The Amazing Mr. Bickford (1987)

Admittedly you're losing a lot of the effect if you watch it without the No-D glasses supplied with the VHS, but still this is freewheeling psychedelic animation that will disturb, enthrall, nauseate and make you feel very, very hungry.


Well Well Well!

 A new album from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds next February!

If you pause this video at 3:15 you can even read some of Nick's lyrics three months in advance!

I would pay good money for that notebook.

Jesus, I would pay good money just to be allowed to flick through that notebook for five minutes.

Easy Money, Nick!

Found Footage Horror - Addendum

By some freak coincidence, not one week after I wrote about found footage films, the Guardian Guide opens with a similar denouement.

Yeah, that's right. I read the Guardian. Can you tell? You can, can't you? I'm going to stop soon, though. Two reasons. First of all, if you read it online (which often I do), then the temptation to scroll below the line is far, far too great. And you really do get the worst people in the world down there. Scroll below the line on the Daily Mail's website and the worst you can get is that people will agree with the article. But below the line on the Guardian's site you get people vehemently taking issue with such stories and comment pieces that should be sparking rage and uprising in an upwards direction: “People are starving to death in Britain!!!”/”Oh Boo-fucking-hoo, I see they can afford their Sky subscriptions”, that sort of thing. And when they can't find anything to attack in the substance of the article they'll attack the writer. When they've no material for an ad-hoc attack, they'll go for the “typical champagne-socialist hyperbole” line. They're the worst people in the world and they prove that the country and, quite certainly humanity itself, is doomed. Because when we're presented with the sort of material that should make us question our government's motives, we instead choose to attack the writer's grammar. If it's unhealthy to lose faith in humanity, then reading the Guardian is very bad for your health.

The second reason why soon I intend to stop reading the Guardian (let's say, after Christmas) is because they appear to have declared war on rock music. I've no idea why they've done it, but they have. Every time they write a feature on a new or existing guitar band (which they seem to do every single week), they always seem to kick-off their piece with a caveat concerning how remarkable it is that a guitar band even exists in this day and age, when rock music is dead. Their review of the Leeds Festival openly stated how strange it was that guitar bands could still fill lineups. With shocking lack of self-awareness they described it as being like an alternative universe – as if they haven't yet grasped that there's a whole world out there.

Actually, the Leeds Festival review (which might even have been a Reading Festival review) was particularly irritating in that it described Graham Coxon as being “now officially better than Blur”. Officially? I must have missed that press release.

Then there's the flip-side. Every time they cover electronic music (coverage which has more than a whiff of “right-on” Nozin' Aroun' about it), their copy will, without fail, contain an approving reference to how guitar music's been abandoned in favour of this glorious new noise. Simon Reynolds (tedium itself) had a big piece about the rise of EDM in America. Rather than scoffing that America's just “discovered” music that's existed for two decades (and removed every trace of a black face in the process – USA! USA!), sanctimonious Simon instead lamented the continued existence of “irrelevant” rock bands.

Simon, Simon, Simon! Something that means so much to so many millions of people all over the world can't be “irrelevant”. It just can't! It just can't.

I realise that I referenced a lot of articles there without linking to a single one of them. You have to understand that, in this case, sourcing a link would create the temptation to tread through that sludge again. Why would I do that to myself?

Yes, so through sucking all the joy from that which means so much to me; and through making me feel ashamed to be part of this species – I suppose the Guardian's very bad for my health. I might give it up in the New Year.

But I read it the other day, and it opened with quite a fascinating look at found footage films.

It reminded me of that thing I wrote last week! And it made me realise a few things that, previously, I'd overlooked:

1. The genre wasn't invented by The Blair Witch Project. That honour belongs to 1980's Cannibal Holocaust.

2. The genre gave us 1994's Man Bites Dog – one of the most disturbing films I've ever seen that also manages, somehow, to provide a few laughs. So there's that.

3. (REC) also uses this device, and (REC) is bloody horrible in the best way possible! So there's that, too.

4. Paranormal Activity is a thing and is something of a phenomenon in the horror genre. I've not seen it myself, so I can't comment much. But it takes the defining trope from this sub-sub genre (the “found footage” part of it) and tweaks it a little to make it interesting once more. The camera's static, for a start. That must count for something. Whether it can count for something in three sequels and counting is another matter.

5. Some films that aren't horror films are using the same device. Based on watching the trailer alone, I had no desire at all to see End of Watch. Now that I know that we're supposed to accept that the whole thing was captured on film by a bystander determined to show “how this thing went down”, well. I think I'll just pretend the film doesn't exist. Just like I do with The Human Centipede. What Human Centipede?

That's all.


The Cabin In The Woods (2012); A Night In The Woods (2011)

Oh this is interesting.

No, really, you'll like this.

You know how often I lament the state of modern horror on this here blog? This here blog which you're reading, right now, as we speak – so to speak?

Well. Tonight I watched, back to back, two films; both horrors, both made in the last year or so.

One of them relied upon established tropes, the other used ides which, whilst by no means unique, remain relatively novel.

One of these films was boring to the point of being appalling. The other will likely be considered a masterpiece within the year.

For a bit of late November fun, see if you can guess which is which!

A clue: The answer is very interesting.

Ahem, both films involved misdeeds and miscreants in the woods. One involved a Cabin In The Woods. It was called The Cabin In The Woods. The other involved three young people spending A Night In The Woods. It was called A Night In The Woods.

Let's look at The Cabin In The Woods first.

I'll get it over with now: It's this one which I anticipate will be considered a masterpiece within the year.

Remember Scream? Of course you do. The appeal of Scream was in how it played with the various tropes of horror in order to create something that was at once thrilling and self-referential. It was good. In retrospect, though, if you take away the trimmings you're left with pretty standard slasher fare.

The Cabin In The Woods is similar to Scream in that it takes all the standard horror tropes and uses them to create something that, on first viewing at least, is unlike anything you've ever seen before.

OK, maybe you'll have seen lots like this before. But, if you watch this without knowing much at all about the plot, I don't doubt that you'll be surprised repeatedly by the places it takes you. Just when you think that you've got the film pinned, something else happens that serves to raise the eyebrows further.

It's simultaneously a celebration of where horror's come from and an exploration of where it can go. I don't want to write too much about it because a lot of the love lies in not knowing what comes next.

But I will say this: I recently watched 2001: A Space Odyssey again. That film has three possible “types” of scene. Either there's dialogue, or there's music or there's silence.

I've come up with three similar “types” of scene for The Cabin In The Woods. Either it's hilarious, terrifying or awesome.

And when I say awesome, I do, to some extent, mean that inspires awe. But to a greater degree, I wish to use that word in the American sense. The last half hour of The Cabin In The Woods is awesome in the same way the lobby and bullet-dodging scenes from The Matrix were awesome.

But would the film still be great on a second viewing? Yes. You'll notice more. And that's why I believe it will be considered a masterpiece within the year. Once the initial love's died down and people realise that it's still brilliant, well. That's when the real praise will be ripe for the heaping.

Or, at the very least, it will be considered a cult classic.

And then we come to A Night In The Woods, which was just awful.

I became aware of this film on the really quite excellent Folk Horror Review blog. From the trailer, it looked like a British spin on The Blair Witch Project. In actuality, it's The Blair Witch Project stripped of everything that makes it worth watching.

The “found footage” sub-sub-genre may only be about 13 years old, but everything that could possibly be done with it had already been done by 1999.

I understand the appeal. When things are shaky and grainy, the horrors look more real. But one question will always arise which serves instantly to destroy the suspension of disbelief that's necessary to subscribe to any horror film: Why are you filming?

Well, usually the question's one of why are you still filming. In A Night In The Woods, though, it's unclear as to why they were even filming in the first place.

Worse, the appeal of The Blair Witch Project was less in the novelty and more in the graininess. Through being so ugly, it felt real. A Night In The Woods, though, is filmed on a digital camera. So too is every film these days. As a result, it ends up looking just like every other film but with inferior camera angles.

It follows the misadventures of three friends: Brody, Kerry and Leo. American Brody spends the first half hour guaranteeing that nobody who watches this film can possibly like him. He's snarky, sarcastic, humourless, clingy, creepy and, in the first five minutes, asserts American superiority over Britain using the medium of Stonehenge. Twat.

It's Brody who films everything. And, fair enough, he's told off repeatedly for filming everything, and a later exposition scene – as clumsy and shoehorned as it is – serves to offer a possible explanation as to why he might be filming – but it doesn't help. Sometimes he holds the camera at arm's length away from him and keeps it perfectly still. Other times he rests it on a rock and just keeps it running, perfectly framing an important conversation. Why?

The problem is, had they dropped the found footage conceit, they would have something which, if by no means remarkable, might have at least been worth watching. The setting, you see, is beautiful. Bleak, rain-splattered Dartmoor, with all its gloomy prisons, standing stones, crows and mossy trees. The first half hour, spent exploring the landscape, is stunning. At one point it's filmed using infra-red during the day, making the already breathtaking landscape look strangely alien. In fact, mute the first half hour and set it to a Richard Skelton soundtrack and you might be onto something.

Though it says a lot about the poor quality of a horror film set in the woods when it actually makes you want to go camping. After having watched Jaws, you'd take a desire to swim as a testament to the film's failure, wouldn't you?

A Night In The Woods, had it been successful, would have left me scared of the dark. Instead, it left me wanting to spend a night in the woods. Make of that what you will.

The final hour is spent in darkness and it's almost identical to the final hour of The Blair Witch Project – rustled tents, night-vision, lots of running through the woods. Nothing you haven't seen before, even if you've only ever seen it once before.

Christ, people shouldn't bother with the found footage conceit anymore. It was dated within an hour of The Blair Witch Project's release.

So there you go. Rely on standard horror tropes and I'll applaud. Try something relatively new and I'll describe your work as awful.

There's no pleasing me, is there?

Or perhaps the secret's in the writing? The Cabin In The Woods is written by Joss Whedon. He knows what he's doing.

I've got it. If horror is to have a future, it needs good writers.



The Lancashire Witches

I picked up my copy of The Lancashire Witches in a Manchester branch of Oxfam. Although it appeared in the classics section, I initially supposed it to be a product of the Dennis Wheatley school of 20th century occultsploitation trash.

I bought it anyway. Partly because I've always been attracted to the idea of dark Sabbaths on Pendle Hill, but also because I'm exactly the sort of person whose questionable interests were ripe for exploitation by Wheatley and his ilk.

I was surprised to learn that William Harrison Ainsworth was not a contemporary of Wheatley. Rather, he was a contemporary of Dickens and Thackeray. He appears to be remembered by few and read by even fewer.

The Lancashire Witches is the only one of Ainsworth's 40 novels that has remained in print since it's initial 1848 publication. Wouldn't it be wonderful if here we have a forgotten masterpiece from a forgotten genius whose visionary style easily matched – nay, surpassed – that of Dickens?

Sadly, no. I hate to say it, but the reason Ainsworth is arguably all but forgotten might have a lot to do with the fact that he really wasn't very good at writing.

If you want a harrowing account of the accusations of witchcraft that made life a living hell for the innocent women of Pendle exactly four hundred years ago, look elsewhere. In The Lancashire Witches you'll find little to love beneath the stodgy mire of purple prose and class-based snobbery.

Really, I'm amazed I managed to persevere with The Lancashire Witches. The first 15 pages or so were utterly dreadful. Ainsworth enjoyed drowning his readers in overwhelming dumps of information. Not content with overloading his paragraphs with socio-economic explanation, he also has his characters greet each other with long-winded exposition.

Witness this sterling example of naturalistic dialogue:

“Night is approaching,” cried the tall man in the velvet mantle impatiently, “and still the signal comes not. Wherefore this delay? Can Norfolk have accepted our conditions? Impossible! The last messenger from our camp at Scawsby Lees brought word that the duke's sole terms would be the king's pardon to the whole insurgent army, provided they at once dispensed, except ten persons, six named, and four unnamed.”

717 pages of that would be bad enough, but it gets worse. That's just how the nobility speak. Anybody who isn't rich or good looking is cursed to speak in some downright insulting dialect which comes across as an approximation of no language ever spoken by anybody, ever:

“Ey knoas neawt abowt him, lort abbut, 'cept that he cum to Pendle a twealmont agoa...boh ey knoas fu weel that t'eawt-cumbling felly robt me ot prottiest lass i' aw Lonkyshiar – aigh, or i' aw Englonshiar, for t' matter o' that.”
You get entire pages rendered unintelligible by that condescending literary device. Worse still, things are seldom “said” in this book. Rather, they're cried, observed, pursued, muttered and, at a particular low point, vociferated.

But beneath all these crimes against writing, does there lie a bloody good story just waiting to be unearthed by those with fewer literary neuroses than I?

Very, very nearly. Once things get going, The Lancashire Witches almost draws you in. The opening scenes, in which a curse is cast upon the Demdike name for all eternity, is marvellously gloomy. Also early on comes a brutal and rather upsetting account of a trial by water for a young maiden.

But the more the book progressed, the more I started to feel nauseated. The Pendle “witches” were not, of course, witches. They were innocent and misunderstood women persecuted by a misogynistic patriarchy and a merciless careerist judge.

The Lancashire Witches, though, is not a historical novel. It's a romance. In this book, witchcraft is a very real force. Therefore, the misogynistic patriarchy, though presented in a less than flattering light, really is portrayed as ultimately acting in the best interests of good Christians everywhere.

It's also the case that pretty much every woman who turns out to be a witch is suffering from some kind of deformity. And, of course, generally without exception they speak with the aforementioned ludicrous “dialect”.

Frankly, the idea that the wrongfully persecuted might have had it coming is such an offensive idea that maybe the work of Ainsworth is best forgotten after all.

Oh, but don't feel bad for him. Reportedly, on completing The Lancashire Witches, Ainsworth was paid £1000 and granted full copyright of his work. In today's money, that's roughly £78,600.

So whilst he's perhaps to be denied immortality, it's probably safe to say that he had a good innings.

If you want to read The Lancashire Witches, it's available as a free e-book from Amazon.

I cannot stress this enough, though: I wouldn't recommend it.


The Eccentronic Research Council - 1612 Underture

Today we listened to the 1612 Underture by The Eccentronic Research Council on the way home.

There, one of the nicest things that's ever been said to me was said to me.

I've checked, and it is allowed to repeat compliments when said comments might not be taken as compliments by others.

I was told that this album is what it would sound like if my very existence were set to music.

So I suppose that, right there, here I have an album of the year by default.

But even without that personal touch, here we have glorious gobby Northern poetry as recounted by Maxine Peak set to an addictive atmospheric soundtrack of analogue synths and windswept field recordings.

And it's a concept album about the Pendle witches with a delicious album cover by Andy Votel.

And it has a song about the A666 – the road to hell/the road to Bolton – down which we drive every time I go to visit my dad.

And it contains such choice meaty cutlets as “We took photos with Apples, modern magic on a monthly tariff” and “Curse the smiling bus driver for being an abnormality of his profession”.

And it contains a three part, eight minute epic which opens with the wind and the rain and ends up sounding like an even blacker electronic Sabbath.

And it contains Another Witch Is Dead – apparently a traditional arrangement, here it's been re-imagined into an irresistible and sexy-as-hell hauntological disco smash.

So yes, this might well be my album of the year. Choice pick!

I might have uploaded a download link, but they've just started following me on Twitter and, as such, they could very likely press charges.

So instead, here's a link to a place from which you can BUY IT. WITH MONEY.

Worth every penny, mate!

I had nothing to do with the creation of this video. I just embedded it, sir!