Sunday, 25 July 2021

The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll

Wyrd Britain reviews Hammer's 'The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll'.
Between 1957 and 1964 Hammer director Terence Fisher worked his way through pretty much all the great monsters of horror - 'The Curse of Frankenstein' (1957), 'Dracula' (1958), 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' (1959), 'The Mummy' (1959), 'The Curse of the Werewolf' (1961) 'The Phantom of the Opera' (1962), 'The Gorgon' (1964) - and in 1960 he brought Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' to the screen from a screenplay by Wolf Mankowitz ('The Day the Earth Caught Fire' & 'Casino Royale') with considerably less success than he did those earlier movies.

In 'The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll'  we find Paul Massie, a Canadian actor with a short history of appearances in British movies of this time, labouring under some ridiculous fake facial hair, as the driven and slightly deranged Dr Henry Jekyll attempting to "free the creature within" at which he succeeds with, for those around him at least, terrifying results unleashing his suave and utterly sociopathic alter ego Edward Hyde.

Wyrd Britain reviews Hammer's 'The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll'.

Wyrd Britain reviews Hammer's 'The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll'.
Massie, as Jekyll, is a bit of a ham but comes alive with wide eyed malice as Hyde whilst those around him, including Dawn Addams ('The Vampire Lovers') as Kitty Jekyll, Christopher Lee as the scrouging, caddish Paul Allen and David Kossoff ('The Mouse That Roared') s Dr Littauer, flounder against an uninspired script that despite some typically garish nightclub scenes and a tour of the lowlights of London never really manages to elicit much of a spark from neither cast nor director.




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Tuesday, 20 July 2021

1,000,000!!!

Hi folks

Just want to take a moment to mark the occasion of hitting a million pageviews on the Wyrd Britain blog.

Thank you everyone for all your support for the blog.  It makes me really happy that so many of you share my love of the things I share here.

Thank you to everyone who has read the blog, thank you to everyone who has submitted something for review and thank you to everyone who has donated to keeping the blog going.  Wyrd Britain is a labour of love for me and your contributions in every form are hugely appreciated.

Here's to the next million.

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Monday, 19 July 2021

Earl Lavender

Wyrd Britain reviews John Davidson's 'Earl Lavender' published by Valancourt Books.
John Davidson
Valancourt Books

Following in the tradition of "Don Quixote," "Earl Lavender" is the story of two impecunious gentlemen who run away from their conventional lives, style themselves 'Earl Lavender' and 'Lord Brumm', and set out to preach the new creed of Evolution. Their hilarious romp across London leads them to all sorts of strange adventures, such as a wild hansom cab chase, a sojourn among a subterranean society of flagellants, and the discovery of the evolutionary 'Missing Link'.

'Earl Lavender' or 'A Full and True Account of the Wonderful Mission of Earl Lavender, which Lasted One Night and One Day; with a History of the Pursuit of Earl Lavender and Lord Brumm by Mrs. Scamler and Maud Emblem' to give it it's full title is the story of the man now named as 'Earl Lavender'. Declaring himself the fittest of all men he, along with his new acquaintance, 'Lord Brumm', sets out on a brand new lifestyle claiming evolution as their guiding force and allowing it to provide for them in all things as they rampage through the streets, restaurants and secret societies of London pursued by two ladies and an angry waiter.

Originally published in 1895 'Earl Lavender' situates itself at the heart of the decadent movement lampooning the times which Davidson, a Scotish poet who'd relocated to London, found himself living through.

In truth I found much of the book a bit of a chore.  It's often very funny but the combination of the overly descriptive Victorian prose and the Earl's florid soliloquies kept pushing me from the pages but perseverance proved that behind these niggles was a book well worth experiencing.

Buy it here - UK / US.

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Sunday, 18 July 2021

Guardian of the Past

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Guardian of the Past' from 'World's Beyond'.
'Worlds Beyond' was an ITV series broadcast in the mid 80s that apparently sourced it's material from the archives of the Society for Psychical Research.  We've featured a couple of episodes before on Wyrd Britain - 'The Haunted Garden' & 'Home' - which were, in turn, a light and fluffy ghostly love story and a messy and confused haunted house tale.  

This time out it's script by ITC spy-fi alumni Tony Williamson (The Avengers, Adam Adamant Lives!, Jason King, and others) keeps things a lot more vigorous.  The cast includes Paul Freeman (Raiders of the Lost Ark's Nazi archeologist 'René Belloq') and Mary Tamm (Doctor Who's first 'Romana') as an entitled middle class couple who stupidly steal a bone from a mummy's tomb as a souvenier of their Egyptian holiday and Terrence Alexander (Bergerac's 'Charlie Hungerford') as a sort of occult detective who just happens to be a member of that intrepid society of psychical researchers.  

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Guardian of the Past' from 'World's Beyond'.
Williamson keeps things moving at a fairly breakneck pace and litters the 30 minute runtime with a car crash, two spinal injuries, a blinding, an attempted stabbing, hypnotic trances galore and a not entirely ineffective ghostly figure, well it's more effective than Tamm's American accent at least.  

Personally, I like this one a lot,  it's good, cheap fun. It wears it's lack of budget well and goes all out with what it has and does it well with a cast who all appear fully committed. Storywise there's nothing here that devotees of ghostly fictions won't have seen before but as an adaptation of a 'real' haunting one has to suspect it's been given just enough of an authorial tweak by Williamson to give it a satisfying narrative arc.




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Monday, 12 July 2021

Settling the World

Wyrd Britain reviews M. John Harrison's 'Settling the World' from Comma Press.
M. John Harrison
Comma Press

Throughout his career, M. John Harrison’s writing has defied categorisation, building worlds both unreal and all-too real, overlapping and interlocking with each other. His stories are replete with fissures and portals into parallel dimensions, unidentified countries and lost lands. But more important than the places they point to are the obsessions that drive the people who so believe in them, characters who spend their lives hunting for, and haunted by, clues and maps that speak to the possibility of somewhere else.
This selection of stories, drawn from over 50 years of writing, bears witness to that desire for difference: whether following backstreet occultists, amateur philosophers, down-and-outs or refugees, we see our relationship with ‘the other’ in microscopic detail, and share in Harrison’s rejection of the idea that the world, or our understanding of it, could ever be settled.


M. John Harrison is a novelist working, most notably, at the edges of science fiction with a foot in the worlds of weird or strange fiction. He first came to public attention through his work for New Worlds magazine as one of the 'New Wave' writers alongside the likes of Michael Moorcock, J.G. Ballard, Thomas M. Disch, Brian Aldiss and others.  The stories in this collection begin in that period (1970) and continue through to 2020.

Overt sci-fi themes are few and instead we have stories of the lost and the outsider, people trapped by circumstance and made free in the same way presenting the bizarre and the mundane as two sides of the same coin.  In a previous review of one of his books - the only other one of his I've read - I commented on the the Robert Aickman like nature of the story and here again I can feel the venerable writer's presence - most notably in 'Running Down'.

Not everything here worked for me.  I discovered I was generally less enamoured of the earlier and perhaps more obviously science fiction stories ('The Machine in Shaft 10', 'The Causeway') and more of the strangely human later stories ('Doe Lea', 'Cicisbeo') but truthfully this is a collection littered with gems.  A vibrant and colourful selection of stories that speak to and from the heart.

Buy it here - UK / US.

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Thursday, 8 July 2021

Changes to email subscription

Hi folks 

Just a quick heads up that due to Google closing down their email subscription service, Feedburner, I've had to swap over to a different provider, follow.it 

If you've already subscribed then other than it being from a different provider you should continue to receive the notifications as before.  Apparently also for those who are au fait with these sort of things you can tweak the way you receive the notifications.  Personally I haven't a clue about any such shenanigans but I've been informed this is the case.

Obviously, subscribing by email is the easiest way of getting to read Wyrd Britain and we heartily recommend it or you can directly follow the blog via the link in the sidebar or join our Facebook page.

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Wednesday, 7 July 2021

The Hand of Kornelius Voyt

Wyrd Britain reviews Oliver Onions' 'The Hand of Kornelius Voyt' published by Valancourt Books.
Oliver Onions
Valancourt Books 

When Peter Byles’s father dies shortly before the boy’s thirteenth birthday, the young orphan is sent to live at the Victorian Gothic mansion of his father’s friend, Dr. Kornelius Voyt. Peter arrives at the dreary house, surprised to find that he sees nothing of the enigmatic Voyt, instead passing his time in lessons with a young German tutor. But it soon becomes clear to Peter that these lessons are only preparations for something much more sinister that Voyt intends to teach him. Voyt, unable either to hear or speak, has learned to compensate for his disability by developing extraordinary powers of the mind, powers which allow him to communicate telepathically, control the wills of others, and even inflict pain on those who anger him. Voyt has a terrifying vision of the world’s future, and he is determined to use Peter as a pawn in his inscrutable plans. 
 
When he's orphaned at age 12 Peter Byles is sent to live with his father's enigmatic friend Kornelius Voyt, a deaf mute with the uncanny ability to communicate telepathically and to remotely influence the actions of others.  Under his roof Peter is tutored in sign language and German but beyond this he is instructed only to observe and report on those he meets as all the while Voyt slowly indoctrinates his young ward into his misanthropic world view.

Mostly existing off page Voyt is a menacing but ultimately pathetic character whilst Peter is a brat denied the chance to grow beyond adolescent petulance and wilful cruelty.  They are a perfect pairing that'll damn them both.
 
Written with Onions' characteristic intensity the book follows Peter as he both embraces and rebels against his forced destiny and Onions is masterful in teasing out these steps in the young man's development.  Unfortunately when the end comes it all fizzles out a little and the story ends in a very human and undramatic manner.

For those, like me, who know Onions entirely for his superlative short stories this proved to be a fascinating read but one that didn't quite have the power of his shorter tales.

Buy it here - UK / US.
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Sunday, 4 July 2021

Bewitched

Wyrd Britain reviews Edith Wharton's Bewitched adapted for ITVs Shades of Darkness.
With not a nose wiggle in sight this 1983 adaptation of Edith Wharton's 'Bewitched' from her 1926 collection 'Here and Beyond' was made for the mid 80s ITV series 'Shades of Darkness' which made use of several of her stories alongside stories by Agatha Christie, May Sinclair (The Intercessor), Elizabeth Bowen (The Demon Lover), L.P. Hartley (Feet Foremost) and Walter De La Mare (Seaton's Aunt).

Mrs Rutledge (Eileen Atkins) calls the leading men of her village - Reverend Hibben (Alfred Burke), Sylvester Brand (Ray Smith) and Owen Bosworth (Gareth Thomas) to her farm with the claim that her husband is bewitched and consorting with Brand's dead daughter who is slowly draining the life from him. With discussions of the area's history of witchcraft the 'good' men of the village spring into action and tragedy ensues.

Wyrd Britain reviews Edith Wharton's Bewitched adapted for ITVs Shades of Darkness.
Like the other episodes of the series 'Bewitched' is sumptuously produced thanks in no small part I imagine to the presence of executive producer Michael Cox the man behind the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series.  The story is quick but within it's denoument are layers of mystery and intrigue of witchcraft, vampirism, superstition, conspiracy, murder, madness and revenge. 

(The episode is only the first 50 minutes of the video below)



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Sunday, 27 June 2021

Number 13

Wyrd Britain reviews the BBC adaptation of M.R. James' Number 13.
Adapted from the M.R. James story of the same name published in 1904 in 'Ghost Stories of an Antiquary' this BBC version stars Greg Wise as Professor Anderson a repressed and slightly pompous Oxford academic investigating finds in a cathedral archive. These papers hold claims of devil worship on the part of a previous bishop and a man named 'Nicholas Francken' who had practiced his nefarious deeds in the house that had previously stood on the spot now occupied by the hotel in which Anderson is currently lodging.

With a sympathetic script by Justin Hopper (author of the hauntological memoir 'The Old Weird Albion') and an excellent cast that includes Tom Burke (now more known for his portrayal of J.K. Rowling's 'Cormoran Strike') and his father David Burke (Jeremy Brett's first 'Dr Watson') who had coincidentally also featured in the previous years 'A View From A Hill'. 

Wyrd Britain reviews the BBC adaptation of M.R. James' Number 13.
It's not entirely successful, the cast, Wise in particular, look more costumed than clothed, the early outdoor scenes are too crisp, bright and summery which sets an initial mood at odds with where the story wants to lead us and the director, Piers Wilkie, never quite manages to inject the required level of bacchanalian excess onto the oneiric orgies emanating from the ghostly room of the title but presents a convincing environment and for the most part succeeds in creating a tense atmosphere of encroaching dread leading to an unostentatious but satisfying climax.  

Buy it here - Ghost Stories from the BBC: A View From a Hill / Number 13 (DVD) - or watch it below.


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Saturday, 26 June 2021

Peter Zinovieff (26 January 1933 – 23 June 2021)

Today we mark the sad passing last week of electronic music pioneer Peter Zinovieff following a fall at his home the week before.  

In the 1960s he was a member of Unit Delta Plus along with Brian Hodgson and Delia Derbyshire of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and formed the company EMS with David Cockerell and Tristram Carey which developed the VCS3 and Synthi A synthesizers so beloved of purveyors and connoisseurs of early electronic music.

I thought we'd take this opportunity to celebrate his life and work with these two videos.  The first is the slightly more irreverent made using footage from the documentaries "What the Future Sounded Like" and "The New Sound of Music" whilst the second was produced by Sound on Sound magazine in 2016.

If you would ike to hear more of his music then I heartily recommend tracking down a copy of 'Electronic Calendar/The EMS Tapes', a fabulous retrospective of his early work at the EMS studio.

Peter Zinovieff (26 January 1933 – 23 June 2021)

Thank you for all the wonderful sounds.


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Sunday, 20 June 2021

The Beast in the Cellar

When several soldiers are found brutally murdered and the authorities decide that a leopard is to blame elderly sisters Ellie & Joyce Ballantyne (Beryl Reid & Flora Robson) soon realise that the cause of the problem is closer to home than that, right under their feet in fact, bricked up in their cellar.

Produced by Tigon films and written and directed by James Kelley ('Doctor Blood's Coffin') 'The Beast...' was pretty much panned on release and has yet to truly find it's audience but personally I think that's a shame.  Yes it's a bit talky, there's little in the way of suspense and the ending doesn't quite achieve the necessary level of pathos but at the heart of this proto-slasher there's a nice idea dealing with a little explored topic that makes for an intriguing premise for a horror-thriller and there're two great performances from the neurotic Reid (who made a bit of a habit of appearing in great wyrd movies, 'Psychomania' and 'Dr Phibes Rises Again') and the cool calculating Robson ('The Shuttered Room') as the two sisters with the rest of the cast which includes T.P McKenna ('A Child's Voice') and John Hammill ('Tower of Evil') providing able, if maybe a little unispiring, support.



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Sunday, 13 June 2021

Feet Foremost

Wyrd Britain reviews Shades of Darkness Feet Foremost.
'Shades of Darkness' was a mid 1980s series for Granada TV that presented adaptations of unsettling tales by authors  - some famous names (Agatha Christie) and some less so (May Sinclair) -  this particular episode is based on the short story of the same name by L.P. Hartley originally published in 1931 in his collection 'The Killing Bottle'.

The story here revolves around a house haunted by the vengeful ghost of a young woman murdered by her violent husband whose revenge involved possessing the bodies of those she asks to carry her across the threshold of the house and in whose corpse she leaves again in the manner suggested by the title.

Carol Royle in Shades of Darkness Feet Foremost.
Carol Royle gives a predominantly strong performance in the lead and Peter Machin is entertainingly manic as her doomed fiance, there's a fun and barbed performance from Heather Chasen and Ken Kitson (Last of the Summer Wine's 'P.C. Cooper') is the de rigeur rake leaning local with the all the information on the legend of the ghost, Lady Elinor (played by Samantha Gates who, trivia fans may like to note, was one of the two children on the cover of Led Zeppelin's 'Houses of the Holy' album).  

Directed with a fairly gentle hand by Gordon Flemyng (director of both Peter Cushing Dr. Who movies) from a script by Alan Plater, who also adapted May Sinclair's 'The Intercessor' for the same series, this is a less satisfying story than that other that never quite manages to be spooky and has a spectacularly unlikely conclusion.  It is though eminently watchable and, like the rest of the series, an always welcome stab at producing sympathetic adaptations of golden age supernatural tales in the vein of the BBC's M.R. James adaptations at a time when they weren't being made.

Oh and cat lovers please consider yourselves warned.



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Sunday, 6 June 2021

The Body Beneath

The Body Beneath
The Rev. Alexander Algernon Ford (Gavin Reed) is the head of a clan of vampires that live in (Dracula's) Carfax Abbey (relocated by the director from Purfleet) and haunt the nearby Highgate Cemetery - for "21 centuries" despite it having only been there since 1839.  The (not very) Reverend Ford is looking for new victims from within his extended family with which to improve the bloodline of the vampiric branch of the clan.  Finding a suitable candidate in the young and pregnant Susan (Jackie  Scarvellis) he kidnaps her and sets out to establish her as a one woman breeding colony.

US director Andy Milligan made some 27 movies (mostly exploitation and horror) between 1967 and 1988 with this being one of a flurry of films made during a brief sojourn to London in the very early 70s.  'The Body Beneath' is a no budget, camp as Christmas version of the Hammer template as imagined by a third rate theatre troupe.  Beyond its awful script, dreadful direction and diabolical editing it's filled with woeful acting, pointless pregnant pauses, inane gurning and bizarre costumes.  It is entirely terrible and entirely without merit but I've always been of the opinion that those weren't necessarily bad things in a movie.

Buy it here - UK / US.

(please be aware that in the vid below the sound goes slightly out of sync about halfway through - truthfully though that's the least of it's problems - there is a shorter edited version on youtube if you'd prefer)



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Tuesday, 25 May 2021

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Audiobook

May 25th 
Happy Towel Day.

"More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have "lost." What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with."









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Thursday, 20 May 2021

The Book of Koli

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Book of Koli' by M.R. Carey publshed by Orbit Books.
M.R. Carey
Orbit

Beyond the walls of the small village of Mythen Rood lies an unrecognizable world. A world where overgrown forests are filled with choker trees and deadly vines and seeds that will kill you where you stand. And if they don't get you, one of the dangerous shunned men will.
Koli has lived in Mythen Rood his entire life. He knows the first rule of survival is that you don't venture beyond the walls.
What he doesn't know is - what happens when you aren't given a choice?


Mike Carey has destroyed the world before in his fantastic mushroom zombies novel 'The Girl With All The Gifts' and its sequel prequel 'The Boy on the Bridge' and here he's up to apocalyptic shenanigans once again with his new 'Rampart Trilogy' beginning with 'The Book of Koli'.

Now I absolutely love a post-apocalypse novel but I generally prefer a more immediately post scenario than we have here.  Koli's world is several hundred years on from ours in a UK devastated by war and by genetic tampering that has left the world over-run by plants and animals with a real taste for all that squishy stuff that humans are made of.

This first book provides an easy and nicely straight-forward story that allows for some comprehensive world building as we follow young Koli on his travels from the relative safety of his village out into the wilds of Ingland.  

There are the inevitable shades of the two Johns (Wyndham & Christopher) along with hints of Walter M. Miller Jr's 'A Canticle for Leibowitz',  Neal Stephenson's 'The Diamond Age' and Patrick Tilley's 'Amtrak Wars'.  With its undercurrent of botanical menace its debt to 'The Day of the Triffids' is the most notable but Carey has rejigged, reinvented and revived it for a new era and his story is fun and fleet of foot, never settling and thoroughly enjoyable and I'm very much looking forward to getting stuck into the next one.

Buy it here - UKUS.

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Sunday, 16 May 2021

The Haunted House of Horror

Wyrd Britain reviews The Haunted House of Horror.

Director Michael Armstrong's 1969 debut feature 'The Haunted House of Horror' (also known as 'Horror House') has become well known as an example of studio hackery over directorial vision as his taut proto-slasher was re-edited and added to by studio (Tigon) dictat turning it into a bit of an overlong and meandering mess.

It's late 60s London and a group of pretty young things bored by their own party head off to a derelict and supposedly haunted house to hold a séance where one of them is brutally murdered.  Realising there's a murdering lunatic among them they decide to simply cover it all up and hope for the best which of course is exactly what doesn't happen.

At its core is a solid thriller with some strong performances from much of its cast especially Jill Haworth - who made a few horrors around this time including 'Tower of Evil' - but one has to wonder if some of Armstrong's original casting choices - including David Bowie as 'Richard' - would have made for a stronger movie with US popstar Frankie Avalon - cast at the insistence of US investor AIP - making for a very ineffective lead right up to his eye-watering end and both the subplot featuring a stalkery George Sewell and the final reveal drag somewhat but this is a movie that despite its many flaws I have a real soft spot for although it is tinged with a hankering for what could have been.

Buy it here - UK / US.



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Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Hellraiser: Soundtrack Hell - The Story of the Abandoned Coil Score

Stephen Thrower discusses Coil, Clive Barker and  The Unreleased Themes For Hellraiser
In 1984 Coil member Stephen Thrower struck up a friendship with author Clive Barker after a chance meeting in a London Forbidden Planet shop and played him some tracks off the not yet released first Coil album, 'Scatology'.  

From this friendship and mutual artistic appreciation the band were soon asked by Barker to provide the soundtrack to his movie 'Hellraiser', an adaptation of his own novella 'The Hellbound Heart'.  Alas, beyond some preliminary recordings, it was not to be and at the studio's insistence the movie eventually went the more typical orchestral route via composer Christopher Young.  

Stephen Thrower discusses Coil, Clive Barker and  The Unreleased Themes For Hellraiser
In the video below Stephen Thrower tells the story of the soundtrack; its development and it's demise.  Obviously for a Coil (and Cyclobe) fan like me it makes for a fascinating watch and it's a joy to see Thrower's enjoyment in the telling.  Personally Hellraiser was never a film I had any particular love for; I thought it had some striking visuals but body horror was never really my thing. I can't help but feel though that an undiluted version formed from those initial discussions between the author and the musicians would have been quite something to behold.



And then there's the music.  Within Coil fandom the story has long been debated and endless "What if's" discussed over how different the film could have been "If only..."

The small amount of music they made in that week in the studio has long been available and with it's very of the time sound palette and strong John Carpenter vibes it ably shows just how good it all could have sounded and makes the decison to drop them from the project all the more bizarre and obviously one made by corporate dictat.



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Sunday, 9 May 2021

The Silent Scream

Wyrd Britain The Silent Scream from Hammer House of Horror starring Peter Cushing
The seventh episode of Hammer Studio's and ITC's 1980 television series 'Hammer House of Horror' sees a newly released convict with the action movie name of Chuck Spillers (Brian Cox) taking a job with the man who had visited him in prison, Martin Blueck (Peter Cushing).  The job entails helping him look after the wild big cats in his basement zoo that he's using in his experiments to create a prison with no bars.  Unfortunately, temptation soon proves too much for Spillers and Blueck's true nature and plans are revealed.

Wyrd Britain The Silent Scream from Hammer House of Horror starring Peter Cushing
Cushing, in his last role for Hammer, is, of course, as brilliant as ever and plays both aspects of Blueck's nature - the facade of banality that conceals the psychopathy underneath - to perfection whilst Cox is perfectly cast opposite him as the incorrigible and fairly hapless jailbird and as an actor of note in his own right able to hold his own aganst the Hammer legend in full flight.  Being more of a psychological thriller than the outright horror that either the venerable studio or the lead actor is famed for it's great fun to see, even at this late stage, their take on something different and as such it's always been one of my favourite episodes from the series.

Buy it here - UK /  US 



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Sunday, 2 May 2021

The Creeping Flesh

Wyrd Britain reviews The Creeping Flesh starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.
Professor Emmanuel Hildern (Peter Cushing) returns from an expedition to New Guinea with the skeleton of a mythological evil giant that he soon discovers can be revived through contact with water.  Having being denied further funding by his asylum running half-brother Dr James Hildern (Christopher Lee) he begins to rush his experiments to use the skeleton to immunise the world from evil injecting his serum firstly into his lab monkey and, soon after, into his daughter Penelope (Lorna Heilbron).  Needless to say things soon start to deteriorate for all involved as several storylines begin to converge leading to a grim but pleasingly ambivalent ending.

Here, director Freddie Francis has perhaps made a movie with slightly too many loose ends for them all to be successfully and fully explored in the time given but in the tradition of a number of other Tigon movies ('The Blood on Satan's Claw' & 'Witchfinder General') it's ambitions are to be celebrated and with Francis' cinematographer's eye it looks lovely.


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Tuesday, 27 April 2021

The Feast of Bacchus

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Feast of Bacchus' by Ernest G. Henham published by Valancourt Books.
Ernest G. Henham
Valancourt Books

In the remote hamlet of Thorlund stands the manor house known as the Strath, an eerie place that exercises a mysterious hold over anyone who enters it. The site of tragedy in 1742 when its owner, Sir John Hooper, turned highwayman and met his death on the gallows, the Strath has remained vacant for over a century, a pair of hideous masks its only occupants. When the novel opens, the Strath’s new owner has just arrived from America to take possession of the house, but he is soon found horribly murdered. Now the next heir, young Charles Conway, has come to the Strath, and the house begins to work its baneful influence on him and on the local residents, causing them to behave in bizarre and violent ways. What is the connection between the sinister power of the Strath and the ghastly masks that adorn the wall? And once Conway and the others are drawn within the evil place, can any of them possibly survive?

'The Feast of Bacchus' is another of Valancourt Books' series of reprints of neglected and forgotten gems of supernatural fiction from the Edwardian and interwar eras and another fascinating read.

Ernest George Henham was an English writer who wrote prolifically under his own name and as 'John Trevena'.  Published in 1907 'The Feast of Bacchus' tells a haunted house story of 'The Strath' a manor house with a chequered history in the remote village of Thorlund.  The house has lain abandoned for some 160 years behind it's gates and amidst a garden grown wild, it's only visitor the neighbouring rector who walks in its garden and under its influence  translates the classic poetry of Sappho and Alcman.  Into this idyll comes the brash American Henry Reed, the owner of the house, with his foolhardy plans for the place that soon lead to his demise.

Inside the house reside two masks, comedy and tragedy, and when Reed's heir Charles Conway arrives it's their growing influence that controls the actions of himself, his visitors and the neighbours as events unfold in line with the structure of a Greek play.

It's a fabulously strange read that held me rapt throughout as Henham takes his cast of characters apart piece by piece and remakes them in various forms - often in line with his own quite conservative worldview.  They are all though very likeable in their ways and even those with less than pleasant character traits are never portrayed as cartoonish with their fripperies and their profligacies shown to be only part of a larger personality perhaps yet to emerge.

The final resolution is obvious but correct and brings to a close a wild and weird ride.  It's an exhale after the breathless and relentless build as The Strath's hold tightens and the sense of release one feels at the end is palpable and one is left to marvel at the beauty and power of Henham's creation.

Buy it here - UK / US.

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Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Third World War Book 2: Back to Babylon

Wyrd Britain reviews Third World War Book 2: Back to Babylon by Pat Mills, Carlos Ezquerra and Rebellion publishing.
Pat Mills
Alan Mitchell
Carlos Ezquerra
Sean Phillips
Duncan Fegredo
Rebellion

The second thrilling Treasury of British Comics collection of the politically charged thriller by Pat Mills and Carlos Ezquerra.
After her eye-opening experiences of corporate interference in Central America, Eve returns to Britain with a renewed political drive and determination to fight for what she believes in.
Written in the late 80s by Pat Mills (Nemesis the Warlock, Slaine) this incendiary second volume of the ground-breaking political comic not only contains contributions by legend Carlos Ezquerra (Judge Dredd, Preacher) but also introduces international comics stars Sean Phillips (Criminal, Kill or Be Killed) and Duncan Fegredo (Hellboy, Kid Eternity).

In this second volume of Third World War the focus moves from South America to the UK as Eve, Paul and the rest (who don't really feature all that much) return home on leave to a country in pieces where the wealth gap is unbreachable and civil liberties have ceased to be a thing.

'3WW' was set in a Thatcherite wet dream version of now that always seemed horribly plausible although in this case one that has been mixed with a gang culture worthy of inclusion in 'The Warriors'.

Paul, or the 'eco-terrorist' Finn as he was revealed to be in the previous volume is off doing his thing for most of the book whilst Eve becomes increasingly involved with the Black African Defence Squad (BADS) who have liberated, renamed and occupied a walled off Brixton.  It's here that the focus of the book lies with Mills riffing on colonialism and racism - both political and casual - and on the experiences of black people in the UK and under UK jurisdiction whilst - almost - never forgetting that he's writing a dystopian sci fi comic.

Mills was at the top of his game when he wrote this series producing it alongside work such as the iconic Slaine: The Horned God and Marshall Law whilst the much missed Carlos Ezquerra always produced the most sublime work.  Alongside these we have co-writer Alan Mitchell, recruited by Mills to provide an authentic voice to the work, and two artists who have become international names in their own rights but here produce work that is sympathetic to that of Ezquerra.

As is often the case - both with Mills and political work in general - it is a little heavy handed in places but equally with its focus on racism, green issues, food poverty, state surveillance and economic disparity it's still as depressingly relevant now as it was then and like all the best dystopian fiction it's terrifyingly apposite.

Buy it here - UK / US.
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Sunday, 18 April 2021

Doctor Blood's Coffin

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Doctor Blood's Coffin'.
When Doctor Peter Blood (Kieron Moore - 'The Day of the Triffids') is thrown out of his research post in Vienna he relocates to the mines under his home town in Cornwall where he continues his experiments on reanimating the dead by using hearts harvested from people he thinks are undeserving of life.

Moore is an intense lead hamstrung by a lumpen script and an inability to lock doors when he's up to no good but is ably assisted by horror queen Hazel Court ('The Curse of Frankentstein' & 'The Masque of the Red Death') as Nurse Linda Carter, Ian Hunter as his father, Doctor Robert Blood, and Kenneth J. Warren as the flailing and flummoxed copper.

Released in 1961 and directed by Sidney J. Furie - one of five movies he made that year including Cliff Richard's 'The Young Ones' and several years before he was to make 'The Ipcress File' - it's a slow and remarkably bloodless affair especially as it's one of the first movies to deal with the notion of zombies as the reanimated dead but as a play on the Frankenstein idea it's well worth a watch.  

Buy it here - UK / US.


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Monday, 12 April 2021

The Cormorant

Wyrd Britain reviews The Cormorant by Stephen Gregory.  Published by Parthian Books.
Stephen Gregory
Parthian

'We had been in the cottage for a week when the cormorant was delivered, that October evening.'
When a young family inherit a remote mountain-side cottage in north Wales, giving them the chance to change the course of their lives and start over, the one condition of the will seems strange but harmless. They are to care for a cormorant until the end of its life.

But the bird is no tame pet, and within its natural state of wildness there is a malevolent intelligence and intent towards sharp, unexpected violence. However, it is the fascination it holds for Harry, the couple’s precious only child, that really threatens their dreams of rural contentment.

First published in 1986, at which point Gregory won a Somerset Maugham award for it, 'The Cormorant' has now been reissued by Welsh publisher Parthian, one of the publishers who kept the works of Arthur Machen in print during the lean years and to whom we shall always be thankful.

It's the story of a young family who inherit from the narrator's Uncle Ian a cottage in North Wales that allows them to quit their teaching jobs and take themselves and their infant son out of the city and into the wilds of Snowdonia.  However, Uncle Ian's will had a codicil requiring them to take care of his rescued, ill-tempered, cormorant and it's the bird's arrival which triggers unexpected emotions of horror and fascination from our un-named narrator's wife (Ann) and son (Harry) respectively.

Even the most cursory online search for this book will bring up many references to a controversial scene and when it arrives it's certainly ickily gratuitous and almost certainly unnecessary but what eighties horror didn't have gratuitous sex and violence so, I kinda looked on it as par for the course.

Beyond the sex and violence Gregory excels at conjouring the lush but unforgiving North Wales landscape and it is in this that the book really comes alive; the wintery mountains and turbulent waters of the Caernarfon coast are at the heart of the narrative reflecting the personalities of the human and avian characters.  

Gregory has populated his story with flawed, often unlikeable characters; the hapless narrator vacilating between love and hate in his relationship with the bird, occasionally losing touch with himself both to reverie and to fury; Ann both oddly submissive and hard-heartedly decisive and, the child, Harry precocious and seemingly in thrall to the bird.  Indeed, so odd was the behaviour of these characters and linked with the narrator's occasional, visual, auditory and olfactory phantasmagorias of his benefactor that I began to wonder if any of them, the narrator included, were actually even real and whether the whole thing was a psychotic break happening within the mind of a not dead but very unwell Uncle Ian.  The ending certainly didn't give me any clear answers either way and I find myself still pondering this several days later.

With a shared DNA with recent publications like Andrew Michael Hurley's 'The Loney', 'Devil's Day' and 'Starve Acre' and Max Porter's 'Lanny' and with it's outermost focus on the interactions between people, nature and the supernatural 'The Cormorant' feels remarkably fresh and very much of the moment.

Buy it here - UK / US.
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Sunday, 11 April 2021

Baffled!

Wyrd Britain reviews Baffled! starring Leonard Nimoy and Susan Hampshire.
After leaving the cast of 'Mission ImpossibleLeonard Nimoy spent several years racking up various special guest appearences along with a starring role in this pilot episode for a never made occult detective series from ITC, the home of such shows as The SaintThe Champions, The Prisoner, Captain Scarlet and the MysteronsSpace 1999 and many more.

Nimoy plays racing car driver Tom Kovack who starts experiencing visions of death at an English country house.  Teaming up with rare book dealer and amateur occultist Michelle Brent (Susan Hampshire) they head to the clifftop house on the English coast where they find American actress Andrea Glenn (Vera Miles) and her daughter Jennifer (Jewel Blanch) caught up in an elaborate(ish), occult(ish) ,Agatha Christie(ish) scheme.

Wyrd Britain reviews Baffled! starring Leonard Nimoy and Susan Hampshire.
Truthfully it's no surprise it didn't go to series as it's just not great and it has a terrible name.  There's some nice chemistry between the two leads with Hampshire effortlessly affable in her role, Nimoy as cool as ever but he was always better when acting without emotions and there's a solid Wyrd Britain cast around them including Ray Brooks (the voice of 'Mr Benn'), Christopher Benjamin ('Henry Gordon Jago' in 'The Talons of Weng-Chiang' and various Big Finish spin offs) and Milton Johns ('The Invasion of Time').  It's far too long though and despite obviously having a moderately healthy budget, some fun dialogue and a good bratty performance from Blanch it never really gets going but if - like me - you've a love of an occult detective romp and you've ever wanted to see Spock wrestling an old lady then this is for you.



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