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Jack Heslop

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49 Poems of H. P. Lovecraft
49 Poems of H. P. Lovecraft
Price: 1.02

1.0 out of 5 stars A rip-off; do not buy, 7 May 2014
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A useless volume which mashes Lovecraft's verse into unreadable semi-prose. No effort has been made to marry the poems' formats to the Kindle screen, so this is a total waste of its cost and VAT.

"All You Zombies-": Five Classic Stories by Robert A. Heinlein
"All You Zombies-": Five Classic Stories by Robert A. Heinlein
Price: 3.09

5.0 out of 5 stars Poignant, funny and surreal, 24 April 2014
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For more reviews and articles, search "Heslop's Cult Corner" on Google and click the first link.

Compiled especially for Kindle, this collection of short stories by Robert A. Heinlein gives a brief yet broad overview of his work, containing poignant, funny and surreal writing.

Heinlein may be best known today for the infamously right-wing, militaristic young adult novel Starship Troopers, adapted by Paul Verhoeven into an ultraviolent satire of fascism in 1997. During his life, however, he earned worldwide acclaim as one of science fiction's best, most prolific authors. If Sturgeon's law is correct and ninety percent of sci-fi is crud, then Heinlein's in the latter ten, probably at one hundred.

The stories collected are "All You Zombies-", "They-", "-And They Built a Crooked House", "Our Fair City", and "The Man Who Traveled in Elephants". The first two are, in very different ways, about loneliness. "Zombies-" opens in a barroom, where a young man nicknamed the "Unmarried Mother", because of what he says when asked his occupation, tells his life story to an ageing barkeep. As well as being a deeply moving story about how lonely and claustrophobic a life can be, it has a number of strange twists culminating in a great surprise finish.

Also, this may sound strange, but it also features a pretty good, if allegorical, portrayal of transgenderism. The transgenderism portrayed is medical in nature, but in a world where gender fluidity is treated mostly as the punchline of jokes about straight men being "tricked" by trans women, it's oddly touching. For a fiercely militaristic patriot, Heinlein held liberal views about gender issues and sexuality. (This could have a dark side, though, in some of his books' blase attitudes to incest and paedophilia.)

"They-" is about a man in a mental hospital who thinks that everyone around him is either a mindless illusion, or part of some conspiracy to keep reality's true face from him. The story opens with a meeting between doctor and patient. They play chess while discussing his illusions and rejection of his wife, which stem from his inability to accept the mundanity and pointlessness of existence.

He can't find solace or truth in religion, or philosophy, so according to his doctor he's created a paranoid delusion where he's the centre of the universe. (Which reminds me of a Frasier joke: "I've got news for you - Copernicus called and you are not the centre of the universe!") "They-"`s ending has a touch of Lovecraftian cosmic horror, where space looms evilly over our meagre human designs. Even with its sci-fi elements this is a sincerely sad story, starring a profoundly sympathetic hero.

Departing from their predecessors' sombre tone, "-And They Built a Crooked House" and "Our Fair City" are whimsical, comic stories. "Crooked House" follows an ambitious architect as he creates a house in four dimensions, consequently trapping himself and his clients in a space-time anomaly. (Heinlein explains it better than me.) The story introduces us to complex ideas in a light-hearted, funny way, mixing entertainment with hard theoretical science. If a thermometer-smasher like me can follow it, so can you.

"Our Fair City" is a charming satirical fantasy, about a sentient whirlwind which befriends a parking lot attendant. He calls it Kitten, and no, I haven't been drinking. The attendant's journalist friend uses the whirlwind to expose political corruption, running it for office and using its "toys" (discarded scraps of newspaper, legal documents etc.) to write scandalous articles. As hopelessly insane as that synopsis sounds, the story is funny and uplifting. Its whimsy is just so gosh-dern infectious. It also takes a gently cynical approach to city politics.

The last story, "The Man Who Traveled in Elephants", is the most spiritual, and the farthest departure from sci-fi, though it could be called fantasy. The best box for it is, perhaps, magic realism, but boxes don't really matter, because it's a beautiful, heart-rending story of endless love and reunion. It's about a retired travelling salesman and widower who's taking a bus to a fair when his journey's diverted. He befriends an old woman, and I won't say what happens when they finally reach the fair.

What I will say, though, is that the scenes at the fair are delightful, and the story is a rich, empathic, hopeful evocation of love and grief. The relationship between the salesman and his late wife is perfectly developed, which makes the ending even more special. Alongside the central love story is a pleasant antiquarianism, best displayed at the fair, where endless parades and stalls celebrate a bygone age. Candy floss hawkers and swan boat rides litter the landscape, across which the salesman roams as a lovelorn, homesick pilgrim.

Each story in this collection is a perfect example of its author's craft, and serves as a great introduction to an artist probably better known for the aggressive action films he inspired. If you don't have a Kindle, be sure to look out for the above stories in print anthologies.

Sudden Impact [DVD]
Sudden Impact [DVD]
Dvd ~ Clint Eastwood
Offered by Market garys Dvd's
Price: 3.15

2.0 out of 5 stars Go ahead, write a good script..., 27 Jan 2014
This review is from: Sudden Impact [DVD] (DVD)
Easily the worst Dirty Harry film, Sudden Impact has neither the elegant plotting and satire of The Dead Pool, or the thematic power and depth of its predecessors. It's really just a cartoonish fantasy; James Bond crossed with a rape-revenge thriller. The characterisation's shallow, and that's putting it nicely. There's no real people in this film, just cardboard cutouts dutifully marching to their predestined fates. Harry Callahan, in particular, becomes a parody of himself. The other films in this series cut it fine with what a supercop Harry is, but there was always a core of realism, a sense that this is a real person, in a real city, doing a real job. Here he's about as gritty and realistic as Roger Moore's Bond. He even has a comic relief pet sidekick.

Scene after scene establish a monotonous rhythm: Harry threatens some crooks; they chase and try to kill him; he kills them; his superiors yell at him. This becomes so routine it's almost parodic, as though Eastwood, who also directed, is slyly mocking the franchise. The storytelling's very weak. Eastwood's ex Sondra Locke plays a gang rape victim who avenges herself, and her traumatised sister, by shooting their rapists in the genitals and head.

Pat Hingle (Comissioner Gordon in Tim Burton's and Joel Schumacher's Batman films) plays the small-town police chief where much of the drama takes place. There's not much else to say, storywise. The rapists are dimly defined and one-note. Audrie J. Neenan plays Ray Parkins, the town tramp who betrayed Locke and her sister, and Paul Drake is Mick, a slobbering sadist. How these people found and relate to each other is never really explained. I think we're just supposed to see them as typical small-town scum.

The Dirty Harry films don't give their antagonists much backstory. Scorpio, for instance, was just a star sign. But they're usually known for their flamboyant personalities. Not so here. Though the heroes aren't much cop, either; Harry's little more than a mindless superhero, and Locke's just Locke, sleepwalking through this pedestrian role which asks nothing of her. Eastwood's clearly a skilled director; there's some beautiful shots and camerawork. As another reviewer pointed out this is a very visual film. Eastwood just needed a much stronger script, one deserving of his visuals.

The Chocolate War (Puffin Teenage Books)
The Chocolate War (Puffin Teenage Books)
by Robert Cormier
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

5.0 out of 5 stars Do I dare disturb the universe?, 22 Jan 2014
"Bleak", "violent" and "realistic" aren't words we normally associate with young adult fiction, which is why Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War, from 1974, is refreshing. Devastating yes, but also refreshing.

As a result of its harsh realism, coupled with frank depictions of violence and sexuality, it's been a frequent target for censors. (It's number three in the American Library Association's "Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books in 2000 - 2009″, behind Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's Alice series and, at number one, Harry Potter.)

Jerry Renault is a freshman at Trinity High, a private Catholic boys' school. His mother recently died of cancer and his father, a pharmacist, leads a mundane existence which depresses Jerry. Worse, Trinity High is secretly run by The Vigils, a student group whose power is maintained by Archie Costello, the Assigner. He assigns random students tasks which take the form of pranks, like removing all the screws in a classroom so its furniture collapses.

Brother Leon, Trinity's acting-headmaster, implicitly allows The Vigils' control, and even requests their help in the annual chocolate sale: each student must sell fifty boxes of chocolates, proceeds going to the school. But Jerry, for reasons he can't explain, refuses, creating a war between himself, Brother Leon and The Vigils.

The novel's themes are fascism and conformity. In one telling scene Brother Leon humiliates a student before a class, encourages them to join the abuse, then chides them for their pack mentality, comparing the class to Nazi Germany. His classroom theatrics aren't meant as a moral lesson, however. He's merely asserting his dominance, always doing the unexpected thing, so the students fearfully fall in line. Archie is the Goebbels to Leon's Führer, though maybe it's the other way around. Complex power dynamics are a strong part of The Chocolate War`s suspense.

A boxing-pro called Carter is The Vigils' president, but Archie as Assigner is its true wellspring of decision. He's smart and sadistic, always playing mental tricks on people, cowing much stronger kids into submission with his wits alone. The kids, especially The Vigils' secretary, Obie, often refer to him as "that bastard". Archie's assignments have earned him hate and grudging awe from his fellows, which he relishes.

The fascinating thing about Archie is that he doesn't really see himself as evil. He never personally lays a finger on anyone, and is even "kind" enough to share the burden of his assignments among several students. He does have one weakness, though: the black box. The box contains several white and one black marble. When Archie gives an assignment he must blindly choose a white marble, or face the assignment himself. This plot point creates a moment of almost painful suspense late in the story.

Jerry is a complex protagonist. He seems like an everyday kid; good at football, an average scholar, shy around girls, liked by Richard "The Goober" Goubert, a footballing peer. Yet he refuses to sell the chocolates. The sale is technically voluntary, of course, but one of the novel's underlying ideas is that adults will sometimes say one thing and mean another. The sale is described as "voluntary" only because the notion that a student won't sell never crossed anyone's mind, and something inside Jerry realises that. He sees his father's dull, work-driven existence and, when the sale's announced, finds himself saying... No.

This, of course, will not do in Brother Leon's world, and as Leon could cause trouble for them The Vigils take up the cause, especially when students start following Jerry's example and rebel against the school's accepted order. A recurring quote in the novel is Eliot's "do I dare disturb the universe?", from "The Love Song J. Alfred Prufrock". Does Jerry, in the end, dare disturb The Vigils' universe, and by extension Trinity's?

One of the things I admire most about The Chocolate War is its bravery. In an age where storytellers for young adults are afraid to include anything transgressive, whether it be strong language or even a story about boy wizards, Cormier's brute honesty is refreshing. He writes about masturbating, breasts and fights because, let's face it, that's what most teenage boys are thinking about. Like all the best young adult and children's fiction, The Chocolate War reveals the issues of reality through a kid's eyes.

Also, Cormier's prose is profoundly poetic (alliteration unintentional) at times. The ending, a perfect marriage of style and theme, almost made me cry. So yes, it's a sad novel. One which deals with grief, fascism, alienation and life's startling unfairness. But it's also suspenseful, as you keep turning pages in anticipation of The Vigils' next move, and deeply thought-provoking.

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
Price: 0.49

5.0 out of 5 stars The Sins of the Forefather, 14 Nov 2013
Lovecraft, master of the short story, wrote only one full-length novel, which he disliked and wasn't published until after his death. (He described it as a "cumbrous, creaking bit of self-conscious antiquarianism".) This novel was The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, a slim work, 176 pages, about the titular young scholar and his weird ancestor, Joseph Curwen, ominously connected with the Salem witch hunts.

Though other readers and critics might disagree, I regard it as a small masterpiece, a trove of elegant, Victorian-esque prose about dark magic. It's a chilling, at times almost inhumanly evil story, and I mean that in the spiritual sense, as in its evil transcends humankind, speaking of "forbidden knowledge", a major Lovecraftian theme. Though its (relatively) happy ending is perhaps conventional, the rest is visionary. It is the best 20th-century horror novel I've read.

The story begins with a prologue: Charles Dexter Ward, son of a prosperous Rhode Island family, has escaped from an asylum, which held him due to strange psychological changes. Years earlier, to which we then cut, his road to mystery began with the discovery that he's related to Curwen, a 17th-century businessman and suspected wizard. This creates an obsession in Ward, who for years researches Curwen through whatever sources he can find, which makes him increasingly reclusive. His parents, disturbed by strange noises and events connected with their son, finally call on the family doctor, Marinus Bicknell Willett, to investigate.

A common criticism of Lovecraft is that he wrote bad dialogue and flat characters. This is, if I may so, mostly true. His characters were fine, following basic archetypes and enriched by great description, but they weren't complex, overshadowed by the supernatural. That can be dismissed as part of Lovecraft's vision; his great theme was the isolation and (blissful) ignorance of humankind.

The dialogue, however, is pretty bad. It oscillates between clunky exposition and, as Stephen King put it in his memoir On Writing, "country cornpone". That may be why Ward and Lovecraft's other works use so little of it. The only real back-and-forth conversation in this novel is right at the end, and the rest is mostly letters or little fragments of quotes.

Though this means that neither Ward, Willett nor Curwen are up there with Hamlet in terms of dimension, they are, I think, well-evoked, embodying Lovecraft's recurrent types. Ward is the sweet-but-short-sighted young student, driven by the noble pursuit of knowledge, his downfall; Willett is the older, wiser man, sensible and brave; Curwen, on the other hand, is pure evil.

Never seeming to age, even after the point when most men should be dead, Curwen leaves Salem before it can expose him, but outstays his welcome in his next home, as disappearing slaves and sailors dog him. Rumour has it that he and others in his circle have access to necromantic knowledge.

Besides horror, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is also a bit of a detective novel; the solutions to some mysteries are Agatha Christean. Its true genius is in its evocation of place and person; long interludes from Curwen's life contain enough rich setting to bowl one over. Lovecraft could be described as a Dark Romantic; the connection to nature in his work cannot be diminished. A secret door in a riverbank, a barn emitting weird lights, an underground system of tunnels and prisons... all seem as real as a Realist's bedroom. Without giving too much away, one encounter with a jailed beast still haunts me.

Lovecraft's gift for causing fear stemmed from the way he implied that, if you could see what he was describing, it would drive you mad. The best of his characters barely hang on to their sanity. I'd dearly love to analyse each and every scene, describing which moved me and why, but I'll resist. For horror fans, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is like a Christmas present: to fully appreciate you must open it yourself.

Theatre Of Blood [DVD]
Theatre Of Blood [DVD]
Dvd ~ Vincent Price
Offered by Discs4all
Price: 5.37

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Price of Murder, 12 Nov 2013
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This review is from: Theatre Of Blood [DVD] (DVD)
Though its transference to DVD leaves much to be desired, with washed-out colours and patchy sound, Vincent Price's Theatre of Blood is still a funny, gripping thriller, elevated by the master. When you hear the premise - disgruntled actor (Price) serially murders his critics - it sounds like pure camp; fun, but devoid of pathos. What's truly extraordinary about the film is that, at times, Price actually brings real drama and tension to it. His Edward Lionheart is not just a pantomime villain but a wounded soul, deceived by an undernourished ego. He's also, of course, very amusing; the comedy and melodrama offset the goriest moments.

Aided by a gang of squatters, Lionheart, thought to be dead, plots revenge against the Critic's Circle, who denied him an award then mocked him when he reckoned with them. A passionate Shakespearean, Lionheart's murders are modelled on the Bard's. One critic is led to a trap and butchered by assassins, like Julius Caesar. These critics include Robert Morley as a dog-loving dandy, Coral Browne (who'd later become Price's third and last wife) as an ageing bitch-about-town, and Ian Hendry at the forefront as a kind of protagonist, though this is Price's show. The Avengers' Diana Rigg also shows up, as Lionheart's daughter.

Price must have relished the opportunity to dress up and perform as some of Shakespeare's most famous characters. He was a real actor, who'd studied fine arts and worked with Orson Welles. Though I'm sure he would have owned the stage I'm glad that horror films found him; he gave a lot to the genre, even if the "stars" that followed were mostly screaming slasher queens. Here he strikes a perfect balance between camp and menace. I was surprised by how moving the scene of his critical humiliation is, as he strides across a veranda reciting Hamlet. A scene of him feigning a tryst with one critic's wife, on the other hand, belongs to comedy, and he handles it like a pro.

As aforesaid, this is Price's show. The script almost feels engineered to background his supporting players. The most notable among them is Morley, who's like a cross between Christopher Biggins and an old money earl. Rigg, however, is perfectly good as Lionheart's daughter, and contributes to the pathos of his humiliation. Hendry's a bit of a no-trick pony, but to be fair his character's not deep. He vaguely fills the role of hero, though he's not particularly likeable. I can't really tell if that's his fault or the script's.

Without giving too much away, my favourite murders were those taken from Henry VI and Titus Andronicus. This is quite a gory film, considering its date and comic overtones. The Shakespeare motif reminds me of a comment Robert Barnard made about Agatha Christie's The ABC Murders, in which a killer targets those with alliterative names: "A total success - but thank God she didn't try taking it through to Z."

Halloween II
Halloween II

5.0 out of 5 stars NHS: National Halloween Service (please forgive me), 7 Nov 2013
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This review is from: Halloween II (Paperback)
It's not often that a novelisation improves on its source, but Halloween II by Jack Martin does. The sequel to John Carpenter's 1978 masterpiece was sporadically entertaining, but ultimately a disappointment to fans. It lacked the original's essential tension, perhaps because it reduced Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) to a pathetic "final girl", rather than the strong heroine she was. It may have been impossible to equal Halloween's success anyway, as that film was always more of a visceral experience than a story.

This naturally posed a problem when the time came to novelise it, which is why author Curtis Richards added a lot of backstory about ancient Druid curses. Halloween II's author, Jack Martin (pseudonym of Dennis Etchison), continues that trend, and can't be blamed for doing so. A novel is a very different animal to a film; it doesn't have any visceral tricks like music and fake blood to rely on, so must succeed on the strength of its story.

Succeed Halloween II does. Etchison crafts a genuinely compelling, even Gothic novel, rich with fatalism. If it's sometimes a little overwritten, Etchison still has to be respected for approaching this job with a real vision, when Z-grade crap might have sold just as well. In fact, I'd wager that it WOULD have. Let's face it, Halloween II isn't exactly Psycho, or Halloween for that matter. All Etchison had to do was string a lot of gory death scenes together in a paint-by-numbers way. Instead, he takes the plot seriously and writes long descriptive passages which do more than set extras up to die. The Laurie of his novel is smarter and more likeable than she was in the film, closer to Carpenter's original.

The plot should be familiar to fans of the franchise: seconds after Halloween ends, Dr. Loomis is still standing on that balcony over which he shot Michael Myers six times. Nonetheless, Myers' corpse isn't on the lawn where it should be, and so Loomis starts stalking the night in search of him, while a traumatised Laurie is taken to hospital. There, she meets a cast of assorted staff who'll soon be lined up for a slashin'.

A recurrent motif in the novel is jack-o'-lanterns, which burn through the night on windowsills and countertops, emitting dark smoke through their crowns. This allows Etchison to create some lovely, haunting set pieces, like when a lantern's rays are disturbed by falling autumn leaves, or one in the hospital which shines in the sterility.

An occasional failing is his broad characterisations here and there; Sheriff Brackett, who helped Loomis look for Myers in Halloween, is given inexplicably rough treatment. Loomis (in his internal monologue) calls him everything from a hick to a pencil pusher. Loomis himself can be a bit soft-headed and silly at times. The best character sketches are of the hospital staff; I came to really like Jimmy, the ambulance man with a crush on Laurie.

Dennis Etchison's Halloween II gives us hamburger when it could have just slapped down some gristle. To those who are snobby about this kind of book, seeing it perhaps as just merchandise, remember that they're often written by talented writers.

The Lords of Salem [DVD]
The Lords of Salem [DVD]
Dvd ~ Sheri Moon Zombie
Price: 5.42

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heidi's Lot, 7 Nov 2013
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This review is from: The Lords of Salem [DVD] (DVD)
Very few films capture an authentic sense of spiritual evil. I've never really been spiritual in the religious sense, but some art, religious or not, evokes things which speak to those of all persuasions. Sometimes those things are good, sometimes evil. The very best supernatural horror films, I think, often evoke the latter. Rock star Rob Zombie's The Lords of Salem isn't quite up there with Don't Look Now or The Shining, but it has its moments, achieved through a perfect blend of image, sound and direction. I'm a Zombie fan, having enjoyed his House of 1000 Corpses and its sequel, The Devil's Rejects, but Lords of Salem is his best work to date. It's a darker, more narratively sound work, rooted in religious anxiety and myth.

The plot takes place within a tight one-week time frame marked by intertitles. This at first seems kind of pointless as we don't know what we're building towards, meaning that each day's passing is irrelevant, but as the plot unfolds it creates a certain doom. Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie; Rob's wife) is a recovering drug addict and cult radio DJ in Salem, Massachusetts, where during the Salem witch trials an obsessive reverend (Andrew Prine) had a coven burned. Before they died they swore revenge. In the present, Heidi receives a package from an unknown band called The Lords of Salem; it contains a rock recording which, when played on her station, has an odd effect on Salem's women.

Acting alongside Sheri Moon are Jeff Daniel Phillips and Ken Foree as Heidi's co-hosts, Judy Geeson as her landlady and Bruce Davison as a historian who may hold the key to the mystery. Much of the narrative is given over to Heidi's descent into madness; it may be important that she's an ex-addict, her struggle mirroring a relapse. Sheri Moon's been knocked as an actress but I've always liked her; she was sexy and psychotic in Corpses and Rejects, and she succeeds in playing a very different character here. Heidi is a sympathetic victim of fate and evil; she's the kind of woman you'd look forward to listening to.

Her dream sequences give Zombie full reign to indulge his strongest asset as a filmmaker: weird, hypnotic visuals and soundtracks. The climax looks almost like a hard rock music video, and ends with an absolutely perfect image. The last minute-and-a-half-or-so before the epilogue is hard to best for its profound, chilling perversion of Christian symbolism. I've watched it several times now, just drinking in the joyous, radiant evil it emits. Its use of a certain Velvet Underground song plays no small part in that. It's here that that spiritual evil I mentioned at the start reaches its peak; maybe it's a subjective thing, but it's an image (or sequence) I've come to adore. It's also one which perhaps only a filmmaker with Zombie's gift for music and visuals could achieve; it goes to show that musicians do sometimes make good films with complete creative control.

Images elsewhere are also brilliant, and involve a lot of Satanic horror which might offend some viewers, though why they'd be watching this escapes me. Oh well, as Roger Ebert said in his review of Hellraiser II: we believe in full-service reviews around here.

Blood On Satan's Claw - Digitally Remastered Widescreen Edition [DVD] [1970]
Blood On Satan's Claw - Digitally Remastered Widescreen Edition [DVD] [1970]
Dvd ~ Patrick Wymark
Price: 14.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Skin Deep, 30 Oct 2013
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Also released as Satan's Skin, Blood on Satan's Claw belongs to that small group of British films which Mark Gatiss defined as "folk horror". Its peers are 1968′s Witchfinder General and 1973′s The Wicker Man, the latter of which is probably the most well-known, with Satan's Claw coming in third. What they have in common is their strong rural flavour, setting scenes of gruesome violence and terror amidst tranquil countryside.

Another, deeper commonality, however, is their themes of religious anxiety; each film shows a clash between spiritual ideas. In Witchfinder it was Christian puritanism against Catholicism, and in Wicker Man puritan- against paganism, while Satan's Claw pits Satanism against rationality. Whereas Witchfinder and Wicker Man were more grounded in realism, depicting all superstition as a savage force, the world of Satan's Claw contains the supernatural.

The story begins at a field in 17th century England where ploughman Ralph Gower (Barry Andrews) unearths a weird skull with one staring eyeball. He informs his sceptical master, the Judge (Patrick Wymark), but when they both arrive at the scene the skull has disappeared. Later, local girl Angel Blake (Linda Hayden) leads the village's children in a cult of sacrifice, where they're enslaved to a hooded monster.

Hayden should be better known as one of horror's greatest female stars. She is evil personified as the possessed Angel, a cruel and destructive force who in one scene tries to seduce a Reverend (Anthony Ainley). Hayden, even at the age of seventeen, was no stranger to sexually charged material, and bares all here. But more important than that is just how well she plays Angel. This is a chilling performance, filled with a White Witch-ian sadism.

Another standout is Wymark, who died the same year this was released. His Judge is a Van Helsing figure who, though absent for much of the second act (explained by his need to study demonology), emerges as the film's moral core. Like Vincent Price, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in their horror films, he brings enormous charisma to his role. Worth noting is that he had a small part as Oliver Cromwell in Witchfinder General, to which he also brought a strong sense of authority.

As one might expect there's a lot of nastiness here, climaxing in a rape-and-murder scene midway through which, though subtly handled, still shocks. It's the expressions on everyone's faces, and the sense of hungry, looming, ritualistic evil. We also get a bit of impromptu 17th century surgery and a bear trap used to catch something other than a bear.

Blood on Satan's Claw is a majestic British horror film, proving that we're no slouches in this genre. It perfectly captures the feel of Feudal England, mired in spiritual and political fear. At the centre of this mayhem is Wymark's sceptical-but-nervous Judge, a man who stands with the European Enlightenment on one side, and dark rural superstitions on the other.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 25, 2014 4:32 PM BST

Dougal and the Blue Cat (Special Edition) [DVD] [1970]
Dougal and the Blue Cat (Special Edition) [DVD] [1970]
Dvd ~ Eric Thompson
Offered by FilmloverUK
Price: 8.69

5.0 out of 5 stars The Macabre Roundabout, 28 Oct 2013
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The English-language version of Dougal and the Blue Cat represents a perfect marriage of two disparate elements: the original French animation and Eric Thompson's vocals. Anyone familiar with The Magic Roundabout, the TV show which Dougal and the Blue Cat is an adaptation of, will know that Thompson invented his own scripts and personalities based on the visuals. Dougal and the Blue Cat was the first time Thompson brought in another actor - Fenella Fielding, partly of Carry On... fame - to voice a character. Anyone in love with the strange should watch this film, which like all great works for children appeals to adults too. Several images are so odd as to be almost macabre; for instance, when the Blue Cat visits the "Nightmare Room", he's assaulted and taunted by floating surrealist masks.

Unlike many big screen outings for TV shows, this one has a well-defined plot: Dougal, our contentious shaggy dog hero, becomes suspicious of Buxton, a blue cat who appears unannounced in the magic garden. Though Florence, Zebedee, Ermintrude and others are taken in by him, Buxton has a secret allegience to the Blue Voice (Fielding), which promises him power if he helps it in its universal conquest.

"Blue is beautiful, blue is best..." is the Voice's mantra, as it hides in an abandoned treacle factory where it subjects Buxton to various trials to prove his worth. Fielding's famously vampish tones are a good fit for her character; she reminded me of the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a symbol of dark, seductive femininity. Thompson, meanwhile, does an incredible job of delineating every other character, so each one has its own distinct personality. Dougal is a splendid curmudgeon; he's the funniest character, and gives the film a profoundly strong core.

His best friend, Florence, a human girl, is played surprisingly well too; Thompson resists the temptation to ham it up when playing a girl, and Florence is all the more likeable for that. She sings a heartbreaking song when she and her friends are imprisoned, which brings me to the next facet of Dougal and the Blue Cat's brilliance: it's also an effective musical. Thompson is a one man West End cast here; it's easy to forget that, having not read the original French scripts, he completely invented The Magic Roundabout as we know it.

Dougal and the Blue Cat is, above all, a work of moving strangeness. There's a wonderful scene where poor Dougal, while disguised as a Blue Dog, is locked in a room filled with his favourite treat: sugar. If he eats one lump, he'll be exposed as Dougal, so he's almost driven mad with temptation. Elsewhere, Buxton is thoroughly controlled by the Blue Voice, whom he dreams of one day overthrowing. The aforementioned Nightmare Room is genuinely unsettling, as are a few other visuals, and the whole concept of the invisible Blue Voice, which dreams of a Blue Universe, is weird in itself. Dougal and the Blue Cat is a remarkable "children's film", one of the few which genuinely deserves that accolade "fun for all the family".

NOTE: The pictured DVD is a remastered special edition which also contains the original French version (with English subtitles), and a great little analysis by film critic Mark Kermode.

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