The Creeping Flesh

The Creeping Flesh, 1973, dir. Freddie Francis. Watched on YouTube so you don’t have to.

I’m way overdue for my Cushing fix. What it is about Peter Cushing, I don’t know. That what-do-you-think-of-my-specimen smile. Those come-to-crypt eyes. The fashion aesthetic of a mortician on anti-depressants. I’ve never seen anyone who can stir a cup of tea with more repressed loathing.

Whenever I hear politicians talking about ‘austerity’, it eases the pain just a little by imagining it said by Peter Cushing. Au-stereh-teh. Which I will explain to you further in the lye-breh-reh.

(BTW – I’m not going to add the frame numbers in this piece. Really because it depends what version of the film you watch on YouTube. A lot of the numbers will be adverts, so they might not match up. It’ll still follow the action sequentially, so you’ll get an idea of how the film goes along. Plus it saves me a bit of time, and anyway – I’m not sure how many people reading this use them. If you want me to put them back in for other film reviews, let me know.)

So with all that in mind, it’s headphones on, mug of tea to the right, fingers on the keyboard and here… we…. go!

Opens with a table of assorted bones, then an artist working on the kind of violent painting you’d say ‘Wow – so vibrant – and I LOVE what you’ve done with the teeth…’ but then call social services the moment you were clear of the house. The music doesn’t help, either – written by a horror muso with a migraine.

As the camera pans into a close-up of the painted ghoul’s face, you get the credits in a kind of bunco booth yellow font. Christopher Lee. Peter Cushing…Lorna Heilbron… IN…. A Lovely Day by the Sea. Just kidding. THE CREEPING FLESH!

For the technical credits the music softens and gets more swirly, poignant. Maybe they didn’t get paid. Camera pans into an image of a woman in a white nightgown fleeing from peril. And that’s absolutely what I look like every night when I go upstairs to bed.

Favourite name of the cast list: Oswald Hafenrichter. I don’t know why.

Credits end with a close-up of the painted monster’s face – bloody claw up to a raging, fangy mouth. Which is me when I eat a salad and find out too late it’s got beetroot in it.

… and so into the film…

Turns out, Peter Cushing is the artist doing this erm….interesting piece of work. Someone knocks. Maybe it’s his therapist.

Peter Cushing is a Professor. Of bones, I’m guessing. Poor Peter. It looks like they couldn’t afford Makeup and Wardrobe so they just sent him to the local party hire shop and told him to ask for a professor outfit – pince-nez, bow tie, chalk for the hair. We’ll call him the Prof, because it’s short and honestly what else do you need?

‘I must talk to somebody,’ says the Prof to the new guy. ‘Nobody will listen to me. I must have help with my researches.’
(Researches? Not a Professor of English, then)
‘I MUST have a qualified doctor to assist me,’ says the Prof. ‘You ARE a qualified doctor? I ASKED for a qualified doctor?’
It’s all about the qualifications with the Prof. Although, to be fair, if I was being seen by a doctor I’d prefer they were qualified. Or at least insured.
BTW – you can tell the Prof is a serious man of science – because apart from the chalky hair you can see a skull, a beaker and a microscope on his desk.
‘My work is of the utmost importance for the survival of the human race’ says the Prof. ‘Do you believe in evil…?’
The Prof paces around behind his desk. There are stuffed monkeys behind him, in oddly casual attitudes, like they’re hanging out in a sports bar or something.

The Prof puts a slide on the microscope and invites the doctor to look. The essence of evil, says the Prof. The doctor looks at him as if he’s crazy. And also like he’d rather be wearing a mask and gloves at this point.

The Prof goes into a rant about how no one listens, we’re all doomed yaddah yaddah – all the while waving the slide with all the evil on it around. They’re certainly doomed in THAT particular facility, you’d have to think.

‘I am a scientist, not a madman!’ says the Prof, slamming down a folder of crazy stuff. O-kay.

Suddenly the film lurches into flashback, the film proper, I’d guess. Highly colourized, with the Prof giving the voiceover:

‘Three years ago I’d just returned from New Guinea where I’d been searching for the remains of primitive man…’
(insert cheap joke here about the place you live, local pub etc…)

He’d brought back a complete skeleton, to revolutionise evolutionary theory. Which beats a fridge magnet.

BTW – I should’ve said – this is all set in the nineteenth century. So everyone’s in hooped skirts, capes or undersized bowler hats. The cart driver’s in white leggings, for some reason. Maybe that was the highway code back then. Even the horses are in spats.

A woman in a flouncy dress runs down the stairs of the house with one hand on the handrail shouting Emily! Emily! It’s Father! He’s back!’

The Prof capes in and hugs Penelope. ‘My dear, dear child!’ he says, checking her hair for nits maybe. ‘Everything the same! How are you Martha?’ he says to Martha, the maid. (I thought it was Emily?) Martha looks like death. I would too if everyone kept getting my name wrong.

Penelope corrects him. Martha loosens up a little. Like a glacier calving an iceberg.

‘Waterlow! My old friend…!’ says the Prof to an old man in a white lab coat. Waterlow shakes his hand and says it’s all just in time because he was concluding the experiment the Prof instructed and other expositional stuff it says in the script but I’m too exhausted by all these new characters to take in.

Two geezers in tiny bowlers (or maybe their heads are oversized) struggle in with a huge crate and almost take the door frame with them. The crate’s covered with stickers: Fragile! Handle with Care! etc. Nasty ‘Orrible Monster – This Way Up! and so on.
‘Take it through to the laboratory’ says the Prof.
NOTE: Peter Cushing says ‘laboratory’ in the same, beautifully crafted way he says ‘library’.
Leh-borra-treh. Take it through to the leh-borra-treh. If you would. Thenk yuh.

In the leh-borra-treh the two geezers make a huge fuss of manoeuvring the crate into position, whilst in the foreground a stuffed monkey socialises with a skeleton. Saying something like:
‘He’s back, you know.’
‘Yes, Nigel. All rather distressing’
‘One’s peaceful nights in with Waterlow will be somewhat compromised.’
‘I agree with you there, Nigel. Absolutely.’

One of the geezers tries to score a tip, but the Prof is too busy getting excited about his specimen and how he’ll enter it for the Richter Prize and everything, waving his crowbar around in a flamboyant and Health & Safety breachy kinda way. So the geezer rolls his eyes and the two of them leave (the geezers, not the eyes).

Amazingly, the camera follows the two geezers out of the house.
‘Old skinflint!’ says one, which I suppose was pretty strong for 1973.

In the lobby, Penelope gives them a tip, which the main geezer spits on and says thankyou. (A cute custom, but makes you want to wear surgical gloves when handling change from now on).

Penelope tells Martha that once the Prof gets in his leh-borra-treh there won’t be any teasing him out. There are sounds of splintering wood from in there, which is either the Prof levering open the case or Waterlow escaping through the window.

Cut to: The Thing What Was In The Crate.

‘Fantastic, isn’t it?’ gabbles the Prof.
Waterlow’s so horrified his pince-nez falls off – which is PRETTY horrified, I can tell you.
It’s a big, ‘ornery, ‘orrible looking skellington, with an expression on its misshapen head like me when I’m trying to figure out where to put the rinse aid in the washing machine.

The Prof does a compare and contrast, holding a primitive man’s skull with his new exhibit. They make a lovely couple. Like Boris and Carrie Johnson.

Meanwhile, Penelope is waiting upstairs in the breakfast room.
‘You may inform my father that breakfast is ready,’ says Penelope, so warmly and brightly you just know she’s doomed.
‘Yes, m’lady,’ says Martha. Or Emily. Or whatever.

Cut to the leh-borra-treh. The Prof is taking measurements. From this angle it looks like the specimen is wearing a cycle helmet.

The Prof says he’s too busy for breakfast.

Martha / Emily goes back to tell Penelope (at least it’s good exercise). ‘Very well. Perhaps you’d ask him again in a few minutes.’
Judging by the breakfast table, it looks like they’re only having toast, pepper and salt. Maybe some wax fruit.

Back in the leh-borra-treh, the Prof says his specimen proves there was intelligent life far earlier than previously thought. Although the two geezers delivering the crate could’ve told him that.

Martha / Emily comes back in to say Penelope has expressly asked for him to join her for breakfast. And if you could distil the look on Martha / Emily’s face you could dip an arrow in it and bring down a rhino. So he pats Waterlow on the shoulder and heads up. (Waterlow stopped off at Pret on his way in. He knows what the breakfasts are like in this place).

They chat. Penelope says she had to dismiss two of the servants whilst he was away because they’re running out of money. The Prof says his new discovery means they’ll soon be in easy street (I’m paraphrasing). And maybe Penelope should get out more. Penelope doesn’t look quite so thrilled to have her father back and furiously butters a letter.

Meanwhile the Prof goes through his mail. One letter is from Christopher Lee (playing Dr James Hildern). He writes to inform the Prof that his wife passed away (the Prof’s wife, not Dr H’s). Needless to say, he hasn’t told Penelope (shrug – it’s only her mother – she’d only fret).

The heading on the letter reads: The Heldern Institute for Mental Disorders.

Cut to: a horse and carriage pitching up to a gothic pile with a sign outside that reads: The Heldern Institute for Mental Disorders.

Dr H and the Prof wander through the corridors.
‘We must treat your wife’s death as a merciful release for you both,’ says Dr H.
‘…. I do not believe Penelope to be disturbed by any of this because she has believed her mother to be dead for many years,’ says the Prof, helpfully.

Turns out, the reason the Prof didn’t tell Penelope about her mother is because he was worried the mental thing might be hereditary. Dr H says all will be revealed when he publishes his manuscript – something he aims to enter for the Richter prize! The Prof starts! They’ll be competing for the same prize! (Although my money’s on the skeletong).

Also – we learn that Dr H is the Prof’s half-brother! With a full-sized chip on his shoulder. Dr H says he’s no longer willing to bankroll the Prof’s scientific explorations to expensive locations. Good day to you.

On the way out the Prof sees a patient having electric shock therapy and not enjoying it over much. Mind you, it was either 4000 volts or having to watch this film on a loop, so…
The Prof looks concerned, fondles his hat. The technician gets a big needle – then slams the door shut in the Prof’s face.

A warden rushes past with a big bunch of keys.
‘Lenny’s escaped, sir!’
‘Escaped?’ says Dr H.
Alarms sound. Doors are bolted. I take from all this Lenny isn’t an easy character.
The Prof leaves in his carriage, wondering why he hadn’t checked the place out more thoroughly before sending his wife there. The brochures made it seem more bougie. It got five stars on Gothic Asylum Advisor.

Back at the house the Prof finds Penelope reading a romance magazine. You can tell, because it’s got the word ROMANCE in big letters on the front. Which is helpful, and stops you buying it if you were after CYCLE MECHANICS. The Prof doesn’t approve of such literature. Penelope says she found it on the shelf – one of mother’s secret stash. Under a box of BDSM equipment.

‘I love you Father – but I MUST know about Mother’ says Penelope.
‘I do what is best – for BOTH of us’ says the Prof. Hmm.

He goes into the leh-borra-treh. He’d rather hang out with a skilitin than his daughter.

We hear a rumble of thunder – then get an odd close up of the skoloton’s teeth. This is why I could never be a dentist. Teeth always look horrible, even after flossing.

The Prof holds the skillitong’s hand, then goes to get a bowl of water. For some reason. No idea. I flunked biology.

Another rumble of thunder. Another mental dental close-up. What’s going to happen? Braces?

The Prof puts the bowl of water on the bench and begins cleaning the skoloting’s hand. It’s a tender moment.

But wait! The water has started to change the hand! This is not your average skimpington! This is more like a desiccated body!

The Prof puts his glasses on. His own glasses – not the glasses belonging to the skillimpton. I don’t think they had glasses back in the stone age. Or if they did they were too heavy.

Suddenly the scrimptinton has an actual finger!

The Prof thinks about it. Then gets a chisel and lops the finger off. The fingers starts wiggling’ and a-jigglin’ about. All in all, quite a moment in the leh-borra-treh.

Cut to: Dr H back in his own leh-borra-treh – which looks quite like the Prof’s except without monkeys. He’s looking at a brain in a bath of gloop and thinking about mental stuff. He’s actually got a heart in another bottle. Everything linked up by tubes and making bubbly, gooply noises. An arm in a tank, giving him the finger. But science was always difficult.

Down in the basement the inmates go nuts in their cells. Improvising topline dialogue. Dr H isn’t impressed. He asks the jailer for the keys so he can see how Lenny escaped.
‘D’you think that’s wise, sir?’ says the jailer.
‘Give me the keys,’ says Dr H.
Meanwhile, we see that one of the inmates has forced his door open and then closes it again in a sly way – so, no – probably NOT wise. But the jailer gives Dr H a spud gun, so he’ll be okay.

Dr H walks down the corridor with all the inmates reaching for him. He doesn’t respond, as cool and dispassionate as a doctor with a spud gun.

The inmate sneaks up on Dr H and grabs the keys. Dr H shoots him with the spud gun. Blam! Blam!
‘You should’ve used this on Lenny!’ he says to the Jailer. ‘Let’s hope we find him before he goes berserk again.’

Cut to: Waterlow getting the daily paper. Headline: ‘Dangerous Lunatic Escapes’. Then another shot of a line of police officers with long sticks and dogs (the dogs aren’t long, just the sticks), going through the woods. More topline impro: Over here! Mind those trees! Careful now… etc

Then – down in a cellar somewhere – a sack wriggles and Lenny emerges – like a lovely, big, lunatic moth. In a suit. He doesn’t look too bad. I’m Team Lenny now.

Cut to: Waterlow saying ‘Oh dear’ in the leh-borra-treh, cleaning up the bowl of bloody water and wondering about the skellotim with the missing digit. He wipes the skoloting’s head and thinks it a bit dusty, so he runs some water to clean it. Oh, no, Waterlow…

The Prof rushes in. ‘Noooo!’ he screams, and knocks the bowl out of Waterlow’s hands.

‘I was only trying to clean it, Professor,’ says Waterlow.
‘Hurry!’ says the Prof, dabbing the bench with Victorian kitchen towel. ‘The water mustn’t touch it.’

Meanwhile, back at Dr H’s Asylum for Overacting Extras, a police inspector is addressing the good doctor.
‘There’s no trace of this loony man in the local area,’ he says, empathetically. ‘He might have headed for London…’ (they so often do). ‘Can we have a better description?’

Dr H gives him a photo – the kind actors use for auditions. I’d hire Lenny, that’s for sure. Go Lenny!

Cut to: The Prof urgently sorting through his books. Looking for one called ‘How to Reconstitute ‘Orrible Skilingtins’ maybe? No – it’s actually The Folklore of the New Guinea Primitives’. My bad.

Meanwhile, Waterlow is examining the finger with a magnifying glass – like he’s been served a dodgy saveloy.

The Prof sends him off to the lye-bruh-reh to fetch the volume. Penelope’s there, wasting time on romantic TikToks or something.

Penelope tricks Waterlow into giving her the keys. It doesn’t look that difficult to trick Waterlow, to be fair.

Penelope’s starting to look more like her mother every day.

Back in the leh-borra-treh, the Prof sits on the arm of a chair (he can’t sit IN the chair because it’s got a monkey in it – which may or may not be Nigel), settling down to read Waterlow some stuff about the Folklore of the New Guinea Primitives. It seems to show that if the skolotin gets wet it’ll come back to life and carry on with its evil nonsense on earth.

The Prof seems to think this will give him immense power, for some reason. If he can control the monster he can do some good. Abolish evil forever. Make a new paradise. Waterlow’s not convinced, neither is Nigel and – for the record – neither am I.

Cut to: Penelope creeping about with the keys she nicked off Waterlow.

Cut to: Waterlow slicing up the saveloy and the Prof examining its blood under a microscope. He sees spidery things moving about – which seems significant, because normally you’d only see not very much.

The Prof mixes a sample of his blood with a sample of the skollotin’s blood. The spidery things chase the normal cells around in a mean kinda way. The Prof looks concerned.

Meanwhile, Penelope is heading to her mother’s room – the room she was forbidden to go in.

The Prof dictates to Waterlow some guff about evil and so on. How it might be possible to immunise people against evil. He wants to trial the serum on a living monkey, which the living monkey doesn’t look too thrilled about.

Penelope lets herself into her mother’s room. Lots of nice posters of the Folie Bergere. Dancing shoes and such. Her mum seemed fun. Funner than the Prof, I’d say. He was definitely punching above his weight. Maybe when they say ‘lunatic’ what they really mean is ‘liking the theatre’. But fair point.

Back in the leh-borra-treh, Waterlow extracts more saveloy juice and gets ready to make some anti-evil serum.

Penelope is busy going through her mother’s things. Sniffing her dresses. Fondling her merkins.

Back in the leh-borra-treh, the serum’s ready. The live monkey is just finishing off a baguette, but suddenly doesn’t like the look of how the afternoon’s going as Waterlow screws a syringe together.

The Prof injects the monkey, then looks at his watch (the Prof’s watch, not the monkey’s).

Penelope is playing with her mother’s toy theatre, making childlike, dah-dah-dee noises and moving the characters around – a bit like Freddie Francis in this hokey pile o’crap. But then she notices a newspaper next to the toy theatre, with a headline saying Famous Parisian Music Hall Artiste Committed to Asylum. Which puts a damper on things.

Back in the leh-borra-treh, on the monkey cam: current status, sleeping. The Prof looks at some more slides and concludes the serum is a success. He can inoculate people against evil! He shakes hands with Waterlow and they go to bed. Separately. Waterlow’s nice but not that nice.

There’s a storm outside. Thunder and so on. The camera pans along the skoloting. The sleeping monkey starts to twitch.

The Prof hears his wife’s piano playing – and knows Penelope has found the room! When he goes up there he finds Penelope in his wife’s dress playing something mournful, her hair all Asylum chic. The Prof has a go at Penelope for breaking in; Penelope has a go at him for not telling her the truth about her mother. It’s all very domestic. The Prof cries. Penelope rushes out. The Prof slumps down at the piano. Dries his tears on a merkin.

Flashback! The Prof’s wife Marguerite dancing lasciviously at the theatre whilst drunk guys leer down at her. When she goes back to her dressing room the Prof is waiting, looking very chilly. Then we see a montage of Marguerite seeing lots of other guys. Dancing on tables. Getting more wanton and out of control – until we see her playing crazy piano in her room and looking confused, her image distorted in a mirror… at which point she’s dragged off to the asylum.

‘No!’ says the Prof. ‘I won’t let this happen to Penelope!’
He rushes down to the leh-borra-treh to grab some serum.

He injects Penelope, who was in bed expecting Horlicks.

The monkey wakes up and screams.

Cut to: Lenny looking through the window of a pub. He goes in, assaults a woman, starts a fight, busts up the joint. Oh, Lenny! This is basically the curse of anyone called Lenny.

The police arrive after it’s all over (nothing new there). Arrest some sailors, I expect. The owner identifies Lenny. ‘That’s him! The big bald moth in a suit!’ (paraphrasing)

The police leave. The case is shaping up nicely.

Back to the leh-borra-treh. Waterlow has found something awful there and calls the Prof down. The monkey has broken out of the cage, smashed the place up, then died. Basically done a Lenny. (Except the dying bit. That was the monkey’s idea.)
‘The serum!’ says Waterlow. ‘Thank god we didn’t use it on a human being!’
The Prof looks worried.

Cut to: Penelope out in the local market. She’s wearing a vampy red dress and looking happier than ever. Maybe the serum is slow acting. You’d have to ask the monkey.

We see Lenny coming out of a warehouse, which fits him better than his suit.
At a push I’d say Lenny’s overall look was less Crazy Giant Moth and more Psychotic Baked Bean.

The police inspector is visiting Dr H again.
‘We’ve traced Lenny to the East End of London,’ he says. ‘Due to his violent nature, I can’t guarantee to bring him back alive.’
‘Just bring him back,’ says Dr H.

Meanwhile, Penelope sees some sailors going into a pub called The Blue Anchor. Looks like a fun place. Hurdy gurdy. Cor blimey. In she goes.

Actually, this is the same pub Lenny smashed up about a minute ago, so they’ve done well to get it back looking this crappy.

Penelope has come out without any money – but there’s a creepy gentleman prepared to pay for her drinks. He looks like he was heading for a wedding five years ago and got sidetracked.

The Prof is touring the streets in a hansom cab, looking for Penelope.

Actually, she’s in the Blue Anchor being accosted by the creepy gentleman who strokes her thigh and says ‘Having a good evening, eh?’ He takes her upstairs. She rakes his face with her nails. He goes back down again.

The Inspector arrives outside the Blue Anchor. He never seems to have any time off.

Penelops goes down into the bar and starts dancing wildly, like what her mum used to do. When a sailor grabs her she smashes a bottle and stabs him in the neck. (Which is probably an average night out for a sailor – especially in the Blue Anchor). Penelope runs out of the pub.

Suddenly she’s being chased by half of East London. Whistles and everything. I’m surprised they don’t have pitchforks and flaming torches.

Penelope dodges into a warehouse – the same one Lenny’s been sleeping in.

She backs away into a corner. Lenny’s hand comes out to grab her.

The villagers – I mean, the Londoners – are busy trying to break the warehouse door down just as the Prof arrives in the hansom cab.

Lenny drags Penelope upstairs. They go to the top of the warehouse. When Lenny looks out of a window to glare down at the villagers she whacks him with a plank and he falls out. Nooo!

The police rush in, arrest her and cart her away in manacles. Which isn’t a great look.

She gets taken to Dr H’s Asylum. Down in Dr H’s lab, technicians are experimenting on the effects of disco lighting on rats.
‘Any results?’ says Dr H.
‘No apparent reaction,’ says the tech. ‘A little funky chicken perhaps. The robot. Nothing really. It’s impossible to tell whether these lights have any effect at all…’

Another technician gives Dr H a blood sample from a woman who was just brought in.
He looks at it through the microscope and sees all the ‘orrible spidery things.

Dr H takes Penelope in a cab with her hands manacled. He delivers her to the Prof’s house, and tells Martha / Emily to take her upstairs and keep her under constant supervision. Which Martha / Emily isn’t thrilled about. But I can’t imagine Martha / Emily being thrilled about anything. Maybe a house fire.

Dr H goes into the leh-borra-treh. Finds the skulleton. Looks through the microscope. Sees more of the ‘orrible spidery things. Reads the Prof’s notes. The Prof comes in and demands Dr H leaves. Dr H says he could ruin the Prof if he let it be known he’d experimented on his own family. Although maybe it’d backfire and he’d win the Richter Prize instead.

Back at the Asylum, Dr H decides to steal the skellutun, because he thinks there’s something fishy about it that the Prof’s keeping quiet. He employs a ne’er do well on a freelance ne’er do well contract to ne’er do well and get the bones.

Waterlow disturbs the bone burglar and gets done in good n’proper.

As the bone burglar carries the skollingdon outside, it drags its hand in a water trough. Plus it sounds like rain. Reconstituting tonight!

How they’re going to fit the skelligtun into the tiny cab is another question altogether. Although I suppose skenglingtons fold up in the middle pretty good. Like a person, basically.

The Prof sees Dr H ride off.

The skeggiton is sitting next to Dr H in the cab. Looks pretty happy about it. Could murder a coffee. But a day out in a storm has got to be good.

The Prof saddles up a horse, slams it into first gear and hurries out.

There now follows a thrilling horse / cab chase. With capes. In the rain. And the picture quality is so poor on this laptop it’s like trying to make out carp in a muddy pond.

The skoggington’s hand is reconstituting! Dr H is oblivious.

The cab hits a rock and tips over, crushing the cabbie. Meanwhile, the skogington gets soaked in the rain…starts to bulk up…

Dr H tells the squashed cabbie he’ll get help from the Asylum – because in this film everything is conveniently near everything else. The slokingingon climbs out of the cab.

The Prof finally catches up with the crashed cab. Finds the squashed cabbie. Sees a cloaked figure coming towards him. Rides off again.

The rescue party from the Asylum arrives at the crash site. Take turns looking at the squashed cabbie and trying not to vomit. Set off to find the skoingingong.

The Prof arrives back home and locks all the doors. Picks up the saveloy and tosses it in the fire.

Later that night – an owl hoots. It’s what they do.

The Prof sprints up the stairs to see Penelope. Goes up to Marguerite’s room instead.

In Penelope’s room, Martha / Emily is asleep. Penelope takes the manacles and stranacles her. That really was NOT a good working environment for her.

Meanwhile, the shadow of the beast falls across the outside of the house. Walks up to the front door (maybe I’m wrong – maybe it’s Deliveroo). Reaches out and flips the knocker. Which is not something you’d expect the missing link to know how to do, but maybe knockers are instinctive.

Penelope runs downstairs. Lets the skollingbon in. For some reason it ignores her and heads through to the leh-borra-treh. Starts smashing it up. Penelope goes outside and starts dancing.

The Prof goes out onto the landing and looks down. Sees the maxibon coming up the stairs. Hurries back into the bedroom and locks the door. The skelibonmax starts forcing the door. For some reason the Prof changes his mind and lets him in. (For the love of God WHY?) It advances on the Prof in a breathy and ‘orrible way. You see its face – like cooked shrimp on a soggy pastry base. It tears off one of the Prof’s fingers. Could’ve been worse.

Dr H arrives at the Prof’s house. Sees Penelope dancing on the lawns. Goes inside and finds the Prof crying at his dead wife’s piano. Looks down at him with an expression like: how’m I gonna sort THIS shit out?

And so we’re back to where the film started – the Prof hiring the fully qualified Doctor to help him in his quest to cure evil….

But ….

turns out….

…the Prof is NOT in his own lab, but in a mock up put together in Dr H’s asylum. The doctor locks the cell and then walks on with Dr H – who tells him the whole thing’s a fantasy. The Prof even believes that Penelope is his daughter (she’s dancing in a nearby cell).

‘How long’s he been here?’ says the doctor.
‘Oh – three years, I think,’ says Dr H. ‘The year I won the Richter Prize!’

The Prof sinks to his knees behind the bars. Reaches out to grab them. He’s MISSING A FINGER!

And that’s it!

The End.

So what’ve we learned?

  1. Don’t be tempted to try the Blue Anchor. It’s lively but trouble.
  2. When you’ve finished looking into a microscope, it’s important to come back up slowly with a stunned expression like you’ve just discovered something stupendous. Every… single … time.
  3. Don’t take your skegginton out in the rain if you can help it. It’s not a good look.
  4. It’s tough to make a living in the theatre so it definitely helps if you’re insane
  5. Romance magazines. You know what’s in ‘em.

The Brain Eaters

The Brain Eaters, 1958. Dir. Bruno VeSota. Watched on YouTube so you don’t have to.

It’s a perfect day for a film like The Brain Eaters. I’m so whacked out on cold meds it feels like my brains have not only been eaten but chewed up like bubblegum then stuck under the desk. So I apologise in advance if there’s a slightly feverish quality to the commentary today, and only ask that you keep a little distance and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.

Before we start, I just wanted to draw your attention to something I found out about the film on Wiki. Apparently the novelist Robert A. Heinlein sued for plagiarism because he thought it followed the plot of his novel The Puppet Masters. He wanted $150,000, but settled out of court for $5,000 instead. He also said he didn’t want a credit because he found the film “wanting”. None of which augurs well.

But in the cause of high adventure and 50s sci-fi, I’m sufficiently okay / all systems ready as I hope you are, too. So snap on those headphones, take another slurp of coffee, and here…we….GO!

00:10 An American high street at night. A shadowy figure limps past a shop. Who is he? Don’t know. Where’d he get the limp? Don’t know. How long’s he been walking? A long time – that’s why he’s limping. Look, can you just stop with all the questions? What do you want – a voiceover?

Voiceover: ‘A few weeks ago, Riverdale, Illinois was just another quiet, small town… then shortly after midnight, a living nightmare began…’

00:20 The limping figure walks right into a guy carrying a glowing globe, smashing it. The guy is furious. He probably only takes his globe out at night to avoid shit like this. He grabs limping figure and slams him against the wall. Whilst he’s roughing him up, the liquid from the globe seeps under the wall, making a spooky hissing noise (the liquid’s doing the spooky hissing, not the wall).

00:50 Title sequence. An abstract, tearing animation pulling left and right to reveal … THE BRAIN EATERS! Actors names over more abstract art – which I suppose IS kind of brain-like, especially if you’ve got a tearing headache. And if you DO, this mad, violin-roughing-up-a-piccolo soundtrack will NOT help.

01:16 An early acting role for Leonard Nimoy. Except spelled differently. (NOTE: Spelled. Not Spelt. Spelt is a kind of flour).

01:42 Favourite name? Tom Jonson. But only because I have a friend called Tom Johnson. Except spelt differently.

01:57 So now we’re into it. A sports car driving along a sunny road. Nice. Eating miles (not brains – YET).

02:07 Voiceover man again. His tone is a little peeved, like they had to lean on him to do it. Voiceover man explains that he was returning from a trip to see his fiance’s family in the country or something. He sounds pretty ticked off. Doesn’t bode well for the wedding.

02:16 ‘Everything was set. We were on our back to town to tell the good news to my father…’
Suddenly there’s a loud explosion (which may or not be his father). They both get out of the car to investigate. The music score here is odd – strangely epic, romantic even. The two of them exchange worried looks beneath the backdrop of a power pylon (which the musical director obviously thinks is romantically charged). Then they walk into the woods to explore some more – the guy holding the girl up like she’s never walked in the woods before. I look up their names: Glenn and Elaine. Just normal, everyday, Riverdale Illinois kinda names.

02:46 They come to a clearing. Dead rabbits scattered about. Glenn kneels down to look more closely at the rabbits. Maybe he’s a vet, I don’t know. Or owns a pet shop. Elaine looks down at him, frightened she’ll fall over now he’s let go. They see a dead dog – who has a very blissed-out expression, I have to say. The score is full-on romantic/tragic, so I’m guessing Tom Jonson likes dogs.

03:12 Glenn straightens up. ‘All of them…DEAD’ he says. I’m not sure what Elaine sees in Glenn, to be honest. I also don’t like the way he has his polo shirt collar on the outside of his sports jacket. WHO DOES THAT, GLENN? WHO?

03:22 They push on further and find a funny looking metal cone thing, like a helter-skelter without the mats. Elaine grabs onto Glenn. ‘What IS it?’ she says. And I don’t know how she resists using the moment to tuck his polo shirt collar into his sports jacket. Glenn doesn’t know what the cone thing is. I’m surprised Elaine even asked.

03:33 Segue from the cone to the White House. ‘48 hours later, a hastily-summoned UFO committee anxiously awaits a top secret screening of army films’. There’s an awkward, official looking guy, standing outside a door smoking erm… awkwardly. Senator Walter K Powers strides in. We’ll call him WKP from now on, because… well…. (checking the time). WKP’s hat and coat are so huge I’m suspicious that WKP is actually three people, the smartest one on top to work the hat.

‘Alright, guys let’s go,’ he barks.

Awkward guy says ‘Lights’, then folds his arms. Awkwardly.

04:08 The film starts, talking about the discovery of the cone. Apparently it’s fifty feet high, with a base diameter of fifty feet. Which sounds more like a cube to me but I’m not a scientist. There are two REAL scientists looking in the window of the cone. One of them has SUCH a weird haircut – but maybe that’s a scientist thing (or possibly a terrible lab accident). I think it’s Dr Paul Kettering, ‘principal scientist for Project Damper.’ Not a great name for a project. Not like The Manhattan Project, which sounds glamorous. No. Project Damper. Why didn’t they go the whole hog and call it Project Damp Squib. Project Whatever. Project Shit.

Anyway – I’m wrong about the haircut. The OTHER scientist is Dr Paul Kettering. His hair is VERY slick, so I’m guessing he’ll feature in the story a lot more than this other loser. (Who I’ve looked up and is actually Dr Wyler).

The voiceover says the cone is resistant to heat, pressure, acid, sneering… ‘Coincidental with the discovery of the cone is the brutal slaying of several of the town’s leading citizens…’ The film shows silent footage of an elderly couple describing what they saw in the sky. They look vague, like Glenn & Elaine in fifty years. ‘One report describes the arrival of a fiery, horse-drawn chariot in the sky…’ (Cut to the old woman waving her hands vaguely again). ‘The origin of the cone remains… unknown.’

An unknown cone. The worst kind.

05:07 Awkward Arms Folded Guy says ‘Lights’ again. He’s worth every cent. But I hope he’s not a messy eater because that suit’s got to go back tomorrow.

WKP joins him on stage. Lights guy stares at him so intently I’m wondering if they’ll kiss.

WKP is exactly the kinda guy you’d want at a party. He’s got such an overbite you could keep him in the kitchen for opening bottles.

WKP says he doesn’t want his hands tied, he wants FACTS. There’s a guy at the side of the room carrying ALL the coats and hats AND a briefcase. ‘Dan!’ barks WKP. Dan wakes up and nods. ‘Call the hotel and tell ‘em to pack our things.’ Dan nods again. It looks like Dan does ALL the work while WKP stands around making barky speeches with his overbite and his bullshit suit. WKP wants to go see the cone firsthand. Maybe his overbite will crack it. Or maybe he’ll just pick Dan up and hit it with him. Dan wouldn’t mind. Anything for a quiet life. It’s either carrying coats for the Senator or working as a gimp on a trawler.

WKP leaves the room promising to poke so many holes in that spaceship the lid’ll be off it in 24 hours. Or something.

06:48 A tiny plane lands in a dusty field. WKP struggles out of it. A guy shakes his hand.
‘Where’s the Mayor?’ says WKP.
‘I’m his son, Glenn Cameron.’
So THAT’S who Glenn is! Pretty connected, Glenn!
‘We’ve had some disturbing developments,’ says Glenn. Some murders, apparently. And the Mayor’s gone missing. (You mean – the Mayor YOUR DAD?). WKP isn’t impressed. ‘Do I have transportation?’ (Otherwise he’ll just get Dan to give him a piggy-back).

They walk back to Glenn’s car. WKP’s sleeves are enormous! I’m surprised he can lift his arms off the floor. He seems to fiddle with his fly as he gets in the car, so I’d have him in the front seat if I was Glenn.

07:45 As they drive through Riverdale, you get a sudden close up of a guy holding a glowing globe. His expression is EXACTLY as you might expect in this situation, which is a hybrid of Sinister Gloating and Otherworldly Knowingness.

08:06 Voiceover guy (who turns out to be Glenn, BTW. You know? Glenn? THE MAYOR’S SON?): ‘Entering the ravine area I had the feeling we were being watched, although there wasn’t a soul around…’

Eight minutes in and I’d have sneaked off early, too.

08:56 Alice, the Mayor’s secretary, is moonlighting as Dr Kettering’s assistant. She explains that Dr Kettering is up on the cone doing sonic experiments. WKP says he’ll go up and join him. Alice doesn’t approve. You can tell because her pearls rattle.

09:13 WKP climbs the scaffolding like an orangutan in a camel hair coat. (Although obviously no orangutan would ever wear a camel hair coat. It already has a lot of hair and would become overheated. But then again this is science fiction. Anyway, at the top of the scaffolding WKP meets Dr Wyler and Dr Kettering. You can tell Dr Kettering is a serious scientist because he smokes a pipe.

‘You must be Senator Powers!’ says Dr Wyler. ‘I’m Doctor Wyler’
‘I can see that,” says WKP, gnomically. (Look it up).
Dr Kettering shouts some figures down to Alice who straightens up and says ‘Check’. Then straightens back down again.

09:40 WKP wants action (he’s not alone). Dr K says they’re doing all they can but the ship is made from indestructible material. I’m confused, though, because a little later he demonstrates the cyclical nature of the ship by firing a pistol through a porthole. I mean … I’m no scientist… but why doesn’t he just CLIMB IN THE GODDAMN PORTHOLE? Or if he’s scared, send in Dan. And by the way – it’s not a great idea to be blindly firing a pistol through a porthole when you’re dealing with aliens. It’s basic common sense, let alone Health & Safety.
‘You science boys tend to get too wrapped up in your test tubes…’ says WKP. ‘The obvious things escape your attention.’
For once I agree with WKP.
Dr K takes off his coat.
‘I suppose now’s as good a time as any,’ he says. Dr Haircut – sorry Wyler – hands him a pistol. Dr K goes into the porthole.

12:30 A long shot of Dr K crawling down a vent. With a torch. Cut to a close-up of the watch on WKP’s wrist. Cut to a shot of Dr K’s shoes as he crawls through the vent. Cut to WKP holding onto a rope looking at the sky; Dan smoking. WKP checking his watch again. Cut to Alice blinking rapidly next to Dr Wyler, whose haircut is actually magnificent in profile. ‘It’s been a while,’ says Alice. ‘Has anything gone wrong?’
‘I don’t know,’ says Dr Wyler. I wonder what Dr Wyler’s a doctor of. I want to see his certificates.

13:13 ‘How long has he been in there?’ says Glenn, about three hours later. Or feels like.
‘Too long!’ says Dr Wyler, strapping on a pistol. (Very awkwardly, it has to be said. I’m surprised he even got it with the handle pointing up. But he’s a scientist, not a gunslinger). Just as he gets to the top of the scaffolding with WKP, Dr K comes crawling back out.
‘Are you alright?’ says WKP
‘A little worse for wear.’
‘What did you find?’
Apparently the tunnels just go round and round, he says.
‘But what’s it for?’
‘I don’t know,’ says Dr K.
(NOTE: If you have an alien spacecraft, and someone goes inside to have a look – do NOT have them come out six hours later saying they didn’t see nuffin’. Talk about Project Damper. More like Project Complete and Utter Bullshit Shall We All Just Go Bowling Instead).

14:09 The phone rings back in the base camp. Alice answers it.
‘Hello?’ she says. Unsurprisingly.
‘Hold the line,’ she says. ‘Glenn – it’s the Sheriff.’
(Why couldn’t Glenn have answered the phone? It would’ve sped things up. I mean – talk about Brain Eaters…)
‘The Mayor’s back!’ says Glenn. (I thought the Mayor was his Dad? In which case, their relationship is strangely formal).

14:22 Cut to: The Mayor, sitting at his desk, his hands shaking. Maybe it’s budget day. He struggles to open a drawer. Takes out a gun. Looks like he wants to shoot himself (same) but his left hand is having none of it. Wrestles with himself – but then puts the gun away just as a cop, Elaine, Alice, Dr K, Glenn, WKP and a orangutan in a camel hair coat all shuffle into the room. (Honestly? The room’s not big enough).
The Mayor suddenly acts snippy.
‘You don’t look well,’ says Glenn.
Dr K notices a lump rising and falling in the Mayor’s back – just before he shouts at them all to get out. When they don’t but close the door instead, the Mayor grabs his gun out and threatens to shoot them. Understandably. Glenn asks his dad nicely for the gun, but – again – it doesn’t say much for their relationship – the Mayor just hits him with it.
There’s a struggle. Shots fired. The Mayor staggers out of the room. Another cop in the hallway shoots him twice. In the legs. Which kills him, dead.
‘What’s that on his neck?’ says Glenn, getting over the death of the Mayor – his father – pretty quick.

17:57 In the autopsy room. Dr K is in white pyjamas, for some reason. It’s not that late.
You don’t get a look yourself, but you can tell from the way Dr K fiddles with his napkin or whatever it is that the thing on the Mayor’s neck is pretty disgusting.

Eventually he joins the others who are waiting in another room.
‘What did you find out?’ says Elaine. Or Alice. I’m confused between them. I think the pearls are supposed to help, though.
Dr K lights his pipe. He has to smoke something before he says anything smart.
The doctor comes in. He says they shouldn’t feel bad about shooting the Mayor because he would’ve died anyway. He had a thing on his back that was plugged into his central nervous system and also secreted acid when it was attacked. So either way, not great.
Dr K asks everyone to keep this secret, as it might cause panic (and a loss of faith in the office of Mayor).

20:07 Cut to: the cop walking outside. He seems shifty. Maybe he’s got a plug-in alien controlling him, maybe not. It’s hard to tell with cops at the best of times.
He gets on the radio.
‘If anyone wants me I’ll be out at the cone.’

20:39 The cop pulls up sharply. There’s a body in the road. When he gets out to investigate, the body kicks him in the head. They fight. Another figure appears. A figure with a glowing globe. The cop gets KO’d. They kneel down next to him and do something diabolical with the globe (we don’t see what – we keep cutting back to the flashing light on the police car). Eventually the cop stands up. He’s now one of them. They all get in the car and drive off. The cop now guilty of a D.U.I.G (Driving Under the Influence of Globe).

22:26 Back at the lab, Alice is making coffee the only way she knows how – with a bunsen burner. Dr K is dissecting something gloopy on the desk, which may or may not be dessert. Dr K says that Alice should get some rest as her hands are icy. They look as if they’re about to kiss, but then he puts his pipe in his mouth so it’s just as well they don’t. Meanwhile, a bit of the gloop starts crawling across the desk towards them, maybe attracted by the tobacco smoke, not sure. It attaches itself to Dr K’s arm like a leech. Alice – ever practical – hits it with her clipboard but even though it’s a heavy clipboard with a big metal clasp it proves ineffective. Dr K grabs the bunsen burner and burns it off instead. Alice comforts him – until the phone rings and she has to answer it.
She hands the phone to Dr K.
‘Kettering?’ says Wyler. ‘Wyler. I’ve got an idea about this cone out here…’

24:50 The team assembles to drive out to the cone. They discover the roadblock gone and no-one on duty. An abandoned utility truck.
Dr K shouts ‘Hello…?’
(Hey! That’s ALICE’S line!)

26:22 At the cone, Dr Wyler tells them his idea. It’s a long and worryingly halting kinda speech, like he practised it a little too much and lost sight of the meaning. But any-hoo, basically what he’s saying is that he thinks the cone is a discarded fuel section and the most important part is probably still floating around in space. (Like his understanding of the script. Or mine, to be fair).
‘Some of this is fact,’ says Dr K, ‘some of it scientific hunches.’
‘Don’t pull any punches,’ says WKP.
What is this – a rap contest?
Dr K thinks that the parasites are looking for human hosts. WKP says he’ll call the sheriff’s office and set up a search party so they can find the nest. That’s why WKP is a senator. He quickly gets the gist and learns the lingo. That and his overbite.

28:03 The phone rings in the sheriff’s office. Trouble is, the person manning it is the cop who got globed (and not Alice, who’d answer RIGHT away). The cop doesn’t look too happy. In fact, when the camera draws back you can see he’s got a globe of his own on the desk. It’s even wearing his hat. There’s a close-up on the cop’s face as he struggles to regain control of himself – marvellous acting here, worthy of a golden globe – oops, sorry. Too soon?
We spend so long on a close-up of the cop’s face, I can’t help admiring his eyebrows, which are lustrously thick and neatly trimmed. Good job!

29:13 WKP says he’ll call in the militia instead. On manoeuvres, so no-one’ll get excited. (No risk of THAT).
‘You’re not going to start a search now…?’ says Dr Wyler.
‘Why not?’ says WKP.
‘Well – perhaps you’re right,’ says Dr Wyler.
And with that the great, psycho drama surges on.
‘First of all we need to get the girls back into town,’ says Glenn.
Alice and Elaine protest. If they don’t come along and the phone rings, who’ll answer it? The cop?
They reluctantly agree to let the girls come, then stand around a map while Glenn divides them up into search parties. Dr Wyler is in the centre of the shot, nodding along – but you can tell he doesn’t understand.

30:25 Alice and Dr K are driving along the road.
‘What if we should come across the other part of the ship?’ says Alice.
‘No funny business,’ says Dr K, chewing his pipe. The two hands on the wheel don’t look like HIS hands, but maybe I’m reading too much into this.

30:42 Meanwhile, in the other car, you’ve got WKP, Dr Wyler and Dan.
‘I think we should have held off this search,’ says Dr Wyler. He thinks if they find the other part of the ship they won’t be able to do anything about it. Which is defeatist, but probably true.
‘You don’t talk very much,’ says Dr Wyler about Dan. Which is also true.
‘That’s why he’s my assistant,’ says WKP. ‘Now – you take parrots…’ But mercifully we’re spared the rest of WKP’s speech because we cut to an exterior shot of the car driving down the road. Quite why Dan doesn’t deliberately drive OFF the road at this point is anyone’s guess.

31:09 Glenn and Elaine are in another car. Not chatting. Generally looking anxious. Glenn with a plaster on his face where his father, the Mayor, hit him with a pistol before getting shot to death in the legs. No wonder they’re quiet.

31:16 Cut to: Dr K and Alice exploring some undergrowth. Alice screams because there’s a body on the ground. Whilst Dr K kneels down next to it checking his pockets, another crawly thing sneaks outta the dead guy’s pants (there’s no easy way of saying that) and heads towards the doctor. The crawly thing is even worse, because it’s got two pipe cleaners sticking out the top, which are obviously designed to plug into your brain and make you snippy.
‘Power company man!’ says Dr K, finding a wallet. ‘And – hey! Twenty bucks!’ (Not really – I added that). When he pulls back the guy’s overalls he sees the tell-tale alien plug-in point at the back of the neck. They both hear a hissing noise, and decide to scram.

32:35 Glenn and Elaine are also exploring the shrubs. Glenn’s torch is smaller than Dr K’s. Just saying. These things might matter to you. (Not to me).
Glenn sees a house, so of course he pulls out his pistol. (Quite a big pistol, come to mention it. Makes up for the torch.)
They go into the house. The door closes behind them. Elaine shrieks. If I was prowling around at night I wouldn’t want to do it with Elaine. I mean – a door, for God’s sake.
But then it transpires the door’s locked! And there’s hissing!
Elaine shrieks again. There’s somebody out there!
Honestly – you’d be better off taking a goose along. At least there’d be the chance of an egg.
Glenn shoots the door.
Smoke rises outside the window.
Glenn struggles to put something in his pocket. (I know how that sounds – but I’m just transcribing. God knows how that was described in the actual script).
A guy looks through the window. Glenn shoots him.
Looks out the window and sees two guys walking away.
So he obviously missed their legs.
They climb out the window.
So all-in-all a VERY tense scene that makes absolutely NO sense whatsoever. But then – I’m not from Riverdale, Illinois.

34:23 They’ve all reconvened back at the Mayor’s office.
‘Well – we’ve all had an object lesson in how NOT to conduct a search,’ says Dr K.
Or shoot a film, I might add.
Alice finds some big glass globes in a filing cabinet.
‘Don’t touch ‘em!’ shouts Dr K. Then immediately goes over and touches ‘em.
Dr K reckons the globes are how the parasites get about. Either that or Escooters.
‘I’ll send a wire,’ says WKP. The others gather round him for about an hour as he works the phone. Please God someone speak. Where’s Elaine? Can’t she scream?

WKP gives his message to a telegraph operator who’s either controlled by aliens or high. Possibly both. I have zero confidence THAT message ever gets sent.

36:30 Close up on the operator’s face as he telegraphs: ‘Everything peaceful here…’
So – he’s plugged-in, too. (Although quite a bit more plugged-out).

37:04 Meanwhile, there’s some blank-faced cop in another office. Some other guy’s shadow appears. The cop follows it with a blank expression. Honestly – I don’t know who’s more doped out at this point, me or the telegraph operator.

37:16 The cop and two other guys take a globe over to an apartment building. (sorry I can’t be more specific). They climb up the outside – just like Deliveroo. DeliverGlobe.

38:13 Alice is asleep in bed, wearing so much makeup she must leave a perfect print of her face on the pillow when she rolls over. Luckily for the outer space guys the window is partially open, so they grab out the parasite and shove it through the gap. The parasite at this point looks exactly like the gunk you clear out of a shower plughole. And if the alien was here I’d say it to its face (or where its face might be, approximately).

38:49 So now of course we get a lot of hissing as the camera goes down to carpet level and starts edging towards the bed. Although I’d pay a lot to hear the original recording, because I’d bet the camera operator was saying a lot more than just hissin at this point.

39:16 Alice rolls over just as the gloopy parasite is about to gloop on her icy hand. So then it starts crawling over the duvet towards her icy shoulder. The next thing you know, her bed’s empty and the three guys downstairs are heading back to their car. Then Alice appears at the apartment door. In her negligee.
She gets in the car and they all drive off.

40:26 Dr K and Glenn break into Alice’s apartment. (How did they know she was in trouble? She didn’t PHONE).
They see the empty bed.
‘If they’ve got her, at least she’s still alive!’ says Glenn – who seems to have forgotten the little speech about how his dad, the Mayor, was technically dead anyway because – you know – the pipe cleaners and the acid and everything – so it was really okay to shoot him to death in the legs.
They decide to go back to the cone.

41:15 Everyone’s back at the cone. (Except Alice).
They’re gathered around an old man lying on the ground. The voiceover explains this is Dr Helsingham – a scientist who vanished five years ago.
Dr K rolls the guy over (quite roughly, I have to say). Yes. The plug-in marks on the back of the neck. A tattoo saying 13 amp.
‘Will he live?’ says Glenn.
‘No,’ says Dr K – ‘but he will as long as science can make him.’
‘Won’t he go out of his mind?’ says Glenn.
‘Yes. We’ll have to tie him up,’ says Dr K.
(I HAVE met doctors like this, by the way).
‘Was he in the cone to begin with? Or did he go INTO the cone?’ says Glenn. I’m changing my mind about Glenn. He’s always there with the sharp question.
They help the old guy up and tie him up at the same time – which isn’t easy.

42:50 Dr K goes over to smoke his pipe in the face of the blank faced cop, not noticing that the cop’s back pulsates as they chat. Maybe Dr K is used to that. Anyway – the key message here is that no-one notices when cops behave strangely because, well…

43:10 At the hospital. Dr K, WKP and Glenn interrogate the poor old man.
‘You are Professor Helsingham… !’ says Dr K. ‘What is the secret of the cone…?’
‘Carboniferous!’ says the Prof.
Whilst Dr K explains to the others what the carboniferous age was, Professor Helsingham dies.
Dr K puts on his stethoscope. (Not the Professor’s stethoscope; Dr K has his own).
‘Then it’s not a spaceship,’ says WKP. ‘IT’S FROM BELOW.’

45:13 Back at the Mayor’s office, WKP tries to put a call through to the capital. The operator can’t do it because the line’s are busy and anyway she’s completely wasted.
‘Well keep trying!’ snaps WKP.
The operator says she will – but seems to have trouble pulling the plugs in and out, so I don’t hold much hope.
But then you notice that her back is pulsating in and out, so the aliens have taken over the switchboard, too. Which is mostly how it feels when you ring switch, in my experience.

46:16 Dr K and Glenn drive over to the telegraph office to see if the message to the governor ever got sent. When they knock on the door, the telegrapher and some other guy come out and there’s a fight. Then they jump back in the car and drive away.

So that’s a no, then.

47:14 Meanwhile, WKP is in a radio studio ready to make some kind of public broadcast – which WKP was BORN to do, given his overbite. Dan sits affectionately on the desk next to him.

‘This is Walter K Powers in Riverdale. This message is directed to anyone outside the Riverdale area who can hear my voice… ‘
But we can see the producer’s back pumping in and out, so I’m not holding out for a big ratings success for THIS particular show.

47:52 Back at the cone, Dr K points up at it with his pipe and says he’ll go up and check on his recording device to see if anything’s been in or out. Dr Wyler looks completely bewildered. He probably thought he was supposed to be in a western, or something.

Dr K speaks to two cops who were guarding the cone. They say no-one’s been near it – but I don’t trust them (aliens or otherwise). Dr K puts his (lit) pipe in his pocket and starts climbing the scaffolding.

At the top of the scaffolding Dr K puts on his headphones and listens to some farty sounds. Meanwhile, the cops climb up, too. Dr K knows something’s up. He swings back down and shouts out a warning to the others. The cops start shooting down at them. Dr K caps one straight in the legs and he falls off the scaffolding. The other one falls, too – then runs at Dr K making a horrible snarling noise – although if I’d just fallen off some scaffolding I doubt I’d sound any better. Dr K shoots him in the legs to put him and us out of our misery.

‘We’re going inside the cone! Right now!’ says Dr K.

50:11 Close up on Dr K, crawling through the vent again. Followed by Glenn. (Dr Wyler and Elaine wait outside).

50:52 It’s very foggy inside the cone. Maybe it’s the lit pipe in Dr K’s pocket. Either way it saved the set designer a lot of effort.
There’s a figure sitting on a throne (awks).
‘Come in, gentlemen!’ says the figure. ‘You may stop there!’
(Quite why Dr K missed this particular room when he was LAST in the cone is anyone’s guess).
‘You’re Professor Cool!’ says Dr K.
(Professor Cool sounds really cool. Just sayin’.)
‘I WAS Professor Cool,’ says Professor Cool. In a very cool way. ‘Now I hold a position of a much higher order….’
Whilst Professor Cool is talking, I’d just like to point out this is, in fact, LEONARD NIMOY! Yay! Lovely to hear his voice – even though he’s playing the villain in this big ol’ pile of cone crap.
‘… There is no conflict of purpose here as there is among mankind… ‘ Prof Cool goes on. And on. ‘We will not engage in combat yaddah yaddah’.
There’s a fundamental difference of opinion between the two sides: Prof Cool thinks his kind are like seeds in the wind; Dr K thinks they’re a disease. It’s not going to end well, especially given Dr K’s track record with shooting things in the legs with a pistol.
Professor Cool still blathers on about their mission. He’s in a cloak and has a big beard. There’s a ton of fog about so you don’t see much more. ‘…It will take time….’ he says. Well if it takes half as long as this speech that’ll be about a hundred years, then.
Dr K pulls out his pistol, feeling leggy. Shots fired.
‘The leeches!’ cries Glenn as the pipe-cleaner parasites come hissing across the foggy floor (and how poetic THAT sounds).

53:50 The group all gather again at the top of the ravine, hugging trees as they stare down at the cone. Dr K asks Glenn to go and fetch the utility truck back on the highway.

Dr K has a plan. There’s a bullshit, harpoon-type gun in the truck. He’s going to fire a cable at the cone, then light it up with electricity off the pylon we’ve seen a fair bit of through this movie. Or something.

57:27 Dr K pauses. Alice is standing on top of the scaffolding. In her negligee. So Dr K gives the harpoon type gun to Glenn, and hurries down the ravine to rescue her, parasites or not.

He climbs up the scaffolding, promising he’ll spend the rest of his life trying to cure her of the parasite.
‘Never!’ she says, backing away. Then shoots him. They wrestle. She dies in his arms (presumably because his masculine charm shorted-out the parasite’s pipe-cleaners).
‘Fire the gun!’ shouts Dr K. ‘FIRE THE GUN!’
Glenn is reluctant, but when WKP tries to take control he changes his mind and fires.
There’s electricity ALL OVER the cone!
Dr K rolls off the scaffolding, dead.
Inside the cone, you can see the parasites don’t like all this electricity. They start curling up in a microwave meal kinda way. It’s all pretty intense.
‘Nothing could’ve lived through that!’ says WKP.
But still they go into the cone to make sure.
WKP says he’ll take care of all the infected people in town. ‘Just watch my dust’ he says.
They all go except Glenn and Elaine, who hug at the foot of the scaffolding, and then stroll towards the camera, Glenn’s pistol wobbling naughtily on his belt as the orchestra and everything else swells


That’s it!

The End

So – what’ve we learned?

  1. Nimoy is spelled with an i not an e. And spelled is spelled with an -elled.
  2. Never put an indestructible alien cone in the microwave, kids
  3. And never trust a cop – especially when their back moves in and out
  4. Just because you’re called Professor Cool, doesn’t mean you ARE cool. (Although he was played by Leonard Nimoy, so in this case…)
  5. Riverdale? Nah! Too quiet.

Attack of the Crab Monsters

Attack of the Crab Monsters, 1957, dir. Roger Corman. Watched on YouTube so you don’t have to.

What’s the attraction of this one? Well – who doesn’t like crabs? I don’t mean pubic lice, of course, although they’re fascinating in their own right, and you can get some medicated lotion from the pharmacy that will sort them out, no problem (so I’ve heard). NO – I mean the seashore variety. I love the way they move, like someone shifting an awkward box sideways, waving their free claws saying ‘Can I get a little help here?’

‘Attack of the Crab Monsters’ sounds a bit hysterical, if you ask me. A bit punchy. But if you’re putting together a horror title, you couldn’t really say ‘Nuclear Waste related Crustacean Mutation and the Unfortunate Events Pertaining’ and expect anyone to come. Not that I think many came to ‘Attack of the Crab Monsters’, to be fair.

However you like your crab, then, let’s settle back with some appropriate and socially acceptable snacks, as we press… PLAY!

Credits: Hyperactive, blaring, migraine-marching brass as the camera pans down over the animation of a twisted wreck on the seafloor, animated fish swimming past – the kind you might draw if you were five, or a Christian. ‘Attack of the Crab Monsters’ in white lettering like the title got holed on the surface and sank – which I hope isn’t an omen. (Dearest Viewer: It is).

Favourite name on the cast list so far: Mel Welles. Well, well – if it ain’t Mel Welles.

I must admit this title sequence is growing on me. It’s the kinda nightmare you’d have if you went to bed too soon after a big paella.

Second favourite name: Curley Batson. Don’t know why.

Closing image of the title sequence: a giant octopus tentacle sweeping across and grabbing the wreck as Roger Corman’s credit arrives. So he’s totally owning this picture. (Sucker).

1:28 Booming voiceover: ‘And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the Earth. Both Man and Beast and the creeping things and the fowls of the air. For it repenteth me that I have made them.’

Repenteth? Really? So I Googled it – and yep, there it is. Genesis 6:7.
For it repenteth me. Not ‘I regret’ or ‘I repent making them’ or ‘I made all these things and then had second thoughts because they were annoying and made the place look messy’ and such. Nope. ‘For it repenteth me’. Which is supposed to make it sound more official. Less like a child throwing a toy out the window.

But enough about religion. On with the crabs.

1:47 A boat coming ashore. Soundtrack is melancholy oboe, top notes of diesel outboard motor.

‘Make that line fast! Everybody ashore!’ shouts the Lieutenant in charge, completely unnecessarily. (What are they gonna do? Stay in the boat on the beach? What kinda film would THAT be?)

A guy in an enormous trench coat and sunglasses is first out the boat. Well – the sunglasses are normal size, but the effect overall is of a big guy who maybe wants to look bigger.

2:24 ‘You can only see a small part of the island from this spot, but you can feel the lack of welcome, lack of abiding life.. uh?’ says one of the team, a thumb-like guy in a clip-on moustache who looks like he eats with his arms around his food.

‘Yeah – I felt the same when I came here before to rescue your first crew,’ says the Lieutenant, sneeringly. He obviously rescues a lot of people. Only shoots a few.

‘Please Lieutenant! Some of those men were our friends,’ says a woman in coiffed hair and ski pants, her collar turned up. Must be a scientist.

‘Maybe if I call to them their ghosts will answer!’ says thumb guy, who now sounds French. (Maybe he always was). ‘McLane!!’ he shouts. Then ‘Hallooo!’ with his hand alongside his mouth, like someone who doesn’t just shout hallo but likes to mime it as well, in case they’re watching but can’t reply. In which case they’d have to throw a rock or something. Not sure. He’s the scientist.

A load of birds flies up. (Is that the collective? A load?) Anyway, it’s unsettling. Especially as the violins are now sawing away neurotically.

The Lieutenant tells them where the research station is located. He’s very direct, the Lieutenant. It comes with the hat.

3:00 The boat has gone back to the plane for more supplies (what plane? a sea plane? so many questions 3 minutes in). The Lieutenant shouts at the boat as it approaches the beach, as per, but despite all his shouting they still screw it up and sink. You see one of the men go down with his arms straight above his head, like he gave up the instant he hit the water and wanted it over quickly.

Cut to: an enormous eye suddenly opening on the seabed; the sailor screaming underwater.

03:30 The Lieutenant shouts instructions to the sailors on the boat – useful things like: Get him up! Get him outta there! – but when they do they find his head is missing. I’m surprised they don’t look over the side of the boat to see if they can see it floating, like a duck at the fair. Something they could hook.

‘Cover him’ says the Lieutenant.

4:05 The sailors have pitched camp on the beach and they stock it with rifles and ‘pineapples’.
‘I don’t know when we’re gonna use these out here anyways’ he says, tossing one hand to hand, like a baseball player.

4:45 Meanwhile, raincoat guy (I’ll find the names out shortly) and the others are at the science station, busy loading it with rifles and erm… pineapples.
‘Took his HEAD off? His HEAD?’
‘I’m afraid so,’ says the Lieutenant
‘I hope that man’s death is not an omen of things to come’ says the trenchcoat guy (who I THINK is Dr Weigand).
‘Something about the island is wrong,’ says Dr Weigand. (Yep).
‘No animal noises of any kind’ says the Lieutenant, screwing up his eyes and looking at the sky.

Inside the research station, we have a long scene where various characters demonstrate unsafe manual handling procedures.
‘Looks like we got the dynamite by mistake’ says one of them, almost backing into the female scientist and blowing her up.
‘I’m so sorry, maam’ says the guy.
‘That’s quite alright,’ she says. ‘Just call me Martha.

She looks around.
‘You know – the navy boys really fixed this place up,’ she says, like she can’t wait to get back to Hawaii and the clubs there.

06:05 ‘I don’t want to annoy you, Lieutenant,’ says Dr Weigand. ‘But nothing was left? Not a hair or a fingernail clipping?’

The Lieutenant seems much more relaxed around Dr Weigand than I would be.

06:25 Three sailors and some other guy (sorry to be so vague) are walking back down to the beach with another box of dynamite. They stop when they hear explosions in the distance – maybe anxious it might give their box ideas. They look around. The sky. Even behind them. I’m surprised one of them doesn’t check his pockets.

Meanwhile, the scientists and the Lieutenant are also heading back to the beach. When they hear the explosions they stop and hold on to a tree, which is touching.

The explosions set off a rockslide – which the sailors dodge pretty nicely, I have to say.
‘You okay, Mack?’ says one.
‘Yeah. Nothing that getting off this island won’t cure,’ he says, straightening his hat. He might as well be wearing a t-shirt that says Crab Fodder.

7:32 Mack jumps in the boat and starts the outboard, which sounds like a cow giving birth (not that I’ve ever heard a cow giving birth. But I can imagine.)

Everyone gives them a cheery wave off from the beach, never mind there’s a headless body on board.

08:08 Two sailors and another guy (wait a minute, okay?) watch them from a cliff.
‘Hey Hank! You’re a scientist!’ says one sailor. ‘How come they want demolition guys on this expedition?’
‘I’m no scientist,’ says Hank. ‘I’m a handyman.’
So that’s Hank. Full hero mode. Bomber jacket, utility belt, cleft chin. He stares moodily off to the side and the sailors swap glances.

Hank tells them what happened when there was an atomic test nearby. ‘The one that blew Oojamaflip island right outta the ocean’. Apparently it blanketed the area in magic dust (I’m paraphrasing), the kind that makes crabs go bad and not in a culinary way.

Hank then tells us who each character is as they walk up the cliff (finally!)
Dr Weigand – nuclear physicist (explains the sunglasses)
Dr Carson – geologist
Jules Deveraux – botanist
Martha Hunter and Dale Brewer – biologists. Martha also takes care of seafood, apparently.

They all line up on the cliff top to watch the seaplane takeoff. It goes along nicely for a while then blows up. Maybe pineapple related, not sure.

09:45 The island is engulfed in a terrible storm, Scooby Doo lightning, the works.
They all gather round the radio in the lab.
‘There’s something!’ says Martha.
‘A commercial station!’ says Dr Carson as some yodelling comes on.
‘All those men killed!’ says Marti, shivering.

10:43 They all gather in the living room to hear Dr Weigand read from a journal he found. (I’m guessing the storm took out Netflix). He’s still wearing his sunglasses, even though it’s dark inside. Maybe he’s got terrifying crab eyes or a stigmatism or something.

‘Friday, March Zwulf,’ he says. ‘Professor Carter found a large lump of flesh having the same composition as that of the earthworm….’
The camera pans along the faces of the scientists to see how they take that. They all look shocked except Dale, who smokes with the kind of intensity you only ever see in biologists.
‘… fire could not destroy the flesh, knives could not cut it…’
Dr Weigand snatches off his glasses. His eyes look a little crossed but that’s about it.
‘The journal ends there,’ he says.

Hank is worried about the worm. They try to reassure him it was probably a sea worm, which apparently you get onland sometimes (erm…). At that moment more explosions rock the joint. It passes, though. No biggie.

12:21 Hank is trying to get some shut eye on a camp bed, but the lab mice won’t shut up. He goes to look at them. Puts a sack over the cage. Hank – practical as ever.

Meanwhile, Dale is talking to Dr Weigand about the journal. Why did the professor stop in the middle of a sentence? It doesn’t make sense.
‘Unless something unusual happened’ says Dale. ‘You know – I haven’t seen any insect life since we arrived.’
‘Quiet!’ says Dr Weigand. ‘Listen!’
There’s the sound of snapping and rustling – the kind of sound someone makes trying to unwrap goddamn toffees in the auditorium. I mean – can’t you wait till the film’s over? What are you – a toffeeholic? Can’t you sate your appetite with something squishy like grapes?
They go to investigate.
It’s outside.
‘Just the wind!’ laughs Dr Weigand.
Sounded more like something snacking on bones, to me, but I’m not a nuclear physicist.

14:10 Martha is in scuba gear, flippering out into the sea. When she goes underwater you get the usual harp music. You always get harp music underwater. Harps and Sharks.

She gets to the sea floor okay. Fondles some fronds. Holds them up to her mask in a scientific way.
Close-up of some monstrous mouth approaching. And I don’t mean Hank.
(Lots of the fish shots here are stock footage from San Diego Aquarium, I’d guess).
She’s joined by another diver. Who that is I’ve no idea. (The mask is obscuring his dimples).

They find the wreck of a ship. Martha looks at some more fronds. Maybe she’s a frond specialist. Back home she’s probably got lots of fronds.

Meanwhile the guy paddles around aimlessly. I don’t think he’s got any specialty. Except maybe paddling and looking clueless – which he does pretty well.

Next thing you know, they’re wading out of the ocean!

The guy holds Martha’s arm as they walk out of the water together. Not sure why. She was perfectly alright going IN. He also helps her take her things off. Again… seems unnecessary.
‘You nearly frightened me to death!’ she says, shaking out her hair.
‘You looked scared down there!’ says Hank (It’s Hank)
‘I was scared. And lost, too!’ she says.
Close up of a crab on the beach – a normal one, though. Gives you a little taste of the crab horror to come.

18:00 The others wave to Hank and Martha from the cliff top. When they get up there they see a big landslip. Dr Carson wants to go down there but Dr Weigand won’t let him because he’ll be crushed to death and anyway they can’t afford the insurance hike. They notice the rocks are glazed, like they’ve been fired in a kiln. Hmm. They tell the crab fodder – sorry, sailors – to put lamps round the edge so no one falls in.
‘Right!’ say the sailors, who obviously have no idea. They frown, putting their hats on.

19:16 Nightime. With violins (always tense).
‘Martha!’ says a disembodied voice. ‘Awake! It is McLane! Martha! Come to me!’
(McLane is the leader of the missing expedition. I only know cos I looked it up. I mean – I’m embarrassed. Barely twenty minutes in and I still have no idea who’s who. Despite the cliff top introduction. That’s why no one invites me on expeditions. And if they do, why they keep me away from the pineapples).

‘Help me! Help me, Martha!’ says McLane’s voice.
She tosses on some clothes.
‘Martha! Come to me!’
She heads for the beach.
(Careful, Martha. It’s a classic crab trap.)
Dr Carson pops out and makes her jump. (What is it with these scientists, always making Martha jump?)
‘So you heard it, too!’ he says, menacingly. ‘How could the navy search this whole island and miss a survivor?’
(I don’t know, but going on how they handle headless bodies, pineapples, seaplanes, I’m not that surprised).

20:57 They go to the landslip. Dr Carson ropes-up ready to go down there.
‘Jim! You’re not going down there!’ says Martha.
‘Yes I am!’ says Dr Carson.
‘But – Karl was against it!’
‘He’s afraid of cave-ins!’ says Dr Carson. ‘I’m not’
Martha watches as he lowers himself down.
There are more explosions. Martha lies down, immediately unconscious. You hear screaming from Dr Carson down in the pit.

21:57 The others rush out. Dale picks Martha up.
‘She’s fainted. No more,’ says Jules Deveraux, botanist.
She wakes up.
‘Where’s Jim?’ asks Dale.
‘He’s in the pit.’
Dr Weigand shouts into the pit. ‘Are you alive?’
‘It’s my leg. It’s broken,’ says Dr Carson.
They decide to get down to him by going through some caves.
Dale takes Martha back to the station.

23:40 Jules and Dr Weigand meet two sailors coming back up the path. The sailors say they thought the whole island was coming down.
‘We must go quickly!’ says Weigand. ‘There is very little time!’
‘Little time for what?’ asks one sailor as the two scientists hurry on.
‘That is Dr Weigand’s small secret,’ says Jules Deveraux, botanist.

24:41 They all meet up outside a cave on the beach. One of the sailors gets told off for throwing a rock at a crab. (He didn’t have a pineapple, so…)
‘Have you ever seen those things go at a marine?’ says the sailor. ‘They’ll pick him clean in five minutes.’

The five of them go into the cave.

25:10 Meanwhile, back in the station, Martha is checking the journal to see if there’s any mention of the caves.
‘It always happened at night,’ says Dale, leaning over her in a creepy way.
They’re interrupted by more explosions and then some more snapping sounds, like someone’s at the goddamn toffees again.
Dale gets a gun out of a drawer. I’m with him on this.

Crashing sounds from behind a door.
‘Don’t go in there!’ says Martha.
Dale goes in there.

A giant claw knocks the gun out of his hand!

He hurries back outside and hugs Martha. Doesn’t say anything. Just hugs her. Maybe he’s figuring if he tells her about the claw and she faints, he won’t be able to carry her and outrun the crab.

26:08 Back in the caves.
‘Come quickly!’ says Carson’s disembodied voice.
‘We must move with caution!’ says Dr Weigand.
‘Why?’ says the sailor.
(It looks like the dumber you are in this film, the more likely you are to wear a hat).

26:43 Back in the station, the crab trashes his room like a rowdy teenager and Dale and Martha wait outside like hopeless parents. The lights fizz out and the crab screams. Maybe he was trying to amp-up his decks and shorted the circuit? Too early to tell.

26:52 Back in the caves. They come to the pit, find blood but no body.

Dr Weigand insists they come back in the morning when there’s more light. He also insists they climb up the rope rather than retrace their steps. Why? Who can say.
‘Our tent’s just outside the cave,’ says a sailor. ‘We don’t have to go up the rope.’
‘Up the rope!’ says Dr Weigand.
The sailors pull a kind of ‘yeech’ expression, then follow Jules Deveraux, botanist, up the rope.

27:54 Back in the station, Martha lights a lamp. The dreadful teenage noises have stopped, so they feel safe enough to go into the room and maybe tidy up a little. But everything’s destroyed, including the radio.

29:25 Next morning, the others have joined Martha and Dale in the wrecked control room.
‘Well!’ says Jules Deveraux, ‘all I can say is – why wasn’t I invited to the party?’
He waves his hat. ‘Not funny, eh?’ he says.
No Jules, it’s not.

Dr Weigand gives a summary of where we are to date, cradling a microscope in his hands to give his speech more authenticity. I’m not sure how far the speech gets us, though. It’s all a bit vague. A mountain has disappeared. A science team. The station is smashed up. ‘Everything that has happened… from the death of the first sailor to the destruction of our radio… must be somehow related… they are too far from the normal scheme of things to be … separate accidents…’

Well, now, professor – ya THINK?

‘Let us again seek Dr Carson!’ concludes Dr Weigand, struggling to hold the microscope AND tuck his tie in.

31:15 So the five of them go back to the caves with their surprisingly ineffective torches. (It doesn’t look like they went down via the rope, though – which is safer but inonsistent).

They prod about in the caves but can’t find Dr Carson anywhere.

There are more explosions. Rocks start falling. Jules Deveraux falls over and gets his hand neatly severed by a rock. I mean – even the wrist watch is untouched. Jules stares at the stump, screams, then faints. Martha takes off her belt to make a tourniquet or gag, not sure. The two sailors run in and say most of the island has ‘fallen into the drink already’. They all help Jules up, his stump wrapped in a hankie.

32:42 Back at the station. Jules is in bed, feverishly speaking bad French as Martha mops his brow. Not with a mop, though.

She stops mopping when he passes out.

33:23 Back on the beach, the two sailors are playing poker in the tent, which is sweet. They’re using sticks of dynamite for money. Which isn’t.

Their game is interrupted by the weird clicking sound. First sailor takes the stogy out of his mouth and frowns.
‘What’s that?’ he says. (A stogy is a cheap cigar. You’re welcome).

First sailor takes the lamp, looks outside, looks up, screams, dodges back in the tent as something huge bears down on him and the tent collapses.

34:19 Back with Jules in the sick room. He’s woken up by a chorus of disembodied voices (they’re getting bolder as well as more numerous). They tell him to come meet them in the pit. ‘I’ll be there,’ says Jules, even though he just lost his hand and everything. These French botanists are a tough breed and always up for it.

He staggers outside. Goes to the pit. Stands there asking where they are.

‘Right here, professor’ says a voice, as a giant claw grabs him round the throat. (Still manages to scream, though).

His screaming wakes Martha up, who throws on some fronds and slippers and hurries out. She meets up with the other three scientists who come out of separate rooms, all buckling their belts, though, which looks a bit suspicious.
‘Jules?’ says Martha.
‘Yes,’ says his disembodied voice. (I should totally copy & paste the word ‘disembodied’).

They carry on chatting to the disembodied Jules – who seems to think that merely by talking to them in a suave French way they won’t notice that actually his bed is empty. But for some reason, when Dr Weigand picks up a candlestick holder, the voice says congratulations, and promises to be back for the rest of them the next night.
‘What does it mean, doctor?’ says Dale.
‘… we are dealing with a man who is dead – but whose voice and memory live.’

37:45 Next morning, Hank goes down to the beach to check on the sailors. The other three are way ahead of him, standing around the wreck of the tent.
‘Where are the bodies?’
‘They were eaten’ says Weigand – who seems to know a lot about this kind of thing.

38:45 The four of them are sitting round a table, smoking.
‘It’s long after dark,’ says Dale. Even though it was morning about five seconds ago. Things happen fast on this crabby island. Hank plays with his pistol.
‘Good evening, mes amis’ says disembodied Jules. ‘Harken to all things metal, for I may be in them.’
They all look at Hank’s pistol. Great. Thanks, Hank.
But at least it explains the candlestick holder mystery.
‘Something remarkable has ‘appened to me,’ says Jules, apparently from the pistol. ‘I would like you all to come and see for yourselves.’ (Please don’t say the pit)
‘Where are you?’ says Martha, to erm… to the pistol.
‘In the pit,’ says Jules.

39:55 The three guys go down the pit. In through the caves, not down the rope. Just saying.
Martha isn’t with them. She must be staying behind taking care of seafood.

‘We are here!’ shouts Dr Weigand. ‘Show yourselves!’

They hear the annoying clicking sound, and head in that direction.

Suddenly an enormous crab lurches puppetly into view. They shoot at it. Hank throws a pineapple, which takes a claw off. Nasty. Then Dale throws a pineapple which blows a row of stalactites (note: stalaCtites from the ceiling down – stalaGmites from the ground up). The crab gets well and truly forked.
‘I killed it!’
‘Yes. By the sheerest luck!’ says Dr Weigand (who could choose his moments, honestly).
He knocks off a claw for them to take with them – what for exactly, I’m not sure. Maybe lunch?

Another enormous crab bobs round the corner. They run away after lighting some dynamite – which goes off but I’m not sure to what effect.

42:37 Back at the station, the guys are repairing the radio and Martha is rustling up a tonne of bisque. Dr Weigand tries to explain stuff about atoms and electricity while Martha stares at the others as if to say: what a dweeb. Apparently the crab is made of free atoms, all disconnected. (Same)

‘That means the crab can eat his victim’s brain, absorbing his mind intact and working?’ says Dale.
‘It’s as good as any other theory,’ says Dr Weigand, decanting fluid between test tubes. He’s in his element here. Or one of them.

‘Okay professor,’ says Hank. ‘How are the crabs blowing up the island…?’ (Which is the single greatest quote from this film, I’d say).

Martha passes round some polaroids of the crab. She says it’s maybe pregnant. Which explains the mood swings.

45:30 Hank puts on some gloves and zaps the claw with electricity. The claw disappears.
‘That proves the crab is negatively charged,’ says Dale.
‘Hank! You must create a trap of positive energy!’ says Dr Weigand. (Which doesn’t sound like Hank at all).

They rig up two electric fans and decide to take them into the caves.
‘But they’re underwater now!’
Martha and Hank put on their aqua gear.
They climb down the rope (huh?)

47:40 Martha and Hank are busy putting polystyrene rocks round the fans.
‘It’s lonesome in here,’ says Martha (which is not the kind of thing I’d be saying if I was down in a cave with a giant crab after me, but still).
‘I bet you could be lonesome in a crowd,’ says Martha, not willing to let it drop. ‘Unless you found that special someone…’
Hank goes to kiss her, but gets interrupted by some heavy breathing (not Martha).

Hank goes to stab the crab to get some mercury (huh?) in much the same way he went to get a kiss from Martha – but the crab wakes up and knocks the knife out of his hand with a well swung claw. They run, and the crab wobbles after them, making an annoying snapping noise as it goes.

49:12 Hank and Martha are underwater now, pursued by harps and a giant crab.

They make it ashore. So does the crab.
Dale shoots at it from the cliff top.
‘So! You have wounded me!’ says the crab, his googly eyes crazy wide. ‘I can grow a new claw! But can you grow a new life when I have taken yours from you?’ (Which is a mixed up sentence, but hey – the crab’s maybe in shock or something.)

More of the island starts collapsing.

Back at the station, everything’s shaking.

Hank fixes the radio. Dale and Dr Weigand head back outside to check on the island.
‘I guess it’s about time I fixed us some food,’ says Martha.

52:38 Hank finds some Hawaian music on the radio. DJ Pineapple Jo. He smiles and lights a cigarette.

52:59 Dale and the Dr are back on the cliff top. The pit’s gone, at least. They hear more explosions and head that way.

53:20 ‘Where did you ever learn to fix all these things?’ says Martha, fiddling with his knobs.
‘In the navy during the war,’ says Hank. ‘And I knocked around a lot in the TV and radio repair business’ (taking a long drag of his cigarette, like the TV and radio repair business was the coolest thing to work in EVER).
She says she and Dale will get married when he finally gets his promotion.
Hank looks peeved.

54:30 Dr Weigand finds oil and wants to locate the source. He’s not so worried about the crab now, as it very helpfully makes an annoying noise before it strikes, like a rattlesnake, or maybe someone eating toffees in a cinema, seemingly unable to wait until the end so they can trough as many as they damn well like in the foyer and their pancreas will explode and no one will care.

‘At the first sign of a rattle, get outta there!’ says Dale.
‘Alright! Don’t worry! says Dr Weigand, who seems to be getting a big kick out of all this.

Dale follows a stream of oil into a cave. Without a torch. On his own. With a giant man crunching crab on the loose. Just saying.

Dr Weigand goes into another cave. (At least he takes his sunglasses off).

Dale sees the crab, but manages to avoid it by the scientific application of ‘hiding’, then runs back outside.

56:08 He runs up the path towards Martha and Hank, who’ve obviously had enough of all the light entertainment and want more horror. Hank has two pineapples slung from his belt, which is a look.
‘We’ve got to get Dr Weigand out before it’s too late!’ says Dale.
‘Well let’s go!’ says Hank. ‘Stay there, Martha!’

56:28 Dr Weigand finds the electric fans and fiddles about with them. The crab appears. Dr Weigand runs away but gets electrocuted by the fans. The crab makes some appreciative noises (preferring his meat well done) and sets about nipping off his head. The other three scientists run around a bit, then Dale throws a lighter into the oil and sets off an explosion.

‘That was quick thinking!’ says a disembodied Dr Weigand. ‘But one day all fires must burn out!’

They hurry back to the station.

58:36 Hank is busy tapping out morse code for ‘Help we’re being attacked by crabs’
‘Hah ha ha!’ says disembodied Dr Weigand (or DDW for short). ‘I’m afraid that won’t help you, Hank. By the time ships and planes arrive, this island will have vanished beneath the waves. But don’t worry. You will be a part of me. And we will wait in the caves and plan our assault on the world of men…’

More explosions. The ceiling comes down and the island falls to bits.

The three of them hurry outside and climb to higher ground as the ocean rises.
The DDW taunts them through the aerial at the summit.
Hank and Dale pool their pineapples.
The crab advances towards them out of the sea.
They toss their pineapples (I’d be tossing my cookies).
‘Foolish! Very foolish!’ taunts the DDW.
Hank runs in with his last pineapple but gets whacked by a claw.
Hank climbs the aerial, trying to pull it down on top of the crab.
The crab winks at him, which pushes Hank to even greater fury.
Hank falls with the aerial onto the crab, and both of them get fried.

‘He gave his life’ says Dale, kissing Martha’s hair.
‘I know!’ breathes Martha, not sure if she’s ended up with the right one. She coulda been with Hank, the handy radio and TV repair guy. But still – the crab n’all.

As the music and everything else swells…

And that’s it!

So what’ve we learned?

  1. Toffees are absolutely NOT an appropriate snack item for consumption in the cinema auditorium. If you MUST eat, why not take in a punnet of strawberries?
  2. If you’re stuck on an island with man eating giant crabs, probably best not get distracted playing poker. (Or smoking stogies, if you’re using dynamite as chips.)
  3. Giant man eating crabs that absorb your brains and thoughts are one thing, but creeps who knocked around a lot in radio and TV repair are something else.
  4. A crab can eat a marine in five minutes. An officer, three.
  5. Oil. Just stop, okay?

Die, Monster, Die!

Die, Monster, Die! 1965, dir. Daniel Haller. Watched on YouTube so you don’t have to.

Two things attracted me. The first was Boris Karloff. I’ve only ever seen BK in Frankenstein, and he was good in that. I mean – a little lumbering & awkward maybe, but I’m guessing that was in the script. The other is the title, which is reassuringly emphatic. It seemed about right – especially given the UK political mood at the minute. I think we’re ALL dreaming of a little Die Monster Die. But given that a general election is still 2 years off, I’ll have to sublimate by watching this film and hope for some tips along the way. So buckle on your big boots and we go. DMD, 1965 – let’s monster this!

0:11 Edgy violins over a swirling, red blob graphic. Presented by Samuel Z. Arkoff, which doesn’t sound right. Zarkoff I might go for. Z. Arkoff? Nope.

0:24 This blob thing. It’s weird. The kind of abstract picture you’d get if you dropped a Babybel in Toilet Duck.

0:36 The title: Die, Monster, Die! And for emphasis – if it wasn’t emphatic enough – three blasts from the brass section. The exclamation point should’ve gone to a slide trombone.

0:58 Introducing Suzan Farmer. That’s Suzan with a Z. How many times she said THAT through her career is anyone’s guess. I wonder if she’s any relation to Samuel Z. Arkoff?

1:20 Favourite name so far: Billy Milton. See how many times you can say Billy Milton fast and loud before you start sounding like an idling jetski.

1:46 The swirly abstract graphic of the title sequence carries on being swirly and abstract. I’ve never SEEN so little be spent to so LITTLE effect. Are they trying to hypnotise the audience? Or drive them back out into the foyer to see what else is playing? Quit, Audience, Quit!

1:57 Apparently, Special Effects are by Wally Veevers, which is strangely satisfying to say out loud. The Veevers, I mean. Not so much the Wally.

3:00 Into the action. (Theoretically). A long shot of a steam train coming into a station. A VERY long shot. It takes so long you start looking around at the small stuff. Some washing out on a line behind the station waiting room. I wouldn’t hang my washing out on a line by a railway line. That’s too many lines. And I’ve never seen one in real life but I think steam trains are pretty smokey. Like having a giant coal fire rattle past. The washing would come in dirtier than when you put it out. I’m actually not that bothered. I’m just looking for something to talk about whilst a train comes into a station VERY VERY SLOWLY INDEED

3:13 Aaaaaaand stops. Aaaaaaaand a close up of the brakes. Aaaaaaand if the film finishes here I’ll be happy.

3:17 But – there’s more. A snappy looking guy in a snappy trenchcoat and snappy hair leans out of the window to have a look. Maybe he’s persuaded by the washing line, but anyway – he gets out, carrying the kind of suitcase you’d draw with crayons if someone asked. The train moves off. Shame. I’ve come to love this train. We spent some formative time together. You don’t lose that stuff in a hurry.

3:40 This station is Arkham. (I sound like a platform announcement). Please Alight here for Boris Karloff, Monsters and connecting services to Horrorfordshire.

3:52 First four lines of dialogue are between Snappy Suitcase Guy and a taxi driver:
‘That’s right’

It’s so authentic I could weep.

Apparently Snappy Suitcase Guy is called Nick (incorrect – please see later note) – I know because I looked it up (see previous note about later note).

Turns out, Nick is going to the Witley place. The taxi driver refuses to take him and drives off. Close up on Nick. If I was Nick, I’d have said some VERY BAD WORDS about the taxi driver. But he just clenches his jaw and looks around some more.

Arkham is one of those sleepy little English towns generally known as ‘quaint’ which is a portmanteau word: Quite a Nice Place to Live It Ain’t.

NOTE: One thing I’ve noticed about a certain breed of leading man is the Head Wobble. It comes in a package with the Steely Look and the Flinty Grimace.

4:40 Nick goes over to a Greengrocer’s shop. The Greengrocer’s selling a head of cabbage to a woman who looks like she’s in the market for a replacement head. Nick takes an apple and bites into it without paying (it must be how Americans shop – taste before you buy).
‘I’m anxious to get to the Witley place’ he says.
‘Sorry!’ says the Greengrocer, snatching the apple off him (he’ll put it back on display, bite side in).
The cabbage woman backs away. She wasn’t reckoning on this sort of trouble when she set out that morning for a new head.

5:04 Cabbage woman hurries across the street to tell some local types sitting outside a pub that the foreign gentleman is asking for the Witley place.
Nick wobbles over.
‘Hello,’ he says. ‘Is there any place around here I can rent an automobile?’
‘No. Bicycle maybe,’ says a retired general type with froth on his lip, or a moustache, difficult to say.
Nick mentions the Witley place.
The locals all laugh
‘He wants to go to the Witley place!’ says an old guy in a hat and beard he stole off a gnome. ‘The Witley place!’

I’m not getting great vibes about the Witley place.

Nick isn’t put off, though. He goes to the bike shop – a timbered building with a bike hanging off the front, like a bike shop in medieval times.
‘Hello’ says Nick.
‘Something you want?’ says the shopkeeper.
‘Yeah. I wanna rent a bike for a few days.’
‘Where would you be riding it?’ says the shop Nazi.
‘I’ll pay for it in advance,’ says Nick. (Good boy. Just don’t mention the Witley place).
‘I asked where you’d be going!’ says the guy, looking furious.
‘To the Witley place,’ says Nick, breaking down under questioning.
The shopkeeper says no.

Nick will just have to walk.

6:58 So off he goes. There are some calendar quality shots of horses and country lanes, but someone in the orchestra’s sawing away on a cello, so I’m guessing all’s not well in this neck of the outback. Careful Nick!

7:17 Now he’s walking through a landscape that wouldn’t look out of place in a post-apocalypse movie. Nick stops to snap a branch off a tree. It crumbles to ash. No wonder the people of Arkham don’t like the Witley place – although the old bearded guy got quite a kick out of hearing about it.

8:05 He walks up to a padlocked gate, and does what anyone does in movies who walks up to a padlock – which is to reach out and lift it up a little, to emphasise that yes, it is actually locked. Me? I wouldn’t touch it. I’d maybe throw a rock at it and be done, but it’d depend what mood I was in.

8:20 There’s no wall to the side of the gate though, which is an oversight. Nick goes to sneak through – and sees a bear trap just in time! He uses his suitcase to spring it. Which is good thinking, and much less expensive than a leg.

8:40 Nick walks over a foggy bridge, ignoring the stupid frog noises. A cloaked figure watches him from the fog. All in all, you’d have to say the signs aren’t propitious.

9:06 The Witley place is pretty much as you’d imagine. A substantial 16 bedroomed mansion in the Gothic style, off road parking, set in a hundred acres of pristine, apocalyptic land with bags of character and plenty of scope for redevelopment – maybe a health spa, or whatever the opposite of that might be.

9:14 I’m not sure about all this fog. Maybe the cloaked figure is vaping (but I don’t think they had e-cigarettes back in the Pleistocene or whenever this hunk of cheese was shot).

9:35 Nick goes up to a suitably awful looking door guarded either side by fierce stone gryphons. (Note to self: Don’t bother knocking on a door quarded either side by fierce stone gryphons. Whatever you’re selling, they’re not buying. Trust me). Nick knocks (couldn’t resist typing that). A crow does its gothic crow thing somewhere overhead. Or maybe that’s the door alarm.

9:51 The door opens.
Does it creak?
Does a crow squawk in the woods?

9:58 Nick strolls in and looks around. Decor = Hanged Monk, top notes of garlic and plague.

He says hello a few times. Nothing. The grandfather clock strikes the hour and Nick spins round. He’s feeling twitchy and I don’t blame him. First the people of Arkham, then the bear trap, now the spooky clock. Why he ever agreed to drag his sorry suitcase out here god only knows.

He turns round – and is face to face with Boris Karloff!


He looks friendlier than the bike shop guy, though.

‘The signs clearly say to keep out..’ lisps Karloff, who the cast list tells us is Nahum Witley.

‘I have come to visit the Witleys.’
‘I am now Witley’ says Nahum.
(Wait. What?)

‘Actually – it’s Susan I came to visit’ (Suzan?)

‘My daughter’s not receiving visitors!’ says Nahum. (I’ve never heard of anyone called Nahum before. Nathan, yes. Nahum, no.)

(*) NOTE: Actually – the hero ISN’T called Nick. Nick is the actor playing the hero, who is ACTUALLY called Steve Reinhart. But I won’t go back and change this because I like the ‘Nick knocks’ line and can’t bear to lose it. I’ll call him Steve from now on, though. Thanks. I’ll make it up to you. How, I don’t know. But I will.

11:54 Steve explains that he met Susan in America in science class. Like they have over there.
Nahum’s not having it, though. He says he’ll get Merwyn take him back to the village. (Merwyn? Not Mervyn? All these names are slightly off – which actually goes quite nicely with the overall aesthetic, though…)

12:18 Susan appears at the top of the stairs.
‘Steve!’ she says, in a burst of pink sweater and romantic violins. Then she checks her hair in a mirror and runs down stairs, her pointy bra leading by about three feet.
‘Steve! I thought you’d never get here!’ she says.
Her father looks on disapprovingly (which is quite a thing when your father is Boris Karloff).
‘I want to take him up to meet mother,’ says Susan.
‘You know it’s forbidden for her to have visitors!’ says Nahum. To no effect.

13:00 So they go upstairs and stop in front of a ghastly portrait of Susan’s great grandfather, Elias Witley, a man apparently made entirely of spun sugar.
‘He built this house a hundred and fifty years ago’ says Susan.
Then she shows him another portrait, her grandfather, Corbin Witley – who looks like Keith Richards gene-spliced with an owl.
‘What did HE do?’ says Steve.
‘He went insane’ says Susan.

13:26 ‘You must understand about mother’ says Susan. ‘She’s not well.’ Steve pouts heroically.
She takes him into her bedroom.
‘Come in’ says a wobbly Shakespearean voice. ‘And CLOSE the door.’

Turns out mother is called Letitia, which sounds more like a sneeze than a name. She’s in a four poster bed, behind the kind of net drapes that would keep elephants out, let alone mosquitos.

She asks to speak to Steve alone. Susan leaves. Steve sits in a chair he’s obviously not sure about. It looks about as comfy as that bear trap.

14:53 Meanwhile, down in a super fake spidery crypt, Merwyn wheels Nahum in a throne-on-wheels type wheelchair arrangement onto a boxy wooden chair lift. Nahum hauls on a rope to lower himself down whilst Merwyn walks slowly down the stairs. (I mean – I’m as interested in the history and development of stair lifts as the next guy, but even for a home adaptations nerd like me this scene goes on a bit. It’s worse than the train. Maybe cinema goers back in the sixties were more chilled, or medicated, or desperate – but for a film with a runtime of 90 minutes, so far we’ve had about 9 seconds of action, and three of them were a clock).

15:34 Still down in the crypt. Merwyn is pushing Nahum around through arches, gates, more arches and so on. All very atmospheric, but this is more of a studio tour than a film. I’m starting to look forward to the cafe and the shop. Even Nahum looks bored. It’s a long way from The Mummy.

15:50 Merwyn stumbles.
‘Are you alright?’ says Nahum.
(I diagnose a lack of dramatic sustenance).
‘Yessir’ gasps Merwyn.
‘I’m going to need your help,’ says Nahum.
‘You can trust me, sir’ says Merwyn.
He carries on wheezing & wheeling.

16:05 Back up in Ma Witley’s bedroom. (Hopefully she’ll pull back the drapes and we’ll get a horrible reveal).
‘Come here!’ she says to Steve. ‘Closer!’
She asks him to open a box on the table.
He opens the box.
‘It’s an earring’ says Steve.
‘Yes. It’s an earring,’ says Letitia.

I’m reminded of the dialogue between Steve and the taxi driver. This is top stuff and I’m glad to be alive so I can witness it.

‘Take it out of the box. Examine it,’ says Letitia.
‘It’s gold’ says Steve, ever the scientist.
‘It’s not the material it’s made from that makes it significant,’ says Letitia, more archly than the cellar. ‘You probably think this whole house is obsessed with mystery…’
Apparently the earring belonged to Letitia’s maid, Helga. She was a ‘nice, simple girl’, completely devoted to Letitia. But Helga came down with some terrible disease.
‘I begged her to go to the doctor in Arkham’
‘Did she go?’
‘No. I don’t think she did.’

Steve looks like he’s about to throw the earring at Letitia (it wouldn’t make it through the drapes).

17:29 Back in the crypt, Merwyn is STILL pushing Nahum around. They enter a chamber with a plinth like a giant waffle press with something inside that thrums with blue light and mist.
Maybe this is the games room?

17:54 Nahum opens a trunk that’s full of chains. (Yep. Games room).

Meanwhile, Merwyn stares down into the waffle maker. Just above it is a giant iron skull, covered in cobwebs. Sweet.

In fact, the skull and spiderweb theme is picked up in a few places, and I think it pops and works really well.

‘Chains for devils!’ snarls Nahum, giving them a snarky kinda smile, then tosses them back in the box.

When he goes to touch a padlock in the approved way, he accidentally picks up a massive spider. He flings it to the floor with a shudder. I’m disappointed. I thought Boris Karloff would appreciate a big fat spider or two.

18:47 Back in the bedroom, Letitia is talking more about the sick maid, Helga.
‘She was overcome with something like…. like… self-loathing.’

‘Why is the earring significant?’ asks Steve on behalf of the whole audience (or what’s left of it)
‘She dropped it when she left about a week ago.’
Steve asks if Nahum knows what happened to her. Apparently Nahum doesn’t. Anyway – Steve is Letitia’s one hope for Susan.
She reaches out a hand to him through the drapes. Steve doesn’t look too pleased – the hand is scaly and kinda icky. Letitia asks him to promise to take Susan away. Steve looks like he’s about to throw up. (But at least he didn’t blow any money on hiring a bike).

20:07 Back in the crypt, Merwyn struggles to unlock the padlock securing a door. (Padlocks feature a surprising amount in this film). In fact, Merwyn struggles SO much unlocking the padlock, Boris Karloff has to improvise a concerned look behind him, like he thinks the big spider he tossed on the ground a little earlier is sneaking up. Brilliant! You can’t teach instincts like that.

Actually – turns out – they weren’t unlocking the door but locking it. Merwyn wheels Nahum away. You can have too much fun.

20:25 Susan is waiting for Steve to come out of her mum’s bedroom. (I know – I just read that back and it does seem a little off)

‘What did you talk about?’ she says.
‘You!’ says Steve, giving a leery kind of smile that means he’s either feeling sexy or having a stroke. ‘I’ve got parental blessing. Or half of it, anyway. Where’s my bedroom – down here?’

Quite why he just doesn’t come out and say your mum’s ill, she needs a doctor, what happened to Helga, shall we just grab my suitcase and leave… I don’t know.

Anyway – Susan shows him into his room, almost knocking over a couple of statues with her pointy bra.

Steve grabs her by the shoulders and asks her about her mum, whether she’s seen a doctor or not, what happened to Helga (which goes to show I should just shut up and wait to see what happens…) Susan is confused. ‘What ELSE did you talk about?’ she says. But then they kiss, and nothing else matters.

‘Your mother did ask whether my intentions were honourable,’ smirks Steve when they finally unsucker.
‘Are they?’ says Susan.
‘Whaddyou think?’ says Steve, and gives the kind of wink that would make a gastroenterologist heave.

Nahum witnesses this through the half-open door. He doesn’t seem happy. (I’m with him on this).

22:18 Nahum wheels himself off to see his wife. They have the normal, long-time-married, gothic/snipey kinda exchange, who thought what and when, mention of the devil and various other relatives etcetera. Nahum tells her that nothing is going to deter him from his purpose.
‘That’s what Corbin said’ says Letitia.
‘If there was evil, it’s buried with him,’ says Nahum, weightily.
‘I saw him change into an old man possessed of the devil,’ says Letitia.
Nahum pours himself a drink.
They snark on a lot more, sins of the fathers, that kinda thing. Letitia threatens to go to the village to ‘show herself’, which puts the frighteners on Nahum. He agrees to let Steve stay a day longer but no more.

The scene culminates in Nahum giving a VERY dramatic line that he delivers with the actorly aplomb you’d expect from someone who learned their craft in silent movies:
‘The truth? The truth is that I see the future! And all that I have planned for it will fill it with a richness we have never known…’
‘All that I can see is horror,’ snaps Letitia. ‘Horror!’

At least she’s got her drapes.

25:57 Dinner at the Witley place. They’re all sitting round a big table (apart from Letitia). Merwyn has some epic, slow & clumsy butler schtick. None of that food will be hot. This is probably the horror Letitia talked about.

Susan and Steve eat soup that looks like vomit. I’d excuse myself and have a banana from the basket instead – but maybe they’re display purposes only. Although that didn’t stop Steve back at the Greengrocer’s. Steve and Susan look at Nahum, who’s sitting slumped in his wheel-throne, staring at the tablecloth. Maybe he had a line or two there, but got exhausted after his ‘truth’ speech and couldn’t go on. So to fill the time they eat the vile soup some more instead.

‘This is a very large room, ‘says Steve, eventually, to break the ice.
Great line, Steve.
Nahum stares at him.
Apparently there used to be lots of big parties there, but not so much these days, what with the devils and frogs and blasted heath and so on.
Merwyn says he took some food up to Letitia. He put a tray in front of her but she didn’t seem interested. Maybe it wasn’t drapey enough.
Just then they hear her scream.
‘What was that?’ says Steve.
No one says anything.
They carry on.

Susan talks about the strange fire that happened on the heath.
Merwyn is in the background sawing at a cut of meat; when he hears Susan mention the fire he slips and almost loses an arm.
‘I think Susan you’re inclined to exaggerate,’ says Nahum.
Merwyn brings over a tray of meat, collapses, tugs the tablecloth and pulls the whole lot down on top of him as he falls.
‘It’s alright,’ says Nahum. ‘This has happened before.’
Susan takes Steve away, leaving Nahum – in his wheelchair – to clear up the mess and the butler.

29:17 Susan takes some food up to her mum.
‘Quiet!’ says Letitia. ‘Listen… yes.. YES…’
I can’t hear anything, though.

30:17 Meanwhile, Steve is flipping through some dusty tomes in the library and wondering whether to get out his crayons. He hears something tapping at the window. Ignores it. Carries on flipping. This particular best seller is called: The Cult of the Outer Ones (I think I saw the film) – signed by Corbin Witley, preface saying something about cursed ground yaddah yaddah being destroyed etcetera. More interesting than the story about Helga’s earring, though.

30:47 Susan is primping her hair by a mirror. She gets a funny feeling, turns round and screams…. a caped figure is pressed up against the window, much like those joke Garfield the cat figures you see on car windows sometimes. Susan runs into Steve.
‘Are you sure you weren’t imagining things?’ he says.
‘I don’t know. There’s something about this house. Something …. SMOTHERING me,’ she says.
But she can’t leave because of her mum and all her health problems.
They hug it out, and it’s quite romantic – until over Steve’s shoulder Susan sees the caped figure at the window again. When Steve turns to look, the figure’s gone. ‘It’s your imagination’ he says. He recommends getting some rest. (I recommend getting another boyfriend.)
They kiss – in a particularly smothering way, it has to be said.

33:00 Close up of Letitia’s dreadful hand reaching through the drapes to snuff out a candle. (They edit out the swearing and the hiss as she plunges her hand into a glass of water.)

33:18 Night. The house is asleep – except for the director, creeping about.
Suddenly there’s an unearthly shriek.
Steve is still up, flipping through picture books. He goes out to investigate. Susan comes out in her negligee and furry slippers. They go downstairs. Pause halfway when they hear more shrieking. I’m more scared about the candle Susan’s holding – how close she comes to setting Steve’s hair products ablaze.

Down in the lobby they stop when they hear a crash. Steve takes the candle from Susan (anxious about his hair). You get a close-up of their feet – his shiny shoes, her furry slippers. Or maybe they switched. Anyway, it’s a shot I enjoy quite a bit.

A log snaps and jumps out of the fireplace. They shrug and carry on.

They come to a door that leads to Merwyn’s room. They open it. They go in.
(Packing five minutes of drama into roughly five years of footage).

Another door…

… which Nahum opens!

(I’m guessing the director was really into Advent Calendars and Cuckoo clocks as a kid).
Nahum is all sweaty and worked up, so …. awks.

‘You shouldn’t have come down here!’ he says.
‘But the screaming! And the noise!’ says Susan.

Like I say – awks.

‘It’s Merwyn. He’s dead,’ says Nahum. ‘Now go back to bed.’
Despite their protests he slams the door shut, wheels himself back into his room and takes a slug of wine. (I don’t know what that is in units.)

Steve wants to take Susan away immediately, but she asks him not to cause trouble, kisses him goodnight, and takes her slippers back to bed.

37:42 Steve goes off to cause trouble.

He creeps downstairs (Downstairs? I thought they were upstairs? Who designed this mansion – Max Escher?)

He hears a rustling behind a door. Then some other dubious sound effects. Then Nahum shuffles out, pushing a cabinet on his wheelchair.
Steve follows him.
(NOTE: you can tell Steve is a man of action because although he’s wearing a shirt the cuffs are rolled up one turn at the wrist).

Nahum wheels the cabinet outside into the froggy fog.

Steve takes the opportunity to do some more exploring. A room where everything’s a mess. Pictures askew (which isn’t a phrase you see that often), and worse – the outline of a charred corpse on the carpet.

Steve’s entire face pouts. He knows about carpets, how difficult that’ll be to put right.

He goes outside to follow Nahum, who surely couldn’t have gotten far.

Sees him digging a grave.

(If there was one thing Boris Karloff was put on this earth to do – apart from saying sundry sibilant spooky things with a lisp – it’s digging a grave at night in the fog. So enjoy.)

Steve looks back, because he hears a ghostly noise coming from a greenhouse illuminated by a green light (natch). There’s so much going on in the Witley place at night. No wonder everyone’s slow at dinner.

Steve’s torn between watching Nathum dig a grave or investigating the ghostly greenhouse. He pouts a while, then goes for the greenhouse.

40:39 Damn! Another padlock (which he lifts up to look at).

Nahum hears him fiddling with the lock and starts staggering in his direction, giving Steve plenty of time to hide.

But no! He decides to get in his wheelchair and scoot across there instead. All that digging wore him out.

Outside the greenhouse, Nahum looks at the padlock. Damn! But at least it wasn’t a spider. Then he sees a light on in the mansion. Steve sees it, too. They both head in that direction, but Steve gets there first. Runs up the staircase (which Nahum will struggle with, I’m guessing).

41:50 Steve jumps into bed fully clothed and pulls the bedclothes over himself, just as Nahum opens the door and wheels himself in (how did he get there so quickly?). Whilst Steve pretends to be asleep, Nahum feels his candlestick (the most awkward thing he’s done the whole film). Seems happy with the result. Wheels himself out again.

43:15 Next morning is foggy with a chance of frog. Steve is back in his trenchcoat, striding purposefully across the lawns. He means business. The caped figure watches as he marches across the bridge. The caped figure yells as he strides off onto the blasted heath. The caped figure sneaks up on him. Lunges at him with a knife. Steve does a judo chop – gets a glimpse of the caped figure’s face, just before it runs off. Steve pouts, flexes his shoulder, then carries on into Arkham, maybe to see a physiotherapist, not sure.

44:35 Steve goes into a phone box. He’s overlooked by the cabbage woman, who obviously doesn’t approve of strange Americans using phone boxes. I don’t think the phone works, though. Maybe there’s no signal. Whatever the reason, he comes straight out again.

45:13 Knocks on the door of a house near the church (sorry I can’t be more specific).
A severe woman answers. It’s probably why she moved to Arkham. She fit right in.
‘Yes?’ she says.
‘Is the doctor in?’
(Let’s hope it’s a script doctor)
She frowns, then leads him through to a room and leaves him there. He stands around with his hands in his pockets. Then he wanders around having a nose. Eventually, after about three weeks, the doctor comes in. (It’s Patrick Magee! Worth catching the film just to hear his voice!)

The first thing the doctor does is unscrew a bottle of whiskey and pour them both a drink. My kinda doctor. He’s also smoking. I’m surprised he hasn’t got a needle of heroin dangling out of his arm.

The doctor doesn’t want to hear about the goings-on at the Witley place. Steve gets riled up by this. He might have seen a murder, after all.
‘Murder!’ sneers the doctor, taking another slug of Bells. ‘I’m sorry I can’t help you – now go away.’
The receptionist shows Steve to the door whilst he drinks another half a bottle.
On the way out, the receptionist says how the doctor’s never been the same since Corbin Witley died in his arms. She says the cause of death was cerebral haemorrhage. And another thing, she says. No one in the village saw the body – except for the doctor. And another significant plot point… says the surprisingly expositional receptionist. It’s obviously how she got the job. ‘Must have shorthand & typing, and be good at exposition.’

Steve leaves (which is almost as good as Nick knocks, but not quite)

48:15 Back at the Witley place. Susan is knocking at Letitia’s bedroom door but getting no reply. Nahum wheels up and takes over. We get to see the other side of the door – the room in disarray, pictures askew, drapes thrown back. Hmm.

48:56 Cut to: Steve and Susan arm in arm walking over the bridge.
‘But Steve!’ she says. ‘No one EVER goes to the greenhouse at night…’
‘Then why was there a light?’
‘A light?’
‘Yeah – a light. The only word I can think of is “glowed”’
(All that flipping through books we saw earlier begins to make sense now)
They decide to go to the greenhouse to have a look.

49:52 Nahum is still outside Letitia’s bedroom trying to talk sense into her. We can see her, though, cowering by the window. She turns – and we see that the side of her face is disfigured.

50:24 Steve and Susan lift up the padlock. Locked! Rattle the chains.
Susan says she knows another way in.

51:14 They pull off some planks and sneak into the greenhouse. It’s filled with enormous and colourful plants.
‘How could they grow like this?’
They wander round looking at the enormous tomatoes and such – then get spooked by another ghastly noise.
Steve investigates. He looks in the potting shed.
‘It’s dark in there – except for a kind of… glow’
‘Oh Steve!’ says Susan, tugging his shirt.

They creep into the potting shed.

In the foreground, you can see what looks like a giant puppy behind some bars. Susan hasn’t seen it yet, but when she does…

There’s a flickering light in a structure in the centre of the room.
‘Some kind of energy – must be uranium,’ says Steve.

They hear the scream again. Steve lifts up a shovel of uranium to light things up – and we see creatures behind the bars. Not puppies – more like octopuses crossed with puppies. Octopups? Puptopuses?
‘It looks like a zoo in hell!’ snarls Steve.

Back out in the greenhouse, Steve gives a little talk about genetic engineering and radioactive mutation.
‘The smell! It’s sickening!’ says Susan.
‘It’s the effect of decay!’ says Steve, hoping she’s not talking about him.

Steve digs up some more nuclear stuff from one of the pots.
‘I wonder if it’s an element?’ he says. ‘It’s giving off heat!’

He carries on talking about the effects of exposure to these rocks, whilst a living plant sneaks up on Susan. She screams as she’s grabbed by the curlies or ivy or whatever it is. Steve struggles with the plant. Finds a machete and gets to work. Then hauls her out of the greenhouse after kicking through the padlocked door (Steve can be dynamic when he has to be – especially if his shirt sleeves are rolled one turn at the wrist).

56:35 Back in the mansion, Nahum is busy wheeling himself around again – back to Letitia’s bedroom door. She’s still not answering.

Meanwhile, Susan shows Steve the door down to the crypt.
‘Be careful, Steve,’ says Susan.

57:30 Steve takes about a year to sneak down the crypt steps, doing the same studio tour we did with Merwyn about a million years ago. Eventually he opens a door – and a skeleton shrieks and jumps out! But actually …. it’s just a skeleton on a chain, swinging quite happily, so that’s alright. Steve carries on nosing around.

Meanwhile, Susan has gone to find her Dad. She tells him about the greenhouse. He’s furious. He grabs her wrist and demands to know where Steve is. When she says the crypt, he wheels off furiously. (This part must’ve been a real workout for Boris).

59: 00 Back in the crypt, Steve is wandering around looking shifty in his snappy shirt. In fact, he looks quite a lot like George Bush jnr.

Suddenly he’s assailed by bats. Horrible rubber things, on elastic strings! Maybe they came from the same prop shop as the skelington. Steve is basically on a ghost train, only without the train.

He takes in the decor of the gothic waffle room – the skulls and devil motifs and whatnot. The waffle maker is in full swing, blue light, mist. Approach with caution.

Suddenly Nahum is there!
‘Get out of this room!’ he says.

Steve tells Nahum he has GOT to get rid of all this nuclear shit (paraphrasing here).
‘Look at the way it glows!’ he says, pointing to it. ‘And hums!’

1:00:19 A scream!

Steve runs back up the stairs. Nahum takes the lift.

Steve finds Susan collapsed on the landing. He slaps her to wake her up (his first aid skills up there with his nuclear knowledge).

She says she heard her mum smashing things, then the door flew open, she screamed and doesn’t remember anything else.

Steve helps her up. They start to open lots of doors to find Letitia.

A lightning storm begins.

The front doors blow open.

Nahum wheels himself around the place, calling out Letitia! Letitia! (It’s that or he’s caught a chill). Steve & Susan open MORE doors. It’s basically like being shown around a house by estate agents on crack.

They open another door – and the caped figure lunges out!

Chases them down the stairs.

They run into a room and lock the door. The caped figure starts to rattle the handle (where are the padlocks when you need them?).

The caped figure smashes through a panel and looks through. It looks like the lead singer from Kiss. It chases Steve around a table until he lamps it with a candlestick. Gets up and goes again. Throws a chair. No good. He’s got his back to the patio doors. The creature lunges – Steve steps to the side – it falls onto the patio. But because it’s exposed to the light, it’s killed. It rolls back inside – just as Nahum – erm – rolls back inside.

They all watch as the creature’s face dissolves like an overdone jam roly poly. Susan bites her knuckle, so we’re spared a scream. Nahum looks peeved.
‘Please take Susan away!’ he says.

1:06:16 Time has passed. They’re gathered around Letitia’s grave in the cemetery.
‘I ignored her entreaties,’ says Nahum, lispishly. ‘And now she has paid for Corbin’s blasphemies’.
Basically – in this scene – we learn that the radioactive rocks ‘fell from the sky’ – something that Nahum thinks was a family curse and the work of the Devil, but Steve glows – sorry, knows – as a scientist – that what they’re actually dealing with is a meteorite.

I’m surprised they didn’t get the doctor’s receptionist in to explain all this. She’d have done a much better job (and left promptly when she’d done)

Turns out, Nahum isn’t a satanist but just an ambitious market gardener, using depleted uranium instead of MiracleGro.

‘Will you take Susan away please!’ says Nahum.
‘What about you?’ says Steve.
‘I will stay here to destroy this monstrous thing.’

‘C’mon Susan. Let’s go and pack,’ says Steve (he’s only got one suitcase, so don’t worry).

1:09:09 Nahum heads back down to the crypt. Back onto the stair lift. Mercifully it doesn’t seem to take him so long this time to get to the waffle room.

He takes a big ol’ axe off the wall. Staggers up onto the plinth. Works the pulley to lift the waffle maker lid. There’s a great deal of glowing and humming (which Steve wouldn’t like). Nahum chops at the radioactive core, which looks like a toffee apple, so pretty realistic.
Then he turns to see Helga, the caped figure, advancing on him with a carving knife.
Nahum chops at her with the axe, misses, Helga drops the knife and takes the axe. After a lot of shuffling around the plinth, she eventually lunges at him, misses, and goes headfirst into the radioactive apple, screaming.

1:11:13 Back up in the bedroom, Steve and Susan are packing. They hear the scream.
‘Stay here!’ says Steve, and runs back down to the crypt.

1:11:31 Nahum’s face is glowing in green patches. I’m no nuclear scientist, but even I know that’s not good.

All his veins glow green. He seems to be morphing into a radioactive brussel sprout.

‘Mr Witley!’ shouts Steve, running into the awful waffle chamber.

Steve sees a glowing green handprint on the wall.
(All this stuff is putting me RIGHT off nuclear energy)

Steve follows the handprints through the cellar.

Then suddenly radioactive Nahum springs out, his hands out in front of him, his fingers spread, in classic Mummy style! Welcome back, Boris!

He chases Steve back up the steps, ignoring all the baskets and shit Steve tosses at him to slow him down.

Steve slams the crypt door and locks it – but Nahum bashes through it no problem.

Steve grabs Susan.
‘C’mon’ he says.
They locks themselves in the bedroom.
Steve picks a handy antique club off the wall just as Nahum bashes through the bedroom door no problem.

Susan screams.

Nahum chases Steve round the room. Steve chucks the club and sundry other things. Picks up an axe – but turns out he’s even worse with an axe than Helga. He chops a table in half – which would be impressive, if he didn’t fall to the floor immediately after.

‘Run, Susan! Run!’ he says. Nahum stands over him waiting for the director to shout something.

Eventually Nahum decides to chase Susan rather than finish off Steve.

Steve picks up the axe again and goes back after him (good luck with that, Steve).

Nahum lunges at Susan on the balcony. She dodges to one side. Nahum bashes through the balustrades no problem, but then plummets down into the foyer, where he catches fire. Susan is so busy screaming she slips and almost follows her father, but Steve drags her back. They hug on the landing as Nahum burns.

They run out of the mansion as it all goes up in flames.

They hug in the gardens.

‘C’mon Susan. We’re going and we’re not looking back!’
‘I don’t understand, Steve. Why did all this have to happen?’ (You and me both, Susan)
‘I don’t think it had to happen,’ says Steve. ‘In the proper scientific hands your father’s discovery could’ve been beneficial. But in the hands of this director it was just so much radioactive fruit (okay I added that line)’

They run off hand in hand.

Close up of Corbin Witley’s portrait burning, which doesn’t improve it

as the music swells

…and that’s it!

So what’ve we learned?

  1. Science is risky, but if you MUST do it, roll your sleeves a little.
  2. Axes are trickier than they look
  3. Padlocks. The action man’s curse.
  4. If something hums AND glows, it’s probably worth hanging back a bit.
  5. If you stop off in a quaint little village but the taxi driver won’t take you, and the Greengrocer won’t sell you fruit, and the bike hire place won’t hire you a bike – QUIT. It’s not worth it.

The Monster of Piedras Blancas

The Monster of Piedras Blancas, 1959. Dir. Irvin Berwick Watched on YouTube, so you don’t have to.

I was attracted to this film by the title, which sounds more like a holiday destination than a monster movie. It was a toss-up between this and The Eye People, which sounded… I don’t know… too ophthalmic. Apparently the monster suit in this one was made by the same person who did The Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Mole People, which is nice to have on your CV, along with clean driving licence and contact number.

By the way – talking CVs – I see that the actress who plays Lucille Sturges is Jeanne Carmen, listed on Wiki as ‘model, actress and trick-shot golfer’. Which is quite possibly the greatest three line CV I’ve EVER read.

Opening shot: A moody looking lighthouse. Are they ever anything other than moody? And whilst we’re talking about lighthouses… and CVs…. you’d really have to modify your work history and character profile pretty carefully to stand a chance of getting a job in one. ‘Fully qualified electrician with a head for heights, beards and clay pipes; enjoys raging on stormy balconies, battling with demons, knitting…

The music enhances the moodiness, of course. A lot of brass & timpany. Low note, thunderous stuff. A piccolo would give you COMPLETELY the wrong idea.

00:07 Cut to: a claw reaching up over a rock to grab what looks like a chamber pot. I mean – when you gotta go, you gotta go…

00:15 But then the pot gets chucked back, empty (thankfully).

00:20 Back in the lighthouse, a knock-off Gene Hackman on the ketone diet – actually Sturges, the lighthouse keeper – steps outside, scans the horizon, checks his watch. Buttons up his lighthouse keeper jacket (which is just like a normal jacket, except it’s got a huge collar, and deep pockets for pipes, knitting needles and the collected poems of William Blake)

00:36 Two men are walking along the cliff edge with fishing rods (I hope they’ve got enough line then). Sturges tells them to beat it, then he wobbles off into town on a bike with a basket on the front. The music is blaring, like wobbling off on a bike with a basket on the front is about as heroic and dangerous as crossing the alps on an elephant. Which it may be, I’ve not done it.

01:00 We get a piano run as the camera falls over the cliff and crashes into the waves as the title comes up in block letters: The Monster of Piedras Blancas. Which I google translated and apparently means: The Monster of White Stones (which sounds less terrifying, more medical)

01:11 The cast list is all ‘The Doctor’ or ‘The Storekeeper’ etc, which sounds like they’re keeping the characters at arm’s length. Which may or not be a good thing.

01:18 BTW, The Monster of Piedras Blancas is played by The Monster of Piedras Blancas, apparently. Who I haven’t seen in any other movies, so maybe they gave up acting and went into politics.

Favourite name so far? Lighting by Tom Ouellette. Sounds like one of those joke books: A Short History of Lavatories by T. Ouellette.

01:47 Cut to: a bunch of people on the shore standing round a small boat (really more like a tin bath if I’m honest). A guy with a hat looks inside it, takes off his hat and scratches his head, so I’m guessing he’s a cop. ‘Never saw anything like it in my life’ he says.
‘Head ripped clean off’ says Jake, a lunk in a leather jacket, with a measure of respect in his voice, like he appreciates a job well done. ‘Wha d’ya think, constable?’ he says to the ha guy.
‘I don’t know what to think,’ says The Sheriff (so I suppose Jake was just being Jake when he called him Constable, then). ‘We’ll know better after an autopsy’

02:03 Sturges stops by on his bike.
‘I bet ol’ Sturges knows more than he’ll tell’ says Jake, grimacing and nodding at the same time, which is good for Jake. They talk about how the boat must’ve drifted. One of the other bystanders says he doesn’t think Sturges knows anything.
‘You wanna bet?’ says Jake.
‘Oh…’ says the guy, batting the air between ‘em (the approved way of flagging dissent amongst guys on beaches).

02:38 Sturges wobbles up to Kochek’s Store: Meat AND Groceries (which explains the basket – although – wouldn’t you need TWO baskets?). An extra walks by like a robot, her arms straight down by her sides. A huge key in her back (I wouldn’t be surprised). No doubt that was the best take of ninety.

02:54 ‘I need some supplies’ says Sturges.
Kochek slaps a ledger down on the counter. He’s got a pencil gaffered to the side of his head, so I’m guessing it must get pretty windy out that way.
‘You see what happened to the Renaldi brothers?’ he says, quite cheerily. ‘It was me that found them. I went out on the pier to look at my lobster traps… I saw the boat low in the water… their throats cut… funny thing, there wasn’t much blood…’
‘Did that lens cleaner come in I ordered?’ says Sturges.

BTW : listening to Kochek speak, I think he was born in Italy, lived in Poland a while, moved to Newfoundland via Brooklyn. All with a pencil gaffered to his head.

‘Anyting else?’ says Kochek.
‘Just my week’s meat scraps,’ says Sturges.

Kochek mentions the legend of the Monster of Piedras Blancas. ‘It would explain many things that have happened around here in the last thirty years.’ (Including the lack of lens cleaner?)

Looks like Kochek gave the meat scraps to someone else.
‘You’ll be sorry for this,’ says Sturges.
‘That’ll be three dollars,’ says Kochek.

Suddenly Jake and another lunk come in, pushing a handcart with a tarp over it.
‘Where do we put ‘em?’ he says.
‘The ice room,’ says Kochek.
Which might explain the meat scraps.

05:35 Sturges wheels his bike fifty yards to The Wings Cafe: Steaks, Seafood. Lucille is behind the bar.
‘Good morning Dad’ she says, helpfully.
‘You left early this morning, Lucille.’
‘I had to open up.’
‘I got the supplies so you won’t have to shop’
(The subtext to all this is killing me. The actor playing Sturges manages to convey so much with such a small moustache. It’s a masterclass).
‘Be home before dark,’ he says. ‘I got some nice liver. You always like that.’
But Lucille has to work late (great excuse to swerve the liver).
‘I don’t like you coming home after dark.’
‘Oh – I’ll be alright. Fred’ll bring me.’
Close up on Fred, a guy with slick hair who’s either smouldering or having a stroke.

The Sheriff is at the end of the bar. He wants a word. The Renaldi boys always fished out at the point. Had he seen them?
‘There was a squall last night,’ says The Sheriff. ‘What time did you activate the foghorn?’
‘I blew from 11:30 til dawn,’ says Sturges. (I bet he blows longer than that).
Sturges leaves.
The Sheriff talks to Lucille. (His ears trouble me. They bend out at the top, like he’s been shoving his hat on too vigorously all these years).

08:11 Fred invites Lucille to come out to the point to ‘pick some specimens’
‘Gee I’d love to, but…’
(I’m guessing she’s picked specimens with Fred before).
But then she changes her mind and says she’ll come. And she’ll bring sandwiches. Because you can work up quite an appetite picking specimens.

08:41 The Sheriff goes to see The Doctor. You can tell he’s a doctor because he’s got no hair and a bow tie. He comes out of the autopsy room shaking his head, which is never a good sign from a bald-headed, bow-tie wearing doctor. He’s followed by Kochek, with an even BIGGER pencil gaffered to his head.

‘The heads were severed from the trunks’ says The Doctor. ‘Death was instantaneous.’

Somehow The Doctor manages to write on a notepad whilst talking to The Sheriff. (Have you ever tried to write something and talk about something else? I wanna see that pad!)
‘It may have been a freak accident,’ says The Doctor, ‘…or we may have a lunatic on our hands’
(I like the way his eyebrows go up in the middle when he says this. I could never be an actor because I don’t have such precise control).

10:04 Cut to: Lucille and Fred walking along a cliff top, arm in arm, Fred carrying a basket filled with sandwiches and whatever else you need to pick specimens – don’t know – never done it.
‘Let’s try this,’ says Fred, looking out over some rocks. Violins are playing, everything romantic and lovely – a million miles away from a liver dinner with her grumpy lighthouse keeper dad.
It does look cold, though, like they shot in November. Another reason I could never be an actor. OR a specimen picker.

10:44 They make themselves comfortable on the freezing cold beach. Fred actually takes his jacket off. AND his t-shirt. Is he going swimming? Jesus Christ! At this point I’m more worried about hypothermia than any monster.

Lucille takes out a danish pastry the size of a dustbin lid, takes a tiny bite, and then pretends to chew it a lot – which is another reason I couldn’t be an actor, because I couldn’t resist tucking into a Danish pastry and then screwing my lines up because of the icing.

Fred goes straight for the pickles.

‘The whole town’s against Dad and all HE wants is to be left alone,’ says Lucille, fake chewing.
Fred gnaws his pickle thoughtfully.
‘Well sometimes in a small town that’s asking too much,’ he says.
Then tosses the pickle.
‘I better get going or I’ll never get any specimens,’ he says.
He picks up some jars, a pair of goggles and strides heroically towards the water.

12:12 Cut to: Sturges, coming out of the lighthouse with the old chamber pot we saw in the first few frames. He scrambles down the cliff. Chains it to a rock and scatters the contents – some old fish, maybe some liver (probably – Lucille doesn’t want it).

12:53 Back on the beach, Fred is crawling through the surf towards Lucille, who’s sunning herself (WHAT sun?) on a rock. She falls in the water and they kiss. Racy for 1959, I suppose. If two characters kiss, they have to do it in the surf.

13:19 In the cafe, The Sheriff is telling The Doctor he doesn’t know what to think, he hasn’t got one thing to go on except ‘two mangled corpses and a busted-up boat’ (which sounds like quite a bit, to be honest, but that’s why I couldn’t be a Sheriff, because essentially I’m too optimistic).

The Doctor is also confused because there was no blood left in the bodies, like they’d been pumped dry or something. He says he doesn’t think it’s a monster, though. Just ‘a logical explanation we haven’t found yet.’ (Which doesn’t rule a monster OUT, though).

14:23 On the beach again. Lucille is lying under a blanket and Fred is resting against her at right angles – which sounds weirdly geometric, but that’s the level of thought that went into sex scenes in the 1950s. If Fred reached for another pickle at this point the censors would go NUTS.

14:35 Back to Wings Cafe. The Sheriff striding out and pushing his hat too hard down on his ears. He goes into Kochek’s store. Kochek is warning a customer about monsters, then hands her a bag of meat scraps or something and wishes her a pleasant afternoon.

The Sheriff orders Kochek to stop spreading rumours or he’ll lock him up to prevent riots. (America hasn’t changed much in sixty years, I’m afraid, give or take a monster).

16:04 Lucille and Fred pull up outside Wings in a battered Jeep (which looks perfect for specimen picking). The Sheriff follows them inside. He seems to spend half his life in Wings, half in Kochek’s. Doesn’t he HAVE an office?

16:30 Sturges is busy cleaning the lamp.
‘That Kochek’s an idiot!’ he says.
(Who’s he talking to? The LAMP? Mind you – he IS a lighthouse keeper, so…)

Actually – he’s talking to his dog, Ring.

‘I ordered that cleaner a month ago’ he says. Ring shrugs. He knows only too well the distribution problems coastal towns can be prone to. It was the subject of his PhD.

Sturges tells Ring he’s worried about Lucille coming home after dark. Ring agrees. It’s a difficult problem, but not one he’s especially worried about, being a dog.

17:42 Okay it’s dark now.

Fred drives Lucille home in his jeep. He puts the handbrake on and they kiss (safe sex, people). When they stop kissing, Lucille has a look that suggests she’d rather be kissing a whole other specimen. Maybe it’s the pickles.

We get some back story. The Doctor had refused to come out to see Lucille’s mum during a storm. In the morning she was dead. Not a great look.

Lucille invites Fred down onto the beach, but he has to go home and prepare his specimens. He offers to walk her to the lighthouse but she says she’ll be alright. (Erm…). He drives off.

It’s such a lovely, freezing evening, Lucille decides to go down to the beach. She goes behind a rock and chucks off her clothes for a skinny dip. Her pants blow away (which isn’t surprising – they’re enormous).

Whilst Lucille revels in the appallingly cold water, the claw appears from the rocks and fondles her clothes. A bit like Fred, then, but with claws.

Her Dad calls to her from the cliff top.

Lucille runs out of the sea back to the rocks.

We can hear heavy breathing off camera whilst she gets dressed. Or maybe that’s the film censors, not sure.

But no – Lucille can hear it, too. She speeds up.

21:35 Cut to: Sturges in a rocking chair, reading a book on lamps, or Dogs and Urban Planning or something. Checks his fob watch. Where’s Lucille?

She’s made it back up to the lighthouse, approaching the front door. She looks back, like she thinks she’s being followed.

She walks into the parlour.

‘You’re late, Lucille’ says Sturges.
‘Tonight I had the strangest idea I had a visitor…’ says Lucille.
Sturges stops rocking and looks worried.
‘What do you mean?’ he says, closing his book.
‘I just got the feeling someone was watching me,’ she says.
She goes to bed.
Sturges grabs his jacket.

23:38 Meanwhile, we see the shadow of The Monster on a wall in town. It looks like it’s attempting a dance routine, which might explain the heavy breathing. Kochek is working late in his store, trying to find his pencil. The Monster heads for the store. Close-up of Kochek looking up and seeing the claw rear over him. Kochek looks horrified – the Monster doesn’t have store credit, I’m guessing.

24:07 Cut to: the bell on the town church ringing. Never a good sign.

Townspeople come out carrying a coffin that looks more like a boat than the boat did in the opening scene. Actually – make that TWO coffins. Which is either the Rinaldi brothers, or Kochek and his pencil.

The guys have hats but the women don’t. Why?

They carry the coffins past Kochek’s store. Where are they taking them? To Wings Cafe? (Might explain the Steaks sign…)

I beg your pardon. You see some women coming out of the church and they ARE wearing hats. But fashionable hats. Not practical hats. Why?

A woman stops with her nine year old son outside Kochek’s.
‘Jimmy? You don’t have to come to the cemetery,’ she says. Then leaves him.
He sits outside the store, takes out a lockknife and starts whittling a stick. (Different times).
He sees a quarter on the pavement, so he picks it up and goes into the store to buy some bullets for his handgun or maybe some gum. He seems to have a limp, which may or may not be significant.
Goes up to the counter and rings the bell.
‘Mr Kochek!’
Limps out back.
Sees Mr Kochek’s feet sticking out from the counter.
Hops back out in a hurry.
Hops all the way to the cemetery.
Just as The Doctor is about to read from the bible, Jimmy hops over the horizon calling ‘Murder!’
‘It’s Mr Kochek! I went into his store to buy some candy, and he was lying in his office. And mum… he didn’t have a head!’
All the mourners want to rush back to town, but The Doctor says they’re not done yet and he needs to read the Lord’s Prayer. The Sheriff runs back with a guy in a plaid shirt I think I’ve seen before but don’t know his name sorry.

Actually it’s Eddie.

Eddie looks like he’s going to be sick. He’s never seen his boss Mr Kochek without his pencil like that.

Fred rocks up in the jeep (hardest working jeep in the business). He runs inside the store, ignoring poor Eddie sitting outside mopping his brow.

‘Is that Kochek?’ says Fred. ‘The same way?’
‘Complete transection of all the veins and arteries, plus the oesophagus, the trachea and the spinal cord…’ says The Doctor. (Showing off, but he’s worked damn hard for that bow tie and bald patch, so why not?)
‘I couldn’t have done a cleaner job myself,’ he adds. Worryingly.
The Doctor finds something on the counter.
‘Fred! What d’you make of this?’
‘It looks like a fish gill but it’s too big!’
They march out of the store.
‘Put the body in the ice room, Eddie!’ says The Doctor. (Poor Eddie! He’s the one feeling queasy and they give him the worst job).

30:32 The Doctor and Fred are examining the fish gill back at the Doctor’s place while The Sheriff smokes a cigar and taps out an irritating tune on the piano (he HATES taking a back seat in anything).
After a lot of peering into microscopes and comparing slides, eventually they come to a conclusion. The gill is the same as one from a diplovertebron.
‘What is a diplovertebron!’ says The Sheriff, half choking on his cigar.
‘It’s a prehistoric, amphibious reptile thought to be extinct…’ explains The Doctor, who knows about this shit. As well as all the neck shit.

The Sheriff gets so riled up his ears flap.
‘I’m no good here!’ he snaps. ‘I may as well get back to the cafe..’

Suddenly Lucille runs in. Someone’s hurt (she says his name – no idea who it is – names don’t seem to work in this film). Apparently whoever it is got hurt and is lying on some rocks. (Sorry to be so vague. I’m worse than The Sheriff. But at least my ears are in better shape).

The Doctor gives her a sedative, then they all jump in the jeep, The Sheriff and Doctor perched on the back. In fact, when Fred takes off I’m worried they’ll just roll right off it – which they probably did a few times and would’ve definitely made it to the blooper reel.

33:12 Actually the injured party is Sturges. He’s lying on his back at the bottom of the cliff with his jeans all ripped up. Which can definitely happen if you fall off a cliff.

The men all rush down to him (Lucille’s too sedated so she stays up top).

They help him up. Then we cut to them helping in the front door of the lighthouse, which is convenient, as it must’ve been difficult manhandling him up a goddamn cliff (although I’m grateful for the cut, as there’s only so much cliff action I can take. Without sedatives.)

They lay him on the sofa.

‘Would anybody like some coffee?’ says Lucille. I mean – her Dad’s lying on the sofa, critically ill but still, she knows what The Sheriff’s like.

She comes back in with a tray of coffee in the time it takes for The Doctor to get his stethoscope out. So the sedative must be wearing off.

Lucille notices that Ring isn’t around. Hasn’t been all morning. (Maybe has an office job he hasn’t told ‘em about).

Lucille goes outside to call Ring (I know – just heard it). Nothing.

Goes back inside.

The guys discuss what may or may not have happened. Then The Doctor gives Lucille some pills for her Dad to take and after some mutual hat handling they leave. Fred stays with Lucille. They have some cold coffee. Talk about her Dad not being sick that much and how’ll he handle this. Listen. I DON’T CARE. Forty minutes into a seventy minute monster movie and all we’ve seen are two shots of a claw and a dancing shadow on a storefront. It’s not good enough. I demand action. Ring had the right idea. Ring is probably in a Lassie movie right now, living it up. God damn you all to hell.

38:02 Lucille is drinking some coffee.

Fred puts his hand on her shoulder – almost making her spill the coffee. AND THIS IS THE MOST EXCITEMENT WE’VE HAD IN THE LAST TEN MINUTES.

38:15 Sturges wakes up.
‘What happened?’ he says.
(Honestly? Not much)
Lucille goes to make her dad some broth (he’s too sick for liver).
Fred chats to him.
‘There’s been another murder.’
‘He talked too much.’

No wonder Sturges doesn’t have many friends.

Fred asks him about the legend. Sturges talks about the old rocks, settlers, superstitions blah blah, snore. Apparently there are caves at the point no-one’s allowed to look in because it’s government land or something. Fred wants to take a look but Sturges doesn’t want him to go. Then falls asleep. I prefer Sturges when he’s asleep. Or on his bike. Most other situations, shrug…

41:09 The Doctor and The Sheriff pull up outside the Cafe in Fred’s jeep (does he KNOW?)
The townspeople approach them, someone carrying a body wrapped in a sheet. They lay the body on a table in the cafe. It’s the body of a child.
‘Where was she going?’ says The Sheriff, like it’d be worse if she wasn’t going anywhere particular.
‘Her mother sent her to the store’ says the man, the child’s father. The script probably asks that he act ‘shocked’ – but what we get is someone utterly without motivation or plausibility. Or maybe that’s how shock manifests itself. I don’t know – I’m not bald or wear a bow tie. Although I am a BIT bald. I don’t know why you’d even mention that. Especially at a sensitive time like this.
‘C’mon. Let’s go check with Eddie,’ says The Sheriff – giving the child’s father a squeeze of the shoulders as if to say – don’t worry, we’ll getcha some acting lessons.

42:22 ‘The broth’ll be ready in a minute’ says Lucille, sitting on the sofa with Fred. (Broth is more complicated than coffee).
Lucille tells Fred why her dad sent her away to boarding school. Apparently she went off to play in the caves even though he said not to.
Fred wants to check out the caves to see if there’s anything to the legend. Lucille doesn’t like the idea because it means disobeying her father. In fact, Lucille is so mad with him she says he shouldn’t come here again.
She’s crazy. I’ve never seen a man handle a pickle with that level of confidence. She’s throwing her chances away.

Fred leaves.

44:55 The Sheriff, Doctor and two assorted townspeople are in Kochek’s store shouting for Eddie. The Sheriff goes into the ice room – starts screaming. Something roars (I’m guessing not Eddie). The Sheriff staggers back out clutching his stomach. He’s followed by The Monster, swinging Eddie’s head like it’s a Gucci handbag (read that last phrase back very slowly – it adds to the effect).

At last! Some monster action!

A townsperson goes to swing an axe, but the claw thumps him one (the sound effect is just like the sound of Ring jumping on the sofa).

The Monster must’ve left the store, because the injured Sheriff and the Doctor have time to inspect the axe blade. It has a giant gill stuck to it.

46:37 The Doctor stays to help the injured townsperson-who-swung-the-axe (look in the credits); The Sheriff staggers out to the jeep to drive off and find Fred.

46:48 Fred is actually down on the coast about to explore the caves. He examines the chain Sturges uses to fix the chamberpot. Fred picks up a stick and heads further in.

47:19 The Sheriff runs into the lighthouse.
‘Lucille! I’ve got to see Fred!’
‘There’ve been two more murders!’
‘Oh no,’ she says. ‘Who?’
She sounds peeved. I suppose depending who he says has been murdered will determine the level of her next response.
‘Eddie, and Will’s little girl,’ says The Constable.
‘How did it happen?’ says Lucille, still needing a little more info before she’ll commit.
‘I haven’t time now,” says The Sheriff. ‘Keep the door locked. There’s a creature on the loose.’
‘Alright,’ says Lucille.

She doesn’t sound convinced.

47:45 Fred heads into the cave with his stick. The Sheriff taps him on the shoulder and Fred almost hits him with it (the stick, not his shoulder).
‘We’ve found our killer!’ says The Sheriff. ‘He’s almost seven feet tall! He’s inhuman – got tremendous strength…’

They head back up the cliff to the jeep.

I know, right.

The Sheriff seems to have gotten over his terrible injuries. He runs like he always did, like a heifer with a split hoof.

48:46 Lucille takes some broth into her dad. I mean, I know there’s a monster on the loose and a film to shoot and everything, but good nutrition for the sick is very important.

49:05 The Sheriff and Fred rock up to Wings Cafe, where Jake is standing with some other guys. They’ve all got rifles. The Sheriff and Fred run inside Wings, dodge behind the counter, and pull out a rifle and some pistols for themselves (what kinda town IS this?)

They all head off to the beach.

The Sheriff gives orders to the posse. They all run in different directions; The Sheriff and Fred head for the caves.

50:13 Standing outside one of the caves, they hear something that sounds like bones crunching. The Sheriff nudges Fred; they raise their weapons and head in.

The Sheriff turns his torch on. They see Eddie’s head being snacked on by a crab.

Fred shoots the crab.


They hear warning shots from the other guys.

50:34 A strangely speeded up shot of the guys running across sand. Although to be fair, it takes so long running on sand it might try the audience’s patience. More than the broth, the coffee and well… the rest of the goddamn movie.

One of the posse is dead, the other badly injured.

‘Let’s take him back for medical attention,’ says Fred, hauling him to his feet. The Sheriff says they’ll look for The Monster in the morning. He tells the other guys to bring the dead body with them. He’s got his hands full, what with the torch, his cigar and everything.

51:02 Lucille is still trying to get her dad to eat the goddamn broth. She spoon feeds him it. Which is weird. I think Fred had a narrow escape there. Lucille puts the spoon down and asks her dad what he knows. We get a big moustache-grade monologue about how he used to go for long walks after his wife died, found a cave at low tide, went through, thought he was being watched, heard heavy breathing, put his pants back on, swam back out again, left fish out for The Monster yaddah yaddah. Started having feelings for the Monster. Started getting meat scraps from Kochek’s. Then Kochek gave the scraps to someone else. So Sturges feels responsible. But he had a protective feeling, like it was his own Monster.

Lighthouse keepers. Am I right?

BTW – the soundtrack is mostly saxophone, which is kinda sexy for someone saying they were lonely and that’s why they shacked-up with a monster.

Lucille helps her dad up to trim the light. He says if a ship wrecks, the Monster will eat them all and it’ll be his fault. Erm…

I think all this is an elaborate ploy to avoid eating any more broth.

57:00 Back at The Doctor’s place. One townsperson stretched out on the counter with a ‘concussion and a mashed hand’ says the Doc, convincingly.
Meanwhile Fred is looking in his microscope.
‘Definitely a member of the diplovertebron family’ says Fred. I’m guessing he only wants to get The Sheriff to try saying it and choke on his cigar again.
‘Does he have a brain capable of rational thinking…?’ says Fred, meaning The Monster, I suppose.
‘What d’you think, Doc?’ says Fred.
‘I think we should try to establish a pattern from his actions….. offhand I’d say primarily he operates on a sense of smell.’
They chew over what happened in the store – whether The Monster could hear them and hid in the ice room, or whether he went in there for snacks.
‘We have a thinking monster!’ says Fred.
‘I’m afraid so,’ says The Doctor.
‘I want to take him alive!’ says Fred.
‘I’m responsible for the welfare of the people of this town!’ says The Sheriff, without a shred of irony or self-awareness.
‘We’ll use our brains!’ says The Doctor.
‘We’ll get a net. And we’ll put it at the bottom of the cliff with a side of beef in it…’ says Fred. The Doctor nods approvingly and his eyebrows go up in the middle.
‘He’ll answer questions on evolution – as well as putting our town on the map!’
The Doctor’s having a great time, never mind the collection of murdered townspeople spread out on tables in Wings cafe or Kochek’s ice store.

1:01:30 Lucille is standing outside the lighthouse with a bowl of meat scraps.
‘Here Ring!’ she shouts.

(Which sounds like ‘hearing’. And could be confusing, if the dog was in earshot. Because it might just nod and think – yep – I’m hearing. And carry on ignoring you.
It’s one of those inappropriate dog names. Like our dog’s called Stan. Which is fine, except when you say: Stan – SIT! And he looks at you like he doesn’t know what you want. And that’s exactly the reason why it’s been so difficult to train him, and nothing to do with his intelligence, which is obviously OFF THE SCALE)

Back to the film.

I’m worried (or hopeful) that instead of Ring, The Monster will rock up for dinner. In a tux with flowers. Because that was the routine between him and Sturges any night of the week.

1:02:00 Fred and The Sheriff drive into town. Jump outta the jeep. Ask Jake for a net. About ten by ten oughta do it. Jake says sure. The Sheriff jumps back in the jeep to go to his office (seeing as how Wings and Kochek’s are both temporary morgues these days.

1:02:32 Meanwhile, the shadow of The Monster is sashaying in a mock-sinister way across the front of the lighthouse. Rears up – to look through the window at Lucille getting undressed. (First the rock on the beach, now this.)

We see the back of The Monster as it stands at the door. It looks so much like a wetsuit I’m sure I can see a zip. The Monster pushes through the door and waddles in. Lucille hears it and laughs. She calls out ‘Dad? I’ll be right there – just changing.’

Opens the door. Sees The Monster – which raises up its claws and vomits at the same time. (So not unlike her Dad these days, then). She screams, of course. Sturges hears all this from up in the tower – and faints.

1:03:32 Fred, Jake and The Doctor are sitting outside the store knotting-up the net. (Try saying THAT quickly after a few glasses of red). They have a chat about what they’ll do with The Monster when they catch it.

The Sheriff pitches up in the jeep. He says he’s worried because the lighthouse light isn’t on. Fred rings the lighthouse.
‘There’s no answer’ he says.
‘Did you use the right number?’ asks The Sheriff. (I mean – we’re seven minutes from the end of the film. Did he REALLY need to ask that?)
‘Try it again!’ he says. (Shut up. SERIOUSLY??)
OMG – Fred DOES try it again. And it takes ages because it’s a dial phone, being about a million years BC when they shot this piece of shit.
The phone rings and rings.
‘Something’s wrong!’ says Fred.

Fred jumps in the jeep with The Doctor. The Sheriff says he’ll round up some men. Jake grabs the net.

1:05:12 The Monster carries Lucille out of the lighthouse. He grunts – whether because he’s sexed-up or she’s put on a little what with all the broth, it’s impossible to say. Sturges wakes up in the tower. Sees The Monster. Chucks a lantern down that hits it on the head. The Monster puts Lucille down then flexes its arms and roars because I’m guessing a lantern from that height would hurt like a sonofabitch. Stomps off back to the lighthouse. Sturges struggles down the spiral staircase with a rifle. Shoots The Monster, which doesn’t help matters.

Lucille wakes up on the cliff where The Monster dropped her. Finds Ring, dead.

Sturges shoots The Monster again, just as Lucille runs up the stairs behind it.
‘Run Lucille! Run!’ he shouts (Sturges, not The Monster).
She does (all that way just to turn round and go back?)

The Monster doesn’t know WHO to go after at this point. And neither do I.

Sturges tries to shoot The Monster again but he’s run out of bullets.

Sturges turns and staggers up to the top of the lighthouse, The Monster following.

Meanwhile, Lucille is running along the road in her nightie.
Stops the jeep.

‘The Monster’s in the lighthouse with dad!’ she says.
Squeezes in between them and they drive back.
They arrive at the lighthouse at the same time as a big car with lots of assorted townspeople, including Jake with the net.
Sturges waves from the balcony of the light.
‘Stay there!’ he shouts. ‘He’s in the tower! Barricade the front! We’ll have him trapped!’
Fred throws a rope to Sturges. He wants to rig-up a bosun’s chair and get him down. Or something. I’m sure Fred knows. Meanwhile The Monster keeps trying to shoulder through the door.
And succeeds!
It stands on the balcony with its arms in the air screaming like me when I take a cold shower (these days – the price of fuel – don’t get me started).

Sturges climbs up on the roof, followed by The Monster.
The Monster grabs Sturges and throws his mannequin-like body from the tower.
Lucille screams.
Fred goes out on the balcony.
He shines a light in The Monster’s face, which is very annoying for anyone. The Monster backs away, waving his claws.
Lucille runs up the spiral staircase to help again.
Fred sees his chance: he butts The Monster with his rifle. It overbalances and falls screaming from the tower into the ocean, where it floats like another mannequin. Possibly the same one.

Lucille and Fred embrace on the balcony, as the music swells

They kiss

The End!

That’s it! So what’ve I learned?

  1. Small coastal towns are nice to visit but hell to live in.
  2. Lighthouse keepers are crazy. The spiral staircases don’t help.
  3. A diplovertebron is an extinct reptile that looked like an angry surfer who got covered in kelp and tried to dance it off.
  4. Broth is good for concussion and multiple fractures, but is an ineffectual treatment for monster obsession.
  5. Liver night. Just say no.

Nothing but the Night

Nothing but the Night, 1973. Dir. Peter Sasdy. Watched on YouTube so you don’t have to.

Well… here we are. I finally caught Covid. The vaccinations have taken the sting out of it, of course, but I’m still feeling exhausted and fed up. So anyway – what’s a guy to do, riven with the ‘Rona and blue as can be, except settle down in front of a Peter Cushing film? I may be enfeebled, and I may be feverish, but at least I can retire into the Lye-breh-reh, where I can be miserable in a cheap, silk smoking jacket with a tumbler of scotch, and lose myself in a creepy old film called ‘Nothing but the Night’. Which sounds organic if nothing else. Undiluted night. No additives. Just add headphones and play…

00:03 A Charlemagne Production. Which apparently was Christopher Lee’s company. (I’d have gone for Cape N’Vape Productions. Maybe Fangs 4 the Features)

00:17 A romantic, sea-themed overture. Swirling flutes, horns, violins. Waves crashing onto rocks. The only scary thing about it is that it’s a bit dark and you might slip.

00:22 ‘Nothing but the Night’, superimposed over water sloshing about in rock pools. Nothing but the Crabs, so far.

00:31 ‘Gwyneth Strong as Mary’. Why do they credit some actors with their character names and not others?

00:53 Now we’re inside a cave getting shots of the sea outside. So – is this a film about smuggling?

01:30 Favourite name – Peter Sasdy. It’s like you’re drunk and someone asks you what day it is and you say ‘Ahm no’shore mate… Sasdy, issit…?’

01:37 Opening scene : a Morris Minor parked up on a cliff with its lights on. The Morris Minor has got the lights on, not the cliff. Since when did you see a cliff with lights on? Really? Well this is NOT THAT FILM.

01:51 There’s a pensive woman in the car. I wonder if it’s Gwyneth Strong as Mary?

02:01 A gloved hand opens the door. Takes the handbrake off. The pensive woman carries on being pensive as the car rolls forward, plunges over the cliff and bursts into flames. Whether this is more a warning about pensivity or Morris Minors, I’m not sure.

02:35 Cut to: a man standing out on a balcony in London. He’s also pensive. You can tell by the way he has his hands either side of him. Close up on the sign outside the house: ‘Park Lane Clinic’. So maybe he’s just worried about how he’s going to pay the bill.

02:47 But… uh oh! It’s that gloved hand again. It creeps up behind him and pushes him off the balcony. When he lands on the pavement the camera goes red, so I’m guessing it’s not a happy landing.

03:03 Cut to: The painting of another pensive woman above a fireplace. The camera pulls back to reveal the subject of the painting sitting pensively in a fireside chair. (The artist got it just right). At least it doesn’t have a handbrake or a long drop, but I suppose there’s a risk of an ember jumping out and setting off her tweeds.

03:09 Oh dear. This time the gloved hand is a bit more direct and shoots her right in the pensive face.

03:12 Cut to: a coach on an outing from the orphanage. The kids are singing ‘ten green bottles’, swatting balloons about and generally carrying on in a stage-school display of brattishness that’s infinitely worse than being rolled off a cliff or shot in the face. The coach driver certainly thinks so. He grabs a Rothman’s out of his jacket pocket and says ‘Noisy Bastard Kids’ – which is what coach drivers used to say pretty routinely about most things back in the 70s. There are three other adults on the coach, but they don’t seem that bothered by the singing, so they’re either sedated or pensive or both.

04:23 Suddenly the coach driver goes up in flames and the coach crashes. Mind you, that’s preferable to even ONE more chorus of ten green bottles…

04:38 Cut to: the main bratty kid in a cot in a bratty kids hospital. She’s delirious, saying ‘Flames.. burning! like a torch…!’ Doctor Haynes is sitting nearby. ‘The coach didn’t catch fire!’ he says. ‘It must be her mind’s way of releasing the trauma of the crash…’ A nurse clutches her clipboard. She can only dream of such brilliant medical insights.

05:23 Doctor Haynes walks through a montage of hospital environments, all on different levels. It’s like the director paid to have access to a medical facility and wanted their money’s worth. Ten minutes in and we’re still only in the Fracture Clinic.

05:37 Eventually he goes through a door that says ‘Pathology Department: Sir Mark Ashley’.

05:41 Turns out, Peter Cushing is Sir Mark Ashley. He’s sitting fondling a test tube in an emphatically sciency way. Christopher Lee is also there, but at this point I’ve no idea who he is (other than Christopher Lee).

05:50 ‘This is Colonel Bingham’ says Sir Mark Ashley. ‘Peter Haynes… how d’you do?’ ‘How d’you do?’ etc. Now we’re all properly introduced we can crack on. Dr Haynes is worried about the girl. He thinks she needs psychotherapy (and maybe some acting lessons, possibly Ritalin). Sir Mark Ashley says that if the orphanage wants her back, there’s nothing they can do about it. But he does agree to go and see the girl (after he’s finished fussing about with his test tubes. I mean – he’s VERY sciency, this guy.) ‘Why are you so interested in the accidental death of a coach driver?’ he asks, standing by some excitable beakers.

07:12 Turns out, the Colonel is a semi-retired detective (technically his moustache is still active). The Colonel has a theory that the intention behind the flaming coach driver was to crash the bus and kill everyone on board, including three wealthy patrons from the Van Traylen Trust – the wealthy owners of the orphanage. ‘During the last nine months, three trustees have died,’ says the Colonel. (I know – we saw the whole thing). The Colonel shows Sir Mark some photos (before shots, thankfully). He worked with one of them during the war. In military intelligence (an oxymoron, but whatever). ‘Those deaths are connected, Mark – I’m sure of it’ he says. Acting honours in this scene go to the moustache.

09:00 Cut to: The hospital foyer. Diana Dors marches up to the porter’s desk and demands to see her kid, Gwyneth Strong as Mary.
‘No kid with that name ‘ere, madam,’ smiles the porter. ‘Are you sure you’ve come to the right place?’
‘If you think I’m leaving ‘ere without seeing my kid, mate – you’re mistaken!’
She raps the counter and marches off.
‘Ere! Just a minute! Stop her…!’

09:30 Meanwhile, Sir Mark has followed the Colonel out to the car park. I’m surprised he’s not jiggling some test tubes at the same time, being a full-on, sciency geezer, as you know.
‘Find out what you can’ says the Colonel. ‘Please…’ , accompanying it with a smile so wide and fake his moustache slides to the left. Sir Mark is won over, though. He watches the car drive off, then thrusts his hands into his lab coat pockets (which are deep and could hold a LOT of tubes).

09:45 Sir Mark walks back into the hospital just as Diana Dors is being chucked out by the porters.
‘Get off ah’t of it!’ she shouts. ‘Take your hands off me…’ And then hits the porter with her handbag with a sound effect like chucking a sandbag out of a window onto a furniture truck.

09:55 At the same time, Dr Haynes is back walking through the busy hospital. He meets the porters coming back in, who say that all the fuss was about Mrs Harb… ‘Mrs HARB?’ …. ‘That’s right, sir… Mrs HARB…’ (It’s the kind of surname you can’t help shouting). And so it goes on. Sir Mark looks on, bemused. Life outside a petri dish is really quite chaotic…

10:09 ‘But she’s the girl’s mother!’ shouts Dr Haynes, ‘… she had her name changed’. Which is significant, for some reason. He runs outside to catch Mrs HARB.

10:34 Close up: Mrs HARB in a phone box.
‘It’s about a missing kid,’ she says.
‘Putting you through,’ says the voice on the other end.
‘Newsdesk’ says another voice.
‘I wanna report a stolen child’ says Mrs HARB, her tone softening for some reason. But then she’s right back on it again. ‘She’s my kid and I want her back,’ she says, like it’s the fault of the woman who just answered. This is why I never want a job working with the public.

10:37 Close up : a mynah bird in a cage. I’m not absolutely sure it’s a mynah bird. A minor character, anyway (pause for painfully loud laughter and calls for the author to be given an immediate and significant wage increase). A journalist who’s as sharp-looking as the mynah bird, except in a hat, loiters by the cage. Eventually she turns to speak to Mrs HARB, who has changed into a blouse with more scallops and frills than the Great Barrier Reef, sitting in a cane chair, stroking a cat – in that order. (Diana Dors strikes me as the kind of actress who might need things laying out in order).
‘It was your paper what put me on to her’ says Mrs HARB. ‘Poor little Mary! You’ve gotta help me get her back.’ (The character notes for Mrs HARB are the same as the notes for her makeup – i.e. thick & glossy).
‘I can’t promise we’ll print the story,’ says the journalist, Joan Foster, who for some reason is dressed like a bullfighter.
‘What’s so special about Mary?’ says Joan. (exactly! see 00:31)
Mrs HARB spins round with a noise like someone throwing a dart.
‘You tight little hustler!’ she snaps.
‘I know about you!’ says Joan. ‘Ten years Broadmoor. Triple killing. That’s why they took your Mary away.’
Mrs HARB looks off into the distance. That comment landed.
(NOTE: I don’t think it could’ve been a mynah bird; if it was, it couldn’t possibly have resisted saying something at that point…)

11:55 Back in the path lab, Sir Mark is on the phone to Lord Fawnlee or Brownknee or Haw Haw or someone, a big player in the Van Traylen Trust, anyway. Dr Haynes sits on the desk like an executive toy. Lord Fawnlee says that despite Dr Haynes’ request to keep Gwyneth Strong as Mary in the hospital, they want her back in their own facility. All the formalities will be dealt with.’ He hangs up. Sir Mark looks concerned – so much so, the skin above his nose rucks up and his ears move in an inch.
He crashes out of the office and starts messing about with test tubes again – his go-to displacement activity. Dr Haynes follows him, and they have an incomprehensible argument that winds up with Sir Mark saying : ‘Peter – there are some journeys we have to make alone…’ – which I suppose is Sir Mark’s way of of saying ‘now f*** off and leave me to my sweet tubes of pure science.’ But Dr Haines doesn’t. ‘Come and witness the hypnosis session,’ he says.. erm… hypnotically. ‘Once you see it, you’ll be committed, too.’ Sir Mark squeezes a teat pipette and gives Dr Haines a tender look. ‘Hmm,’ he says.

14:36 Cut back to : Lord Fawnlee in an oak panelled waistcoat. ‘The minister always had a soft spot for the Van Traylen Trust,’ he says, signing some important documents then leaning back like his job is just to sign things and that’s it, lunch. I don’t know much about the Van Traylen Trust, other than they sponsor orphanages and have a poor life expectancy. But one thing I DO know is I don’t Trust them very much.

15:06 Sir Mark and the Colonel are talking about the post-mortem on the coach driver.
‘Anything particular?’ says the Colonel.
‘Working class’ says Sir Mark. (Not really).
‘Burns’ says Sir Mark. ‘On the face. Left hand side. Quite inexplicable.’
(I dunno. Depends which side he smoked his Rothmans).
The Colonel puts his glasses back on, along with his moustache.
‘The coach didn’t catch fire,’ says Sir Mark.
‘Shame the coach driver didn’t live long enough to talk,’ says the Colonel.
(I know what he’d have said, though: ‘Noisy Bastard Kids’)
Sir Mark thinks Gwyneth Strong as Mary knows something and it’ll all come out at the hypnosis, so book early. The Colonel smiles and slaps him on the back, thereby transferring the moustache and all moustache related duties to him.

16:14 Back in the boardroom, an argument is raging from end to end of a VERY long and expensive table lined with a million things to sign. Lord Formsworth wants Gwyneth Strong as Mary back in the orphanage; Joan wants her to go back to Mrs HARB, even though she recognises that Mrs HARB is brassy and common and quite possibly a psychopath.
‘You’re denying a flesh & blood relationship,’ she says.
‘Gwyneth Strong as Mary is such a sweet child,’ says the Lord, creepily.
‘This woman is a common prostitute and murderer!’ says the other guy in the room, someone I’ve resisted talking about till now because honestly it’s like drawing attention to a suit on a hanger. But he’s got more lines now – other than on the phone saying ‘Yes’ and ‘Thankyou’ – so I suppose I’d better drag him in. If he turns out to be the hand in the murdering glove I’ll have to go back and edit him in. God dammit.
(NOTE: Yes – he DOES turn out to be significant – so let his name be known… as… Dr Yeats).
‘To twist a cliche,’ says Dr Yeats, ‘Would you let Mrs HARB be a mother to your daughter?’
Huh? What cliche? What does he mean? I wish I’d never let him into this script!
Joan is as annoyed as I am and stands up to go.
‘I didn’t invent motherhood, Dr Yeats,’ says Joan.
Dr Fawnlee isn’t impressed. He won’t allow Gwyneth Strong as Mary to be disturbed.
His face is impressively squashy. I bet when Joan leaves, he’ll have to ask Dr Yeats to thumb it all back into place above the collar.

18:09 Back at the hospital. A psychedelic, twirling mobile above the cot where Gwyneth Strong as Mary is lying sparko. The hypno session is about to begin!
‘Mary…?’ whispers Dr Haynes. ‘Mary…I want you to tell me about the fire…’
‘No!’ says Gwyneth Strong as Mary. ‘No! I don’t want to talk about it! Please!’
But she’s staring at the psycho mobile, and begins describing what happened. How the wind changed. It started in the hut. (Hut??) Cross the knocking pen. (What??) And steers stampeded. (Sorry – what?) The door was locked. She could smell burning. There’s a safe on the wall. A scatter gun? (What the hell, Gwyneth Strong as Mary?) She reads the inscription. The Lindsfield Corporation, Detroit. (Come again?) No-one helps. Then Dr Haynes snaps his fingers and she comes out of the trance. She smiles at Sir Mark, who is standing at the foot of the cot like an accountant who came into the wrong room and really only wanted the toilet. He attempts a smile back.
‘I want to go to Inver House’ says Gwyneth Strong as Mary – which makes about as much sense as the rest of her account. What are they treating her with – LSD?
A nurse comes in with a note: there’s someone to see Dr Haynes. She makes a huge deal going back out through the curtains and drawing them behind her. That was probably the best of a dozen takes. Dr Haynes goes out in one – but then, he doesn’t close them behind him, which is more efficient, but a bit of a cheat.
‘Inver House is in Scotland, on the island of Balla, hundreds of miles away,’ says Gwyneth Strong as Mary, helpfully.

20:50 Joan is talking to Dr Haynes.
‘Is it your policy to refuse to let a mother see her child?’ she says, from beneath a hat like a dustbin lid.
Dr Haynes says he wants to see Mrs HARB. Joan says she’ll arrange a meeting that afternoon – then waddles off. (Having a hat like a dustbin lid emphasises the waddling nicely, I have to say).

21:50 Joan is waiting outside Uxbridge tube station. She’s lost the hat (it’s not tube friendly). Dr Haynes walks up and shakes her hand.
‘I’m sorry I’m late,’ he says.
‘No. You’re ten minutes early!’ says Joan.
It’s going to be a long meeting.

They go into the market to have some tea.

They walk through a colonnaded market.
A flute plays.
(Does the director know this is happening? It’s like the actual filming has stopped and the actors are killing time).

They wander up to a tea counter.

There’s a guy in front of them. He has a walrus moustache and walrus expression.

‘Tea please, love,’ he says. He seems sad. Maybe he wanted his own film, a film fit for such a face. All he got was this walk-on part. Still – he’s doing a marvellous job. He takes his tea and sadly goes, leaving the way clear for Dr Haynes and Joan to have two teas, no sugar.

Cut to: Dr Haynes and Joan standing in front of an illuminated sign. The part that says Frozen Food points straight at Dr Haynes. Subliminal messaging there.

‘Have you got any ideas about heredity? Or genetics?’ says Joan, maybe seeing if he’s potential father material. She sips her deliciously warming and obviously fictitious tea.
Dr Haynes thinks she’s only interested in sensationalist stories, so they finish their tea and leave, walking moodily back through the market. Not quite so flutey now, I notice.
Joan just wants to interview Gwyneth Strong as Mary and get the story; Dr Haynes is worried about the clinical aspects.
‘Yeeeeeess Doctor’ says Joan, sassily. Must be all that fake tannin, firing her up.

24:46 Cut to: Mrs HARB lighting a fag with a long taper – a sensible safety precaution, given the lacquer she has in her hair.
‘She was taken away from you when she was seven years old’ says Joan.
‘I was on the game, wasn’t I?’ says Mrs HARB, strutting around, jiggling her hips to illustrate. She’s wearing a ruffled blouse, black waistcoat, mini skirt and strappy sandals. I’m surprised she hasn’t got a piece of paper with her hourly rate pinned on her back.
‘The orphanage has taken very good care of her,’ says Joan.
‘Oh yeah? Is that why she’s sick in the head?’ says Mrs HARB.
Dr Haynes says he’ll try to set up a meeting with Gwyneth Strong as Mary.
‘If this is some kind of trick,’ says Mrs HARB, ‘…I’ll kill you.’
(I mean – say what you like about Mrs HARB, but you always know where you stand with her. And how much you owe.)

27:04 Later, Dr Haynes is showing Joan into his flat. You know what’s coming because there’s cool jazz playing.
‘Aren’t you afraid I’ll dirty up your antiseptic world,’ says Joan, coquettishly shrugging off her handbag while Dr Haynes hides the files on his desk. He knows what journalists are like.
‘Coffee?’ he says. ‘Biscuits?’
(I’m not sure but I think ‘Biscuits’ is seventies code for ‘Do you want sex?’).
He slouches (coquettishly) on the counter. Describes how Gwyneth Strong as Mary has a morbid fascination with fire. Then wanders over to Joan for biscuits.

29:26 Back in the Pathology Department, Sir Mark and the Colonel are off to see Gwyneth Strong as Mary. The Colonel is wearing a different moustache for some reason – thicker, darker, more lustrous. Sir Mark wants a sample but the Colonel isn’t having it.

29:40 Mrs HARB is in the corridor, wrestling with Gwyneth Strong as Mary – which isn’t a good look for either of them. Sir Mark and the Colonel break them up.
‘I’ll make you pay for what you’ve done to her!’ snarls Mrs HARB, before teetering off on heels, pushing past any extra who gets in her way. Storms outside and gets in a car that was already knackered in 1973, the decal of a snarling cat on the back.

31:20 Joan tells Sir Mark and the Colonel that Dr Haynes is still on the ward where he’d been introducing Mrs HARB to Gwyneth Strong as Mary. They hurry in there – and find him dead, a starry hatpin sticking out of his forehead.

31:54 The very next scene, Sir Mark and the Colonel are wandering into a fancy office, quite relaxed, talking about the Home Secretary, for some reason, and poor Dr Haynes’ death. It’s amazing how quickly they’ve gotten over the killing, but they’re healthcare professionals, I suppose. The Colonel is convinced Mrs HARB was implicated in all the other deaths.
‘They’ve taken Gwyneth Strong as Mary back to the orphanage…?’
‘She ought to be as safe there as anywhere,’ says the Colonel, brushing the velcro of his moustache back into life.

32:37 Cut to: an old car with a snarling cat decal on the back, smoking up the M1. Actually – it’s got a snarling cat decal on the bonnet, tool – probably in reverse, so you can tell what it is in the mirror. On the seat next to Mrs HARB is a newspaper with the headling: Gwyneth Strong as Mary: Is She Safe?

That’s a No, then.

33:02 Moody shots of the Isle of Balla, with the swirling, sea-themed orchestra we had at the beginning. (The isle is named after the rocks just off the coast – the Ballacks). A Rolls Royce pulls up outside Inver House, against a jaunty oboe rendition of ‘ten green bottles’ – which gives me worse flashbacks than Gwyneth Strong as Mary. As it pulls up, approximately one thousand children run out to meet it, stage-school ad-libbing like the noisy bastard kids they are.

33:38 Joan is breaking into Dr Haynes’ flat. Louche jazz is playing again, but there’s no time for biscuits (and anyway – Dr Haynes is in a morgue with a hatpin in his forehead, so probably not in the mood). No – what Joan wants is the files he hid from her that night. She lights a fag and plays the tape – Gwyneth Strong as Mary talking about ‘Vincent’ (who?) and how ‘it was my fault he died’. (what?)

I don’t even smoke and I need a fag.

36:00 Sir Mark and the Colonel get a print out from some kind of extraneous but nonetheless useful police official of the clues so far. Presumably straight from the scriptwriter’s office.
‘Accident? Or murder?’
‘Suppose the last surviving trustee inherits all the money?’
‘All the deaths are too blatant.’
‘Then there must be someone else…?’
‘I’ll arrange for an exhumation order immediately’

The investigation is proceeding at pace. Quite where, no-one knows. Probably the Ballacks.

36:32 Back to Craggy Island. Mrs HARB coming over on the ferry. Luckily the police are there to meet it. They’re probably looking for any car with a scary cat decal front and back. Mrs HARB leaves on foot. The ferryman goes up to her empty car and says to the policeman: ‘What about this?’
‘You must be joking. It’s a Rover 2000 we’re looking for, stolen from Glasgow’
‘What’ll I do with this, then? It hasn’t been claimed.’
‘Put it ashore and I’ll check…’
(Not worried the owner might have fallen overboard? Are they really that lax? Welcome to the ballacks… )

38:36 Gwyneth Strong as Mary is sitting in a chair at Inver House, reading. A teacher walks in with some biscuits. (And how sorry I am I set THAT particular idea up).
‘You can have your milk and biscuits and get a good night’s sleep!’ says the teacher.
One thing I notice about Gwyneth Strong as Mary, now she’s out of the hospital – her arms are really long. The kind of arms that wouldn’t look out of place on a giant spider crab. Good for pelicans or coconuts. Or eminent scientists.

39:50 Gwyneth Strong as Mary goes a bit vacant. She says the hot milk reminds her of the hospital. She becomes agitated, talking about her mum visiting – how she didn’t understand what she was saying – how she might have followed her to the island.
‘You’re quite safe here’ says the teacher.

Tell that to Hat Pin Haynes.

The teacher throws a rug over her and leaves.

42:17 But then Gwyneth Strong as Mary opens her eyes, sees the fire in the fireplace and gets flashbacks. Oops.

42:26 Mrs HARB is running around in the dark trying to make her way to Inver House.
The teacher is walking with another teacher in the grounds.
‘It’s her birthday tomorrow. We must make it a memorable one.’
It’s pretty memorable already. Gruesome hatpin murder. Psycho mum on the island. But whatever. A cake might be nice.

42:47 The Colonel is back in London giving Sir Mark some papers and instructions and a packed lunch to take up to the island. A police officer comes in and hands him a note: Mrs HARB’s car has been found on the ferry!
‘Then – she’s on the island!’ says Sir Mark.
‘Exactly!’ says the Colonel – military intelligence’s finest. He grabs his hat (more polite than grabbing somebody else’s, I suppose). They fly North. On BEA. Which stands for British Everywhere Airplanes, or something.

‘The Chief Constable is in charge. They won’t let her get near the orphanage,’ says the Colonel.
Sir Mark inspects his orange juice. He’s sure it’s concentrate.

44:08 Back on the island, Mrs HARB is hiding in some gorse, studying a map. Her hair is a mess – which is to say, one strand is swinging free.

45:00 A constable tells the Colonel and Sir Mark it’ll take a couple of hours to get to the island and the press conference that’s being held by the Chief. (NOTE: this constable is played by Michael Gambon in an early role. I KNEW it was worth seeing this film!)

45:20 A construction site. One of the workers finds that the lock has been forced on the shed that keeps the explosives. ‘Bloody vandals!’ he says. They’ve taken explosives and detonators. Kids, eh?

46:12 The Chief is giving his press conference. (NOTE: This is Fulton Mackay! I bloody KNEW it was worth watching this film…). Joan stands up and asks if Gwyneth Strong as Mary is safe. Apparently she’s guarded by 12 of the island’s police officers, so yes, she’s safe. ‘Which leaves 7 men and a dog to search the island,’ says Joan – which gets a big laugh. When Sir Mark and the Colonel stride in, everything goes to hell.

‘This press conference is now ended!’ shouts the Colonel, his moustache barking.

49:00 Meanwhile, Mrs HARB is clambering over some rocks, hiding under a bridge, the usual fugitive memes. She’s carrying a bag – presumably full of explosives, although the way she’s slamming it about I wouldn’t rate her chances of making it through the day in one piece…although her hair would be fine, netted down from the top of a pine tree like a nest.

49:55 More jaunty Ten Green Bottle music as we see two policemen outside the gates of the orphanage looking in. The kids are playing ball, quite literally. They’re dressed like they’re in some kind of space cult: black polo shirts and trousers with strange disc patterns round the neck. It explains a great deal.

50:15 All the press are getting back on the ferry. That’s it. They’ve got their scoop. It’s back to the office for tea and biscuits. Joan is more reluctant, though. There’s more to all this, she thinks.

53:14 They all ride the ferry to some other bit of the island (not sure why they didn’t just drive?) On the ferry Joan tries to tell Sir Mark that she’d had biscuits with Dr Haynes and was responsible for his death (not the biscuits – the fact she arranged the meeting with Mrs HARB). He’s not that interested, and gets called away by the Colonel, who’s pointing out the Van Traylen personal launch going by. They’re all admiring how lovely it is and how nice for the children when it blows up.

54:12 Back ashore at the police station, Michael Gambon takes the call. ‘Ah ha’ he says. ‘Yes. I see.’ Then hangs up. ‘There were five trustees on the boat, but no children,’ he says. He has a theory. It might have something to do with the dynamite and detonators stolen from the local quarry. Sir Mark will help with the victims.
‘So long as I have this, I can manage,’ he says, swinging his lunch box.

The Colonel stands impassively by the window. His moustache looks like a padded coat hanger.

55:30 Cut to: Mrs HARB walking through more gorse. Of course. She’s making progress (I think).

55:40 Back at Inver House, the teacher rings the police to report a missing child. ‘A little boy’.
MIchael Gambon takes the details – in the same voice he used to take the details of the exploded boat. ‘Yep…Seven years old… yep… Sidney Moleson…tall for his age… fair haired… yep…. wears a dental brace…’

56:49 Hundreds of police are drafted in to search for the boy and for Mrs HARB. There’s even a helicopter (I wouldn’t be surprised to see a scary cat logo on it). Dogs that seem to bark at everyone, which isn’t helpful. A guy in a beanie hat swinging a stick back and forth even though he’s walking across open ground. I mean – talk about thorough.

57:33 Meanwhile, Mrs HARB is sprawled under some gorse, eating chocolate. She hears the helicopter and rolls to the side. Hardcore HARB!

57:50 Sir Mark is cutting up bits of gristle in the temporary mortuary. Not sure why. I’m not a pathologist, but I’m pretty sure whoever was on the boat died of being blown to bits. Wouldn’t he be better off helping with the search? But I don’t know. He’s the sciency one.

58:34 All the kids are still outside Inver House playing, skipping, improvising in that bratty stage school way. The headteacher refuses to have any police inside the house. It’ll upset the children she says. Fulton Mackay is furious, but his hands are tied. He seems a bit lost. It’s never normally this busy on Balla.

1:01:16 Dr Keats tries to fool Gwyneth Strong as Mary into thinking the police are only there to find out who killed some sheep on the other side of the island. They were worried it might be the orphanage dog. Gwyneth Strong as Mary doesn’t think it is. But she’s suspicious. Why would they send so many policemen to interview one dog? (Although the fact they’re sending ANYONE to interview a dog doesn’t strike her as odd).

1:02:08 Mrs HARB is getting closer (I think – it’s hard to say – gorse is tricky and doesn’t give much away).

1:02:42 Sir Mark is still busy putting fiddly, icky bits of shit into jars. He has an assistant with him, who struggles putting his JACKET on – but to be fair, he’s probably just exhausted from all the ick.
‘Well. At least death was instantaneous’ says Sir Mark (probably how he got the knighthood). He’s in his element, cramming shit into test tubes. Shredded trainer, that kind of thing.
Joan comes in.
They chat whilst Sir Mark de-bones some gristle.
He talks about the adequate security arrangements at the orphanage. It’s surrounded by gorse, if not policemen. What can happen?
Joan says she’ll go back to the hotel and fetch the tape so Sir Mark can have a listen.

1:05:04 Mrs HARB seems to be on gorse. Sorry, course.

1:05:45 Two clownish locals acting as part of the search team find the body of the missing boy, a star pattern carved in his forehead – the same star pattern as the hatpin that killed Dr Haynes. Quite what this means, I don’t know. I’m like Fulton Mackay, pacing around, ringing my hands. I’m still worried about the unclaimed car on the ferry, let alone all this.

1:06:07 Sir Mark and the Colonel are at Inver House telling the headteacher and others about the boy’s death. The patterns of stab wounds.
‘He was such a nice little boy. Friendly…’ says the headteacher, focusing on the wrong things.
‘It points to one thing – ritual murder,’ says Sir Mark.
It doesn’t help.

1:06:17 Cut to: someone peeling an apple. It’s Mrs HARB. She eats it off the blade of the knife, savouring it exactly like you’d imagine a fruit-loving psycho would. But hold on – turns out she’s in the grounds of Inver House, and all the kids are coming outside. They seem pretty happy-go-lucky, in a brattish, stage school kinda way. Maybe Mrs HARB is planning a ritual peeling.

1:07:03 Dr Yeats offers to show the Colonel the school grounds. ‘I’d like that very much,’ says the Colonel – not at all disturbed that there’s been a ritual killing, boat explosion etc. That’s military intelligence for you, I suppose. The bigger picture.

1:07:13 The kids are being shown round the garden, all of them improvising at once in a brattish, stage school kinda way. Dr Yeats still won’t allow police into the grounds because he doesn’t want to alarm the kids into making any further improvisations.
‘You’re patrolling outside the gates,’ he says. ‘And the other side is the sea. Come – I’ll show you.’
He leads the Colonel to the cliff edge.
‘Do the children have no idea?’ says the Colonel.
‘None!’ says Dr Yeats. ‘And tonight is a special treat: Gwyneth Strong as Mary’s bonfire night.’
With a guy to burn as well.
Which sounds like a threat, but whatever.

1:08:17 Joan is listening to the tape of Gwyneth Strong as Mary in a trance. Talking about what happened to Vincent (he died). Joan has a theory. She thinks Gwyneth Strong as Mary is channelling what happened to Mrs Van Traylen’s husband, Vincent – murdered, or something. That’s why Mrs Van Traylen always wore long gloves. Vincent was American. That’s why Gwyneth Strong as Mary was using American words like ‘steers’, ‘scatter gun’ and ‘kerosene’.
‘Could Mrs HARB be using her occult powers to destroy the trustees through the child?’
This is quite a theory. It’s probably why Joan works in journalism. And wears statement hats.

1:11:46 The Colonel is having dinner with Fulton Mackay. They’re discussing the island’s security arrangements, which is basically just flooding the place with police (except the orphanage, which won’t allow it). Meanwhile, Mrs HARB is squeezing through a broken gate into the school grounds. So not exactly ‘flooding’ the place, then?

1:13:47 Sir Mark and Joan have gone to the mortuary. Sir Mark wants to see all the cerebral tissue of the bodies that were collected that morning. ‘It’s urgent’ he says.
The mortician hands him a slide – which doesn’t seem big enough to really cover ‘all the cerebral tissue’ – but mind you, it was a big explosion.
Sir Mark looks at it under a microscope. He’s in his element. The next best thing would be to strip naked and force himself into a giant test tube. Then have someone shake it.

1:14:20 Mrs HARB is commando-prostitute crawling with her bag of explosives across the school lawn. Then trots like someone desperate for the loo up the steps. Goes into the school through a window. A light goes on – she spins round, confronted – but by who? Whom? Who? Whatever.

1:15:50 The Colonel drives towards the school just as the fireworks are being set off for Gwyneth Strong as Mary’s party.

1:16:07 Sir Mark has examined all the brain tissue on the slide. Took about a minute.
‘There’s no doubt about it,’ he says. ’The trustees aboard that boat were dead before the explosion’.
The mortician lets another bomb drop. The medical officer at Inver House used to be someone Sir Mark worked with – Laura Tyrrell. Her speciality was biochemistry. Dr Yeats is a brain surgeon. Between them they’re cooking up some special kinda trouble.

1:17:47 The Colonel is increasingly freaked out by the fireworks – especially bearing in mind there’s a psycho on the loose with a bag of explosives. He runs towards the bonfire, the kids dancing round it dressed up as navy captains, teachers and so on, singing oranges and lemons in a brattish, stage school way. They get ready to cut the rope holding the guy in place – whose mask slips to reveal Mrs HARB!

‘I order you not to cut that rope!’ yells the Colonel.

The kids – especially Gwyneth Strong as Mary – laugh, and cut the rope. Mrs HARB crashes face down into the flames. Then the kids tie up the Colonel. For an island swamped with police, there’s precious little intervention at this point.

1:19:01 Sir Mark and Joan have gone round to see Fulton Mackay to persuade him to take some action. Fulton Mackay thinks it’s all ‘hocus pocus’.
Sir Mark explains his theory. The trustees are old and wealthy. They have tried to achieve immortality by experimenting with transference into the children. Or something. Joan plays the tape, to help him understand. Although – I’m not convinced it will.

1:20:06 The Colonel is trying to talk to the kids from where he’s tied up on the ground.
‘You burned your own mother alive!’ he says.
‘Yes,’ says Gwyneth Strong as Mary. ‘She came here to plead her innocence. She knew too much.’
Stage school kids, eh?

1:20:46 ‘A total lifetime’s experience has been transferred to those children!’ says Sir Mark. Fulton Mackay is still struggling with this. And to be fair, if I hadn’t seen ‘Get Out!’, I would, too.

1:21:13 ‘You…are… Helen Van Traylen…!’ says the Colonel.
‘He knows! He knows!’ says Gwyneth Strong as Mary as Helen Van Traylen.
The trustees aka children gather round. One of them seems to have smoke coming out of his head – which is either incredible acting , or because he’s standing in front of the bonfire.

The Colonel is tied up by the neck now, his arms out to the side, his moustache unstroked.
‘We can play a game. Tug of war,’ says Gwyneth Strong as Mary.
They’re just about to pull him into the fire – but not before Gwyneth Strong as Mary handily confesses to all the killings she’d done, tying things up more quickly and comprehensively than the Colonel.

Sir Mark hovers overhead in a helicopter – which doesn’t help the fire, I’m afraid. It spreads out to catch hold of Gwyneth Strong as Mary’s dress.
She turns and curses their cruel god – then runs away and falls over the cliff.
Then all the other kids – realising the film’s up – line up on the cliff and throw themselves over, too (with surprisingly little fuss, given they’re from a stage school).

1:25:20 Sir Mark lands the helicopter and runs in with Joan, as the Colonel kneels on the ground and desperately struggles to reposition his moustache.

1:25:34 Close up on the ashes of the fire. Then a long shot of the waves, coastline etc. Cast list. Helpline numbers. And that’s it!

The End.

So what’ve I learned?

  1. If you MUST transfer your knowledge and experience into a kid to achieve everlasting life, don’t pick one that’s been to stage school.
  2. Coach driving is dangerous enough without smoking Rothmans.
  3. If you have one car left over on a car ferry, you’ve either got a passenger overboard or a psycho in the gorse.
  4. If someone offers you tea and biscuits, digestives are okay but say no to jammy dodgers.
  5. Try not to mix helicopters and bonfires. Especially near a cliff.

The City of the Dead

The City of the Dead, 1960. Dir. John Llewellyn Moxey. Watched on YouTube so you don’t have to.

I didn’t know whether to go Sci-Fi or Horror today. In the end I opted for Horror, as it seemed to vibe more with the political situation in the UK at the moment, especially after Boris passed the vote of no confidence, by infernal magic or some such. If ever a place needed reconsecrating after devilish possession it’s the Houses of Parliament. But enough! No more politics! Let’s relax instead and see what fiendish treats lie in store as we press play on… ‘The City of the Dead’.

0:12 The opening soundtrack sounds like it’s played by the Orchestra of the Dead. Skeletons on timpani, devils on strings. A chorus of raggy arse crows singing cod Latin. The notes on the score probably read ‘Have a go at harmony but don’t worry if you don’t make it’. Lots of kettle drums, crazy piccolos over the top – classic ‘Death March Vibe’.

0:21 The background graphic to the opening credits is some geezer in a cloak. Cloaks ARE basically scary, though, especially if you have to go through a revolving door. It’s the same with dressing gowns (plus there’s the gape risk).

0:51 Great sideways shot of Death (for behold, it is HE), holding his bony hand out to the left, a voice off saying ‘Don’t worry, we can totally get that taken in for you…’ (kidding – ALTHOUGH YOU SHOULD NEVER KID ABOUT DEATH)

0:52 Favourite name: Continuity is handled by Splinters Deason.

1:05 Another sideways shot of Death (for it is HE) pointing at something with a bony finger. Maybe HE is at a deli. Maybe HE would like a half pound of honey glazed ham. On the bone.

1:11 Apparently ‘Jazz’ is by Ken Jones. Jazz? In the City of the Dead? (The City of the Wish You Were…)

1:28 Opening shot: a lit brazier (checks spelling). Lotsa mist and a raggy arse tree to go with the crows. A murmuration of villagers gathering for something ‘orrible, I guess.

1:50 Close up of the leader: a stern looking Puritan (was there ever any other type?). ‘Bring out Elizabeth Selwyn’ he says, sternly (so I was right about that). I’m guessing it’s not to reward her for services to the community.

2:05 There’s a lot of angry ‘Bring out the witch!’ etc from the crowd, but when it dies away one voice misses the cue and says ‘Bring her out…’ really quite tenderly, which is nice.

2:10 They bring her out. Close up on Elizabeth. Her hair’s all witchy but her make-up is perfect. The crowd is amazed (how does she get such perfect sculpting in basically a mud hut?), but then an old woman says ‘Witch! and they all get antsy and riled up again.

2:35 ‘Burn the Witch!’ says another woman. Original. There’s a crack of thunder. You see the pile of wood they’ve got ready. Oof. I think Elizabeth says ‘Shit no!’ but actually she’s saying ‘Jethro!’ the name of another constipated looking Puritan. The first Puritan confronts him. ‘Hast thou consorted with the witch?’ – which is awkward. ‘No’ he says, unconvincingly. But it’s good enough. ‘Burn the witch!’ says the Puritan. There’s a theme emerging.

3:30 It’s a struggle getting Elizabeth up on the faggots, but eventually she’s chained and ready. The crowd shouts unconvincingly. Close-up on Jethro who says ‘Help her, Lucifer..’

3:53 The first Puritan (I wish I knew his name – not that I think we could be friends – just because it would save a bit of time) – he recites the legal bit (which just goes to show you can’t trust the law). ‘We the people of Whitewood, Massachusetts … ‘ (and the only reason I typed THAT was to see if I could spell Massachusetts correctly… and I DID….first time!…. burn him, the witch!’’)

4:32 The flames leap around Elizabeth. Another close-up on Jethro. ‘Help her, Oh Lucifer!’ The actor playing Jethro must be classically trained, because he relishes every word, working his bottom jaw enthusiastically from side to side in a juicy way, curling his lip up at the corner for added effect. A bit like a camel eating a date. He must’ve gone to RADA.

4:49 More thunder, and a big cloud rolls overhead. The villagers go quiet – probably thinking maybe they should’ve thrown a barbecue for the witch not throw her ON one. Elizabeth makes a speech, basically saying it’s a fair cop.

5:17 Jethro has his head tipped back in ecstasy, which means I can see some nice fillings in his molars. I bet he’s wearing a wrist watch, as well.

5:24 ‘Make this city an example of thy vengeance!’ says Elizabeth. So I’m guessing Whitewood ends up being Washington or something.

6:03 The villagers are all chorusing ‘Burn the Witch!’ but Elizabeth is just laughing. Not what you want at a public burning. That and rain.

6:09 She carries on laughing – a real smoker’s laugh.

6:10 Cut to: a close-up on Christopher Lee, who is Alan Driscoll, history professor. He’s wearing a suit so immaculate it looks like it’s made of sheet metal. ‘Burn Witch! Burn Witch!’ he says. But then the camera pulls back – he’s giving a tutorial to some students in his office. He looks great in that suit, I must say. And I don’t even particularly LIKE suits. Even his nose looks pressed.

6:44 In fact, he gets quite carried away describing the flames and the agonies etc, which no doubt explains why his tutorials are well attended. Nan Barlow, a gorgeous woman in the front row, strokes her chin thoughtfully (which is better than stroking someone else’s chin thoughtfully, I suppose). Why are public executions such a turn on? On the wall behind Prof Driscoll are the kind of ceremonial masks that if you woke up bound to a stake and saw them dancing round you, you wouldn’t think it was a good thing.

6:51 ‘Dig that crazy beat!’ says a hepcat sitting next Nan (what – you mean like the bread?). Alan glares at him. ‘That will be all for today,’ he says, sulkily. ‘I’ll bring some illustrations…’ says Alan. ‘I’ll bring some matches,’ says the hepcat, getting a big laugh. Alan’s glare increases ten percent (to one hundred and ten per cent).

7:09 ‘Maitland!’ snaps Alan. I wonder if he’ll zap him with magic, but he just expresses his disappointment in Bill’s behaviour. (Maybe a demon’ll get him later. I hope so. I like the name Maitland but I hate his cardigan).

7:38 Alan asks Nan to stay behind. He’s impressed with her papers or something. Nan says she wants to go to New England, stay in an old house and get some first hand experience of the whole Burn the Witch vibe. It sounds hot. Alan likes the sound of that – although he wonders what her brother Dick will think, being a Professor of Science and everything, and not especially into witches, or New England.

8:53 Cut to Dick, coming in to pick Nan up for lunch. Turns out Bill’s getting serious about Nan (a serious bread habit).

9:38 Alan gives Nan directions to Whitewood and a recommendation to a Mrs Newliss (which I think you’ll find is an anagram of Burn the Witch!) Her place is called Ravens Inn. Five Stars on Witch Advisor.

9:45 Dick comes into the office with the best line in the film so far: ‘What’s Whitewood?’ Say it four times, quickly. Congratulations. You’re a duck.

10:18 Nan has an argument with Dick (no easy way to type that). But that’s it – she’s going to Whitewood and that’s that.

10:57 Dick has an argument with Alan about whether magic is real or not. Alan seems to grow about three feet. ‘Dick – you’re just being difficult’ says Nan. ‘Did you ever meet a witch?’ says Dick. Alan looks shifty. Then he gets a book out and we get a whole lot of backstory about Elizabeth Selwyn coming back to life after the burning and a whole lot of murders taking place in New England. Case closed. Dick’s not convinced. ‘Send me a picture postcard of a witch!’ says Dick. ‘If possible – autographed!’ Alan gives him a smouldering look.

12:55 Cut to: Nan and Bill in a hepcat bar with jazz playing and everything, daddy-o. Bill doesn’t want her to go to New England but after two minutes with Bill I’d say New England wasn’t far enough.

13:42 Close up on Dick’s eye through a magnifying glass (no easy way to type that). Dick is talking to Bill about the whole Nan Going to New England thing. Dick seems to have relaxed a bit about it; Bill’s still slurring his words at the end like a wise guy working angles at the docks (typical science student). Nan comes in swinging a suitcase so easily it’s obviously empty (or she’s super strong). ‘All packed!’ she says. What with – air? Her hairstyle is amazing, though – like an early form of cycle helmet. She and Bill have a moment. She kisses his nose, then they go into a full-on clinch. It’s like watching someone smash two throw cushions together to beat out the dust.

14:47 Close up of Nan driving – jazz on the radio – jazz flute even. Diabolical. She pulls up at a gas station. It’s either very misty or she’s blown a gasket. She asks the old station attendant for directions to Whitewood. ‘Not many god fearing folk visit Whitewood these days,’ he says, encouragingly. But gives her directions anyway, then stares mournfully after her as she goes. All that and she didn’t even buy a paper…

16:08 Further up the road there’s a creepy man standing under the signpost to Whitewood. So of course Nan pulls over to chat. He is smartly dressed, with a deep voice and squashy kinda face. Maybe an accountant? But one that died a hundred years ago. So of course she agrees to give him a lift there.

16:52 ‘What is your mission in Whitewood?’ says the ghoul – sorry – hitchhiker. His name is Jethro. I thought I recognised that camel. Turns out he’s staying at the Ravens Inn, too, which is nice (in a diabolical kinda way).

17:28 Ravens Inn. Handy for the cemetery. Free parking. Bring your own crucifix.

18:04 Nan likes the look of the place. She seems oblivious. Jethro doesn’t say much, but what he does say seems to come from someplace miles underground. That’s RADA for you. Nan turns round to grab her suitcase; when she turns back, Jethro has gone. She doesn’t seem that fussed. Maybe it’s the hairdo gives her such confidence.

19:43 Interior, Ravens Inn. The kinda place you’d book for a hen party – if you were a zombie hen. Spooky clock. Spooky fireplace. Spooky candlesticks. Nice. There’s a plaque on the wall above reception: On this site was burned for witchcraft Elizabeth Selwyn. Or maybe that’s the WiFi code.

20:02 A woman touches Nan’s shoulder. The woman can’t talk, looks distressed. Nan is so sweet to her, just talks normally. ‘That will be all, Lottie!’ says a stern woman from the staircase. This is Mrs Newliss. The last time we saw Mrs Newliss she was being chained to a post surrounded by villagers shouting Burn the Witch! So she’s done well for herself. Mrs Newliss says the hotel’s full, but Nan mentions Alan, so Mrs N. says fine and shows her to the room. ‘The previous occupants have always been most agreeable,’ says Mrs N, turning down the sheets. Honestly? It looks like a cave with a four poster bed in the middle. Nan seems happy with it, though. Nan would be happy with a swamp. Anywhere that Bill wasn’t, basically.

21:55 Nan unpacks – a chiffon scarf and a photo of Bill. She puts the photo under her pillow – but then trips over a rug and finds a trapdoor. She puts the rug straight back. It’s just a trapdoor. In a room at the Ravens Inn. In a misty town no one goes to anymore. Shrug.

22:26 Meanwhile, Jethro and Mrs N are shoulder to shoulder staring nostalgically into the fire. ‘The festivities?’ says Jethro, chewing the words like so much straw. ‘I am prepared’ says Mrs N.

23:22 Nan goes for a stroll around town. In the dark. And the fog. But she walks as easy & breezy as if she’s in Central Park. Gotta love Nan. (You have to think they blew half the budget on a fog machine. Or is this really what it’s like in New England?)

24:10 Nan goes into the ruined church – or tries to. The Reverend Russell blocks her way with a crucifix, and says he’ll defend the church whilst he still has breath in his body. So I’m guessing the souvenir shop’s probably closed. ‘And whooooo are yooooo?’ hoots the Reverend. ‘I am Nan Barlow,’ says Nan. (what – you mean like the bread?). The Reverend says an awful lot for a reclusive vicar – including how the Devil has ruled Whitewood for 300 years yadda yadda. Through it all I’m just wondering where he gets his groceries? Maybe they deliver. Just extortionate prices. And never any garlic.

25:36 Finally the Reverend backs away into the darkness saying ‘Leave! Leave Whitewood before it is too late…!’ I’m worried that he’s walking backwards and might fall over with an embarrassing crash – but no. He’s done this so many times he’s pretty good at it.

26:11 Various villagers stand around in the mist staring at her. Any other person would be checking out of the Ravens Inn right away, but I think Nan is wondering if they’ll let her extend her stay to three weeks instead of two. Gotta love Nan!

26:26 She goes into an antique bookstore. There’s a young woman in a white shirt at the counter. This is Patricia. She gives Nan a summary of who she is and what she’s doing there (although she might actually be accidentally reading her character notes). Turns out Patricia is the granddaughter of the crazy Reverend. Nan says she was very scared, but she doesn’t look at all scared, so I’m wondering about the casting director at this point.

27:58 Nan asks if Pat has anything on witches. Pat says they’ve got a whole section (I bet) and goes off to get some books. Nan looks at a painting – Elizabeth Selwyn getting toasted like a marshmallow. Basically the set designer’s storyboard from the opening scenes. Pat hands Nan a big book – My First Book of Witches or something – then asks her about the lovely locket she’s wearing around her wrist. ‘It’s quite old’ says Nan, vaguely. ‘You’re very lucky,’ says Pat, who’s probably read a book about lockets.

29:04 Nan is in her room reading the witch book and taking notes. Suddenly she hears odd singing coming from somewhere. Under the floor? A folk club? She remembers the trapdoor under the rug. Don’t do it, Nan!

30:18 Nan goes to fetch Mrs N to ask about the subterranean folk club and the trapdoor. But by the time Mrs N comes in the music has stopped. She says there’s nothing under the trapdoor but earth. Nan looks vaguely confused, but only vaguely. She’s probably wondering if she could stay a couple of months…?

31:08 Cut to: couples doing a smoochy dance in the foyer of the Ravens Inn (they weren’t there a second ago, so…). The music is jazz, of course. The Devil’s choice. Lottie the mute maid hurries through. She’s bringing fresh towels for Nan – but then tries to write a warning. Mrs N. stops her, though. Nan reads from a parchment she found in the witch book, basically explaining what’s going to happen to her in the second half of the film when the clock strikes thirteen. Mrs N. stares down at her approvingly.

34:31 The music picks up tempo. Nan glances outside, decides to join the dancing. She takes off her dressing gown – revealing a corset, stockings and suspenders. Typical grad student research wear. She puts on a blouse and skirt – but when she finally makes it out to the lobby the music has stopped and everyone’s gone. There’s a big calendar thing on the wall above reception: Feb 1 – Candlemas Eve, the ceremony she’d read about in the parchment. C’mon, Nan – wake up!

35:59 When Nan goes back to her room she opens her sock drawer and finds a dead starling with a pin through it. That’s odd. Normally it’s a sprig of lavender. She goes to find Mrs Newliss to complain, but Mrs N has disappeared, too. The grandfather clock strikes the quarter hour. The folk club under the floorboards starts up again. None of this was in the Ravens Inn promo.

36:59 The window blind unexpectedly scrolls up. Nan notices that the pull on it is actually a trapdoor key. She’s thinking about that when she sees a bunch of monks walking through the mist, singing what sounds like ‘Nannnn’ – but might be cod Latin. She opens the trapdoor, goes down some creepy steps. Gets grabbed by the monks, which is never a nice experience. Dragged into the main chamber where Mrs N, Jethro and their chums are standing round a big flat table looking expectantly in her direction. The clock starts to chime – counting down to thirteen. Mrs N produces a big knife. Even now Nan must be thinking she’d actually quite like to move here, maybe start another bookshop. ‘Thirteen!’ The knife comes down…

39:42 … into a birthday cake! A party back at the university. Which at first glance looks worse than the party in the catacombs. Dick is busy tucking into the cake when Sue (shrug) asks him if he has any idea what happened to Nan. Bill comes to the door. He’s worried about Nan. He hasn’t had a letter in two weeks. ‘She’s probably working on her paper’ says Dick. He seems pretty calm – but maybe he’s going into a food coma after all that cake.

41:50 Dick tries to put a call through to the Ravens Inn. ‘There’s no such place!’ he says to Bill. Then he calls the police.

42:20 Pat the bookseller has gone to the Ravens Inn to get her book back. Mrs Newliss says Nan left in a hurry. On the way out, Lottie manages to slip Nan’s locket into Pat’s hand.

42:58 Outside the Inn, Pat runs into a sheriff out looking for Nan (what – you mean like the bread?) Pat tells the sheriff that she hasn’t seen Nan in two weeks (what – you mean like the bread…). She shows the sheriff the book on witches. He laughs. ‘College kids!’ Then he says ‘Come on, Charlie!’ and at first I think it must be a dog, but no – Charlie is another Sheriff. They both go into the Inn. In the Inn. Into it. Erm…

43:56 Pat looks at the locket. Looks at the book. Reads a note in the book. Puts two and two together… and does nothing.

44:36 The police ring Dick and Bill. They say Nan checked out two weeks ago. Those two could totally work for the MET. ‘I don’t get it,’ says Dick. He gives Bill some old books to read, and says he’s going to pay a visit to a colleague.

44:55 Prof Driscoll is manhandling a dove in a cage. He’s wearing a ceremonial cloak, so it doesn’t look great for the dove. ‘Oh Lord – accept this sacrifice’ he says, then shivs the dove. The sound of a doorbell. Maybe it was a clockwork dove? No – it WAS a doorbell. Prof Driscoll washes his hands in water that gushes from the mouth of a hideous gargoyle, which is nice. Then lets Dick in. (I don’t care, I’m not changing that).

46:50 Dick and the Prof have a drink and talk about the whole Nan Gone thing. Turns out Prof Driscoll was born in Whitewood. He says he’s sure she’s fine, but Dick says he’s going to retrace every step she took. (I don’t really want to see that gas station again, though. Or the church. Or the Inn. I feel like bailing at this point, but Dick is made of sterner stuff).

47:50 Meanwhile, Bill is flicking through a book on witches and sees a drawing of someone getting stabbed in the head. So HE starts to worry about Nan.

48:18 The doorbell rings again. (I’m afraid it really is looking bad for that dove). It’s Pat – she wants to see Prof Driscoll. Dick leaves; Prof Driscoll shows Pat into the drawing room. ‘Drink…?’
They swap stories about Whitewood. Pat says she has something she wants to return to Nan’s family. The professor gives her Dick’s address. Pat goes there, hands over the locket to Dick and Bill. Bill is frowning so much his forehead almost covers his eyes. Life’s normally pretty difficult for Bill, but this…? Meanwhile, Dick absently plays with a letter knife. Pat also gives them a note she found in the witch book – notepaper from Prof Driscoll. They all start to join the dots. Candlemas Eve – Bill read about it in one of Nan’s books. He shows them the picture of the woman getting stabbed in the head.

52:19 Close up of Pat driving back to Whitewood. Misty again. Jethro emerges from the gloom and forces her to stop. Jethro says he recognises her as the Reverend’s granddaughter. She says she hasn’t seen him before; Jethro says it’s a special privilege. (Definitely has that RADA strut, this guy). When they pull up in Whitewood, she looks to her side and he’s gone. She hurries into the bookshop – maybe to get How To book on ghosts.

53:40 Cut to: Jethro and Mrs N staring into the fire again. These two are flame buddies, old time. They talk about how pretty Pat is. ‘Tomorrow? The witches’ sabbath…’

54:36 Bill and Dick get into separate cars and drive off, watched by Prof Driscoll at the window. The music sounds like something from a detective movie – vibraphone, double bass. It’s like the editor got bored and spliced in some other scenes. I like it though.

54:47 Close up on Dick driving, jaunty jazz music. The car rocks about like he’s driving over melons or waterbeds or something. The stage crew must’ve been getting bored, too. It’s misty, of course. He pulls up at the gas station (damn!) The attendant says he saw Nan (what – you mean like the bread?) but never again. He told the police. Dick drives on. The attendant watches him go – probably annoyed that so many people stop to ask him directions and no-one buys any gas.

55:43 Jesus Christ! Now BILL pulls up at the gas station! Asks the attendant directions. Bill thanks him and drives on. I’m sure the attendant says something under his breath. Goes back inside his cabin. Takes his overalls off – to reveal a corset, stockings and suspenders….

56:18 Driving on through the mist, Bill swerves to avoid a witch being burned at the stake. Crashes into a tree. The car catches fire but he manages to climb out. Falls unconscious in a shrub (which isn’t a sentence I thought I’d be typing today)

56:52 Meanwhile, Dick pulls up in Whitewood. Goes into the Raven Inn. Lottie is tidying up; Mrs Newliss is writing in a ledger. Dick insists on being put in the same room as his sister. He quizzes Mrs N about the disappearance, but apart from flinching when he says ‘witchcraft’ she doesn’t give much away.

59:20 Dick goes to see the Reverend. This time the Rev comes out onto the porch (maybe he thought Dick was Deliveroo). But then after looking annoyed, the Rev goes back in. Dick walks across the misty square. The townspeople stop to stare at him. He’s a man of science but this shit is creeping him out. He goes to see Pat at the bookshop.

1:01:01 Dick sits down with the My Little Book of Witches Nan borrowed.

1:01:40 Meanwhile, Lottie is in Dick’s room trying to write a note. Mrs Newliss & Jethro sense that something’s going on. They creep into the room. Jethro strangles Lottie. Poor Lottie. She didn’t get any lines, couldn’t even write any. I hope the on set catering was good, because otherwise…

1:02:23 Dick slams the witch book shut. He’s so angry he chews his fingers (which is better than chewing someone else’s fingers…). The blind Reverend makes an entrance. Marches over to a chair and starts a very long monologue about the ‘evil that besets this village…. a pact with the devil… worship him and do his works…yadda yadda yadda’. Dick stares at him, dazed. It’s like an acting masterclass. The best HE could manage was eat cake naturalistically (but maybe he really was hungry when they shot that scene). Dick hurries back to the Ravens Inn – but not before you get a frisson of something between Pat and him, which just goes to show – there’s never a circumstance so evil and misty and devilish you mightn’t meet that special someone.

1:05:34 Pat goes to fetch a spoon from the drawer but finds a dead bird with an arrow through it instead. ‘Look on the front door!’ says the Reverend. A sprig of woodbine! ‘Shut the door! Shut the door!’ says the Reverend. But then changes his mind. ‘We must leave here immediately…’
Pat runs out to start the car. It WON’T start! The Reverend stands on the porch. ‘Phone Barlow!’ he says. Pat grabs the phone to ring the Ravens Inn (I thought it wasn’t listed…?). Mrs Newliss answers. Hand to phone to Dick. Just as he starts talking to Pat she screams: ‘Please help me!’
He runs out. Mrs Newliss laughs her gorgeous smoky laugh.

1:07:08 Dick runs back round to the bookshop. There’s no-one there – until he opens a cupboard and the Reverend falls out. ‘The witches! The witches! The witches – have – Patricia!’ he gasps. Dick puts him in a chair. ‘Destroy them!’ says the Reverend. Dick asks him how. ‘The shadow of the cross! I adjure thee … yadda yadda .. ‘ then he dies. Dick doesn’t waste any time on CPR. It’s no kind of life for the Reverend in Whitewood, staying in for deliveries, no congregation etc. Dick runs back outside. Gets grabbed by Bill, who immediately collapses again. Dick carries him to his car – Dick’s car, not Bill’s – Bill’s car crashed into a tree and burst into flames. There’s a big thunderstorm coming. Dick has found a revolver somewhere. (Mind you, it’s America. They probably sell assault rifles in the bookstore).

1:08:10 He sees a line of monks going across the graveyard. In the mist, of course, but at least they can hold on to each other’s tassels. They disappear into a mausoleum and Dick can’t follow. He sees a gravestone with Prof Driscoll’s name on it – ‘burned as a witch’. Does some frantic, Parkour running back to the Ravens Inn to make a phone call. But the phone’s dead! He hears singing from down below. Finds the trapdoor. Goes down. Explores with his torch a bit. A door mysteriously slides up. He goes through. Finds a necklace that belonged to Nan. Gets freaked out by a rubber spider (same). Feels for a light switch – finds dead Lottie instead! Gasp! Bursts through into the singing chamber – shouts ‘Pat!’ when he sees her struggling on the slab. Prof Driscoll emerges from the shadows. Dick shoots him – no good. Throws the revolver at them (which is actually a little better, for some reason), grabs Pat and together they run up some other steps, out into the graveyard, where a load of other monks are waiting with pointy fingernails to grab them. ‘Dick!’ shouts Pat.

1:13:17 Mrs Newliss gets ready with the blade, ready to dice Pat on the thirteenth toll of the graveyard clock (every graveyard has a clock – didn’t you know?). Dick wrestles with the monks, but monks are stronger than Dick (I know how that sounds, but what can I do?)

1:13:33 Meanwhile, Bill has come round, staggered out of the car and is heading for the graveyard. What HE can do at this late hour is anyone’s guess, but he’s a science student, so…

1:14:10 ‘Maitland! Get the shadow of a cross!’ shouts Dick. Bill tries to pull one up, but Mrs N chucks the dagger into his back. Pat screams. The bell starts tolling (every graveyard has a bell, didn’t you know?). Bill slides down the cross and dies. I suppose now Mrs N must go and retrieve the knife, so that might soak up some time, especially as she threw it pretty hard. She might have a spare, though, being three hundred years old and used to this sort of thing.

1:14:39 But no. Bill is still alive. His arm comes up. (Car crash? Knife in the spine? Nothing’ll keep Bill down). Whilst Bill struggles to haul up the cross, Prof Driscoll hands Mrs N a penknife. Not as dramatic, but it’ll do. ‘Wait for the hour of thirteen..!’ says the Prof.

1:15:13 Bill holds up the cross – which seems to act as a kind of flamethrower. He staggers forwards, burning up the monks one by one. (I’m slightly worried about the health & safety aspects of this shoot, lots of burning monks flailing around everywhere. I’m guessing the mist was probably fire extinguishers at this point, though).

1:16:27 Bill dies. ‘I’ve got a score to settle with Mrs Newliss’ says Dick, dumping Bill and running off.

1:16:40 Pat and Bill run into the Ravens Inn. There’s a cloaked figure behind reception. Bill goes over to have a closer look….

1:16:56 Pat screams – a big one – fists either side of her face. Even Bill gasps. Because Mrs Newliss is dead – burned up, just like she was three hundred years ago.

Fade to cod Latin chanting, closing credits scrolling up beneath the big pointy finger of Death.

And that’s it!

The End.

So what’ve I learned?

  1. New England’s beautiful but avoid Candlemas Eve.
  2. If you’re gonna ask directions at a remote gas station, at least buy a Diet Coke or some Gummy Bears. I mean – jeez…
  3. RADA is expensive. Get the same effect by filling your mouth with plums and closing your eyes halfway.
  4. If you really think someone’s a witch with devilish powers, don’t provoke ‘em. Better to give them a job in hospitality.
  5. Christopher Lee was amazing in this but Peter Cushing would have been better. They could’ve talked through their options in the LYE-BREH-REH.

Beginning of the End

Beginning of the End, 1957. dir. Bert I. Gordon. Watched on YouTube so you don’t have to.

Apparently this film is about giant radioactive bugs taking over the place, which seems to chime with the current state of UK politics.

You can’t beat a good Sci Fi bug movie – although I’m not signing anything, so viewer beware (whatever the latin for that might be).

I’m not mad about the title. ‘Beginning of the End’. Why isn’t there a ‘The’ at the beginning? Maybe they thought it made the beginning more immediate. You’re straight into the beginning without a the to slow you up (Can you tell I did an English degree? Money well spent).

Nothing I can do about that, though. So let’s take a breath, press play and see how far we get.

00.00 Close-up of a road sign. Ludlow 1 Rantoul 5. Which looks more like a scorecard. Rock n’roll on the radio. A couple in an open top car. (Monsters love open top cars – it’s their equivalent of chicken-in-a-basket).

00.24 Close-up of the couple smooching. God but they used to kiss weirdly in the fifties. They’re so buttoned up they may as well be wearing helmets. It’s amazing the birth rate didn’t fall off a cliff. And that’s BEFORE the radioactive bugs.

00.42 The woman lets him kiss her neck – in the same way you might let a surgeon do a lumpectomy. But suddenly she’s distracted by something horrific approaching the car (worse than what’s IN the car?)

00.44 She puts her hand to her mouth and screams in the classical way – a high C# I think – then we fade to black, the sound of thumping drums, and a big title zooming up all blurrily ‘Beginning of the End’

(God I hate this title. When you start dropping off the definite article it really is the beginning of the end.)

00.59 The cast list flies in pretty quick – one after the other – bam! bam! bam! (that’s not the names by the way) – all written in caps in a chalky font. The orchestra has just been told to play whatever they like at top volume, which is fun for them but a migraine for the rest of us.

01.07 Favourite name so far: Hylton Socher. Sounds like an anagram – for ‘Shoot my Agent’.

01.16 Actually I really like the name Hank Patterson. I don’t know why. It’s just very satisfying to say out loud. Try it. Hank Patterson. Hank Patterson. It won’t be long before the medication takes effect. Hank Patterson. Just breathe – in through the nose, out through the mouth. Hank Patterson. Hank Patterson. That’s it! Lovely. Everyone’s safe (except the two smoochers in the convertible).

01.27 Apparently the film features a song called Natural Natural Baby. Can’t wait to hear it. Or see what action they put to it. Jitterbugging. Quite literally.

02.03 Finally – into the film proper. Two cops driving down a highway. Classic. ‘This is 254 on the Ludlow Swing’ says one. I love cop talk. I know all the code words. ‘Ludlow Swing’ means ‘looking for someone to fit up on a drugs charge’. I think.

02.09 ‘…reporting a 194 dash 2’. Erm…

02.18 I love those old cop cars. Looks like it’s got an upturned bucket of chicken pieces on its roof. Or am I just hungry. (Can’t be – it’s just after nine. AM.)

02.20 ‘Pullover!’ says the cop. ‘I saw something.’ Maybe a 189 dash 5 dash omega 3?

02.24 Uh-oh. They pull up by the road sign from the beginning. The smoochers convertible. Ripped to pieces (but not by passion). The cops inspect the wreckage with their torches (which look like bottles of ketchup or maybe ranchero sauce).

02.45 ‘I’ll report in’ says the other cop, flat as his cap. He gives a lot of code numbers over the radio whilst his colleague picks through the wreckage looking for change. He finds a wallet (so that’s twenty dollars a piece). The controller (who sounds like a mechanical frog – and if he were here I’d say it to his face) tells one to stay on scene and one to go to the address on the driver’s licence.

03.35 The cop who made the call gets in the cop car to drive away. He does a funny little wiggle with his shoulders before he backs up. If that actor had gone on to be famous, that wiggle would’ve swept the world. As it is, we get about two seconds of it and the rest is lost to history.

The first cop stays to act as dessert for whatever monster ate the smoochers.

03.44 Actually – phew – he’s okay. He’s waving his torch to a bunch of detectives who’ve arrived to detect the scene. You can tell they’re detectives by their snappy brim hats, their nonchalant, world-weary demeanour, and the word Detective written in chalk on their macs.

03.53 This whole film is like a school play acted by teachers. Just sayin’

03.57 Meanwhile, the soundtrack is a mish-mash of sad oboes and ominous cellos (and that’s exactly what it says on the score, btw).

04.00 Detective Mackinsey goes to his (nicer) car to talk to the mechanical frog on the radio. I’m distracted by the fact that he’s standing exactly in line with the flashing light on his car, so it looks like his hat has a flashing light on top of it. Although – maybe it does. Maybe it’s for when he’s walking through crowds.

04.20 Cut to: the MF, sitting at what looks like a candyfloss machine , trying to get in touch with Car 254, the one ol’ shivery shoulders was driving off to investigate the licence address.

04.36 Shivery makes it to the car radio. ‘The whole town’s destroyed!’ he says. ‘Everybody’s gone! You gotta do something! You won’t believe this! Send help! Lotsa help! Quick!’ And the screen fades to black again (so we don’t get a shiver of his shoulders to round off the biggest monologue anyone in his family ever had).

05.00 Cut to: a cool blond in a convertible (is there any other sort?) driving up to a road block. The car doesn’t seem to stop so much as run out of sound effect. A military guy with his helmet undone (is there any other sort?) marches round to her side of the car. ‘Alright lady!’ he says. ‘Just follow the arrows.’
‘Any chance of getting through?’ she says.
‘What happened?’
‘Look, lady! Just detour – will ya, please?’
I can’t believe this dialogue was written by Harold Pinter. David Mamet, maybe…
She backs up a little and parks. Looks at all the soldiers with their rifles. Smiles to herself. Takes out a camera that’s as big as a washing machine, and gets outta da car.

05.59 Two soldiers slouching, chatting, giving & taking orders, basically being all military. I don’t know. Nobody has their straps done up. When they start running their helmets will fall off. Don’t they know this? AND THEY TRUST THEM WITH GUNS??

06.05 The blond goes up to the soldier in charge. Her hairdo looks more formidable than his helmet. (And doesn’t need straps). ‘I shoulda explained’ she says. ‘I’m Audrey Aymes, Wire Service’. Which I’m guessing means journalist, not fencing contractor. She’s got a camera, anyway. A brassy attitude and everything.

06.33 The soldier says ‘Look Lady’ before everything he says, which is an awful lot of Look Lady. The upshot is – he’s not letting her through. No way, Lady. She goes back to her car. You can tell no amount of Look Lady is gonna put Audrey Aymes off of her Games.

06:47 Almost 7 minutes in and all we’ve had is a lot of getting in and out of cars, wrecked or otherwise.

07:00 Audrey drives around the roadblock (which is relatively easy, given they’re in the goddamn desert), parks up, looks around. If only she could hear the soundtrack, she’d KNOW there were giant bugs or something going around eating cadillacs and smoochers (sounds like something you’d order off the menu ‘I’ll have the cadillac and smoochers with a side order of fries.’ But when the waiter comes back he’s forgotten the fries, so you eat him instead… and SCENE.

7:18 Poor Audrey. Her camera is about the same size as her car, with a headlight n’everything. No wonder she’s so pumped. Although that might be her nether garments (which is what people wore in the stone age, around 1950).

7:31 The music builds to a crescendo as Audrey takes a picture. A soldier in a stick-on moustache appears and takes the camera. ‘Oh’ says Audrey. ‘I’d like to speak to your commanding officer.’
‘He’s in Paxton’ says the moustache. Presumably the town. Audrey heads there.

07:53 Cut to: a soldier fiddling with dials in Paxton. Audrey asks a soldier who looks like Elvis if she can speak to the commanding officer. Elvis says he’s not available, so he takes her card over to a Captain, sitting behind a desk. The Captain looks at the card and says ‘Send her in’ – which is weird, because he’s sitting behind a desk and not in another room. (At least he’s not wearing an unfastened helmet, though).

08:40 The Captain tells Audrey he liked her book on Korea. She says thank you. (I like the way Audrey talks. It’s kinda laid back, economic, with a Noirish buzz to it. I’d like a SatNav with that voice. ‘Turn right in fifty yards. And pass me one of those filthy Marlboro, would’ya Captain?’

09:20 Audrey promises the Captain she won’t publish the story straight away. The Captain’s happy with that. He says that sometime during the night the town of Ludlow was unexpectedly and completely demolished. Audrey doesn’t think that sounds good. She in on the questioning of a surviving local – Dave – an old guy in a hat with the brim turned up (I think he walks into things a lot because his nose is pretty squashed, too). Dave’s voice is so deep it’s like he’s drawing his lines from a well, one bucket at a time. Apparently last night Dave was round at his daughter’s, walking into shit, watching TikToks on her iPhone or something, when he realised he had to get up in the morning so he left (she must’ve hurried up to open the door for him).

11:18 The interrogator is Colonel Sturgess or Sturgeon or Stodgy or something, a man who looks like Bela Lugosi (the casting director had a blast with this film). Next he questions Edna, a woman with plug holes for eyes who works at the telephone exchange. They establish that the phone lines must’ve gone down between midnight and four in the morning. Edna has to get more sleep. I’m worried for her. Is she in a union? Audrey looks like she’d rather be back in Korea.

12:00 Colonel Stodgy puts on his helmet (sans straps) and leaves, marching all the way round the table rather than asking the Captain or Audrey to move out of the way. He’s either very diffident or likes marching a lot.

12:25 Audrey gets back in her car. Oh my god – it’s got a telephone! She places a call (is that Edna…?) to the National Wire Service.

12:50 The Editor of the NWS is a guy called Norm, who has a normal moustache and normal hair and a normal suit so I guess that’s why they call him Norm. Norm does some fake writing while Audrey talks. She wants him to check out the story of a plane flying over Ludlow last night, nuclear installations, that kinda spooky, trust no-one thing.

13:50 Audrey drives back to the roadblock to get her camera. They call her Miss and not Lady this time, so something’s afoot. Norm calls back and tells her that the only people in the area playing around with radioactivity is the US Department of Agriculture.

14:38 Audrey drives to an experimental station in Illinois. Audrey does a lot of driving. Maybe they should’ve called the film Audrey Drives A Lotta Places. (I’d watch it). She parks right outside. You know it’s an agricultural place because there are plants in pots by the front door. Experimental because they’re not watering them. The front door’s open. Inside are a lot of cheese plants, which look spooky in real life, but in a tin shed in black and white they’re terrifying. There’s a guy in a lab coat prodding some soil, so I’m guessing he’s a scientist. Hanging off the cheese plants are tomatoes the size of space hoppers. I NEVER get my tomatoes that big. What are they using – magic mulch?

16:04 Audrey keeps on saying hello to the guy in the lab coat but he ignores her. Suddenly another scientist appears behind her. He laughs. ‘He’s a deaf mute,’ he says. ‘Working with radiation can be dangerous.’ This scientist is called Dr Ed Wainwright, which sounds suitably sciency. He’s played by Peter Graves, who I recognise from Mission Impossible. (Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make this film better than it is).

16:50 Ed helps Frank, the deaf mute scientist, pick some dead snails off the floor. He laughs and lists all the pests they’ve had to deal with over the last few months, including grasshoppers. Audrey laughs too, bonding over garden pests. Audrey asks Ed if radiation could’ve caused the problem in Ludlow. He laughs again and shows her a fridge full of jars marked ‘Hazardous – radioactive isotopes’. The odd pickle. He doesn’t think it’s connected, though. I mean – sure it might make your co-workers deaf and mute, and your tomatoes glow in the dark, but it’s not explosive, so we’re alright.

18:05 Ed talks Audrey through the growing process while Frank prods some more soil. Apparently the plants need constant feeding to balance out the radiation – which is probably why I’m constantly thinking about lunch.

18:33 Audrey is driving to Ludlow now. Or is it Paxton? Somewhere black and white. The Colonel says it’s okay to go to Ludlow. So she goes with the Captain to Ludlow. ‘I hope you have a strong stomach,’ says the Colonel. Well – we know she doesn’t get car sick, at least.

19:42 Montage in Ludlow. Audrey taking lots of pictures of smashed houses and such. They’re not in Ludlow long. It’s pretty dead. Driving back, she tells the Captain all the war ravaged places she’s photographed in the past. ‘How about a drink to wipe away some of those memories?’ says the Captain, never missing an opportunity to make a move on someone with PTSD.

21:00 Back at the Experimental Station. Ed and Frank are prodding the soil together, which is affectionate and intimate. Audrey comes back (we didn’t see her drive! I feel cheated). Ed is pleased to see her. The last time I saw a smile that wide it was made of plasticine.

22:38 Audrey asks Ed if he’ll take her out to a warehouse that got destroyed or eaten a while back. Frank does some sign language that makes Ed laugh – he translates – something like ‘Frank thinks your lips make you easy to read and he’d like to go along, too. They all laugh, but especially Ed, because that wasn’t what Frank signed.

22:43 Now they’re all in Audrey’s car, driving. Lovely. Nice bit of road, this. Ed gets all flirty with Audrey. Not for the first time does Frank feel blessed.

24:15 Creepy oboes while Frank skips over to a gate marked ‘Government Property! Keep Out!’ and undoes the lock. They explore what looks like a local scrap heap, even though the score tries to make it seem interesting. Audrey goes back to the car for her camera to take some moody shots for the Wire. Ed goes with her, leaving Frank on his own just as some strange whiffling noise starts up in the trees.

27:40 Next thing you now, Frank is being eaten by a giant locust. He doesn’t scream, but signs Aarrgh! instead.

28:01 Ed explains to the Colonel, the Captain and anyone else with a desk and a moustache that the problem they have here is giant locusts. ‘Eight feet tall. Vicious, merciless killers,’ says Ed.
‘Now – Ed!’ says the Colonel, playfully.
Ed takes responsibility, though. He says some of the insects must’ve broken into the lab – despite the stringent, top-of-the-line, leave the front door open will ya kind of security – and gotten a dose of radioactive magic mulch. The Colonel asks for ten men to go out with him to the place where Frank got snacked by a giant locust. The easy way he does it, I’m guessing he asks for ten men quite a lot. His helmet strap is teasingly loose.

31:19 The soldiers jump out of the truck at the site of the ruined warehouse, making sneery comments about insects. It reminds me of that scene in Alien 2 when the marines talk about going on a bug hunt and Ripley gets furious because they don’t know what they’re up against.
‘I ate one of ‘em once, down in Mexico’ says a soldier.
‘Yeah? Well you’d better watch yer step – they’ll wanna get even.’

32:59 That whiffling noise again. The Colonel holds up his hand for the men to stop. The noise gets louder – and suddenly the locusts attack. There’s a few closeups of the locusts as they bear down on the soldiers, who do that thing of falling back and putting their hands up in front of their faces. There’s a lot of shooting. They retreat back to the truck, and drive off. Round one to the locusts (if you don’t count demolishing Ludlow).

35:39 Back at the Paxton office, the Colonel calls in some extra troops and the odd plane, but not ‘the regular army’ (I thought they WERE the regular army?) Ed says he’s underestimating how many locusts there are. Or how far the special effects budget can stretch.

36:22 Ed decides to go to Washington with Audrey to convince the president to act, otherwise it could be ‘the beginning of the end’. You see! You can’t avoid using ‘the’ at the beginning of ‘the beginning of the end’. I don’t care mankind is facing annihilation; there’s no excuse for sloppy grammar.

36:50 Ed is giving a TED talk to a bunch of generals and presidents and whatnot.
‘The locust is intelligent,’ he says, thrusting his hands into his pockets for emphasis. ‘Like the bee and the ant, they’re able to communicate with each other’. I didn’t know bees could talk to ants! Fascinating, Ed.

38:01 All the generals look alike – little moustaches, plastic hair, constipated expression. I find them infinitely more terrifying than the locusts, which have an idiosyncratic, boss eyed cuteness.

39:08 Unfortunately, despite his TED talk, Ed can’t get the generals to approve a bigger military operation against the locusts. Suddenly the main general gets a call – ‘Uh huh… yes… I see’. Then apologises to Ed. The Locusts have overrun the Illinois national guard and they’ll need to send in more troops.

40:25 Their plane diverts to Chicago (too many locusts in Paxton). In an operations room in Chicago, a general (I don’t know which one – they’re worse than the locusts) marches around giving orders – ‘I want the first airborne, the 2nd division, the tank brigade, a coffee machine with arabica beans and a hint of hazelnut, I want to learn how to make a shadow puppet swan, I want chocolate hats… etc. Everyone looks busy (so as not to attract attention). Meanwhile, Ed is busy in a lab with bubbling test tubes. He’s pretty fly with highly toxic materials. I can’t believe they ever made him CEO at Chernobyl. He picks up a newspaper with the headline ‘Chicago Next?’, skips to the horoscope, then waggles his hand in a tank of crickets and says ‘the time will come when the beasts will inherit the earth’. (Maybe he should wash his hands…?)

43:21 Cut to: tanks heading out to battle the locusts. This time the soldiers have their helmets strapped on, so it must be serious. No sign of the locusts, though, even though they look with binoculars.

43:40 Cut to: a radio announcer in glasses bigger than the binoculars. He talks about the military manoeuvres, then explains that one advantage they have is that the locusts make a whiffling noise before they attack – which is a tactical error, you have to admit.

44:37 Back to the operations room – and the whiffling noise begins outside.

45:00 A montage of battle scenes, giant locusts vs the US military. Everything you can think of – helicopters, tanks, tanks with flamethrowers, soldiers with gatling guns, whisks, carpet beaters, tug along hoovers, Rentokil in pedalos, a division of trampoline salespeople, a woman with a euphonium, Harry Potter and so on.
‘They keep coming, General! Inch by inch they’re coming closer!’ – which, given that they’re eight feet tall, is actually pretty slow.

47:10 The announcer interrupts the programme to say that the ‘giant locusts have reached the Chicago South side…’ which sounds gritty & urban. Maybe they’ll give up whiffling and start rapping.

‘Do not panic! Do not panic!’ says the tannoys, as picnicking Chicagoans get eaten by giant locusts in the park. Easy for you to say, bud… you’re not the one being snatched up like a breadstick.

48:06 One of the locusts crawls up a building and pervs over a woman brushing her hair. Urgh!

48:26 Audrey casually wanders into the operations room with a cardigan draped over her shoulders. She’s a cool customer. Sorry, Lady. Bugs don’t bother her. So long as she’s got car and gas, she’s fine. Although obviously I don’t mean to say Audrey is gassy.

The Colonel says the plan is to nuke Chicago at dawn. He’s been given permission and everything. Ed thinks if they could reproduce the whiffle they could maybe get the locusts to follow them into the lake. Which is more of an organic solution than the nuke. All he needs are some oscillators, some sub woofer speakers, some sub whiffle speakers, and one of the live locusts to practice on.

51:20 Nighttime. A tow truck pulls up, along with soldiers in a truck. The soldiers jump down and go left and right. Ed goes into an alley with the Captain (same thing every Saturday night). They find a locust and stun it with a bug bomb (same thing every Saturday night).

54:15 Back at the lab, the locust is in a cage and the scientists are doing sciency things. Ed stands in front of the cage and gives a TED talk about galvanisation and such; the locust goes crazy behind him (maybe because he thinks Ed’s description of polarity is VERY wide of the mark).

56:13 They begin testing different sounds on the locust. It seems to respond best to Ed Sheeran, although it might be rage, it’s hard to tell with locusts. The General marches in. He says Ed’s had his chance and now it’s the airforce’s turn. He puts in a call to the A bomb people through Edna, who’s somehow still at work. Side note: I think the locust is a better actor than the guy playing the General.

58:39 The General gives some very complicated instructions about where his men are going to be stationed, a getaway car, blah blah. The A bomb is being dropped in 90 minutes. So that’s 5 minutes we’ll never get back.

59:55 Montage: Deserted Chicago streets; Ed playing with knobs. That’s some fancy montage.

1:00:38 Ed decides to loop the drums and overdub the vocals. It’s a hit! The locust really starts to vibe with the tune. Slay!

‘I think you got it!’ says the soldier (who I didn’t mention, who’s there to help with extra bits of dialogue, like how he’s 37 but doesn’t know everything, which is cute).

1:01:37 … except the locust is so hyper now it breaks the cage and eats the 37 year old soldier we’d only recently got to know and care about. Shame it wasn’t the General.

1:02:34 The General cancels the A bomb and tells Ed ‘The show is yours!’ Ed immediately puts in a request for a sound stage on the lake, lazer show, glitter bombs. ‘I’ll be your pied piper,’ he says. Very Glasto.

1:03:40 Ed gives Audrey another mini TED talk about the best places to position your speakers in the event of a giant locust plague. She doesn’t look that bothered. She prefers cars. She’d like to have interviewed that 37 year old soldier who got eaten, though, but life got in the way.

1:04:34 Ed radios one of the observation posts. The soldiers have set up in a lingerie shop. I hear you, boys.

1:06:17 Ed asks a soldier to plug his amp in. Ed’s Locust Theme is immediately pumped out of speakers around the building. It basically sounds like a car alarm on a Sunday morning. The locusts rush towards it in their pyjamas.

1:07:52 Montage of locusts strolling through a model cityscape. Cute. A soldier gets eaten. Not so cute. Another soldier spots them with his binoculars.
‘Here they come… walkin’ down the street… they get the funniest looks from…. everyone they meet….’ Hey Hey We’re the Locusts…

1:10:26 The building is getting overrun, but the General wants ALL the locusts to be there before he activates the speaker on the boat. He’s nothing if not inclusive. After a lot of shooting of bugs on the building (which seems to be more successful than the shooting they did earlier…), the observation posts say the insects have cleared downtown Chicago, so the General says okay, throw the switch.

1:12:10 It works! The locusts pile into the lake and drown. ‘Head for shore’ says the General, wearily. (Or maybe ‘Head for sure!’ looking forward to a little treat later). Audrey breaks down. Ed comforts her. They look into each other’s eyes. Audrey sees a 1953 Hudson Hornet Sedan; Ed remembers how he used to prod soil with Frank.

Fade to black.

And that’s it!

The End.

So what’ve I learned?

  1. Do not, under any circumstances, join the army. You’ll be forced to jump in and out of trucks for no apparent reason, only to end up as a bug snack.
  2. Giant tomatoes aren’t worth it. They’re tasteless and can lead to apocalypse.
  3. Learn to Drive. Audrey’ll teach ya.
  4. If you must use Radioactive Isotopes, label them clearly and keep them in the fridge.
  5. If you want to creep up on someone, try not to whiffle.

Dr Terror’s House of Horrors

Dr Terror’s House of Horrors. 1965. dir. Freddie Francis. Watched on YouTube so you don’t have to.

Well. Okay. Yes – it DOES have Peter Cushing in it. If you wish, we can discuss this matter privately in the LYE-BREH-REH.

Apparently Whitstable’s the place to go for a Peter Cushing Pilgrimage. He lived there from the late fifties till he died, in a beautiful white clapperboard house with a gabled roof like an upturned boat, set-in with tall windows so he could paint views of the sea. There’s a blue plaque on the wall – and a bench dedicated to him on the promenade, where he’d often sit with his wife Helen and talk about the latest script where they want him to wrestle a yeti or something. Hundreds of goths go to Whitstable in April or October, for industrial post-punk raves, steampunk markets, selfies at the ruined Abbey or tea and jam scones in the Tudor Tea Rooms (which have a shrine of PC memorabilia). So that’s either a good time to go or a bad time, depending. Accommodation might be tighter. There might be a queue for the bench. Worth bearing in mind.

From that you’d be right in thinking I’ve only Googled this shit and haven’t actually BEEN to Whitstable. But it’s on my to-do list, okay?


Anyway. On with the film.

Dr Terror’s House of Horrors. And if you say that half a dozen times, with your jaw slack, turning your head slowly from side to side, occasionally widening your eyes – you’re a terrifying ventriloquist’s dummy and my work here is done.

Just saying.

00:28 After a patriotic orchestral blare for the production company logo, the into music creeps in. Spooky oboe with a smattering of uneasy drums. Not a domestic comedy then.

00:39 Christopher Lee gets top billing. Peter Cushing gets a ‘With’ – but then ‘as Dr Terror’, which goes a little way to making up for the ‘with’ I suppose.

00:46 Glissando violins for Dr Terror’s House of Horrors in wobbly writing. I suppose Comic Sans wouldn’t have the same impact.

A good cast, btw. Donald Sutherland! Dr Terror’s House of Talent.

Assistant Director is Bert Batt – my favourite name of the cast list. Undermines the Dr Terror vibe, maybe, but … shrug.

1:46 Opening shot – a railway station. An announcement giving the departure time & platform for Bradley. So far so commuter horror, which is niche. Dr Terror’s House of Terror (but good rail connections for the city).

1:56 A guy in a suit stops to get his ticket clipped by a grim-faced old badger in a British Rail hat. Can’t believe he got an Oscar for that. I wonder who got Best Supporting Vole.

2:05 Weird! The DJ Alan Freeman is sitting in a carriage by himself smiling happily as he adjusts the bonnet on a doll. ‘Not Arf!’ ‘Alright..!’ The guy in the suit hesitates – as you would – but goes in anyway.

2.26 The badger clips the ticket of another suit guy so vigorously it almost takes his finger off. (He makes that shit look so easy – mark of a good performer). I think this guy’s Roy Castle, because he whistles irritatingly and almost tap dances to the carriage. Roy almost slams the door in Christopher Lee’s face – never a good move.

3:08 CL gives the carriage a dead-eyed stare, then puts his glasses on. If it was fifty years later he’d already have AirPods in.

3:14 Hey! Donald Sutherland gets in the carriage! Gives them all a winning smile (although it doesn’t win with CL, of course, who just rattles his newspaper)

3.38 Dr Terror gets the oboe treatment as he wipes the condensation off the window with his fingerless mittens to peer inside (all those guys in suits, it’s bound to get steamy pretty quick). He’s charming, in a terrifying way. Alan Freeman makes room on the bench. ‘Not Arf!’

4.33 Whilst Dr Terror looks at each guy in turn, the oboe plays and everyone looks creeped out. As you would. Those old carriages were small & self-contained, so you couldn’t just walk off and find somewhere else to sit. Donald S. looks the uneasiest (is that a word?). He adjusts his tie and squeezes his buttocks. Hmm. Christopher Lee couldn’t care less.

Peter Cushing’s eyebrows are extraordinary. They look like someone’s enhanced them by swiping left and right with a chunk of coal. Maybe he stopped by the front of the steam train on the way down.

The train thunders on. God but they were smoky. And clattery. Now the only thing you hear is the tannoy saying the next station stop is… and then a million repetitions of ‘See it, Say it, Sorted’.

5.28 Dr T has nodded off (same). His monogrammed bag slips off his lap. The passengers hand it back to him along with all the papers that have fallen out – including a tarot deck.

‘How d’you play poker with these?’ laughs Roy Castle. (Guys in suits. Am I right?)

‘Dr Schreck! Doctor of Metaphysics?’ says another passenger, reading his business cards. (Not a REAL doctor, then).

Dr Shreck says his name translates as ‘Terr-OR. And gives a wincy smile afterwards. ‘An unfortunate misnomer’ he carries on, ‘…for I am the mildest of men.’ He looks around the carriage. ‘However, I sometimes foretell things that are frightening.’

Then he goes on to give them a little history of the Tar-OH (as Dr T pronounces it). Personally, I’m more interested in his eyebrows. It’s worse than just a lump of coal. I think makeup whacked him with some wallpaper paste and stuck on some ostrich feathers. For a bet. Freddie Francis was distracted about funding – so…

Also, can I just say here, fingerless mittens can NEVER be terrifying. They’re just too cute and practical.

7.56 Christopher Lee (Franklyn Marsh), smacks down his newspaper in disgust. ‘Do we HAVE to listen to this nonsense!’ he says. It’s a portmanteau horror film, Franklyn, so … I’m afraid… probably yes. His performance here reminds me of Richard E Grant in Withnail and I when he says: ‘I’m a trained actor, reduced to the status of a bum!”

8.10 Roy Castle (Biff Bailey) tells an off-colour joke about a pigeon, but Dr T doesn’t laugh and neither do I.

8.48 Franklyn goes back to his paper, but the Scottish passenger (Jim Dawson) offers to be the first person to try the Tar-OH.

Jim taps the deck three times, then Dr T shuffles the cards slowly, staring into Jim’s eyes
‘I do not manipulate. I use my hands to manipulate themselves… and to present …. your destiny.’ Which does not make sense. I use my hands to manipulate themselves? Huh? But he’s a doctor of Metaphysics not English, so cut him some slack.

9.27 He turns the cards over onto his upturned case. The Chariot. The High Priestess. The Moon. The Enchantress. The MakeUp Artist (sorry – made that last one up).

And we blurrily segue into the first story:

9.43 Jim hangs his coat up on a coat stand. So far, so terrifyingly organised. A posh Architect’s office. The boss tells him about a letter from Mrs Biddulph – the woman who just bought Jim’s old ancestral home. She wants to make some major structural changes, apparently. Like knocking it down and building two enormous eyebrows. Mrs Biddulph says that Jim is the only architect who can handle something like that. So off he goes back to the Scottish island (we know it’s Scottish because of the jaunty Scottish music). In a pony and trap uber.

10:50 They pull up outside a misty old pile. Jim jumps out, smacks the horse on the rump and gives the driver a shilling. Glad he got that the right way round. A creepy gardener (Caleb) sneaks a peak from amongst the bushes. Typical gardener.

Side note: You also know it’s Scotland because Jim’s suit is now made of tweed.

11:16 Caleb sneaks up behind Jim whilst he’s ringing the bell (Jim’s doing the ringing, not Caleb), and says Hey! very aggressively. Typical gardener. But when Jim turns round Caleb relaxes a little (his smile is like witnessing a minor landslip). He lowers his scythe.

11:34 The door is opened by Valda, the housemaid, who talks as easily as if someone’s behind the door holding a gun. An owl hoots in the background. It’s good to be home.

11:58 Mrs Biddulph comes down the stairs. She’s got the kind of shellacked bob that always stays front no matter which way she turns. She stares at him whilst Jim talks, sometimes glancing down at his mouth, which is always awkward. Apparently she wants a big wall knocked down so she can make a ballroom. Jim knows the house well, given that his family lived there for centuries, before he had to sell it. Hard stare.

13:29 Later, Mrs Biddulph is dressed for dinner in what looks like posh fetish gear – black netting over a sheer bodice. Jim fixes himself a stiff drink. Mrs Biddulph says that after her husband’s funeral she had a kind of breakdown. The ballroom she has planned is actually more of a museum to his memory. A wolf howls outside. Jim hurries to the door and looks into the hallway. I wouldn’t think the wolf would be there, but I’ve no idea. Maybe the house has a wolf flap. He goes back into the room, and doesn’t see Valda, looking moody on the stairs (but not especially wolfie).

15:25 You can tell Jim’s an architect, because he’s walking round the room hitting things with a crowbar. Caleb watches him through the window. (I’m guessing the garden’s a bit neglected these days).

16:00 Jim wants Valda to unlock the cellar door. She doesn’t know where the key is. Jim asks her to ask her grandfather – which is Caleb, so I’m sorry if I called him the gardener. He just looked so… gardenery.

16:56 Jim goes down into the cellar. Knocks on the walls a bit (typical architect). Finds a hollow sounding patch, so he starts hacking away with the crowbar. Sees a grotesque carved animal’s head. He asks Caleb to have a look. ‘It must be the coffin of Cosmo Valdemar!’ he says. ‘The werewolf!’ says Jim. ‘Over 200 years ago Cosmo Valdemar claimed that this house was really his…. that my ancestors had stolen it from him… but he vowed that one day he’d return.’ Which is really quite a lot of backstory to convey after just two whacks of a crowbar, but architects are nothing if not dynamic.

19:18 ‘I’m going to find out what’s in that coffin,’ says Jim. ‘C’mon! Give me a hand!’ he says to Caleb. Valda glides away. She’s very stair-oriented.

20:00 They manage to drag the coffin out, but the lid’s too heavy so Jim & Caleb go off to get some bigger tools. Once they’re gone, the coffin lid rises up and hairy fingers gabble about on the edge, like something’s been dead for years and really wants to get back on the piano. Or they’re looking for the coffin’s snooze function.

20:30 Jim runs back with the bigger tool, which is actually smaller and looks to me suspiciously like a lump hammer, but I’m no architect. Jim sees the coffin lid is askew (love that word – shame I don’t get to use it more often). Not only that, there are big dog footprints in the dust. It can’t be Valda. She’s wearing slingbacks.

21:12 Meanwhile, Mrs Biddulph rocks up on a bike through the fog. She’s wearing a bright white pantsuit, which is probably the safe option when it’s dark outside and you don’t wanna get hit by a truck or a bear. Something is watching her from the bushes (my money’s on the werewolf, but I suppose it could be Caleb again). Turns out she was just down the shops because it’s 1965 and she’d have to wait fifty-seven years for Ocado. ‘Have you been down in the cellar?’ says Jim. ‘No. Why?’ she says, then hurries away to change for dinner again.

22:31 When Jim’s getting ready for bed he finds a note. ‘I must see you. Valda.’ He hears a yelp outside. Hurries down. Finds Caleb over Valda’s body on the gravel, blood around her neck. Mrs Biddulph watches from the door. She’s wearing the ugliest, most enormous nightgown I’ve EVER seen (not that I’ve seen a lot). It makes her look as if she wears stilts to bed. (Maybe she does – maybe it’s a Scottish thing – or is that kilts?). She doesn’t appear that bothered about Valda, despite this being an island, and reliable staff hard to come by. Jim follows the blood trail back into the house towards the cellar.

23:59 Down in the cellar, Jim forces up the coffin lid. The coffin is empty. Jim scratches his hand badly when he drops the lid. So all in all a difficult night.

24:05 Caleb carries Valda into the house. I’m worried he’ll bang her head on the door frame but he turns at the last minute. He’s done this before. Jim asks Mrs Biddulph to go to her room and lock the door. Meanwhile he tells Caleb he’ll use the silver cross ‘that was made from the sword that killed Cosmo’ to kill whatever it is that’s terrorising the house (my money’s on Cosmo). He’ll melt it down to make bullets. (I hope he’s better at silversmithing than architecture). ‘When that coffin opens tomorrow night, I’ll be waiting’ he says.

25:35 Cut to: tomorrow night, Jim waiting by the coffin with a revolver. He’s distracted by a rat – just as the coffin lid swings open and a bunch of mist slips out. When he checks the coffin it’s empty.

25:55 Mrs Biddulph is upstairs reading a book by the fire. There’s a knock on the door. ‘Come in!’ she says. Back down in the cellar Jim hears her scream. He runs up to her. Meanwhile we see a close-up of an alsatian or cockapoo or something, baring its fangs. Jim bursts in, fires his pistol. The dog leaps over him and runs outside. ‘I don’t understand it’ says Jim. ‘I had six silver bullets…’
‘You mean – these?’ says Mrs Biddulph, showing a palmful. Her nails are very pointy. As are her teeth. She explains that Cosmo can resume human form when his body is replaced with the body of a descendent of the man who killed him. (Let me read that back…. dah dah dah … yep… seems right…). So she kills him. He screams – in a very high-pitched, architectural way.

Blurry segue back to the railway carriage.

27:28 Jim explains to the others that he is indeed on his way to the Hebrides. Dr T draws the fifth card to show how Jim can avoid his fate. It’s the Death card. Dr T puts it back without turning it over.

28:11 Franklyn tells them all not to be so gullible. Turns out he’s an art critic, so knows all about gullibility.

28:33 Next up is Alan Freeman (Bill Rogers). He taps the deck three times. Dr T turns the cards over. ‘You are going on holiday soon,’ he says, looking down at The Fool card. (I hear you). Followed by The Magician, The Hanging Man and The Sun.


Blurry segue to the next story.

Bill, Ann and daughter Carol arriving back home from holiday. Ann notices something in the garden – a creepy looking vine. ‘It’ll kill all the hydrangeas’ she says. The vine turns to watch them go inside. I’d swear it sneered when she said the word Hydrangeas.

30:21 The vine has extended along the patio and is creeping along the gravel path. Knotweed? Can be a problem.

30:44 Bill tries to chop it down with a hoe (not Ann). It seems to cry out in pain when he hits it. He tries cutting it with the shears, but it knocks them out of his hand. Definitely knotweed.

31:25 Bill takes a sample to Hopkins and Jerry, which sounds like a brand of ice cream, but is in fact a couple of Ministry experts. Jerry is crouching provocatively over a microscope, so you know he’s hot stuff. Jerry says he’ll go stay with Bill to find out what’s going on.

31:47 Jerry is unpacking his microscope. Carol is playing with the dog on the patio. The dog starts barking a lot, much of it unscripted. Carol goes inside for tea, throwing the ball one last time. It lands by the vine.

33:02 Jerry hears a scream. It’s Ann. She’s found the dog, dead by the vine. He’s not insured.

33:14 Back at the ministry, Hopkins fills his pipe and delivers the line: ‘A dog – strangled by a vine.’ He can hardly believe it. You and me both, Hopkins. Jerry shows Bill a very, VERY dull film about plant groups. Mosses, lichens, that sort of thing. Bill looks so bored he’d rather take his chances with the killer vine than stay there jiggling his hands in his pockets a moment longer. Hopkins expertly sucks his pipe. ‘A plant like that could take over the world,’ he says.

35.33 Back at Bill’s house, Jerry studies a leaf. He’s too busy for lunch, but he does accept coffee and sandwiches, which sounds like lunch to me, but I’m no expert. He looks at the leaf through his microscope and sees what looks like a brain (not his own, I’m guessing – although, with Jerry, all bets are off).

35:55 He sits at his desk writing his notes. The vine’s shadow moves across his back. Ann is coming in with lunch – sorry – coffee and sandwiches. I hope she doesn’t scream and drop the tray.

36:00 No. She puts it down to go and help Carol with her homework.

36:30 Meanwhile, the vine has almost reached Jerry. It grabs him round the neck, knocking his glasses askew (wonderful word – honestly – try it sometime). Ann picks up the tray again ready to go in.

37:03 She knocks and waits. (Whilst Jerry is garrotted and pulled backwards off his chair).

37:14 Walks in. Sees Jerry dead. Screams, drops tray.

37:26 Hopkins is wandering round the house. ‘Did you call the police?’ he says, not unreasonably. He goes in to see Jerry’s body. Studies it awhile. Doesn’t seem that phazed, so I’m guessing he had a pipe on the way over. Goes to the phone to make a call, but the vine cuts the wire. When he goes outside the vine attacks him. Bill and Ann watch him wrestling with it and try not to laugh.

38:41 The vine is all over the house now. ‘There must be some way of destroying this’ says Hopkin, getting out his pipe. When he strikes a match the vines lean away from the window. Pretty health conscious.

39:45 He lights some newspapers. ‘If a species develops that isn’t afraid of fire – it could be the end of the world,’ says Hopkin, back on his favourite subject. ‘Open the door!’

40:18 They hear him drive away to get help. The vines roll around in the fire a little, getting to enjoy it.

Blurry segue back to the carriage.

Dr T draws the fifth card, to show Bill how to avoid his fate. The Death card again. Awks.

He turns to the next one, Roy Castle (Biff Bailey). ‘Und now – your future,’ he says. Biff raps the cards three times. Dr T turns them over: The Judgement. The World. The Tower. The Devil.

Turns out Biff is a musician, so none of these come as a surprise.

‘That’s my mother in law!’ says Biff, pointing at The Devil.
‘Do not jest at the image of a god!’ says Dr T. ‘The powerful and malign god of…. Voodoo!’

Blurry segue to… Roy Castle… sorry… Biff Bailey, playing the trumpet on stage with his band. A strange looking guy with even more emphatic eyebrows than Dr T comes into the empty club (it’s jazz, after all), and sits at the back. Biff jumps down to talk to him. (If he uses the word ‘cat’ at any point I get fifty quid).

43:38 It’s Harry, their manager. He’s got them a great new gig in the West Indies. Biff squeezes his nose. ‘You little sweetheart!’ he says (although I can tell he really wanted to call him a cool cat). Biff almost falls trying to get back on the stage – then tries to look like he meant it by doing it again. Oh, Roy.

44:40 Cut to: a West Indian club. A calypso band playing. Various racist tropes, unfortunately. The scene goes on for ages with the awful music – but when Biff and the band come in they seem to dig the place, man. Biff causes a scene when he looks at the waitresses ring and says ‘Look at that monster!’ Everyone goes quiet. Sammy, the calypso singer, says it’s a Voodoo ring; you don’t mess around with that stuff. Biff notices that everyone in the club seems to have Voodoo jewellery on. Sammy says if they hear anything out in the woods at night, don’t get involved.

Note: I don’t know what’s more uncomfortable in this section: the casual 1960s racism or the dreadful jazz. I’d have to go with the racism, but the jazz isn’t helping.

47:48 Cut to: a Voodoo ceremony out in the woods. Biff creeping around in the undergrowth to get a better look. He takes out a notepad and writes the music down. But then he’s found out and dragged into the centre. Everybody goes quiet, just like in the club. Oh Roy.

50:39 The Voodoo priest tells Biff he must not steal from the great god Dumbala, who is jealous and will be avenged.

51:59 Back at the hotel, Biff tells the rest of the band he’s going to make ‘a whole routine around the Voodoo number.’ ‘You be careful around that Voodoo stuff,’ says Sammy. ‘What can a Voodoo god do to me…’ says Biff – then falls through the railings into the hotel pond. Oh Roy.

53:00 A few weeks later, back in the UK, Biff and the boys are backing Sammy in a dreadful crooner number. Honestly, it’d take more than Voodoo to raise these clubs from the dead.

54:16 Their manager Harry introduces the next number – the Voodoo tune Biff picked up in the West Indies.

54:29 Biff has put the ancient mask on the backdrop. He makes fun of it as he comes on. Oh Roy. All the swinging hepcats seem to groove to this new beat (to be honest, it doesn’t sound any different to their earlier stuff, but everyone knows I’m square, daddy-o).

55:25 The saxophonist switches to jazz flute. If Dumbala doesn’t get them, I certainly will.

56:00 The back doors blow open. And it’s not because of the mind-blowing music.

56:27 A mighty wind starts blowing through the joint. (I don’t know – maybe ALL jazz clubs are like this). Tables start flying up. Punters screaming. The band play on (maybe they think they’re just REALLY grooving right now).

57:00 ‘Told ya’ says Harry, surprisingly nonchalantly, given the joint is being wrecked by a vengeful Voodoo god. But Biff isn’t worried. He’s going to take the score home and improve the middle eight.

58:39 Biff whistles nervously on the way home along the dark, windblown streets. Falls backwards over a trash can. Oh Roy.

59:00 Passes an advert for Dr Terror’s House of Horror. Whaaat?

59:45 Almost gets run over by an American looking for Piccadilly Circus. ‘Ah these British are all nuts!’ says the driver. He’s not wrong.

1:00:12 Biff makes it home. You can tell a musician lives there because the sofa has a zebra print. I can’t help noticing his window’s open. It slams shut. Followed by the door. Then the lights go out. A Voodoo priest appears. Goes to strangle him. Biff faints. The priest takes the music and leaves. And that’s it.

This racist interlude is finally over and I can relax.

Blurry segue whilst I go and make some tea…. and then back to the carriage.

‘How do I get out of it?’ says Biff.
Dr T draws the fifth card. Death. Jim stops Dr T putting it back in the pack. ‘Ours was the same?’ he asks. Dr T nods.
Franklyn says it all means absolutely nothing.
‘What makes you so sure?’ says Dr T.
To prove he’s not afraid, Franklyn agrees to a reading.

Blurry segue to: an art gallery. Arty flute music (at least it’s not JAZZ flute)

1:03:48 Franklyn is slagging off a painting in the exhibition. A young woman storms off. Comes back with the artist, Erik Landor. ‘You don’t like my work?’ he says. ‘One wonders why you come to my exhibitions so regularly if my work is so displeasing to you.’ ‘Duty’ says Franklyn. He gets paid to be snooty. It’s a snooty duty. They have a stand-up row about art, which is even duller than the slideshow about plants, or the jazz set back at the club. Landor argues that each painting reveals itself in different ways to the viewer. Which is an admirable stance. Mine would be to smash a painting over his head. Meanwhile, a woman comes out of the office with a new painting by a young artist. ‘I wonder if you’d mind telling us what you think of his work?’ she says. (I hope it’s not by the Voodoo god Dumbala).

1:06:05 He turns it over. Lots of yellow and blue splodges. ‘Clearly the work of an artist with considerable creative promise,’ says Franklyn. ‘You could learn a lot from this artist’ he says. ‘I’d like to meet him,’ says Landor. ‘He’s here now,’ says the woman. Everyone looks down. It’s a chimp. Everyone laughs. Franklyn leaves.

1:06:55 Cut to: a formal dinner somewhere. Franklyn is the guest speaker. Landor is also there. He holds up a paper chain of monkeys – which, as heckling goes, is pretty niche. Franklyn loses his train of thought, and sits back down.

1:07:52 Franklyn is lecturing at another exhibition. Landor is creeping around like a mittenless gardener in the background. Franklyn sees him and is thrown again. He says he’s got a pressing appointment and leaves.

1:08:20 Landor is locking up his gallery for the night. He pauses to look at the painting in the window. Franklyn is waiting in his car. When Landor crosses the road, Franklyn runs him over. (Note: the world of art is pretty cut-and-thrust and you have to be careful).

1:08:59 Landor is in hospital. Looks like he’s lost his hand. For an artist that’s pretty bad. But at least he can still wear a beret. (I know, I know – it’s difficult to make jokes about road traffic accidents. But at least I’m not as fly about these things as Biff).

1:10:00 Franklyn is in his office, struggling to write anything. All he really wants to do is smoke and read the paper (so it’s probably a good job that Twitter hasn’t been invented yet).

1:10:37 Handor – sorry – Landor is back home, crying in front of the mirror, looking at his stump with a bunch of soulful violins in the background. (I know, I know – it’s difficult to make jokes about post traumatic stress disorder. But at least the chimp earned a few commissions). Landor opens a drawer – with his good hand. He has a gun. Loading it might be fiddly, but maybe the chimp can help with that…

1:11:18 Oh. He shoots himself. Who feels bad now? Shrug. Writing these things makes you cynical.

1:11:21 A merciful cut to: Franklyn, driving in his car (what else? a bulldozer?) There’s a disembodied hand on the backseat. Making a gang sign. Or not. It crawls towards him, slower than the vine. Franklyn glances at it, gasps, swerves. Wrestles with the hand whilst the car skids through some trees. You wouldn’t think a hand would be as strong as that, without any muscles behind it, but maybe I’m overthinking.

1:11:55 Franklyn manages to toss it out of the window with a disgusted expression, like it’s a burger wrapper or something. The car drives away, and the hand starts crawling slowly after it.

1:12:20 Back home, Franklyn anxiously tries to make his house hands-free. Builds the fire up in the grate. There’s a knock on the door. Franklyn starts. ‘Who is it?’ he says. But I’m guessing a disembodied hand wouldn’t have rapped twice like that. Once would be difficult. And even if it had managed to knock, it certainly couldn’t call out ‘The Disembodied Hand’ (or ‘Pizza’ if it wanted to be sneaky). The best it could manage would be semaphore, and I don’t know Franklyn knows semaphore. But again – maybe overthinking.

1:12:52 Franklyn goes to the door clutching the poker. He opens the door a little and peers outside. No-one. Closes the door again. Doesn’t notice the hand crawling along the carpet. I’m impressed. It got back to Franklyn’s house the same time as he did. Maybe it thumbed a ride…

1:13:58 It grabs his ankle (where else?). He tries to shake it off. Then picks it up with the tongs and places it in the fire where it sizzles nicely.

1:14:28 The next day, back in the office, Franklyn is at his desk again. Picks up his pen to write. The hand appears at the window behind him. Sheesh – he’s NEVER going to get that snooty article written!

1:15:02 The hand crawls across the carpet towards his ankles again. It looks the worse for wear, but shows a great deal of determination and pluck. Well done, disembodied hand! It (somehow) crawls up the desk legs and onto the top. There’s a paper knife shaped like a dagger on the blotter. I’m guessing Franklyn will stab the hand with that.

1:15:23 But no… the hand leaps up and grabs him by the throat.

1:15:30 He manages to pull it away – then he puts it on the blotter, stabs it with the dagger (thank you), then puts it in a metal cigar box.

1:16:00 He tosses the cigar box into a pond. I know Landor was an artist… but was he an ESCAPE artist…. (pause for huge studio applause there).

1:16:31 Franklyn is in the pub having drinks with friends. They say his temper’s improved. He seems less handsy (I added that).

1:17:01 Franklyn is driving in the rain. He passes a traffic sign warning of hazardous hands ahead. Or bends. I’m not great with traffic signs. Sure enough, the hand lands on the windscreen and grabs the wiper. In the wrong hands (sorry) that could be the cue for a slapstick comedy scene – fast wipe, screenwash etc – but Freddie Francis resists the obvious. He just has Franklyn plummet down a ravine.

1:17:35 The next scene is daylight. Police examining the wreckage. Franklyn being stretchered into an ambulance. ‘He’ll live’ says the paramedic (or an early version of that – more like someone in a flat cap who picks up patients with a shovel) – ‘…but he’ll be blind for the rest of his life, poor guy.’

Blurry segue. Back in the carriage.
‘A very pretty story,’ says Franklyn, nervously taking off his glasses.
Dr T draws the fifth card. Guess what?

Next up is Donald Sutherland (Dr Bob).
‘Deal the cards’ he says.
The Empress; The Hermit; The Star; The Lovers.

Blurry segue to Dr Bob carrying his new wife Nicolle over the threshold. She’s French. Not sure if that’s important right now. They kiss, as erotically as two cod accidentally sliding together on a barrel of ice. ‘Welcome to Pemberton,’ he says when they separate again. He makes a huge thing of going into the kitchen to make something to eat. I can’t think of anyone who could do that more strangely and yet more compellingly than Donald Sutherland. (Although Donald Pleasence could give it a shot).

1:20:30 The kitchen is pretty bare, with only four tins of soup. So I guess they’re having soup. He doesn’t even have a can opener, and has to stab it with a screwdriver. Typical doctor.

1:20:59 ‘Ow!’ he says. Nicolle runs to him. He’s cut his finger. Nicolle’s eyes narrow. ‘I’ll wash it’ says Dr Bob. ‘No!’ says Nicolle. ‘Let me do it’. She licks it clean. Uh-oh.

1:21:50 Later that night, Nicolle is in a negligee and Dr Bob is asleep. Some honeymoon. She doesn’t seem bothered though. She trails over to the window and looks up at the moon. Next thing you know, there’s a bat shadow flitting across the wall, and Nicolle has gone. No way!

1:22:14 At breakfast (soup again), Dr Bob looks washed out. Dr Blake comes over. He’s a scary looking individual, with the kind of eyes you’d make with a power drill. I think he’d get on with Caleb pretty well. They could creep around in the shrubbery together.

1:23:24 At the clinic, Dr B and Dr B – okay – Dr Bob and Dr Blake – discuss a strange case: Johnny, a boy who doesn’t have enough blood. They go through to see Johnny. The scariest thing about Johnny is not his white face, it’s his tweed jacket and bow tie. ‘He always sleeps with his window open,’ says his mum. Dr Blake notices two puncture wounds on Johnny’s neck. When Johnny goes, Dr Blake gives his opinion: ‘If these were mediaeval times, I’d say he was the victim of a vampire.’ (And if I was a patient of yours I’d ask to see another doctor).

1:24:38 Dr Bob discusses the case with Nicolle over soup that night. He tells her that Dr Blake works alone at night at the top of the university. Nicolle looks interested.

1:25:17 Dr Blake is locking up for the night. Nicolle follows him down the stairs. Then Dr Blake turns round and goes back UP the stairs. So Nicolle does the same. I mean – what’s the point? I’m so confused. Who is chasing who? Come on, vampires! Sharpen up!

1:27:15 At the top of the stairs, Dr Blake sees a ludicrous rubber bat on a wire fly towards him. He screams and holds his arms up – accidentally making the sign of the cross, which as everyone knows is perfect protection against bad special effects.

1:27:40 Next day back at the clinic, Johnny looks better. I mean – sure, he’s still anaemic as hell, but at least he’s in a stripy sports shirt. Dr Blake says he’ll stay with Johnny that night. Although personally I’d rather have him admitted to a paediatric ward, cross-matched & transfused, but I’m no expert (as many of my comments have testified over the course of this show).

1:28:13 That night, Johnny sleeps while Dr Blake sits in an armchair pointing a pistol at the window. He shoots the bat when it shows up, then peers out through the hole with a crazy expression. Johnny doesn’t wake up, which is just as well.

1:29:00 Nicolle climbs in through the bedroom window holding her bloody hand. ‘I cut my hand’ she says. Next thing you know, Dr Blake is sharpening a stake. ‘Nicolle is my wife’ says Dr Bob. He will NOT be signing this procedure off. Dr Blake tells Dr Bob all about vampires, who they are, how they operate and such. He’s never looked so happy. He gives Dr Bob the stake and tells him to use it if she comes home again that night looking all vampire-y.

1:30:18 Dr Bob asleep in bed. He’s like Johnny. He can sleep through anything. The ludicrous rubber bat flies in the window. Dr Bob wakes up, sees it, then pretends to be asleep as it turns into Nicolle. She gets into bed. Dr Bob kisses her on the shoulder. ‘I love you’ he says. Kisses her on the lips, then grabs the stake.

1:32:06 Cut to: a police car, zooming through the night. A detective examines Nicolle’s body, which has a great big stake sticking outta the negligee. ‘A VAMPIRE?’ he says to Dr Bob. ‘It’s true,’ says Dr Bob. ‘I never heard anything so crazy in my life’ says the Detective to the police officer behind him. ‘Dr Blake will confirm it,’ says Dr Bob. ‘Confirm what?’ says Dr Blake, walking in the bedroom. ‘That my wife was a vampire.’ ‘But that’s nonsense,’ says Dr Blake. ‘There are no such things as vampires.’ The police officer leads him away.

1:33:20 ‘Shall I give you a lift, doctor?’ says the detective. ‘No thanks, I’ll fly’ says Dr Blake. Sorry – walk. ‘This town isn’t big enough for two doctors,’ he says, to camera. ‘Or two VAMPIRES. Then spreads his wings, turns into a ludicrous rubber bat, and wobbles off.

Blurry segue back to carriage.
Dr T turns the fifth card. Death. Of course.

‘Aye aye aye,’ says Dr Bob. And lights a cigarette. Gotta love Donald Sutherland.

‘There are five of us in this carriage – and no-one seems to have a future,’ says Jim.
They all look at Dr T.
‘What about YOU?’

He deals himself a card. Death again. (I’d check the pack, mate).

‘Why have you done this? What do you want? WHO ARE YOU?’ says Franklyn.
Dr T smiles at him.
‘Have you not guessed?’ he says.
The lights go out. When they come on again, Dr T has vanished, leaving only the Death card in his place.
The train stops.
They all leave the carriage.
(Dr Bob checks his hair first).
But out on the platform, there’s only fog and spooky music. This isn’t the commuter destination of Bradley. This looks more like Crawley.
A newspaper flutters down. They all read it.
Train Crash. Five Dead.
Dr Schreck has his back to them. When he turns round …. he’s a skeleton! But a happy one, judging by the gape. And the cape.

They walk slowly towards him as oboes and violins turn up the spooky – and that’s it!

The End.

So what’ve I learned?

  1. Stay out of the cellar. I’m serious. An awful lot of trouble could be avoided if people stayed out of the goddamn cellar. I don’t care if it’s well lit. Has a pool table and a mini bar. Just – don’t.
  2. Gardening is a healthy and relaxing hobby, unless you’re growing killer vines, in which case, call the experts. Especially if they smoke a pipe.
  3. If you play jazz trumpet, snap your fingers and say things are cool, you deserve all you get.
  4. A nice present for a disembodied hand might be fingerless mittens.
  5. The doctor / vampire combination is unfortunate. Like having a werewolf working at a cat sanctuary. Try to screen these things out at the interview stage.

The Uncanny

The Uncanny. 1977. dir. Denis Héroux. Watched on YouTube so you don’t have to.

Okay. I know how this looks. ANOTHER film with You Know Who. AND Donald Pleasence. (By the way, do you have ANY IDEA how long it took me to go back through that last film write-up and change the spelling of Donald’s surname from Pleasance to Pleasence? Yes. A VERY long time. And yes, I DO know about the ‘Find and Replace’ function. So why didn’t I just use that? I DON’T KNOW.

The thing is, as well as having the obvious attractions of Peter & Donald, this film is apparently a portmanteau, which is essentially four short films in one. I’ve always liked these, because if one’s no good you’ve still got a chance with the other three. And if NONE of them are any good, it’s bad luck, and don’t bother getting a scratchcard at the off licence. The other thing is, it’s a film about cats. And if you have a film with Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasence AND cats, you’re guaranteed a hefty pay-out.

I dedicate this write-up to Solly, best cat in the world, flattened by a car on Christmas 2019. If you’re reading this, Sol, I really don’t mind if you come back to haunt me. I miss your funny, Mask of Zorro beard, your crazy eyes, your devastating back paw rake. RIP (which is cat for Runaround in Peace).


Opening: The Rank Man with the Gong. Which isn’t an attractive title for anyone, but the pay was good and he had a pass for the staff canteen.

0:23 A quote from a Ted Hughes poem about cats. Very literary. Beats any of the other title sequence quotes I’ve seen to date. Augurs well (if you like Ted Hughes). And you like the word Augurs.

0:47 A splurge of blood, plucked violins, harpsichords (the most catty of instruments, apart from the oboe), and then the blood morphs into the head of a cat with blood on its fangs. That’s what Solly used to look like when I played hide & seek with him, Solly on the landing, me on the stairs, recklessly jabbing my hand in and out from under the towels we’d put on the bannister to dry. (God – I’m going to be sobbing all the way through this review).

0:50 More pictures of cats, some without eyes. More harpsichord. The director’s right – there’s definitely something baroque about cats. But here’s the thing – I can’t take cats seriously as agents of the devil. These pictures all look so booootifuuuwwl (NOTE: a love of cats can make you speak like an idiot).

1:17 John Vernon’s in the cast! I have a very dull and pointless story about John Vernon! And I shall tell it at the end of this review.

1:44 Favourite name in the credits: Harry Waxman. He should totally work in a beauty salon.

2:07 I’m sorry, but none of this slow-panning across cat pictures makes me feel any differently about cats, despite the spooky music. If you don’t watch the film, tune in for the opening credits. These pictures are lovely! SOOOO cute… and definitely not putting me in the mood for a horror film. Which was rated X when it came out – which I think meant it was for dog lovers only .

2:09 Opening scene is captioned: ‘Montreal – Present Times’. Present TIMES? Wouldn’t it be TIME? Present Times sounds wrong. I’m more on edge now than I was with all the cats.

2:15 Panning along some railings at night – to a black cat! Lying on the pavement by some railings, looking completely lovely & innocent. The soundtrack is someone playing purring noises on a flute. Sweet.

2:40 Cuts between the cat and a lighted window. The cat. The window. The cat again. The window. And I fully expect to see the cat in the window by this point. Yes, they ARE that quick.

2:49 Peter Cushing peers out through the blinds! I don’t know who’s more cute – the cat or the Cushing. (Now THAT’S a title for a film).

3:07 Close-up on the cat’s eyes. Looks pretty healthy to me. Obviously getting enough Omega 7. Doesn’t look possessed, despite the crazy, flutey purring.

3:21 Peter Cushing comes out of the house. The house number is 1310. God but the streets are long in North America.

3:35 He’s carrying a tatty briefcase under his arm. He looks anxiously up and down the street before he opens the gate. That black cat has probably got previous form, going for his trousers or something.

3:49 He turns round when he hears a clattering of dustbin lids. (I confirm – cats CAN be clumsy. I was watching one walk along the top of a fence once. When it noticed me watching it stopped, then carried on walking without taking its eyes off me, missed its footing and plunged with a yowl off the other side).

4:23 Peter Cushing (Wilbur Gray) takes ages coming down a long flight of concrete steps. It could really do with a Joaquin Phoenix Joker dance, but all Wilbur does is anxiously look behind him a few times as he walks down. If anything it’s more like a 70s Health & Safety video. At the bottom there’s a jumpscare when a guy puts his hand on Wilbur’s chest and asks for a ‘match’ ‘I’m so sorry – I don’t smoke,’ says Wilbur, then hurries on. The smoker doesn’t seem bothered. He sprints away up the steps – nailing the lie that smoking’s bad for your chest.

4:40 Wilbur carries on walking the gloomy streets of Montreal – present times. I hope they’ve invested in some better street lighting in the last 40 years, otherwise I’m not going.

4:55 Almost five minutes in and all we’ve had is Wilbur walking and looking anxious. At this rate I’m guessing each little film must be about two minutes action and ten minutes commuting.

Whilst we’re going on a walk with Wilbur, there’s probably time to tell you about something I saw yesterday over the cemetery. I was out in the late afternoon, taking spooky shots – the usual stuff – sunset behind a statue of Jesus, a tree that looks like the souls of the damned etc. I saw a woman walk past, followed by a cat. Its tail was straight up, so at first I thought it was remote controlled. ‘What – are you taking your cat for a walk?’ I said. ‘Not exactly,’ she said, ‘but he’s a total wuss and won’t go out on his own.’

Back to the film.

5:05 Wilbur presses the bell of a gothic looking house numbered 51. So that really WAS a long walk.

5:15 Ray Milland opens the door! So it was worth the walk. Ray’s character is called Frank (thanks as always to Wiki).

5:34 Guess who’s looking up at Frank’s lighted window? That’s it. Lil’ Cutey Flutey. There’s a good girl…

5:49 Wilbur goes through into the living room. A big fluffy white cat snarls at him from the chaise longue. I have to admit, big fluffy white cats can be like that. High maintenance. I’m gonna guess this one’s called Princess. Or maybe The Eviscerator.

6:09 It’s called Sugar. I suppose because it’s white and sweet but too much of it will give you diabetes.

6:55 Frank is the publisher who’s considering publishing Wilbur’s book. It seems that Wilbur’s last book was about flying saucers, so it’s a niche imprint. I’m guessing the portmanteau aspect of the film will be Frank & Wilbur going through the examples Wilbur has used in his book to illustrate the essentially evil nature of cats. But he’ll have to balance it out with a chapter on recommended toys, healthy diet, that kind of thing.

7:17 Close up on Sugar’s apoplectic face as we segue into the first story. Captioned ‘London – 1912’ (not 1912 Times, then )

7:23 Joan Greenwood (Miss Malkin) is examining something through a magnifying glass. Someone knocks and she says ‘Come!’ in that richly fruity voice. Wonderful. (NOTE: If I was casting the perfect voice for a cat, it would be Joan Greenwood. Or Fenella Fielding, obviously. Maybe Eartha Cat… sorry… Kitt). Miss M has a lovely tortoiseshell & white cat on her bed. You don’t see many of them. (The T&W, not the bed. You see a lot of beds. Well, I do. I’ll end there). Beautiful. (I’m SO far from being scared at this point).

7:29 Actually she’s got a LOT of cats. We seem to have dropped into a live action remake of The Aristocats.

7:30 Susan Penhaligon (Janet the maid) shows a Mr Wallace into the bedroom. Miss M is wearing so much white makeup, her nightgown and the bed so white, it’s like Wallace has come to visit a giant talking cake.

7:44 Wallace is a solicitor and has come round with new copies of the will. Janet busies herself with some linen to earwig the conversation. Miss M tells her to go away and feed the cats. Janet picks one up like she’s taking out the trash. She goes down into the scullery (I’ve no idea what a scullery is and I have no intention of looking it up) followed by about a million cats.

9:14 Meanwhile, Wallace asks Miss M if she REALLY intends to cut her nephew out of the will and leave everything to the cats. She does. He’s wasted enough money as it is. He sounds like a cad and a scoundrel and I think I know which way THIS story’s going.

11:47 Janet manages to sneak one copy of the new will from Wallace’s bag, and overhears the combination to the safe (behind a cat portrait, natch) where Wallace is putting the original. For a minute I thought Miss M. was showing Wallace the safe combo on her iphone – but this is 1912. So it would have to be a Blackberry.

12:06 The caddish nephew Michael is played by Simon Williams, which is perfect casting. He’s in a posh restaurant swigging champagne and straightening his moustache with Janet. Well, she’s just swigging champagne. His moustache isn’t THAT big.

13:30 Michael reads the will that Janet gives him – then rips it up – with some effort – even though it’s only two sheets of A4. She tells him there’s the original still – in the safe. ‘But you know the combination?’ says Michael. ‘No – I don’t’ she says. ‘But I know where she keeps it…’ Michael says he’ll marry her and they’ll both be rich. Janet’s eyes widen as big as Sugar’s. And that’s pretty big.

13:55 Janet sneaks into the house. The tortoiseshell & white (god – I wish it had a name – a short one – like Sugar, maybe) watches her from the landing. Janet takes off her outdoor gear (which makes it sound like she’s been skiing or something), her boots &c, then sneaks up the stairs. Miss M is asleep in the cake – I mean bed. Janet sneaks the Blackberry from under Miss M’s pillow, finds the combo, opens the safe… Meanwhile, the T&W (there, that was quicker) jumps on the bed and wakes Miss M., who sees what’s happening and sits up. ‘You’re a wicked, wicked girl, Janet,’ she says. (Which I’m tempted to use as my ringtone).

17:10 But before Miss M can ring the police, Janet puts a pillow over her face. When Miss M stops struggling, Janet turns round to grab the will. Miss M sits up again, touches her shoulder… and that’s the signal for all the cats to rush in.

18:25 Janet is focused on the will, though. When she reaches down for it, a fake cat paw rakes her hand. (It’s so obviously a toy paw on the end of a stick, but I suppose there’s a limit to what an animal trainer can do. With that budget. In these trousers).

19:09 She hurries out of the room onto the landing. There’s a lovely shot of cats peering down at her through the balustrades. That’s TOTALLY what Solly used to do! And it was my own stupid fault if I paused on the stairs and reached my hand through…

20:06 So of course Janet falls to the floor and all the cats pile in. (I’d love to read what Susan Penhaligon thought about shooting this scene. I bet she had to dab tuna juice behind her ears or something. Meanwhile suffering lots of stuffed cats being chucked here and there). But she manages to break free and barricade herself in the scullery (see above).

21:12 Janet moves some tin pots, and for a minute I wonder if she’s going to fashion some cat armour (like in Iron Man – but obviously there were no cats in that as far as I’m aware). Then settles down to bandage her wounds.

22:11 Next morning, all the cats are still staking out the scullery (THEY know what a scullery is. How many exits it has etc). A milkman comes with milk in a watering can or something. Then letters get delivered – by someone else, I’m presuming. The cats rip the letters to shreds. Why? I don’t know. But it’s probably all junk so no harm done.

24:05 Michael arrives in a hansom cab. And he is handsome, so… that’s a fit. His moustache looks more like the kind of oil stain you get when you’ve been working on your motor and inadvertently swipe your mouth (like I’ve EVER done that). A policeman strolls by in a cape. There’s the sound of an owl or something going too-wit too-wit, but maybe that’s the policeman. That’s probably not a cape – that’s his wings. Michael tells the driver to drive on. Don’t blame him. Flying policemen are so unpredictable.

24:40 Janet sees him go. She’s getting desperate, stuck in the scullery with no idea what it does and nothing to eat but stale bread. She starts licking her wounds. Quite literally. Ack. Don’t sculleries have TAPS?

25:16 It’s the following morning. Janet is REALLY hungry now. I’m guessing she’s gonna have to brave the cats to escape. Although – before she does she puts some cat meat on some stale bread to have as a kind of emergency bruschetta.

26:33 Oh dear. It’s now the morning after THAT and Janet is STILL trapped in the scullery. After all that cat food she probably needs the litter tray. Her hair looks amazing, though. They call it Cat Punk.

27:02 A church bell tolls in the distance. Is this a sign from God she should go? Maybe – but she also smothered her employer, so it might have an alternative reading.

27:30 She picks up the bread knife ready to make a run for it.

28:07 Outside the scullery in the … erm … outer scullery? The cats have made a real mess of the place. It’s like they had a cat rave or something. The thing that bothers ME the most is that every single picture on the wall is tilted, which is weirdly methodical. Anyway, Janet heads up the stairs. Is she going to risk getting the will? If she doesn’t, she’ll have eaten all that cat meat for nothing. Let alone the smothering thing.

28:28 Where have all the cats GONE? They’ve even hauled a pair of knickers out of a cupboard. Have they no SHAME? (TV film idea – ‘When Cats Go Bad’)

28:46 She hears an echoey voice in her head – it’s Michael saying they’ll get married and be very, very rich. Which gives her the confidence she needs to go upstairs and get the will despite the killer cats. But she’s got a bread knife, so…

29:09 I mean – seriously – WHERE ARE THE CATS? Janet goes into the bedroom. Not a sign. I’m thinking they’re planning something, like balancing on each other’s shoulders, wearing a tall mac and pretending to be a detective. (You can tell I’ve had LOTS of experience with cats).

29:43 The phone rings! But it’s not a cat – it’s only Wallace, wanting to speak to Miss M. He’s tried texting her Blackberry but nothing.

30:04 When Janet reaches down to get the will, the fake cat paw scratches her again and she drops the knife. That’s when she looks up and sees that the cats have eaten Miss M (which is a fate often talked about and here given bloody proof). It looks like the special effects team took the Turkey carcass from the staff christmas dinner and put it in the bed, but I’m no expert. Janet runs out of the room screaming. A fake cat paw reaches out to trip her up. She falls down the stairs. It’s another cat pile-on. The phone keeps ringing, which the cats interpret as a dinner bell.

31:46 Michael is in the office with Wallace. They decide to go and see why Miss M isn’t picking up – and call in at the police station on the way.

31:51 The police break into the house. They take a step back, appalled at the dreadful special effects – poor Janet, that wicked wicked girl, sprawled like so much cat meat at the foot of the stairs. Michael goes on up to Miss M’s room. Sees her in a similar condition on the bed. Sees the will on the floor, which is much more to his liking. Close-up on the face of the T&W, with an expression like – ‘just you try it, mate’. The soundtrack at this point is a strangely jaunty piccolo. Shrug. But it’s enough to annoy the cats. One of them leaps on his head and takes a chunk out of his neckerchief. And it’s enough to kill him! It took about a thousand cats to put Susan Penhaligon down but only one for Simon Williams! I can only think it’s because she was a working woman and much fitter.

33:49 Final close-up of Wallace, looking in disgust at the cats gnawing the parson’s nose off Miss M on the bed. But c’mon. Wallace is a family solicitor. He’s seen worse.

33:50 And we’re back with Frank & Wilbur. So half an hour in and that’s the first story done. If there are four, they’re gonna have to be a lot shorter. (Do the math, people).

33:54 Ray Milland – sorry – Frank – is trying to explain what really might’ve happened to Miss M. Sugar is sitting on his lap while Frank absent-mindedly strokes it in the way you might play the Irish pipes for the first time. No wonder Sugar looks bug-eyed. Although – turns out – he looks like that because he needs to go outside to relieve himself.

34:32 Long shot of Sugar about to squat by the side of the house. Another cat joins him (the one from the beginning of the film? but this one has white paws…). Wilbur watches from a window, and freaks out when he sees them face off – but by the time he calls Frank over, the black cat has gone. So Frank REALLY thinks Wilbur is crazy. ‘Let’s talk some more about your book,’ he says, wearily. When they sit down to discuss the next short film – sorry, chapter – we see more cats joining Sugar outside…

35:36 This segment is about a girl and her cat, called Lucy. They’re not both called Lucy. The GIRL is called Lucy. I don’t know what the cat’s called. (That was unnecessarily difficult). The opening shot is of a girl (not a cat) in a knitted cap with ear flaps, staring out of a car window, with a cat in a basket on her lap. Caption says ‘Quebec Province 1975’. Which sounds VERY formal.

35:43 Jaunty, jazzy soundtrack. Hope that means this isn’t a ‘funny’ short. But you often get funny ones in these portmanteau films. Think of the feuding golfers in ‘Dead of Night’. Although – actually – even THEY creeped me out.

35:58 Lucy is being driven by her mum, I guess. Her mum’s wearing driving gloves. I immediately distrust her. Although it could be worse – could be surgical gloves.

36:19 They pull-up outside a big house with a bratty looking girl in pink staring out of the window. She would NEVER wear a knitted flappy ear hat, or have a cat in a basket on her lap. Some things you know almost immediately.

36:30 Actually it’s not her mum, it’s Nora Mason, Town Welfare Department. She’s here on official business, delivering Lucy and the cat to Lucy’s aunt & uncle, Mr & Mrs Blake, a pair whose acting is as good as you might expect from two people who stepped straight out of a 70s knitting pattern.

36:51 The cat’s called Wellington. ‘Well – that IS a surprise!’ says Mrs Blake, flashing a sharp look at Nora Mason, Town Welfare Department.

37:22 Angela, Lucy’s cousin, shows Lucy to her room. Lucy asks Wellington what he thinks of it. ‘Well – it’s hardly Un Sanctuaire Inviolable, but I suppose it’ll do,’ he says. No, actually. I made that up. Lucy says that Wellington says he ‘likes it’. Angela gets the best line of the film so far. ‘Cat’s Can’t Talk!’ She delivers that line like Christopher Walken or someone. Puts SO much into it. Edgy stuff. Really makes up for the parents.

37:34 Angela says she’ll show Lucy the room SHE has. ‘It’s bigger than yours. That’s because I belong here,’ she says. I can see they’re going to be besties.

38:00 Downstairs, the parents discuss the whole dead-parents-killed-in-plane-crash-but why-didn’t-you-tell-us-about-the-cat scenario with Nora Mason, Town Welfare Department.

38:14 Upstairs, Lucy unpacks her suitcase – basically a photo of her mum, fifteen knitted flappy eared hats and some hefty books on Magic, Tarot and Ritual Witchcraft.

38:50 Mrs Blake doesn’t like the books, but Lucy says she can’t get rid of them because they were her mum’s.

39:11 Downstairs in the kitchen, Mrs Blake puts out some food for Wellington. There’s a great deal of twittering from somewhere. Maybe it’s a policeman.

39:31 Actually – no. It’s birds in a birdcage. You’d never get a birdcage big enough for a policeman. Although there’s always prison, I suppose.

39:48 Angela is jealous of the fact that Lucy has a cat. ‘But Lucy hasn’t got a mummy, and you do,’ argues Mrs Blake. Good job that Nora Mason, Town Welfare Department, wasn’t there to see the look Mrs Blake gives Angela at this point.

39:53 ‘If you and Daddy were killed in a plane crash, could I have a cat then?’ Like mother, like daughter.

40:00 Back upstairs, Angela smiles mysteriously at Lucy, whilst twirling the propeller on a toy plane. Then she snatches Wellington from Lucy. But Wellington hisses at her and runs back to Lucy. (Fast moving scene, this).

41:24 The two girls are in the summer house painting Wellington. I mean – doing paintings OF Wellington. Although I wouldn’t put it past Angela. Lucy takes the paintings and goes to show Aunty Joan, leaving Angela alone with the cat. The soundtrack? Sneaky bassoons.

42:16 Angela chases Wellington round the summer house. ‘I won’t hurt you,’ she says, in the tone of voice someone would use as they levered shells into a shotgun. Wellington spills some red paint on the floor, just as Mrs Blake comes in. Which doesn’t seem too bad, except Mrs Blake is obviously someone who can’t stand mess of any kind, especially when it looks like blood. ‘If he does it again we’ll just have to get rid of him,’ she says. All of which goes some way to explaining Angela.

43:16 Angela is up in the playroom taunting Lucy with the toy plane, swooping it down on her saying ‘You haven’t got a mummy! You haven’t got a daddy!’ Good job Nora Mason, Town Welfare Department doesn’t see any of this.

43:55 Cut to: Later – Lucy running outside in a happy mood cuddling Wellington. Angela is staring down from an upper window. She’s maddened to see her dad play with Lucy. So after he’s gone inside to iron his cardigan and learn his next lines, Angela opens the window and revs up the model plane – which turns out to have something like a motorbike engine on the front, and not quite the innocent wind-up affair you first thought. Actually it’s more like a Reaper drone.

45:34 She uses it to attack Lucy & Wellington. Lucy runs into the summerhouse just as the plane crashes into it.

46:47 Lucy tries to tell Mr & Mrs Blake what happened, but Angela interrupts and says Lucy was just playing in the mud. Mrs Blake orders Lucy upstairs to change. ‘It wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t have been for that cat,’ she says. Mrs Blake lights a Dunhill International. ‘Why don’t you go outside and play?’ she says, trembling. ‘I have something to discuss with your father.’ I’m guessing it’s not soft furnishings.

47:00 Mr Blake perches on the back of the sofa. He’s wearing the cardigan. They discuss getting rid of the cat. ‘The vet gave me the address of a place in town where they do it quietly and painlessly,’ she says. The Quebecian Cat Mafia, or something.

47:37 Heartbreaking shot of Wellington being driven away. He’s holding a placard up to the window. HELP! (or may as well). Lucy looks for him. Angela explains where he’s gone. ‘To be made into dog meat.’ Honestly – that girl. She’s MUCH worse than Janet. (I bet you’d forgotten about Janet. ‘You’re a wicked, wicked girl, Janet,’ – sorry, that’s my phone).

48:31 That night, Mrs Blake sneaks into Lucy’s room and takes away all the magic books. Takes them downstairs to burn in the fireplace, along with the picture of Lucy’s mum. None of this augurs well.

49:36 Lucy wakes up. Hears Wellington crying. Lets him in. ‘Angela will tell her mum! What are we going to do…?’ Wellington goes to the book of spells that Lucy keeps under her pillow. Opens it for her – to the page with the talisman free gift. Taps it and winks at her (I might be wrong about that bit). ‘Of course!’ says Lucy.

51:08 She goes downstairs with the spell book under her arm, Wellington runs on ahead, rubbing his paws (which makes running difficult, but he’s a cat, so…).

51:30 Angela is in her bedroom watching people get shot on TV. Is bored of that, so turns it off and goes to find Lucy to torment. Wanders outside. Policemen – sorry, OWLS – are too-witting in the trees. Sees a light on in the summerhouse and heads for that. Finds Lucy drawing a pentagram on the floor with Wellington back from the dead sitting by her. (It’s at this point I’d hurriedly re-evaluate my whole idea about Lucy and try to make friends, but Angela being Angela…)

53:25 ‘Don’t step into the circle,’ says Lucy. So Angela smiles and steps into the circle. Lucy makes an incantation and suddenly Angela can’t leave the circle. Wellington is almost clapping his paws at this point. Lucy carries on the incantation. Angela shrinks. Wellington licks his lips.

53:51 NOTE: During all this cod-Latin, I’m sure Lucy says ‘Angela naughty nose’. But I’m not a wizard. Maybe that’s a real thing, and not to be read out loud, please.

55:02 ‘Why! You’re no bigger than a mouse!’ smiles Lucy, nodding to Wellington. Angela tries to run away but a giant fake paw knocks her back. She shelters under a giant candlestick. Then runs under the couch. The giant fake paw swipes at her again, knocking her towards a mousetrap set with cheese. (I’ve seen better special effects at the local panto). She picks up a paintbrush to defend herself – all the while dangerously close to the mousetrap (just sayin’). Fights Wellington quite bravely, I think, given how small she is, and how big he is, and how blunt the paintbrush is.

56:31 Mrs Blake comes back (from seeing the Cat Mafia people). She sees the light on in the summerhouse and heads there.

57:17 Angela scores some blood with the paintbrush. But Wellington hasn’t given up. He pins her down with his giant fake paw.

57:40 Mrs Blake is fast approaching, so Lucy decides to finish Angela off by stepping on her. There’s a sound effect I’m guessing they created in the foley studio by recording someone eating celery.

58:10 ‘Why can’t you be more like Angela?’ says Mrs Blake, wiping up the blood. ‘She never puts a foot wrong…’

58:20 Back to Frank and Wilbur. Frank is basically trying to say that Wilbur’s book doesn’t seem to be a good candidate for the non-fiction section of the bookshop. Wilbur is getting even more twitchy. Sugar yowls outside and he jumps so high he almost leaves his tweed. ‘It’s only Sugar!’ says Frank. Try telling that to the endocrinologist.

59:10 Frank lets Sugar in. Tells it to go on a diet (well that’s rich). ‘They prowl about just as they please,’ says Wilbur, whose book is all about cats, by the way. So…

59:38 Now we’re into the Case of Valentine De’ath. Which I happen to know involves Donald Pleasence. So we’re into the BIG cats finally. ‘It was the cat that did it!’ says Wilbur. Spoiler alert.

59:48 Cut to: A skull, and the caption ‘Hollywood 1936’. Which seems harsh, but I know things were difficult then.

59:59 A woman in white (Marilyn) is strapped to a table in a dungeon. Medieval people stand around whilst a sinister figures comes down the steps in slippers, just like me when I’ve had a few, i.e. heavily and slowly.

1:00:13 It is Donald Pleasence as Valentine De’ath! Dressed in fabulous garb (sorry, I couldn’t stop myself using the word GARB – it’s the clothing equivalent of ‘scullery’). He’s wearing stripy puff sleeves, a leather skull cap and sniffing a rose. Only DP could pull that one off.

1:00:22 ‘Now.’ he says. ‘Do you consent to be my bride?’ (I wonder if this is where they got the idea for Love is Blind?)

1:01:01 She doesn’t consent, so VD lowers a swinging blade onto her – slowly, of course. He needs plenty of time to emote. Just when it draws blood, the director says ‘Cut!’ Which is hugely funny of course. I bet the screenwriter punched the air at that point. Yes! Finally hitting my stride…

1:01:26 John Vernon plays Pomeroy (dreadful name for an actor of the calibre of JV). I’m guessing Pomeroy is the producer or something. Italian, anyway. He wants the director to re-shoot, because Marilyn wasn’t authentic enough. That’s rich, coming from Pomeroy, who looks about as authentic as standing a sofa up on its end and giving it a line (sorry, JV).

1:01:42 Hang on! It looks like poor Marilyn really IS dead! (She was such a bad actress she couldn’t even make dying for real look…erm… real).

1:01:45 A detective interviews Pomeroy in his office. The detective says there was a mix-up in the props department. (What? They used a genuine Giant Pendulum Blade instead of a Fake Giant Pendulum Blade? How big IS that props department?)

1:02:10 The detective lets them off the hook. It’s an easy mistake. Now all they need is a new leading lady. VD sneaks in the office – now dressed in a three-piece pinstripe with polka dot tie and a rose in his lapel. (Just so you know). Turns out, the leading lady who got filleted was actually VD’s wife. VD has a little speech at this point. Does what he can with it. Dear Marilyn…yaddah yaddah…. always the professional… yaddah yaddah…. Meanwhile, Pomeroy and the director stand left and right looking at him as if to say ‘Even Donald Fucking Pleasence can’t lift this script.’ I’m guessing. There’s even a little moment’s silence when he finishes, to mark the passing of their careers.

1:02:53 VD suggests a replacement: Miss Hamilton (Samantha Eggar). Pomeroy looks at her with his monocle in. (He’s wearing the monocle; she hasn’t borrowed it off him). ‘The likeness is amazing!’ says Pomeroy. ‘Only younger,’ says VD.

1:03:42 ‘She looks GOOD!’ says Pomeroy. ‘But can she ACT?’ (I don’t know. Can YOU?)

1:04:35 Cut to: Miss H. arriving at VD’s house. ‘Alone at last!’ he shouts, waving his arms and crossing his eyes in that wonderful way DP has. They cosy up. Miss H reveals that VD switched the rubber blade for a real one. Then she sees his cat. She loves it (you can tell because she says ‘puddy cat’). Turns out it used to be VD’s ex’s cat. Which doesn’t augur well for Miss H. (I know, I know. I’ve overused the word AUGUR. But this is a film that has a lot of augurs. In fact, it’s got more augurs than cats. And THAT’S not a sentence I thought I’d ever type).

1:05:42 ‘What’s his name?’ says Miss H. ‘I don’t know!’ says VD. ‘I call him Scat!’ Then he shouts at it… ‘Scat! It’s the cat gut factory for you tomorrow…’

1:06:16 VD carries Miss H upstairs to bed. Scat puts its paws over its ears & eyes. About five minutes later, Miss H is trying on the ex-wife’s clothes whilst VD lounges in bed lubricating his moustache with the tip of a finger. (His own finger). ‘Oh VD,’ says Miss H. ‘I love you!’ Which is pretty broadminded of her.

1:06:46 Outside the house, a policeman too-wits in the trees. VD & Miss H are sleeping in bed, VD with an eye mask on. A cat cries out downstairs. VD gets up to investigate. He’s wearing pyjamas monogrammed V.D. It’s probably got a special velcro pocket for antibiotics.

1:07:11 Downstairs, he finds out that Scat has given birth to lots of kittens – or a scattering. When VD reaches out to touch one, he gets swiped with the fake paw. He carries the basket out of the kitchen. ‘What are you going to do with them?’ says Miss H. ‘I shall find them some foster parents’ says VD. Maybe he’s going to phone Nora Mason, Town Welfare Department.

1:08:01 …but offstage we hear the sound of a toilet being flushed, so I’m guessing he didn’t. ‘What about the mother?’ says Miss H. ‘I’ll see about her tomorrow when I get back from the studio,’ he says.

1:09:04 VD is on set doing a swordfight whilst Miss H reads a comic. Meanwhile, Scat has infiltrated the building, creeping along a beam. Scat judges the angle between a winch and VD’s head. I wonder if we’ll see a couple of fake paws untying a knot at some point. Or maybe drawing a complicated plan of the security system.

1:10:12 Actually what we DO see is the cat nibbling through a rope holding a lantern. The rope obviously has cat meat smeared on it (I could totally be an animal trainer in the movies).

1:10:35 The lamp falls, missing VD. The fake cat paw clicks its fingers. Aw snap.

1:10:41 Back at VD’s house, he sees Scat and chases it round the house, falling over, tumbling head first into plant pots, the music very Keystone Cops, Miss H waving her hands about. Apparently this film ‘didn’t do well at the box office’. Hmmm.

1:11:52 Miss H uses a clockwork mouse to tempt Scat out so they can catch her. VD stands on a chair ready with a giant net. But he fails. (I’m sorry – that sounds a bit flat. But what can I say? This scene is more of a wind-up than the mouse).

1:13:00 They both drive off to the studio again, leaving lots of traps around a saucer of milk. Scat notices a vial of poison on the side. Shakes his head and tuts (he didn’t, but he totally shoulda).

1:14:00 Miss H is in costume on set, ready to shoot a scene where she goes into an Iron Maiden. VD has to hold the rope that stops the door swinging shut. If I was Miss H I’d ask SOMEONE ELSE to do that job. And if I was the studio’s insurance agent, I’d DEFINITELY ask someone else to do that job. But the scene doesn’t work as Miss H can’t scream realistically enough. ‘They’re real spikes!’ says the director. ‘Yeah – but the back of it pushes out, so…’ It’s like she’s arguing to make the set more dangerous so she can be more authentic. Which is dedication, I suppose. Emphasis on DEAD.

1:15:20 A guy holds up a clapperboard ready to shoot another scene. Apparently this is a Hemorrhage Productions movie called Dungeon of Horror. The clapper board is bigger than the guy, just so we get a chance to read it.

1:15:55 Miss H screams in the middle of the scene. She’s noticed Scat wandering around in the background. Pomeroy takes VD aside and says he wants to recast. VD says he’ll stay behind tonight and go through some scenes.

1:17:00 Whilst VD takes off his makeup in the dressing room, Scat wanders around backstage, figuring out how to rig the Iron Maiden. That degree in mechanical engineering wasn’t wasted, then.

1:17:59 It’s time for VD to re-rehearse the scream scene. She gets in the Iron Maiden. VD says remember ‘…the spikes are coming for your EYES!’ He starts to close the door. ‘EEK!’ says Miss H. She’s been reading too many comics. ‘You sound like a mouse’ says VD. Which ties in with Scat (you can tell I’ve done media studies – I’m all over this shit). He tells her to come out so they can swap places. ‘Now! I shall show you what terror means!’ he says. Scat watches from overhead, rubbing his fake paws. VD gives a masterclass in looking horrified (I think I’m ready to take that class). They swap places again. She sees the cat – screams! ‘Perfect!’ says VD. Scat jumps on his face, he lets the door swing shut. Pulls the door of the Iron Maiden open again (sound effect – like punching a bucket of hair cream…and I should know… )

1:20:48 VD chases Scat around with a halberd (I bet you’re impressed! Halberd! I don’t know what a scullery is, but…). There’s the sound of a distressed cat off screen, so I’m guessing he caught Scat with the halberd. (What language am I even SPEAKING now?)

1:21:19 Pomeroy comes onto the set in the morning. ‘How did your rehearsal go, eh?’ he says. VD is sitting in his makeup chair with his back to him. ‘What’s the matter? The cat got your tongue?’ says Pomeroy – then takes a breath. Because he can see Scat backing off with a prop very much like a tongue. So the halberd WASN’T effective. (Stop saying HALBERD).

1:21:45 Back to Frank & Wilbur. Frank’s even more dubious about the project. He thought he was getting a nice little Christmas HOW TO book about cats. But THIS? Wilbur is totally wired about the book, though, says it’s all here… ‘Years of research… evidence from around the world that cats have been exploiting the human race for centuries.’ Wilbur leaves his manuscript with Frank and says he must get home as he doesn’t like to be out after dark. (Newsflash – it was dark when you started, mate).

1:22:52 Frank stands to get Wilbur his coat, leaving the manuscript perched on his chair by the fire – something that Sugar notices straight away.

1:23:36 Wilbur leaves the house, watched by a tree load of cats. He hurries down the road. Cats pop up everywhere. They must all be on some WhatsCat group or something. He gets mugged on the steps, wrestles with a fake one at his neck, falls back down the steps. Close up of his face. DEAD.

1:25:10 Back at Frank’s place. He’s pawing through the manuscript (sorry). He keeps looking down at the pages, up again slowly, down again… a low growling noise … I’m not sure if it’s Sugar or Frank’s bowels. He carefully folds the manuscript, puts it back in the briefcase, and throws the briefcase on the fire.

1:26:44 Close up of Sugar – who looks so cute & cuddlesome I don’t CARE if he’s part of a worldwide cat conspiracy.

1:27:05 Frank fetches a saucer of milk and puts it down for Sugar. ‘I can’t deny you anything, can I?’ he says.

Closing shot of Wilbur’s dead face out in the street – with cats dancing around in the background. Then a quote from a poem by Lytton Strachey – ‘you can’t trust cats’ (I’m paraphrasing) – and that’s it!

The End

So what’ve I learned?

  1. If your surname is De’ath, don’t make it worse by calling your son Valentine.
  2. Never hide in the scullery. No-one knows what it is or does and no-one cares.
  3. If you must keep cats, why not keep a dog instead.
  4. If you think your deceased sister was a witch, don’t make it worse by burning her magic books.
  5. Don’t let Donald Pleasence work the rope.

Now – as promised – my boring John Vernon story.

I found a book on acting, back of the shelf. It belonged to an American girlfriend of mine. We used to live together, but eventually split up. When she was younger she used to live next door to the Vernon family, and they lent it to her when they knew she was learning to act. And she never returned it. It was ‘An Actor Prepares’ by Konstantin Stanislavski. A tatty paperback, of no great value, except – the inscription on the flyleaf. ‘To my great friend John Vernon. Long may his talent reign’. Or something. I felt uncomfortable having such a family heirloom in my possession. And I couldn’t send it back to my girlfriend as we’d broken off contact. I knew that John’s daughter Kate was also an actor, so I contacted Kate’s agent, asking if I could send the book to them, to be passed on to Kate, because I thought she would appreciate it. I made it clear I wanted nothing back. They said fine, send it. So I did, and that was it. To this day I don’t know if they got it or it was lost in the post. In retrospect I should’ve said can you send me an email just to say you got it, but by that time it was too late to ask without sounding weird.

True story.

You’re welcome.

(Maybe it needed a few cats…)