 - M.R. James - A Ghost Story for Christmas
Barbara Ewing as Mrs Mothersole
Rudkin's 'television version' makes a few cosmetic changes to the tale - uncle and nephew instead of grandfather and grandson and implying an additional rationale behind the witchcraft accusation - but essentially stays true to the core of the story.  He does though do what he does best and gives the whole thing a distinctly eerie and artful construction that bestows a dream-like quality as Sir Richard almost timeslips between his own time and Sir Matthews - both are played by Edward Petheridge - and experiences the events that lead up to both their grisly ends first hand at the fangs of creatures that seem conjured up from an early David Lynch fever dream.

Buy it here - UK / US - or watch it below.


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Sunday, 23 August 2020

The Skull

The Skull 1965 Peter Cushing & Christopher Lee
Made in 1965 by the Amicus studio 'The Skull' is another pairing of the Peter Cushing / Christopher Lee dream team.  This time out they play collectors of the arcane, Cushing's Dr Christopher Maitland because he writes about it and Lee's Sir Matthew Phillips as a lover of such objects.  They source their various macabre mementos at auctions where we first meet the three stars and from dodgy dealer in macabre memorabilia Anthony Marco (Patrick Wymark) who brings to Cushing's attention the skull of the Marquis de Sade.

The skull, it transpires, has a distinctly chequered post-mortem past and had been the property of Sir Matthew who, finally released from its malign influence, definitely doesn't want it back and warns Maitland away from it but unfortunately it's already got its teeth into him and events soon spiral out of control.

The Skull 1965 Peter Cushing & Christopher Lee
With a screenplay initially written by Amicus head Milton Subotsky from an original story by 'Psycho' author Robert Bloch the film was directed (and rewritten) by the legendary Freddie Francis the director of a plethora of Hammer and Amicus delights and the bonkers genius that is 'Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly' as well as being cinematographer on 'The Innocents' and David Lynch's cinematographer of choice on 'The Elephant Man', 'Dune' and 'Straight Story'.  'The Skull' is as stunning looking as you'd expect from a man with Francis' pedigree although it has to be said the occasional skulls eye view is a bit naff but the hallucinatory Kafka-esque courtroom scene will tell you exactly why Lynch chose to work with Francis.

Cushing and Lee (who, it transpires, cheats horribly at snooker) are both on fine form and Wymark is gloriously creepy.  It's by no means an action packed movie and indeed is a slow build carried along by the strength of the cast and that it looks so damn pretty.

Buy it here - UK / US or watch it below.


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Friday, 21 August 2020

The Ghosts and Scholars Book of Mazes

Rosemary Pardoe (ed)
Sarob Press

M.R. James’s 1911 tale, “Mr Humphreys and His Inheritance”, is one of the most famous maze short stories, if not the most famous.
Editor Rosemary Pardoe has chosen eight supernatural maze stories to reprint, all of them taken from small press journals and books, and some of them never previously reprinted.
The mazes range from unicursal turf through puzzle hedge to modern crop examples; one tale is a prequel to “Mr Humphreys and His Inheritance”.
The second part of this volume consists of six brand new stories which range even more widely, from a Roman mosaic maze to a mirror maze at the top of a high-rise office block.
All of the stories have a folklore, folk custom and/or antiquarian background.
So, fourteen supernatural maze stories by some fabulous authors of folk horror and ghostly, ghastly, spooky tales of terror.

Selected and introduced by former Ghosts and Scholars head honcho Rosemary Pardoe this collection of ghostly and weird tales all share the theme of mazes (and labyrinths).

As demonstrated by M.R. James - the author whose work Ghosts and Scholars celebrates - in his story 'Mr Humphrey's Inheritance' mazes are a powerful object that hides, that confuses, that entices and entraps.  The stories in this collection all embrace these ideas to various extents.

Now I have small issue with themed collections, I'll get half way through and get a bit bored with the theme.   It doesn't matter how good the book is I just find them a tad repetitive and one dimensional which is what happened herd and the book ended up taking a few weeks to read.

Opening strongly with Mark Valentine's gentle and quiet love story 'As Blank as the Days Yet to Be' - which was the only story here I already knew having it in his Zagava collection from the other year and in booklet form - after which the book meanders slightly with some strong tales by John Howard, Michael Chislett, Rick Kennett, Cable Tyrell, John Reppion and Reggie Oliver, a few that were entertaining in their way and a couple of real stinkers (which I shan't identify).

Sarob are a strong and reliable publisher and Pardoe knows her stuff so this collection - even read piecemeal - really hit home but as I said I always struggle with themed but when they're as strong as this it's never going to be much of a problem picking them back

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Tuesday, 18 August 2020

Punk Trainspotting

One of my favourite lazy day activities when I can't really settle into anything is to go YouTube diving. To pick a video and then keep choosing the most unlikely option that the site's algorithm recommends to me. You do tend to end up watching a lot of crap but sometimes, just sometimes, you find yourself confronted by an unexpected little gem.

In this instance Captain Sensible of The Damned takes us for a ride on the historic Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch miniature steam railway that ends in Derek Jarman's garden.

This little film is one of the happiest things I've watched in a long time and I love it.


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Sunday, 16 August 2020

The Oblong Box

The Oblong Box, Vincent Price, Christopher Lee
Vincent Price stars in what is purported to be an adaptation of an Edgar Allan Poe story but in actuality beyond the title bears little (by which I mean no) resemblance to the source material which is a rather gentle and bittersweet tale of a sea voyage and a man with a large oblong box that he keeps hidden in his cabin.

In this version Sir Edward Markham (Alister Williamson) is kept locked away from the world by his brother Julian (Price) after being horribly disfigured and driven to madness in an African voodoo ceremony.  Faking his own death in order to escape and finding himself in the hands of the resurrectionist Dr Newhartt (a spectacularly bewigged Christopher Lee) he embarks on a campaign of revenge against his brother.

The Oblong Box, Vincent Price, Christopher Lee
'The Oblong Box' was originally intended to be the next project for director Michael Reeves following 'Witchfinder General' and featuring the return of three cast members (Price, Rupert Davies & Hilary Dwyer) but unforunately he had to leave the film due to illness, dying soon after, and the directors chair was taken over by Gordon Hessler who'd subsequently make 'Scream and Scream Again' (also with Price and Lee) but who would 8 years later bear the blame for the travesty that was 'Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park'.

The Oblong Box, Vincent Price, Christopher Lee
Now, I love watching him gnaw on the scenery but Price is unusually reserved here - and all the better for it - with both him and Lee taking a backseat to the masked (and dubbed) Williamson as his rampages bring him closer to the truth of his disfiguration.  It's a slightly hodge-podgey sort of affair due, I suspect, in no small part to its troubled beginnings and the script-tweaking it was apparently given but there's a strong ensemble cast and its low-key nature and slowly unfurling plot makes for an enjoyable and absorbing experience.

Buy it here - UKUS - or watch it below.


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Friday, 14 August 2020

The Trappist & The Hare

Grey Malkin & Trappist Afterland - The Trappist & The Hare
Grey Malkin & Trappist Afterland
Reverb Worship

I've been in contact with the enigmatic human / hare hybrid known only (even to his mum) as Grey Malkin for a few years now connected by a shared love of all that is weird and wonderful in film and music. He will perhaps be best known to Wyrd Britain readers under his now retired musical identity as 'The Hare and The Moon' as who he produced a stream of music channelling both the cream of the stranger end of the 1960s and 70s Acid Folk scene, the magickal masters of the UK Post industrial scene such as Coil and Current 93 and the pastoral menace of the type of TV shows and movies we regularly feature on Wyrd Britain. He's one of a select few I've invited to contribute to the blog - providing both a mixtape and a '3 Wyrd Things' - but shamefully this is the first time I've reviewed any of his music.

Here he's partnered up with Australian musician Adam Geoffrey Cole -who records under the name Trappist Afterland - who here provides vocals along with what seems to be primarily acoustic instruments whilst Grey is focused more (but not exclusively) on the electric and across the 11 tracks there are 7 more guest musicians providing additional vocals, bass, guitar and drums.

Musically we are hovering around the realms of Grey's previous releases but built around a slightly more song orientated core which adds an interesting new dimension to the compositions.  I'm not the world's biggest folk song fan and it's usually the vocals that turn me off but here I find myself very pleasantly surprised with Cole's vocals reminding me strongly of his countryman Trash McSweeney, the singer with The Red Paintings, particularly on the tracks 'An Error This Time', 'Full Snow Moon' and 'Full Crow Moon (Scarecrow Song)'.

The album on the whole though is gently cinematic, redolent of scenes of wood fires reflecting against dark shadowy trees, of disembodied footfalls on dry twigs, of caught breaths and of frozen moments and it's really rather wonderful.


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Sunday, 9 August 2020

The Vampire Lovers

The Vampire Lovers - Peter Cushing, Ingrid Pitt - Hammer Karnstein Trilogy
The first installment in what's known as Hammer's 'Karnstein Trilogy' - followed by 'Lust For A Vampire' (buy it here)with The Vampire Lovers) and 'Twins of Evil' (buy it here) - 'The Vampire Lovers' is an adaptation of Sheridan le Fanu's novella 'Carmilla'.

In both the novella and the movie the vampire Mircalla Karnstein (Ingrid Pitt), using the subtly cunning pseudonyms of 'Marcilla' and 'Carmilla' and whilst wearing a ruby necklace in the shape of a drop of blood, preys on the young women she befriends (Pippa Steel & Madeline Smith) as part of a ruse whereby her accomplices manipulate events so that she is left in the keeping of an aristocratic family; seemingly using them as a long drawn out meal whilst snacking on the local village girls and assorted servants (including the Rani herself  Kate O'Mara). Ranged against her are the combined forces of Peter Cushing, Douglas Wilmer, Minder's George Cole and The Final Programme's Jerry Cornelius Jon Finch who travel to her ancestral home to finally end her murdery ways.

The Vampire Lovers - Peter Cushing, Ingrid Pitt, Madeline Smith - Hammer Karnstein Trilogy
le Fanu's story is the perfect source material for Hammer, the novella's lesbian subtext allowed the studio to help their ailing fortunes by getting lots of pretty young actresses to take their clothes off - for art's sake obviously.  It's sumptuously made and the sets, like the cleavages, are extravagant and displayed to maximum effect but the film does drag.  The source material, as good as it is, just doesn't have the scope and with Mircalla / Carmilla / Marcilla employing the same tactic with both families it does feel like we're treading water slightly the second time around.

It is though, in many ways, classic Hammer, embracing the subject matter and the style that made their name but amping the eroticism up to the max in a move that was to define the next few years for the studio.

Buy it here - UK /  US - or watch it below.


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Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Third World War: Book One

Third World War Book One - Pat Mills & Carlos Ezquerra
Pat Mills

Carlos Ezquerra
Angela Kincaid


Eve is unemployed after leaving university and is immediately conscripted as a soldier working for a corporation and discovers just how South American countries are being exploited to create food needed to feed the increasing population for their profit under the guise of western paternalism.

When Crisis came out in the early 90s I jumped on it and loved it.  The leftist slant was right up my anarcho punk street and I devoured every issue.  I still have them here even though I sold off most of my collection long ago keeping only those books I couldn't bear to part with or thought I'd like to read again; this was partly the former but mostly the latter.  Over the course of it's life Crisis featured stories by the likes of Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Al Davidson, Glenn Fabry, Rhian Hughes, Milo Manara, Steve Parkhouse, David Lloyd, Steve Yeowell and in the case of the book in question here, 2000AD legends Pat Mills and Carlos Ezquerra.

Now I always expected to reread this stretched out on the floor with a big, teetering pile of the (typical UK sized) comics next to me but miracle of miracles it's been reprinted and so I just had to grab a copy.

Third World War Book One - Pat Mills & Carlos Ezquerra
This first one is the story of the influence of multinationals on South America and the ravages it brings. It's an eye opening story but not necessarily a good one.  Mills' focus is almost entirely on the politics and everything else is secondary at best.  The characters are loosely sketched and very much stereotypes that serve to propel Mills' next polemic.  It's either going to annoy the hell out of you or you're going to agree with it and it'll depress / anger the hell out of you (delete as applicable).  It is though a vital and important read that remains sadly relevant that I'd urge anyone to read.

Now, I need to admit here that this first story arc of TWW is the one I wanted to reread the least.  As I mentioned earlier I was pretty politically minded when this was published and so the politics behind Mills' story here was something that I was already aware of and remembered both the story and issues pretty vividly.  What I really want to read again comes next once Eve and Paul are back in the UK and we get the New Azania and the Green Army storylines and so to an extent I bought this one to support it and encourage Revolution to print the next arc which if memory serves are particularly apposite for the world we live in now.

Buy it here - Third World War: Book One (Volume 1)


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Sunday, 2 August 2020

Scream and Scream Again

Scream and Scream Again
'Scream and Scream Again' was the first time the three titans of horror movies, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Vincent Price, appeared in the same movie together which as you can tell from the movie poster was a big deal with the three sharing top billing.  Unfortunately Cushing is only in it for about 5 minutes and never shares a scene with the other two who also only meet for a single, brief scene at the very end and are both little more than supporting cast in the rest of the movie.

Made by Gordon Hexler for Amicus Productions, his second film in a row to feature both Lee and Price (after 'The Oblong Box'), and based on the novel 'The Disorientated Man' by the pseudonymous Peter Saxon it's a strange sort of movie all round being built around three narrative strands that, to varying degrees, feel entirely unconnected until they all come together in the finale.

Scream and Scream Again
The first strand features a jogger trapped in a hospital bed and cared for by an uncommunicative nurse (Uta Levka) who keeps waking up to find another limb has been removed.  The second strand concerns an un-named Eastern European military junta where various high ranking officials are being 'spocked' to death with some sort of vulcan neck pinch and the third, and main, storyline tells of the police investigation into a series of violent, vampiric murders of young women picked up in a London hippie club.

Scream and Scream Again
I like this film a lot but truthfully they could have easily ditched the entire Eastern European storyline and made more of the other two for a far more cohesive film.  As I said Cushing makes no more than a cameo appearance and Lee's combined scenes don't add up to much more.  Price is as reliable as ever but the film really belongs to Michael Gothard as Keith the vampire and Alfred Marks as the sardonic Detective Superintendent Bellaver, the copper hunting him down.  It has it's flaws for sure but it tried to do something a bit different to the norm for which I'll always give it kudos and whilst it doesn't entirely succeed it certainly makes for an entertaining watch.

Buy it here - UK /  US - or watch it below.


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