Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Midnight Warriors: Mama Weer All Crazee Now

You have no idea how much it pained me to mutilate the English language in that title. Damn you, Slade!

When From Midnight With Love's The Mike challenged his Midnight Warriors to pay tribute to the mums of horror I was totally down with that plan. Hell yeah, mums! Mums rock! Mums in horror do generally get a bad press; it kind of sucks to be a horror mum because basically everything is your fault, you’re either absent, psychotic/evil, abusive, neglectful or uninvolved to the point of blindness. Now while I could drone on in a pseudo intellectual manner about the implications of this for a very long time (oh, I really could), I’m instead going to restrain myself and let the mums speak for themselves. A while ago I did a picture meme in which I chose to celebrate the daddies of horror so for the sake symmetry (and the blessed relief of less talking on my part) I’m going to present the mummies of horror in the same format. So here they are in all their glory; the beautiful, crazy, awesome, killer mums of horror.

Only kidding, the last one's MY mum! Lily: rock chick, seer, dancer, Dachshund wrangler, counsellor, rebel, warrior, goddess and best damn mum ever. I love you, mummy!

So there were the horror mums, weren’t they great?
Thanks to The Mike for coming up with this excellent idea. And Thanks to The Mike’s mum The Masha from coming up with the idea of The Mike. And to all the mums out there, thanks for being awesome.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Horrific Beards I Have Known – The Sci-Fi Edition

Brian Blessed
Prince Vultan
Flash Gordon (1980) and just generally, in everything, in life, always

Brian Blessed is quite definitely one of my absolute favourite actors, no people, on the planet ever. My husband and I quite often in everyday life spontaneously decide to have ‘Talk Like Brian Blessed Hours’. The man is a clearly a great big, mountainous, booming bloody genius, and that’s before we get anywhere near the beard. Brian is a beard devotee. Brian’s beard is a constant, it’s a life choice, it’s a personality all of its very own, and, frankly, it’s the kind of beard that you could trap bears in.

Flash Gordon epitomises everything I love; it’s brash, it’s camp, it’s kitsch, it’s bright and colourful and it’s full of British character actors and pervy costumes. It’s pretty much exactly how I see the world and how I want it to be. It’s also soundtracked by the pantomime dames of rock, Queen.

As Prince Vultan leader of the Hawk People Brian steals the show. He is a winged vision in metal pants. There aren’t many men who can carry that look off, but Brian does with dignity and aplomb. The might of his beard in this performance is undeniable, surrounded by glittering, regal gold the beard gives the impression that if left to its devices not only could it merrily take down Emperor Ming the Merciless it could quite easily give him a good shouting at, straighten him out and get him a job with good prospects in the Mingo City civil service. The beard is that authoritative and mighty. It sits about Brian’s face saying: yes, I am wearing a combination of leather, lamé and feathers, what are you going to do about it?

It would be remiss of me, in any discussion pertaining to the man, the legend, Brian Blessed not to include at least a mention my favourite performance of his as Richard, The Duke of York in The Black Adder. There can’t ever have been a role more perfect for any actor than this one. Brian is comedy perfection in this, the most underrated of the Blackadder series, he gleefully hams it up as the warmongering Richard IV who likes nothing more than fighting, banqueting, hunting, drinking and bellowing. In The Black Adder Brian’s beard takes the bold step to allow the hair to join in the fun, the result – a level of hirsute insanity never before, or since, witnessed by the eyes of man. If there was ever an actor you could believe defeated an entire Turkish horde armed only with a small knife used for peeling fruit it’s Brian.

A hundred years ago when I thought that the theatre was an appropriate profession for me I quite often found myself turning to Brian and the lessons learned from him, and I became a proponent for the ‘if in doubt shout’ school of acting. Now, obviously Mr. Blessed, despite being the figurehead of this school that I made up in head, is never in doubt, he’s a great British actor of immense talent and experience and his characteristic booming voice comes not from any incapability but from skill and his very nature, the power and dynamism he embodies that allows him to command audiences the world over. However, for the less accomplished actor, this is a very useful technique as you can quite easily pass off a lack of talent for deeply considered character development resulting in uncontainable volcanic emotion and passion with very little actual thought or effort. (While I generally got good reviews, I was quite often called ‘dangerous’, ‘combustible’ and ‘an alarming presence’ as an actor and I’m fairly sure these weren’t really compliments).

Apparently you now can get Brian on your satnav. I can’t think of anything better than that. TURN RIGHT NOW!!!!

Brian Blessed has committed himself to the beard probably more than any other man before him. And his beard is the best, it’s a tremendous specimen envied the world over. I’d go as far as far as to say that God is jealous of Brian’s beard. In hundreds of years when societies have fallen and what remains of the earth is a sparsely populated blasted wasteland the survivors will huddle round fires into the night and they will tell tales of Brian’s beard and it’s glory and it will give them hope.

Brian Blessed: actor, adventurer, author, protector and shelterer of animals, legend, may you continue adventuring at high volume for years to come and may your beard remain as bushy and as magnificent.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Psychomania (1971)

Psychomania is one of those movies that I first saw long, long ago in childhood and never forgot. It clung to the recesses of my mind like an odd, deranged dream, a better calibre dream, but an odd and deranged one nonetheless and I always remembered it. A lot later I met my husband and, disturbingly frequently, I would mention Psychomania in conversation and recall all its little oddities to him; zombie bikers, Beryl Reid, frogs and incongruous folk singing, and he quite honestly thought I’d made it up. He genuinely believed I was the flavour of crazy that invents bizarre, low budget British B-Movies and is so utterly convinced by the delusion that I try force other people of their existence too. He married me anyway, and finally after all these years I got to sit him down and make him watch it, so I got the last laugh. Who’s crazy now, husband? Hmmm?!

Tom (Nicky Henson) has pretty much got life in the 70s sorted, he’s a child of privilege with a big fancy house, George Sanders as a butler and Beryl Reid as his mum, he is also, as any self respecting upper middle class child would be in the 70s, the leader of the local group of rowdy toughs who make up the notorious (by the standards of a small, predominately upper middleclass, rural village) biker gang The Living Dead. The Living Dead are cool. They care not for your stuffy old rules, granddad. They laugh in the face of society’s conventions with their customised skull helmets and their assortment of leather and denim that’ll make your old eyes bleed because it’s so out there and you can’t understand it because you’re so old and square. Yeah, they’re cool, and groovy, yes, they’re probably groovy too.

Late one night, after some hellraising, Tom and his girlfriend Abby (Mary Larkin) are hanging out in a graveyard because they’re so cool and that’s what you do after running an old square off the road of an evening. Whilst basking in the warm afterglow of roadside carnage and the death of random members of the 70s public, Tom finds a frog and decides that he will take the little fellow home to his mother (aforementioned British comedy icon Beryl Reid). Now this may seem like an odd gift for a mother (or indeed a British comedy icon), but, it transpires that Ma Latham (Beryl Reid) is in fact something of an occult dabbler and frogs are like boxes of chocolates or Heartbeat DVDs to her, so when Tom arrives home to the stately family pile old Ma fresh from a séance is thrilled with her son’s thoughtful gift. Equally impressed, family butler Shadwell (George Sanders) helpfully comments that this particular frog is a rare kind of frog that is particularly advantageous to black magic rituals and we then learn in a spectacular display of confusion and vagueness that the family home has a mysterious locked room that his father once raided in order to learn the secret of immortality, and then he died there, presumably without learning any secrets pertaining to immortality. Like any decent teenager this kind of jive is like whining guitar music to his ears and despite things not ending well for Da Latham Tom badgers Beryl Reid until keys are handed over and he then enters the locked room to discover the secrets for himself. More confusion and vagueness follows in the form of a series of unspecific visions involving Beryl Reid probably selling baby Tom’s soul and some other suitably 70s stuff and then Tom triumphantly exits the room of devilish magic proclaiming he now knows the secrets of life beyond death.

Turns out the secrets of life beyond death aren’t all that completed, all you have to do is kill yourself with the complete conviction that you will return and, piff, paff, poof, you’re back riding your rubbish motorbike and harassing Sunday shoppers.

So young master Latham promptly kills himself and, in what is probably one my favourite scenes in any film ever largely because of the sheer ill-conceived absurdity of it, his faithful gang bury him in the manner he would have wanted. Apparently the manner in which Tom would have liked to have had his passing from this mortal coil marked is by being buried in a crappy field sitting upright on his bike in a hole that isn’t even deep enough to accommodate his full height while one member of his crew sings a particularly frightful and vomit-inducing folk ballad at everyone whist they pick flowers and make garlands. I’d ruddy well come back if my friends did this to me, and I’d be bloody furious. Needless to say it’s odd end for someone who appeared to spend the majority of his life terrorising the English countryside and its largely crinkly inhabitants.

Fortunately for Tom he doesn’t have to spend the rest of eternity in a hippy grave with his head sticking out above the surface as it turns out his transcending death plan actually works and he is able to ride his way to undead freedom, stopping briefly to mow down a passer-by and to get some petrol.

Naturally the rest of his gang are suitably surprised and amazed by his miraculous return and, being teenagers, don’t need much persuading to follow suit. Queue stunt sequences as the gang members commit some unimaginative (but amusing) suicide; jumping off bridges, ploughing into trucks, etc. So soon the gang is all back together again, they’re young, they’re wild, they’re undead and they can do what the hell they ruddy well want and no one can stop them and what they ruddy well want to do, apparently, is trash a small supermarket and steal and an umbrella, those crazy kids. All would be going swimmingly for the merry band of zombie bikers if it wasn’t for the fact that Tom’s girlfriend, good girl Abby, is strangely not altogether sold on this whole dying malarkey, and even if she was she just doesn’t have time to die she has to help her mum with the shopping, for criminey’s sake . This reluctance forces Tom to do a little artful persuading, artful persuading in the sense that he tells her if she doesn’t blummin’ well go and kill herself now he’ll just about blummin’ well have to kill her himself. Sounds reasonable, Tom. Meanwhile Beryl Reid is also beginning to get a little concerned about her son’s behaviour and with the help of her faithful butler Alfred, I mean Shadwell, decides that she’s really going to have to do something about it; presumably before some civic minded member of the local community composes a stern letter to The Times. (Dear Sir, When, oh when will the government wake up and realise that something really needs to be done about all the deceased youths who seem to be currently tearing up Her Majesty’s countryside on noisy motorcycles apparently with the sole purpose of distressing my wife and the local herd of cows. My wife, like most wives, is of a nervous disposition and hasn’t slept in months and, frankly, the fact that her evening milk is consistently sour and curdled isn’t helping matters.)

Psychomainia is charming in its ridiculousness and so idiosyncratically British it makes you want die, actually die, or have a cup of tea. I really do still have a huge affection for it, it’s a strange and bizarre piece of British cinema that has achieved cult status precisely because of its absurdity and I would encourage you to give it a go even if only for the sake of a few giggles and some nice English countryside. It really is difficult not to warm to it as it’s clearly trying so hard to appeal to the young generation and be down with kids yet getting it so badly wrong that you just have let your heart go out to it and praise the effort, it’s kind of like The Fonz of the movie world, actually come to think of it, it’s kind of like me, if I was a film I’d probably be Pyschomania: not a bad idea though a bit cheap and dated, but still trying hard and loveable in its short comings and foibles, and I’d have Beryl bloody Reid and George blummin’ Sanders in me keeping it together (possibly the most disturbing sentence I’ve ever written, let’s never speak of this again). Sorry about that, what I mean to say is that Psychomania is a terrific blast, it’s a little cult window into 70s Britain that should be peeked through to see all the peculiarities and hilarities that lie within. It also stars the sister of Yvette (Vicki ‘Oooh Rrrrenéééé’ Michelle) from ‘Allo ‘Allo. But the real point is, it does exist and I’m not mad, and I think I’ve proved this quite satisfactorily here today. I thank you.

For a more sensible, and altogether better, review of Psychomania please see Steve Miller’s marvellous blog Terror Titans.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Demonium (2001)

Firstly, I’m just going to put it out there, I like Andreas Schnaas. He is an unashamed purveyor of gore and sleaze and his low budget, badly dubbed gorefests are big and brazen and delicious, and they’re also unapologetic and I appreciate that honesty. And how can you not appreciate a filmmaker who merrily names his first feature Violent Shit? And follows it up with a sequel.

So this brings us to Demonium, Schnaas’ first ‘proper’, ‘grown-up’ film, made with ‘proper’ actors and in filmed in the ‘English’ language’ to reach a wider market, well, wider as in us, the UK.

Demonium begins with successful businessman Rasmus Bentley and his lover, Maria, having some largely unattractive sex. This goes on for quite a while. Quite a while. His lover Maria happens to be blind, this probably helps with the largely unattractive sex, generally that is, not with the longevity I wouldn’t imagine. When they finally tire of this messy enterprise businessman Rasmus sets out to negotiate some manner of important business type deals at his strangely shabby, gloomy and full of unpacked boxes office. (Apparently I’m somewhat obsessed with the inappropriate state of people’s ‘offices’ at the moment, see London Voodoo. Weird).

Left alone blind lady Maria potters about helpfully demonstrating all the tasteful indicators an audience needs to appreciate the fact that she really is blind; eyes perpetually rolled back in head, stumbling over pretty much everything and the apparent lack of ability to utilise the basic sense of tactition as a compensator. Meanwhile, we, the audience, learn that while love and this wife may well be blind sinister knife wielding psychotics are, in fact, not, and a prime example of such a sinister knife wielding psychotic is in fact quietly following Maria’s every move as she goes about her morning’s blind business, her sense of hearing apparently also impaired along with her vision.

Back at his shabby office Rasmus concludes his terribly important business and endeavours to call his good lady in order that she can congratulate him on his success. When he is unable to elicit a satisfactory response from Maria to his important news he immediately rushes home. (The last time my husband called me with important news of his success it was because he’d completed Metroid: Other M. Our lives are clearly very different to Rasmus and Maria’s).

Unfortunately Rasmus’ haste proves to be his undoing, as he bounds into their bedroom to find the fair lady (probably assuming that she’d locked herself in a cupboard or something due to the special nature of her affliction that renders her completely helpless as opposed to all other blind people who somehow manage to lead full, satisfying and independent lives) only to find that she’s bound and gagged and tied to the bed and that by entering the room he has unwittingly triggered the firing mechanism on a crossbow that’s aimed at her throat. Oh, dear, Rasmus. But he needn’t be too concerned because his guilt at inadvertently causing the horrific death of his lover is mercifully short lived when the sinister knife wielding psychotic rushes him and slices off his head.

And now the movie really begins! Well, sort of. It’s now one year earlier and we meet obligatory wealthy and eccentric Arnold Berger, but only briefly as he is currently preoccupied with the messy business of being hacked into an assortment of little wealthy and eccentric pieces by an unknown party. If this wasn’t thrilling enough his body is customarily discovered by none other than Maria, (she of the unfortunate crossbow mishap earlier) only now (or rather then) she not demonstratively blind. The plot does indeed thicken.

And now the movie really begins! Honestly, it does now. Everything gets reassuringly old school. The wealthy and eccentric, and deceased, old man Berger, it turns out, has a large and equally eccentric family and all of whom are extremely interested to discover the contents of his wealthy and eccentric will. We meet the various family members of old man Berger (deceased), all of whom are seemingly scattered at random all about Europe engaging in a variety of suitably eccentric activities and behaviours. Hastening the plot, they all learn of the wacky old gent’s demise and temporarily cease their eccentric European activities in order to charge off to Berger’s stately, spooky and very, very eccentric mansion.

I’m guessing that everyone knows where this going now. We’ve got a creepy old house, a mysterious murder, sciencey secrets, a full compliment of crazy and avaricious relatives and some somewhat unhinged serving staff. There’s only one course of action when you’ve got a set up like this; systematically slaughter everyone with merciless abandon with careful attention to inventive weaponry and all the due gore.

Fortunately for our psychotic killer at large that crazy Berger helpfully left a clause in his will stating that all beneficiaries must stay in the house for at least three days in order to claim their inheritance. Really all we have to do here is sit back and watch as the various members of the eccentric, and briefly, for some them, wealthy Berger family are customarily dispatched in a variety of ingenious ways with a variety resourceful weapons until eventually we get the answers to some of the important questions, like how did Maria become afflicted with super serious, and comically depilating, blind? Who is the sinister knife wielding psychotic and why did he return a year later to finish off Rasmus and Maria? What exactly are ‘sciencey secrets’ and why did I write that anyway?

Demonium is rip roaring delight of chainsaws, blood, gore, decapitations, dismemberment, nudity, throat tearing, crossbows, perplexing blindness, bad acting, show tunes, torture, meat hooks and deadly cups of tea. While I’ll confess I quaffed a few whiskies in the lead up to (and during) (and after) the feature presentation I still maintain that Demonium is a cracking B-movie gem (I maintained this rather vociferously on my initial viewing and in fact went so far as to proclaim it ‘my new favourite movie ever’, as I said, there was some quaffing of whiskey, it was probably also my best friend later too, but I’m fairly certain I didn’t drag it off to listen to me cry in the toilets). Anyway, I digress, what I meant to say is that Demonium is a goretastic treat, it’s jam packed with schlocky goodness, bloodsoaked silliness and nudey bits, it’s jubilantly unashamed in its crassness, and these are qualities that I love.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Comic Book (Anti) Heroes

John Constantine: The Beginning

John Constantine is arguably one of the greatest and most loved characters in modern comic history. He is a magician, an exorcist, a demon hunter, a con-artist, a consummate cynic, an acerbic wit, a scouser, a complex loner and an inexorable chainsmoker. Although lacking in any of the characteristics that would traditionally define a hero, John is driven by a deep desire for redemption and the need to do some good with his life.

The chain smoking trenchcoat wearing John Constantine was created by Steve Bissette, John Totleben and the legendary comic book genius Alan Moore, and reportedly, Alan Moore created the character after the artists expressed an interest in drawing a character that looked like Sting. Later Jamie Delano became responsible for Hellblazer and its subsequent popularity as he took John into a real world environment aging in real time and defined the character into the loveable, flawed anti-hero.

Constantine made his first appearance as a recurring character in the horror comic series Swamp Thing in 1985, but it wasn’t until 1988 that Constantine finally got to star in his own comic with the DC publication of Hellblazer (in 1993 when DC launched Vertigo the consistently popular Hellblazer became its first title and remains its longest running series).

The morally ambiguous mage John Constantine was born in Liverpool on 10th May 1953 and his entry into the world is typically violent and dramatic. His mother, as a result of a reluctant abortion years previously, died in childbirth and we learn that the foetus John strangled his own twin in the womb with his own umbilical cord. Interestingly, later in the series a parallel universe reveals that in its reality the twin survives and becomes the well-rounded, balanced and respected magician that John couldn’t possibly be.

John and his father Thomas spend his childhood harbouring deep resentment for each other and their troubled relationship comes to an abrupt end when John runs away from home and in a final farewell he places a curse on his father that results in his becoming withered and frail.

By the time he is fourteen, Constantine had developed a serious interest in the occult (an inevitability as as far back as the 6th century his ancestors have been occult dabblers) and, partly as a means to avoid the harsh realities of his troubled, unhappy childhood, spends his time immersed in any books he could find on the subject. This obsession results in a pivotal confrontation between father and son that is ultimately the last nail in the coffin of their already fraught relationship. When John is expelled from school for initiating a chant of “Out Demons! Out!” in morning assembly, his father, furious with the child’s actions, takes his son’s books outside and begins burning them on a bonfire. Enraged at the act this moment becomes a catalyst and inspires the young John Constantine to use his magic as a means to avenge the wrongs that he perceives to exist in the world.

In grand old style John runs off to London and sets up house with Francis "Chas" Chandler, the character who goes on to become his closest, most trustworthy and longest surviving, friend. Finding himself as settled as he gets in 70s London John begins to explore his fascination with the occult. While honing his skills he also becomes obsessed with emerging punk scene and begins his own band Mucous Membrane.

Despite the great name John eventually realises that his band is in fact the worst band ever, and he dispenses with punk music as a career, but holds onto the attitude and remerges as self-styled punk rock magician. Having heard reports of mysterious going ons at the scene of Mucous Membrane’s first ever gig at the Casanova Club in Newcastle John, along with his ramshackle band of friends, set off to investigate matters further.

It transpires that the club’s owner Alex Logue, an infamous ‘sex and drugs magician’, has been using the club’s basement for satanic orgies, sacrifices and other all manner unsavoury practices. Rambunctious and over confident John is perversely thrilled to discover that a fear elemental is responsible and comes up with the foolhardy plan to summon a demon to destroy it. Unsurprisingly this course of action ends in tragedy leaving the Newcastle Crew emotionally and psychically scarred and Logue’s abused young daughter’s soul consigned to hell. The incident haunts him

Driven almost to insanity by what he witnessed in Newcastle and the resulting guilt of the incident John winds up being incarcerated in the ‘Ravenscar Secure Facility For The Mentally Deranged’ where he suffers even further torment as the staff and inmates believe him to a child killer. Ravenscar becomes a recurrent ‘home’ for John and he spends the next two years in an out of the facility. It isn’t until powerful East End gangster Harry Cooper intervenes that John is finally released for good, but at a price, Cooper wants John to wanting John to bring his son back from the dead. And that’s the just the beginning of his troubles.

Essentially John Constantine is a reprehensible bastard; he’s bitter, twisted, cynical and self-obsessed, he merrily puts the entire human race in jeopardy to pull off the world’s greatest con and cheat death from lung cancer and he is often responsible for the horrific deaths of those close to him. Ultimately he can never be relied upon to do the right thing, though occasionally he’ll do the wrong thing for the right reasons, but yet, he is still intensely likeable and you always remain on his side.

Predominately against the gritty backdrop of London’s underside, JC remains constantly locked in grim conflict with; demons, vampires, angels, serial killers, evil cults and The First of Fallen and often himself and his own self-induced madness, and that’s just a few of problems. But the deeper identity of Constantine is that no matter how self-serving and amoral he is by nature the wrong choices he makes are often in terms of some greater good and frequently he becomes the underdog’s sole champion, albeit a reluctant one and not necessarily the one the particular underdog might have chosen given the choice. Quintessential everyman, Constantine is the figurative shadow of humanity itself; he’s selfish, flawed, underhand, petty, desperate, arrogant, malicious, he’s all of us on a bad day, but yet, despite who is and where he came rather than because of it he still manages to achieve the small triumphs for good that offer hope and these achievements despite of all his serious flaws give us hope that we can be better too.

If you haven’t read Hellblazer you really, really must. I mean really, I’m serious, go buy the trade paperbacks now.


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