Monthly Archives: August 2012


It is the evening of 19th February, 1958. A crisp, rather bleak London evening. The first in a row of prefabs is number 48, Gaskell Street, Stockwell.

In the living room are my parents, my sister, some aunts and uncles, our neighbours from either side and a few of my friends . The adults are drinking brown ale (men) or Bristol sherry (women). Us kids have got White’s lemonade and Smith’s crisps. At around 7 o’ clock, Dad switches on the radio and tunes it in to the station he wants. A sort of anxious silence descends on the room and I’m suddenly aware of the odour of Brylcreem and the liver and kidney stew consumed earlier.

13 days earlier – the 6th February – BEA flight 609 from Munich had crashed on the runway at Munich-Riem airport, making its third attempt to take off. On board had been the Manchester United team – The Busby Babes – officials, journalists and other passengers, en route to London from Belgrade. The aircraft had landed in Munich to refuel. Of the 44 passengers, only 21 survived the crash. Amongst the dead were 8 of the Manchester United team that had played in a European Cup tie against Red Star, Belgrade.

In the days that followed the crash, we spoke of little else. The manager, Matt Busby, was fighting for his life in hospital and had been read the Last Rights twice already. Goalkeeper Harry Gregg had behaved heroically, rescuing passengers from the burning aircraft whilst badly injured and concussed himself. We wondered, too, if the club could survive the disaster and continue to field a team. At that time, the Babes had caught the imagination of the football-crazy public, both at home and overseas. Challenging for a third successive league title and through to the semi-final of the European Cup for the second year running, the young team seemed set to sweep all before them.

But tonight, in their first game since the disaster, United are to play Sheffield Wednesday at Old Trafford in an FA Cup 5th round tie. Assistant Manager, Jimmy Murphy has cobbled together a team of mostly reserve players and one or two shrewd acquisitions from other clubs. Dad turns up the volume on the radio as the teams come out onto the pitch and over the ether the roar from the 59,848 in the crowd sparks a similar reaction in our living room. Mum thinks that the radio commentator will do himself a mischief if he doesn’t calm down.

The game kicks off and there’s some action in both goalmouths early on. My friend, Colin, and I are sitting with our ears pressed close to the radio because the room is becoming noisy. Every time Wednesday’s Albert Quixall is mentioned, I worry he might score. I’ve seen him play and he’s the danger to United. But 20 year-old Shay Brennan scores for United and at half-time the score is 1-0. My uncle Arthur is excited and is waving a bookie’s ticket around and promising my aunt Vi a trip to Brighton on the winnings. In the second half, United score twice more through Brennan, again, and Alex Dawson, an 18 year-old. The noise in the room –  and at the game –  as the final whistle is blown is deafening. Then Dad shouts out; ‘Hey listen. Listen for a minute. He’s crying!

The noise in the room dies down and we can hear the commentator – but he’s so choked up, he makes no sense. But his sobs reach us. Dad says; ‘They couldn’t lose tonight. All those young men were playing . They were all there tonight. How could they lose?’  And we all wept.

So, if I seem a little tired and grumpy on Sunday morning, forgive me. I was probably up at 3 am watching another bunch of young men in red playing the beautiful game, mindful of the debt I can never repay.

Wilson in Wonderland

Readers will recall that previously Wilson had witnessed the rather mediaeval termination of Bentine’s employment by Brian Boru. He is now charged with the task of ‘writing it up’.

Part the Second – In which our hero is concerned with advice and consent.

Back in his office, Wilson decided that a visit to The Holograms was required. Blinds down and lights off, a reproving Cyrano de Bergerac was the first to appear.

A wasted opportunity, young sirrah, to have impressed your perspicacity and wit upon that roseate ruffian, Boru. You may have offered: Sports commentary – Bentine was a man of two halves; Philosophical – He always believed that the whole was more than the sum of the parts; Portraiture; Odd how the left and right profile look quite different; Political – This one’s too close to call, split right down the middle; Riddle – How many Bentines make one? Macabre – His favourite ale was a half and half; Proverbial – Two heads are better than one; Rueful – He always said not to do things by halves.

Wilson did not feel that any of this was helpful and –  avoiding staring at the great swordsman’s proboscis – ushered him away.

Then in quick succession came Ry Cooder singing ‘Slap Dab in the Middle’, Paul McCartney warbling ‘I’m not half the man I used to be…‘ and an excerpt from Brian De Palma’s ‘Body Double’. But eventually Wilson got lucky when Niccolo Machiavelli turned up and together they produced a statement that concluded; Michael gave his all to the Company and often did the work of two men. But following the re-structure, he just fell apart and had to split. Wilson thanked the wily Italian for his help and watched him fade into the ether before sending off the draft to ‘BB’, as he now termed Brian Boru.

Up, up in the glowering sky, the executive pagoda was teeming with prematurely-waistcoated directors, their pneumatic assistants and an assortment of journalists – easily distinguished by their ever-present intravenous alcohol drips and plastified bibs – all gathered to celebrate the latest Company triumph. As was the custom on such occasions, captives from the victory were serving their captors with petite fours and champagne.

The atmosphere was particularly jubilant tonight as Matthew & Son had long been an obstacle to the far-reaching ambition of Rolling Fork Traders. Now, old Matthew himself grimaced as he offered to refill the crystal flute of Sir Basil Basilisk, Principal Person and founder of RFT.

Mmm. Thank you Matthew. This profile please! he barked to the press photographers as he turned half-left and raised his glass. From his position by the balcony, Wilson kept an eye on proceedings as he skimmed the press release. RFT  had acquired, amongst other things, The Financial Times, Playboy and The Beano. Tomorrow would herald the first edition of a new organ that combined all three into a daily glossy tabloid known as Money, Honey and Funnies. Sir Basil had written the leader himself and now saw a brilliant headline opportunity in the crumpled person of old Matthew. Beckoning the reporters, he tapped his champagne flute, called for silence and then – when the room fell silent –  he threw his arm around the old man and drew him close.

Stay tuned to this channel for the further misadventures of Wilson in Wonderland.

Ten Turkeys – Part II

In between posting Part I and preparing this, I was thinking about a couple of well-publicised massive bombs from Hollywood’s past.

Ishtar’ (1987) starred Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty and lost Columbia millions of dollars. I’ve never seen it and so cannot comment here – but I see a few respected critics thought very highly of it although the majority panned it. Certainly, given director Elaine May’s fine track record, the film’s failure is surprising.

‘Heaven’s Gate’ (1980) is Michael Cimino’s account of the Johnson County War in 1890s Wyoming.. It lost in excess of US$40 million, finished off United Artists and ruined Cimino’s reputation. I have seen the movie twice. It is very boring for much of its two and a half hours duration but there are moments of great beauty and refinement too. For this reason – and because Cimino did give us ‘The Deer Hunter’ – I will not include it here.

On with the list:

Alexander (2004)

Alexander  is Oliver Stone’s bete noir. He’s had several cracks at re-editing, with the inevitable ‘final cut’ being his definitive view of the Greek conqueror. Whichever version you see, it’s a clumsy, boring mess. Compromised by the emotional distance from its subject and made suspect by its historical crazy paving, Ptolemy’s narration only serves as a further irritant to the already nettled film-goer. The hopelessly miscast Colin Farrell’s Venice Beach Alexander, too, seems utterly lost in this confused and confusing debacle. A shocker.

The Bodyguard (1992)

Let’s get to it. The leads, Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston, deliver some of the worst acting in the history of cinema. Whether or not that’s director Mick Jackson’s fault, or whether Lawrence Kasdan’s clunker of a script induced narcolepsy in the cast – or whether Costner and Houston were too bound up in themselves, it doesn’t really matter. Nothing, I mean nothing, comes off the screen. Not a spark. It is like watching Pac-Man try to mate with the cursor. And, oh yeah, Kevin sports yet another bad haircut.

On Deadly Ground (1994)

Co-produced, directed by and starring the king of smirking gits, Steven Seagal, this vanity piece is a slimy, oafish affront to the sensibilities.( One of my most cherished cinema memories involves Seagal. At the Embassy, a few years back with Josh, we were watching ‘Executive Decision’. Seagal plays a Special Forces type who’s trying to get aboard a hijacked plane via a ‘sky tunnel’ from another aircraft. It all goes wrong, the tunnel disintegrates –  Segal along with it. Most of the audience applauded vigorously when this happened. Happy times)

The action takes place in Alaska where Seagal uncovers an oil pollution cover-up by eco-rapist, Michael Caine. Caine’s make-up lends him the appearance of an elderly Chinese theatrical as Seagal grunts his monosyllabic way through numerous killings and explosions to the film’s hysterical conclusion. Then follows an epilogue, where Seagal addresses the Alaska legislature on the evils of pollution and resource exploitation. I’m not sure if ‘breathtaking mediocrity’ is an oxymoron – but it’ll do me.

Match Point (2005)

As nasty a movie as I can remember seeing, Woody Allen’s London-based take on ‘A Place in the Sun’ is a continuation of the misogynistic themes explored, more successfully, in ‘Crimes and Misdemeanours’.

Allen likes to have his leading ladies betrayed and/or killed and I often wonder if he’s not acting out his own fantasies up there on the screen – a sort of New York Jewish Hitchcock. To compound this unpleasantness, Allen treats London and the British class system like a hesitant tourist presented with his first taste of Guinness and oysters. His characters are designed to expedite the plot without any consideration of actual social mores. There is no organic transparency only veiled artifice.(Robert Altman has a much defter touch around similar themes in ‘Gosford Park’, for instance) All in all, a mean, pucker-faced vagrant of a movie. Throw it a dollar and be on your way.

Separation City (2009)

Back in Shakespeare’s day, this would have been pelted with rotten fruit and vegetables. I did actually boo and hiss at it from my comfortable seat at Island Bay’s Empire Cinema. I remember reading somewhere that Tom Scott’s naff script had been sitting in a drawer somewhere for 20 years before being dusted off and put forward for funding. What a pity it didn’t stay there.

The story concerns a couple of failed relationships and the harm that’s done when people stay together out of custom. Unfortunately, the back stories lack credibility so what’s going on up on screen doesn’t register. The characters, especially the females, are ghastly stereotypes and offensive. The jokes are of the behind-the-hand ‘tee hee’ variety and made me squirm – and I hate to be made to feel uncomfortable in that way. In fairness, Danielle Cormack emerges with honour, investing her character with more credibility than the writing deserves. Somehow emblematic of the whole fiasco is the obvious use of Wellington Town Hall as a double for a Berlin Convention Centre. Careless and smug in a way that only someone who has been drawing the same cartoon for the Dominion Post for the last 30 years could manage. Garbage.

Wise Blood is delighted to introduce guest blogger, Docco, who will add an eleventh turkey to the list.

The Happening (2008)

This movie should have been re-named ‘Not Much Happening’. Directed by M Night Shyamalan, whose career started off so brightly with the great ‘Sixth Sense‘ and the not quite so good ‘Unbreakable’, the premise of this film is about a strange ‘happening’ which spreads across the world, making people kill each other for no apparent reason. Not a bad premise when you bear in mind that the film must be heading towards one of Shyamalan’s trademark big twists. However, the problem lies with lead actor, Mark Wahlberg. In one of the worst displays from a leading man, Wahlberg’s wooden, one-dimensional performance hampers the stuttering storyline from gathering any momentum. The piece de resistance from Wahlberg comes when the camera swoops into a close-up and he raises his eyebrows with as much sincerity as an extra on ‘Days of our Lives’ and utters the words; ‘It’s happening’.

Wahlberg’s performance stunk up this film so bad I cannot even remember the twist. The Village’ and ‘Signs also rank up there with Shyamalan’s trilogy of shame. He made a slight come-back with ‘Devil‘ – finally realising some of that potential he displayed in the 1999 sleeper hit, ‘The Sixth Sense’.

Ten Turkeys – Part 1

I love the movies so much that I’ve only ever walked out during a screening on two occasions.

The first time was when I was about 13 or 14 and went to see ‘Harold Lloyd’s World of Comedy’. There’s a scene where he’s mistakenly sniffed some ether on the roof of a tall building and then starts clambering around on the parapet. It was more than I could stand (I don’t have a great head for heights) so I walked out.

The second time was at a Wellington Film Society screening of Nagisa Oshima’s ‘The Diary of a Shinjuku Thief’. I was with Pat and a couple of friends and we were stuck in the middle of a row. But this movie was slowly sucking the life out of me, so I got up, shrugged an apology and walked out. Know what? A couple of minutes later I was joined by 20 to 30 other discriminating Wellingtonians who knew the cinematic Sin of Onan when they saw it.

All of which means that in my time I have endured some damned excruciating codswallop in pursuit of the nine muses across the silver screen. And so, another list beckons. But these just aren’t bad movies. Oh no. These are movies from  privileged homes. Movies with big budgets, big stars and big PR. These are very bad movies that told us they were very good. They led us astray with their promise of a good time only to deliver flatulence and flaccidity. Beware the Ten Turkeys!

The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

At 138 minutes, this is the longest Coca Cola ad ever made. The Matrix was interesting but borderline pretentious twaddle. This sequel takes it twitching and jerking over the edge. The impenetrable plot, meaning-laden allegories, ludicrous sex scenes and interminable Smith clones would be enough to have you reaching for the party pills – but casting a wooden Indian in the lead, ensures that the faux gravitas –  so necessary to stay onside in the suspending disbelief game – will never be delivered. DVDs should carry a Government Health Warning.

The Da Vinci Code (2006)

Based on Dan Brown’s best-seller of the same name, the cinema-goer is given an early warning by the presence of the dire Ron Howard as director. The series of implausible episodes that simulates a plot has got something to do with a search for The Holy Grail (Yes – already essayed by the Pythons – but nowhere near as funny as this) and a covert bunch of clerics called Opus Dei who believe the Grail’s discovery will bring about the end of Christianity. Well, I have news for Opus Dei; Rupert Murdoch and Simon Cowell have already rendered that concern redundant.

Poor Tom Hanks does his best but the dreary direction, plodding plot and largely phoned-in performances combine to ensure a soporific outcome. (The makers even refuse steadfastly to make any use of the Paris locations) There is a sequel, Angels & Demons (2009) which I’m told is equally insulting. Avoid at all costs.

The Postman (1997)

In which Kevin Costner covers up his bad haircut with a bad hat and wanders around post-apocalyptic Oregon, quoting Shakespeare, delivering mail and killing people. Evidently, Costner hadn’t learned his lesson with Waterworld (1995) and was determined to go from simple disaster to utter debacle. Flee for your life.

Harry Brown (2009)

I have already written about this despicable piece of right-wing agitprop under the title Dirty Harry. And the link will take you there if you’d like to read a more detailed critique. Suffice to say, I disliked this film enough to feel justified in including it here. Its ideological ancestor is Death Wish (1974), Michael Winner’s celebration of vigilante ‘justice’ – which is equally vile.

Tommy (1975)

Ken Russell’s adaptation of The Who’s Rock Opera. It has its admirers and a few infamous scenes – but for me, whatever it may have going for it, the movie runs out of gas and ideas after about 20 minutes. All that’s left then is a garish, wholly excessive testament to Russell’s somewhat confined view of humanity. If you like the music, buy the record, is my advice. I’ve had three attempts to get to grips with this whirligig of a movie. And the pants have been bored clean off me each time. If you’re infinitely patient or your discernment has been brutalised beyond repair, then this may be for you.

A Note From The Author; That’s enough for now, I think.  If I include the other 5 now, I may lose all strength and resolve. So, Part II will appear shortly.

The Hollow Men

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us—if at all—not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.            T S Eliot.

It doesn’t matter who you are or how you spend your day, at some point in your life, probably on more than just one occasion, you’re going to have to make a tough decision. You’re going to have to choose between two ways, two courses of action or two people perhaps. So I’m not talking about which horse to bet on or which perfume to buy. I’m talking about a choice that’s a reflection of your heart; how you really feel about something important; something critical in your life; about your principles.

Yesterday at Burnham Military Camp, there was a funeral service for two young men who had been killed the previous week whilst on active service in Afghanistan. They were Lance Corporal Pralli Durrer and Lance Corporal Rory Malone. Bill English was there representing the Government because Prime Minister, John Key, was out of the country.

Key had elected to fly to the United States, where his son Max, was participating in an Under-17 baseball tournament at Bangor, Maine. The Prime Minister had spoken to the press about that decision, confirmed that it was indeed a tough choice but that his son deserved his support because he, Max,  had been enormously supportive of him, as his father.

Now, there’s been a lot of commentary on Key’s decision – much of it critical, along the lines of ‘he’d rather be at a baseball match than at the funeral’. I imagine that much of that commentary is by Key’s political opponents and those who believe that there should not be a New Zealand military presence in Afghanistan.  And certainly the issues around why New Zealand is there, the financial cost and the human cost (There have been 5 previous deaths of military personnel) require examination and explanation.

I have to declare that I do, most certainly, have an opinion on those issues. But I don’t think that is the point here. John Key is the Prime Minister of this country and as such is cast in the leadership role. To use an old-fashioned expression, he is the father of the country. When two young men lose their lives in the service of this country as a direct result of our government’s policy then the Prime Minister has a responsibility to properly acknowledge their loss. Not just for the families, colleagues and friends – but on behalf of the whole country. The gesture, the symbolism of attendance is, or at least should be, important.

The two soldiers can only lose their lives once, be buried once. But their loss is permanent and the grieving for that loss being borne by their fathers and mothers, enduring. I’d like to think that Max Key would have understood if his father had recognised where his responsibility lay at such a time – secure in the knowledge that there would be many other times ahead when his father could demonstrate his love and support for him.

So, I don’t think it’s wrong for John Key to want to love and support his son. But that duty of care is not mutually exclusive to the duty of care he has for these two soldiers, their families and the rest of us. And in fact, it’s easy enough to see that they are, after all, one and the same thing. What John Key has demonstrated by his decision, is that he is not sentient toward his prime ministerial responsibilities and to the needs of his broader constituency. What he has chosen to do lacks not only insight but respect.

Wilson in Wonderland

Part The First –  in which our hero is discomfited and comforted.

What’s he doing here?   Who?   Him. The big guy with the red hair and the attitude.   That’s Brian Boru, the new HR Manager.   Why would we need an Irish warlord as our new HR Manager? What happened to George?   Mister Orwell was transferred to our Spanish office yesterday.   We usually have a morning tea when people leave.   No time. In any event there were certain…mmm… irregularities discovered and it was best that things…mmm…..   were progressed without embarrassment for anyone?   Exactly.   Thanks Burt. Isn’t that your trapeze?   It’s Mister Lancaster, Wilson – and yes, it is. See you later.     

With that, he swung gracefully across the room, performing a perfect triple – yes triple – somersault before landing front and centre in his ergonomically correct, executive leather chair. With his phone ringing, assistants scurrying and board papers neatly arranged, Burt’s aura seemed to reflect the success of the Company’s drive to rehabilitate impoverished circus artistes. Indeed, Burt was the exemplar of confident ignorance, the very nonpareil of the glittering ineptitude that symbolised the spirit of the new corporate adventurism that had been the brainchild of the erstwhile Mister Orwell. And Wilson envied him.

He envied him his well-filled, sequined tights. He coveted his easy charm, flashing smile and ability to strip down and re-assemble a Thompson machine gun whilst blindfolded. What he most envied though, was his sexual ambivalence. Burt wasn’t just a metro sexual, he was truly androgynous. He is favoured by the Gods, Wilson thought.

Rosa Klebb, the HR guardian, interrupted his ponderings with a violent kick to his shins.

Vat do you vant?   George – Mister Orwell was meant to do my personal assessment this morning.   King Brian vill be doing zet now. Ve vill send you a new appointment but you should familiarise yourself vizz ze protocols first. Kings heff different expectations from left-wing scribblers.

This judgement was accompanied by the sort of triumphant sneer that was the product of survival. Rosa had survived all of the management purges, partnership buy-outs and visioning exercises of the Company’s turbulent past through her ability to always choose the right side. For this reason, Wilson thought of her as Madame Rosa, Clairvoyant. And now, looking around the HR suite, he saw her hand in the decorations; The purple drapes; celtic water fountain and heraldic devices – all of these tastefully augmented by the sprightly rhythms of The Chieftains, lilting and keening through the PA.

Wilson’s reverie was interrupted by the frenetic arrival of his colleague, Bentine. What gives Mike? You have the appearance of a broken windmill.   It is an ignoble attempt to ingratiate myself to our new masters… a jig to honour our new capo de regime.  Ah. For a moment there I thought maybe Pavlov in Research had pressed your button again. Bentine coloured up around the neck and giggled in a way suggestive of both hiccoughs and emphysema – but he continued to jig.   Well, I’m supposed to be here for a meeting with HR and the Union rep about these allegations of Glen Glenda’s.   Christ, Mike. Tell them the truth. Tell them you’re impotent and no threat to anyone!  But Bentine had stopped in mid-gyration, arms folded in front of his chest, mouth gaping open.

At that very moment, Brian Boru re-emerged from his office, cheeks florid, eyes vengeful as he strode toward Bentine – the tassels on his kilt bouncing like a porn star’s gonads. Bentine was gobsmacked at the appearance of the on-rushing Boru who seemed to him to resemble nothing so much as an angry, ginger haystack. He had little time to reflect further however, as in very short order there were two of him, Boru’s flashing broadsword having cleaved him in twain with one blow.

Rosa Klebb was the first to break the rather awkward silence. I’ll cancel the Union then? She ventured. Aye, Boru responded – and turning to Wilson –You can make yourself useful too. Clean this up and then I want a position paper, explaining it, on my desk by 3. No more than two sides of A4, double spacing and a brief executive summary. Confidential – yes? Let’s see if you strategy people can earn your keep.

Wilson nodded crisply and thought; With a brogue like that, I’d swallow razor blades if you asked. On the way back to his office, he smiled at the prospect of earning Boru’s gratitude and –  who knows? –  maybe being offered Bentine’s job.

Stay tuned to Wise Blood for the further strange adventures of Wilson in Wonderland.

Natural Selection – Blood Pressure No. 6

Wise Blood recently sent roving reporter, Wi Sun Park Ng, to interview Craig B’Stard, controversial leader of the New Zealand Conservative and Disciplinarian Party, following his triumphant ‘State of the Nation’ speech at the Orewa ‘Pitch ‘n’ Pay’ Campsite;

Ng; Thank you for seeing me Your Highness. May I just call you ‘Highness’?

B’Stard; You may. But keep your distance.

Ng; Thank you Highness. In your speech, you stated that some people were born to greatness, that it was not their choice to be great. That greatness was not, in fact, a matter of choice. Greatness is decided by birth and genetics and that one could not choose to become great, no more than one could choose to be an  – and I quote – ‘an illiterate, idle, benefit-dependent, scrounging, work-shy prole.’ Some of your political opponents have characterised that stance as ‘reactionary and extreme’. What is your response to that, Highness?

B’Stard; Well, no argument. They’re right. Reactionary and extreme  are the watchwords of our campaign. Frankly, there’s a lot of mumbo jumbo and shilly-shallying about the natural order of things. Some of us, not many, are born to lead – and the rest to follow. In order for such a small group to succeed, we must adhere to status quo politics in the harshest and most vigorous way possible. I’m proud of that stance.

Ng; Yes, Highness. Indeed, your political career started with the formation of the Tory Pride faction, did it not?

B’Stard; Yes, it did. Unfortunately, our enemies on the City Council saw fit to close down our annual Tory Pride Street Extravaganza last year and denied us an important platform for our message.

Ng; So it had nothing to do with the planned tableaux depicting sterilisation of the poor, adulterous wives in the stocks or deporting Maori back to Hawaii then?

B’Stard; Are you Chinese or something? Thought so. Just stay back with all that garlic on your breath will you. The floats in the parade would only have shown what all right-thinking New Zealanders have clearly stated they want. The Council is dominated by pinkos and homos. It’s common knowledge.

Ng; By homos, you mean homosexuals?

B’Stard; Yes. Those deviant creatures who choose to defy God’s ordinance, to fly in the face of nature and to wilfully visit perversity and decadence on us. Homos – yes.

Ng; So you believe that homosexuality is a preference rather than a part of the human condition, then?

B’Stard; Of course it is. Especially so, here in New Zealand. This is a pioneer country my Chinese friend. Imagine what would have happened if those first ships had arrived full of homos, weirdos and the like. Bloody Maori would still be running the show. No, New Zealand was founded by God-fearing, caucasian heterosexuals. Homos would never have dared raise a limp wrist or an effeminate shriek in protest back then. The place has only gone downhill since the homo fifth column in the Labour Party has taken over.

Ng; So, to be clear then, Highness. One is born to greatness; to rule. But one is not born to homosexuality – one chooses it?

B’Stard; Quite right my philosophical, oriental friend, quite right. To be born to greatness is natural selection. To choose homosexuality is unnatural selection. I hope that’s clear enough.

The Horror! The Horror! – Part II

Since posting Part I of this blog, I’ve realised that I omitted Comedy-Horror as a sub-genre from the list I gave in the genre outline. As far as I can tell, movies of this type go back as far as the 1940s, when Abbott and Costello appeared in their ‘meet ….‘ series – which included Dracula, Frankenstein and The Wolfman. The tradition continued in the 60s with Carry On Screaming and more recently with Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland. None of these is included in Part II but my first movie has been described by some reviewers as Comedy-Horror.

An American Werewolf in London (1981) – directed by John Landis, stars David Naughton and Jenny Agutter. The movie is, justly, renowned for Rick Baker’s make up that achieves the transformation from human to werewolf. The prosthetics and robotics were indeed groundbreaking and earned the Oscar for make-up that year.

But the film is genuinely frightening, especially in Naughton’s bizarre dream sequences and his reaction to them. The viewer is sympathetic to his truly horrific plight and the hopelessness of it. A modern classic.

Night of the Demon (1957) is director Jacques Tourneur’s account of the M R James story, ‘Casting the Runes’. It stars Dana Andrews (best known as the obsessive detective in ‘Laura‘) and Niall MacGinnis.

Tourneur was expert at creating taut, atmospheric films that hinted at impending menace. Here, the rationalist Holden (Andrews) is sceptical about Karswell’s (MacGinnis) druidical powers. But the audience already knows what Karswell is capable of – and we fear for Holden. The playing of both actors is perfectly pitched to carry the story to its chilling conclusion.

Trivia gatherers may like to know that a clip of dialogue from this film was used by Kate Bush in the introduction to ‘Hounds of Love’. A nice gothic connection.

Halloween (1978)  John Carpenter’s genre-defining slasher movie was independently made on a $320,000 budget and grossed $70 million, worldwide. I do believe that its debt to Psycho is plain to see – but this film proved hugely influential in spawning a host of (lesser) imitators and genre clichés.

What’s interesting about the movie is that it contains very little graphic violence or gore. Yet it managed to shock and thrill audiences in the most compelling way. I will certainly bear testament to that and admit to nearly falling off my seat on several occasions at Wellington’s Lido Cinema, such was the tension created by the skillful editing. One of the greats.

The Innocents (1961) is director Jack Clayton’s adaptation of the Henry James novella, The Turn of the Screw. Deborah Kerr is Miss Giddens, the governess to brother and sister, Miles and Flora, who are orphaned and in the care of their absentee uncle (Michael Redgrave) at his country estate.

Giddens learns that her predecessor, Miss Jessel, had committed suicide following the death of her lover, Quint, who had been employed as a valet on the estate. Quint, now dead, had a hold over both Miss Jessel and the boy Miles, Giddens learns – and she believes that he still exerts a malignant influence over the house and its occupants. Using lighting, deep focus camerawork and precise editing, Clayton creates  an insidious, sinister atmosphere that only ever suggests – but never tells. The Innocents is a masterful, psychological thriller that clings to you like moorland mist.

Christine (1983) is the mother of all ‘bad influence’ movies. Except it’s a Plymouth Fury, ‘Christine’, that’s the bad influence. John Carpenter does Stephen King’s novel proud and has made a movie that is a true, timeless classic.

When nerdy teen Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon) buys the run-down Christine with a view to restoring her, she lets him know how grateful she is by playing Johnny Ace’s ‘Pledging My Love’ on the radio for him. From that moment on, we know that this is undying love and that no one had better come between Arnie and Christine. Of course, they do – and the results are memorable.

Peeping Tom (1960) I should say straightaway that not only do I believe Michael Powell’s film to be the greatest Horror Film ever made, but that it must be accorded the status of one of the 20 most important films in the history of cinema. I cannot do justice to its complexities and influence here, except to say that the great Martin Scorcese considers that this film ‘says everything that can be said about film-making….’

When you watch this film, you may like to consider the idea that the film , itself, reflects your act of watching – that cinema audiences are voyeurs. As mentioned in Part I, Kathryn Bigelow also explores this idea in ‘Strange Days’ to stunning effect. Powell was virtually hounded out of the industry when this film was first released. Fortunately both he and the film have been reassessed by critics and movie-goers and Peeping Tom now stands as a masterpiece of cinema.

Well, that’s the dozen. If you haven’t seen them, track them down and give them a go. Probably not a great idea to watch them by yourself though.