strange_complex: (Dracula Scars wine)
I got back on Monday night from a long weekend in Whitby spent in the company of around 40 Dracula Society members: including [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 whom I have now dragooned into joining! I went there with a smaller group of them two years ago, and managed a decent write-up of it afterwards too (LJ / DW), but this was a more formal gathering designed to mark the fortieth anniversary of the Society's first official visit there in 1977.

[personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 and I got there shortly before lunch on the Friday, but the official business didn't begin until that evening, so we spent the afternoon enjoying Gothic seaside fun in the sunshine. We pottered around the shops buying various treasures, and then headed down to the harbour front where she introduced me to Goth Blood milkshakes - basically ordinary milkshakes with bucket-loads of food colouring in them which turn your tongue blood-red after a single sip:

2017-09-08 16.42.27.jpg

I also went through the Dracula Experience: a once-in-a-lifetime audio-visual presentation of the Dracula story. I say 'once-in-a-lifetime' because it is so rubbish that it is hard to imagine anyone voluntarily going twice (for all the reasons aptly articulated in these TripAdvisor reviews). They have a cloak at the beginning of the exhibition which they claim is one of Christopher Lee's Dracula capes, but I'm afraid it clearly isn't: it has a strong diagonal ridged texture which none of Lee's capes in any of the Hammer Dracula films ever did. Still, though, the whole thing only cost three quid, and I did chuckle most of the way through at how inept it was, so I guess it wasn't the worst thing I've ever spent money on. Afterwards, we spent one whole pound each on the tuppenny falls, where [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313, who is an experienced competitive player, completely wiped the floor with me, winning more than double the amount of tuppences I had managed to score every time we compared our takings.

The evening began with the traditional gathering around the bench which the Society donated in 1980 (I suppose we'll celebrate the 40th anniversary of that in three years too!), where [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 encountered most of the Society's members for the first time, and was also introduced to tuica: Romanian plum brandy, and of course our preferred toast. The rest of the evening was informal, but Julia (the Society's very energetic chair) had laid on a wonderful programme of events for us at the Royal Hotel the following day.

We began with a screening of 27. Holy Terrors (2017), dir. Julian Butler and Mark Goodall )

We also had two talks given by members of the Society: Gail-Nina Anderson on werewolves and Barry McCann on Jekyll and Hyde. Both traced the evolution of their creatures and their stories through time, looking at how and why they have been treated differently in different circumstances, and what aspects of the human experience they have been used to explore. And although this wasn't particularly planned, both actually informed the other very neatly, and indeed made me realise something I had never really noticed before: that Jekyll and Hyde is essentially a werewolf story. As Gail had already shown us, werewolf stories have never actually been that prescriptive about the matter of how a person becomes a werewolf: many just take it for granted that they exist, and those which do try to explain how it happens offer a much wider range of possibilities than the now common idea of being bitten by an existing werewolf. Nor is the moon particularly consistently required to prompt transformations. So a story about a man who brings out his inner beast voluntarily through a potion of his own making fits right into the canon.

After lunch (roast pork baps from the Greedy Pig GET IN MY FACE!), it was time for a quiz. Given that this consisted of a ten-point round on Stoker's Dracula (which I have read multiple times and am reading right now), a ten-point round on Whitby (where I was sat while taking the quiz), and a twenty-point round on film adaptations of Dracula (which are basically the heart of [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313's and my co-conspiratorial film watching), you would have thought I might manage to do quite well on this, but no! Somehow Julia managed to make it really hard. The winner, Kate, scored a fairly modest 26.5 points out of 40, while I scraped along with 14.5 and [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 bagged a mere 11.5. It's almost like we've been wasting our lives!

Oh well, at least we had plenty of opportunity to buy up books and DVDs which might help us to do better next time in the society auction - not to mention all sorts of other goodies, from the utterly tat-tastic to the actually very tasteful. This was my personal haul, including a notebook in the shape of Christopher Lee as Dracula )

That evening was the Society's formal dinner, so I grabbed the rare opportunity to dress up in full Gothic finery with both hands. We had allowed plenty of time to walk down from our guest-house and ended up arriving ridiculously early, so, as it was still light and I don't look like this very often, [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 indulged me with a little photo-shoot.

Vanity, vanity, all is vanity )

Much wine was drunk, merriment had and patrons on a ghost walk of Whitby outside the window trolled by means of a green Frankenstein torch shone at them through a white napkin (though irritatingly they didn't seem to notice). None of this, though, stopped a hardy band of us from getting up the next morning bright and early to do the six-and-a-half-mile cliff walk from Whitby to Robin Hood's Bay. This of course was all in honour of Mina and Lucy, who do just this walk in Stoker's novel straight after the funeral of the Demeter's captain: a plan concocted by Mina with a view to tiring Lucy out and stopping her from fretting about the funeral and sleep-walking that night. She records her plan in an entry on the morning of 10 August thus:
She will be dreaming of this tonight, I am sure. The whole agglomeration of things, the ship steered into port by a dead man, his attitude, tied to the wheel with a crucifix and beads, the touching funeral, the dog, now furious and now in terror, will all afford material for her dreams. I think it will be best for her to go to bed tired out physically, so I shall take her for a long walk by the cliffs to Robin Hood's Bay and back. She ought not to have much inclination for sleep-walking then.
And you can read her post-factum report of the walk itself that evening here.

We grabbed a couple of group pictures before we set off, which I hope Michael won't mind too much that I have stolen from his FB page:

Cliff walk party selfie Michael Borio.jpg

Cliff walk photo Dutch angle Michael Borio.jpg


Then off we went, past many picturesque delights )

The conversation as we walked unfolded much as you would expect in the circumstances. I can't remember exactly who said what now, but the gist of it all went more or less like this:

"Presumably Mina and Lucy can't actually have walked to Robins Hood's Bay. They must have taken a horse and cart or something."
"Oh no, it says quite clearly in the novel that they walked."
"Yes, that's right - they're obviously going across the fields because some cows come up and give them a fright."
"Can you imagine doing this in heels and a corset, though?"
"Well, Victorian women did have sensible walking boots and country clothing."
"Yes, absolutely - the Victorians were very much into their physical exercise and fresh air."
"They would still definitely have been wearing corsets, though."
"Oh yes. Mind you, the whalebone corsets had quite a lot of give in them. You would only wear the steel ones in the evening."
"Well, my respect for Mina and Lucy is increasing with every step."
"You've got to wonder if Bram ever actually thought about the implications of doing all this in a corset, though."
"Hmm, yes - good point. Well, unless he dressed up in the full regalia himself and did the whole walk that way. You know, just to really get into the heads of his characters."
"Well, given that he was 6'4", that would have been quite a sight!"

In the end, we were not as hardcore as Mina and Lucy ourselves, though. They walked both ways, and had to suffer an unwanted visit from a curate in the evening. We got the bus back, before enjoying another final dinner together ahead of our general dispersal on the Monday morning. Not that [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 and I were in a rush to get home that morning, though - not least because she didn't have any house-keys, so couldn't get into the house until [livejournal.com profile] planet_andy got home with his set anyway, and furthermore because their boiler had broken so the house would be freezing. Instead we spent most of the day in Filey, which I have never visited before, but which proved to be a charming seaside town with a lovely museum, some great charity shops, some excellent cafes, and a fountain with a surround designed like a compass showing the directions of all the locations mentioned in the shipping forecast )

They also had a crazy golf course, where [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 and I played a game so utterly inept that it more than once reduced us to tears of laughter; but I feel duty bound to note that she did beat me, with a score of 37 shots for 9 holes to my 40. Finally it was time to head home, playing games of "I Spy" and "I am a Hammer film: which one am I?" as we drove. All in all a very enjoyable and much-needed final summer jolly before term hits with a vengeance next week...
strange_complex: (Lee as M.R. James)
More book reviews. At least we have made it into 2016 now.


1. S.T. Joshi, ed. (2005), M.R. James: Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories

M.R. James! I like him enough that he has his own tag (LJ / DW). I have been to live readings of his stories, I own the DVD box set of most of their TV adaptations, and I even went to a conference about him in 2016 (LJ / DW). However, until I acquired this Penguin two-volume collection of his ghost stories, I hadn't actually systematically read them all: only those in his first published collection, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary and a few others at random in collected volumes or online. Reading the whole lot is of course a great pleasure, and these two volumes are good, with helpful introductions, suggestions for further reading (on James generally and on individual stories), and well-chosen appendices of related material: e.g. James' introductions to the various collected volumes of stories published during his lifetime and his rare (and brief!) published reflections on the genre of the ghost story. The only omission I regretted is his supernatural story for children, 'The Five Jars', but then again it is a) quite long and b) not really a ghost story in the same sense as the other material in these books, so I entirely understand why the editor left it out. (Anyway, writing this has prompted me to see if it's available for Kindle: it is, and for zero pence too, so now I have that lined up as a future pleasure.)

This first volume is basically his first two published collections: Ghost Stories of an Antiquary and More Ghost Stories. That meant I'd read all of the first half and most of the second, but I re-read them anyway because a) they're great and b) it helped me to see how his style had evolved over time. Fairly unsurprisingly, all of the stories in this volume are extremely strong, and I knew most of the ones I hadn't read before from various dramatic adaptations. In fact, I think I'm right in saying the only two I didn't know were the last two: 'Martin's Close', in which the central motif of a wronged girl emerging out of a pond to avenge herself reminded me strongly of The Ring, and 'Mr Humphreys and His Inheritance', which I felt was a bit weaker but still made good use of the potential creepiness of 18th-century landscape gardens; topiary, mazes, funerary monuments and all. Best rediscoveries: 'Lost Hearts' (I don't usually get actually scared by tales of the supernatural, but the boy in the bath-tub does elicit a 'pleasing terror'), 'The Mezzotint' (some of the dialogue is absolutely hilarious, especially if you've been to Oxbridge), 'The Ash-Tree' ("something drops off the bed with a soft plump, like a kitten…"), 'Number 13' (really love the interplay between the supernatural goings-on and the protagonist's historical research) and 'The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral' ("There is no kitchen cat"). I also don’t think I had realised before that the opening words of 'Count Magnus', which is essentially a vampire story (though James keeps the details subtle and ambiguous) operate as a direct intertext to Dracula:
Dracula: How these papers have been placed in sequence will be made manifest in the reading of them.
Count Magnus: By what means the papers out of which I have made a connected story came into my hands is the last point which the reader will learn from these pages.

Obviously James makes quite frequent use of the device of 'found papers' presented by an authorial voice, which must have worked particularly well for his original audience of fellow Kings College scholars. But I think the specific wording there, in a vampire story with the word 'Count' in the title, is close enough and obvious enough to be a nod we are invited to notice. As one of the speakers at the conference I went to (I'm 95% sure Ramsey Campbell) noted, 'Count Magnus' has since returned the favour, lending its motif of closed padlocks mysteriously falling from a coffin, whose lid then hinges upwards, to Hammer's The Brides of Dracula (1960).


2. S.T. Joshi, ed. (2006), M.R. James: The Hanted Dolls' House and Other Ghost Stories

This second volume basically contains everything else: the contents of two further volumes published during James' lifetime (A Thin Ghost and Others and A Warning to the Curious) and whatever further stories appeared in magazines etc. towards the end of his life or posthumously. Collectively and on average, they aren't quite on the same level as those in volume 1, but they are all still very much worth reading, and some are very strong: e.g. 'The Residence at Whitminster' (the one about the saw-flies), 'The Diary of Mr. Poynter' ("no feature was discernible, only hair") 'An Episode of Cathedral History' (another vampire story!), 'A View from a Hill' (necromantic binoculars), and of course 'A Warning to the Curious' (aka the Three Crowns). I was perhaps most fascinated by the very last entry, though, 'Twelve Medieval Ghost Stories', which aren't actually by James at all, but are collected in a manuscript originally written at Byland Abbey, Yorkshire. James' role was to notice their existence, transcribe them from the original manuscript, and publish them in The English Historical Review complete with a introduction and annotations. In other words, this is where his lives as a scholar used to working with medieval manuscripts and as an author of ghost stories of his own met. He didn't translate the Latin text himself, but others have since. A class of Latin students have put their translation online along with lots of contextual detail including a picture of the manuscript, and another is provided in this volume. The content of the stories is very different from James'. They are typically about unquiet spirits who appear to ordinary people in ordinary country settings, sometimes changing shape as they do so, and who need to be helped into the afterlife by being absolved of some past sin. James' ghosts are usually far less concrete but far more malevolent, and their appearances far more targeted: generally at people whose past crimes or indecent curiosity need punishing. But still the Yorkshire tales have a very distinct charm all of their own, especially when read in Leeds. I am very grateful to M. R. James for bringing them to the public attention.
strange_complex: (Vampira)
I'm off to the cinema with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan tomorrow, so that's a good incentive to finish off this film review catch-up project first so that I have a clean slate for tomorrow's new entry. The first three of these should always have been reviewed together in the same post anyway, as they were part of a series of Universal Monster Movies which the National Media Museum mounted on Monday nights during October and November.

27. Dracula (1931), dir. Tod Browning
I've reviewed this in excessive detail before, while for us this particular screening came fairly hot on the heels of our own viewing of the parallel Spanish version. But this was my first experience of it on the big screen, and it certainly deserves the detail and grandeur which that ensures - especially for the scenes set in Transylvania, in the darkened garden of Seward's asylum where Dracula lurks, and in his lair in Carfax Abbey. Everything is just beautiful, from the Art Deco bat which supplies the background for the opening credits to the gentle toll of the church bells at the end as Mina and Jon(athan) walk up the curving staircase out of Dracula's crypt. I will never quite be able to come to terms with the opossums running around in Dracula's castle, the piece of paper stuck to Lucy's bedside lamp which was obviously meant to improve the lighting for shots from one angle but was left very obviously in place for shots from the other, or the utter cardboard-cutoutness of Jon(athan) Harker, though.

28. Frankenstein (1931), dir. James Whale
This was the next in Universal's series, and in the National Media Museum's screening schedule. I've seen it before, but a long time ago and never on the big screen. Two main things to say. One, Boris as the creature is amazing. There is a real sensitivity in his performance, successfully conveying a living being with an agency and agenda of its own. His make-up is incredible as well. Forget all the clunky rip-offs and parodies of it you've seen. The original is actually exceptionally detailed and carefully-designed, with the hands and arms to me looking especially convincing as those of a reanimated corpse. Two, the way the human characters treat the creature is downright distressing, and indeed I found the whole moral compass of the film shockingly off-kilter. The biggest problem for me was that the in-story explanation offered for why the creature turns bad is that when Fritz (Frankenstein's assistant) goes to steal a brain for it, he comes back with what is literally labelled on the jar an 'abnormal brain', and which we have heard a medical scientist explaining accounts for the 'brutal and criminal life' which its owner had lived. I know this sort of thinking was rife in the early 20th century, and used to justify a lot of shitty oppression too, but it makes me so angry that I would struggle to overlook it in any circumstances, while in this particular film it anyway utterly destroys the potential moral nuances of the story it is trying to tell. Labelling the creature as an irredeemable criminal before it has even been brought to life quashes all chance of exploring the impact of Frankenstein's thoughtless act on his own creation, and also pre-excuses the appalling behaviour of the humans towards it once it has come to life. In fact, it means there's no real point portraying that behaviour anyway, as the motif of the brain means the creature was always going to 'go bad', however it was treated. So there are half-hearted nods towards exploring the creature's perspective, identifiable in Boris Karloff's performance and the scenes in which the creature is ill-treated, but in the end they have no moral weight because of the pre-destination symbolised by the brain. Meanwhile, the much louder message is the depressingly-simplistic one - "Look, you shouldn't try to play God because your creations will inevitably just be bad and go bad!" At the end, the poor creature dies screaming in agony in a burning mill (again played very affectingly by Boris), and we then just switch straight to the human characters unproblematically celebrating it all with a wedding party. Horrifying, but not in the way intended.

29. The Mummy (1932), dir. Karl Freund
The following week we had The Mummy, which I found much more satisfying. This time, its moral dimension is pretty sound, with some interesting commentary on the ethics of colonial archaeology in particular, and indeed a good understanding of how archaeology works in general (e.g. why simple bits of pottery are often much more important than golden treasures). Just one small complaint on the antiquities front - a priestess of Isis really cannot be described as a Vestal Virgin. 'Vestal' doesn't just mean generically sacred or holy - it means specifically consecrated to Vesta (the clue is in the name). This film boasts an unusually (for the time) autonomous female main character, Helen Grosvenor, who is the daughter of the governor of Sudan but has chosen to live quite independently from her parents in Cairo, expresses disdain for the various men who attempt to court or control her, and indeed ends up destroying the mummy at the end of the film in spite of the fact that she is his reincarnated lover. I've often complained about that particular trope (e.g. here re Blacula 1972), since it consistently strips women of their agency, but here far from it - instead, she actively decides that she doesn't want to be with Imhotep, and uses the resources which are her equivalent to his own magical powers (her connection to Isis, whose priestess she once was) to defeat him. All of this, of course, is pretty easily explained by the fact that story's original author was a woman. Visually, the film keeps up and indeed excels the standards of sets, make-up and costumes from the previous two films, including the wise / clever decision to show Boris in his full mummy make-up only on his first appearance, and after that have him looking more or less like a normal human being, but with a serious skin condition. He gets to speak properly in this film too, using the dialogue to infuse his character with a malevolent charm that I know well from Christopher Lee's roles. His performance is also ably supported by an adorable fluffy white cat - I wonder if he was the first film villain to have one? Finally, I was fascinated to note that in a flash-back sequence where Imhotep shows Helen scenes of their past together in a pool, the images are shot like a silent movie: less crisp than the surrounding footage, no use of close-ups, and the overlay of classic silent-movie style music (in contrast with almost no soundtrack music in main film). Like the white cat, I can't help but feel this must be a cinematic first, as the medium of film was still so new at this time that there can't have been many earlier opportunities to deliberately use the conventions of out-dated film technology to signify 'the past'. Very clever, and very creative.

30. Fear In The Night (1972), dir. Jimmy Sangster
Watched with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan round at her place. It's a Hammer production with Peter Cushing, Ralph Bates and Joan Collins in it, but not one of their horror films - rather, a thriller. That said, it does play heavily on the possibility that there might be something supernatural going on for a long time, which of course Hammer's reputation put them in an excellent position to do. The story is set in the time when it was made, which meant lots of very enjoyable Seventies clothes, cars and street scenes, and revolves around a young woman who is experiencing repeated and very unsettling nocturnal physical attacks. The male characters around her dismiss her experiences as symptomatic of an over-wrought imagination, and for quite a long time it looked like the grain of the story might be leaning in that direction too. I began to get fractious, and [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan had to convince me to stick it out. But then the real truth began to emerge, her experiences were entirely vindicated, and indeed the film proved to be very sympathetic towards those affected by mental health issues - not only the heroine but Peter Cushing's character as well. So a very satisfying watch after all, and I'll definitely want to see it again some time now that I know the 'twist'.

31. Night of the Demon (1957), dir. Jacques Tourneur
Seen with [livejournal.com profile] minnesattva, magister and Andrew Hickey at the National Media Museum as part of a series of ghostly stories screened in the run-up to Christmas. I've seen it on the big screen before, and reviewed the experience. Indeed, I see that I spent a lot of that review discussing how it sits alongside Hammer's horror films, and I had similar responses this time. The importance of the deceased Professor Harrington's diary account in helping the characters figure out what Karswell is up to reminded me a great deal of how Jonathan Harker's diary functions in Hammer's Dracula (and in neither case comes from the source text), while the way Karswell turns on and mocks his own mother also reminded me of the relationship between the Baron Meinster and his mother in Brides of Dracula. Since both of those films were made after this (though only just in the case of Dracula), the direction of influence would go from here to Hammer, but that's entirely typical of how they worked - soaking up contemporary stories and conventions and building them into their own productions. Meanwhile, Andrew noted that by making John Holden a sceptical outsider literally flying into an island full of superstitious believers in the supernatural, the story also had quite a Wicker Mannish feel. It is, of course, all quite a long way from M.R. James' original, but I am reconciled to that, especially on a second viewing. In and of itself it is a great movie which deserves to be regularly rescreened.

32. Rogue One (2016), dir. Gareth Edwards
And my last film of 2016, which I saw with Mr. and Mrs. [twitter.com profile] ZeitgeistZero. It was in fact my first experience of seeing a film on an IMAX screen, as well as being a 3D screening, so it was all pretty impressive and mind-blowing both visually and aurally. The story was great, and I've enjoyed all the fantastically detailed articles about its world which have appeared since, like this one about data storage standards and this one about archaeology. Three cheers for stories which inspire that kind of fan-work! It's true that it could have had more women in it, and let's keep demanding the best on that front, but it was certainly epically better for women than any of episodes I-VI, as well as being impressive on ethnicity and disability, so let's also cheer the direction of travel. Much discussion has also been prompted by its use of CGI to recreate characters from the original trilogy, but I'm afraid I found this only technically impressive. Peter Cushing's recreated face was pretty good, but of course CGI cannot capture the unique humanness of a real person's performance - indeed, even a very convincing impression will only ever be a pastiche, missing the unpredictability of the original person. Most strikingly, the voice wasn't his at all, and since that was always such a central part of what Peter Cushing had to offer, its absence was bound to disappoint. Leia I found less problematic, partly because her face was only on-screen for a few seconds, and partly because they had been able to use an old clip of Carrie Fisher's voice from the time - but of course it was also rather heart-breaking to see her at all so soon after Carrie's sad death. Meanwhile, Darth Vader of course did not need CGI to return to our screens, and it was fabulous fun to see him in full-on evil action again. That said though, part of the power and fascination of Darth Vader in the original films is discovering slowly and with increasing horror just what he is willing and capable of doing. (Even if you have seen the films before, the reactions of the characters within the story lead you through the process of discovering this all over again.) Here, he pretty much launched straight into evil machinations and force-choking, leaving no room for the suspenseful frisson of gradual discovery from the earlier films. Still, I guess that reflects the reality of a modern audience's expectations - you simply can't keep redoing the suspense if they're just going to be sitting their with their pop-corn going "Yeah, we know he's evil - cut to the chase!" It's just a pity Darth's character-development won't ever really work now if the films are viewed in story order - but then I guess that was already ruined fifteen years ago by the whole prequel sequence giving away his relationship to Luke.

OK, I am up to date on my film reviews! Now just gotta do the same for books... and Doctor Who... :-(

Click here if you would like view this entry in light text on a dark background.

strange_complex: (Lee as M.R. James)
It seems an awfully long time ago now since the Hammer horror / M.R. James weekend which I began writing up in this post, but I do still want to record the rest of it, as it really was spectacularly awesome.

In my previous post, I wrote up individual reviews for the three Hammer films which we saw at the Media Museum, but I also wanted to note down a few thoughts on the experience of watching all three together over the course of a single weekend )

Anyway, the course did not end with the third film, but culminated instead with a trip down to the Media Museum's archives to see the most relevant items from their Hammer special effects make-up collection, acquired from the estate of Roy Ashton (but also including material used by his mentor and colleague, Phil Leakey). I saw some of this material in 2012 during a Fantastic Films Weekend, but on that occasion it was all on display in glass cases, and my mobile phone camera at the time was definitely not as good as the one I have now. So this time I was able to see the material at a much closer range, including getting to see inside the exciting tins with labels reading 'vampire bites', 'eye pouches' etc., rather than just seeing them from the outside, and I was also able to get rather better photos )

The importance of not touching any of the material was, of course, strongly impressed upon us, resulting in some of us having to carefully hold our hands behind our backs to stave off our all-too-natural urges - especially where Dracula's lovely shiny curving fangs were concerned. And then of course there was general banter around the fact that 56 years earlier those very fangs had been in Christopher Lee's mouth, and there was probably enough biological material left on them to clone him. And somehow on the bus back to Leeds and during our walk into deepest Holbeck in search of M.R. James stories, this turned into a film script entitled Touch the Teeth of Dracula, which would involve some poor innocent soul succumbing to the urge to reach out and touch the fangs, and pulling their finger away with a shock to find it bleeding profusely, and the Count himself taking over their body and being reincarnated in 21st-century Bradford.

miss_s_b and I would then start fighting over him, and somehow (presumably after a thrilling coach chase to the Carpathian mountains) it would all end up with a fight to the death on the battlements of his castle, by the end of which we would both be on fire, and one of us would do Christopher Lee Death Pose Number 1 (falling forward) while the other did Christopher Lee Death Pose Number 2 (falling backwards), so that we tumbled in opposite directions to our doom. It was one of those classically geeky conversations where everyone is madly chucking in ideas, and no-one is quite sure where any of it came from, and all of it is completely ridiculous but somehow the sum total of it adds up to a thing of genius. I love those conversations - and the people I have them with.

All the while, we were traversing a landscape of Victorian industrial chimneys rumoured to have inspired Tolkien's Two Towers, moving steadily further from the traffic and lights of Leeds city centre and penetrating deeper into a domain of crumbling warehouses, cobbled side-streets and eventually open urban scrub waste-land. Catching up with a huddle of people ahead of us wearing long coats and wide-brimmed hats, we confirmed that we were indeed on the right course for the Holbeck Underground Ballroom, which was frankly welcome news as we started to pass work-yards populated with barking dogs and burly-looking men stoking oil-drum braziers. But the journey was well worth it. Inside, we found cheerful people serving wine in chipped white mugs for £1 a pop, free hot water-bottles to make up for the lack of central heating, and a room furnished with tatty sofas, drapes and various antique nick-nacks to mill around in while we waited for the show.

Eventually, we were ushered into the main performance space to snuggle up together on creaking sofas veiled in fabric throws, and watch Robert Lloyd Parry bringing M.R. James to life )

Click here if you would like view this entry in light text on a dark background.

strange_complex: (Lee as M.R. James)
This was the second film we saw at the Manchester double-bill evening, following after Dracula. It was a good pairing, actually. I hadn't realised until I looked it up just now how close together the two films were made (just a year apart, with this one the earlier), and the difference in style really brings home how innovative Hammer's films were in this period in a way that might otherwise be difficult to notice from a distance of fifty-five years.

While Hammer embraced full technicolor, building a rich world of draperies, gowns and Kensington gore, Night of the Demon is in black and white. It's crisp, beautiful black and white, making enviable use of shadows, contrasts and highlights, but it means that visually it looks more as though it should sit alongside Universal's horror output from the 1930s - and the effect is highlighted by having an American as the central character. Though it is based on an M.R. James story first published in 1911, and could thus very legitimately have made use of a period setting, the film is actually set in the present day - again a characteristic of pre-war American horror adaptations (Universal's Dracula and Frankenstein are both set in 1931), which Hammer was just at this moment definitively rejecting in favour of an almost fairy-tale style Gothic aesthetic.

I don't mean to criticise Night of the Demon for any of this. Horror movies were changing, and I suspect it would have looked pretty dated already within about five years of its release in a way that Dracula did not. But it's nonetheless a very compelling story, with some beautiful visuals and some great scary moments. I particularly enjoyed the violent wind-storm which Karswell (the black magician who is the villain of the piece) calls up in order to demonstrate his power to Holden (the American scientifically-minded psychiatrist who becomes his antagonist), as well as a scene in which Karswell's cat turns into a much bigger animal and attacks Holden after he has broken into his house at night. The horror of the latter is all suggested by half-seen close-ups and big shadows, and reminded me strongly of The Cat People - as well it might, given that it is by the same director.

Rather less subtle is the titular demon, which the lore has it Tourneur did not wish to depict literally on screen, but was inserted nevertheless in full-blown animatronic form at the insistence of the producer, Hal E. Chester. Aesthetically, I think Tourneur was right about that, and, as the scene with the cat shows, he certainly had the necessary skills to suggest the demon effectively without ever showing it. Probably the best approach would have been to show a half-formed shadowy face in the smoke (easily done using hand-drawn animation) - enough to show that the demon was real, but not enough to reveal it as a model. But I also think Chester probably had a good sense of what audiences of the day demanded, and again the pairing of this film with Hammer's Dracula helps to make it clear. Hammer was putting dripping fangs and disintegrating vampires right there on the screen, and others needed to compete.

Click here if you would like view this entry in light text on a dark background.

Profile

strange_complex: (Default)
strange_complex

October 2017

M T W T F S S
      1
2345678
910111213 14 15
16171819 2021 22
23242526272829
3031     

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Tuesday, 24 October 2017 00:21
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios