Sunday, 27 November 2022

Nebulous

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Nebulous' from BBC Radio 4 and starring Mark Gatiss.
It's 2099 where following various environmental disasters which have reduced human knowledge, changed the Earth's orbit, split much of the UK into islands and vastly reduced the human population we find Professor Nebulous (Mark Gatiss), destroyer of the Isle of Wight and head of KENT (Key Non-judgmental Environmental Taskforce), investigating environmental dangers as he attempts to restore the world while also taking in laundry to supplement their funding.

Nebulous ran for 3 series on BBC Radio 4 between January 2005 and June 2008 with the first episode being remade in 2019 as the animated pilot you can see below.

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Nebulous' from BBC Radio 4 and starring Mark Gatiss.

The show is an affectionate spoof on the cornerstones of Wyrd Britain such as Quatermass, Doctor Who and Doomwatch and indeed the finale of the pilot episode revolves around a notable reference to The Day of the Triffids movie.  It features a strong cast including the likes of the series' writer and producer Graham Duff as Rory Lawson and the great David Warner as Nebulous' nemesis Doctor Klench alongside guest stars such as David Tennant, Peter Davison and Kate O'Mara. Not every joke lands cleanly and episodes are often a little too crammed for their own good but such is the curse of the radio play with it's need to avoid dead air but the series as a whole is a thoroughly enjoyable pastiche of the type of shows we champion here which deserves it's place alongside them.

You can watch the animated pilot below with the rest of the series available to own on disc or download from your retailer of choice or you can listen to them here -  https://archive.org/details/nebulous5

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Tuesday, 22 November 2022

Dusky Ruth & Other Stories

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Dusky Ruth & Other Stories' by A.E. Coppard.
A.E. Coppard
Penguin

Beyond that woeful 1970's soft porn image that (dis)graces the cover this is another delightful collection of gently bucolic and occasionally supernatural tales from the pen of a master.

I've read more than a few of these stories before in the modern collection I reviewed here the other year such as the lovely title piece, the gently strange 'Adam & Eve & Pinch Me', the devious humanity of 'Weep Not My Wanton' and the gossipy comraderie of 'The Field of Mustard'.  Betyond those are other treasures such as the fairytale of 'The Bogey Man', the delicate familial love displayed in 'The Cherry Tree', the love story of 'Polly Morgan' and many more.

Coppard was a true master of the short story.  Few of the stories in his collections are particarly weird or supernatural but I recommend them unreservedly to devotees of both as he was blessed with an imagination imbued with a pastoral fecundity that allowed it to roam paths trod and untrod through the countryside that fueled it.

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Sunday, 6 November 2022

Mr Nightingale

'Mr Nightingale' is an episode of the 1977 BBC1 series 'Supernatural' where an initiate tells a story ro gain membership of the 'Club of the Damned' and here it's the story of an Englishman (Jeremy Brett) in Hamburg on business staying with a local family who discovers he has a double or does he?  Dum Dum Duuuuum!

With very limited sets but a solid cast pulled from the supporting casts of such Wyrd Britain delights such as 'Countess Dracula' (Lesley-Ann Down), 'Doomwatch' (Bruce Purchase & Donald Eccles) and 'The Tomorrow People' (Mary Law) and a workable, if slightly hackneyed, story it could have worked but unfortunately doesn't and the lion share of it's failure must be borne by it's lead.  Brett is very much of the Vincent Price school of acting and has never seen a piece of scenery that he didn't want to chew.  Here he's dialled all the way up to 11 and utterly manic in the role of the increasingly doolally title character but his performance elicits cringes and sniggers rather than any empathy .

I hadn't intended on posting this here as in all honesty I thought it was really quite awful but as it would have been Brett's 89th birthday this last week I thought I'd embrace the opportunity and besides someone may enjoy it.

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Friday, 4 November 2022

Titus Groan

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Titus Groan' book one of the Gormenghast trilogy by Mervyn Peake.
Mervyn Peake
Vintage

Titus, heir to Lord Sepulchrave, has just been born, he stands to inherit the miles of rambling stone and mortar that stand for Gormenghast Castle. There are tears and strange laughter; fierce births and deaths beneath umbrageous ceilings; dreams and violence and disenchantment contained within a labyrinth of stone.
Starts with the birth and ends with the first birthday celebrations of the heir to the grand, tradition-bound castle of Gormenghast. A grand miasma of doom and foreboding weaves over the sterile rituals of the castle. Villainous Steerpike seeks to exploit the gaps between the formal rituals and the emotional needs of the ruling family for his own profit.

This book / series has been on my must read list pretty much since I learned of it's existenceand I knew that one day I'd get the urge to read it and that day finally arrived.  Was it worth the wait? Yes, pretty much but I wasn't as blown away as I'd hoped to be.

Titus Groan is the freshly born heir to the House of Groan, the ruling family of the monolithic castle of Gormenghast and surrounding country.  Gormenghast is a place of ritual where every action is governed by centuries of ritual and heritage that permeates through it's labyrinthine corridors and highly stratified hierachy.   Into this system comes the self serving, psychopathic figure of Steerpike, a kitchen boy with his eye on something more for himself, something better.

It's a richly imagined and intrically plotted novel of Machiavellian intrigue going head to head with the immovable force of entrenched tradition.  It is though very slow,  so slow in fact that I actually jumped when some 200 pages in a character fell over but in it's inexorable advance we get plenty of time to watch the progression of Steerpike's plans and to marvel at his callous, unflinching manipulation of those around him.

It's a book unlike anything else I've read with a bold and frankly astounding vision at it's heart and I wish I liked it more than I did but really I've never been much of a fantasy fan but like it I did and I'm looking forward to book two to see where this long, drawn out introduction to the gothic environs of Gormenghast and it's inhabitants leads.

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Sunday, 30 October 2022

The Mutations

Wyrd Britain reviews The Mutations (Freakmaker) starring Donald Pleasence & Tom Baker.
Made in 1974 by Cyclone & Getty Pictures Corp and occasional director Jack Cardiff - more famous for his work as a cinematographer for the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and John Huston - 'The Mutations' (also known as 'Freakmaker') is the story of a mad scientist by the name of Professor Nolter (Donald Pleasence) who's attempting to create a plant / animal hybrid by feeding rabbits to a tree and by kidnapping and experimenting on his own students.  Helping him in these endeavours is  freak show owner Mr Lynch played, under heavy prosthetics, by Tom Baker in a very familiar looking outfit and who 2 months and 4 days on from the movie's release make his debut as The Doctor.

Wyrd Britain reviews The Mutations (Freakmaker) starring Donald Pleasence & Tom Baker.
Truly it's a bit of a mess and really only composer Basil Kirchin who provides an often beautifully dissonant but also groovily jazzy and filmic score and the various cast members populating the freak show come out of the movie with their heads held high.  Pleasence and Baker are both reliable enough and the fabulous Jill Haworth ('The Haunted House of Horror', 'It!' & 'Tower of Evil') is reduced to a little more than a bit part with the leads being given to the woefully wooden Brad Harris and Julie Ege neither of whom have the charisma or the acting chops to carry the film.

Cardiff isn't much of a director and after a promising start the film begins to lag and the monster when it appears is hysterically bad but beyond the creature feature there's a rather lovely little riff on Tod Browning's masterpiece 'Freaks' that's bursting to get out but never quite manages too.


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Sunday, 9 October 2022

The Trollenberg Terror (The Crawling Eye)

"Didn't you see? His head! It was torn off!"

Written by legendary Hammer Films screenwriter Jimmy Sangster and released in 1958 'The Trollenberg Terror' (or 'The Crawling Eye' in the US) is the story of an investigation into the deaths linked to an inexplicable, unmoving, radioactive mist on the side of Mount Trollenberg (not actually) in Switzerland.  Doing the investigating is intrepid US troubleshooter Alan Brooks (Forrest Tucker), intrepid journalist Philip Truscott (Laurence Payne) and intrepid mind reading sisters Anne (Janet Munro - The Day the Earth Caught Fire) and Sarah Pilgrim (Jennifer Jayne - beloved of us here at Wyrd Britain for being the pseudonymous screenwriter (as Jay Fairbank) of Tales That Witness Madness and Son of Dracula).

What we get here is a good old fashioned alien invasion movie with shades of 'X the Unknown', 'Island of Terror' and 'Night of the Big Heat' and like all good creature features it's a load of B movie tosh littered with cliches, rubbish monsters - in this case a giant eyeball with tentacles - and a heroic, fiery last stand which, of course, is everything one could want in a monster movie.


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Thursday, 22 September 2022

Look Around You

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Look Around You'.
When people talk about the golden age of British television comedy you can be fairly sure they're about to rehash tired old cliches about everything from 'Hancock's Half Hour' and 'Steptoe and Son' to 'Fawlty Towers' or 'Only Fools and Horses' but personally these shows and their ilk left me cold.  I was entirely the wrong generation and of a very different inclination to find any of them at all funny.  For me comedy first properly grabbed my attention with 'The Young Ones' but my golden age includes shows such as 'The Day Today', 'Brass Eye', 'Jam', 'Spaced', 'Black Books' and the hauntological fever dream that was 'Look Around You'

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Look Around You'.
Created by Robert Popper and Peter Serafinowicz 'Look Around You' was, in it's first series, a note perfect and fabulously daft pastiche of the types of daytime educational shows that you half watched when the TV was wheeled into the class in school or which you stared at uncomprehendingly over a snotty tissue when home ill. The second series featured longer episodes in the pop-science style of 'Tomorrow's World' that introduced the country to amongst other things The Petticoat 5 "the computer made by women for women", synthesizers and rap music.

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Look Around You'.

As fun as the second series is, it's that first series of 10 minute shorts (plus the double length pilot you can watch below) that's the gem.  The pair perfectly captured the cheap and cheerless nature of these shows and each episode is filled with incomprehensible experiements, lingering shots of beakers, wires and oscillators, absurdly named equipment, grimy 1980s landscapes, bearded scientists and pencils, pointing.  It's an obvious labour of love that no matter how often I watch it never fails to evoke disquietingly flu-like feelings of nostalgia.

"Please ensure you have your copy book at hand as you'll be asked to take down notes from the screen at various points throughout the programme."


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Sunday, 18 September 2022

The Earth Wire and Other Stories

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Earth Wire and Other Stories' by Joel Lane published by Influx Press.
Joel Lane
Influx Press

Joel Lane (1963–2013) was one of the UK's foremost writers of dark, unsettling fiction, a frank explorer of sexuality and the transgressive aspects of human nature. With a tight focus on the post-industrial Black Country and his home city of Birmingham, he created a distinct form of British urban weird fiction.
His debut collection, The Earth Wire was first published in 1994 by Egerton Press and is reissued in paperback by Influx Press for the first time in over twenty-five years.
Love and death. Sex and despair. The Earth Wire is a thrilling, disturbing examination of the means and the cost of survival.

Unfortunately I never got to read Lane's stories when he was alive but I know he was held in high regard by a number of folks I know and admire so when I heard that some of his work was being reprinted by Influx Press I grabbed two of the collections that intrigued me the most.  

This first collection was originally published in 1994 a time most assuredly reflected in the pessimism at the heart of many of the stories.  These are stories formed out of the stifling confines of - at that point - 15 years of Tory government. When to be poor or to be different was to be less and when for many people - myself included - to be anything other was to be as impossible as it was unthinkable.  Lane's characters exist in the dark and claustrophobic confines of a post Thatcher Britain that has fallen even further into dismal fascistic hell than it thankfully did. Confronting Lane's characters isn't the mask of gurning buffoonary we are currently subjected to but the shaven headed, booted thuggery we came to know in the 70s and 80s returned.  

These stories though aren't solely social and political fiction this is weird fiction of the highest order.  Taking his cues from the likes of Robert Aickman and M. John Harrison Lane's characters exist in worlds of confusion, delusion, transformation and hallucination.  His stories are succinct and beautifully strange often dropping us into a broken reality tantalisingly familiar yet deliriously other.

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Thursday, 15 September 2022

Who is David Tibet?

Who is David Tibet? - Wyrd Britain
Today I'd like to share with you this lovely little film made in the run up to the opening of musician, poet, publisher and painter David Tibet's first US art exhibition at the California State University, Fullerton, Begovich Gallery titled 'Invocation of Almost'.

The film, made by Reypak Creative and commissioned by the university to, I assume introduce Tibet to a wider audience likely unfamiliar with him and his work in all it's many forms, features contributions from Tibet himself along with exhibition curators Jacqueline Bunge and Shaun Richards along with various fans of Tibet's work and provides a tantalising glimpse of what looked to have been a fantastic and lovingly assembled exhibition of his work.


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Tuesday, 13 September 2022

The Last Days of New Paris

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Last Days of New Paris' by China Mieville from Picador.
China Mieville
Picador

It's 1941. In the chaos of wartime Marseille, American engineer - and occult disciple - Jack Parsons stumbles onto a clandestine anti-Nazi group, including surrealist theorist André Breton. In the strange games of the dissident diplomats, exiled revolutionaries, and avant-garde artists, Parsons finds and channels hope. But what he unwittingly unleashes is the power of dreams and nightmares, changing the war and the world forever.

I've read and tried to read a few of Mieville's books over the years and have struggled and failed with most but made it through 'Kraken' which was interesting but I must admit I found it really slow going.  I spotted this one a little while ago and it kind of jumped out at me on the shelf so I thought as it's essentially a novella - and I really do love a novella - I'd give it a go.

Jumping between two points in time it tells the story of a Jack Parsons initiated occult event in Paris in the early days of the Nazi occupation that results in the manifestation of various surrealist artworks and of the effects of that event and the arrival of these 'Manifs' and the Nazi's own demons on the city some 10 years later.

It's nicely written and whilst all the moving parts are in place the story never really gets up a head (made of) steam but at it's heart this is a pure pulp romp very much in the spirit of 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' and lets be honest here Jack Parsons, a pioneering rocket scientist and an Aleister Crowley devotee occultist, is a fantastic Indiana Jones substitute but this is a Mieville pulp romp with higher aspirations formed from the always intriguing intellectual premise of art as a weapon because, as it says on Woody Guthrie's guitar, "This machine kills fascists".

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Sunday, 11 September 2022

The Restless Ghost

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Restless Ghost' from Dramarama, Spooky.
Based on the story of the same name by Leon Garfield, a staple of many a ghostly anthology, 'The Restless Ghost' is the story of two young lads, Bostock (Stephen Rooney) & Harris (Jonathan Jackson), who decide to play a trick on the old sexton (Wilfrid Brambell) who stops them scrumping apples by dressing up as the ghostly drummer boy (Matthew Peters) who reputedly haunts the graveyard.

Unlike a number of the other 'Spooky' episodes that launched the long running Dramarama series this one isn't actually all that spooky with it's studio sets and it's very old fashioned storyline but it holds together well and has some solid performances from the cast (even the kids) which is rounded out by Colin Jeavons, an actor with strong wyrd credentials having appeared in the likes of Doomwatch, Doctor Who, Kinvig and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy but who will probably be most widely remembered alongside Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes as Inspector Lestrade in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.


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Tuesday, 6 September 2022

Mischief Acts

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Mischief Acts' by Zoe Gilbert.
Zoe Gilbert
Bloomsbury Circus

Herne the hunter, mischief-maker, spirit of the forest, leader of the wild hunt, hurtles through the centuries pursued by his creator.
A shapeshifter, Herne dons many guises as he slips and ripples through time – at candlelit Twelfth Night revels, at the spectacular burning of the Crystal Palace, at an acid-laced Sixties party. Wherever he goes, transgression, debauch and enchantment always follow in his wake.
But as the forest is increasingly encroached upon by urban sprawl and gentrification, and the world slides into crisis, Herne must find a way to survive – or exact his revenge.

Zoe Gilbert is the author of 'Folk' a book I've had in my hands a bunch of times but never actually got around to buying and reading.  This, her second novel, however was waving at me from the new release pile in the shop and insisted on being taken home and read.

The book takes the form of a series of vignettes all relating to the ever shrinking wood that's home to Herne the Hunter and various associated spirits.  Her stories tell of Herne's genesis, his capricious nature and his waning influence through the ages on those who interact with the wood.  Some tales work better than others, some are more developed, some feel more instinctive and some a little clumsy.

In the end though what we have is a love letter to the woods and to the myths, the legends and the histories that reside within them in much the same way as Robert Holdstock's sublime 'Mythago Wood' cycle did.  It tells the story of our relationship with our history and with the natural world and finds us very much wanting before injecting just a hint of optimism into it's green and growing wooden heart.

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Sunday, 4 September 2022

Virgin Witch

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Virgin Witch' from Tigon British Film Productions.

Starring Anne and Vicki Michelle 'Virgin Witch' is the story of two sisters who have run away from home to become models but instead find themselves embroiled in a coven of witches run by Patricia Haines and Neil Hallet

One of the final films produced by the venerable Tigon British Film Productions - home of 'Witchfinder General' and 'The Blood on Satan's Claw' - it really is a load of sexploitation tosh and if there's an award for the director most successful at getting their actresses out of their clothes then Ray Austin must have been in the running in 1972 with the first 8 shots of the movie all being of topless women - although Pete Walker would perhaps have given him a run for the title with 'The Flesh and Blood Show' which opens with Luan Peters answering the door and running around her flat completely naked for several minutes. 

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Virgin Witch' from Tigon British Film Productions.
The story, such as it is, is entirely secondary to the nudity as Austin shoehorns in as much nubile flesh as possible.  His direction is turgid and neither of the Michelle sisters have either the chops or presence to front the movie but I suspect their acting skills weren't top of the director's mind when they were hired and both have subsequently disowned the film.  Anne would, a year later, go on to appear as a member of 'The Living Dead' biker gang in the wonderful 'Psychomania' while her sister would appear in the gloriously trashy 'Spectre' and find fame in the dire 'Allo, 'Allo!' which she really should disown.  The movie, after a slow start, does eventually pick up the pace and makes an attempt at forging an ending that while intending to evoke the hallucinatory, bacchanalian, orgiastic excess of a 1970s idea of a witches sabbath instead just looks utterly daft and the whole thing just fizzles out. 

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Wednesday, 31 August 2022

The Modern Antiquarian

Wyrd Britain reviews Julian Cope's 'The Modern Antiquarian'.Made in 2000 two years after he published his book of the same name this film finds Julian Cope back on the road again visiting some of his favourite prehistoric sites.

His journey takes him to Cornwall, the Isle of Lewis, Orkney, Aberdeenshire, Silbury Hill and Avebury as Cope enthuses about his love of the stones and the circles and his beliefs surrounding their use and their construction.  He's an engaging host and makes some intriguing observations and assumptions which makes for an interesting watch.

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Monday, 29 August 2022

The Fall of Koli: Rampart Trilogy 3

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

The Fall of Koli is the third and final novel in the breathtakingly original Rampart trilogy - set in a strange and deadly world of our own making.
The world that is lost will come back to haunt us . . .
Koli has come a long way since being exiled from his small village of Mythen Rood. In his search for the fabled tech of the old times, he knew he'd be battling strange, terrible beasts and trees that move as fast as whips. But he has already encountered so much more than he bargained for.
Now that Koli and his companions have found the source of the signal they've been following - the mysterious "Sword of Albion" - there is hope that their perilous journey will finally be worth something.
Until they unearth terrifying truths about an ancient war . . . and realise that it may have never ended.

And so we come to the conclusion of Koli's tale as our charmingly naive and endlessly good hearted hero attempts to make good on his dreams.

Having been cast out of his village into the almost certain death of an Ingland covered in murderous flora and fauna and having journeyed with his three companions to the lake where London had been before Koli finds himself at the 'walls' of The Sword of Albion, source of the message the travellers had been following.

Now, I'm going to be very careful here not to give away any spoilers as this is, of course, a pivotal moment in Koli's story and what we have is a book very much of two halves. For me much of the first half was a bit of a jarring change of pace but one proved necessary by the second where Koli is finally presented with the opportunity he's been searching for in an ending that is as bittersweet as it is triumphant.

Finally, I've definitely said this before in my reviews of Carey's books - and it seems likely I'll say it again - but for me he's the true successor to those writers of the end times and beyond - the two John's in particular - that we revere here at Wyrd Britain.  His work, whilst very much his own, is rooted in tales of Triffids, Tripods, Chrysalids and Cuckoos and personally I adore them for it.

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Thursday, 25 August 2022

Randalls Round: Nine Nightmares

Wyrd Britain reviews Eleanor Scott's 'Randall's Round: Nine Nightmares' published by British Library Tales of the Weird.
Eleanor Scott
British Library Tales of the Weird

'These stories have all had their origins in dreams... These dreams were terrifying enough to the dreamer... I hope that some readers will experience an agreeable shudder or two in the reading of them.'An enigmatic and shadowy presence answers the call of an ancient curse on the coast of Brittany; a traveller's curiosity leads him to witness a hellish sacrifice by night; a treasure-hunt in a haunted mansion takes a turn for the tentacular.

Eleanor Scott was a pseudonym used by an Oxford based teacher named Helen Magdalen Leys under which she produced the nine stories that make up the Randall's Round collection.  Taking her inspiration from various writers of the supernatural - most of them her contemporaries - Scott wrote a series of tales that draw from stories such as 'Seaton's Aunt' and 'Whistle and I'll Come to You My Lad' as well as finding much inspiration in both archaeological and folkloric sources that have given her work a new vitality in an age of renewed interest in rural or 'folk' horror.

Where Scott's stories fall down however lies in her seeming unwillingness to allow her stories to end on a dark note as again and again she insists on allowing her protagonists a last minute escape which becomes more than a little wearisome.

Closing the book are two stories by 'N. Dennett' who Richard Dalby (anthologist and ghost story expert extraordinaire) identified as potentially being another of Ley's pseudonyms.  These two tales continue the rural theme both in terms of location - a witch's house alone on a desolate moorland in 'Unburied Bane' and the tainted pagan idol that looms over the entrance to the churchyard that's held in superstitious awe by the parishoners in 'The Menhir'.  It takes a better eye than mine to make such a claim as to Dennett's identity but beyond the obvious similarities these two tales proved to be my favourites of the set and rounded off a mostly fairly light but enjoyable collection very nicely with their distinctly darker hue.

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Monday, 22 August 2022

Psychic TV / Current 93 / Coil - Christian Documentary Expose

Psychic  TV, Coil, Current 93, Wyrd Britain
This is a small clip from a US Christian documentary from 1989 that took issue with the prevalence of 'rock' music in US culture called 'Hell's Bells - The Dangers Of Rock & Roll' if you're interested you can watch it here but be warned at three and half hours it's very long and often both very dull and very dumb.  

This small 6 minute extract focuses primarily on Genesis P-Orridge of Throbbing Gristle and at this point Psychic TV taking about his belief in music as a transcendent medium but also gives passing mention to Coil and Current 93 too but the longer doc features all the usual suspects that were enraging the so-called moral majority of the time along with the likes of Diamanda Galas, Patti Smith, Crass, Lydia Lunch and The Birthday Party and apparently it did manage to unintentionally introduce many kids in Christian households, youth groups and schools across the US to musicians they'd otherwise have missed so we'll call it a success although not in the same way the makers would probably claim it to be.

 

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Friday, 19 August 2022

The Ghost Slayers: Thrilling Tales of Occult Detection

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Ghost Slayers: Thrilling Tales of Occult Detection' edited by Mike Ashley from the British Library Tales of the Weird.
Mike Ashley (ed)
British Library Tales of the Weird

Occult or psychic detective tales have been chilling readers for almost as long as there have been ghost stories. This beguiling subgenre follows specialists in occult lore – often with years of arcane training – investigating strange supernatural occurrences and pitting their wits against the bizarre and inexplicable.

I absolutely love an occult detective story.  It was my gateway drug into all the wyrd wonderfulness that I feature on the Wyrd Britain blog.  I get that for some people they make for both an unsatisfying detective story and an ineffective supernatural one and I occasionally agree but equally I just adore the central idea of a crusading occultist vanquishing malign forces preferably while dressed in a frock coat and weilding a swordstick.  This newest release in the British Library's Tales of the Weird imprint celebrates that figure with stories from some of the key writers alongside several more obscure ones.

The book opens with one of Kate and Hesketh Prichard's 'Flaxman Low' stories, 'The Story of Moor Road' which features an attack of an earth elemental.  It's an entertainingly pulpy tale that keeps Low on the back foot as he attempts to thwart the creatures vampiric attacks.

The next two stories feature perhaps the two most recognisable names with Algernon Blackwood's 'Dr Silence' and William Hope Hodgson's 'Thomas Carnacki'.  The former is represented by perhaps one of his most hands on cases as he attempts to exorcise a haunted house in 'A Psychical Invasion' whilst Carnacki does something similar in 'The Searcher of the End House'.  Both are strong tales but neither are my favourites from their various casebooks with the Carnacki having a particularly muddled Scooby-Doo ending.

I read the various 'Aylmer Vance' stories by Claude & Alice Askew in the Wordsworth Edition a few years back and enjoyed them immensely yet I don't really remember this story, 'The Fear',  featuring yet another haunted house which surprises me as it's an enjoyably creepy tale with a nicely open ending.  Bertram Atkey on the other hand is a new name to me and his occultist detective, 'Mesmer Milan' is an intriguing prospect with his astral travelling and intense personality and the story plays an interesting contrast by placing Milan in some decidedly frivolous company in a winningly different love story.  The following 'Dr. Taverner' tale 'The Death Hound' is one of the more pulpy of occultist Dion Fortune's 'Taverner' stories and again probably wouldn't have been my choice but it works here especially in the company of the preceeding story.

Happily for me I'm on fresh ground for the rest of the book and Moray Dalton's fabulously named 'Cosmo Thor' is a vague sort of character in a story that too closely resembles the 'Aylmer Vance' to particularly satisfy but as a - yet another - haunted house story would perhaps have worked better if I'd not read the that other one earlier the same day.

For the last two stories we travel across the ocean and meet two American investigators both of whom conform - as do most here - to the well trodden path of detective and chronicler.  Gordon Hillman's 'Cranshawe' is all action, racing to investigate strange goings on at a lighthouse whereas Joseph Payne Brennan's 'Lucius Leffing' has a much more sedate and deductive manner.  The former is breathless and a touch inconsequential whereas the latter is thoughtful and more satisfying with a slightly jarring pulp moment in the middle.

With Ashley at the helm I was always fairly confident that this was going to be an rock solid collection coming on the back of his mammoth 'Fighters of Fear' collection of a couple of years ago which it absolutely is but I do have a slight quibble with the number of haunted houses but don't let that put you off. If you've an interest in the idea of the occult detective this should prove a worthwhile read for novice and devotee both.

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Monday, 15 August 2022

This World and That Other

Wyrd Britain reviews 'This World and That Other' by John Howard and Mark Valentine from Sarob Press.
John Howard
Mark Valentine
Sarob Press

This is the second of John and Mark's shared exploration of the concepts and ideas of 'Inkling' Charles Williams following on from 2020s 'Powers and Presences' from the same publisher.

John opens the book with his 'All the Times of the City', a story of a cathedral and a poem and the influence that both exert over different times and different realities.  It's very typically John, delicate, poetic, poised on a razor's edge and deeply immersed in the lure of the city and in the shapes that buildings take on in our imaginations and the hold they have over us.

Mark's story has a more pulpy feel to it.  A cross country romp that reminded me of his Connosieur stories and in particular 'Descent of Fire' (co-written with John Howard). It's great, breathless fun that introduces a variety of eccentrics and their associated artifacts all of which resonate with mythic significance.  I must admit to being a little disappointed that we didn't get the return of Rachel Verulay, Thomas 'Marmoset' Mulberry and Lepus the straw hare from that previous volume but maybe another time and as replacements the cast of characters we have here did not disappoint.

I've never read any Charles Williams despite having three of his books on my shelves for a few years now - so many books so little free time - so my understanding of how these stories  resonate with his own writing is for other people to appreciate but for me this is another great read from two of our finest writers of supernatural fiction.

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Friday, 12 August 2022

When The Wind Blows - radio play

Wyrd Britain reviews 'When The Wind Blows' by Raymand Briggs.
In memory of Raymond Briggs who died earlier this week - 9th August 2022 - I thought we could take some time to listen to a radio adaptation of one of his seminal works, 'When the Wind Blows'.

I know for many people he'll be most fondly remembered for 'Fungus the Bogeyman' and for his contributions to Christmas with the books and films of 'The Snowman' and 'Father Christmas' but for me it's the delicately desolate beauty of 'When the Wind Blows' for which I'll remember him.

Published in 1982 'When the Wind Blows' tells the story of a nuclear war between the UK and the Soviet Union from the perspective of an elderly couple named Jim and Hilda Bloggs.  The story follows their futile attempts to survive the nuclear exchange through their home made shelter - doors leaning against a wall - and the advice given in the government's useless 'Protect and Survive' leaflet.  It's both warmly amusing as the pair reminisce about their experiences in WWII and devastatingly sad as the effects of the blast takes it's toll.

This radio adaptation, originally broadcast on 6th February 1983, stars Peter Sallis and Brenda Bruce and received the Broadcasting Press Guild award for the most outstanding radio programme of 1983.

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Thursday, 11 August 2022

Zenith: Phase Four

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Zenith: Phase Four' by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell published by Rebellioon.
Grant Morrison - writer
Steve Yeowell - artist
Rebellion

With the Lloigor defeated nothing can stand in the way of the superhumans and universal domination! The remaining members of the original British super-team Cloud 9 with some additional powered affiliates (including Zenith's infant son) have destroyed America in retaliation for an attempt on their lives. Now they plan to incubate in the sun and evolve to the next level of existence, destroying the Earth as they do so.
Once again Zenith and St. John must make a stand for humanity and this time it's personal! Grant Morrison (WE3) and Steve Yeowell (Devlin Waugh) bring you the mind-blowing finale to one of the most celebrated series in British comics.

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Zenith: Phase Four' by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell published by Rebellioon.
The fourth and final volume of Morrison and Yeowell's Zenith relocates the story slightly into the future and brings back, unsurprisingly, 'The Lloigor' for one last attempt at dominating the universe.  The end of Book Three saw a number of the supes poised to put their long term plan that's been getting occasional cryptic mentions since the start into action and here we see the consequences.  I'm not entirely sure I thought this story could become more cosmic than 'Chimera' becoming his own universe in Phase Two and the dimension hopping romp that's gone before but Morrison manages it with the black sun that looms over London and the machinations of those superheroes not preoccupied with popstardom and political gain.  Their plan is suitably grandiose and transcendently egomaniacal on a universal scale and unfolds with the type of twisted gothic grandeur that Morrison would later occasionally return to during his run on 'Doom Patrol'.

It's a fitting end to the story and one that is very much in sync with how other, earlier, parts of the story resolved themselves and whilst it's missing the elaborately pulpy joie de vivre of Phase Three's transdimensional shenanigans it's more intimate nature is perfectly suited to bringing the story to it's conclusion and yes I'm aware that describing a universe spanning storyline as 'intimate' is a little odd but this is esentially a story of a family at war. Admittedly a family that can wipe out America in an afternoon but still just a family. 

In the final reckoning though this series proved itself to be big and bold and suitably epic in scope and it was refreshing to see the main character utterly fail to learn anything from his experiences and finish the series just as much of a dick as he started it and depressingly realistic to see the Tory politician at the heart of the story not only get away scott free but to profit from it.

A brilliant series and well deserving of these big, beautiful, deluxe reprints and of your time and attention.

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Wednesday, 10 August 2022

Zenith: Phase Three

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Zenith: Phase Three' by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell published by Rebellion.
Grant Morrison - writer
Steve Yeowell - artist
Rebellion

After saving London from the supernazi Masterman and a nuclear missile strike, the shallow superhuman popstar Zenith has found that his fifteen minutes of fame are almost up. With his career on the downturn, he agrees to go to Alternative 23 where another version of the WWII superhero, Maximan, is gathering an army of superhuman beings from alternate Earths to take part in a multidimensional battle for survival. With the fate of all reality in the balance, will Zenith be able to drop the sarcasm and take things seriously for once? It's doubtful.

Zenith: Phase Three finds our unheroic hero recruited into the fight to save the multiverse from 'The Lloigor - The Many-Angled Ones'.  To do this an alternative version of the WWII British superhero 'Maximan' has brought together a team of heroes from across the various alternative Earths that includes amongst a host of others 'Cat Girl' (from Sally Comic), 'The Steel Claw' (from Valiant comic), 'Thunderbolt Jaxon' (from Knockout comic and incidentlly one of the reasons why Zenith has been out of publication for so long) and 'Robot Archie' (from Lion comic) now an acid anarchist with an occasional penchant for riding a dinosaur to pursue his plan that involves sacrifices on a planetary scale.

After the fairly sedate plotting of Phase Two where Zenith dealt, quite calmly, with a nuclear threat and we learned more about his history and met some of the characters that were about to play a much larger part in the proceedings Phase Three is a pretty breathless affair.  Hopping between universes in the company of an army of those half forgotten heroes from the heyday of British comics in pursuit of Maximan's plan Morrison and Yeowell really come into their own here with a wonderfully uncompromising and brutal tale. 

The big twist is fairly obvious to spot and my partner is never going to forgive Morrison for what he does to 'Cat Girl', her childhood favourite, but this penultimate book is a series highlight, a great big, fun, transdimensional crossover event of the kind that DC comics used to do in the 1970s but with extra added Lovecraft.

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Tuesday, 9 August 2022

Zenith: Phase Two

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Zenith: Phase Two' by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell and published by Rebellion.
Grant Morrison - writer
Steve Yeowell - artist
Rebellion

It’s 1988 and Zenith is as popular as ever thanks to his victorious battle against Masterman. The threat from the Lloigor has been quashed and now Zenith must face an all-too human threat – Dr. Michael Peyne – the creator of Britain’s post WWII superheroes and ‘father’ to Zenith’s parents, has teamed up with the megalomaniac billionaire Scott Wallace who is intent on taking over the world. Together with C.I.A. agent Phaedra Cale, Zenith must stop Wallace from destroying London whilst also confronting his past and a less-than-happy reunion with his father!

Zenith's second act opens with the pop star superhero riding the success that his part in the defeat of the Nazi Masterman brought him.  It's short lived however when he gets attacked in his own flat by a giant robot type thingy and whisked off to Scotland by an exotically named CIA agent to stop a rogue superhero programme funded by a Richard Branson style billionaire.  

Meanwhile we get a much more detailed look at the bigger picture as former heroes return and new ones appear from across the multiverse as we start to see the extent of the bigger threat that will soon face our arrogant and barely competent hero whilst he himself is shown winning the day thanks to his own unrepentantly shallow world view.

It's beautifully paced and treads some similar ground to the "Project Zarathustra" storyline in Alan Moore's 'Miracleman' although with a decidedly more 'pop culture' bent as we discover some of the truths behind the genesis of the superheroes from the mouth of the comic's very own Dr Frankenstein-esque 'mad' scientist creating new life as Morrison adds depth and mythos to an already genuinely intriguing plot and cast.  With the exception of the, fairly pointless origin story coda, the book ends particularly strongly going fully - and I do mean fully - cosmic as we meet and discover the fate of 'Chimera' a character mentioned in passing earlier in the book in a sequence that allows Yeowell's pristine art to truly shine..  

Phase Two, whilst having a fun but fairly inconsequential menace confronting Zenith,  provides a step back from the main event slowly coming to the boil in the worlds of the supporting cast and a welcome chance to learn the back story of how our superbrat came to be.  Storytelling wise it's real step up from an already strong but breathless start that gives a solid foundation for what's to come and it's going to be a trip seeing where it goes next.

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Monday, 8 August 2022

Zenith: Phase One

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Zenith: Phase One' by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell and published by Rebellion.
Grant Morrison - writer
Steve Yeowell - artist
Rebellion

Berlin, 1945: The allies unleashed the second world war hero Maximan upon the German supersoldier Masterman. Maximan’s defeat was only kept secret by the nuclear bomb which destroyed both men. Forty-plus years later, and twenty years after a generation of ’60s British superpowered heroes came and went, the teenage pop star Zenith is the only superhuman left – and his only interest in women, drugs, alchohol and fame.
So when he is contacted about the threat from the many-angled ones and the impending destruction of our world, his first reaction is to steer well clear.But the superhumans of the past have other plans.

Back in 87/88 when Zenith was first published I was an intermittent reader of 2000AD.  I was working in a comic shop and occasionally flipping through the one copy that was ordered through us so I was aware of Zenith but having read this first of four stunning, large format, hardback reprints I think I only ever read the very first episode, at least from this first story arc.

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Zenith: Phase One' by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell and published by Rebellion.
Zenith is a pop star superhero. The only active superhero in the world following the deaths of the original WWII era superpowered pair and the disappearence and retirement of those active in the 1960s.  He's a party brat, selfish and hedonistic only drawn into any actual heroics by the return of the original Nazi Ubermensch powered by the 'Many-Angled Ones', dark gods from another dimension.

What we see at this early point in the story is Morrison playing around with the same sort of ideas of reinventing superheroes as many of his peers were at the time but, as would continue to be the case throughout his career, doing so with a lot more affection for the genre than was perhaps more often the case at the time with those others.

Partnered with Morrison here is the brilliant Steve Yeowell which means that along with the transdimensional storyline the book has a very strong feel of kinship to the pairs brilliant 'The Invisibles'.  Yeowell is a beautifully delicate artist with the ability to give his characters depth and weight and a sense of realness even in the most ludicrous of situations and, as you can see in the image above above a fantastic flair for the dynamic and the dramatic.

So, this first book, despite being all wrapped up a tad too quickly and neatly it all made for a very satisfying read and I head onwards to book two with high expectations.

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