Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Rentaghost

The Rentaghost cast

When I was young Rentaghost was my absolute favourite show ever Once, when I was about seven, in an attempt to integrate me, my mother suggested I join the Brownies; the idea was met with scorn and derision largely because the Brownies swarmed (I’m assuming that’s what Brownies do) on a Rentaghost night, and they sucked, and dressed like tiny poos, and they sucked. It turned out later that I just wasn’t a naturally inclined participator in group activities. Needless to say I didn’t have a lot of friends as youngster, but then there are also no childhood pictures of me dressed like a chubby, redheaded turd at a jamboree somewhere, so take that, Brownies, who’s big and clever now?!

Rentaghost was a British children's television comedy programme broadcast on the BBC between 1976 and 1984 and revolved around a company, 'Rentaghost', which hired out ghosts for a variety of potentially hilarious jobs and purposes.

The first series of Rentaghost saw the recently deceased underachiever Fred Mumford (Anthony Jackson) deciding that the most appropriate use of his afterlife would be to embark upon a posthumous business venture finding work for other ghosts whose mortal lives were similarly as aimless and ineffectual. His meager staff consisted of Timothy Claypole, (Michael Staniforth) a mischievous medieval court jester who, despite having clocked up the most years and experience as a ghost, is abjectly incapable of comprehending modern technology (by ‘modern technology’ I of course mean telephones and eight tracks, this was the 70s and 80s after all, people). He was joined by Hubert Davenport (Michael Darbyshire), a Victorian spirit who was equally troubled by the modern world or rather morally outraged by it. The ghostly team rented an office from Harold Meaker (Edward Brayshaw) who is initially unaware of their deceased status, though does discover the true state of affairs fairly early on.

Series One: Davernport, Claypole and Mumford

Now, from what I remember, though I didn’t particularly realise it at the time, the first series of Rentaghost was really quite dark. The principal character, Mumford, through whom we are introduced to this haunted universe, was essentially dealing and coming to terms with own death as his character developed. As I recall, one of the comedy devices used in the show was his attempting to carry on his previous relationship with his parents while trying to hide the fact he was dead from them. There’s a real sense of pathos there, seeing a man whose physical life was so unaccomplished, so unfinished that once dead he is completely unable to let go of all that wasted potential. Equally, his parents, blissfully unaware of the inevitable grief of his loss continuing on with old familial patterns with blasé ignorance are heartbreaking.

I am also fairly certain, though have been unable to corroborate it, that the death of Fred Mumford was somewhat ambiguous and traumatic. I pretty sure he fell to his watery death from a ferry and can’t recall if this was obviously accidental or if there was a darker connotation. Either way he was clearly presented as one of life’s losers, most tragically in his own eyes as well as to the wider world, and his need to make his afterlife a success is lamentable.

In an apparently typical tragic fashion, so I appear to be discovering, the series brightened up after the first series when Michael Darbyshire (Hubert Davenport) sadly died and Anthony Jackson (Fred Mumford) declined to continue with the show.

Following the departure of Mumford and Davenport (they were reported to have acquired a regular haunting gig at a stately home), former landlord Harold Meaker takes over the business with his wife Ethel and bore the brunt of varying degrees of chaos the ghosts brought their way.

Nadia Popov and Hazel McWitch

During the eight series that followed other characters were brought into show: Dutch spirit Nadia Popov (Sue Nichols) whose comedy trait is she suffered from hayfever when she was alive and post mortem that affliction now manifests in uncontrolled teleportation to unspecified (but usually hilarious) locations every time she sneezes. Hazel the McWitch (Molly Weir), a witch who was…well…Scottish and a pantomime horse imaginatively named Dobbin brought to life in a Christmas special and, due to the incompetence of Claypole, couldn’t be changed back and consequently remained for the rest of the show’s run We also had Biggins as department store owner and Rentghost client Adam Painting and next door neighbours the Perkinses who, I recollect, were at some point given a magic wish granting amulet that was hysterically literal in its interpretation of wishes: ‘I wish the Meakers would join us in a cup tea.’ and then all four of them wind up sitting in a giant cup of tea, etc. The Perkinses were also convinced the Meakers were mentally unstable and believe once hired an undercover psychiatrist (??!) to analyse them.

Throughout its run the show maintained the same super camp pantomime style, the gags were unashamedly terrible and laboriously contrived and the acting was hamtastic with frequent direct to camera asides. Despite all this, or maybe because of all this, I loved it. Whether it has aged well remains to be seen, probably not I imagine, and certainly not under the scrutiny of todays considerably more sophisticated kids, but unsophisticated little me loved it and I still love it now.

Rentaghost was a wonderfully bizarre, uniquely British piece of television history that you just don’t see the like of today. It also had the best theme tune of any TV show ever (well, it and Ulysses 31). Rush ye to YouTube and listen to it.

Worrying early crush

On a personal, and slightly worrying, note, Timothy Claypole was my first crush (him and Quincy); this is disturbing on many levels not least because I clearly wasn’t his type and the fact of his being dead. My feelings now clearly out in the open on this matter, I was devastated learn whilst researching this that the actor who played him, Michael Stainforth, passed away in 1987, I can’t believe I’ve managed to live all these years and not found this out! Nobody tells me anything! I also can’t believe that in all the intervening years and the advent of the internet it never once occurred to me to look this stuff up. It’s like a bit of my childhood has died. Melodrama aside, I also learned that the song The Vaselines song, later covered by Nirvana, ‘Molly’s Lips’ was apparently inspired by Molly ‘Hazel McWitch’Weir. Isn’t the internet marvellous?

My apologies to anyone who isn't British and in their thirties for the above post.  To you this is probably just disturbing and faintly ridiculous and I am sorry about it, but that was my childhood, while you grew up on Buffy we got Rentaghost.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Movie Psychic Monday

Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken)
The Dead Zone (1983)


Things are looking good for school teacher Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) he’s got a good job, he’s in love with his work colleague Sarah Bracknell (Brooke Adams) and better than that she loves him too, everything’s dandy until he is involved in a serious car accident and he ends up in a coma. Bloody typical, all’s going well for you, you meet the woman of your dreams, life’s good and then you’re hit by a truck and end up comatose. On the up side, during his bloody long and unwarranted timeout, Johnny is placed under the care of neurologist Dr. Sam Weizak (Herbert Lom) and when he finally wakes he thinks, all things considered, he’s’ come out of it pretty darn well, all his limbs are present and correct, nothing’s broken, brain functions seem good and he’s still got his preternaturally pretty Christopher Walken looks, everything’s coming up Johnny. Unfortunately this all takes a sharp incline towards rubbish when he discovers that he has, in fact, been unconscious for five years, and worse than that the world has moved on without him. In his absence his parent’s have aged, he’s become unemployed, and his girlfriend has married another man and has a family, and if that wasn’t bad enough he’s about to discover that he’s now got a head full of freaky psychic powers just to top it all off.


As if Johnny wasn’t suffering enough it now transpires that he has the ability to glimpse the past, present and future of a person by simply making psychical contact them. After his visions allow him to intervene and save the child of nurse, Smith becomes something of a reluctant local celebrity and local Sherriff George Bannerman (Tom Skerritt and Tom Skerritt’s moustache) approaches him for aid in his current investigation the hunt for the Castle Rock Killer and for a while Johnny merrily takes part in some crime solving and disaster averting as he endeavours to rebuild his life. But, as everyone knows, every psychic warrior needs an arch nemesis and it’s not too long before Johnny discovers his.

After finding himself on the receiving end of a handshake from US Senatorial Candidate, Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen) Johnny learns that he will later become President of the United States, which doesn’t sound too bad; Martin Sheen gives good president, but, Johnny also sees him ordering a nuclear strike against Russia and presumably bringing about nuclear war, which does sound bad, very bad, clearly can’t trust this man with our vote. Fortunately we have a psychic hero who now feels it is his duty to stop Martin Sheen and his inclination to incite nuclear holocaust.


Poor Johnny Smith, he’s a man whose life is out of control; his life was abruptly put on hold for a significant period of time and when he once again rejoins it everything he knew has changed without his active participation. He is a man grieving the loss of his own life, an echo of the past reverberating around a present he has no tangible control over and this situation is only exacerbated when he realises that no longer has control of even his own mind. Prior to his accident Johnny Smith was an average chap, subsequent to it he becomes a wholly different creature, he loses that comforting normalcy in every respect becoming entirely alien to himself and to society. The only thing that could possibly be worse that this is if you also found yourself charged with saving the world from nuclear disaster as well. Oh, no, Damn it! Ultimately his journey is of almost messianic proportions, he is an individual who loses everything, is denied by everything holds dear, rejected by society and burdened with the magnitude of the responsibility his power creates until he must eventually sacrifice himself to save humanity which ironically is already lost to him.

Johnny Smith is a tragic entry into the ledger of movie psychics, but it all kind of works out for him because he eventually becomes that kid from Breakfast Club, perks up a bit and continues foiling evil with his super psychic powers. (See how he rises again? I was totally right about the messiah thing).

Dead Zone: The Second Coming

Yorkshire: Supernatural Capital of Britain?

Somewhat surprisingly, it transpires that Yorkshire is a red hot hub supernatural activity, according to The Telegraph:


"The report indentifies Yorkshire as the centre of ghostly goings-on demonic activity with 74 reports of demons, including Uncabus and Succubus (male and female demons that make sexual attacks on sleeping victims), instances of demonic possession and sightings of hell hounds, water demons and demons with repulsive forms such as ghouls and werewolves."

(My very own Yorkshirian oddity.)


Another score for the North East of England, I think. The only other league tables we top tend to be teen pregnancies statistics, so good work on this, Yorkshire.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Midnight Warriors: Die You Zombie Bastards!

Mike over at From Midnight, With Love has asked his readers to join his merry band of Midnight Warriors. He has asked us to contribute to FMWL by responding to questions of his choice and maybe posting a little blog entry in conjunction. Now, I love a gang, and if it’s Mike’s gang and it’s called Midnight Warriors how can you not want to be in, you get a blog badge and everything (see right), a MW outfit would be good too, I love a costume (just a suggestion there, Mike, you might want to think about it).

Mike’s inaugural question is:

“You've been given the opportunity to host a midnight showing of any genre/cult film you want, and are sure to have a great crowd of like-minded fans who will join in. What's the one movie you're going to pick, and why?”

Awesome question, Mike. But a tough question. One film when I love so many? How’s a girl to choose?

I hummed and hawed for ages over this. I could have picked any one of hundreds fantastic films that everyone loves and that would guarantee and good and artistically rewarding time for me and my guests (you’re all coming, by the way, I won’t take no for an answer, don’t you ruin my imaginary evening). And while this would be great, and I’m sure we’d all have fun, I feel like I’d personally rather have a more participatory and social time with all you guys, something that’s pure fun and silliness where we could all laugh and get to know each other in environment of exuberant daftness. It’s just more the social me. So for that reason, I pick Die You Zombie Bastards!


For those of you that don’t know, just so you know what you’re in for, Die You Zombie Bastards! is ‘The World's First EVER Serial Killer Superhero Rock'n'Roll Zombie Road Movie Romance’. It’s a glorious rockabilly B-Movie trash fest of a tale that follows the exploits of serial killer Red Toole on his mission to rescue his beloved cannibal wife Violet from the evil clutches of his nemesis Barron Nefarious who’s various and dastardly plans include marrying Violet and turning the entire world into a race of zombie slaves. Along his way Red encounters not only zombies, but ninjas, robots, Angry Dog Men, Vlad the Impaler, giant mosquitoes, rockabilly-legend Hasil Adkins, Olaf the Cheese Demon, and a fishman with an enormous fishman appendage.

Also, if I’m honest, I picked it because I feel that as the host of this event it is my duty to share something of myself with my guests (because obviously it’s all about me) and DYZB does epitomise something of myself. I unreservedly love it and a lot of that love stems from the fact that it seems clear to me that the makers of this film loved it, utterly loved it. Loved it so much they just literally couldn’t stop. It’s bold and gleeful, saturated with bloody colour, bursting at its garish Frankenstein’s monster seams with so many crazy creatures and so much trashy, bloody messy madness. And that’s how I feel about horror, I want to grab hold of it and squeeze it with the kind of unashamedly uncontained childish excitement that leads small children to hug puppies to death. And that’s the kind of time I want everyone to have, I want everyone to feel like they could metaphorically love-squeeze a puppy to death (can’t believe I’ve just typed that sentence). So sod The Rocky Horror Picture Show, let’s all paint ourselves green or don our human skin cloaks and away to the hypothetical motion picture house posthaste!

Monday, 19 April 2010

Movie Psychic Monday

John Morlar (Richard Burton)
The Medusa Touch (1978)



French detective, Brunel (Lino Ventura), is participating in an exchange programme in London when he is charged with investigating the murder of obnoxious novelist John Morlar (God only knows what’s going on in France for some unsuspecting Brit copper, probably some paperwork and sightseeing. Can’t help but think someone got the rubbish end of the stick here somewhere along this line). While conducting an initial investigation of the crime scene, somewhat surprisingly for all concerned, it becomes apparent that Morlar is still alive; despite the horrific injuries he has incurred and wisely he is rushed to hospital.

Brunel then sets about to investigate the not murder of Morlar primarily by attempting to reconstruct his life with the aid of journals and the man’s psychiatrist, Dr. Zonfeld (Lee Remick). These prove to be incredibly rich resources and soon we see the life of the mysterious Morlar taking shape through the versatile medium of the flashback.

Turns out Morlar is actually powerfully telekinetic couple that with the fact he also hates everything and everyone ever and I think you can see where this is going and that we’re all in trouble. Flashback shows us his life is riddled with unexplained catastrophes, including the tragic deaths of people he took a dislike to or who offended him in some indiscriminate way.


John Morlar proclaims himself to have “a ‘gift’ for disaster” and indeed he has, his catalogue of psychic misadventures is impressive to say the least; baby Johnny gave his nanny a fatal bout of measles (measles?! Ok, so it was an early attempt, but measles, John? Really?), he gets his rubbish parents mown down by their own car and he sets light to his school. Later, as an adult, he stares an unfair judge to death and crashes the car of his cheating wife and her lover. But the icing on the insanity pie for me is John willing his neighbour’s wife to jump to her death from a window purely because she was making too much noise and he was trying to work. Genius. This particular exhibition of badness especially appeals to me at the moment as I am currently engaged in a battle of wills my upstairs neighbour who insists on repeatedly playing bursts of nauseating and soul crushing dance music at ridiculous hours. He also laughs like a maniacal girl incessantly (which is frankly creepy) and has screaming matches with his shrill girlfriend while both, apparently, march about in hobnail boots rattling furniture and practicing the blocking for the Pirates of fucking Penzance. They probably also bully puppies, I have no proof of this; I just know it in my heart. I should probably also mention at this point that my other current battles of will include; birds singing in the morning, bikes, Jamie Oliver, the colour beige and my arch nemesis fauns (you’d be surprised how often these beggars come up, they get everywhere, everywhere I tell you).

Even better than that, despite despising the world and having an all round distaste for humanity in general it is, in fact, that abject misanthropy itself that ultimately appears to be keeping him alive. So great is his stubbornness and so all consuming is his wrath that he won’t even concede to death and instead sustains his life through sheer force of will and a certain obstinacy of nature.

John Morlar’s psychic body count is probably close to record breaking, (I’d need to check this with Norris McWhirter, but I’d bet it’s up there). He takes down a plane, a ruddy spacecraft in space and from his sick bed still finds time to crash down a cathedral. That’s gumption! And what’s he do for encore? Only sets his cantankerous sights on a nuclear power station! Someone did not get enough hugs as a child.

You’re a very naughty boy, John Morlar, you misanthropic, grumpy little apocalyptic warlord, you, I salute you, but suggest maybe you should have just got a kitten, kittens make everyone happier.


See, John, see?

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Zombies in Wonderland


Zombies in Wonderland

Can't decide if this is awesome or not. Looks cute, but doubt it'll replace House of  the Dead: Overkill as my favourite thing to do on the Wii. Yeah, take that Wii Fit, I won't kowtow to your passive aggressive bully tactics, you're just like my auntie Mary, and I don't return her phonecalls either. Ha! I rule!!! Like a stroppy 13 year old.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

I Heart RP


I have huge and unashamed soft spot for Ron Perlman (or Ron Pearlyman as he's affectionately known in the Jinxiverse). I love him. I'm always pleased to see him. I'd watch him in anything. Today is his 60th birthday.  Let us enjoy some pictures of the Pearlyman to celebrate.













Monday, 12 April 2010

Movie Psychic Monday

Carrie White (Sissy Spacek)
Carrie (1976)



Poor Carrie White never stood a chance; adolescence, burgeoning metaphorical telekinetic powers, a raving psychotic, religious fanatic mother and a school full of unmitigated gits. Carrie demonstrates clearly why teenagers suck and why school days, far from being the happiest days of your life, are in fact more often than not merely a gamut of self revulsion, humiliation and shame. Or so I’m told, my school days were relatively bland and non-descript except for a brief period of excitement whereby I impersonated a prefect for a month. And we didn’t have proms in Britain in those days so I never had to worry about not being able to get a date, which was entirely more healthy, if you ask me.

Carrie White is the quintessential underdog; emotionally crippled by her mother, mercilessly terrorised by her peers and completely unprepared to negotiate the harsh realities of her own existence. But, she ultimately becomes one the scariest and most destructive of the movie psychics.

We’re conditioned early in the film to feel empathy for Carrie’s character. She’s that self conscious, chronically insecure, powerless and pathetic part of ourselves that we’re loath to admit to, and as a result we partially empathise with her and partially despise her for reminding us of it. At first it’s tough not to get vicarious pleasure in seeing Carrie discovering her powers and extracting some long due revenge on her tormentors. Ok, so granted, causing small boys, regardless of how ghastly they are, to have bicycling accidents isn’t admirable, but there’s something a bit satisfying about seeing Carrie finally fight back and in seeing the bratty kid take a tumble.

So Carrie makes us question our notions of right and wrong, instead of the more usual vague sense of emotional unease most of us get at the onset of menstruation, Carrie gets super telekinetic powers and we’re thrilled that the downtrodden victim finally has the capacity to improve her situation. But it all goes horribly wrong. A hilarious plot is hatched, and surprising well executed considering a bunch of teenagers were involved, to humiliate little Carrie, and it ends in predictable tears, which any mother could have told you, not Carrie’s mother obviously she’d say that they were all going to laugh her so sometimes crazy is right.



All of this makes me rather glad of my bland non-descript, untroubled adolescence, a childhood which is quite surprising considering I was a chubby, ginger, bespectacled child, Actually, come to think of it, I was a freak, I looked like a particularly rotund hyperopic piglet that had fallen into a school uniform, and I was unjustifiably precocious, Hell, I want to go back in time and bully me. (Fortunately I got contact lenses, lost the puppy fat and got hot at fifteen or this wouldn’t be funny in the slightest.) Really though, even only using me as a point of reference, Carrie didn’t really deserve what she got. Well, ultimately, I suppose she did, I don’t care how tough you’ve had it, missy, that’s no excuse for massacring a whole gym full of people with your crazy powers. Really, it’s not. Go to your room and think about what you've done.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Patient Zero



I appear to have contracted some rare and hideous disease and fear I may not be long for this world. Actually, I have a bit of a cold, but I get sick like a stereotypical boy so for the foreseeable future I shall be lying on my couch groaning and proclaiming myself too weak to make my own tea, turn the tv over, mop my own fevered brow etc. and generally making my very patient husband's life a misery. If I make it through I'll be back soon. Pray for me.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Movie Psychic Monday

Madame Arcati (Margaret Rutherford)
Blithe Spirit (1945)



Madame Aracati, played by incomparable Margaret Rutherford, is undoubtedly my favourite movie psychic. I’ve always had a deep admiration for Rutherford herself as she was unquestionably a highly talented comedy performer, but more than that I always appreciated the sense of the peculiar and eccentric she always embodied that combined with the unapologetic and extraordinary uniqueness of her physicality set her apart in my young mind and made me glad to be unusual too.

Blithe Spirit revolves around a successful writer Charles Condomine (Rex Harrison), who wishes to research the occult for his next novel and so arranges for an eccentric medium, Madame Arcati, to conduct a séance at his home. Faced with Madame Arcati’s spiritual theatrics and comedically clichéd rituals, Charles, his second wife Ruth (Constance Cummings) and guests the Bradmans (Hugh Wakefield, Joyce) Carey: endeavor, with varying degrees of success, to suppress laughter and take proceedings seriously as the séance commences, however, during the séance, Arcati inadvertently summons Charles's first wife, Elvira (Kay Hammond), who has been dead for seven years and Charles is the only one who can see or hear her. Hilarity then ensues as all hell breaks loose in the Condomine house between the two disgruntled wives.



Madame Arcati is the daughter of a medium, she had her first trance at age four, and her first “ectoplasmic manifestation” at five and a half. Despite being initially invited to the Condomine house as something of a figure of fun, Madame Arcati turns out to be an individual formidable in power and dignity. This medium is not to be trifled with, she deals with Dr. Bradman in fine and withering style when he sarcastically questions her on her supposed spiritual “control,” a little girl born in 1884 “She must be a bit long in the tooth by now, I should think.”, Madame A. sharply retaliates: “You should think, Dr. Bradman, but I fear you don’t; at least not profoundly.” Hell yeah, lady! Her potential for indignant wrath is further exhibited when Ruth lets slip that Madame Arcati was only asked to dinner “to get material for a mystery story,” then we see she is all hell in sensible shoes.



Another remarkable characteristic of Madame A. is her physical robustness, she’s no delicate, waiflike spirit communing aesthete, oh no, she’s a no nonsense, straight to the point, school mistress of a psychic who thinks nothing of pedalling miles on her faithful bicycle and always brings her appetite to any occasion. She may shy away from red meat before a trance but she’ll eat the hell out of a platter of sandwiches and wash them down with a martini or two.

In preparation for the séance Madame A. first begins to show hints of unconventionality in terms of mediumship she displays a distaste for Rachmaninov and scorns his ability to create the right ambiance and instead enquires about dance music and eventually selects an Irving Berlin tune, 'Always', that she claims is for the benefit of seven year old Daphne her adenoidal spirit ‘control’. Despite all early indications to the contrary, Madame A. is in fact genuinely spiritually gifted, even though it comes as much as surprise to her as it does to the Condomines when Elvira pitches up after the séance. Moreover she does not abandon the spiritual mishap once it is known; when faced with an unwanted ghost conundrum she displays an undefeatable attitude of great British resourcefulness and pluck, working tirelessly to resolve the pesky spectre situation.

What Madame Arcati brings to the psychic party is her youthful, almost childlike, enthusiasm and that seems to pervade her entire personality from her delightfully age inappropriate wardrobe of girlish frocks, fey frills, lace and bows and beads to her boarding school prefect mannerisms and phraseology. She is eccentric, excitable and doesn’t suffer fools gladly; a paragon of the kind of bluff and bluster that makes Britain great, if a little crazy, but sill great.

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