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Whitstable
Whitstable
by Stephen Volk
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.50

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Peter Cushing's Darkest Hour, 10 July 2013
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This review is from: Whitstable (Paperback)
In 1971, as actor Peter Cushing is shattered with grief over the recent death of his wife, he is approached by Carl, a boy believing him to be vampire hunter Van Helsing not only in the movies, but in real life. Carl wants Van Helsing's help ridding the world of his stepfather, whom the boy thinks is a vampire. Cushing soon finds reason to suspect that the stepfather is in fact molesting Carl.

If someone publishes a work of fiction where the protagonist is my favourite actor, I will automatically be all over it, abundantly foaming at the mouth, so the fact that Whitstable also happens to be quite good is really just a delightful bonus to me.

I wasn't sure what tone Volk would have chosen for this actually rather tricky writing challenge, but since he's dealing with the darkest period in Cushing's life, I correctly assumed that this wasn't going to be a mirthful romp about a kid who has seen too many monster movies. It's a somber book told exclusively from Cushing's third person point of view, which gives us fans a whole lot of Cushing presence to enjoy, while we perhaps react with some consternation as to the author's selection of story matter.

I think I understand the reasoning: Cushing, known from his films as a monster hunter, has to confront a real life monster. What kind of beastie could be encountered in his sleepy little seaside hometown of Whitstable? A child molester. So far the idea seems perfectly logical, but I can't help but think of how Cushing himself would have reacted to it, not to mention all the obscenity and profanity littering the novella. Personally I don't mind, but the book being intended as a celebration of the actor and the man, it seems odd to pick material which would have put him off to such an extent.

It should be pointed out that Whitstable isn't really a thriller, apart from one confrontational scene at a fish stall and a potentially more dangerous one in a cinema. The story is good enough, though hardly remarkable, which is quite all right, as it really only serves as the wall hook on which to hang an intimate, psychological portrait of Peter Cushing in a state of agonizing grief. In terms of bringing Cushing to life, Volk succeeds admirably, perfectly essaying the man's manners and mannerisms, idiom and idiosyncrasies. More than once, the author evokes Cushing so believably that it's almost as if he had returned from the dead. Psychologically, of course, Volk has had to speculate as to what his protagonist was thinking, feeling and doing during that first lonely month after his wife's Helen's death, but he has ample help from Cushing's autobiographies and later interviews. And of course, grief is one of the shared human experiences, with many similar aspects from case to case. Suffice to say, the portrayal of Cushing's purgatory of grief is realistic, and quite moving in spite of its sometimes less appetizing naturalistic outbursts (vomiting and so on).

More than anything, Whitstable exists to gratify Cushing's fans, which is does superbly, but this leads to one of its flaws: while deep in thought, Cushing keeps endlessly namedropping his own movies, and drawing parallels between them and the events he's currently experiencing. Cushing was an actor, and as such more egocentric than most of his fans care to mention, but nothing can make me believe that he spent most of his waking hours wallowing in his own past successes. It's indulgent on the part of the author and subtracts from the otherwise excellent reproduction of the man Cushing was known to be.

It's difficult for me to assess how much value this book is to readers not particularly interested in Cushing (blasphemers!!!), but I'll go out on a limb and say that it's still a decent, well written character study. For proper Cushing fans, Whitstable is of course required reading.

Rating: 4 of 5 for Cushing fans, probably around a 3 of 5 for less discerning forms of life.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 16, 2014 5:34 PM BST


What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (Two-Disc Special Edition) [DVD] [1962]
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (Two-Disc Special Edition) [DVD] [1962]
Dvd ~ Bette Davis

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Better and better, 3 Oct. 2008
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I first saw this film when I was a kid (it scared the hell out of me then), and I have returned to it several times over the years, each time thinking it better than the time before. Seeing that this nice DVD edition was available, I didn't hesitate. It's a beautifully restored presentation of the film, and the extras cover much interesting ground.

The film itself has a good script based on a brilliant idea, but it's the acting that will get to you, especially Bette Davis' fearless, endlessly varied performance as the grotesque, deteriorating title character. There is no trace of vanity in her looks or acting, and she seizes an already great part with a gusto that makes it A) impossible to picture anyone else in the role, and B) possible to think that this may in fact be her greatest work ever.

Crawford's performance, much more low-key, grows on repeated viewings, and the wonderfully smarmy Victor Buono manages to hold his own against the force of nature that is Davis.

Clever, scary, wild and flawlessly presented, this film is a must have for any DVD collector. Other than some creaky expositionary dialogue in the first reel, it virtually explodes off the screen.


The Richard Dawkins Collection (The Genius of Charles Darwin,  The Enemies of Reason and The Root of All Evil?) [DVD]
The Richard Dawkins Collection (The Genius of Charles Darwin, The Enemies of Reason and The Root of All Evil?) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Richard Dawkins
Offered by Assai-uk
Price: £11.79

31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sorely needed., 3 Oct. 2008
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How anyone can watch these DVDs and call Professor Dawkins arrogant is beyond me. The religious fanatics he interviews ... now there's arrogance for you, not to mention a kind of wilful ignorance which is terrifying to any rational human being.

The tireless work of Richard Dawkins to underline the value of evidence-based reality over groundless fantasy is of course sorely needed in times like these when gullibility and absence of reason are being increasingly held up as virtues. In these programs, the beauty of the natural world and, as a consequence, science, is inspirational, and the courage and determination on display here are a tribute to the human spirit.

Complaints? Well, some of the interviews feel a bit truncated (some of them are being made available in uncut form on various sites), and The Genius of Charles Darwin could have benefited from one more episode to round out the information on the theory of evolution, but these are minor quibbles. These shows raise awareness and curiosity in the rational viewer, and whet the appetite for learning more about natural science, and so I believe they fulfil their purpose admirably.


King Lear [DVD] [1971]
King Lear [DVD] [1971]
Dvd ~ Paul Scofield
Offered by All We Ever Look For
Price: £26.25

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Expect the unexpected., 22 April 2008
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This review is from: King Lear [DVD] [1971] (DVD)
This is Lear in a completely different light from any other version, I think that much can be guaranteed. Whether or not you like it probably depends on how orthodox you are in terms of Shakespeare, but as for me, I find I prefer this version to, say, the much praised Michael Hordern one. This is lean, mean Lear, stark and brooding and focusing very much more on the psychology than on outwardly events. I find that I think of it as the essence of the play. It's intense, even intrusive in its psychological examination of the characters, and the title role is made even more demanding because of it. Only an actor of Scofield's calibre could pull it off, and he does so in what must be the greatest performance of his film career.


The Immortal Count: The Life and Films of Bela Lugosi
The Immortal Count: The Life and Films of Bela Lugosi
by Arthur Lennig
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lugosi - The Enigma, 22 April 2008
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I carefully chose between the various Lugosi books available, and finally decided on this one. I do not regret my choice. The author has done his homework ... and not only at home. He even went to Hungary to dig up Mr. Lugosi's elusive theatrical credits in his own country and his even more elusive birth certificate. The background research on this volume is nothing short of breathtaking.

This book has the advantage of being both old and new: the original version is old enough that it includes interviews with people who knew Lugosi personally (including his last two wives) and the new version (twice the length of the original work!) is new enough to incorporate the latest findings about the great man's life and work. While answering all the questions that a Lugosi fan might reasonably ask, it still leaves the man as something of a puzzle and an enigma ... but that's the way it should be.

The Immortal Count is respectful, but still objective enough to admit Lugosi's faults and shortcomings. If there's anything negative to say about it, it's the fact that the author seems to hold some kind of half-concealed grudge against Boris Karloff, without backing it up with substantial fact.

If you're a Lugosi fan, this is the book. Accept no substitutes.


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