Monday, 9 May 2022

Top 40 Chart Singles (2001)

 

Ah, 2001. Not exactly a legendary year of music. The albums of the years were anthologies by older bands like The Monkees, or new albums by bands yet to have their day in the sun (Snow Patrol), or by new hit sensations like American Hi-Fi. You don’t remember American Hi-Fi? They had a song called Flavour of the Weak, which, ignoring the pun, is about how long they lasted as the biggest band ever.


Thursday, 21 April 2022

The Gunfighters

 Gunfighters (episode 1)


I don’t remember exactly when I first realised there was a thing such as Doctor Who in the world. I used to joke that my first word was Dalek. I recall vividly seeing the inside of a video cover, which promoted Doctor Who videos and being terrified by Jon Pertwee’s face. Strange how you remember things like that, yet don’t remember what you had for tea last week!

Eventually, I saw The Moonbase (yes), The Green Death (terrifying), Pyramids of Mars (more so) and Genesis of the Daleks (you wouldn’t believe quite how terrifying). I was hooked. I even remember finding out that my hero, Jon Pertwee, had died just before a primary school parents night, and for lots of concerned adults to think I was upset about the teachers comments, only for me to cry: “No, Doctor Who died!” I was nine.

Sadly, something even worse threatened to drive a wedge between me and this beloved show.

I think its called “being a teenager” in scientific circles.

I stopped watching the show.

And then, one evening in 2002, I was channel flicking and UK Gold came on. They were showing The Pirate Planet. I remembered it being rubbish.

Five minutes later, I was thinking: “this isn’t so bad!”

Two hours later, Doctor Who and I had been reunited.

Saturday, 19 March 2022

The Celestial Toymaker

 Celestial Toymaker

(part 1)


OK, I'm not going into this one with great expectations.


To start I'm taken aback that the pictures move. Then I realised it was a replay of the end of The Ark.


Ah, there are the pictures alone. We're back in missing episode territory.


Monday, 28 February 2022

The Ark

 The Ark

(part 1)


Right, let's crack on with this one and see what it gives us.


It's a monitor lizard on a sandy floor.


The lizard stands so still you might think it was a recon photo until suddenly a toucan crashes down into the shot screeching. Roll over Exorcist III, we've got a new jump scare champion in town!


Wednesday, 2 February 2022

Taggart - Fatal Inheritance (musings)

 We open up in proper horror movie territory as a young woman opening a gate in heavy rain is slashed to death by an unseen maniac.

We then cut to one of the greatest Taggart openings, as Dr Janet Napier (Hannah Gordon) is arrested on suspicion of murder by Taggart, and the opening theme plays as we watch her slowly escorted out of the building as everyone stops to watch. We've joined in this story when its already seemingly near a conclusion.

The Massacre

 The Massacre (episode 1)


The Massacre ended the night of 23rd and 24th August 1572, but started hundreds of years earlier. Long before Luther, the Reformation and Henry VIII, even. Ever since the Bible had began to be translated into French and English and so on (around the 13th Century), disagreements on how to interpret the messages within had been born. France itself was no stranger to ecumenical problems. When the French King (Philip IV) arrested Pope Boniface VIII (who liked to get involved in wars and conflicts) and he subsequently died weeks later in jail, the French then placed French subservient Popes into power who reigned from Avignon, until a schism which led to a French anti-pope, which splintered again into 3 or 4 different pretenders to the throne until a big conference was held in Germany to sort the mess out.


Complicated sentence for complicated geopolitics!


Monday, 24 January 2022

Top 40 Chart Singles (1989)

 It's time for us to look at the top UK charting songs of 1989. It's a Jive Bunny Free Zone, before you start, because feck that rabbit. As with previous years, for a song to qualify for the years top 40, it has to have reached the UK top 40 in that year.  Again, I tend to err against repeats that could have been listed in an earlier year. And yes, at least one controversial artist from the time period will show up on the list, because you have to separate art from artist in these matters. 

That's right, Mick Hucknall will show up at one point. You have been warned!

Wednesday, 19 January 2022

The Dalek Master Plan



Dalek Master Plan (part 1)


Steven lies on a makeshift bed on the TARDIS floor, dying. I'm sure things can only get better in this, the grimmest Dr Who story ever written, surely?

The Nightmare Begins, the title card reassuringly tells us.

Steven needs specialist drugs to live so the Doctor is going to land in the future to get some.

We cut to... Brian Cant and Nick Courtney!!!!

Brian Cant lies injured on the ground, while Courtney tries to unleash an SOS beacon much like we saw another chap try to do a few weeks previously. In a very familiar looking jungle.

Meanwhile, Nick's desperate SOS is missed because at HQ, the people meant to be watching, Roald Dahl and Lizan Phil, are arguing over what to put on the TV, the football or The Guardian of the Solar System's Speech.

Hey, maybe we should look out for that missing agent, thinks Roald, before getting distracted.

Monday, 22 November 2021

"No Diggin' 'ere, Kindlesticks wont like it!"

 KINDLESTICKS


"For those of us of a certain age, Creeped Out is the finest genre kid’s show since Round The Twist."
Me, in 2018 for We Are Cult!


So yes, the genius of Creeped Out is well known by now, and so its a quick visit to our favourite poltergeist. Esme, our main character, is a godawful babysitter with good PR who scares her charges into early bedtimes so she can pig out on the parents kitchen and hang out with her boyfriend. She tells them about the Night Night Man, who is the somewhat gormless and allergy ridden Chaz, aforementioned boyfriend.


Tuesday, 16 November 2021

The Myth Makers

 Myth Makers (part 1)


We open up on a right old sword fight between two men. Well, that's a start.

I have Who Recons CGI recon and my Loose Cannon audio but they two don't mesh together very well so this is a one off experiment.

The two men have a lengthy sword fight across a lot of location scenery, and then the TARDIS shows up right in front of them.


STEVEN: That's hardly surprising in the circumstances. Why do you suppose they're fighting?
DOCTOR: I haven't the remotest idea, my boy. No doubt their reasons will be entirely adequate. Yes, I think I perhaps I'd better go and ask them where we are.
VICKI: Doctor, be careful! They look terribly fierce.

Monday, 15 November 2021

Howl/Suspiria/The Man Who Haunted Himself



HOWL (2015)


It’s a… well, you can probably guess what sort of film it is from the title. We are introduced to our main character Joe as he gets off a train at one of the large train termini in London (judging by the routes, Euston) and is immediately thrown into his job assisting other drivers and passengers. He’s a train guard, a relatively new one at that, and seemingly a popular target for the more Alpha Male types working at the station.

One of those is his new supervisor, who slags him off for not issue fines to customers and tells him he’s on the red eye as Ed called in sick.

Lucky Ed!

(Spoilers follow, you have been warned.)

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Joe is played by Ed Speleers, not a name known to me, but with roles in Downton Abbey, Outlander and Wolf Hall in recent years he’s clearly a name on the rise. He was quite good at the downtrodden everyman type role here.

We get to see the humdrum nature of the night train guard, collecting tickets from sleepy and agitated passengers. The older woman, the dog, the guy taking his clothes off to sleep, the grumpy executive woman who has to pay full price as she’s lost her ticket. We sketch in these characters quickly: Grumpy Woman, Phone Girl, The Old Couple, and so on.

Also on this train is… Ellen, Joe’s crush, working the refreshment trolley. Who gives our Joe a quick unsubtly written bit about how people like him and he needs to stand up for himself more. I wonder if this will be important information in the near future. She’s not interested in him as more than a friend, however, which gets him the sympathy of an England fan eating a takeaway.

So he’s on a rubbish train journey, he got turned down for a date, and then as the train enters a forest and the full moon rises, suddenly… CRASH. The trains hit something on the track. A dead deer, which has nearly derailed the entire thing.

Only it looks like it was planted there deliberately. Especially as it’s the one place in the route without a single wifi spot. In wi-fi-less England, no one can hear you scream! And its so dark, everyone needs lights to see where they are. Lights which could act as beacons…

Not to worry, the train driver will soon sort out the blockage. Look everyone, it’s Sean Pertwee! Playing Tony The Train Driver. He finds the dead dear, and we get one closeup of his face as he thinks he hears something in the forest.


Spoilers follow which spoil things. 


And then something dives at him.

Yes, the biggest star in the entire film has one line of dialogue and then gets bumped off. He must have had a spare 30 minutes in his schedule!

It’s not really a surprise as he’s playing the red shirtiest of all red shirt roles.

So this leaves Joe as the senior authority figure, with a motley crew of misfit passengers.
We have Joe and Ellen, plus:

Kate (played by Shauna Macdonald, off The Descent), the grumpy executive, who keeps talking about her kid.

Adrian (Elliot Cowan, Lost in Austen), the hard nosed executive with the eye for Ellen. Which may be mutual. He's coming home from an affair.

Matthew (Amit Shah, Rahul off The Woman Who Fell to Earth in Doctor Who) is the quiet bibliophile who just wants to read his book. Don’t you just hate it when werewolves attack at a pivotal moment in your book?

Billy (Sam Gittins, who was in Eastenders briefly but is just breaking through with a number of roles in the next year, The Last Heist and Sorority for example) who despite others think he is a bit of a ned, just wants to be a nice helpful soul and just so happens to know about how to get a train engine working again. What a frightfully useful person to have on board!

Nina (Rosie Day, Good Omens, Agatha Raisin) is permanently attached to her phone, gobs abuse at folk, and is generally sketched in to be as unlikeable as possible.

Paul (Calvin Dean, Nightmare in Silver, It’s a Sin) is our England fan who has had a bit too much to drink and eat, and has picked the worst moment in history to have a touch of diarrhoea. He is friendly but doomed.

Ged (Duncan Preston off Acorn Antics!) and Jenny (Ania Marson, Nicholas and Alexandra, Killing Eve) are that nice old couple who are totally, and utterly, doomed in a horror film.

It soon becomes clear that there are werewolves outside the train, and that help cannot reach them for four hours due to fallen trees in a storm.

An attempt to walk to safety, lead by sure fast Adrian, goes badly wrong, that nice old woman gets bitten by a werewolf (but lives) and becomes gravely ill as the survivors barricade themselves into the train.

Do you know how well a British passenger train holds out against a horde of werewolves?


Badly.


This is a rare directorial role for Paul Hyett, who is more normally seen in horror films working on the SFX and make up. He was responsible for that on Attack the Block, and The Descent, and Dog Soldiers, for example. (Hence Sean Pertwee!) Here he likes claustrophobic shots that make the forest and train look smaller than they are, and the film is shot so dark as to be nearly a colour version of black and white. There’s also a shot I quite like when everyone is rushing back to the train when the camera jerks upwards and you think – “Oh here we go, shaky cam”, but then it moves down to show he’s used that convention to change scene and show how far from the train and safety everyone was. Jump cut by camera shake. The hustle and bustle of panic is well conveyed too, with quick cameras suggesting everyone is surrounded without us actually seeing anything. The script is a bit basic but someone with a good grounding in horror is making it far more effective than it had any right to be.

His knowledge of horror, and his assumption that this film will be watched by horror film geeks, allows him to play with the casting. Shauna Macdonald is clearly the final girl – she was in Spooks, she’s the star of The Descent, we know her. Only she gets bumped off with little fanfare. Characters you might expect to last don’t, and some last far longer. Although I did want poor old Matthew to survive. It would have reminded me of Attack the Block. Who survives that? Ok, specifically, as nearly everyone does? The two guys who, at the first sign of problems, lock themselves in their flat and get high. Score one for the pragmatists! (As in do the basic survival thing, not turn all Darwinist sod like Adrian!) Sadly, Matthew drops his pragmatism when he needs to die in the script, which is another suggestion we’re not dealing with great writing.

Also those of you who are horror aficionados, yes, Jenny does turn into a werewolf, and yes, the first thing she does is kill her husband. Poor old couple. Too nice for a horror film. It’s very Night of the Living Dead, I know, but the catch here is old Ged knows what's going to happen to him, but wont abandon his wife regardless.

Anyhow, the cast dwindles and in the end poor old Joe, who hasn’t been able to save anyone else thanks to Adrian going all survivalist horror antagonist villain, sacrifices himself so his unrequited love can escape. Which she does, presumably to become the only suspect in a vast spree killing.

Also less is more – we don’t linger on Sean Pertwee’s demise, the sound and a quick glance at the body is enough. This allows things like Ania Marson’s injured leg to stand out more than they would in the first half of the film. When Nina is attacked, we just see blood trickling down the windows. It’s more effective than a bunch of gore ever could be. There is gore later on but it never lingers.

The problems are with the script, in which people are resourceful until they need not to be, so they can die. Also our werewolves are opportunistic and can’t open doors, until they need to be able to do so for the climax. Which is a shame as werewolfism carried on as plague, and the creatures killing only for sport, are interesting additions. It’s not a bad story, it just need a bit of an edit.

Otherwise, yes, the werewolf is unconvincing, but you don’t see it for the first two thirds of a 90 minute film, and the director wisely keeps it in the shadows as much as possible. Rotten Tomatoes give it a bare pass, and imdb gives 5.4/10 from 13, 000 voters. But would you listen to them, or would you listen to Bloody Disgusting, who enjoyed it, or Kim Newman, who called it an enthralling B-movie, and you know that’s a compliment from that man. Mark Kermode called it engagingly sympathetic, and I think the cast and the direction raise the story well beyond what you might have got with less sympathetic hands. I'd like to see this director work with a good script.

You might even say the ending is a happy one. Unable to fit into his own pack in real life, Joe becomes accepted by a new one.


Although that's a point - what the ¤¤¤¤ happened to that dog on the train? Did I blink and miss a scene?

In short, we'll all watch worse films, and while the script is a bit basic, the director knocks it out of the park to make a far better film than the ingredients he was given.


SUSPIRIA

Ah if she called me I'd be there
Trapped in a witches snare
She's only needing all my life
We're going to die, just say the word
Su-Suspiria
Su-Suspiria

Dario Argento's famous (infamous?) masterpiece, and a first time viewing for myself. Which has been coupled with writing 2000 words elsewhere at the same time, so if there's any vivid nightmare sequences in any future stories by me... (Of course, when Sea Terrors came out, it was Jon Arnold - @The Arn - who was more inspired by Argento to take out the entire Brexit debate with one set of murder ghosts!)

This is an editors dream. A nightmare? What makes 90% of Suspiria is the quick shots and the ever present ominous music that plays through the film, assaulting the ears. And sometimes sounds awfully like someone ripped off Mike Oldfield.

Suzy is a young ballet student who arrives in rain sodden Freiburg, and struggles to communicate with the locals. She's here to study dance at the Tanz Dance Academy. When she gets there, she finds the door locked, after a young woman rushed out of there in horror and grabbed her taxi! So she is already spooked when she arrives the next day, having been thrown out by her roommate Olga (whose actress believes she was playing one of the coven, incidentally).

But that other girl had a worse night, being stabbed by a ghost on top of an apartment block (in an oddly cut scene) then hung from the roof, with her friend sliced by a falling bit of glass. There ain't no such thing as overkill in this movie.

Suzy meets many friends, most of whom die very quickly and horribly. Damien shows up for one scene. Maggots fall from the ceiling.

Her friend Sarah (played by Stefania Casini, who was offered the role and nearly bit the directors arm off for a chance to be murdered in a Dario Argento flick!) seems to know what's going on, but is so slow in coming out to Suzy that she barely has time to do anything before being the next victim.

And yes, there is the scene with the dog. I'm not sure if that lingers just long enough for a build up of dread tension, or for the scene to descend into narm.

There is gore, and buckets of blood, but its so blatantly fake blood that it starts becoming more OTT than horrific, like those bloodbaths in Django Unchanged.

The real impact in this comes from the camera, which is forever doing something to enhance the mood. And mood is what Argento is best at.

It reminds me a lot of Phantasm where every shot is slightly off kilter, so even mundane things come across as nightmarish before any horrors happen. The dubbing adds to the uneasy quality.

Also, Suzy basically kills Sara, doesn't she? She said she heard Pat Hingle (It's Argento, that's almost certainly deliberate) talking to someone on the night of her death, in the presence of the staff, who immediately search the rooms during maggot gate and find her notes.

You don't go into this film for tight plots (the witches go through victims at such a rate it should ruin their schools image!), nor fantastic acting. But you do get a prevailing consistent atmosphere, and during the horror scenes (which are long and extended), the aggregate cumulation of music and shots linger long in the mind.

In short, its a mood piece, and it's very effective at that.


THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF

“Which role am (I) most proud of? A film I made in the late 60s called The Man Who Haunted Himself. I played both myself and my doppelganger. It was a film I actually got to act in, rather than just being all white teeth and flippant and heroic.”
Roger Moore, Guardian 2011



Pre-Bond Roger Moore excels in a dual role in this unfairly forgotten 1970 horror. Moore plays Harold Pelham, a modern executive who likes to speed down the motorway in his expensive new car. Something seems to happen – two cars appear in the same slot briefly – and he crashes and winds up in hospital. Where he officially dies but is brought back to life, but not before a nurse spots two different heart beats on the monitor. Pelham recovers and returns to his old life, to find he never left it, and people fondly remember his antics from nights he wasn’t there. And his wife reacts like he is in two places at once, but that can’t possibly be…

Well, if it couldn’t possibly be, we wouldn’t be here, would we?

What The Man Who Haunted Himself shows first and foremost is what a properly good actor Roger Moore is. People often mistake sparse acting for non-acting, while praising the same less is more styling in narrative fiction. It’s just another creative form of the element Richard Matheson took to heart. Roger Moore never knowingly over acts a scene, and often just gives a furtive glance, which tells pages of exposition with one look. His characters are always glancing around, keeping an eye on things, the brain always ticking over. In the casino scene, he has no dialogue for a good 3-5 minutes but you can see him processing the entire plot in the background of the shot.

Another key to this film is that you need to be able to tell which Pelham is which but that this shouldn’t be so obvious to make you ask why the other characters don’t twig. Moore manages this by having the body language of the Evil Pelham just off kilter slightly, and his facial reactions process the room differently – it’s small things that you can tell have been meticulously planned. He’s also slightly meaner and more confident, of course.

He’s also not afraid to make Pelham look utterly unsympathetic as he starts to go off the rails. As normal Pelham, Moore is increasing paranoid, especially when he shows up at his private members club to find he is already signed in. As he meets his own mistress he’s never met, the shades of Jekyll and Hyde loom large.

Aiding this is a fine haunting score by Michael J Lewis, who went onto score similarly underrated horror flicks like The Medusa Touch and Unman Wittering and Zigo, as well as the cult classic Theatre of Blood. (Diana Rigg!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Directing was Basil Dearden, who also helmed horror classic Dead of Night, and pioneering 50s flick Pool of London, in which Earl Cameron had one of the first sympathetic main roles for a black-British actor in UK film history. This film is full of his lingering slow fades out of things, and his camera following people around rooms, but alas, it was to be his final film. Months after writing and directing this class ghost story, Dearden died in a massive car crash in the M4, in scenes disturbingly close to those he shot for the beginning of this film. He had only just turned 60.

It was such a good script, in fact, that Roger Moore took the role for considerably less than his normal start pay (which was high off The Saint even before Bond).

I think the one error is having someone else realise there are two of them though. Without that, it works just as well ambiguously.


Especially when you consider that…


HUGE MASSIVE SPOILERY SPOILERING THING THAT SPOILS IS COMING UP HERE. 








It’s the Evil Pelham who is left standing after the climax while the paranoid and worried Good Pelham disappears, suggesting that we’ve actually been following the doppelganger all along, and that the Hyde act is actually the real guy!



And when you go back and watch it this way, it actually all makes complete sense. How did I not spot this before in my many viewings of this masterpiece before?


In short one of Britain’s most loved, and now much missed, stars gives his best performance here in a well directed ghost story. This film is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. If you haven’t seen it, go find it. Now.