Wednesday, 28 December 2011

A Ghost Story For Xmas: Stigma

I don't understand the BBC. In the sixties and seventies they went about wiping their archive so that they could use the tapes again, depriving licence payers of some priceless shows, now presumed lost for ever in favour of The Queen's Speech and golf.

Then, in more enlightened times, they realised their mistake and scuttled all over the world trying to buy back missing episodes sold to less short-sighted broadcasting corporations, turning up old Dr Who episodes in Hong Kong and Nigeria and making out it was some sort of triumph for Auntie, which I suppose it was in terms of revenue from video and DVD releases.

Now, despite the digital revolution, despite the growth of 'on demand' broadcasting, despite the falling production costs of DVD's, despite having not one, not two, but four television channels at their disposal, they still sit impassively on the bulk of what's left of their archive, occasionally sneaking bits out here and there in bite sized nano seasons, usually cut up into unsatisfying chunks and interspersed with inane commentary from some halfwitted talking head.

When they occasionally do happen across the right thing, like broadcasting the brilliant 'Ghost Story For Christmas' series at Christmas, and even commissioning a couple of not bad new episodes, they then have second thoughts after a couple of years and stop showing the old episodes entirely, licensing a random one for an expensive DVD release and throwing the rest back into the dark.

So arseholes to the BBC, here's an IOT-TV 'Ghost Story For Christmas' presentation, 'Stigma' by Clive Exton, originally broadcast thirty four years ago on December 28th, 1977. A rare modern day story, I think it's one of the most chilling of all the tales - no M.R James, no period costume, no ghosts, just a baleful ancient horror, a bloody comeuppance and Peter Bowles.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Valerie Leon, Serving Wench

Valerie Leon interacts with Kenneth Connor in out of control 1972 TV Special 'Carry On Christmas'. Ridiculously, this show is one of my first TV memories. I'd never seen old people behave so badly before.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Ice Fishing

Christmas isn't Christmas without the appearance of a wise old man with a big white beard: Jack Hargreaves.

In 1981, Southern TV (which Jack had helped set up and run) lost its franchise, signalling the end for his long running TV show 'Out of Town', a jewel in the channel's crown since 1963. Jack bought the masters of the show and, shortly afterwards, set to work on re-editing them and adding newly filmed intros and outros. Now in his seventies, when reviewing the footage he occasionally becomes somewhat wistful and philosophical. In 'Ice Fishing', for instance, he ponders if the UK could get by on hydro power but concedes that he won't be around to see the answer.

Never one to suffer fools gladly, his assessment of his (slightly) younger self at the end of the film is typical Hargreaves: bluff, funny, honest. Merry Xmas, Jack.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Sunday, 18 December 2011


When Peter Walker is hot, as on ‘Frightmare’, he’s hot – when he’s not, however, well, there’s ’House of Mortal Sin’ ('The Confessional' in the US).

Father Xavier Meldrum (Anthony Sharp) is a Catholic priest with an idiosyncratic view on how a man of the cloth should behave. What he particularly likes to do is to make tape recordings of the confessions of young blond women and then use them to blackmail them into doing his bidding. It isn’t sexual, well, not in the hands on sense, but he definitely derives some perverted fulfillment from being a nuisance and making the girls pay for their ‘immorality’ (they have boyfriends).

Father Xavier isn’t just about the stalking and extortion, however, as he also likes to cover his tracks using extreme violence and murder: scalding people with hot coffee, braining them with incense burners, choking them with rosary beads, that sort of thing (these are probably the best sequences in the film, and they are surprisingly graphic and ouch-y).

The key to Father Xavier’s psychosis is his pressure cooker home environment: he lives uncomfortably with his mute, senile mother and his sinister, one eyed housekeeper (the reliably brilliant Sheila Keith, sporting a ‘Let’s Dance’ era David Bowie bouffant), who also used to be his girlfriend. Mother split the young lovers up many years ago, so now he torments girls who look like his old flame, and his old flame tortures his Mum whenever Father Xavier is out tormenting. It’s a bit of a tense situation that violently resolves itself in an ending that makes ‘Hamlet’ look like 'Peppa Pig'.

Despite all this, 'House of Mortal Sin' is, I’m sorry to say, rather dull. Yes, the violence is well done and, yes, the performances are very good (Walker always used the best actors he could), but, in the end analysis, the film just doesn’t work – every situation could be defused immediately if the characters just actually talked to each other and Xavier, who is in the frame from the off, is simply too sinister to keep on getting away with it, dog collar or not.

As you will see from the above poster, the promotional team charged with selling this modest little effort  touted it as the third part of an 'unholy trinity' of films along with 'The Exorcist' and 'The Omen', despite the fact that it has no supernatural elements whatsover. Worth a try, I suppose. Oh, and Peter Cushing was originally offered the role of the psychotic priest. Thank Christ he turned it down.

House Of Mortal Sin

Saturday, 17 December 2011

A Moral Obscenity

'Frightmare' is an absolute corker: described on release as 'trash' by, oh the irony, 'The Sun', this film is gory, ridiculous, massively entertaining, and has a towering central performance from veteran character actor Sheila Keith.

Jackie is a normal, healthy woman from a very odd family. Her sadistic fifteen year old half-sister is out of control and running with a slightly crappy biker gang, and her father is a pathetic doormat, obsessed with his wife Dorothy's well-being. Dorothy, Jackie's step mother and biggest problem, is a psychotic cannibal / driller killer who entices lonely people to her deserted farmhouse on the pretext of giving them a Tarot reading, then kills them horribly and eats their brains. You might want to read that sentence again.

Hardly any of this makes sense when you stop and think about it, but it works brilliantly. The murders are full on enough to elicit that 'eew' noise when the knife / pitchfork / drill / red hot poker goes in, Deborah Fairfax is a rather fetching leading lady (wasted on speccy know it all Paul Greenwood) and Sheila Keith plays Dorothy to absolute perfection: genteel, vulnerable lady one moment, dribbling lunatic killer the next, but retaining enough of both to keep the audience guessing what she's going to do next. The scene where she cackles uncontrollably as she drills into a skull and is spattered with blood is unforgettable - it's hard to think of any other middle aged British actress ever going this far in a performance - it's a grand guignol tour de force, if that's not mixing my pretentious foreign descriptors.

Directed by the lovely Pete Walker, the last few minutes cop out a bit in terms of plot, but, in the end analysis, that's a small price to pay for such an entertaining and joyfully daft eighty odd minutes of dysfunctional family fun.


Friday, 16 December 2011

Valerie Leon, Delivery Girl

Valerie Leon appears very briefly in 'The Spy Who Loved Me', and is rather shabbily treated, receiving only passing attention from Bond, the cheeky bastard. I'd like to think that Val and Milton met on set and, perhaps, had a short romance. Actually, that's an awful thought.


Fourteen years on from 'Dr. No', in 'The Spy Who Loved Me', Milton Reid gets a larger part and a couple of lines (including 'Pyramids!) in exchange for pretending that Roger Moore could beat him up. His name is Sandor and, as you can see, he falls off a building in Istanbul. Nasty.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Space 1999: Devil's Planet

'The Devil's Planet' is a cheap and fairly pointless episode from the second series of 'Space 1999', originally broadcast on 1st September, 1977.

Commander Koenig is out looking for places to invade, sorry, colonise, when he crash lands on a prison planet run by a gang of foxy ladies in all in one red jumpsuits and high heel boots. Their evil commander knows that their home planet has been afflicted by a mysterious eyeball bursting virus which has wiped everybody out, but keeps this a secret in order to retain control over the dozen or so prisoners she is in charge of.

Unbelievably, she is very attracted to Koening and decides to keep him 'until she grows tired of him', even convincing a Moonbase search party that the commander was killed accidentally when he wandered into an electric security fence and fried (the evidence she presents is a pile of slightly smouldering clothes. Wouldn't they have burned more completely than a human body?). Koening has to a. ward off her fruity advances b.gently break the news to everyone that their home planet is a graveyard and everyone they love is dead and c. get the hell out.

A bit of a waste of time this, the only redeeming factor being the whip wielding guards with the borderline bondage outfits and acrylic pony tails. Even this starts to grow wearisome the third or fourth time they wrap their golden lariats around some poor bloke's neck and he pulls a 'Gawkurrgh, I'm choking' face, and, of course, the idea of Martin Landau as a sexual plaything is simply too awful to contemplate.