The Quiet Ones

The Professor and his team So you think I got an evil mind?
Well, I’ll tell you, honey–
I don’t know why.
And I don’t know why…

anymore.

Most Americans are probably more familiar with Quiet Riot’s cover of “Cum On Feel The Noize” in the 1980s, but it was originally a big hit in the UK for a band called Slade in the early ’70s. You’ll hear a lot of that song in The Quiet Ones, a Hammer revival film set in 1974; it’s just the kind of music you want to use to keep a suicidally depressed girl with a poltergeist from getting any sleep.

Now, why would anybody want to do that?

It’s a psychological experiment. Oxford professor Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris, the luckless Lane Pryce on Mad Men) explains it during a lecture just before he hires a cameraman to document his work.

“What if you could prove that the supernatural was merely a manifestation of what already exists in the mind, the subconscious?” The professor doesn’t believe in ghosts or demons, but that the negative energy of a disturbed mind can create the type of physical phenomena that looks like a haunting or possession. He thinks that he’s near to finding a cure for it; if he can externalize the phenomena, it can be removed like a tumor. “We cure one patient, we cure all mankind.”

The patient he has in mind is a young woman named Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke). Orphaned at an early age, with no memory of her past, Jane has grown up in a series of foster homes but she’s never stayed anywhere for very long. Sooner or later, “things started to happen”–poltergeist activity that made it impossible for her foster family to keep her. After she was hospitalized for a suicide attempt, Jane came voluntarily into Coupland’s care. He’s currently keeping her in a house in town, under the observation of three student assistants. No, make that two assistants. One quits, angry and appalled at what he calls Coupland’s “unethical” practices before he storms off.

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The Resurrected

Some time ago, when I was reviewing the Dark Adventure Radio Theatre’s audioplay  The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, I cited the two rather loose film adaptations of this same HP Lovecraft story that I was familiar with: AIP’s Lovecraft-dressed-up-as-Poe Haunted Palace starring Vincent Price (which I really am going to review one of these days), and this film, which is Lovecraft noir placed in a modern setting.

The Resurrected was released in 1991, and everything about it has the looks of that late ’80s-early ’90s period.

Curwen and Ward

In my above review of the audioplay, I mentioned that both films have one significant change. In Lovecraft’s story, Charles Dexter Ward is a boy in his teens and early twenties. The films make him much older, and a married man as well. Chris Sarandon, who plays Ward here, was just short of 50.

After an introductory scene at the asylum, in which we learn that mental patient Charles Ward has escaped out the window of his padded cell, leaving behind the beheaded body of the orderly and a large. strange burnmark on the floor, our protagonist and narrator, private detective John March (John Terry) sits in his office and reports that this is the end of the case of Charles Dexter Ward. Like Carl Kolchak–or more like Walter Neff, since he’s bleeding from a wound in his shoulder–he speaks into a tape recorder.

“Three weeks ago,” he tells us, “Providence was a sane enough place.”

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Time Team Travels: A Corner of Westminster Abbey

I’ve visited Westminster Abbey a half-dozen times since I first went to London in the 1980s. I’ve been inside 2 or 3 times, and found myself inadvertently standing on a grave-slab in the floor over someone famous: Sir Isaac Newton on one occasion, and Aphra Behn at a later date.

Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey

I don’t intend to give a general overview of the Abbey inside or out, nor of its long history.  For the purposes of this blog, I’m concerned only with my most recent visit, which was a very brief drop-by while I was in London one spring afternoon.  As long as I was nearby, I had to take a few minutes to  see the site of  Time Team’s 17th-series opening episode, Corridors of Power.

In this episode, Time Team was looking for the location of the sacristy of Henry III, the 13th-century king who began building the current abbey to replace the older abbey of Edward the Confessor on this same site (although it wasn’t finished until more than a century later; in the nave you can see the point where the original, elaborate stonework was left off and resumed in a more simply carved fashion).

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Dark Shadows: The Ghost Watcher

I’ve been left hanging about the fate of Quentin and Barnabas Collins after the fiery conclusion of The Rage Beneath. Unable to obtain the next episode in this particular audio series, or even to confirm what the next title is, I ended up purchasing a couple of other Dark Shadows dramatic readings, based on how interesting their descriptions sounded.

The Ghost Watcher, has the following description on its back cover:

As Maggie Evans leaves the Windcliff Institute, she begins to build a new life for herself away from the Collins family.The Ghost Watcher But when an enigmatic stranger arrives in town, searching for phantoms, Maggie finds herself plunged into a world of intrigue and danger.

What is the Ghost Watcher’s secret, and what is the true cost of his gift to the people of Collinsport?

Dramatic readings, unlike audio dramas, are voiced only by one or two actors rather than a full cast. In this case, Kathryn Leigh Scott tells the tale through her character’s voice, assisted by Alec Newman as Nathan Hawkins, the Ghost Watcher. The Collins family are peripheral figures: Barnabas makes a brief appearance, Roger sort of floats around in the background, and Carolyn shows up a couple of times to converse with Maggie–but this isn’t their story.  This one is Maggie’s own.

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Theatre of Blood

This is one of my favorite Vincent Price films. I’ve heard that it was one of his too.

It’s a bit gruesome, but played for comedy and a lot of fun. Some of Britain’s finest actors queued up to play the critics/victims in this film and have their own vicarious revenge. I know it’s a Dr. Phibes knock-off, but I prefer it. With my background in English Lit, I’d rather watch a movie about a hammy actor committing a series of baroque Shakespearean-themed murders to a disfigured doctor committing Biblically-based ones.

Critics Circle Awards 1970

The film begin with Michael Hordern (last seen here as the skeptical and nearly incoherent Mr. Parkins in Whistle and I’ll Come to You) as London theatre critic George Maxwell. He and his wife are having breakfast in their flat overlooking Hammersmith Bridge and the newspaper he’s reading informs viewers that the date is March 15, 1972.

Maxwell’s reading the latest of his own scathing reviews is interrupted when receives a telephone call asking him to come to an empty tenement that’s about to be torn down to help evict some squatters. As chair of the local housing committee, he sees nothing remarkable with this request apart from his needing to be present so the police can see the squatters off the property. His only concern is whether or not it will make him late for his Critics Circle meeting.

His wife, whose name is not Calpurnia, gets into the theme of the movie before we even know what it is by warning him not to go; she’s had dreams of a disaster befalling Maxwell. Dismissing her fears, off he blithely goes.

When he arrives at the abandoned building, two people dressed in policemen’s uniforms are waiting for him. In spite of the abundant facial hair both wear to conceal their features, their voices are distinctive and easily recognizable. They escort Maxwell up a couple of floors to where a group of tramps and meths drinkers are lying about on filthy pallets. But when Maxwell tries to shoo them out, they rise up, smashing the bottles they’ve been drinking from orMaxwell dies taking up other sharp objects, chase him until they trap him, then stab him viciously.

Bleeding, Maxwell staggers toward the taller of the two policemen, who have stood by watching while all this has been going on. Instead of saying anything to the point, the man begins to recite a speech from Julius Caesar.

Maxwell falls down (the camera looking up through the slatwork floor beneath him); the supposed policemen stands over him, still reciting. Stripping off his helmet and false mustache, he reveals himself to be… well, it’s Vincent Price. Like his voice didn’t make that obvious the instant he  spoke.

Maxwell has just time to choke out, “You… but you’re dead,” before he dies himself.

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Time Team Travels: Mont Orgueil

Mont Orgueil
Mont Orgueil

This impressive castle which dominates the village of Gorey on the eastern coast of Jersey was the main reason I chose to take a Channel Island tour last spring. I had watched Time Team’s episode, “Castles and Cannons” multiple times, and it was a place I longed to visit one day.

When my tour group left Portsmouth by ferry, it took us 7 hours to reach the island of Guernsey; I had started reading a brick-sized biography of Queen Victoria the night before, and got as far the Crimean War during our voyage before we spotted land.  We spent several days on Guernsey and visited nearby Sark before we took a second, much short ferry ride to St. Helier on Jersey. We didn’t get to the castle until our last day in the Channel Islands before we went on to France.

Mont Orgueil Castle was built around 1200 by King John as an English stronghold after he had lost most of his land in France and the island became an outpost on the edge of his kingdom. The castle is set on a high, rocky outcrop facing the coast of Normandy, little more than 10 miles away. On a clear day, you can see France from the castle’s battlements.

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DART Review: The Call of Cthulhu

Mystery Derelict Found at SeaThis isn’t the wonderful 2005 HP Lovecraft Historical Society silent film,  which was one of my very first blog reviews. It is the Dark Adventure Radio Theatre version of The Call of Cthulhu made a few years later.

It’s another take on the same story of peculiar events during the spring of 1925, involving bizarre dreams, strange but similar sculptures related to a secret but worldwide cult, the terrifying discovery of an ancient city on a long-submerged island in the South Pacific, and a great, big, tentacled-faced guy who’s more than a little grumpy at being awakened from his nap.

You can read Lovecraft’s story online at http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/fiction/cc.aspx

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Book Review: We are all Falling Towards Centre of the Earth

We are all Falling Towards Centre of the Earth is a collection of short stories of macabre fantasy by British author Julie Travis. Most are set in the UK or Europe in modern and realistic locations, with the uncanny just a step or two away, but at least one seems to take place in an antipodean other-world not far from Australia.

As I read these stories, elements in them reminded me of the grotesqueries of Clive Barker, the dark fairytales of Tanith Lee and Angela Carter, the  wild countryside of Arthur Machen haunted by pagan gods and lesser beings, and even a little bit of Lovecraft in a non-tentacly way, but there are also startling images and ideas like nothing I’ve read before.

We are all Falling Towards Centre of the Earth

The collection consists of 9 stories:

Dark Fires: A woman dies and comes back again on a recurring basis and begins to remember where her mind goes during the times when her body is dead, and the beings she meets in that other place.

Beautiful Silver Spacesuits: With the world on the brink of nuclear war, two friends each find their own different but remarkable means of escape–one into a vision of outer space, and the other (literally) into books.

The Spoiler: The centuries-old agent of a particularly inventive demon is given a nasty job that she rather enjoys, telling people the details of the rest of their lives and their deaths.

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Time Team Travels: Portsmouth

I’ve been a fan of the British archeology show Time Team for years. I used to catch random episodes on hotel televisions during my trips to the UK. Since then, I’ve collected all available DVDs from the UK and, strangely enough, Australia to view at home on my region-free player.

Watching some of these shows again recently, I realized how often I was saying “I’ve been there” to Time Team dig locations. Some were places I’d visited on my usual travels; others, I’ve gone to specifically because I saw the archeological site on the show and was interested in what was there.

I’ve decided to start a new feature based on the places that I’ve visited, starting with the Royal Garrison Church in Portsmouth.

Royal Garrison Church in Portsmouth
Royal Garrison Church

 

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Murder at the Vanities

“Pre-Code” isn’t an accurate name for movies made in the early 1930s. The Hays Office Production Code was initially introduced in 1930, outlining what could and couldn’t be shown as well as said in the new, talking pictures, but the Code wasn’t rigidly enforced. In fact, it was pretty much ignored during those early years as filmmakers continued to test its  limits and see how far they could go. Only in 1934, when Joseph Breen organized a boycott with the Catholic Legion of Decency, did the film studios concede and start making movies that conformed to one specific vision of a world where nobody swore or used illegal drugs, criminals received their just deserts,  and even married couples always kept one foot on the floor.

Rita shows Lt. Murdoch her favorite hat pinThese so-called Pre-Code movies are often crude and sometimes still have the power to shock, but they also have a breezy freedom and brash cynicism that feels more natural than their later, more heavily censored counterparts. They seem to me to reveal a more honest picture of what people in the early 1930s were really like.

Murder at the Vanities was released in the summer of 1934, just before censorship of films became more stringent. It’s not a great musical of the era, like 42nd Street or Golddiggers of 1933, but there’s a lot going on here that wouldn’t be allowed in movies even a few months later, plus a murder mystery that occurs between (and during) the musical numbers.

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