Saturday, December 1, 2018

"Let Us Be"


The 25th edition of INSIDE NO. 9 was a bold meta-live special that literally explored ghosts in the machine.

REECE Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton's deliciously dark comedy/drama strand INSIDE NO. 9 aired a live Halloween special this year (albeit at 10pm on Sunday October 28th) which was dubbed "GHOSTWATCH for the Twitter generation." Conventionally starting with Arthur Flitwick (Pemberton) finding an old mobile phone in a churchyard, a gullible 20% of the viewing audience gave up after faux sound issues, an error card, then eventual cancellation, which lead to a repeat instead of the programme's series one physical comedy standout A QUIET NIGHT IN. All part of the plan, obviously, as we cut back to Shearsmith and Pemberton in their dressing room, cursing the technical issues that had forced them off air. The meat on the bones is that DEAD LINE is being made at Granada Studios, infamous for paranormal activity due to its location on a Victorian mass grave, and the dead just want to be left alone.

The actual broadcasting mishaps at Granada are fascinating, and archive clips bleed into the stuffed narrative: MOST HAUNTED's CORONATION STREET special, news footage (introduced by Tony Wilson, no less) of the fire that destroyed THE JEWEL IN THE CROWN's costume department, and - best of all - Bobby Davro's trousers-around-his-ankles pillory accident on PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER ONE (as Lionel Blair, Keith Chegwin and Jim Bowen sing 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life'); also included is the preview interview clip from THE ONE SHOW, where Shearsmith says that he likes the idea of ghosts, but admits his non-belief. DEAD LINE goes further than the GHOSTWATCH "live" event, as people replied to Shearsmith's on-set Tweets ("Are me and Steve Pemberton on BBC Two now?") and co-star Stephanie Cole's Wikipedia page was altered to reflect her demonic on-screen throat-slitting suicide. The later creepy passages are well staged (one making good use of Shearmith's Reverend Neil's fake head), and the production should be applauded for bringing imagination and playfulness into our media-overloaded existence.

BBC Two Announcer Becky Wright's staged tone lets the cat out of the bag.

Setting productions within a single space or location is a recurring theme for Shearsmith and Pemberton, going right back to their industry foothold in Royston Vasey. The ROPE-inspired episode of PSYCHOVILLE - once intended as a live episode - is a more direct forbear to the self-contained placements of INSIDE NO. 9, which has included a country mansion wardrobe in SARDINES, a sleeper car for LA COUCHETTE and EMPTY ORCHESTRA's karaoke booth. Yet despite this notion these two seasoned writer/performers have shown that their rigorous, twisted style always has respect to the television anthology medium; and when they chart further into their beloved horror genre, it is never with parody (if the terror is present and correct, the comedy will act as a necessary release). 

This singular domain for horror or psychological drama taps into the very essence of the Old Dark House sub-genre, buildings beyond architecture that are characters themselves, inhabited by secrets and spectres. Notable examples are stoic in their representation of brooding evil: the Bates Motel, the Overlook Hotel, the Marsten House, 112 Ocean Avenue, the Dakota et al; in fact, some dwellings are not just homes, the House of Usher is also a corrupt dynasty, and in the original draft of Dracula, Bram Stoker had The Count's castle spontaneously fall when staked.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Web of Fear

VENOM (1971)

Serbian actress (and later politician) Neda Arneric is the siren of VENOM, beguilingly erotic and self destructive. Elected as a member of the Democratic Party in 2000, she withdrew from public politics after the "remote voting" scandal, when her vote was registered in Serbian Parliament while on holiday in Turkey.

SPIDERS have a tradition in horror, large or small. On the silver screen, Jack Arnold directed two of the most loved during the 1950s: science goes awry and creates a giant TARANTULA!, and a household spider strikes fear into THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN. Towards the end of the decade Bert I. Gordon made EARTH VS THE SPIDER, and the 1970s saw the release of two classics: Wisconsin suffered THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION, and even William Shatner had to try and prevent a small Arizona town from becoming a KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS (to no avail). More recently we have endured ARACHNIDBIG ASS SPIDER!, ARACHNOPHOBIA and Arizona again was the battle zone of EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS, where a spider farm suffered a toxic waste spillage.

VENOM is an appealing curio and the directorial debut of Peter Sykes. While holidaying in a Tyrolean village, artist/photographer Paul Grenville (Simon Brent) discovers hypnotic redhead Anna (Neda Arneric) in the woods, who has a mysterious spider mark on her shoulder. Making the acquaintance of Huber (Gerard Heinz) and his seductive daughter Ellen (Sheila Allen), Grenville is introduced to tales of the "spider goddess," a legend of the area, where a female phantom kills any men who becomes sexually involved ("they say if anyone touches me, the spiders come"). Yet her visage has been purposely created to scare off locals from a Nazi plot producing nerve agents from spider venom, funded by priceless stolen paintings and led by Anna's renegade scientist father (Terence Soall).

VENOM was released on Region 2 DVD by Fabulous Films in 2015, whose product blurb is as off kilter as the production itself.

Feeling more like a Euro-thriller than British horror, VENOM stands out with its stunning Bavarian location, odd camera angles and dreamlike ambiguity (it opens with a flashback nude bathing romp tinted green, and why not?). Anyone who is already confused should definitely avoid the American edit, which was picked up by New Line and retitled LEGEND OF SPIDER FOREST. Cut by over ten minutes, this includes dialogue referencing situations not included, and a general trimming of violent and erotic scenes. The full ninety minute movie includes an array of weirdness: softcore flogging, cows with flower garlands on their heads, and a climactic nod to Norman Bates. This must have caused an impression with Hammer, who assigned Sykes to direct DEMONS OF THE MIND the following year. 

On the small screen, the DOCTOR WHO serial PLANET OF THE SPIDERS explored Barry Letts' personal obsession with Zen Buddhism; it is the only occasion where a WHO producer and co-writer also directed the episodes. Since his discharge from UNIT, Mike Yates (Richard Franklin) is part of a Tibetan meditation group in rural England. While visiting, Sarah Jane (Elisabeth Sladen) and Yates stumble across resident Lupton (John Dearth) performing an incantation, which conjures up a giant spider. The Buddhist centre is actually a front to contact a powerful alien force that manifest as a large Arthropod; the spider is an emissary from the Metebelis 3 ruling council, sent to recover a blue crystal that The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) previously found there and that has now been returned to him by Jo Grant (Katy Manning) from her trip to the Amazon. The Doctor recognises Abbot K'anpo (George Cormack) as his former Time Lord guru and, at his prompting, returns to Metebelis 3, where a human colony revolt has failed. The Great One spider uses the crystal to complete a lattice which she believes will increase her mental powers to infinity.

A giant Arthropod attempts to exert telepathic control in DOCTOR WHO - PLANET OF THE SPIDERS. 

A weak six-partner to finish Pertwee's tenure, PLANET OF THE SPIDERS suffers from its grating use of the colour-separation overlay technique and an indulgent, nonsensical chase sequence. The original season climax was to be THE FINAL GAME, where The Master would sacrifice his life to save The Doctor in an act of redemption. This was abandoned due to the death of Delgado while filming in Turkey for the French/German TV mini-series LA CLOCHE TIBETAINE (however, Delgado's legacy exists on an obtuse level, as his widow Kismet provides the voice for the Queen Spider). Despite its flaws, the programme taps into the widespread fear of Arthropods, which research has suggested that may be innate to humans, and an exaggerated form of instinctive responses that helped early bipedal primates to survive.

Monday, October 1, 2018

A New Hope


Sennia Nanua begins the film strapped into a wheelchair wearing a Guantanamo Bay-style jumpsuit, before progressing to a Hannibal Lecter face mask and eventual freedom. Ultimately, THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS addresses its dystopian zombie world with issues of race, gender, and generational responsibilities.

ADAPTED from his own best selling novel by M.R. Carey, this absorbing dystopian/infection horror sees humanity ravaged by a fungal disease, were the afflicted become mindless, cannibalistic "Hungries." A small band of hybrid children - including the exceptional Melanie (Sennia Nanua) - hold the key to a vaccine, and go to "school" at an army base where they are simultaneously educated by Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton) and experimented upon by Dr Caldwell (Glenn Close). When the camp and lab is overrun, a muzzled Melanie, Helen and Caldwell escape. Together with Sgt Parks (Paddy Considine) and soldier Gallagher (Fisayo Akinade), the group attempt to communicate with survival cell "The Beacon," while scavenging for food and monitoring the behaviour of their prized asset. 

Utilising authentic locations such as RAF Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire, and with urban London landscapes doubled by drone footage of Prypjat near Chernobyl, the production is firmly helmed by esteemed television director Colm McCarthy
. THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS mixes 28 DAYS LATER with that always effective mechanism for terror, children, but also follows Danny Boyle's release for referencing themes from cult entertainment. INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS is wonderfully alluded to in the mutating mass of decomposing bodies encircling BT Tower, threatening to spread its spores for the "second phase." Pod-like behaviour is also evident in the genuinely creepy notion of standing sleep, where the Hungries react to the slightest movement. It is also consistently grisly and black humoured: for example, Caldwell reveals to Melanie that second generation Hungries were discovered after newborns killed their infected mothers by burrowing out of the womb.

Despite a meagre budget of £4m, the casting of the production is exemplary, especially Gemma Arterton and Paddy Considine. 

With the zombie genre now bloated to the extreme, there is a now a confused blurring between inspiration and mimicry. Interestingly, Carey's prose shares similar themes and plot points to the PlayStation game 'The Last of Us', which was released the same year as his source short story Iphigenia In Aulis. Both feature a fungal plague, have a last stage of infection where people sprout spores, and the infected overwhelming rely on a senses (smell and sound). Most tellingly, they each feature a young girl who potentially has the cure. THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS also taps into our ever-expanding psyche of mortality, evolution of diseases and destruction by environment. Underneath a pounding soundtrack and photography filled with sickly greens and yellows, its heavy handed Greek subtexts are more than compensated for by rounded performances which make you believe in the slow transformation of command. It could be argued that the theatrical appearance of feral infants late on goes against the grain, and that the movie lasts just one scene too long to accommodate its misjudged coda.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Ancient Rhythms


Due to a graphics department miscommunication, DOCTOR WHO AND THE SILURIANS is the only TV story to have DOCTOR WHO in the title. 

WITH new producer Barry Letts working with script editor Terrance Dicks to provide a more mature approach to DOCTOR WHO, these two serials, written by Malcolm Hulke, provided related monsters to explore. In a reversal of the alien invasion scenario, long-dormant cousins Silurians and Sea Devils are ancient races of Earth, and The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) a middleman trying to reach peaceful agreements between them and humanity. Both adventures are pedestrian, and suffer from jarring experimental soundtracks, but offer appealing monsters and interesting questions about morals and military might (although the rubber costumes grate with the increased ambition, as does the Silurians' Allosaurus pet).

For DOCTOR WHO AND THE SILURIANS, millions of years ago on Earth, Silurians feared their civilisation was threatened by an asteroid. The creatures built subterranean shelters around the world but the astral body settled into orbit as the Moon, so they slept on until awakened by the activities of a research base. When a rebellious young Silurian seizes power a virus that will eradicate humans from their home is released, but The Doctor finds an antidote before the disease takes hold; plans of a secondary attack fail in an attempt to destroy the Van Allen Belt - a barrier shielding Earth from solar radiation, harmful to humans but beneficial to reptiles - as The Doctor overloads the base's reactor. Retreating to their caves, The Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney) blows up the Silurian base; ultimately notions of co-existence between Silurians and humans are lost in bickering and scheming on both sides.

Lacking the bleak tone of DOCTOR WHO AND THE SILURIANS, THE SEA DEVILS is the archetypal Jon Pertwee adventure yarn.

The message of military condemnation is lost in THE SEA DEVILS, where UNIT is substituted by enthusiastic support from the Royal Navy (including a submarine, a hovercraft and a diving bell). Aided by the misguided Colonel Trenchard (Clive Morton), The Master (Roger Delgado) is stealing Naval equipment to build a machine to revive the amphibious Sea Devils from hibernation, while he is imprisoned on a high-security island. The first episode was transmitted at the end of a Miners' Strike, accounting for a sharp increase in viewers from episode two. Yet it was the end of episode three where one of the most iconic Time Lord moments occurred, as the Sea Devils rise from the water and advance up a beach. Like The Silurians, the titular menace is wonderfully conceived, their turtle-like head pieces worn as top hats by actors so that they towered even over Pertwee. But the real meat is the interplay between The Doctor and The Master ("he used to be a friend of mine once ... a very good friend.")

Carey Blyton's score for DOCTOR WHO AND THE SILURIANS has the Renaissance woodwind instrument Crumhorn for its creature cue. This results in a comical misrepresentation, mirroring Malcolm Clarke's controversial incidental soundscape for THE SEA DEVILS. Here Clarke used the Radiophonic Workshop's newly acquired EMS Synthi 100 to his own anarchic whim, bringing an artificiality to the action which treads a fine line between musical composition and sound effect. Letts insisted on substantial edits, while Clarke argued that his work was mood pieces that fitted both needs. At least this particular score was championed by the Manchester University Press publication Time and Relative Dissertations in Space: Critical Perspectives on DOCTOR WHO, calling it "startling in its range of obtrusive electronic timbres and relative melodic paucity."

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Paranormal Activity


Burning ambition: this fondly remembered supernatural series 
ignited the wrath of moral crusader Mary Whitehouse.

BBC Scotland's THE OMEGA FACTOR is a forerunner to THE X-FILES, but without the budget or pretention. Born from the ashes of the cancelled second series of journalist drama THE STANDARD, here the lead protagonist is occult writer Tom Crane (James Hazeldine). Crane's latent psychic abilities lead him into Department 7, a government agency which investigates the paranormal, where he is partnered with family acquaintance Dr Anne Reynolds (Louise Jameson, a recently resigned Leela from DOCTOR WHO). Crane joins the organisation as a means of finding rogue psychic Edward Drexel (Cyril Luckham) and assistant Morag (Natasha Gerson), both involved in the death of his wife; yet, after Drexel is killed, Tom becomes increasingly aware of another shadow enterprise, one which strives to assemble the cream of extrasensory perceptive individuals.

For a programme steeped in otherworldly abilities, THE OMEGA FACTOR feels strangely grounded because of its lack of money and threadbare effects. This enhances Hazeldine's already standout performance, mixing his drive to avenge his wife's death, to come to terms with his own powers, and the vain attempt to assimilate within Department 7 with a secretive superior, namely psychiatrist Dr Roy Martindale (John Carlisle). Like any anthology shows - here with a wide range of writers and directors over ten episodes - there is an inherent unevenness in style and quality, encompassing a heady and diverse set of topics: spectral analogue technology (VISITATIONS), sonic weaponry (NIGHT GAMES), sleep deprivation (AFTER-IMAGE), poltergeists (CHILD'S PLAY), and even astral projection to political means (OUT OF BODY, OUT OF MIND). 

James Hazeldine and Louise Jameson are the Mulder and Scully 
of BBC paranormal drama, with added intimacy. 

POWERS OF DARKNESS is the episode the show is most remembered for, infamously labelled "thoroughly evil [and] one of the most disturbing things I have seen on television" by Mary Whitehouse. History student Jenny (Maggie James) is possessed by a witch, culminating in an altar ritual involving a dead blackbird and a Demon. Mixing a seance, drug use, knife violence and human combustion, this fed into Whitehouse's disgust at any portrayal of Eucharist abstraction, and general distrust of popular entertainment. Two weeks later BBC Scotland Head of Drama Roderick Graham admitted that the BBC's own standards of decency had been breached during ST ANTHONY'S FIRE, where a woman kills her husband with a bread knife. The BBC's Guidance Notes on Violence, which dictated permissible levels, specifically mentioned that dramas were to avoid violent acts that could be easily copied. Graham stated that "the point has been forcibly made to those who were responsible for the programme".

The penultimate entry, DOUBLE VISION, is unnerving because it is so understated. Tom keeps seeing his dead wife Julia (Joanne Tope) in and around Edinburgh; in DON'T LOOK NOW fashion, when running after her, the red-coated figure darts around corners and remains constantly out of touching distance, like the dream sensation of a goal forever out of reach. For the husband to discover this was an elaborate ploy leaves an unsavory taste, as the show leads to its THE PRISONER-like conclusion. The final episode - called ILLUSIONS - ends fittingly on a closed door, leaving further adventures to be picked up in a series of Big Finish audio dramas, where Jameson returns as Reynolds, now head of the department.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Daleks, Daloids and Phaleks (Part II of II)


28 years after Katy Manning's notorious spread in Girl Illustratedthe mutants from Skaro return to menace nude Earth women in ABDUCTED BY THE DALEKS. Needless to say, the BBC and the estate of Terry Nation swiftly moved to pull the plug on any legal distribution.

AS the DOCTOR WHO reboot hit television screens in 2005, these two zero-budgeted "Daleks Do Porn" abominations attempted to cash in on the return of the Time Lord. The softcore ABDUCTED BY THE DALEKS, with a story by "Billy Hartnell" and directed by "Don Scaro" - in reality London based magazine distributor Trevor Barley/Roman Nowicki - mixes Eastern European models and The Doctor's most famous foes for 55 long, erotica-free minutes. Not even a title change to ABDUCTED BY THE DALOIDS - while retaining the Dalek name on all prints - could fool the BBC from threatening legal action (there is also an unlicensed use of Pink Floyd). As for the actual plot, four women (including a Dalek agent) accidentally hit an Alien "Grey" in their car. In full party dress and high heels, they investigate in woodland famous for being a hunting ground for The Serial Skinner killer. But before long they are being taken captive by Daleks, who show a preference in interrogating their prisoners nude.

After surviving an encounter with a scared hunter and his machine gun, plus the Serial Skinner, the Dalek agent explains to the police that the metal menace wanted to impregnate their slaves. The film even makes the long passages of naked girls wandering through the forest monotonous, obliquely mirroring the Time Lord's reputation of endlessly running around corridors. Shot in different aspect ratios, there is also plenty of on-screen goofs (visible Dalek operators, the boom mike handle) and a surreal title card warning of strobe effects. Even the writhing of the starlets when strapped to a stark metallic wall is unsynchronised, though best of all is the impromptu actress switch between Lina Black and Maria Vaslova, presumably due to a no nudity clause.

In DOCTOR LOO AND THE PHALEKSWhovians recoiling from Tom Baker talking to the phallic appendage of THE CREATURE FROM THE PIT are likely to suffer chest cramps at the sight of the Phaleks.

The hardcore DOCTOR LOO AND THE PHALEKS - also known as DOCTOR LOO AND THE FILTHY PHALEKS - was made by the short lived UK porn studio Doll Theatre. And for anyone still distraught on the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the latest Doctor, remember that Britain's leading sex actress Alicia Rhodes got their first. Dr Louise Flangebatter (Billie Piper lookalike Rhodes) travels through space in her luxury toilet Turdis ("wherever there's scum she'll flush it away"); picking up damsel in distress Quimberly Dickmore (McKenzie Lee), the pair travel with house shag-bot Kay Nine to Skrotum 4, where they encounter Emperor Minge (in a gimp mask) and Lady Sodomi with her army of oversexed Phaleks. Pretty inconsequential to the greater scheme of things, the Phaleks are painted water butts, with rubber dildo's attached to the base of their garish red casing.  

Friday, June 1, 2018

Daleks, Daloids and Phaleks (Part I of II)


In December 1966, Dell Movie Classics published a comic strip adaptation of DR WHO AND THE DALEKS with art by Dick Giordano and Sal Trapani. This was the first appearance of any printed story related to Doctor Who in the American market. 

MADE during the rise and fall of Dalekmania, these two cinema adventures - starring Peter Cushing as a non-canon Doctor Who - are concise versions of THE DALEKS and THE DALEK INVASION OF EARTH. Faithful to the BBC programmes, the lead character however is portrayed as a bespectacled Grandfather figure, a dotty human inventer rather than William Hartnell's crotchety alien. And although they are credited on-screen as AARU films because of finance from Regal International's Joe Vegoda, both films are widely accepted as Amicus releases.

Originally to be directed by Freddie Francis, DR WHO AND THE DALEKS was a financial rather than critical success. Hastily scripted by Milton Subotsky, who described the production as "a science fiction comedy," its greatest asset is its vivid 2.35:1 colour photography. This gives the previously monochrome Daleks a hierarchy of red, blue and gold, and real scope by making the most of Shepperton's expansive sound stages. DALEKS - INVASION EARTH 2150 AD is much more sombre, though both entries have a cast that dwells on relations (granddaughter Susan (Roberta Tovey) appears in the two movies, while her older sister Barbara (Jennie Linden) is in the first film, and Doctor Who's niece Louise (Jill Curzon) the second). This matinee-mentality is completed by comic relief: accident-prone Ian (Roy Castle) is Barbara's new boyfriend, and constable Tom Campbell (Bernard Cribbins) inadvertently joins the crew for the later tale.

Despite rescheduling due to Peter Cushing's virulent bout of flu, DALEKS - INVASION EARTH 2150 AD is the more rounded of the two films.

With Vegoda buoyant on the initial box office success, Subotsky was less excited about a sequel, correctly perceiving that Dalekmania was already waning. Darker and more violent in tone, DALEKS - INVASION EARTH 2150 AD had the adverse effect on its audience to the day-glo yarn set on Skaro. Despite improved critical reaction and its bigger budget (thanks in part to Sugar Puffs, where product placement can be seen throughout the feature), costs were not recouped and plans for a third picture shelved. A far superior piece, the gritty INVASION strips away the juvenile escapism to reveal characters in real peril, a world away from the Thals' golden hair and heavy eye shadow from the first movie.

Kevin Davies' hour-long DALEKMANIA documentary - which has accompanied home disc releases on numerous occasions - is a charming look at this motion picture birth and death. The framing device of a ticket taker - played by Davros himself, Michael Wisher - welcoming two excited children perfectly sets the scene for a series of interviews where the players recount fond memories of their time within the most neglected part of WHO history. Amongst the participants we have Thal Barrie Ingham - delighting that his portrayal has appeared in a comic strip - and stuntman Eddie Powell, recalling his on-set accident while being exterminated. Most touching though are Roberta Tovey's recollections of working with director Gordon Flemyng and particularly Cushing, where it is alleged the actor only agreed to make the second film if Tovey also returned.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

"I'm Fiona ... Fly Me!"


Based on her 1976 book Fiona, HARDCORE charts the rise of Fiona Richmond, the "frankly sensational adventures of a liberated lady."

MAKE no illusions, there is no hardcore in James Kenelm Clarke's fictionalised sex odyssey of Fiona Richmond. A mockumentary before the term was coined, the model/non-actress turned writer - portrayed by Richmond herself - recounts her carnal exploits to an acquaintance at her publisher's South of France whitewashed villa in 80 tidy minutes. These encounters include her chemistry teacher (who pockets her panties), becoming a member of the mile high club, and frollicking at the back of a moving mixed vegetables delivery van with John Hamill. With its above average production values and beautiful cinematography by Mike Molloy, HARDCORE is the Rolls Royce of British sex comedies, and actually achieves some laugh-out-loud moments. With the opportunity to film in the heatwave of 1976, even the British locations have a welcoming sheen.

Particularly unsettling when viewed today is the scene at the chemistry lab, where the then 31-year-old in school uniform receives her "punishment." Throughout, Richmond plays herself with a wilful abandon that attempts to hide her stilted style, and thankfully she has a parade of seasoned performers for support: Ronald Fraser as the Soho impresario who first employs Fiona (she strips off, puts a vase of flowers over his head and punches him to get his attention) and Victor Spinetti as the proprietor of Men Only (both characters interpretations of Richmond's lover Paul Raymond). On the peripheral, Harry H. Corbett manages to be hilarious in his split-second cameo as Art, and for trivia hounds, an early scene shows Kenelm Clarke's 1974 movie GOT IT MADE playing on television, which featured future DOCTOR WHO Romana Lalla Ward. The picture caused a furore as it was later edited - incorporating sex scenes that the cast had no knowledge - and reissued as SWEET VIRGIN. When Raymond's Club International published photos of the hardcore action alleging Ward was a participant featured, the actress successfully sued.

Richmond with Paul Raymond, the uncredited financier of the picture. Raymond ensures that his businesses are on show, such as his Revuebar, the Windmill and Whitehall theatres, and the Men Only offices.

Released in the United States as FIONA, the only facts the project brings to the table is that Richmond is indeed the daughter of an vicar, was once an air stewardess, and that she earned her stripes as a columnist for Men Only. The rest is cloaked in her persona as a free-spirited 70s sex goddess, who was regularly seen along the streets of Soho in her yellow E-type Jaguar (a gift from Raymond). Alongside her writing "career," Richmond was the headliner in a succession of Raymond-sponsored West End stage shows and revues before screen roles beckoned, and when the cinematic sex market tired at the end of the 70s, Fiona achieved some kind of respectability on TV game shows such as CELEBRITY SQUARES and BLANKETY BLANK. Although Richmond's popularity pre-dated Mary Millington, the draw of Fiona waned upon the arrival of the fresh, sexual liberation qualities of Millington. The tall brunette became overshadowed by the short blonde, with punters preferring Mary's girl-next-door demeanour to Fiona's more remote sophistication.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

"New Thrills! New Faces! New Horror!"


In the same year that David Prowse became The Green Cross Code Man, the Bristol native appeared in the second of his three roles as Mary Shelley's most famous creation.

JIMMY Sangster's HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN is detested by Hammer purists for its comedic tone, and plays out as a parody of the previous respected entriesThe film opens with Victor Frankenstein (Ralph Bates) at school, accompanied by friends Elizabeth (Veronica Carlson), Stefan (Stephen Turner) and Henry (Jon Finch). Victor arranges for the death of his father and travels to university in Vienna, where he acquires sidekick Wilhelm (Graham James) and impregnates the daughter of the Dean. Returning to Ingstad, Victor starts a series of experiments, using corpses delivered by a local body snatcher (Dennis Price) - who lets his wife do the digging. After electrocuting Wilhelm for complaining about his work - which includes reanimating a tortoise - Victor poisons Elizabeth's professor father (Bernard Archard) for his brain, but the organ is damaged and the resulting patchwork man is a mute thug (David Prowse).

Initiated as a start-over remake of CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, the picture dispenses with Peter Cushing's services and tries to introduce a younger generation (a failed attempt, as Cushing returned four years later in FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL). Despite the traditional 19th Century setting, HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN is very much of its time - as illustrated by Bates' hair and puffy shirts - and quite anarchic, mixing additional plot threads (Elizabeth's finances, Stefan's crush on Victor) with comic relief (a severed arm making a V-sign) and grue (Victor's hands smearing his face with blood). Duelling femmes fatale O'Mara and Carlson are always watchable, but only Price can deliver a performance at the correct pitch. Bates, at this point being groomed to become the studio's next big star, is not so much a mad scientist but a psycho scientist, enjoying the thrill of the kill and rejoicing in the fact that he has this powerful monster ready to do his bidding. And when the creature eventually appears - an hour in, and sporting white cycling shorts - Prowse goes through the motions with a checklist of victims and a perfect physique which bestows its fragmented origins.

"You’ve put on weight in a couple of places"; Kate O’Mara is the bed-warming housekeeper of Hammer's relaunch of its Frankenstein franchise.

Reusing the Karnstein Castle set from THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, and even shooting most of its forest scenes on Elstree stages, there is a distinctly cheap and recycled feel. Furthermore, HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN was not helped by a misleading marketing campaign, where it went out on a double bill with the sombre and gristly SCARS OF DRACULA (as Sangster states in Wayne Kinsey's Hammer Films: The Elstree Studio Years, "if people had gone to see it knowing it was shot light hearted they would have enjoyed it more [instead of] thinking it was a Gothic horror.") However, this twin feature did hold the distinction of the first Hammer movies to be totally financed by British companies, thanks to a deal between Sir James Carreras and ABPC/EMI. But Hammer's new partner would only distribute to England and the Commonwealth, leaving Carreras able to acquire just a small American distributor - Continental - to impossibly cover the whole of the United States market. 

The notion of deriving humour from such pseudo-scientific source material is an interesting one. Since Frankenstein was published in 1818, and Boris Karloff's seminal interpretation hit screens in 1931, Mary Shelley's serious text - and similar works - generate mythical themes and uncomfortable laughter. As the initial power of the book recedes in a collected consciousness, the tome gathers extraordinarily wide responses, snowballing a range of spoofs and humorous asides now over 200 years on. The level of comedic takes is mind-boggling, even to the point of delicious meta-levels: Mel Brooks' celebrated YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, for example, used many pieces from James Whale's original laboratory set, and even in The Beatles film YELLOW SUBMARINE we had the Monster drinking a potion and becoming John Lennon.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Haunt of Fear

Nostalgia and the Rise of Hauntology

"When Bagpuss wakes up, all his friends wake up too." Bagpuss, Professor Yaffle and the Organ Mice in the fondly remembered BAGPUSS from 1974. The titular cat's description of "saggy ... and a bit loose at the seams" typifies the disjointed melancholy of the Hauntology movement.

POPULAR culture surrounds us in a whirlwind of nostalgia. Nostalgia was first described as a psychosomatic disease, rooted in the desire of soldiers to return home; this longing for the motherland is so strong that it induces a doleful, mental state. Swiss physician Johannes Hofer first used the term in 1688, and the disorder came to be associated particularly with Swiss soldiers, who were so susceptible to nostalgia when they heard a particular milking song, that its playing was punishable by death. Confusing the past and the present, and the real and the imaginary, our preference for the sights, sounds and smells of yesteryear often has its foundation in the carefree wonders of childhood. It was Immanuel Kant who stated that people who were steeped in nostalgia were triggered not so much for an actual place as for the time of youth. David Lowenthal's The Past is a Foreign Country considers that nostalgia preys on the past to construct a form of escapism; and by savouring these ruins of artificiality, author Susan Stewart condemns the condition as a "social disease," maintaining that the past is something unspoilt, utopian and unreachable.

British television in the 70s exists in what writer and radio presenter Bob Fischer describes as "cosy wrongness," a grainy and blurred netherworld that - because of its pre-digital, incomplete heritage - can be a nostalgic notion that actually extends to the early 80s Video Nasty flap of VHS degradation. BBC shows of the polyester decade - such as DOCTOR WHO, A GHOST STORY FOR CHRISTMAS, THE STONE TAPE and COUNT DRACULA - showed the corporation embracing the Gothic, but also fortolded how this portentously gloomy sub-genre would mutate into visual art Hauntology. Hauntology was coined by Jacques Derrida in his 1993 book Spectres of Marx, and taken up by critics who referenced contemporary culture's persistent recycling and incapacity to escape old forms. If nostalgia is sentimental perspective, Hauntology bleeds into our psyche like a spectre who gestures towards what is inevitably an intellectual abyss. 

Music Has the Right to Children was the debut studio album from Boards of Canada, and hailed as a seminal Hauntology work. The piece was described as a "thing of wonder" and "the aural equivalent of old super 8 movies."

Fischer has also highlighted the children's programme BAGPUSS as a prime example of 70s "vague disquiet." This strange shadow world’s mixture of scrambled memories and weird, bygone images is explored in the Hauntology concept, where the presence of being is replaced by absent or deferred parallels, a yearning for a future that never arrived. Hauntological music has been particularly tied to British culture, an alternate reality constituted from the stagnation of the postwar period. This soundscape is expertly captured by the 1998 album Music Has the Right to Children by Scottish electronic duo Boards of Canada. Subsequently, musicians and artists whose formative years were in the 70s have developed their own Hauntology analogue synth brands and universes. In 2005 Jim Jupp and Julian House founded Ghost Box Records and the fictitious world of Belbury, an eerie English village straight out of John Wyndham. Similarly, writer and graphic designer Richard Littler created Scarfolk together with spoof book covers and dystopian government pamphlets that evoke the distinct Penguin Classics and Public Information Films so entrenched from the period. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

True Blue (Part II of II)


"A Murder Thriller with Thrilling Bodies!" THE PLAYBIRDS provided Britain's premier 70s sexpot Mary Millington with her most substantial part.

BECAUSE of the unfathomable financial success of COME PLAY WITH ME, executive producer David Sullivan quickly announced his next venture, with lover Mary Millington taking on a more sizable role. Proclaiming the follow-up would be the "hottest film ever to be screened in Britain," THE PLAYBIRDS is actually an overblown exercise in self-promotion, but does capture the tawdry aspects of 70s Soho amongst its car chases and bombastic theme tune. Belonging to a genre of British film that rejoice in the psychopathic killing of models (COVER GIRL KILLERPEEPING TOM et al), Harry Dougan (Alan Lake, as an on-screen persona of Sullivan) is a racehorse-owning millionaire glamour publisher, who starts a series of supernatural-themed spreads that has attracted a deranged killer (who the press term "The Chopper.") After dispatching two ladies of sexploitation royalty (Pat Astley and Suzy Mandel), the murderer becomes involved in a cat-and-mouse game against Scotland Yard's finest (Glynn Edwards and Gavin Campbell, with Millington as undercover WPC Lucy Sheridan).

The in joke of pouring a 4'11" porn non-actress into a Police uniform - especially one as harassed by the law as Millington - is quickly forgotten as Sheridan is more at home to her new assignment than somnambulantly delivering dialogue at cop shop meetings. Developing her talents as a sauna prostitute, Lucy soon has a lesbian fling and sleeps with Dougan to achieve her goal to become a Playbirds centrefold. Regardless of the film being moulded as a Mary vehicle, the real actress with sex appeal here is Mandel: it was no mistake that she shared equal space on Tom Chantrell's eye-popping posters of COME PLAY WITH ME and THE PLAYBIRDS alongside her more illustrious colleague. The cherubic Mandel could actually deliver her lines with a knowing twinkle, and was a mainstay of 70s smut in this country until she emigrated to the United States. If you actually care about the murder investigation you have a variety of suspects beyond Dougan, but the final "shock ending" will leave no one satisfied.

The start of a stormy union: Diana Dors and third husband Alan Lake on their Wedding Day, November 1968. In 1972 after his release from prison, Lake broke his back during a horse riding accident, starting a descent into alcoholic violence and eventual gunshot suicide.

The following year Sullivan attempted to cash-in on the CONFESSIONS name with CONFESSIONS FROM THE DAVID GALAXY AFFAIR, another Roldvale production distributed by Tigon. Lake gives one of the most self-indulgent lead performances in British film history as the titular super stud astrologer, who may - or may not - have been involved in a Securicor robbery five years previous. Behind his sparkling medallion, large lapels and annoyingly knowing swagger, Lake regularly breaks into a series of excruciating impressions (embracing anyone from Basil Rathbone to Bruce Forsyth, and anything from racism to homophobia), and also breaks wind in one jaw-dropping love-making scene. Despite this goggle-eyed eccentricity, Galaxy is still irresistible to women, refers to his penis as Fido, and sleeps with the entire female cast except for real-life wife Diana Dors, who plays the new owner of his apartment block.

In new levels of cinematic tedium, there is endless offering and pouring of drinks (often involving the police, tokenly fronted again by Glynn Edwards) but the film is saved from total disposability by the appearances of Rosemary England (Miss Beauty Bust) and - in a subplot incidental to the main narrative - Mary Millington (high society heiress Millicent Cumming). Never having experienced orgasm, Cumming hooks up with Galaxy in a multi-positional sequence played out against the astrologer's mirrored headboard. Despite this lengthy scene being one of the most explicit in a British sex comedy - one press release even insinuated that Lake and Millington actually had intercourse, much to Dors' disgust - the picture was a box office and critical disaster.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

True Blue (Part I of II)


Translating the German Bohrlock ('borehole', 'blast-hole') was too difficult for most British porn fans; the film consequently enjoyed a variety of alternative titles such as MISS BAWLOCK and even MISS BOLLOCK.

BRITAIN's sex superstar of the saucy 70s, Mary Millington's girl-next-door demeanor actually encompassed everything from magazine cover girl to hardcore actress. An outspoken opponent of the Obscene Publications Act, she also starred - often fleetingly - in British sex comedies, including COME PLAY WITH ME, which holds the record of the longest-ever theatrical booking in domestic cinema history. Her open bisexuality - she cited Harold Wilson and Diana Dors as lovers - illustrated a genuine love of carnal activity ("the old slogan of 'make love, not war' was a very good one"), before the predictable spiral to prostitution, kleptomania and cocaine abuse. A chance meeting in a Kensington coffee shop with pioneering Scottish pornographer John Lindsay led Mary to play the title role of MISS BOHRLOCH, the first of around twenty hardcore 8mm shorts made in Britain and on the continent over a four-year period.

Filmed in Frankfurt, MISS BOHRLOCH was a huge success in Europe (some 300,000 copies were sold) and created an underground following back home. Millington runs the whole gamut in her initial outing, and is mesmerizingly unrelenting (no wonder it was awarded the Golden Phallus Award at the Wet Dream Festival in Amsterdam). An insatiable and upbeat call girl in a fur coat, stockings and suspenders, Bohrloch welcomes two men to her flat for a "full service," after giving her address over the phone ("6 Pop Street") and dropping a ping pong ball from her vagina. Dubbed back in the UK, Mary becomes a Southern Belle while her clients are Irish-American, which makes the banal dialogue slightly amusing ("yes, we'll have a little music here"). In best British seaside postcard tradition, there is a punchline of sorts: having spent all their money on the activities, the duo cannot pay for the service charge; Bohrlock smiles and leads them off screen, "you've been well fed, now you can wash the dishes".

ESKIMO NELL is a British sex comedy about the industry in which Mary Millington would become so deeply entrenched.

Directed by Martin Campbell and produced by Stanley Long, ESKIMO NELL saw Mary's mainstream sex comedy debut, albeit for approximately ten seconds. Then a jobbing actress and model using her married name Mary Maxted, Millington's role as a stripping traffic warden auditioning for a film-within-a-film is speed up for comedic effect. But this is more of a footnote for one of the few genuinely entertaining and funny entries in the much maligned sub-genre, which sees fledgling film auteur Dennis Morrison (Michael Armstrong, who also scripted), producer Clive Potter (Terence Edmond) and screenwriter Harris Tweedle (Christopher Timothy) hired by seedy erotic film linchpin Benny U. Murdoch (Roy Kinnear, in his element) to make a dirty movie based on the bawdy poem 'The Ballad of Eskimo Nell'. When each of the backers request a completely different style - and Murdoch makes off with the money - the budding filmmakers attempt to keep everyone happy by providing the first gay Western/hardcore/kung-fu musical for all the family. With four different versions in the can, the hardcore cut is then mistakenly shown at the Royal Charity premiere.

The triumph of ESKIMO NELL is that it is a thinly veiled critique of the film industry itself, and an illustration of the moral guardians of the day: Lady Longhorn and Lord Coltwind - backers of the wholesome version - are caricatures of Mary Whitehouse and Lord Longford; Murdoch is based on Tigon supremo Tony Tenser; and Bick Dick - played by Gordon Tanner - ridicules Louis "Deke" M. Heyward, the London representative of AIP who had previously clashed with Armstrong during the shambles of THE HAUNTED HOUSE OF HORROR. Of other interest is DOCTOR WHO's Katy Manning, who appears as Hermione Longhorn; this was Manning second film after leaving the services of UNIT, the first being the screen adaptation of the Whitehall farce DON'T JUST LIE THERE, SAY SOMETHING! (written by Jon Pertwee's brother Michael).

Thursday, February 15, 2018

"Tops in Total Horror!"


The daughter of UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS actress Rachel Gurney, Sharon Gurney's brief screen career began on television, before graduating to memorable roles in WOMEN IN LOVE and DEATH LINE.

RELEASED in the United States under the nonsensical banner CRUCIBLE OF HORROR, this ambiguous, dreamlike melodrama takes its cue from Henri-Georges Clouzot's celebrated psychological thriller LES DIABOLIQUES. Walter Eastwood (Michael Gough) runs his upper middle class family with suffocating repression: wife Edith (Yvonne Mitchell) has retreated into painting from years of neglect, son Rupert (Simon Gough) is a facsimile of the patriarch working for the same insurance firm, and it is only rebellious daughter Jane (Sharon Gurney) who strives for a life beyond these watertight walls. When Walter discovers sixteen-year-old Jane has been sleeping with a friend from his golf club - and that she has also stolen money from the premises - he horse-whips her to sleep, while in an adjacent room Rupert turns up the volume in his headphones. Listening to her daughter's cries of pain, Edith is awakened from her trance-like state, and the following morning openly whispers to Jane "lets kill him."

Creepy and compelling, Michael Gough is perfect as the overbearing head, illustrating his unwholesome air early on when Jane returns home on her bicycle, only for him to instantly clasp the still-warm seat. One reading is that Edith imagines everything after the beating of her daughter, yet spliced frames of jagged close-ups, a possible rape and a bag full of masks adds to the disorientation. When Edith corners Walter at his grouse shooting weekend - explaining that "I recently bought a copy of the Marquis de Sade, it's full of the most unutterable filth, but it opened up a few windows for me, I thought it might help to understand you" - it begins a middle third which sets up much but delivers little. Walter may well have been poisoned by the females of the clan, but his body won't stay still, moving from its bed to a crate marked "Mrs E Eastwood, Velvet House, Richmond" and creating a floating mental state for the mother who fades altogether as Water retains his place at the breakfast table.

Similar to the filmography of Peter Cushing, Michael Gough never disappoints, even in a wooden crate. His underappreciated performances as a parade of slimy villains should rank higher with the icons of the genre.

Described by producer Gabrielle Beaumont as a political work, THE CORPSE was actually filmed in the Spring of 1969, a period when the feminist movement were questioning the persistence of gender stereotypes; here, the emotionally and physically-abusing male is always in control, with his understated British venom. Consequently, the project can be viewed as an allegory for the ineffectiveness of rebellion within the traditional family unit, to the point where the mother even longs for a fresh outlook she knows will never come ("I'd like to go back to school, start again") and that the father will always return even if he is dead. To add to the frisson, Gough stars with his real-life son and daughter-in-law.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Sexual Encounters of the Close Kind


FIRE MAIDENS FROM OUTER SPACE hid behind poster hyperbole in an attempt to shroud its crushing tedium.

SCIENCE fiction movies of the 1950s can be divided into four firm camps: alien invasion pictures, those obsessed with the effects of atomic radiation, and generally more sombre films dealing with space exploration. Last and certainly least is an odd set where humankind encounter either planets full of women, or those where alien females visit Earth for mating. In this male-centric sub-genre, Britain could match the worst of Hollywood: for every CAT WOMEN OF THE MOON and QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE, we can boast DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS and FIRE MAIDENS FROM OUTER SPACE. This turgid set of releases illustrate the wider treatment of women within the science fiction field; at the time of pulp magazines, female SF writers were extremely rare, harbinging the view that they could not capture the adventures of muscle-bound heroes, especially within an imaginative context. This leads to the main question of why the mythology is so hegemonic where there is no factual basis for it.

Regularly disowned in the same breath as other 50s SF misfires ROBOT MONSTER and PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACEFIRE MAIDENS FROM OUTER SPACE opens with the launch of an Anglo-American rocketship to Jupiter. A compelling voice guides the craft through thick "space fog" to the planet's 13th moon, where the crew - led by Luther Blair (Anthony Dexter) - meet the Atlanteans, descendants who once inhabited Earth's lost continent. It is unclear how or why the sole survivors now populate a planetary satellite; patriarch Prasus (Owen Barry) and his many beautiful "daughters" may now inhabit outer space, but they have clearly not forgotten their very English etiquette. Although a subplot involving a Fire Maiden (Susan Shaw) overstepping her ancestral mark is quickly forgotten, ultimately the Atlanteans need men for breeding purposes, and to aid them in destroying The Creature ("the man with the head of a beast"), a lumpy-faced caveman in a black bodysuit who wanders their boundaries.

The cover to Jezebel's 2006 R1 DVD for Norman J. Warren's OUTER TOUCH/SPACED OUT (under their brand "Sexy Retro from the Saucy Seventies.")

This painfully dull fantasy was written and directed by Chicago-born Cy Roth, a filmmaker whose style is to vaguely aim the camera in the direction of the players. Having made two Z-grade war movies, Roth surpases himself here in a travesty filled with preposterous chauvinism ("A woman! You can say that again, with all the necessary ingredients"). Its special effects are lifted from other productions - the meteor shower from ROCKETSHIP X-M, a rocket landing from KING DINOSAUR - and the Jupiter landscape is a well-kept woodland (even less demanding patrons awaiting the "electronic monster" promised in the trailer must have been disappointed by the slow-moving neanderthal). The only interesting points to make are both oblique to the film itself: the 13th moon of Jupiter wasn't actually discovered until 1974, and its use of classical music within a SF setting - here Borodin's 'Polovetsin Dances' - occurs more than a decade before 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.

Two years prior to INSEMINOID, Norman J. Warren made OUTER TOUCH, an amateurish, aptly-named space sex comedy. Described by the director as "CARRY ON meets FIRE MAIDENS FROM OUTER SPACE" and "dreadful, in a nice kind of way," a malfunctioning cargo spacecraft lands on Clapham Common, and four hapless Londoners are taken on board: research assistant Oliver (Barry Stokes), his "no sex before marriage" fiancee Prudence (Lynne Ross), dog-walking plank Cliff (Michael Rowlatt) and masturbation-happy shelf-stacker Willy (Robin Askwith substitute Tony Maiden). Aboard the ship are cigar-chomping Skipper (Kate Ferguson), engineer Partha (Ava Cadell) and general assistant Cosia (Glory Annen), aliens under heavy makeup and disco clothing who are soon educated on the joys of the male reproductive organ ("Have you got a weapon down there? It's changing shape!").

Ava Cadell is fascinated by Tony Maiden's heady reading material in OUTER TOUCH. Hungarian Cadell was a former hardcore actress 
who is now an internationally-renowned sex therapist.  

OUTER TOUCH is typical of the British sex comedy in that, although providing an abundance of writhing nudity, is softcore without any sexual charge, though repressed Prudence enjoys temptation of the flesh by the end of the picture (while Oliver typically keeps his glasses and socks on). Of its design, scaffolding covered with plastic sheets were used for certain sections of the craft, and such Ed Woodesque ingenuity sits awkwardly with the beautiful spaceship exteriors culled from SPACE: 1999 (due to a variety of shots used, its appearance changes through the course of the film). Although usually a footnote in the career of Warren in this country, the picture was re-edited, re-dubbed and featured a new soundtrack for its release as SPACED OUT in the United States, where it has acquired something of a cult following. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Unnatural Born Killers


For CORRUPTION, Peter Cushing's trademark commitment and professionalism is tested in this notoriously nasty offering.

SHORTLY before making the lowest point of his filmography - THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR - Peter Cushing made his most controversial. This Titan production, directed by Robert Hartford-Davis, sees "The Gentleman of Horror" cast as respected surgeon Sir John Rowan. When his aging model fiancĂ©e Lynn (Sue Lloyd) starts an impromptu photo session with Mike (Tony Booth) at a swinging Sixties party, the photographer and impeccably suited surgeon's clash of personality boils over into a fight, where an arc light falls onto Lynn's face in front of horrified onlookers. Developing "an entirely new way of controlling the endocrine system to promote tissue growth," the doctor's yearning for pituitary glands to restore Lynn's looks leads him to murder, under the increasing demands of his wife-to-be. While at a Seaford holiday retreat a group of beatniks invade, and Rowan's colleague Steve (Noel Trevarthan) and Lynn's sister Val (Kate O'Mara) piece together the string of outrages. 

Dubbed "gratuitously violent, fearfully sick, but it was a good script" by Cushing, the posters to CORRUPTION stated that "no woman will be admitted alone to see this super-shock film." Rowan's murder sequences are still jaw-dropping today, amplified by the use of hand-held close-ups. With hair flapping around his sweaty crazed glare, the actor's slaying of a topless prostitute - stabbing her repeatedly on the floor before smearing his bloodied hands on her breasts then removing her head - is not only British horror's most shocking sequence, it also points towards the Seventies sleaze to come. The delirium is added another two layers with the arrival of Georgie and his gang in Seaford - an out of left field final act which sees a massacre by an out-of-control surgical laser - and amid production bickering, the "is it a dream?" ending.

Alice Lowe continues her outlandish comedic career with PREVENGE.

Written, directed and starring Alice Lowe, PREVENGE defies description - in a good way. Too easily labelled a sardonic, jet black comedy, it is also a meditation on loss and the mental process of pregnancy. Shot in two weeks to accommodate Lowe's real-life condition, and enveloped by an outstanding Goblinesque score by Toydrum, textures increase with subsequent viewings to reveal - almost - an art film. Ruth (Lowe) is a pregnant woman who goes on a killing spree, seeking revenge on the people she claims accountable for her partner's death on a climbing trip; struggling with her conscience and prepartum psychosis, the unborn child speaks to Ruth from the womb, coaching her to kill ("If you don't do as I say blood will be shed, one way or another.")

Lowe's performance flicks between deadpan, psychotic, angst and turmoil (possibly in equal measures). The casting is strong with numerous fan-favourites: DAVID BRENT LIFE ON THE ROAD's Jo Hartley as the Midwife, GAME OF THRONES' Gemma Whelan as Len, and THE WITCH's Kate Dickie as a businesswoman who succumbs to a throat-slitting straight out of Argento. One sequence is spontaneously filmed in Cardiff on Halloween night, and it is this ethic which makes PREVENGE seem consistently fresh in style if not always in content. The murders are effective, but the visuals seem to unfold in some other brooding universe, and Lowe has mischievously likened the feel to BLADE RUNNER. Yet you can see her thinking; in Ridley Scott's milestone, Vangelis' jazz-influenced score underpinned the yearning of remembrance, driving the narrative similarly to Toydrum's often thunderous electronica.